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Review of the Principal Documents used in this Work.
After the three or four years of the public life of Jesus, the period which the present volume embraces wise the moat extraordinary the whole development of Christianity. We shall see by a strange play of that grand unconscious artist who seems to preside over the apparent caprices of history, Jesus and Nero, the Christ and the Antichrist, opposed and facing each other, if I dare say it, like Heaven and Hell. The Christian conscience is complete. Up till now it has scarcely known to do ought but love; the persecutions of the Jews, although bitter enough, have been unable to change the bond of affection and recognition which the budding church keeps within its heart for its mother the synagogue, from which she is scarcely separated. Now the Christian has somewhat to hate. In front of Jesus there appears a monster who is the ideal of evil even as Jesus is the ideal of good. Reserved like Enoch or like Elias to play a part in the final tragedy the universe, Nero completes the Christian mythology, inspires the first sacred book of the new canon, founds, by a hideous massacre, the primacy of of the Roman Church, and prepares the revolution which shall make Rome a Holy City, a second Jerusalem. At the same time, by one of those mysterious coincidences which are not rare in the moments of the great crises of humanity, Jerusalem is destroyed, the temple disappears, Christianity, disembarrassed from what has been irksome to it, emancipates itself more and more, and follows outside of conquered Judaism its own destinies.
The last epistles of St. Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the epistles attributed to Peter and James, and the Apocalypse among the canonical writings the principal documents of this history. The first epistle of Clemens Romanus, Tacitus and Josephus furnish us also with valuable indications. On a large umber of points, notably on the death of the Apostles and the relations of John with Asia, our picture will remain in semi-obscurity; upon others we shall be able to concentrate real rays of light. The material facts of the Christian origins are almost all obscure; what is clear is the ardent enthusiasm, the superhuman boldness, the sublime contempt for reality which makes this movement the most powerful effort towards the ideal whose memory has been preserved to us.
In the introduction to our St. Paul we have discussed the authenticity of all the epistles which have been attributed to the Great Apostle. The four epistles which are connected with this volume, the epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians are those which suggest certain doubts. The objections raised against the epistle to the Philippians are of such little value that we need scarcely dwell upon them. We have seen and we shall see in what follows that the viepistle to the Colossians gives much more ground for reflection, and that the epistle to the Ephesians, although well authenticated, presents a separate aspect in the work of Paul. Nothwithstanding the great difficulties which can be raised, I hold the epistle to the Colossians as authentic. The interpolations which in these last times some skilful critics have proposed to see there are not clear. The system of M. Holtzmann on this point is worthy of its learned author; but what dangers are there in this method too much accredited in Germany, where they start from an a priori figure which must serve as a fixed criterion for the authorship of the works of a writer! That the interpolation and supposition of apostolic writings had been often practised during the first two centuries of Christianity cannot be denied. But to make in such a matter a strict discernment between the true and the false, the apocryphal and the authentic is a task impossible to carry out. We see with certainty that the Epistle to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians are authentic. We see with the same certainty that the Epistles to Timothy and Titus are apocryphal. In the interval, between these two poles of critical evidence we hesitate. The great school led by Christian Baur has as principal defect, its representing the Jews of the first century as complete characters, fed upon dialectics and obstinate in their arguments. Peter, Paul, Jesus even, in the writings of this school, resemble some Protestant theologians of a German University having all one doctrine, having but one, keeping always the same. Now, what is true is that the wonderful men who are the heroes of this history changed and contradicted themselves much. They accepted during their lives three or four theories; they made borrowings from those of their adversaries against whom at another time they had been most severe. These men, looked at from our point of view, were susceptible, personal, irritable, mobile; what makes fixity of opinion, science, and rationalism was foreign to them. They had among them, like the Jews, in all times, violent disagreements; but, nevertheless, they made up very solid body. To understand them we must place ourselves at a great distance from the pedantry inherent in every scholastic; we must study rather the little coteries of a pious society, the English and American congregations, and, principally, what has passed since the foundation of all the religious orders. Under this view the faculties of theology in the German Universities, which can alone supply the amount of work necessary to arrange the chaos of documents relative to these curious origins, are the places, in all the world, in which the true history of it could be written. Now, history is the analysis of a life which develops itself, of a germ which expands, and theology is the inverse of life. Only attentive to what confirms or weakens his dogmas, the theologian, even the most liberal, is always, without thinking it, an apologist; he seeks to defend or to refute. The historian only seeks to recount. Facts materially false, documents even apocryphal, have for him a value, for they paint the soul, and are often more true than the dry truth itself. The greatest error in his eyes is to transform into factors of abstract theory those good and artless missionaries whose dreams have been the consolation and the joy of so many centuries.
