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Doubt, which is never absent from this history, becomes always an opaque cloud when it is a question of Ephesus and of the dark passions which agitated it. We have admitted as probable the traditional opinion, according to which the Apostle John, surviving the majority of the disciples of Jesus, having escaped from the storms of Rome and Judea successively, took refuge in Ephesus, and there lived to an advanced age, surrounded with the respect of all the Churches of Asia. Irenæus, without doubt, on the 213authority of Polycarp, affirming that the old Apostle lived until the reign of Trajan, appears to us to have even heard him. If these facts are true, they must have had grave consequences. The memory of the punishment which John had escaped at Rome, caused him to be classed amongst the martyrs even during his lifetime, in the same way as his brother James. In connecting the words in which Jesus had announced that the generation which listened to him should not pass away before his appearance in the clouds, with the great age which the only surviving Apostle of Jesus had attained, the logical idea that that disciple should never die was arrived at—that is to say, that he would see the inauguration of the Kingdom of God without first tasting death. John related, or allowed it to be believed, that Jesus after his resurrection had had on that subject an enigmatical conversation with Peter. Hence resulted for John, in his very lifetime, a sort of marvellous halo. Legend began to deal with him even before the grave received him.

The old Apostle, in these last years veiled in mystery, appears to have been much beset. Miracles and even resurrections from the dead were ascribed to him. A circle of disciples gathered around him. What passed in that private cœnaculum? What traditions were elaborated there? What stories did the old man tell? Did he not soften in his last days the strong antipathy which he had always shown to the disciples of Paul? In his narratives did he not seek, as happened more than once in the lifetime of Jesus, to ascribe to himself the first place by the side of his Master, to put himself nearest to His heart? Did some of the doctrines which were described later as Johannian begin already to be discussed between the aged and weary master and the young and bright spirits in search of novelties, seeking perhaps to persuade the old man that he had always 214had on his own account the ideas which they suggested? We do not know; and here is one of the gravest difficulties which encompass the origin of Christianity. This time, in effect, it is not only the exaggeration and the uncertainty of the legends of which we have to complain. There was probably in the bosom of that delusive Church of Ephesus a disposition towards dissimulation and pious frauds which has made the task of the critic who is called upon to disentangle such confusion, singularly difficult.

Philo, at about the time when Jesus lived, had developed a philosophy of Judaism, which, although prepared by previous speculations of Israelitish thinkers, took under his pen only a definite form. The basis of that philosophy was a sort of abstract metaphysic, introducing into the one God various hypostases, and snaking of the Divine Reason (in Greek Logos, in Syro-Chaldaic Memera) a sort of distinct principle from the Eternal Father. Egypt and Phœnicia already knew of similar doublings of one same God. The Hermetic Books were later to erect the theology of the hypostases into a philosophy parallel to that of Christianity. Jesus appears to have been left out of these speculations, which, had he known of them, would have had few charms for his poetic imagination and his loving heart. His school, on the contrary, was, so to speak, besieged by it; Apollos was perhaps no stranger to it. St Paul, in the latter part of his life, appears to have allowed himself to be greatly preoccupied with it. The apocalypse gives us the mysterious name of its triumphant Λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ. Judeo-Christianity, faithful to the spirit of orthodox Judaism, did not allow such ideas to enter their midst, save in the most limited fashion. But when the Churches out of Syria were more and more detached from Judaism, the invasion of the new spirit was accomplished with an irresistible force. Jesus, who at first had been for his hearers only as a prophet, 215a Son of God, in whom the most exalted had seen the Messiah or that Son of Man whom the pseudo-Daniel had shown as the brilliant centre of future apparitions, became now the Logos, the Reason, the Word of God. Ephesus appears to have been the place where this fashion of regarding the part of Jesus took the deepest root, and from which it spread over the Christian world.

It is not in effect with the Apostle John alone that tradition connects the solemn promulgation of this novel dogma. Around John tradition shows us his doctrine raising storms, troubling consciences, provoking schisms and anathemas. About the time at which we have arrived, there appeared at Ephesus, coming from Alexandria like another Apollos, a man who appears, after a generation, to have had many points of likeness with this last. The man in question was Cerinthus, which others call Merinthas, without its being possible to know what mystery is hidden under that assonance. Like Apollus, Cerinthus was born a Jew, and before becoming acquainted with Christianity had been imbued with the Judeo-Alexandrine philosophy. He embraced the faith of Jesus in a manner altogether different from that of the good Israelites who believed the kingdom of God realised in the Idyll of Nazareth, and of the pious Pagans, whom a secret attraction drew towards that mitigated form of Judaism. His mind, besides, appears to have had little fixity, and to have been willingly carried from one extreme to the other. Sometimes his conceptions approached those of the Ebionites; sometimes they inclined to millenarianism; sometimes they floated in pure gnosticism, or presented an analogy with those of Philo. The creator of the world and the author of the Jewish law—the God of Israel, in short—was not the Eternal Father; he was an angel, a sort of demigod, subordinated to the great and Almighty God. The spirit of this great God, long unknown to the 216world, has been revealed only in Jesus. The Gospel of Cerinthus was the Gospel of the Hebrews, without doubt translated into Greek. One of the characteristic features of the Gospel was the account of the baptism of Jesus, after which a divine spirit, the spirit of prophecy, at that solemn moment descended upon Jesus, and raised him to a dignity which he had not previously had. Cerinthus thought that even until his baptism Jesus was simply a man, the most just and the most wise of men it is true; by his baptism, the spirit of the omnipotent God came to dwell in him. The mission of Jesus thus become the Christ, was to reveal the Supreme God by his preaching and his miracles; but it was not true in that way of seeing him that the Christ had suffered upon the Cross; before the Passion, the Christ, impassible by nature, separated himself from the man Jesus; he alone was crucified, died and rose again. At other times Cerinthus denied even the Resurrection, and pretended that Jesus would rise again with all the world at the Day of Judgment.

That doctrine, which we have already found at least in germ amongst many of the families of the Ebionim, whose propaganda was carried on beyond the Jordan in Asia, and which in fifty years Narcion and the Gnostics would take up with greater vigour, appeared a frightful scandal to the Christian conscience. In separating from Jesus the fantastic being called Christos, it did nothing less than divide the person of Jesus, carrying off all personality from the most beautiful part of his active life, since the Christ found himself to have been in him only as something foreign and impersonal to him. It was thought indeed that the friends of Jesus, those who had seen and loved him, child, young man, martyr, corpse, would be indignant. The memories presented Jesus to them as amiable as God, from one moment to mother; they wished that he should be adopted and 217revered altogether. John, it would seem, rejected the doctrines of Cerinthus with wrath. His fidelity to a childish affection might alone excuse certain fanatical traits which are attributed to him, and which, besides, appear to have been not out of keeping with his habitual character. One day on entering the bath at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus, he exclaimed:—“Let us fly; the building will fall in, since Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is there!” These violent hatreds produce sectaries. He who loves much, hates much.

On all sides the difficulty of reconciling the two parts of Jesus, of causing to co-exist in the same being the wise man and the Christ, produced imaginations like those which excited the wrath of John. Docetism was, if we may so express it, the heresy of the time. Many could not admit that the Christ had been crucified and laid in the tomb. Some like Cerinthus admitted a sort of intermittance in the divine work of Jesus; others supposed that the body of Jesus had been fantastic, that all his material life, above all, his life of suffering, had been but apparitional. These imaginations came from the opinion, very wide spread at that period, that matter is a fall, a degradation of the spirit; that the material manifestation is the degradation of the idea. The Gospel history is thus volatilised as it were into something impalpable. It is curious that Islamism, which is only a sort of Arab prolongation of Judeo-Christianity, should have adopted this idea about Jesus. At Jerusalem, in particular, the Mussulmans have always denied absolutely that Isa died upon Golgotha; they pretend that someone like him was crucified in his stead. The supposed place of the Ascension upon the Mount of Olives is for the Shaykhs the true Holy Place of Jerusalem connected with Isa, for it is there that the impassible Messiah, born of the sacred breath and not of the 218flesh, appeared for the last time united to the appearance which he had chosen.

