« Prev Chapter XX. Captivity of Paul at Cæsarea of… Next »



Felix then governed Judæa with the powers of a king and the soul of a slave. He was the freedman of Claudius, and brother of that Pallas who had made the fortune of Agrippina, and of Nero. He had all the immorality of his brother, but not his administrative talents. Named, by the influence of Pallas, procurator of Judæa, in 52, he there showed himself cruel, debauched, greedy. Nothing was above his ambition. He was successively married to three queens, and kinsman by marriage of the Emperor Claudius. At the period at which we are, his wife was Drusilla, sister of Herod Agrippa II., whom he had carried off by infamous practices from her first husband, Aziz, King of Emesus. There was no crime of which he was not considered capable; people even went as far as accusing him of practising brigandage on his own account, and of using the dagger of the assassin to gratify his hatreds. Such were the men upon whom the highest functions had devolved since Claudius gave up everything to the freedmen. They were no longer Roman knights, grave functionaries like Pilate, or Coponius; they were covetous lackeys, proud, dissolute, profiting by the political abasement of that poor old Oriental world to gorge themselves 283at their ease, and to wallow in the mud. Never since has anything so horrible and so shameful been seen.

The chief of the squadron who had led Paul away, delivered up to Felix, on his arrival, the elogium and the prisoner. Paul appeared for an instant before the procurator, who asked him of what country he was. The elogium, assigned to the accused a privileged situation. Felix said that he would hear the cause when the accusers should have arrived. Whilst waiting, he commanded that Paul should be guarded, not in the prison, but in the ancient palace of Herod the Great, which had now become the residence of the procurators. At this moment, doubtless, Paul was trusted to a soldier (frumentarius), who was placed over him to guard him and to present him whenever required.

At the end of three days, the Jewish accusers arrived. The high priest Ananias had come in person, accompanied by some elders. Hardly knowing how to speak Greek and Latin, and full of confidence in the official rhetoric of the time, they had taken as an assistant a certain Tertullus, an advocate. The hearing took place immediately. Tertullus, according to the rules of his profession, began by the captatio benevolentiæ. He impudently praised the government of Felix, spoke of the happiness that they enjoyed under his administration, of the public gratitude, and he begged him to listen with his habitual kindness. Then he approached his subject, treated of Paul as a pest, as a disturber of Judaism, as the chief of the heresy of the Nazarenes, as a busybody, ever occupied in exciting sedition amongst his co-religionists throughout the world. He insisted upon the alleged violation of the temple, which constituted a capital crime, and maintained that in seeking to take possession of Paul, they had only wished to judge him according to the Law.

Upon a sign from Felix, Paul then began to speak. 284He argued that his conduct in the temple had been that of the most peaceful Jew,—that he had not disputed there or brought the mob together,—that he had not preached once at Jerusalem,—that he was, indeed, heretical if it be heretical to believe all that is written in the Law and the Prophets, and to hope for the resurrection of the dead; at bottom, the only crime of which they accused him was believing in the resurrection; “but,” added he, “the Jews themselves believe in that. . . .” With regard to the Jews, it was a skilful apology, clever rather than sincere, since, avoiding the real difficulty, it sought to make out that there was an understanding when there was nothing of the kind, thus evading the question at issue in a fashion which has since been often imitated by Christian apologists. Felix, who interested himself very little about the dogma of the resurrection, remained indifferent. He abruptly broke up the sitting, declaring that he would not decide anything until he had been better informed, and had seen Claudius Lysias. In the meantime, he ordered the centurion to treat Paul with gentleness, that is to say, to leave him unchained, in the state of custodia libera, and to permit his disciples as well as his friends to approach him and to serve him.

Some days after, Felix and Paul again met. Drusilla, who was a Jewess, desired, it is said, to hear the Apostle expound the Christian faith. Paul spoke of justice, of temperance, of judgment to come. The subjects were not altogether agreeable to these new catechumens. Felix, himself, appears to have been afraid: “That is enough for the moment,” said he to Paul; “I will make you come to me at the proper time.” Having learned that Paul had brought with him a considerable sum of money, he hoped to obtain from him or his friends a heavy bribe for his release. It appears that he saw him several times, and he sought to suggest this idea to him. But the 285Apostle not lending himself to it, Felix wished at least to gather some profit, for his popularity was much shaken. The greatest pleasure that one could do for the Jews was to persecute those whom they regarded as their enemies. He therefore kept Paul in prison, and even put him in chains. Paul passed two years in this way.

The prison, even with the augmentation of the chain and of the soldier (frumentarius), was far from being then what it is to-day, a total privation of liberty. Every one who had pecuniary resources could arrange with his gaoler, and might attend to his business. In any case, he saw his friends, he was not rigorously confined; in short, he might do pretty much as he pleased. There is no doubt, consequently, that Paul, although a prisoner, continued his apostleship at Cæsarea. Never had he had with him such disciples. Timothy, Luke, Aristarchus of Thessalonica, Tychicus, and Trophimus, carried his orders in all directions, and helped with the correspondence that he kept up with his Churches. In particular, he charged Tychicus and Trophimus with a mission for Ephesus. Trophimus, it appears, fell ill at Miletus.

As a consequence of the stay that they thus made in Palestine, the most intelligent members of the Churches of Macedonia and of Asia found themselves in prolonged relations with the Churches of Judæa. Luke, in particular, who until then had not left Macedonia, was initiated into the traditions of Jerusalem. He was without doubt vividly impressed by the majesty of Jerusalem, and he imagined the possibility of a reconciliation between the principles maintained on the one side by Paul, on the other by the elders of Jerusalem. He thought that the best thing was to forget reciprocal injuries, to prudently veil these wrongs, and to speak no more of them. The fundamental ideas which must preside at the editing of his great manuscript probably 286then developed themselves in his mind. By these various contacts, a uniform tradition was established. The Gospels were elaborated by the intimate communication of all the parties which constituted the Church. Jesus had created the Church; the Church created him in its turn. That grand ideal which was to dominate humanity for centuries, truly went out from the bowels of humanity by a kind of secret agreement amongst all those to whom Jesus had bequeathed His Spirit.

Felix finally succumbed, not under the indignation that his crimes must have produced, but before the difficulties of a situation against which not even a procurator could make head. The life of a Roman governor at Cæsarea had become insupportable; the Jews and the Syrians or Greeks fought incessantly; the most honest man could hardly hold the balance between such ferocious hatreds. The Jews, according to their custom, complained at Rome. They there exercised a sufficiently strong influence, especially with Poppæa, and, thanks to the intrigues which Herod Agrippa II. directed, Pallas had lost much of his credit, above all since the year 55. He could not prevent the disgrace of his brother: he only succeeded in saving him from death. They gave as a successor to Felix a firm and just man, Porcius Festus, who arrived in the month of August of the year 60 at Cæsarea.

Three days after his disembarkation, he betook himself to Jerusalem. The high priest Ismael, son of Phabi, and all the party of the Sadducees (that is to say, the high priesthood), surrounded him, and one of the first demands that they addressed to him was relative to Paul. They wished him to be brought back to Jerusalem, and they had arranged for an ambuscade to kill him on the way. Festus replied that he was about shortly to set out for Cæsarea, that it was consequently better that Paul should remain 287there, but that, as the Romans never pronounced a sentence without the accused being confronted with his accusers, it would be necessary that those of the notables who wished to charge Paul should come with him. At the end of eight or ten days he returned to Cæsarea, and, on. the morrow, he caused Paul and his adversaries to appear before his court. After a confused debate, Paul maintaining that he had done nothing against the Law, or against the temple, or against the Emperor, Festus proposed to him that he should re-conduct him to Jerusalem, where he could, under his surveillance and his high jurisdiction, defend himself before a Jewish court. Festus undoubtedly did not know of the project of the conspirators; he hoped, by this dismissal, to disembarrass himself of a tedious cause, and to do an agreeable thing for the Jews, who asked from him so urgently for the transfer of the prisoner.

But Paul carefully guarded himself from accepting. He was possessed by the desire of seeing Rome. The capital of the world had for him a powerful and mysterious charm. He maintained his right to be judged by a Roman tribunal, protested that no one had any right to deliver him to the Jews, and pronounced the solemn words:—“I appeal unto Cæsar.” These words pronounced by a Roman citizen, did away with all provincial jurisdictions. The citizen, in whatever part of the world he was, had the right of being taken to Rome to be judged. The governors of provinces, moreover, often referred to the Emperor and his council the causes of religious law. Festus, surprised at first by this appeal, conversed for a moment with his assessors, then replied by the formula:—“Hast thou appealed unto Cæsar? unto Cæsar shalt thou go.”

The sending of Paul to Rome was from this time decided, and they only waited for an opportunity for him to set out. A singular incident occurred in the 288interval. Some days after the return of Festus to Cæsarea, Herod Agrippa II. and his sister Bernice, who lived with him, not without a suspicion of infamy, came to salute the new procurator. They remained for several days at Cæsarea. In the course of the conversations that they had with the Roman functionary, the latter spoke to him of the prisoner whom Felix had left him. “His accusers,” said he, “have not charged against him any of the crimes that I was waiting to see established. There is nothing in all this business but subtleties relative to their superstitions, and of a certain Jesus who is dead, and whom Paul affirms to be living.” “Truly,” said Agrippa, “I have for a long time wished to hear this man speak.” “Thou shalt hear him to-morrow,” replied Festus.

On the morrow, then, Agrippa and Bernice came to the tribunal with a brilliant suite. All the officers of the army, and the chief people of the town, were present. No official procedure could take place after the appeal to the Emperor, but Festus declared that, according to his principles, the sending of a prisoner to Rome must be accompanied by a report. He pretended to wish for fuller information for the report that he had to make in this case; he alleged his ignorance of Jewish affairs, and declared that he wished to follow in this matter the advice of King Agrippa, Agrippa invited Paul to speak. Paul then made, with a certain oratorical complacency, one of those discourses that he had repeated a hundred times. He esteemed himself happy in having to plead his cause before a judge as well instructed in Jewish questions as was Agrippa. He intrenched himself more strongly than ever in his ordinary system of defence, asserted that he said nothing that was not in the Law and the Prophets,—maintained that he was persecuted only because of his belief in the resurrection, the faith which is that of all the Israelites, which 289gives a moving motive for their piety, a foundation for their hopes. He explained, by quotations from the Scriptures, his favourite propositions—the knowledge that Christ must suffer, that he must be the first to rise from the dead. Festus, a stranger to all these speculations, took Paul for a dreamer, a clever man in his way, but wandering and chimerical. “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” Paul invoked the witness of Agrippa, who was more versed in Jewish theology, knowing the prophets, and whom he supposed instructed in the facts relative to Jesus. Agrippa replied evasively. A grain of pleasantry mixed itself, it seems, in the conversation. “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” said Agrippa. Paul, with his usual wit, took the tone of the court, and finished by wishing that they all resembled him. “Except these bonds,” replied he, with a gentle irony.

The effect of this courteous sitting, so different from the audiences in which the Jews figured as prosecutors, was finally favourable to Paul. Festus, with his Roman good sense, declared that this man had done nothing wrong. Agrippa was of opinion that, if he had not appealed to the Emperor about it, they might have released him. Paul, who wished to go to Rome conducted by the Romans themselves, did not withdraw his appeal. They then put him, with some other prisoners, in the guard of a centurion of the cohort prima Augusta Italica, named Julius, who must have been an Italian. Timothy, Luke, and Aristarchus of Thessalonica were the only disciples who travelled with Paul.

« Prev Chapter XX. Captivity of Paul at Cæsarea of… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection