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We have seen Barnabas depart from Antioch to carry to the faithful of Jerusalem the alms of their brethren in Syria. We have seen him share in some of the emotions which the persecutions of Herod Agrippa I. caused the Church at Jerusalem. Let us return with him to Antioch where all the creative activity of the sect appears at that moment to have been concentrated.


Barnabas brought with him a zealous collaborator, his cousin John-Mark, the favourite disciple of Peter, and the son of that Mary with whom the first of the apostles loved to dwell. Without doubt in taking with him this new co-operator, he was already thinking of the new enterprise with which he intended to associate him. Perhaps he even foresaw the divisions which that new enterprise would raise up, and was by no means unwilling to mix up with them a man whom he knew to be Peters right hand, that is to say, the right hand of that one of the apostles who had the greatest authority in general matters.

This enterprise was nothing less than a series of great missions, starting from Antioch and having for programme the conversion of the whole world. Like all resolutions taken by the Church, this was attributed to the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost. A special vocation, a supernatural choice, was believed to have been communicated to the Church of Antioch whilst she was fasting and praying. Perhaps one of the prophets of the Church, Menaham or Lucius, in one of his fits of speaking with tongues, uttered words from which it was concluded that Paul and Barnabas had been selected for this mission. Paul himself was convinced that God had chosen him from his mother’s womb for the work to which he was henceforward wholly to devote himself.

The two apostles took as coadjutor, under the name of subordinate, to attend to the material cares of their enterprise, this John-Mark, whom Barnabas had brought with him from Jerusalem. When the preparations were finished there were fastings and prayer; it is said that hands were laid upon the apostles, in sign of a mission conferred by the Church herself; they were commended to the grace of God and they departed. Whither would they go? What world would they evangelize? That is what we have now to inquire.

All the great primitive Christian missions turned 151towards the West, or in other words, took the Roman Empire for their stage and framework. If we except some small portions of territory tributary to the Arsacides, comprehended between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Empire of the Parthians received no Christian missions in the first century. The Tigris was on the Eastern side, a boundary which Christianity did not overpass until under the Sapanides. Two great causes, the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire, decided this cardinal fact.

The Mediterranean had been for a thousand years the great route where all civilization and all ideas intermingled. The Romans, having delivered it from piracy, had made it an unequalled means of communication. A numerous fleet of coasters made travelling on the shores of this great lake very easy. The relative security which the routes of the Empire afforded, the guarantees which were found in the public powers, the diffusions of the Jews on all the coasts of the Mediterranean, the use of the Greek language in the Eastern part of that sea, the unity of civilization which the Greeks first, and then the Romans had created there, made the map of the Empire the very map of the countries reserved for Christian missions, and destined to become Christian. The Roman orbis became the Christian orbis, and in this sense it may be said that the founders of the Empire were the founders of the Christian monarchy, or at least, that they sketched its outlines. Every province conquered by the Roman Empire has been a province conquered by Christianity. If we figure to ourselves the apostles in the presence of an Asia Minor, of a Greece, of an Italy divided into a hundred petty republics, of a Spain, an Africa, an Egypt in possession of ancient national institutions, we cannot imagine them as successful, or rather we cannot imagine how the project of them could ever have been conceived. The unity of the Empire was the preliminary condition of every great scheme of religious proselytism 152setting itself above nationalities. The Empire felt it strongly in the fourth century. It became Christian; it saw that Christianity was the religion which it had made without knowing it, the religion bounded by its frontiers, identified with it, and capable of securing for it a second term of life. The Church on her side made herself altogether Roman, and has remained to our days as a relic of the Empire. Paul might have been told that Claudius was his first coadjutor; Claudius might have been told that this Jew, who set out from Antioch, was about to found the most solid part of the Imperial edifice. Both would no doubt have been infinitely astonished, but the saying would have been true all the same.

Of all the countries outside Judea, the first in which Christianity established itself was naturally Syria. The neighbourhood of Palestine and the great number of Jews established in that country rendered such a thing inevitable. Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and Italy, were visited by the apostolic messengers after some years. The south of Gaul, Spain, the coast of Africa, though they may have been evangelized sufficiently early, may be considered as forming a more recent course in the substructure of Christianity.