What we are about to say of the Epistle to the Colossians, and especially of the Epistle to the Ephesians, must be said with stronger reason of the first epistle attributed to St. Peter and the epistles attributed to James and Jude. The second epistle, attributed to Peter, is certainly apocryphal. We recognise at the first glance an artificial composition, an imitation composed of scraps of apostolic writings, especially from the Epistle of Jude. We do not dwell upon this point, for viiwe do not believe that II. Peter has among true critics a single defender But the falseness of II. Peter, an epistle whose principal object is to encourage patience among the faithful who are wearied by the long delay of the reappearance of Christ, proves in a sense the authenticity of I. Peter. For, to be apocryphal, II. Peter is a writing old enough; now the author of II. Peter thoroughly believed that I. Peter was the work of Peter, since he refers to it, and represents his writing as a “second epistle,” making a sequence to the first (iii., 1-2). I. Peter is one of the writings of the New Testament which are most anciently and most unanimously quoted as authentic. One grave objection only is drawn from the borrowings which may be remarked there from the Epistles of St. Paul, and in particular from that to the Ephesians. But the secretary whom Peter used to write the letter, if he really wrote it, might well be allowed to make such borrowings. At all times preachers and publicists have been unscrupulous in appropriating to themselves those phrases which have become public property, and which are in a sort of way “in the air.” We see, likewise, Paul’s secretary, who has the epistle called to the Ephesians copying largely from the Epistle to the Colossians. One of the features which characterizes the literature of the epistles is to present many borrowings from writings of the same kind composed previously.
The first four verses of Chapter v. of I. Peter excite, indeed, some suspicions. They recall the pious recommendations, a little insipid, impressed upon a hierarchical mind which fill the false epistles to Timothy and Titus. Besides, the affectation which the author shows in representing himself a “witness of the suffering of Christ,” raises apprehensions analogous to those which the pseudo-Johannine writings cause by their persistence in representing themselves as the accounts of an actor and spectator. We do not require, however, to stop at that, Many features also are favourable to the hypothesis of authenticity. Thus the progress towards hierarchy is scarcely sensible in I. Peter. Not only is there no mention of Episcopos, each Church has not even a Presbyteros; it has some presbyteri or “elders,” and the expressions which the author uses do not imply that these elders formed a distinct body. A circumstance which deserves to he noted is that the author, while seeking to exalt the abnegation of which Jesus gives proof in his passion, omits an essential feature recorded by Luke, and gives us also to believe that the legend of Jesus had not yet arrived, at the time he wrote, at its full development.
As to the eclectic and conciliatory tendencies which we observe in the Epistle of Peter, they only constitute an objection for those who, with Christian Baur and his pupils, represent the diversity between Peter and Paul as an absolute opposition. If the hatred between the two parties in primitive Christianity had been as deep as this school believes, the reconciliation would never have been made. Peter was not an obstinate Jew like James. It is not necessary in writing this history to consider only the pseudo-Clementine Homilies and the Epistle to the Galatians. It is necessary to take take account of the Acts of the Apostles. The art of the historian should consist in presenting things in a manner which should in nothing lessen the divisions of parties (these divisions were deeper than we can imagine), and which, nevertheless, permits of explaining how such divisions have been able to weld themselves into a fine unity.
The Epistle of James presents itself to criticism very nearly under the same conditions as the Epistle of Peter. The difficulties of detail which can be opposed to that have not much importance. What is serious is that general objection drawn from the facility of the suppositions of viiiwritings at a time when there existed no guarantee of authenticity, and which there would be no scruple as to pious frauds. As to writers like Paul, who have left us by universal admission certain writings, and whose biography is well enough known, there are two certain criteria for discerning false attributions; it is (1st) to compare the doubtful work with the universally admitted works, and (2nd) to see if the matter in dispute answers to the biographical data we possess. But if it concerns a writer of whom we have some disputed pages, and whose biography is little known, we have often to decide only on the grounds of sentiment which do not weigh with us. By showing one’s self easy certainly risk taking as serious things that are false; by showing one’s self rigorous we risk rejecting as false things that are true. The theologian who believes that he proceeds upon certainties is, I repeat, a bad judge of such questions. The critical historian has a conscience at rest when he sets himself to investigate thoroughly the different degrees of certain, probable, plausible, and possible. If he has skill he will know what so true as much by the general colour, while he is prodigal of particular allegations, the signs of doubt and the “may-bes.”
A consideration which I have found favourable to these writings (the 1st Epistle of Peter, the Epistles of James and Jude), very rigorously excluded by a certain criticism, is the fashion in which they are adapted to an organically received recital. While the 2nd Epistle attributed to Peter; the pretended Epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus, are excluded from the limits of a logical history, the three epistles which we have named enter these, so to speak, of themselves. The features of circumstances which one meets there seem anticipative of facts known through evidence from without, and are embraced in it. The Epistle of Peter answers well to what we know, especially through Tacitus, as to the situation of the Christians at Rome about the year 63 or 64. The Epistle of James, on the other hand, is the perfect picture of the state of the Ebionim, at Jerusalem in the years which preceded the revolt. Josephus gives us some statements of the some kind. The hypothesis which attributes the Epistle of James to a James different from the Lord’s brother has no advantage. This epistle, it is true, was not admitted in the first centuries in a manner as unanimous as that of Peter; but the motives for these hesitations appear to have been rather dogmatic than critical; the small taste of the Greek fathers for the Judeo-Christian writings was the principal cause of it.
