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In a hundred and fifty years the prophecy of Jesus was accomplished. The grain of mustard seed had become a tree which began to cover the world. In the hyperbolic language which is customary in 259such a matter, Christianity had spread “everywhere.” St. Justin had affirmed already, about 150, that there was not a corner of the earth, even among the most barbarous peoples, where people did not pray in the name of the crucified Jesus. St. Irenæus expresses himself in the same manner: “They push and spread like the evil herd; their places of meeting multiply on all sides,” say the ill-disposed. Tertullian, on the other hand, writes twenty years after: “We are of yesterday, and already we fill your whole framework, your cities, your strong places, your councils, your camps, your tribes, your decuries, the palace, the senate, the forum; we have only left out your temples. Without betaking ourselves to arms, in which we have little experience, we could combat you by separating from you; you would be afraid of your solitude, of a silence which would appear like the stupor of a dead world.”

Up to the time of Hadrian the knowledge of Christianity is the act of those who are in the secrets of the police, and a small number of the curious. Now a new religion rejoices in the greatest publicity. In the Oriental part of the empire no one was ignorant of its existence; the lettered class spoke about it, discussed it, borrowed from it. Far from being enclosed in the Jewish circle, the new religion gathers from the Pagan world the greatest number of her converts, and, at least at Rome, surpasses in number the Jewish Church, from which it has come. It is neither Judaism nor Paganism; it is a third definitive religion, destined to replace all that precedes it.

The figures are in such a matter impossible to fix, and certainly they differ much according to the provinces. Asia Minor continued to be the province where the Christian population was more dense. It was also the hearth of piety. Montanism 260appeared in the leaven of the universal ardour which burns in the spiritual body of the Church. Indeed, while they fought they were animated by what appeared to them a sacred flame. In Hierapolis and in many towns of Phrygia the Christians must have formed the majority of the population. Since the reign of Septimus Severus, Apamea of Phrygia put upon its coins a Biblical emblem, Noah’s Ark, with an allusion to his name of Kibotos. In the West, we have seen, in the midst of the third century, some towns destroying their ancient temples, converted en masse. All the neighbouring region of the Propontides shared in the movement. Greece, properly speaking, on the contrary, was slow to leave the old religion, which she did not abandon till the middle ages, and then almost with her heart against the change.

In Syria, about 240, Origen found that, in connection with the assemblage of the people, the Christians are “not very numerous;” what they say of Protestants and Israelites in Paris. When Tertullian says to us, “Fiunt non nascuntur, Christiani,” he indicates to us that the earlier Christian generation had counted few souls. The Church of Rome, in 251, possessed forty-six priests, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers, and porters; it had more than fifteen hundred widows or poor, and, it was supposed, about thirty or forty thousand believers. At Carthage, about the year 212, the Christians formed the bulk of the population. All the Greek portion of the empire possessed flourishing Christian bodies; there was not a town of any importance which had not its church and its bishop. In Italy, there were sixty bishops; even little towns almost unknown had them. Dalmatia was evangelised. Lyons and Vienne had Christian colonies composed of Asians and Syrians, using 261Greek, but exercising their apostleship among the neighbouring peoples who spoke Latin or Gallic. The Gallo-Roman and Hispano-Roman world, nevertheless, was really scarcely broached. A very superstitious local Polytheism presented in these vast continents a mass most difficult to pierce.

Britain had no doubt already seen the missionaries of Jesus. Her claims on that point are founded much less upon fables, of which the Isle of Saints, like all the great Christian communities, surrounded the cradle of its faith, than upon a leading fact, viz.: the observance of Easter according to the quarto-deciman rite, that is to say, the old style of Asia Minor. It is possible that the first churches of Britain owed their origin to some Phrygians, some Asians, like those who founded the churches of Lyons and Vienne. Origen says that the virtue of the name of Jesus Christ had passed the seas to seek the Britons in another world.

The condition of the believers was in general very humble. With some exceptions, all open to doubt, we do not see any great Roman family passing over to Christianity with its slaves and clients, before Commodus. A man of the world, a knight, or functionary, ran against impossibilities in the Church. The rich were out of their element there. Life in common with people who had neither their fortune nor social rank was full of difficulties, and the relations of society were found almost forbidden to them. Marriage above all presented enormous difficulties; because many Christians espoused Pagans rather than give themselves to a poor husband. Thus when we find in the Christian cemeteries, from the time of Marcus-Aurelius and the Severuses, the names of the Cornelii, Pompeii; Cæcilii, it is hazardous to conclude 262that there had been believers among these great names by right of blood. The clients and the slaves were the origin of these ambitious agnomina. The intellectual standard was likewise very low at first. That high culture of reason which Greece had inaugurated was generally wanting in the first two generations. With Justin, Minucius Felix, the author of the epistle to Diognetes, the average was raised; soon, with Clement of Alexandria and Origen, it rose still higher; at the beginning of the third century, Christendom shall possess men on a level with the enlightened of the century.