It was the same in Egypt. Egypt plays scarcely any part in apostolic history. Christian missionaries appear to have systematically turned their backs upon it. This country, which from the beginning of the third century became the scene of such important events in the history of religion, was at first greatly behind hand in its Christianity. Apollos is the only Christian doctor produced by the school of Alexandria, and even he learned Christianity in his travels. The cause of this remarkable phenomenon must be sought in the little communication which then existed between the Jews of Egypt and those of Palestine, and above all, in the fact that Jewish Egypt had in some sort its separate religious development. Egypt had Philo and 153the Therapeutics; that was its Christianity which deterred it from lending an attentive ear to the other. Pagan Egypt possessed religious institutions much more definite than those of Græco-Roman Paganism the Egyptian religion was still in all its strength; it was almost at this very time that the great temples of Enoch and of Ombos were built, and that the hope of having in the little Cæsarion a last king Ptolemy, a national Messiah, raised from the earth those sanctuaries of Dendereh, of Hermonthis, comparable to the finest Pharaohnic work. Christianity seated itself everywhere on the ruins of national sentiment and local religions. The spiritual degradation of Egypt besides caused there a variety of aspirations which elsewhere opened an easy way to Christianity.

A rapid flash, coming out of Syria, illuminating almost simultaneously the three great peninsulas of Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, and soon followed by a second reflection which embraced almost all the coasts of the Mediterranean, such was the first apparition of Christianity. The journey of the apostolic ship is almost always the same. Christian preaching appears to follow almost invariably in the wake of the Jewish emigration. As an infection which, taking its point of departure from the bottom of the Mediterranean, appears at the same moment at a certain number of points on the littoral by a secret correspondence, so Christianity had its ports of arrival as it were settled beforehand. These ports were almost all marked by Jewish colonies. A synagogue preceded in general the establishment of the Church. One might say a train of powder, or better still a sort of electric chain along which the new idea ran in an almost instantaneous fashion.

For five hundred years, in effect, Judaism, until then confined to the East and to Egypt, had taken its flight towards the West. Cyrene, Cyprus, Asia Minor, certain cities of Macedonia and of Greece and Italy, had 154important Jewries. The Jews gave the first example of that species of patriotism, that the Parsees, the Armenians, and up to a certain point the modern Greeks were to exhibit later: a patriotism which was extremely energetic although not attached to a definite soil; a patriotism of merchants scattered everywhere; recognizing one another as brothers everywhere; a patriotism aiming at the formation not of great compact states but of little autonomous communities in the bosoms of other states. Strongly associated together, the Jews of the dispersion constituted in the cities, congregations almost independent having their own magistrates and their own council. In certain cities they had an ethnarch or alabarch, invested with almost sovereign rights. They inhabited separate districts, withdrawn from the ordinary jurisdiction, much despised by the rest of the world, but very happy in themselves. They were rather poor than rich. The time of the great Jewish fortunes had not yet come; they began in Spain under the Visigoths. The monopoly of finance by the Jews was the effect of the administrative incapacity of the barbarians, of the hatred which the Church conceived for monetary science, and its superficial ideas on the subject of usury. Under the Roman Empire there was nothing of this kind. Now when the Jew is not rich his pour, easy middleclass life is not to his taste. In any case he well knows how to support poverty. What he knows even better is how to ally religious preoccupation of the most exalted kind with the rarest commercial ability. Theological eccentricites by no means exclude good sense in business. In England, in America, in Russia, the most eccentric sectaries (Irvingites, Latter-day Saints, Raskolniks) are exceedingly good merchants.

