« Prev Chapter XIII. The Idea of an Apostolate to the… Next »



Great was the excitement at Jerusalem when it was learned what had taken place at Antioch. Notwithstanding the kindly wishes of some of the principal members of the Church of Jerusalem, Peter in particular, the Apostolic College continued to be influenced by the meanest ideas. On every occasion when it was told that the glad tidings had been announced to the heathen, some of the elders manifested signs of disappointment. The man who at this time triumphed 125over this miserable jealously, and who prevented the narrow exclusiveness of the “Hebrews” from ruining the future of Christianity, was Barnabas. He was the most enlightened member of the Church at Jerusalem. He was the chief of the liberal party, which desired progress, and wished the Church to be open to all. He had already powerfully contributed towards removing the mistrust with which Paul was regarded; and he now, also, exercised a marked influence. Sent as a delegate of the apostolical body to Antioch, he inquired into and approved of all that had been done, and declared that the new Church had only to continue in the course upon which it had entered. Conversions were effected in great numbers. The vital and creative force of Christianity appeared to be centred at Antioch. Barnabas, whose zeal sought every occasion to display itself with the utmost vigour, remained there. Antioch thenceforth was his Church, and it was there that he exercised his most influential and important ministry. Christianity has always done injustice to this great man in not placing him in the first rank of her founders. Barnabas was the patron of all good and liberal ideas. His discriminating boldness often served to counterbalance the obstinacy of the narrow-minded Jews who formed the conservative party of Jerusalem.

A magnificent idea sprung up in this noble heart at Antioch. Paul was at Tarsus in forced repose, which, to an active man like him, must have been perfect torture. His false position, his haughtiness, and his exaggerated pretensions, were sapping many of his other and better qualities. He was fretting himself, and remained almost useless. Barnabas knew how to apply to its true work that force which was wasting away in this unhealthy and dangerous solitude. For the second time, Barnabas held out the hand of friendship to Paul, and led this intractable character into the society of those brethren whom he wished to avoid. He went himself to Tarsus, sought him out, and brought 126him to Antioch. He did that which those obstinate old brethren of Jerusalem would never have brought themselves to do. To win over this great shrinking and susceptible soul; to accommodate oneself to the caprices and whims of a man full of ardour, and at the same time most personal; to take a secondary place to him, and forgetful of oneself, to prepare the field of operations for the most favourable display of his abilities—all this is certainly the very climax of virtue; and this is what Barnabas did for Paul. Most of the glory, which has accrued to the latter, is really due to the modest man, who excelled him in everything, brought his merits to light, prevented more than once his faults from resulting deplorably to himself and his cause, and the illiberal views of others from exciting him to revolt; and also prevented mean personalities from interfering with the work of God.

During an entire year Barnabas and Paul worked together. This was a most brilliant, and, without doubt, the most happy year in the life of Paul. The prolific originality of these two great men raised the Church of Antioch to a degree of grandeur to which no Christian Church had previously attained. Few places in the world had experienced more intellectual activity than the capital of Syria. During the Roman epoch, as in our time, social and religious questions were brought to the surface principally at the centres of population. A sort of reaction against the general immorality, which made Antioch later, the special abode of Stylites and hermits, was already felt; and the true doctrine thus found in this city, more favourable conditions for success than it had yet met.

An important circumstance proves, besides, that it was at Antioch that the sect for the first time felt the full consciousness of its existence; for it was in this city that it received a distinct name. Hitherto its adherents had called themselves “believers,” “the faithful,” “saints,” “brothers,” “the disciples;” but 127the sect had no public and official name. It was at Antioch that the title of Christianus was devised. The termination of the work is Latin, not Greek, which would indicate that it was selected by the Roman authority as a police designation, like Herodiani, Pompeiana, Cæsariani. In any event it is certain that such a name was formed by the heathen population. It included an error, for it implied that Christus, a translation of the Hebrew Maschiah (the Messiah), was a proper name. Not a few of those who were unfamiliar with Jewish or Christian ideas, were by this name led to believe that Christus or Chrestus was a sectarian leader yet living. The vulgar pronunciation of the name indeed was Chrestiani.

The Jews did not adopt, in a regular manner, at least, the name given by the Romans to their schismatic co-religionist. They continued to call the new converts “Nazarenes” or “Nazorenes,” because no doubt they were accustomed to call Jesus Han-nasri or Han-nosri, “the Nazarene;” and even unto the present day, this name is still applied to them throughout the entire East.

This was a most important moment. Solemn indeed is the hour when the new creation receives its name, for that name is the direct symbol of its existence. It is by its name that a being, individual or collective, really becomes itself, and is distinct from others. The formation of the word “Christian” marks thus the precise date of the separation from Judaism of the Church of Jesus. For a long time to come the two religions were still confounded; but this confusion could only take place in those countries where the spread of Christianity was slow and backward. The sect quickly accepted the appelation which was applied to it, and viewed it as a title of honour. It is really astonishing to reflect that ten years after the death of Jesus, his religion had already, in the capital of Syria, a name in the Greek and Latin tongues. Christianity was now 128completely weaned from its mother; the true sentiments of Jesus had triumphed over the indecision of his first disciples; the Church of Jerusalem was left behind; the Aramaic language, in which Jesus spoke, was unknown to a portion of his followers; Christianity spoke Greek, and was finally launched into that great vortex of the Greek and Roman world, whence it has never departed.

