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An idea which, above all things, it is necessary to get rid of, when the question at issue is the propagation of Christianity, is that that propagation had to be made by succeeding missionaries, and by preachers similar to those of modern times, who have to go from city to city. Paul and Barnabas and their companions were the only ones who sometimes proceeded in this manner. The rest was done by workmen whose names remain unknown. Alongside the Apostles who attained celebrity, there was thus an obscure apostleship, whose agents were not dogmatists by profession, but who were none the less most efficacious. The Jews of the period were nomads par excellence. Merchants, servants, small tradesmen, they visited all the large towns of the coast, and pursued their calling. Active, industrious, polite, they brought with them their ideas, their good example, their exaltation, and dominated these populations, degraded in point of religion, with all the superiority that the enthusiastic man possesses over those that are indifferent. Those affiliated to the Christian sect travelled like the other Jews, and carried the glad tidings with them. It was a sort of familiar preaching, and much more persuasive than any other. The gentleness, the gaiety, the good humour, the patience of the new believers, caused them to be received gladly everywhere, and conciliated their minds.

Rome was one of the first points attacked in this manner. The capital of the Empire had heard the name of Jesus long before all the intermediate countries could have been evangelised, just as a high 51summit is illuminated when the valleys lying between it and the sun are still in darkness. Rome was, in fact, the rendezvous of all the Oriental religious, the point of the Mediterranean with which the Syrians had the most intercourse. They arrived there in enormous bands. Like all poor populations going up to attack the large cities in quest of fortune, they were obedient and humble. With them disembarked troops of Greeks, Asiatics, and Egyptians, all speaking Greek. Rome was literally a bilingual city. The language of the Jewish world and of the Christian world of Rome was for three centuries Greek. Greek was at Rome the language of all that was most wicked and most honest, of all that was the best and the most base. Rhetoricians, grammarians, philosophers, noble pedagogues, preceptors, servants, intriguers, artists, singers, dancers, brokers, artisans, preachers of new sects, religious heroes—they all spoke Greek, The old Roman burgess class lost ground each day, swamped as it was by this flood of strangers.

It is in the highest degree probable that about the year 50 several Jews from Syria, already Christians, entered the capital of the Empire, and disseminated their ideas there. In fact, among the good administrative measures of Claudius, Suetonius placed the following: “He expelled the Jews from Rome, who, at the instigation of Chrestus, indulged frequently in riots.” Certainly, it is possible that there might have been at Rome a Jew named Chrestus who fomented troubles amongst his co-religionists, and which led to their expulsion. But it is much more probable that the name of Chrestus was none other than that of Christ himself. The introduction of the new faith provoked, doubtless, in the Jewish quarter at Rome, altercations, quarrels, scenes analogous, in a word, to those which had already taken place at Damascus, at Antioch in Pisidia, and at Lystra. Wishing to 52put an end to these disorders, the police were compelled to take measures for the expulsion of the perturbators. The chiefs of police may have inquired superficially into the nature of the quarrel, which interested them so little; a report addressed to the Government may have proved that the agitators called themselves Christiani, that is to say, partisans of a certain Christus; that name being unknown, it may have been changed into Chrestus, in consequence of the custom of unlettered persons giving to the names of strangers a form appropriate to their habits. Hence, in order to come to a conclusion that there existed a man of that name, who had been the provoker and the leader of the riots, was but a short step to take; the inspectors of police might have overlooked the fact, and, without further inquiry, pronounced sentence of banishment against the two parties.

The principal Jewish quarter in Rome was situated on the other side of the Tiber; that is to say, in the part of the city the poorest and the most filthy, probably in the neighbourhood of the actual Porta Portese. Here was situated formerly, as in our own times, the port of Rome, the place where merchandise was unloaded which had been brought in flat boats from Ostia. It was the quarter of the Jews and of the Syrians, “nations born to servitude” as is remarked by Cicero. The first nucleus of the Jewish population at Rome had, in fact, been formed of freedmen, descendants, for the most part, of those who had been carried prisoners to Rome by Pompey. They had undergone slavery without changing any of their religious habits. That which is admirable about Judaism, is that simplicity of faith which makes the Jew, though transported a thousand leagues from his country, at the end of many generations a Jew still of the purest type. The intercourse between the synagogues of Rome and those of Jerusalem was 53continual. The first colony had been reinforced by numerous emigrants. These poor people disembarked by hundreds at Ripa, and lived there by themselves in the quarter adjacent to Transtevere, serving as street porters, engaging in small commerce, exchanging matches for broken glasses, and presenting to the haughty Italian population a type which, later, should become to them too familiar —that of a mendicant skilled in his art. A Roman who respected himself never put his foot into these debased quarters. It was treated as a suburb given over to contemned classes, and to disreputable avocations; tanneries, sausage factories, steeping troughs, were relegated there. So the unfortunates lived quite tranquilly in that despised corner, in the midst of bales of merchandise, infamous taverns, and of litter porters (Syrians), who had here their general quarters. The police did not enter it except when the quarrels were bloody, or when they were too often repeated. Few of the quarters of Rome were so free; politics had nothing to do with it. Not only was religion practised in ordinary times without opposition, but every facility was afforded for active propagandism.

Protected by the contempt which they inspired, little sensitive, moreover, to the railleries of the people of the world, the Jews of Transtevere led thus a very active, religious, and social life. They possessed a few kakamin (schools); nowhere was the ritual and ceremonial of the Law more scrupulously observed; the synagogues had the most perfect organisation that ever was known. The titles of “father” and of “mother of the synagogue” were much prized. Some rich converts took biblical names; they converted their slaves along with themselves; the Scroll was explained by the doctors; they built places of prayer, and showed themselves to be proud of the consideration they enjoyed in that little world. The poor 54Jew, when begging, found the opportunity, in a trembling voice, to whisper into the ear of the grand Roman dame a few sentences of the Law, and often gained over the matron, who had given him a handful of small change. To observe the Sabbath and the Jewish feasts was, according to Horace, the characteristic which classes a man amongst the weak-minded, that is to say, with the multitude, unus multorum. Universal benevolence, the felicity of reposing with the just, assisting the poor, purity of manners, the sweetness of family life, the mild perception of death, which was considered as a sleep, are the sentiments which are found on the Jewish inscriptions, together with that special note of touching unction of humility, certain hope, which characterises Christian inscriptions. There were many Jews, men of the world, rich and powerful, such as Tiberius Alexander, who attained to the highest honours of the Empire, and who twice or thrice exercised an influence of the first order in public affairs, and had even, to the great chagrin of the Romans, his statue in the Forum; but the latter were no longer good Jews. The Herods, although ostentatiously practising their religion at Rome, were also far from (it was only through their relations with the Pagans) being true Israelites. The poor remained faithful, esteeming these worldlings as renegades; in like manner, we see in our day the Polish or Hungarian Jews treat with severity the aristocratic French Israelites who have deserted the synagogue, and have had their children educated in Protestantism, so as to make their circle more exclusive.

A world of ideas were thus propounded on the common wharf where was unloaded the merchandise of the whole world; but all this is lost in the tumult of a large city like London or Paris. Certainly the proud patricians, who, in their promenades upon the Aventine 55cast their eyes to the other side of the Tiber, could not suspect that the future was being prepared in the pile of poor houses erected at the foot of Janiculum. The day when, under the reign of Claudius, a certain Jew, initiated in the new beliefs, placed foot on the ground opposite the Emporium, that same day no one knew in Rome that the founder of a second Empire, another Romulus, lodged at the gate on a bed of straw. Near the gate was a kind of lodging-house, well known to the people and the soldiers, which went under the name of Taberna meritoria. There was shown here, in order to attract the credulous, a pretended fountain of oil, issuing from the rocks. Very soon that fountain of oil was regarded by the Christians as symbolical. It was pretended that its appearance had coincided with the birth of Jesus. It appears that later on the Taberna was made into a church. Who knows whether the oldest souvenirs of Christianity were not connected with that resort! Under Alexander Severus we see the Christians and the tavern-keepers contending for a certain spot which had formerly been public, and which that good Emperor adjudged to the Christians. One feels that one is here upon the natal soil of an old popular Christianity. Claudius, about that time, struck with the “progress of foreign superstitions,” believed that he was performing an act of good conservative policy in re-establishing the soothsayers. In a report made to the Senate, complaint was made of the indifference of the times for the ancient usages of Italy, and for good discipline. The Senate had invited the Pontiffs to see whether it was possible to re-establish the old customs. Everything went well, in consequence, and it was believed that these respectable impostures were saved for all eternity.

The great question of the moment was the attainment of Agrippa to power, the adoption of Nero by 56Claudius, and his ever-increasing fortune. No one thought of the poor Jew who uttered for the first time the name of Christus in the Syrian colony, and expounded the faith which brought happiness to those amongst whom he was living. Others soon arrived. The letters from Syria, brought by the newcomers, spoke of the movement which was increasing more and more. A small circle was formed. Everybody “smelled the garlick.” These ancestors of the Roman prelates were poor proletariats, filthy, undistinguished, ill-mannered, clothed in dirty smock-frocks, and had the bad breath of people who are ill-fed. Their hovels had that odour of misery which exhales from persons poorly nourished and clothed, and huddled up in a small room. They soon became numerous enough to make a noise. They preached in the ghetto, and the orthodox Jews resisted them. What with the tumultuous scenes which were taking place; what with the scenes recurring night by night; what with the Roman police being interviewed; what (little caring to know what was the cause of the trouble) with addressing a report to the superior authority, and laying the troubles to the account of a certain Chrestus, whom it was impossible to get hold of; what with the expulsion of the agitators having been decided on—there was nothing in that which was not plausible. The passage in Suetonius, and, better still, that of the Acts, would seem to imply that all the Jews were driven out on that occasion; but such a thing is not to be supposed. The likelihood is that the Christians, the partisans of the seditious Chrestus, were alone expelled. Claudius, in general, was favourable to the Jews, and it is even not impossible that the expulsion of the Christians, of which we have just been speaking, took place at the instigation of the Jews—the Herods, for example. These expulsions, however, were always only temporary and conditional. The tide, arrested for the 57moment, always returned. The edict of Claudius was, in any case, of little consequence, since Josephus does not mention it, and in the year 58 Rome had already a new Christian Church.

The founders of this first Church at Rome, destroyed by the decree of Claudius, are unknown. But we know the names of two Jews who were exiled in consequence of the emeutes of the Porta Portese. They were an old pious couple, the one Aquila, originally a Jew from Pontus, following the same calling as St Paul, that of an upholsterer, the other Priscilla, his wife. They sought refuge at Corinth, where we soon see them en rapport with St Paul, whose intimate friends and zealous fellow-workers they became. Aquila and Priscilla are hence the two oldest known members of the Church at Rome. But they are hardly remembered. Legend, which is always unjust, because it is always swayed by political motives, has expelled from the Christian Pantheon these two obscure workers, in order to attribute the honour of the foundation of the Church of Rome to a name more illustrious, corresponding better to the proud pretensions of universal dominion which the capital of the Empire, now become Christian, could not abdicate. For us, it is not at the theatrical basilica which has been consecrated to St Peter, it is at the Porta Portese, that ancient ghetto, where we really find the starting-point of Western Christianity. It is the traces of those pier wandering Jews, who carried with them the religion of the world,—those men who hardly dreamt, in their misery, of the kingdom of God—we must search out and embrace. We do not contest with Rome its essential title; Rome was probably the first spot of the Western world, and even of Europe, where Christianity was established But in place of these proud and magnificent churches, in place of these insulting devices, Christus vincit, Christus regit, Christus imperat—Christ conquers, 58Christ reigns, Christ governs—it would be much better to erect a little chapel to the two good Jews of Pontus who were expelled by the police of Claudius for belonging to the party of Chrestus.

After the Church of Rome (if it was not even anterior) the most ancient Western Church was that of Pozzuoli. St Paul found Christians there about the year 61. Pozzuoli was in a certain sense the port of Rome; it was at least the place where the Jews and the Syrians who came to Rome disembarked. This strange soil undermined by fire; these Phlegreens fields; that sulphur bed; these caverns full of burning vapours, which seemed the breath of hell; these sulphurous waters; these myths of giants, and of demons buried in the burning valleys, a sort of Gehennas; these baths, which appeared to the austere Jews and the enemies of total nudity the acme of abomination—greatly impressed the imaginations of the new emigrants, and have left a deep trace on the apocalyptic compositions of the times. The follies of Caligula, of which we still see traces, left also in these places terrible recollections.

In any case, one capital feature, as we have already had occasion to remark, is, that the Church at Rome was not, like the Churches of Asia Minor, of Macedonia and of Greece, a foundation of the school of Paul. It was a Judæo-Christian creation, connected directly with the Church at Jerusalem. Paul was never here on his own ground; he found in that great Church many shortcomings, which he treated with indulgence, but which offended his exalted idealism. Attached to circumcision, and to exterior practices; ebionite by its taste for abstinences, and by its doctrine, more Jew than Christian, in regard to the person and the death of Jesus; strongly attached to millenarianism, the Roman Church presented in its early days the essential features which have distinguished it during its long and marvellous 59history. The direct daughter of Jerusalem, the Roman Church has always had an ascetic, sacerdotal character, and been opposed to the Protestant tendency of St Paul. Peter was its veritable chief; then, being penetrated by the political and hierarchical spirit of old Pagan Rome, it became, in truth, the new Jerusalem, the city of the pontificate, of religion, hierarchical and solemn, of material sacraments, which are their own justification, the city of ascetics, after the manner of Jacques Obliam, with its callosities on the knees and its plates of gold on the forehead. She was to be the church of authority. If it can be believed, the special sign of the apostolic mission was the showing of a letter signed by the Apostles, the producing of a certificate of orthodoxy. The good and the evil that the Church at Jerusalem did for infant Christianity, the Church of Rome did for the Church universal. It was in vain that Paul addressed to them his beautiful epistle, in order to explain to them the mystery of the cross of Jesus and of salvation by faith alone. This epistle the Church at Rome but vaguely comprehended. But Luther, fourteen and a half centuries later, comprehended it, and opened a new era in the secular series of the alternative triumphs of Peter and Paul.

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