It has always been the peculiarity of the Jewish life, piously practiced, to produce great gaiety and cordiality. There was love in that little world; they love a past, and the same past; the religious ceremonies surrounded 155life very gently. Something analogous to these communities exist to this day in every great Turkish city; for example Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Smyrniots, communities, close brotherhoods in which every member knows every other, live together and—intrigue together. In these little republics, religious questions always prevail over questions of politics, or rather make up for the want of them. A heresy is there an affair of the State; a schism is always a personal question at bottom. The Romans, with but few exceptions, never penetrated these reserved quarters. The synagogues promulgated their decrees, decreed honours, and acted like living municipalities. The influence of the corporations was very great. At Alexandria it was of the first order and governed the whole internal history of the city. At Rome the Jews were numerous and formed an element which was not to be despised. Cicero represents having dared to resist them as an act of courage. Cæsar favoured them, and found them faithful. Tiberius, in order to restrain them, resorted to the severest measures. Caligula, whose reign was a mournful one for them in the East, gave them their liberty of association in Rome. Claudius, who favoured them in Judea, found himself obliged to drive them out of the city. They were to be met with everywhere, and it was openly said of them, as of the Greeks, that though conquered they had imposed their laws upon their conquerors.

The disposition of the native populations towards these strangers varied greatly. On the one hand the sentiment of revulsion and of antipathy, that the Jews by their spirit of jealous isolation, their rancorous temper and unsociable habits, produced around them everywhere where they were numerous and organised, manifested itself most strongly. When they were free, they were in reality privileged; since they enjoyed the advantages of society without bearing its cost. Impostors profited by the movement of curiosity which 156their worship excited, and under the pretence of exposing its secrets delivered themselves to friends of every kind. Violent and half-burlesque pamphlets like that of Apion, pamphlets from which profane writers have too often drawn their inspiration, were circulated and served as food for the wrath of the Pagan public. The Jews seem to have been generally niggardly and given to complaining. They were believed to be a secret society, bearing no good will to the rest of the world, whose members advanced themselves at any cost to the injury of others. Their strange customs, their aversion to certain meats, their dirtiness, their want of distinction, the fetid odour which they exhaled, their religious scruples, their minuteness in the observance of the Sabbath, were found ridiculous. Placed under the ban of society, the Jews by a natural consequence, took no pains to figure as gentle people. They were met everywhere travelling in clothes shining with filth, an awkward air, a fatigued demeanour, a pale complexion, large diseased eyes, a sanctimonious expression, shutting themselves apart with their wives, their children, their bundles of bedding, and the basket which contained all their goods. In the cities they carried on the meanest trades; they were beggars, rag-pickers, dealers in second-hand goods, sellers of tinder boxes. Their law and their history were unjustly depreciated. At one time they were found to be superstitious and cruel; at another, atheists and despisers of the gods. Their aversion to images was looked upon as sheer impiety. Circumcision especially furnished the theme for interminable raillery.

But those superficial judgments were not those of all. The Jews had as many friends as detractors. Their gravity, their good morals, the simplicity of their worship, charmed a crowd of people. Something superior was felt in them. A vast monotheistic and Mosaic propaganda was organised; a sort of singular whirlwind formed itself around this singular little 157people. The poor Jewish pedlar of the Transtevere, going out in the morning with his flat basket of haberdashery, often returned in the evening rich with the alms of a pious brother. Women were especially attracted by these missionaries in tatters. Juvenal reckons this love for the Jewish religion amongst the vices with which he reproaches the women of his time. Those who were converted boasted of the treasure which they had found, and the happiness which they enjoyed. Only the Greek and the Roman spirit resisted energetically; contempt and hatred of the Jews are the sign of all cultivated minds: Cicero, Horace, Seneca, Juvenal, Tacitus, Quintilian, Suetonius. On the contrary that enormous mass of mixed populations which the empire had subjugated, populations to which the Roman spirit and the Greek wisdom were foreign or indifferent, attached themselves in crowds to a society in which they found touching examples of concord, of charity, of mutual help, of clannish attachment, of a taste for work, of a proud poverty. Mendicity, which was at a late date an exclusively Christian business, was then a Jewish trade. The beggar by trade, “born to it,” presented himself to the poets of the time as a Jew.