The feverish activity of ideas manifested by this young Church must have been truly extraordinary. Great spiritual manifestations were frequent. All believed themselves to be inspired in various ways. Some were “prophets,” others “teachers.” Barnabas, as his name indicates, was no doubt among the prophets. Paul had no special title. Among the leaders of the Church at Antioch are also mentioned Simeon, surnamed Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Menahem, who had been the foster-brother of Herod Antipas, and was consequently rather old. All these personages were Jews. Among the converted heathen was, perhaps, already that Evhode, who, at a certain period, seems to have occupied the first place in the church of Antioch. Undoubtedly the heathen who heard the first preaching were slightly inferior, and did not shine in the public exercises of using unknown tongues, of preaching, and prophecy.

In the midst of the congenial society of Antioch, Paul quickly adapted himself to the order of things. Later, he manifested opposition to the use of tongues, and it is probable that he never practised it; but he had many visions and immediate revelations. It was apparently at Antioch where occurred that ecstatic trance which he describes in these terms: “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell—God knoweth); such an one was caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell—God knoweth); 129how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Paul, though in general, prudent and practical, shared the prevalent ideas of the day in regard to the supernatural. Like so many others, he believed that he was working miracles, like everybody; it was impossible that the gifts of the Holy Sprit, which were acknowledged to be the common right of the church, should be denied to him.

But men permeated with so lively a faith could not content themselves with merely exuberant piety, so they panted soon for action. The idea of great missions, destined to convert the heathen, beginning in Asia Minor, seized hold of the public mind. Had such an idea been formed at Jerusalem, it could not have been realized, because the church there was without pecuniary resources. An extensive undertaking of propagandism requires a certain capital to work on. Now, the common treasury at Jerusalem was entirely devoted to the support of the poor, and was frequently insufficient for that purpose; and to save these noble mendicants from dying from hunger, it was necessary to obtain help from all quarters. Communism had created at Jerusalem an irremediable poverty and a total incapacity for great enterprises. The church at Antioch was exempt from such a calamity. The Jews in these profane cities had attained to affluence, and in some cases had accumulated vast fortunes. The faithful were wealthy when they entered the church. Antioch furnished the capital for the founding of Christianity, and it is easy to imagine the total difference in manner and spirit which this circumstance alone would create between the two churches. Jerusalem remained the city of the poor of God, of the ebionim, of those simple Galilean dreamers, intoxicated, as it were, with the expectation of the kingdom of Heaven. Antioch, almost a stranger to the words of Jesus, whom it had never heard, was the church of action and of progress. 130Antioch was the city of Paul; Jerusalem was the seat of the old apostolic college, wrapped up in its dreamy fantasies, and unequal to the new problems which were opening, but dazzled by its incomparable privileges, and rich in its unsurpassed events.

A certain circumstance soon brought all these traits into bold relief. So great was the lack of forethought in this half-starved Church of Jerusalem, that the least accident threw the community into distress. Now, in a country destitute of economic organization, where commerce was but little developed, and where the sources of welfare were limited, famines were inevitable. A terrible famine occurred in the reign of Claudius, in the year 44. When its threatening symptoms became apparent, the elders of Jerusalem decided to seek succour from the members of the richer churches of Syria. An embassy of prophets was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agab, who was in high repute for his prophetic powers, was suddenly inspired, and announced that the famine was now at hand. The faithful were deeply moved at the evils which menanced the mother Church, to which they still deemed themselves tributary. A collection was made, at which every one gave according to his means, and Barnabas was selected to carry the funds thus obtained to the brethren in Judea. Jerusalem for a long time remained the capital of Christianity. There were centred the objects peculiar to the faith, and there only were the apostles. But a great forward step had been taken. For several years there had been only one completely organised Church, that of Jerusalem—the absolute centre of the faith, the heart from which all life proceeded and to which it flowed back again; such was no longer the case. The Church at Antioch was now a perfect Church. It possessed all the hierarchy of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. It was the starting-point of the missions, and their head-quarters. It was a second capital, or rather 131a second heart, which had its own proper action, exercising its force and influence in every direction.

It was now easy to forsee that the second capital must soon eclipse the first. The decay of the Church at Jerusalem was, indeed, rapid. It is natural that institutions founded on communism should enjoy at the beginning a period of brilliancy, for communism involves always high mental exaltation; but it is equally natural that such institutions should very quickly degenerate, because communism is contrary to the instincts of human nature. In his virtuous fits, man readily believes that he can entirely sacrifice his selfish instincts and his peculiar interests; but egotism has its revenge, by proving that absolute disinterestedness engenders evils more serious than those it is hoped to avoid by the renunciation of personal rights to property.

« Prev Chapter XIII. The Idea of an Apostolate to the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection