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Many things were ended; others had begun; the school and books replaced tradition. No one had any longer a claim to have seen either the apostles or their immediate disciples. Reasonings such as that set forth by Papias forty years back, that disdain for books, and that avowed preference for the people who had known the original, would pass no longer. Hegesippus shall be the last who shall make journeys to study on the spot the doctrine of the churches. Irenæus found these researches useless. The Church is a vast depot of truth from which one has but to draw. If we 251except the barbarians who did not know how to write, no one had any more need to consult oral tradition.

They set themselves therefore resolutely to write; the doctor, the ecclesiastical scribe, replaced the traditionist; the time for the creation of beginnings has gone by; ecclesiastical history commences; we say ecclesiastical, and not clerical. The doctor, in fact, at the time at which we have arrived, is very often a layman. Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, and the majority of the apologists are neither bishops nor deacons. The doctors of the school of Alexandria have a distinct place outside of the clerical hierarchy; the institution of the catechumenate served to the development of that institution. Some postulants, often educated people, prepared outside of the Church for acceptance by baptism, demanded a separate instruction more accurate than that of the faithful. Origen is the catechist and preacher, with the permission of the bishop of Cæsarea, without having any defined rank among the clergy. St. Jerome shall hold a situation analogous to this, which, even in his time, is full of difficulties. It was natural indeed that, little by little, the Church should absorb the ecclesiastical teaching, and that the doctor should become a member of the clergy subordinated to the bishop.

We have seen that Alexandria, through the disputes on Gnosticism, and perhaps in imitation of the Muséon, had a catechetical school of sacred letters, distinct from the Church, and some doctors to comment upon the scriptures sensibly. This school, a species of Christian university, was prepared to become the centre of the movement of all theology. A young Cecilian convert named Pantænus was the chief of it, and carried into the sacred instruction a breadth of ideas which no Christian chair had as yet known. Everything 252pleased him—philosophers, heresies, and the strangest religions. Out of them all he made his honey, Gnostic in the best sense, but removed from the chimeras which Gnosticism nearly always implied. From this moment there were grouped around him some youths at once lettered and Christian, especially the young convert Clement, about twenty years of age, and Alexander, the future bishop of Jerusalem, who played, in the first half of the third century, a rôle so considerable. The vocation of Pantænus was especially oral teaching; his voice had a peculiar charm; he left among his disciples more celebrated than himself a profound feeling. Not less favourable than Justin to philosophy, he conceived of Christianity as the worship of all that is beautiful. Of happy genius, brilliant, luminous, kindly to all, he was in his age the most liberal and open spirit the Church had possessed till then; and he marked the dawn of an extraordinary intellectual movement, perhaps superior to all the attempts of rationalism which have ever been produced in the heart of Christianity. Origen, at the date at which we stand, is not born yet, but his father, Leonidas, nourished in his heart that ardent idealism which made a martyr of him and the first master of that son whose bosom he shall kiss during his sleep as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Pagan East did not always inspire in Christians the same antipathy as Greece. The Egyptian Polytheism, for example, was treated by them with less severity than the Hellenic Polytheism. The Sibylline poet of the second century announces at Isis and Serapis the end of their reign with more sadness than insult. His imagination is struck by the conversion of an Egyptian priest who in his turn shall convert his compatriots. He speaks in enigmatical terms of a great temple raised to the 253true God, who shall make out of Egypt a sort of holy land which shall not be destroyed till the end of time.

The East, on its side, always given to syncretism, and by advance in sympathy with all that which bears the character of disinterested speculation, rendered to Christianity this large tolerance. If we should compare to the strict patriotism of a Celsus, a Fronton, the open mind of a thinker such as Numenius of Apamea, what a difference! Without being exactly Christian or Jew, Numenius admires Moses and Philo. He equalled Philo to Plato; he called the latter an ancient Moses; he knew even the apocryphal compositions on Jamnes and Mambre. To the study of Plato and Pythagoras, philosophy ought, according to him, to unite the knowledge of Brahman, Jewish, magical, and Egyptian institutions. The result of the inquiry, we may say in advance, will be that all these people are in accord with Plato. As Philo allegorises the Old Testament, Numenius explains symbolically certain facts in the life of Jesus Christ. He admits that the Greek philosophy is originally from the East, and owes the true notion of God to the Egyptians and the Hebrews; he proclaims this philosophy insufficient, even in its most venerated masters. Justin and the author of the Epistle to Diognetes said scarcely anything more. Numenius, however, does not belong to the Church; the sympathy and admiration for a doctrine did not in an eclectic carry him to a formal adhesion to this doctrine. Numenius is one of the precursors of Neo-platonism; it is by him that the influence of Philo and a certain knowledge of Christianity penetrated into the school of Alexandria. Ammonius Saccas, at the time when we finish this history, perhaps frequents the Church from which philosophy shall 254not delay to make him depart. Clement, Ammonius, Origen, Plotin! What a century is to open for the city which nourishes all these great men, and becomes more and more the intellectual capital of the East!

Syria numbered many of these independent spirits who showed themselves favourable to Christianity, without on that account embracing it. Such was that Mara, son of Serapion, who looked on Jesus as an excellent legislator, and admitted that the destruction of the nationality of the Jews had arisen from their having put to death “their wise king.” Such was also Longinus, or the author, whoever he may be, of the treatise, On the Sublime, who read with admiration the first pages of Genesis, and places the expression, “Let light be and light was” among the most beautiful words he knows.

The most original among the mobile and sincere minds which the Christian law charmed, but not in a style exclusive enough to make them detach themselves from everything else and make of them simple members of the Church, was Bardesanes of Edessa. He was, if one may so express it, a man of the world, rich, amiable, liberal, educated, well placed at court, versed at once in Chaldean science and Hellenic culture, a sort of Numenius, acquainted with all the philosophies, all religions, and all the sects. He was sincerely Christian; he was even an ardent preacher of Christianity, almost a missionary; but all the Christian schools he went through lacked something to his mind; no one took possession of him. Marcion alone, with his austere asceticism, displeased him thoroughly. Valentinianism, on the contrary, in its Oriental form, was the teaching to which he always returned. He delighted in the syzgies of æons and denied the resurrection of the body. He preferred 255to this material conception the views of Greek spiritualism on pre-existence and the survival of the soul. The soul, according to him, is neither born nor dies; the body is only a passing instrument. Jesus had not a true body; he was united to a phantom. It seems that towards the end of his life Bardesanes came nearer the Catholics; but, definitively, orthodoxy repelled him. After having fascinated his own generation by his brilliant preaching, by his ardent idealism, and by his personal charm, he was covered with anathemas; they classed him among the Gnostics, he who never wished to be classed at all.

One only of Bardesanes’ treatises found favour among orthodox readers; it was a dialogue in which he combated the worst errors of the East, the Chaldean error, astrological fatalism. The form of the Socratic conversations pleased Bardesanes. He liked to pose before the public surrounded by his friends, and discussing with them the highest problems of philosophy. One of his disciples named Philip drew out or was thought to have drawn out the conservation. In the dialogue on fatality, the principal interlocutor of Bardesanes is a certain Aoueid tainted by the errors of astrology. The author opposes to these a truly scientific reasoning: “If man is dominated by means and circumstances, how is it that the same should produce human developments quite different from each other? If man is dominated by race, how can a nation changing its religion, for example, making itself Christian, become quite different from what it was?” The interesting details which the author gives on the manners of unknown countries piqued curiosity. The last editor of the romance of the Confessions, then Eusebius, then St. Cesaire, made capital out of it. It is singular that, being in possession of such a writing, we should 256still ask what Bardesanes thought upon the question of the influence of the stars on the acts of men, and in the events of history. The dialogue expresses itself on this point with all the clearness which one could desire. Yet St. Ephrem, Diodorus and Antiochus combat Bardesanes as if he had accepted the errors of his masters of Chaldea. Sometimes his school would appear as a profane school of astronomy as much as of theology. It pretended to fix by certain calculations the duration of the world at six thousand years. It admitted the existence of sidereal spirits residing in the seven planets, especially in the sun and moon, whose monthly union preserves the world by giving it new forces.

What Bardesanes was without contradiction was the creator of Christian Syriac literature. Syriac was his tongue; although he knew Greek he did not write in that idiom. The work necessary to render the Aramean idiom flexible for the expression of philosophical ideas belongs entirely to him. His works, moreover, were translated into Greek by his pupils under his own eyes. Allied to the royal family of Edessa, having been, as it appears, educated as the companion of Abgar VIII. bar Manou, who was a fervent Christian, he contributed powerfully to the extirpation of Pagan customs, and had a most important social and literary position. Poetry had always been awanting in Syria; the old Aramean idioms had only known the old Semitic parallelism. Bardesanes composed, in imitation of Valentin, a hundred and fifty hymns, of which the cadenced rhythm, partly imitated from Greek, fascinated everybody, especially young people. It was at once philosophical, poetical, Christian. The strophe was composed of eleven or twelve verses of five syllables, scanned according to the accent. They sang the hymns in chorus, to the accompaniment of the cithara, to Greek airs. 257The civilising influence of this beautiful music was considerable. Nearly all Osrhoene became Christian. Unfortunately Abgar IX., son of Abgar VIII., was dethroned in 216 by Caracalla; this phenomenon of a little principality founded on the principles of a liberal Christianity, disappeared; Christianity continued to make some progress in Syria, but in the orthodox direction, and by giving up every day more of the speculative liberties which were at first allowed it.

The connections of Bardesanes with the Roman empire are obscure. According to certain appearances the persecutions of the last years of Marcus-Aurelius gave him the idea of presenting an apology to that emperor. Perhaps it was in connection with Caracalla or Heliogabalus, whom it is very easy to confound in the texts with Marcus-Aurelius. It seems that he composed a dialogue between himself and a certain Apollonius, a special friend of the emperor, in which this latter asks that he should deny the Christian name. Bardesanes replied courageously like Demetrius the Cynic: “Obedience to the orders of the emperor does not relieve me from the necessity of dying.”

Bardesanes left a son, named Harmonius, whom he had sent to study at Athens, and who continued the school, making it lean still more to the side of Hellenism. In imitation of his father he expressed the most elevated ideas of Greek philosophy in Syriac hymns. There resulted from all this a discipline too marked in respect to the medium which Christianity allowed. It was necessary to be a member of such a Church, to have intellect and instruction. The worthy Syrians were frightened. The fate of Bardesanes much resembled that of Paul of Samosata. They treated him as a dangerous charmer, a woman seducer, irresistible in private. His hymns, like the Thalia of Arius, 258were treated as a magical work. Later, St. Ephrem found no other means to dethrone these hymns, and to keep children from their charm, than to compose orthodox hymns to the same airs. From that time, whenever there was produced in the Church of Syria any remarkable person having independence of mind and a great knowledge of the Scriptures, they said with terror, “This will be a Bardesanes.”

His talent and the services he rendered were, however, not forgotten. His birthday was marked in the Chronicle of Edessa among the great anniversaries of the city. His school lasted during all the third century, but produced no very celebrated man. Later on, the germ of dualism which was in the teaching of the master approached the Manichæan school. The Byzantine chroniclers and their disciples the Arabic polygraphists constituted a sort of trinity of evil, composed of Marcion, Ibn-Daïsan and Manes. The name “Daïsanites” became synonymous with atheist, zendik; those Daïsanites were reckoned as Mussulmans among the secret sects affiliated to Parseeism, the cursed trunk of all heresies.

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