The exemption from certain civil charges, particularly the military, helped also to cause the fate of the Jews to be regarded as enviable. The State then demanded many sacrifices and gave little moral satisfaction. Everything was icily cold as on a flat plain without shelter. Life, so sad in the midst of Paganism regained its charm and its value in the warm atmosphere of synagogue and church. It was not liberty which was to be found there. The brethren spied much upon each other, everyone worrying himself about the affairs of everyone else. But although the interior life of these little communities was greatly agitated, they were happy enough; no one quitted them; there were no apostasies. The poor were content in them; 158they regarded the rich without envy, with the tranquility of a good conscience. The really democratic sentiment of the folly of the world, of the vanity of riches and of earthly grandeur finely expressed itself there. Little was known about the Pagan world and it was judged with an outrageous severity; Roman civilization was regarded as a mass of impurities and of odious vices, just as the honest workman of our own days, saturated with socialistic declamations, pictures the “aristocrats” to himself in the darkest colours. But there was then life, gaiety and interest just as there is to-day in the poorest synagogues of Poland and Galicia. The want of delicacy and of elegance in the habits of the people was atoned for by the family spirit and patriarchal good feeling. In high society, on the contrary, egotism and isolation of soul had borne their last fruits.

The word of Zachariah was verified: that men “shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying we will go with you, for we perceive that God is with you.” There was no great town where the Sabbath fasts and other ceremonies of Judaism were not observed. Josephus dares to provoke those who doubted it, to consider their country and even their own house to see if there were not confirmation of what he said. The presence in Rome and near the Emperor of many members of the family of the Herods, who practised their worship ostentatiously in the face of all, contributed much to this publicity. The Sabbath besides imposed itself by a sort of necessity in the quarters where there were Jews. Their obstinate determination not to open their shops on that day forced their neighbours to modify their habits. It is thus that at Salonica one might say that the Sabbath is still observed, the Jewish population there being rich enough and numerous enough to make the law and to order the day of rest by closing its places of business. Almost the equal of the Jew, often in company with him, the Syrian was an active instrument in the conquest 159of the West by the East. They were confounded occasionally, and Cicero thought he had found the common feature which united them, when he called them “the nations born for servitude.” It was by that, that their future was assured, for the future was then for the slaves. A not less essential characteristic of the Syrian was his facility, his suppleness, the superficial clearness of his mind. The Syrian nature is like a fugitive image in the clouds of Heaven. From time to time we see certain lines traced there with grace, but those lines never form a complete design. In the shade, by the undecided light of a lamp, the Syrian woman under her veil, with her vague eyes and her infinite softness, produces some instants of illusion. But when we wish to analyse that beauty it vanishes; it will not bear examination. All that besides lasts but three or four years. That which is charming in the Syrian race is the child of five or six years of age; the universe of Greece where the child is nothing, the young man inferior to the mature man, the mature man to the old. Syrian intelligence attracts by an air of promptitude and lightness, but it wants firmness and solidity; something like the golden wine of the Lebanon which is very pleasant at first but of which one tires very soon. The true gifts of God have in them something at once fine and strong, something intoxicating, yet lasting. Greece is more appreciated to-day than she has ever been and she will be appreciated more and more.

Many of the Syrian emigrants whom the desire of making their fortunes had drawn westwards, were more or less attached to Judaism. Those who were not, remained faithful to the worship of their villages; that is to say to the memory of some temple dedicated to a local “Jupiter,” who was usually simply the supreme being, differentiated by a particular title. It was at bottom a species of monotheism, which these Syrians brought under cover of their strange gods. Compared 160at least with the profoundly distinct divine personalities, which Greek and Roman polytheism offered, the gods whom they worshipped, for the most part synonyms of the Sun, were almost the brothers of the One God. Like long enervating chants these Syrian rites, might appear less dry than the Latin worship, less empty than the Greek. The Syrian women found in them something at once voluptuous and exalted. These women were at all times eccentric beings, disputing between the devil and God, floating between saintliness and demoniacal possession. The saint of serious virtues, of heroic renunciations, of steadfast resolutions, belongs to other races, and other climates: the saint of strong imagination, absolute enthusiasm, of ready love, is the saint of Syria. The witch of our middle ages is the slave of Satan by vulgarity or by sin; the “possessed” of Syria, is the mad-woman of the ideal world, the woman whose sentiment has been wounded, who avenges herself by frenzy or shuts herself up in silence, who only needs a gentle word or a benignant look to cure her. Transported to the Western World, these Syrians acquired influence, sometimes by the evil arts of woman, more often by a certain moral superiority and a real capacity. Fifty years later this will be specially seen, when the most important persons in Rome married Syrian women, who immediately acquired a great ascendency in affairs. The Mussulman woman of our days, a clamorous, Megæra, stupidly fanatical, scarcely existing save for evil, almost incapable of virtue, ought not to make us forget the Julia Domna, the Julia Mæsa, the Julia Maæmsa, the Julia Soemia, who upheld in Rome in the matter of religion mystical instincts, and a tolerance, hitherto unknown. What is very remark-able, also, is that the Syrian dynasty, conducted by fate, showed itself favourable to Christianity, that Mamacus, and later, the Emperor Philippus, the Arabian, passed for Christians. Christianity in the third and fourth centuries was especially the religion of Syria. After 161Palestine, Syria had the greatest share in its foundation.

It was especially at Rome that the Syrian in the first century exercised his penetrating activity. Charged with almost all the minor trades, guide, messenger; letterbearer, the Syrus entered everywhere, introducing with himself the language and the manners of his country. He had neither the pride nor the philosophical hauteur of the European. Still less their bodily strength: weak of body, pale, often nervous, not knowing how to eat or to sleep at regular hours after the fashion of our heavy and solid races, eating little meat, living upon onions and pumpkins, sleeping but little and lightly, the Syrian died young, and was habitually ill. What were peculiar to him, were his humility, his gentleness, his affability, and a certain goodness; no solidity of mind, but an infinite charm; little good sense, except in matters of business, but an astonishing ardour, and a seductiveness altogether feminine. The Syrian, having never had any political life, has an altogether special aptitude for religious movements. This poor Maronite, humble, ragged as he is, has made the greatest of revolutions. His ancestor, the Syrus of Rome, was the most zealous bearer of the good news to all the afflicted. Every year brought to Greece, to Italy, to Gaul, colonies of these Syrians, urged by the natural taste which they had for small business. They were recognized on the ships by their numerous families, by their troops of pretty children almost of the same age, who followed them: the mother, with the childish air of a little girl of fourteen, holding herself by the side of her husband, submissive, gently smiling, scarcely bigger than her elder sons. The heads in these little groups are not strikingly marked; there is certainly no Archimedes, Plato or Phidias amongst them. But the Syrian merchant arrived in Rome, will be a man, good and pitiful, charitable to his fellow countrymen, loving the poor. He will talk with the slaves, revealing to them an 162asylum, where those unhappy wretches, reduced by Roman harshness to the most desolating solitude may find a little consolation. The Greek and Latin races of masters did not know how to profit by a humble position. The slave of these races passed his life in rebellion, and the desire of evil. The ideal slave of antiquity has all the defects; he is gluttonous, a liar, malicious, the natural enemy of his master. In this way he proved his nobility in a sort of way; he protested against an unnatural position. The good Syrian did not protest; he accepted his ignominy and sought to profit by it as much as possible. He conciliated the good-will of his master, dared to speak to him; knew how to please his mistress. This great agent of democracy went thus unpicking, stitch by stitch, the knot of antique civilization. The old societies founded upon disdain, upon the inequality of races, upon military courage, were lost. Weakness and humility were now to become an advantage for the perfecting of virtue. Roman aristocracy and Greek wisdom, will keep up the struggle for three centuries. Tacitus will find it good that thousands of these unfortunates should be transported: Si interissent, vile damnum. The Roman aristocracy will grow angry, will find it bad that such scum should have their gods, their institutions. But the victory is written beforehand. The Syrian, the poor man who loves his kind, who shares with them, who associates with them, will win the day. The Roman aristocracy will perish for want of mercy.

To explain the revolution which is about to be accomplished, we must take into account the political, social, moral, intellectual, and religious state of the countries, where Jewish proselytism had opened the soil for Christian preaching to fertilize. That study will show, I hope, convincingly that the conversion of the world to Jewish and Christian ideas was inevitable, and will leave room for astonishment, only upon one point, which is, that conversion should be effected so slowly and so late.

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