A remark that at least applies with clearness to the small apostolic writings of which we speak is that they had been composed before the fall of Jerusalem. That event introduced into the situation of Judaism and Christianity such changes that one can easily discern a writing subsequent to the catastrophe of the year 70, from a writing contemporaneous with the third temple. Pictures evidently relating to the anterior struggles among the different classes of Jerusalem society, like that which the Epistle of James presents to us (v., 1, & ff), could not be conceived after the revolt of the year 66, which put an end to the reign of the Sadducees. From what there is in the pseudo-apostolic epistles, such as the epistles to Timothy, Titus, II. Peter, the epistle of Barnabas, works where we have as a rule an imitation or expansion of the more ancient writings; it follows, then, that there were some writings really apostolic, surrounded by respect, and whose number it was desired to augment. Just as each Arabic poet of the classical period has had his kasida, the complete expression of his personality; in like manner each apostle has his epistle more or less authentic, in which it was believed that the fine flower of his thought was preserved. We have already spoken of the Epistle to the Hebrew. We have proved that this work ixis not by St. Paul, as has been believed in certain branches of Christian tradition, but we are shown that the date of its composition allows it to be fixed with considerable verisimilitude about the year 66. It remains for us to examine whether it can be known who was the true author, where it was written, and who are those “Hebrews” to whom, according to the title, it was addressed. The circumstantial features which the epistle present are the following:—The author speaks to the Church named as a master well-known to it. He takes as his point of view almost a tone of reproach. That Church has received the faith a long time back, but it has so sunk in the matter of doctrine that it has need of elementary instruction, and is not capable of comprehending a high theology. This Church, besides, has shown, and shows still, much courage and devotion, especially in serving the saints. It had suffered cruel persecutions about the time when it received the full light of the faith. At that time it had been as a spectacle. That was but for a short period, for those who at that time actually composed the Church had had part in the merits of that persecution by sympathising with the confessors, by visiting the prisoners, and especially by courageously enduring the loss of their goods. In the trials, moreover, there were found some renegades, and the question was mooted as to whether those who by weakness had apostatised could re-enter the Church. At the time when the apostle wrote, it appears that there were still some members of the Church in prison. The believers of the Church in question had some illustrious heads who had preached to them the word of God, and whose death had been specially edifying and glorious. The Church had, notwithstanding, still some leaders with whom the author of the letter was on intimate relations. The author of the letter, in fact, has known was on the Church in question, and has exercised there a distinguished ministry. He has the intention of returning to it, and he desires that his return shall be brought about as quickly as possible. The author and those whom he addresses knew Timothy. Timothy has been imprisoned in a different town from that where the author is residing at the time he writes. Timothy had just been set at liberty. The author hopes that Timothy will go to rejoin him, then both of them will set forth together to visit the Church addressed. The author finishes with these words—ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας, words which can scarcely describe any other than Italians residing for the time being outside of Italy.
As to the author himself, his ruling feature is a perpetual use of the Scriptures, a subtle and allegorical exegesis, a most copious Greek style, very classical, a little dry, but at least as natural as that of most of the apostolic writings. He has a medium acquaintance with the worship which is practised at Jerusalem, and yet this cult inspires him with much pre-possession. He only uses the Alexandrian version of the Bible, and he founds some arguments upon the errors of Greek copyists. He is not a Jerusalem Jew; he is a Hellenist in sympathy with Paul’s school. The author, in short, does not give himself out for an immediate hearer of Jesus, but for a hearer of those who had seen Jesus—for a spectator of the apostolic miracles, and the first manifestations of the Holy Spirit. He no less holds an elevated rank in the Church; he speaks with authority; he is much respected by the brethren to whom he writes. Timothy appears to be subordinate to him. The single fact of addressing an epistle to a great Church indicates an important man, one of those personages who figure in the apostolic history, and whose name is celebrated.
All this, nevertheless, is not sufficient for us to pronounce with certainty as to the author of our epistle. It has been attributed, with more or less likelihood, to Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Apollo, and to xClemens Romanus. The attribution to Barnabas is the most likely. It has for it the authority of Tertullian, who represents the fact as recognised by everyone. It has especially in its favour this circumstance, that not one of the special features which the epistle presents are opposed to such an hypothesis. Barnabas was a Cypriote Hellenist, at that time associated with Paul, and independent of Paul. Barnabas was known by all and esteemed by all; it may be conceived, in short, how in this hypothesis the epistle has been attributed to Paul; it was, in fact, the lot of Barnabas to be always lost in some sense in the rays of the glory of the Great Apostle, and if Barnabas has composed some writing, as appears very probable, it is among the works of Paul that it is natural to seek for the pages really from his pen.
The determination of the Church addressed may be made with as much likelihood. The circumstances which we have enumerated scarcely permit of any choice but between the Church of Rome and that of Jerusalem. The title Πρὸς Ἐβραίους makes us think at once of the Church at Jerusalem, but it is impossible to be stopped by each a thought. Some passages—such as v., 11-14, vi., 11-12, and even 6 and 10—are nonsense if we suppose them addressed by a pupil of the apostle’s to that mother Church—the source of all instruction. What said of Timothy is not better conceived; people as much engaged as the author, and as Timothy in Paul’s party, would not have been able to address to the Church at Jerusalem a communication, supposing intimate relation. How can we admit, for example, that the author, with that exegesis, only founded on the Alexandrian version, that incomplete Jewish knowledge, that imperfect acquaintance with the affairs of the temple, would have dared to give a lesson so lofty to the masters par excellence, to people speaking Hebrew, or nearly so, living every day about the temple, and who knew much better than he all that he could tell them? How can we admit especially that he could treat them as catacumens scarcely initiated and incapable of a strong theology? On the contrary, if we suppose that the persons to whom the epistle was addressed are the faithful at Rome, everything is wonderfully arranged. The passages, vi., 10, x., 32 verse and ff., 3-7, are allusions to the persecutions of the year 64; the passage xiii., 7, applies to the death of the Apostles Peter and Paul; in short, οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας are then perfectly justified; for it is natural that the author should bear to the Church of Rome the salutations of the colony of Italians who were around him. Let us add that the 1st Epistle of Clemens Romanus (a work certainly Roman) makes from the Epistle to the Hebrews some distinct borrowings, and follows its mode of exposition very distinctly.
A single difficulty remains to be solved: Why the title of the epistle Πρὸς Ἐβραίους? Let us recall the fact that these titles are not always of apostolic origin, that they have sometimes been inserted later and falsely, as we have seen in the epistle called Πρὸς Ἐφεσίους. The epistle called to the Hebrews was written under the blow of persecution to the Church which was the most persecuted. In many passages (for example, xiii., 23) we feel that the author expresses himself in covert words. Perhaps the vague title Πρὸς Ἐβραίους was a password to save the letter from becoming a compromising matter. Perhaps, also, this title comes from this, that, in the second century, they looked upon the writing in question as a refutation of the Ebionites whom they called Ἐβραῖοι. A fact remarkable enough is that the Church of Rome had always, as to this epistle, some quite special lights; it is from thence it emerges, it is from thence that the first use is made of it. While Alexandria allows it be be attributed to Paul, the Church of Rome maintained always that it is not by that apostle, and that it is wrong to add it to his writings.xi
From whet city was the Epistle to the Hebrews written? It is more difficult to say. The expression Οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰταλίας shows that the author was out of Italy. One thing again, certainly, is that the town from which the epistle was written was a great city where there was a colony of Christians from Italy closely allied with those of Rome. These Christians of Italy were probably believers who escaped in the persecution of the year 64. We shall see that the current of Christian emigration fleeing from these terrors of Nero was directed towards Ephesus. The Church of Ephesus, besides, had had for the nucleus of its primitive formation two Jews come from Rome, Aquila and Priscilla; it remained always in direct relation with Rome. We are, therefore, led to believe that the epistle in question was written from Ephesus. Verse 23 of chap. xiii., it must be confessed, in that case, is singular enough. In what town other than Ephesus or Rome, and yet in relation with Ephesus and Rome, could Timothy have been imprisoned? What hypothesis we should adopt is an enigma difficult to explain. The Apocalypse is the principal feature of this history. The persons who will read attentively our chapters xv., xvi., and xvii., will realise, I believe that there is no single writing in the Biblical canon which can be fixed with so much precision. We may determine this date to nearly a few days. The place where the work was written we are also at liberty to fix with probability. The question of the author of the book is, however, subject to greater uncertainty. Upon this point we cannot in my view express ourselves as fully assured. The author names himself at the head of the book (i., v. 9): “I, John, your brother and your companion in persecution for the kingdom and patience in Christ.” But two questions arise here. First, is the assertion sincere, or is it not one of those pious frauds of which all the authors of apocalypses, without exception, have been found guilty Is the book, in other terms, not by an unknown person, who would be taken for a man of the first order in the opinion of the Churches for John the Apostle—a vision agreeable to his own ideas? Second, having admitted that verse 9 of chapter i. of the Apocalypse is sincere, may this John not be a namesake of the Apostle?