Whatever he may have been, Cerinthus became in the Christian tradition a sort of Simon Magus, a personage almost fabulous, the typical representative of Docetic Christianity, brother of Ebionite and Judeo-Christian Christianity. As Simon Magus was the sworn enemy of Peter, Cerinthus was considered to be the bitter opponent of Paul. He was put on the same footing as Ebion; there was soon a habit of not separating them, and as Ebion was the abstract personification of the Judeo-Christian-speaking Hebrew, Cerinthus became a sort of generic word to designate Judeo-Christianity-speaking Greek. Phrases like the following were coined:—“Who dares to reproach Peter with having admitted Pagans into the Church? Who showered insults upon Paul? Who provoked a sedition against Titus the uncircumcised? It was Ebion: it was Cerinthus”—phrases which, taken literally, cause it to be supposed that Cerinthus had had a part in Jerusalem in the earliest ages of the Church. As Cerinthus has left no writings, the ecclesiastical tradition went on in all that concerned him from one inexactitude to another. In this tissue of contradictions there is not one word of truth. Cerinthus was really the first heretic, the author of a doctrine destined to remain a dead branch in the great tree of the Christian doctrine. In opposing itself to him, in denying his claims, the Christian Church made the greatest step towards the constitution of an orthodox faith.

By these struggles, and these contradictions in effect, Christian theology developed itself. The person of Jesus, and the singular combination of man, and the Divinity that were believed to exist in him, formed the basis of these speculations. We shall see gnosticism come to light in a current of like ideas, and seek in its turn to decompose the unity of the Christ; but 219the orthodox Church will be steady in repelling such conceptions; the existence of Christianity, founded upon the reality of the personal action of Jesus, was at this price.

John, without doubt, consoled himself for these aberrations, the fruits of a mind strange to the Galilean tradition, by the fidelity and affection with which his disciples surrounded him. In the first rank was a young Asiatic, named Polycarp, who must have been about thirty years of age during the extreme old age of John, and who appears to have been converted to the faith in Christ in his infancy. The extreme respect which he had for the Apostle made him look upon him with the curious eye of youth, in which everything enlarges and transforms itself. The living image of this old man had fixed itself in his mind, and throughout his life he spoke of it as of a glimpse of the Divine world. It was at Smyrna that he was chiefly active, and it is not impossible that he had been selected by John to preside over the already ancient Church in that city, as Irenæus has it.

Thanks to Polycarp, the memory of John remained in Asia, and consequently at Lyons, and amongst the Gauls, a living tradition. Everything that Polycarp said of the Lord, of his doctrine, and of his miracles, connected him as having received it from the eye-witnesses of the Life of Jesus. He was accustomed to express himself thus:—“This I have from the Apostles.” . . . “I who have been taught by the Apostles, and who have lived with many of those who have seen the Christ.” This way of speaking caused it to be supposed that Polycarp had known other Apostles besides John—Philip, for example. It is, however, more probable that there was some hyperbole here. The expression “the Apostles,” without doubt means John, who might besides be accompanied by many unknown Galilean disciples. We may also understand thereby, if we choose, Presbyteros Joannes 220and Aristion, who, according to certain texts, would have been the immediate disciples of the Lord. As to Caius, Diotrephes, Demetrius, and the pious Cyria whom the Epistles of the Presbyteros present as making part of the Ephesian circle, it would be to risk by dwelling too strongly on these names, discussing beings who, as the Talmud says, “have never been created,” and who owe their existence only to the artifices of forgers, or even, like Cyria, to misunderstandings.

Nothing, in short, is more doubtful than everything which relates to this homonym of the Apostle, this Presbyteros Joannes, who only appears near to John in his later years, and who, according to some traditions, succeeded him in the presidency of the Church of Ephesus. His existence, however, seems probable. The title of Presbyteros may be the appellation by which he was distinguished from Apostolos. After the death of the Apostle, he may have long continued to describe himself as Presbyteros, omitting his name. Aristion, whom very ancient information places by the side of the Presbyteros as a traditionist of the highest authority, and who appears to have been claimed by the Church of Smyrna, is also an enigma. All that can be said is that there was at Ephesus a group of men who, towards the end of the first century, gave themselves out as the last eye-witnesses of the Life of Jesus. Papias knew them, or at least came very near to them, and collected their traditions.

We shall see later the publication of a Gospel, of an altogether special character, produced by this little circle, which appears to have obtained the entire confidence of the old Apostle, and which perhaps believed itself authorised to speak in his name. At the period at which we are, and before the death of John, some of his disciples, who appear to have surrounded him, and, as it were, to have monopolised the old age of the last survivor of the Apostles, did they not seek to 221make use of the rich treasure which he had at their disposal? We may suppose so; we ourselves were formerly inclined that way. We think now that it is more probable that some part of the Gospel which bears the name of John may have been written by himself, or by one of his disciples during his lifetime. But we persist in believing that John had a manner of his own of telling the life of Jesus, a manner very different from the narratives of Batanea, superior in some respects, and in particular the parts of the life of Jesus which were passed in Jerusalem afforded him more room for development. We believe that the Apostle John, whose character appears to have been sufficiently personal, and who, during the life-time of Jesus, aspired with his brother to the first place in the Kingdom of God, gave himself with much simplicity that place in his narrative. If he had read the Gospels of Mark or of Luke, which is quite possible, he must have found that there was not sufficient mention of him, that the importance attributed to him was not so great as he had had. He claimed as is known to have been, the disciple whom Jesus especially loved; he wished that it should be believed that he had played the first part in the Gospel drama. With the vanity of an old man he assumed all the importance, and his long stories have frequently no other object than that of showing that he had been the favourite disciple of Jesus,—that at solemn moments he had rested upon his heart,—that Jesus had confided to him his mother, that in a host of circumstances where the first place had been given to Peter, it really belonged to him—John. His great age gave rise to all kinds of reflections, his longevity passed for a sign from Heaven. As, furthermore, his surroundings were not distinguished by absolute good faith, and as even a little charlatanism may have been mixed up with them, we can imagine what strange productions might spring up in this nest of pious intrigues around an 222old man whose head might be weak, and who found himself powerless in the hands of those who took care of him.

John continued a strict Jew to the end, observing the Law in all its rigour; it is doubtful whether the transcendental theories which began to be disseminated as to the identity of Jesus with the Logos can ever have been comprehended by him; but, as happens in schools of thought in which the master attains a great age, his school went on without him and outside of him, even whilst pretending to base itself upon him. John appeared fated to be made use of by the authors of fictitious pieces. We have seen how much there was that was suspicious in the origin of the Apocalypse; objections almost equally grave may be made to theories which maintain the authenticity of this singular book, and which declare it apocryphal. What shall be said of that other eccentricity, that a whole branch of the ecclesiastical tradition, the school of Alexandria, has determined not merely that the Apocalypse shall not be John’s, but that it belongs to his opponent Cerinthus. We shall find the same equivocations surrounding the second class of Johannian writings which will soon be produced, and one thing only remaining clear—that John cannot have been the author of the two series of works which bear his name. One of the two series, at all events, may possibly be his; but both are certainly not.

There was great emotion on the day which witnessed the death of the Apostle in whom for many years had been summed up the whole Christian tradition, and by whom it was believed that there was still connection with Jesus, and with the beginning of the new word. All the pillars of the Church had disappeared. He whom Jesus, according to the common belief, had promised not to allow to taste of death until he came again, had in turn gone down into the grave. It was a cruel deception, and in order to 223justify the prophecy of Jesus, it was necessary to have recourse to subtleties. It was not true, said the friends of John, that Jesus had announced that his beloved Apostle should remain alive until his reappearance. He had simply said to Peter, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” a vague formula which left the field open to all sorts of explanations, and allowed it to be believed that John, like Enoch, Elias, Esdras, were held in reserve until the coming of the Christ. It was now in any case a solemn moment. No one now could say, “I have seen him.” Jesus and the first years of the Church of Jerusalem were lost in an obscure past. The importance then passed to those who had known the Apostles, to Mark and to Luke, disciples of Peter and Paul, to the daughters of Philip, who continued his marvellous gifts. Polycarp all his life quoted the connection which he had had with John. Aristion and Presbyteros Johannes lived upon the same memories. To have seen Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Philip became the leading qualification in the eyes of those who wished to know the truth as to the appearances of the Christ. Books, as we have said twenty times, counted for very little; oral tradition was everything. The transmission of the doctrine, and the transmission of apostolic powers, were regarded as part of a kind of delegation, of ordination, of consecration, the primary source of which was the apostolic college. Soon every Church wishes to show the succession of the men who made the chain going back in a right line to the Apostles. Ecclesiastical precedence was regarded as a sort of inoculation with spiritual powers, suffering no interruption. The ideas of the social hierarchy thus made rapid progress; the episcopate consolidated itself from day to day.

The tomb of John was shown at Ephesus ninety years later; it is probable that upon this venerable monument was raised the basilica which afterwards 224became celebrated, and the site of which appears to have been in the neighbourhood of the present citadel of Aïa Solouk. By the side of the tomb of the Apostle was to be seen in the third century a second tomb, which was also attributed to a person named John, whence resulted great confusion. We shall have to speak of it again.

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