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A general truth is revealed to us in the comparative history of religions; to wit: all those which have had a beginning, and have not been contemporary with the origin of language itself, were established rather on account of social than theological reasons. This was assuredly the case with Buddhism. That which was the cause of the enormous success of that religion was not the nihilistic philosophy which served it as a basis; it was its social element. It was in proclaiming the abolition of castes, in establishing, to use his own words, “a law of grace for all,” that Cakya-Mouni and his disciples drew after them first India, then the greater part of Asia. Like Christianity, Buddhism was a movement proceeding from the common people. The great attraction which it had was the facility it afforded the disinherited classes to rehabilitate themselves by the profession of a religion which bettered their condition, and offered infinite resources of assistance and sympathy.

The number of the poor, at the beginning of the first century of our era, was very considerable in Judea. The country is materially destitute of the resources which procure luxury. In these countries, where there is no industry, fortunes almost always originate either in richly endowed religious institutions, or in favours shown by She Government. The wealth of the temple had for a long time been the exclusive appanage of a limited number of nobles. The Asmoneans had formed around their dynasty a circle of rich families; the Herods augmented lunch the luxury and well-being of a certain class of society. But the true theocratic Jew, when 63turning his back on the Roman civilization, became only the poorer. There was formed a class of holy rocs, pious, fanatical, rigid observers of the Law, and outwardly altogether miserable. It was from this class that the sects and the fanatical parties, so numerous at this period, were recruited. The universal dream was the reign of the proletariat Jew, who remained faithful, and the humiliation of the rich, who were esteemed as renegades and traitors, given up to a profane life, and to a foreign civilization. Never did hatred equal that of these poor children of God against the splendid edifices which began to cover the country, and against the works of the Romans. Being obliged, so as not to die of hunger, to toil at these edifices, which appeared to them monuments of pride and of forbidden luxury, they believed themselves to be the victims of wicked, rich, corrupt men, and infidels, before the Law.

We can conceive how, in such a social state, an association for mutual assistance would be eagerly welcomed. The small Christian Church must have seemed a paradise. This family of simple and united brethren drew associates from every quarter. In return for that which these brought, they obtained an assured future, the society of a congenial brotherhood, and precious hopes. The general custom, before entering the sect, was for each one to convert his fortune into specie. These fortunes ordinarily consisted of small rural, semi-barren properties, and difficult of cultivation. It had one advantage, especially for unmarried people; it enabled them to exchange these plots of land against funds sunk in an assurance society, with a view to the Kingdom of God. Even some married people came to the fore in that arrangement; and precautions were taken to insure that the associates brought all that they really possessed, and did not retain anything outside the common fund. Indeed, seeing that each one received out of the latter a share, not in proportion to what one put in, but in proportion to one’s needs, every 64reservation of property was actually a theft made upon the community. We see in such attempts at organisation on the part of the proletariat, a wonderful resemblance to certain Utopias, which have been introduced at a period not very distant from the present. Yet there is an important difference, arising out of the fact that the Christian communism had religion for a basis, whilst modern socialism has nothing of the kind. It is clear that an association in which the dividend was made in virtue of the needs of each person, and not by reason of the capital put in, could only rest upon a very exalted sentiment of self-abnegation, and upon an ardent faith in a religious ideal.

Under such a social constitution, the administrative difficulties were necessarily very numerous, whatever might be the degree of fraternal feeling which prevailed. Between two factions of a community, whose language was not the same, misapprehensions were inevitable. It was difficult for well-descended Jews not to entertain some contempt for their co-religionists, who were less noble. In fact, it was not long before murmurs began to be heard. The “Hellenists,” who each day became more numerous, complained because their widows were not so well-treated at the distributions as those of the “Hebrews.” Till now, the apostles had presided over the affairs of the treasury. But in face of these protestations, they felt the necessity of delegating to others this part of their powers. They proposed to the community to confide these administrative cares to seven experienced and considerate men. The proposition was accepted. The seven chosen were Stephanas, or Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas. The last was from Antioch, and was a simple proselyte. Stephen was perhaps of the same condition. It appears that contrary to the method employed in the election of the apostle Matthiasit was decided not to choose the seven administrators from the group of primitive disciples, 65but from amongst the new converts, and especially from amongst the Hellenists. Every one of them, indeed, bore purely Greek names. Stephen was the most important of the seven, and, in a sense, their chief. The seven were presented to the apostles, who, in accordance with a rite already consecrated, prayed over them, while imposing their hands upon their heads.

