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It was inevitable that the preachings of the new sect, although delivered with so much reserve, should revive the animosities which had accumulated against its founder, and eventually brought about his death. The Sadducee family of Hanan, who had caused the death of Jesus, was still reigning. Joseph Caiaphas occupied, up to 36, the sovereign Pontificate, the effective power of which he gave over to his father-in-law Hanan, and to his relatives, John and Alexander. These arrogant and pitiless men viewed with impatience a troop of good and holy people, without official title, winning the favour of the multitude. Once or twice, Peter, John, and the principal members of the apostolic college, were put in prison and condemned to flagellation. This was the chastisement inflicted on heretics. The authorization of the Romans was not necessary in order to apply it. As we might indeed suppose, these brutalities only served to inflame the ardour of the apostles. They came forth from the Sanhedrim where they had just undergone flagellation, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for him whom they loved. Eternal puerility of penal repressions applied to things of the soul! They were regarded, no doubt, as men of order, as models of prudence and wisdom; these blunderers, who seriously believed in the year 36, to gain the upper hand of Christianity by means of a few strokes of a whip!

These outrages proceeded chiefly from the Sadducees, that is to say, from the upper clergy, who crowded the Temple and derived from it immense profits. We do not find that the Pharisees exhibited towards the sect the animosity they displayed to Jesus. The new believers 75were strict and pious people, somewhat resembling in their manner of life the Pharisees themselves. The rage which the latter manifested against the founder arose from the superiority of Jesus—a superiority which he was at no pains to dissimulate. His delicate railleries, his wit, his charm, his contempt for hypocrites, had kindled a ferocious hatred. The apostles, on the contrary, were devoid of wit; they never employed irony. The Pharisees were at times favourable to them; many Pharisees had even become Christians. The terrible anathemas of Jesus against Pharisaism had not yet been written, and the accounts of the words of the Master were neither general nor uniform. These first Christians were, besides, people so inoffensive, that many persons of the Jewish aristocracy, who did not exactly form part of the sect, were well disposed towards them. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who had known Jesus, remained no doubt with the Church in the bonds of brotherhood. The most celebrated Jewish doctor of the age, Rabbi Gamaliel the elder, grandson of Hillel, a man of broad and very tolerant ideas, spoke, it is said, in the Sanhedrim in favour of permitting gospel preaching. The author of the Acts credits him with some excellent reasoning, which ought to be the rule of conduct of governments, on all occasions when they find themselves confronted with novelties of an intellectual or moral order. “If this work is frivolous,” said he, “leave it alone, it will fall of itself; if it is serious, how dare you resist the work of God? In any case, you will not succeed in stopping it.” Gamaliel’s words were hardly listened to. Liberal minds in the midst of opposing fanaticisms have no chance of succeeding. A terrible commotion was produced by the deacon Stephen. His preaching had, as it would appear, great success. Multitudes flocked around him, and these gatherings resulted in acrimonious quarrels. It was chiefly Hellenists, or proselytes, habitues of the synagogue, called Libertini, people of Cyrene, of Alexandria, 76of Cilicia, of Ephesus, who took an active part in these disputes. Stephen passionately maintained that Jesus was the Messiah, that the priests had committed a crime in putting him to death, that the Jews were rebels, sons of rebels, people who rejected evidence. The authorities resolved to dispatch this audacious preacher. Several witnesses were suborned to seize upon some words in his discourses against Moses. Naturally they found that for which they sought. Stephen was arrested and led into the presence of the Sanhedrim. The sentence with which they reproached him was almost identical with the one which led to the condemnation of Jesus. They accused him of saying that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the Temple and change the traditions attributed to Moses. It is quite possible, indeed, that Stephen had used such language. A Christian of that epoch could not have had the idea of speaking directly against the Law, inasmuch as all still observed it; as for traditions, however, Stephen might combat them as Jesus had himself done; nevertheless, these traditions were foolishly ascribed by the orthodox to Moses, and people attributed to them a value, equal to that of the written Law.