Greek was still essentially the Christian tongue. The most ancient catacombs are all Greek. In the middle of the third century, the sepulchres of the popes have Greek epitaphs. Pope Cornelius wrote to the churches in Greek. The Roman liturgy was in the Hellenic tongue; even when Latin had prevailed, it was often written in Greek characters; some Greek words, pronounced in the fashion of the iota, frequently occurring, which was that the Eastern people, remained as marks of its origin. One country alone had a Church speaking Latin, that was Africa. We have seen Minucius Felix open the Latin Christian literature by a chef d’œuvre. Tertullian, twenty years later, after having hesitated between the Greek and Latin tongues for the composition of his writings, shall fortunately prefer the second and present the strangest literary phenomenon; an unheard of mixture of talent, flexibility of mind, eloquence and bad taste; a great writer, if we admit that to sacrifice all grammar and correctness to effect is to write well. At last Africa shall give to the world a fundamental book—the Latin Bible. One at least of the first Latin translations of the Old and New Testaments was made in Africa; the Latin text of the mass, some leading portions of the Liturgy, appear also 263to be of African origin. The lingua vulgata of Africa contributed thus to the formation of the ecclesiastical language of the West, and thus exercised a decided influence over our modern tongues. But there resulted from that another consequence; it was that the fundamental texts of the Latin Christian literature were written in a language which the lettered of Italy found barbaric and corrupt, which later on gave occasion on the part of the rhetoricians for endless objections and epigrams.

From Carthage, Christianity shone powerfully into Numidia and Mauritania. Cirta produced both adversaries and defenders of the most ardent kind for the faith of Jesus. A town concealed in the depths of the province of Africa, Scillium, fifty leagues from Carthage, furnished some months after the death of Marcus-Aurelius a group of twelve martyrs, led by a certain Speratus, who showed an unbreakable firmness, struggled with the pro-consul, and gloriously opened the series of African martyrs.

Edessa became day by day a Christian centre of high importance. Placed in the vassalage of the Parthians, Osrhœne had submitted to the Romans since the campaign of Lucius Verus (165); but it kept its dynasty of Abgars and Manous till about the middle of the third century. This dynasty, which was related to the Jewish Izates of Adiabene, showed itself extremely favourable to Christianity. In 202, at Edessa, a church was destroyed by an inundation. Osrhœne possessed numerous Christian communities at the end of the second century. A certain Palut, bishop of Edessa, ordained by Serapion of Antioch (190-210), remains celebrated by his contests with the heretics. At last Abgar VIII. bar Manou (176-213) definitely embraced Christianity in the time of Bardesanes, and, in sympathy with that great man, made rude 264war upon the Pagan customs, especially the practice of emasculation, a vice deeply rooted in the usages of the Syrian cults. Those who continued to honour Targatha in that strange manner had their hand cut off. Bardesanes, against the theory of climates, remarks that the Christians spread in Parthia, Media, Hatra, and into the most remote countries, not conforming themselves in any way to the laws of these countries. The first example of a Christian kingdom, with a Christian dynasty, was given at Edessa. This state of things, which caused much displeasure, especially among the great, was overturned in 216 by Caracalla; but the Christian faith scarcely suffered. From that time were probably composed those apocryphal works intended to prove the holiness of the town of Edessa, and especially that pretended letter from Jesus Christ to Abgar, of which Edessa later on grew so proud.

Thus was founded, alongside the Latin literature of the churches of Africa, a new branch of Christian literature —the Syriac literature. Two causes created it, the genius of Bardesanes and the need of possessing an Aramean version of the sacred books. The Aramean writing had been for a long time used in these countries, but had not yet been used to establish a true literary work. Some Judeo-Christians laid the foundation of an Aramean literature by translating the Old Testament into Syriac. Then came the translation of the writings of the New; then were composed apocryphal stories. This Syrian Church, destined later on to a vast development, appeared to have included at that time the greatest varieties, from the Judeo-Christian up to the philosophy such as Bardesanes and Harmonius.

The progress of the Church outside of the Roman empire was much less rapid. The important Church 265of Bosra had probably some suffragan churches among the independent Arabs. Palmyra no doubt already reckoned some Christians. The numerous Aramean populations subject to the Parthians embraced Christianity with the earnestness which the Syrian race showed always for the worship of Jesus. Armenia received, about the same time, the first germs of Christianity, to which it is possible that Bardesanes was not a stranger. Martyrs in Persian Armenia are spoken of from the third century.

Some fabulous traditions, greedily received at the beginning of the fourth century, attributed to Christianity certain very remote conquests. Each apostle was reputed to have chosen his part of the world to convert. India especially, by the geographical indecision of the name it bears and the analogy of Buddhism with Christianity, made some singular illusions. It was claimed that St. Bartholomew had brought Christianity there, and had left a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew in Hebrew. The celebrated Alexandrian doctor Pantænas had returned there upon the steps of the apostle, and found this Gospel. All this is doubtful. The use of the word India was extremely vague; whoever had embarked at Clysina and made the voyage of the Red Sea was reported to have been in India. Yemen was often described by that name. In any case there certainly resulted from these travels of Pantæas no durable church. All that the Manicheans have written concerning the missions of St. Thomas in India is fabulous, and it is artificially that they have connected later on with this legend the Syrian Christian communities which were established in the Middle Ages on the coast of Malabar. Probably there was mixed up with this tissue of fables some confusion between Thomas and Gotama, The question of the influence which 266Christianity could exercise upon Brahmanic India, and specially upon the cult of Krichna, is beyond the limits at which we should stop.

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