To the administrators thus designated were given the Syriac name of Schammaschin. They were also sometimes called “The Seven,” to distinguish them from “The Twelve.” Such, then, was the origin of the Diaconate, which is found to be the most ancient ecclesiastical function, the most ancient of sacred orders. Later, all the organised churches, in imitation of that of Jerusalem, had deacons. The growth of such an institution was marvellous. It placed the claims of the poor on an equality with religious services. It was a proclamation of the truth that social problems are the first which should occupy the attention of mankind. It was the foundation of political economy in the religious sense. The deacons were the first preachers of Christianity. We shall see presently what part they played as evangelists. As organisers, financiers, and administrators, they filled a yet more important part. These practical men, is constant contact with the poor, the sick, the women, went everywhere, observed everything, exhorted, and were most efficacious in converting people. They accomplished more than the apostles, who remained on their seats of honour at Jerusalem. They were the founders of Christianity, in respect of that which it possessed which was most solid and enduring.

At an early period, women were admitted to this office. They were designated, as in our day, by the name of “sisters.” At first widows were selected; later, virgins were preferred. The tact which guided the primitive church in all this was admirable. These 66simple and good men, with the most profound skill, because it proceeded only from the heart, laid the basis of that grand Christian feature, par excellence—charity. They had no models of similar institutions to go upon. A vast ministry of benevolence and reciprocal succour, into which the two sexes threw their diverse talents and concentrated their efforts with a view to the alleviation of human misery, was the holy creation which resulted from the labour of these two or three first years—years the most fruitful in the history of Christianity. We feel that the thoughts of Jesus still lived in the bosoms of his disciples, and directed them, with marvellous lucidity, in all their acts. To be just, it is indeed to Jesus to whom must be referred the honour of that which the apostles did which was great. It is probable that, during his life, he had laid the basis of these establishments which were developed with such marvellous success immediately after his death.

The women were naturally drawn towards a community in which the weak were surrounded by so many guarantees. Their position in the society was then humble and precarious; the widow in particular, despite several protective laws, was the most often abandoned to misery, and the least respected. Many of the doctors advocated the not giving of any religious education to women. The Talmud placed in the same category with the pests of the world the gossiping and inquisitive widow, who passed her life in chattering with her neighbours, and the virgin who wasted her time in praying. The new religion created for these disinherited unfortunates an honourable and sure asylum. Some women held most important places in the church, and their houses served as places for meeting. As for those women who had no houses, they were formed into a species of order, or feminine presbyterial body, which also comprised virgins, who played so capital a role in the collection of alms. Institutions, which are regarded as the later fruit of Christianity—congregations of 67women, nuns, and sisters of charity—were its first creations, the basis of its strength, the most perfect expression of its spirit. In particular, the grand idea of consecrating by a sort of religious character and of subjecting to a regular discipline the women who were not in the bonds of marriage, is wholly Christian. The term “widow” became synonymous with religious person, consecrated to God, and, by consequence, a “deaconess.” In those countries where the wife, at the age of twenty-four, is already faded, where there is no middle state between the infant and the old woman, it was a kind of new life, which was created for that portion of the human species, the most capable of devotion.

The times of the Seleucidæ had been a terrible epoch for female depravity. Never were so many domestic dramas seen, or such a series of poisonings and adulteries. The sages of that time came to consider woman as a pest to humanity, as the origin of baseness, and of shame, as an evil genius, whose only object in life was to destroy every noble germ in the opposite sex. Christianity changed all this. At that age which seems to us still youth, but at which the life of Oriental woman is so gloomy, so fatally prone to evil suggestions, the widow could, by covering her head with a black shawl, become a respectable person, be worthily employed, a deaconess, the equal of men, the most highly esteemed. This position, so distressing for a childless widow, Christianity elevated, rendered it holy. The widow became almost the equal of the maiden. She was calogrie, “beautiful in old age, venerated, useful, treated as a mother.” These women, constantly going to and fro, were admirable missionaries of the new religion. Protestants are mistaken in carrying into the recognition of these facts our modern ideas of individuality. As a mere question of Christian history, socialism and cenobitism are its primitive features.

The bishop and the priest, as we now know them, did not yet exist. Still, the pastoral ministry, that intimate 68familiarity of souls, not bound by ties of blood, had already been established. This latter has ever been the special gift of Jesus, and a kind of heritage from him. Jesus had often said, that to everyone he was more than a father and a mother, and that in order to follow him, it was necessary to forsake those the most dear to us. Christianity placed soma things above family; it instituted brotherhood, and spiritual marriage. The ancient form of marriage, which placed the wife unreservedly in the power of the husband, was pure slavery. The moral liberty of the woman began when the Church gave to her in Jesus a guide and a confidant, who should advise and console her, listen always to her, and on occasion, council resistance on her part. Woman needs to be governed, and is happy in so being; but it is necessary that she should love him who governs her. This is what neither ancient societies, nor Judaism, nor Islamism, have been able to do. Woman has never had, up to the present time, a religious conscience, a moral individuality, an opinion of her own, except in Christianity. Thanks to the bishops and monastic life, Radegonda could find means to escape from the arms of a barbarous husband. The life of the soul being all which is of account, it is just and reasonable that the pastor who knows how to make the divine chords of the heart vibrate, the secret counsellor who holds the key of consciences, should be more than father, more than husband.

In a sense, Christianity was a re-action against the too narrow domestic economy of the Aryan race. The old Aryan societies did not only admit but few besides married men, but also interpreted marriage in the strictest sense. It was something analogous to an English family, a narrow, exclusive, contracted circle, an egotism of several, as withering for the soul, as the egotism of the individual. Christianity, with its divine conception of the liberty of the Kingdom of God, corrected these exaggerations. It first guarded itself against imposing 69upon everyone the duties of the generality of mankind. It discovered that family was not the sole thing in life, that the duty of reproducing the species did not devolve on everyone, and that there should be persons freed front these duties—duties undoubtedly sacred but not designed for all.

The exception which Greek society made in favour of the hetærae, like Aspasia, and of the cortigiana, like Imperia, in consequence of the necessities of polite society, Christianity made for the priest, the nun and the deaconess, with a view to the general good. It recognised different classes in society. There are souls who find more sweetness in the love of five or six hundred people than in that of five or six; for such the ordinary conditions of family seem insufficient, cold and wearisome. Why extend to all, the exigences of our dull and mediocre societies? The temporal family suffices not for man. He requires brothers and sisters not of the flesh.

By its hierarchy of different social functions, the primitive church appeared to conciliate these opposing requirements. We shall never comprehend how happy these people were, under these holy restrictions, which maintained liberty, without restraining it, rendering at once possible the pleasures of communistic life, and those of private life. It was altogether different from the hurly-burly of our modern societies, artificial, and without love, in which the sensitive soul is sometimes so cruelly isolated. In these little refuges, which are called churches, the atmosphere was genial and sweet. People lived together in the same faith and in the same hope. But it is clear also that these conditions would be inapplicable to a large society. When entire countries embraced Christianity, the rules of the first churches became a Utopian idea, and sought refuge in monasteries. The monastic life is, in this sense, but the continuation of the primitive churches. The convent is the necessary consequence of the Christian spirit. There is no perfect 70Christianity without the convent, seeing that the evangelical idea can be realized there only.

A large allowance of credit, ought certainly to be made to Judaism in these great creations. Each of the Jewish communities scattered along the coasts of the Mediterranean, was already a sort of church, possessing its funds for mutual succour. Almsgiving, always recommended by the sages, had become a precept: it was done in the Temple, and in the synagogues: it was regarded as the first duty of the proselyte. In all times Judaism has been distinguished by its care for its poor, and for the fraternal sentiment of charity which it inspires.

There is a supreme injustice in opposing Christianity to Judaism by way of reproach, since all which Primitive Christianity possesses came bodily from Judaism. It is while thinking of the Roman world that one is struck by the miracles of charity and free association undertaken by the Church. Never did profane society, recognizing reason alone for its basis, produce such admirable results. The law of every profane, or, if I may say so, philosophical society, is liberty, sometimes equality; never fraternity. Charity, viewed from the point of right, has nothing about it obligatory; it concerns only individuals; it is even found to possess certain inconveniences, on which account it is distrusted. Every attempt to apply the public funds for the benefit of the poor savours of communism. When a man dies of hunger, when entire classes languish in misery, profane policy limits itself to finding out the cause of the misfortune. It points out at once that there can be no civil or political order without liberty; but the consequence of that liberty is that he who has nothing, and can earn nothing, must die of hunger. That is logical: but nothing can withstand the abuse of logic. The wants of the most numerous class always prevail in the long run. Institutions purely political and civil do not suffice; social and religious aspirations have also a right to a legitimate satisfaction.