Stephen defended himself by expounding the Christian thesis, with a wealth of citations from the written Law, from the Psalms, from the Prophets, and wound up by reproaching the members of the Sanhedrim with the murder of Jesus. “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart,” said he to them, “you will then ever resist the Holy Ghost as your fathers also have done. Which of the prophets have not your fathers prosecuted? They have slain those who announced the coming of the Just One, whom you have betrayed, and of whom you have been the murderers. This law that you have received from the mouth of angels you have not kept.” At these words a scream of rage interrupted him. Stephen, his excitement increasing more and more, fell into one of those transports of 77enthusiasm which were called the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His eyes were fixed on high; he witnessed the glory of God and Jesus by the side of his Father, and cried out: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of God.” The whole assembly stopped their ears, and threw themselves upon him, gnashing their teeth. He was dragged outside the city and stoned. The witnesses, who, according to the law, had to cast the first stones, divested themselves of their garments and laid them at the feet of a young fanatic named Saul, or Paul, who was thinking with secret joy of the renown he was acquiring in participating in the death of a blasphemer.

In all this there was an observance to the letter of the prescriptions of Deuteronomy, chapter xiii. But viewed from a civil law point, this tumultuous execution, carried out without the sanction of the Romans, was not regular. In the case of Jesus, we have seen that it was necessary to obtain the ratification of the Procurator. It may he that this ratification was obtained in the case of Stephen and that the execution did not follow his sentence quite so closely as the narrator of the Acts would have us believe. It may have happened also that the Roman authority was at this time somewhat relaxed. Pilate had been, or was about to be, suspended from his functions. The cause of this disgrace was simply the too great firmness which he had shown in his administration. Jewish fanaticism had rendered his life insupportable. Possibly he was tired of refusing the outrages these frantic people demanded of him, and the proud family of Hanan had reached the point that they no longer required the sanction of the Procurator to pronounce sentences of death. Lucius Vetellius (the father of him who was emperor) was then imperial legate at Syria. He sought to win the good graces of the population; and he restored to the Jews the pontificial vestments, 78which, since the time of Herod the Great, had been deposited in the tower of Antonia. Instead of sustaining the rigorous acts of Pilate, he lent an ear to the complaints of the natives and sent Pilate back to Rome, to answer the accusations of his subordinates (commencement of the year 36). The chief grievance of the latter was that the Procurator would not lend himself with sufficient complacency to their intolerant behests. Vitellius replaced him provisionally by his friend Marcellus, who was undoubtedly more careful not to displease the Jews, and, consequently, more willing to indulge them in their religious murders. The death of Liberius (16 March, 37) only encouraged Vitellius in this policy. The two first years of the reign of Caligula was an epoch of general relaxation of the Roman authority in Syria. The policy of that prince, before he lost his reason, was to restore to the peoples of the East their autonomy and their native chiefs. It was thus that he established the kingdoms or principalities of Comagene, of Herod Agrippa, of Soheym, of Cotys, of Polemon II., and permitted that of Harêth to aggrandise itself. When Pilate arrived at Rome, the new reign had already begun. It is probable that Caligula held him to be in the wrong, inasmuch as he confided the government of Jerusalem to a new functionary, Marcellus, who appears not to have excited, on the part of the Jews, the violent recriminations which overwhelmed poor Pilate with embarrassment, and filled him with disgust.

At all events, that which is important to remark is, that in that epoch the persecutors of Christianity were not Romans; they were orthodox Jews. The Romans preserved in the midst of this fanaticism a principle of tolerance and of reason. If we can reproach the imperial authority with anything, it is with being too lenient, and with not having cut short with a stroke the civil consequences of a sanguinary law which visited with death religious derelictions. But as yet the 79Roman domination was not so complete as it became later; it was only a sort of protectorate or suzerainty. Its condescension even went the length of not putting the head of the emperor on the coins struck during the rule of procurators, so as not to shock Jewish ideas. Rome did not yet, in the East at least, seek to impose upon vanquished peoples her laws, her gods, her manners; she left them, outside the Roman laws, their local customs. Their semi-independence was simply a further indication of their inferiority. The imperial power in the East, at that epoch, resembled somewhat the Turkish authority, and the condition of the native population, that under the Rajahs. The notion of equal rights and equal protection for all did not exist. Each provincial group had its jurisdiction, just as at this day the various Christian Churches and the Jews have in the Ottoman Empire, In Turkey, a few years ago, the patriarchs of the different communities of Rajahs, provided that they had some sort of understanding with the Porte, were sovereigns as far as their subordinates were concerned, and could sentence them to the most cruel punishments.

As Stephen’s death may have taken place at any time during the years 36, 37, 38, we cannot, therefore, affirm whether Caiaphas ought to be held responsible for it. Caiaphas was deposed by Lucius Vitellius, in the year 36, shortly after the time of Pilate; but the change was inconsiderable. He had for a successor his brother-in-law, Jonathan, son of Hanan. The latter, in turn, was succeeded by his brother Theophilus, son of Hanan, who continued the Pontificate in the house of Hanan till the year 42. Hanna was still alive, and, possessed of the real power, maintained in his family the principles of pride, severity, hatred against innovators which were, so to speak, hereditary.

The death of Stephen produced a great impression. The proselytes solemnized his funeral with tears and groanings. The separation of the new secretaries from 80Judaism was not yet absolute. The proselytes and the Hellenists, leas strict in regard to orthodoxy than the pure Jews, considered that they ought to render public homage to a man who respected their constitution, and whose peculiar beliefs did not put him without the pale of the Law.

Thus began the era of Christian martyrs. Martyrdom was not an entirely new thing. Not to mention John the Baptist and Jesus, Judaism at the time of Antiochus Epiphanus, had had its witnesses, faithful even to the death. But the series of courageous victims, beginning with Saint Stephen, has exercised a peculiar influence upon the history of the human mind. It introduced into the western world an element which it lacked, to wit, absolute and exclusive faith, the idea that there is but one good and true religion. In this sense, the martyrs began the era of intolerance. It may be avouched with great assurance, that he who can give his life for his faith would, if he were master, be intolerant. Christianity, when it had passed through three centuries of persecution, and became, in its turn, dominant, was more persecuting than any religion had ever been. When people have shed their blood for a cause they are too prone to shed the blood of others, so as to conserve the treasure they have gained.

The murder of Stephen, moreover, was not an isolated event. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Roman functionaries, the Jews brought to bear upon the Church a real persecution. It seems that the vexations pressed chiefly on the Hellenists and the proselytes whose free behaviour exasperated the orthodox. The Church of Jerusalem, which though already strongly organized, was compelled to disperse. The apostles, according to a principle which seems to have seized strong hold of their minds, did not quit the city. It was probably so, too, with the whole purely Jewish group, those who were denominated the “Hebrews.” But the great community with its common table, its 81diaconal services, its varied exercises, ceased from that time, and was never re-formed upon its first model. It had endured for three or four years. It was for nascent Christianity an unequalled good fortune that its first attempts at association, essentially communistic, were so soon broken up. Essays of this kind engender such shocking abuses, that communistic establishments are condemned to crumble away in a very short time, or to ignore very soon the principle upon which they are founded. Thanks to the persecution of the year 37 the cenobitic Church of Jerusalem was saved from the test of time. It was nipped in the bud, before interior difficulties had undermined it. It remained like a splendid dream, the memory of which animated in their life of trial all those who had formed part of it, like an ideal to which Christianity incessantly aspires without ever succeeding in reaching its goal. Those who know what an inestimable treasure the memory of Menilmontant is to the members still alive of the St. Simonian Church, what friendship it creates between them, what joy kindles in their eyes, when they speak of it, will comprehend the powerful bond which was established between the new brethren, from the fact of having first loved and then suffered together. It is almost always a principle of great lives, that during several months they have realised God, and the recollection of this suffices to fill up the entire after-years with strength and sweetness.

The leading part in the persecution we have just related belonged to that young Saul, whom we have above found abetting, as far as in him lay, the murder of Stephen. This hot-headed youth, furnished with a permission from the priests, entered houses suspected of harbouring Christians, laid violent hold on men and women and dragged them to prison, or before the tribunals. Saul boasted that there was no one of his generation so zealous as himself for the traditions. True it is, that often the gentleness and the resignation of his victims astonished 82him; he experienced a kind of remorse; he fancied he heard these pious women, whom, hoping for the Kingdom of God, he had cast into prison, saying during the night, in a sweet voice: “Why persecutest thou us?” The blood of Stephen, which had almost smothered him, sometimes troubled his vision. Many things that he had heard said of Jesus went to his heart. This superhuman being, in his ethereal life, whence he sometimes emerged, revealing himself in brief apparitions, haunted him like a spectre. But Saul shrunk with horror from such thoughts; he confirmed himself with a sort of frenzy in the faith of his traditions, and meditated new cruelties against those who attacked him. His name had become a terror to the faithful; they dreaded at his hands the most atrocious outrages, and the most sanguinary treacheries.

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