The glory of the Jewish people is that they have loudly proclaimed this principle, from which emanated the ruin of the ancient empires, but which will never be eradicated. The Jewish law is social and non-political; the prophets, the authors of the apocalypses, were the promoters of social revolutions. In the first half of the first century, in the presence of profane civilization, the Jews had but one idea, which was to refuse the benefits of the Roman law, that philosophical and Atheistic law, which placed everyone on an equality, and to proclaim the excellence of their theocratic law, which formed a religious and moral society. “The Law is Happiness”: this was the idea of all Jewish thinkers, such as Philo and Josephus. The laws of other peoples were designed that justice should have its course; it mattered little whether men were good or happy. The Jewish law took account of the minutest details of moral education. Christianity is due to the development of the same idea. Each church is a monastery, in which all possess equal rights, in which there ought to be neither poor nor wicked, in which, consequently, each watches over and commands each other. Primitive Christianity may be defined as a great association of poor people, a heroic struggle against egotism, based upon the idea that each has a right to no more than is necessary for him, that all superfluity belongs to those who have nothing. We can at once see that between such a spirit and the Roman spirit, would be established a war to the death, and that Christianity, on its part, will never attain to dominating over the world, except on the condition of making important modifications in its inherent tendencies and in its original programme.

But the wants which it represents will always endure. The communistic life, commencing with the second half of the Middle Ages, having served for the abuses of an intolerant Church, the monastery having too often become but a feudal fief, or the barracks of a 72dangerous and fanatical military, the modern mind evinced a most bitter opposition in regard to cenobitism. But we forget that it was in the communistic life that the soul of man tasted its fullest joy. The canticle, “Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” has ceased to be our refrain. But when modern individualism shall have borne its latest fruits; when humanity, shrunken, saddened, and become impotent, will return to these grand institutions, and stern disciplines; when our pitiful bourgeois society—I speak unadvisedly, our world of pigmies—shall have been scourged with whips by the heroic and idealistic portions of mankind, then the communistic life will regain all its value. Many great things, science, for example, will be organized under a monastic form, with hereditary rights, but not those of blood. The importance which our century attributes to family will diminish. Egotism, the essential rule of civil society, will not be sufficient for great minds. All, proceeding from the most opposite points of view, will league themselves against vulgarity. We shall return again to the words of Jesus, and the ideas of the Middle Ages in regard to poverty. We will comprehend how that to possess anything could have been regarded as a mark of inferiority, and how that the founders of the mystic life could have disputed for centuries in order to discover whether Jesus owned even so much as the things which were necessary for his daily wants. These Franciscan subtleties will become once more great social problems. The splendid ideal, traced by the author of the Acts, will be inscribed as a prophetic revelation on the gates of the paradise of humanity. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them, that the things which he possessed were his own, but they had all things in common, neither was there any of them that lacked; fur as many as were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the price of things that were sold, 73and laid them down at the apostles feet, and distribution was made to every man according as he had need. And they, continuing with one daily accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” (Acts ii., 44-47.)

But let us not anticipate events. It was now about the year 36. Tiberius, at Caprea, has little idea of the enemy to the empire which is growing up. In two or three years the sect had made surprising progress. It numbered several thousand of the faithful. It was already easy to forsee that its conquests would be effected chiefly amongst the Hellenists and proselytes. The Galilean group which had listened to the master, though preserving always its precedence, seemed as if swamped by the floods of new corners speaking Greek. One could already perceive that the principal parts were to be played by the latter. At the time at which we are arrived, no Pagan, that is to say, no man without some anterior connection with Judaism, had entered into the Church. Proselytes, however, performed very important functions in it. The circle de provenance of the disciples had likewise largely extended; it is no longer a simple little college of Palestineans; we can count in it people from Cyprus, Antioch, and Cyrene, and from almost all the points of the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, where Jewish colonies had been established. Egypt alone was wanting in the primitive Church, and for a long time continued to be so. The Jews of that country were almost in a state of schism with Judea. They lived after their own fashion, which was superior in many respects to the life in Palestine, and scarcely felt the shock of the religious movements at Jerusalem

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