Let us discuss first this second hypothesis, for it is the easier to dispose of. The John who speaks, or who is reputed to speak in the Apocalypse, expresses himself with such vigour, supposes so clearly that he will be known, and that people will have no difficulty in distinguishing him from any of his namesakes; he knows so well the secrets of the Churches, he enters into them with such a resolute air, that they can scarcely refuse to see in him an apostle or an ecclesiastical dignitary all along the line. Now, John the Apostle had not in the second half of the first century any namesake who approached him in rank. Although M. Hitzig speaks of John Mark, he has really no place here, and was never on relations so intimate with the Churches of Asia that he should dare to address them in this tone. There remains a doubtful personage, that Presbyteros Johannes, a sort of likeness of the Apostle, who troubles like a spectre all the history of the Church of Ephesus, and causes critics so much embarrassment. Although the existence of this personage has been denied, and although we cannot peremptorily refute the hypothesis of those who see in him a shade of the Apostle John taken for a reality, we incline to believe that Presbyteros Johannes had, in fact, a separate identity; but that he had written the Apocalypse in 68 or 69, as M. Ewald still maintains, we absolutely deny. Such a personage would be known otherwise than by an obscure passage of Papias and an apologetic thesis of Dionysius of Alexandria. We should find his name in the Gospels, in the Acts, or in some epistle. We should we xiihim leaving Jerusalem. The author of the Apocalypse is the best versed in the Scriptures, the most attached to the Temple, the most Hebraizing of the New Testament writers; such a personage could not have been introduced in the provinces; he must be originally from Judea; he holds with the chords of his heart to the Church of Israel. If Presbyteros Johannes existed, he was a disciple of the Apostle John, in the extreme old age of the latter. Papias appears to have been near enough to him, or at least to have been his contemporary. We admit, even, that sometimes he takes the pen for his master, and we regard as plausible the opinion which attributes to him the editing of the fourth gospel and of the first epistle called of John. The second and third epistles called “of John,” where the author designs himself by the the words ὁ πρεσβύτερος, appear to us to be his personal work, and avowed as such. But, certainly, supposing that Presbyteros Johannes may have some position in the second class of Johannine writings (which include the fourth gospel and the three epistles), he has none in the composition of the Apocalypse. If anything is clear, it is that the Apocalypse, on the one hand, and the gospel and the three epistles on the other hand, do not come from the same pen. The Apocalypse is the most Jewish, the fourth gospel is the least Jewish of the writings of the New Testament. While admitting that the Apostle John may he author of some one of the writings which tradition attributes to him, it is assuredly the Apocalypse and not the Gospel. The Apocalypse answers well to the decisive opinion he appears to have adopted in the contest between the Judeo-Christians and Paul; the Gospel does not answer to it. The efforts which, in the third century, a party of the fathers of the Greek Church made to attribute the Apocalypse to the Presbyteros, came from the repulsion which the book then inspired in the orthodox doctors. They could not endure the thought that a writing whose style they found barbarous, and which appeared to them deeply impressed by Jewish hatred, should be the work of an apostle. Their opinion was the result of an induction a priori without value, not the expression of a tradition or of a critical reasoning.
If the ἐγὼ Ἰωάννης of the first chapter of the Apocalypse is sincere, the Apocalypse is then most assuredly by the Apostle John. But the essence of apocalypses is to be pseudonymous. The authors of the Apocalypses of Daniel, Enoch, Baruch, and Esdras represent themselves as being Daniel, Enoch, Baruch, and Esdras in person. The Church of the second century admitted upon the same footing as the Apocalypse of John an Apocalypse of Peter, which was decidedly apocryphal. If, in the Apocalypse which has remained canonical, the author gives his true name, there is there a surprising exception to rules of the kind. Well, that exception we believe must be admitted. An essential difference, indeed, separates the canonical Apocalypse from the other analogous writings which have been preserved to us. The greater number of the apocalypses are attributed to authors who have flourished, or have been reputed to flourish five or six hundred years—sometimes thousands of years back. In the second century they attributed apocalypses to the men of the apostolic century. The Shepherd and the pseudo-Clementine writings are 50 or 60 years later than the personages to whom they are attributed. The Apocalypse of Peter was probably in the same position; at least, nothing proves that it had anything special, topical, or personal. The canonical Apocalypse, on the contrary, if it is pseudonymous, would have been attributed to the Apostle John, in his lifetime, or a very short time after his death. Were it not for first three chapters, that would be barely possible; xiiibut is it conceivable that the falsifier would have the boldness to address his apocryphal work to the seven Churches which had been in relation with the apostle? And if one were to deny those relations, with M. Scholten, they would fall into a still greater difficulty, for it would be necessary to admit, then, that the falsifier, by an inaptness which has never been equalled, writing to churches which had never know John, presents his pretended John as having been at Patmos, quite near Ephesus, and knowing their deepest secrets, and as having full authority over them. Those churches, which, in the hypothesis of M. Scholten, knew well that John had never been in Asia, nor near Asia—could they be deceived by such a gross artifice? One thing which appears from the Apocalypse, in all hypotheses, is that the Apostle John was for some time head of the Churches of Asia. That being established, it is very difficult not to conclude that the Apostle John was really the author of the Apocalypse, for, the date of the book being fixed with absolute precision, we do not find the space of time necessary for a false one. If the apostle, in January 69, lived in Asia, or only had been there, the first four chapters are incomprehensible on the part of a falsifier. In supposing, with M. Scholten, that the Apostle John died at the beginning of the year 69 (which does not appear to agree with the truth), we are not without embarrassment. The book is written, in fact, if the recorder was still living; it is intended to spread at once in the Churches of Asia; if the apostle had been dead the fraud would have been too evident. What would they have said at Ephesus, in February 69, on receiving a book reputed to proceed from an apostle whom they knew no longer to exist, and whom, according to M. Scholten, they had never seen?
The critical examination of the book, far from weakening this hypothesis, strongly maintains it. John the Apostle appears to have been after James the most ardent of the Judeo-Christians; the Apocalypse, on its side, breathes out a terrible hatred against Paul, and against those who were relaxed in their observance of the Jewish law. The book answers wonderfully to the violent fanatical character which seems to have been that of John. It is indeed the work of the “son of thunder” the terrible Boanerges, of him who wished that the name of his master might be used only by those who belonged to the circle of the most strict of the disciples; of him who, if he could, would have made fire and brimstone to rain on the inhospitable Samaritans. The description of the heavenly court, with its quite material pomp of thrones and crowns, is indeed that of him who, when young, had set his ambition on being seated, with his brother, on thrones to the right and left of the Messiah. The two grand prepossessions of the author of the Apocalypse are Rome (ch. xiii. and ff.) and Jerusalem (ch. xi. and xii.). It appears that he had seen Rome, its temples, its statues, and the grand imperial idolatry. Now, a journey to Rome the part of John, accompanying Peter, can be easily supposed. What regards Jerusalem is more striking still. The author always reverts to “the beloved city;” he thinks only of it; he is acquainted with all the adventures of the Jerusalemite Church during the revolution of Judea (which calls forth the fine symbol of the woman and her flight into the desert); we feel that he has been one of the pillars of that Church, a devoted enthusiast of the Jewish party. That agrees well with John. The tradition of Asia Minor appears likewise to have preserved his memory an that of a severe Judaizer. In the Passover controversy, which troubled the Churches so deeply during the latter half of the second century, the authority of John is the principal argument which makes the Asian Churches maintain the celebration of Easter, conformably to Jewish xivlaw, on the 14th Nisan. Polycarpus, in the year 160, and Polycrates in 190, made appeal to his authority to defend their ancient usage against the innovators who, resting upon the fourth Gospel, would not have it that Jesus, the true passover, should have eaten the Paschal Lamb the evening before his death, and who transferred the festival to the day of the resurrection.
The language of the Apocalypse is likewise a reason for attributing the book to a member of the Church of Jerusalem. That language is quite apart from the other writing. of the New Testament. There is no doubt that the work has been written in Greek; but it is a Greek thought out in Hebrew, and which could be only understood and appreciated by people who knew Hebrew. The author has fed upon prophecies and apocalypses prior to his own to a degree which is astonishing; he evidently knows them by heart. He is familiar with the Greek version of the Sacred Books; but it is in the Hebrew texts the Biblical passages present themselves to him. What a difference from the style of Paul, Luke, or the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, or even the synoptical Gospels! A man having passed some years at Jerusalem in the schools which surrounded the Temple could alone be impregnated to that extent with the Bible, or participate thus in a lively manner in the passions of the revolutionary people, and in its hopes and its hatred against the Romans.
Lastly, a circumstance which must not be neglected is that the Apocalypse presents some features which are in sympathy with the fourth Gospel and with the epistles attributed to John. Thus the expression ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ so characteristic of the fourth Gospel is found, for the first time, in the Apocalypse. The image of “living waters” is common to the two works. The expression Lamb of God in the fourth Gospel recalls the expression of the Lamb which is common in the Apocalypse as designating Christ. The two books apply to the Messiah, the passage in Zechariah xii. v. x., and translate it in the same manner. Far from us be the thought to conclude from these facts that the same pen has written the fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse, but it is not immaterial that the forth Gospel, whose author could not but have some connexion with the Apostle John, presents in its style and its images some sympathy with a book attributed for various reasons to the Apostle John. Ecclesiastical tradition is hesitating upon the question which occupies us. Up to about the year 150 the Apocalypse appears not to have had in the Church the importance which, according to our ideas, ought to have attached to a writing if they had been assured that in this writing they possessed a solemn manifesto coming from the pen of an apostle. It is doubtful if Papias admitted it as having been written by the Apostle John. Papias was a millenarian in the same style as the Apocalypse, but it appears that he declares that he holds this doctrine “from unwritten tradition.” If he had alleged the Apocalypse as his ground, Eusebius would have said so, he who receives with so much enthusiasm all the quotations which that ancient father makes from the apostolic writings. The author of the Shepherd of Hermas knew, it would seem, the Apocalypse and copies it, but It does not follow from that that he held it to be a work of John the Apostle. It is St. Justin who, about the middle of the second century, declares as the first, distinctly, that the Apocalypse really is a composition of the Apostle John. Now, St. Justin, who did not come from the bosom of any of the great churches, is a mediocre authority on the question of traditions. Melito, who comments upon certain parts of the work, Theophilus of Antioch, and Apollonius, who used it much in their polemics, appear, nevertheless, like Justin, to have attributed it to the xvApostle. As much must be said as to the Canon of Muratori. At the beginning of the year 200 the opinion is widespread that John of the Apocalypse was indeed the apostle. Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, the author of the Philosophumena, have not on this point any hesitation. The contrary opinion was always firmly held. To those who shook themselves free from Judeo-Christianity and from primitive millenarianism, the Apocalypse was a dangerous book, impossible to defend, unworthy of an apostle since it contained some prophecies which were not fulfilled. Marcion, Serdo, and the Gnostics rejected it absolutely. The Apostolic Constitutions omitted it in their canon, the old Peshito does not contain it. The enemies of the Montanist reveries, such as Caïus the Priest, and the Alogi, pretended to see it work of Cerinth. Lastly, in the second half of the third century, the School of Alexandria, in hatred of the millenarianism arising afresh in consequence of the persecution of Valerian, criticised the book with a severity and an undisguisedly bad disposition; the Bishop Dionysius demonstrated thoroughly that the Apocalypse could not have been by the same author as the fourth Gospel, and put in fashion the hypothesis of the presbyteros. In the fourth century the Greek Church was quite divided. Eusebius, although hesitating, is in the main unfavourable to the theory which attributes the work to the son at Zebedee. Gregory of Nazianzus, and nearly all the educated Christians of the same period, refuse to see an apostolic writing in a book which contradicts so keenly their taste, their ideas of apologetics, and their prejudices of education. We may say that if this party had been successful it would have relegated the Apocalypse to the rank of the Shepherd and the ἀντιλεγόμενα, whose Greek text has nearly disappeared. Fortunately, it was too late for such exclusions to be successful. Thanks to a skilful opposition, a book which includes some cruel accusations against Paul has been preserved alongside of the very works of Paul, and forms with them a volume reputed to come from a single inspiration.
This persistent protestation, which constitutes a fact so important in ecclesiastical history, is it really of considerable weight in the eyes of independent critics! We cannot tell. Certainly Dionysius of Alexandria is right when he establishes that the same man could not have written the fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse. But, placed in this dilemma, modern criticism has replied quite otherwise than the criticism of the third century. The authenticity of the Apocalypse has appeared to it more admissible than that of the Gospel, and if in the Johannine work it were necessary to give a share to this problematical presbyteros, it is indeed less the Apocalypse than the Gospel and the epistles which might properly be attributed to him. What motive could these adversaries of Montanism in the third and fourth centuries, those Christians educated in the Hebrew schools of Alexandria, Cesarea, and Antioch, have to deny that the author of the Apocalypse was the Apostle John? A tradition, a souvenir preserved in the churches? In no degree. Their motives were motives of theology, a priori. At first the attribution of the Apocalypse to the Apostle made it nearly impossible for an educated and sensible man to admit the authenticity of the fourth gospel, and they would have believed that they were giving up Christianity if they doubted the authenticity of this latter document. Besides, the vision attributed to John would appear an unceasing source of renewed errors; it went forth in perpetual recrudensces of Judeo-Christianity, of intemperate prophecy, of audacious millenarianism? What reply could one make to the Montanists and mystics of the same kind, disciples quite consistent with the Apocalypse, and to those troops of enthusiasts who ran to martyrdom, intoxicated as they were by the strange poetry of the old book xviof the year 69? One only; to prove that the book which served as a text for their chimeras was not of apostolic origin. The reason which led Caius and Dionysius and so many others to deny that the Apocalypse was really by the Apostle John is therefore just that which leads us to the opposite conclusion. The book is Judeo-Christian and Ebionite; it is the work of an enthusiast drunk with hatred against the Roman Empire and the profane world; it excludes all reconciliation between Christianity on the one hand, the empire and the world on the other; Messianism to entirely material there; the reign of the martyrs during 1,000 years is affirmed in it; and the end of the world is declared to be very near. These principles, in which the national Christians, led by the direction of Paul, then by the School of Alexandria, saw insurmountable difficulties, are for us works of ancient date and apostolic authenticity. Ebionism and Montanism do not make us afraid any longer; as simple historians, we even affirm that the adherents of these sects, repulsed by orthodoxy, were the true successors of Jesus, of the Twelve, and the family of the Master. The reasonable direction which Christianity took through moderate Gnosticism, by the tardy triumph of Paul’s School, and, above all, by the influence of men such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, ought not to make us forget its true beginnings. The chimeras, the impossibilities, the materialistic conceptions, the paradoxes, the enormities which made Eusebius impatient when he read those ancient Ebionite and millenarian authors, such at Papias, were the true primitive Christianity. That the dreams of those sublime enlightened ones should become a religion capable of living, it was necessary that men of good sense and fine spirit, as were the Greeks who became Christians at the beginning of third century, should take up the work of the old visionaries, and by taking it up should have singularly modified, corrected, and lessened it. The most authentic monuments of the artlessness of the first age became then embarrassing evidence which they tried to place in the shadow. There happened what occurs usually in the origin of all religious creations, that which is particularly observable during the first centuries of the Franciscan order; the founders of the house were ousted by the new comers; the true successors of the first fathers soon became “suspects” and heretics. Hence arises what we have had often occasion to remark, namely, that the favourite books of Ebionite and millenarian Christianity are much better preserved in the Latin and Oriental translations than in the Greek text, the Greek orthodox Church having always shown itself very intolerant in regard to those books and having systematically suppressed them.
The reasons which led to the attribution of the Apocalypse to the Apostle John remain therefore very strong, and I believe that the person who shall read our statement will be struck with the manner in which everything, in this hypothesis, is explained and connected. But, in a world where the ideas of literary ownership were so different from those of our days, a work could belong to an author in many ways. Did the Apostle John himself write the manifesto of the year 69? We may certainly doubt that. It is sufficient for our argument that he had cognizance of it, and that having approved it, he had seen it, without displeasure, passing from hand to hand under his name. The first three verses of chapter i., which have the appearance of another hand than that of the seer, may then be explained. By this would be explained also passages such as xviii., 20, and xxi., 4, which lead us to believe that he who held the pen was not the Apostle. In Ephesians ii., 20, we find an analogous feature, and there we are sure that between Paul and us there was the intermediary of a secretary or an imitator. The abuse xviiwhich has been made of the name of the apostles to give value to certain apocryphal writings might to make us very suspicious. Many features of the Apocalypse do not suggest an immediate disciple of Jesus. We are surprised to see one of the members of the little party where the Gospel was elaborated presenting his old friend as a Messiah in glory, seated on the Throne of God, governing the peoples, and so totally different from the Messiah of Galilee that the seer trembles at his appearance and falls half-dead. A man who had known the true Jesus could with difficulty, even at the end of thirty-six years, have undergone such a modification in his remembrances. Mary of Magdala, on seeing Jesus risen, cried out, “O my Master!” and John saw the heavens opened only to discover Him whom he had loved transformed into Christ terrible! . . . Let us add that we are not less astonished to see coming from the pen of one of the principal personages of the Evangelical idyl an artificial composition, a veritable copy, in which the cool imitation of the visions of the old prophets shows itself in every line. The picture of the fishermen of Galilee which is presented to us by the synoptical evangelists scarcely answers to that of scribes, assiduous readers of ancient books of the learned Rabbis. It remains to enquire if it is not the picture of the synoptists which is false, and if the surroundings of Jesus were not more pedantic, scholastic, more analogous to the scribes and Pharisees than the narrative of Matthew, Mark, and Luke might lead one to suppose.
If we admit the hypothesis of which we have spoken, and according to which John rather accepted the Apocalypse as his, than written it with his own hand, we obtain another advantage, that is, of explaining how the book was so little known during the three-quarters of a century which followed its composition. It is probable that the author, after the year 70, seeing Jerusalem taken, the Flavii solemnly established, the Roman Empire reconstituted, and the world determined to last, in spite of the term of three years and a-half he had assigned to it, himself arrested the publicity of his work. The Apocalypse, in fact, only attained its complete importance in the middle of the second century, when millenarianism became a subject of discord in the Churches, and especially when the persecution gave some meaning and reference to the invectives pronounced against the Beast. The future of the Apocalypse was then attached to the alternatives of peace and trials which passed over the Church. Every persecution gave it a fresh popularity; it was when the persecutions were over that the book ran through real dangers, and we see it on the point of being expelled from the canons as a lying and seditious pamphlet.
Two traditions whose plausibility I have admitted in this volume, viz., the coming of Peter to Rome and the residence of John at Ephesus, having given cause for great controversies, I have made them the subject of an appendix at the end of the volume. I have specially discussed the recent memoir of M. Scholten the sojourn of the apostles in Asia as carefully as all the writings of the eminent Dutch critic deserve. The conclusions at which I have arrived, and which I only hold, besides, as probable, will certainly call forth, as did the use I have made of the fourth Gospel in writing the Life of Jesus, the disdain of a young presumptuous school, in whose eyes every statement is proved if it is negative, and which treats peremptorily as ignorant those who do not admit its exaggerations at first sight. I beg the serious reader to believe that I respect him enough to neglect nothing which can serve to the discovery of the truth in the order of studies which I undertake. But I hold, as a principle, that history and dissertation should be distinct from each other. History ought not to be written until after scholarship has xviiiaccumulated whole libraries of critical essays and memoirs; but, when history comes to act, it only owes to the reader the original source on which each assertion rests. The notes occupy the third of each in those volumes which I dedicate to the origins of Christianity. If I had been obliged to set down the bibliography there, the quotations from modern authors, the detailed discussion of opinions, the notes would have filled at least three quarters of the page. It is true that the method I have followed supposes readers versed in researches in the Old and New Testament, which is the case with few people in France. But how would serious books have the right to exist if, before writing them, the author was bound to be certain that he would have a public to understand him? I affirm, besides, that even a reader who does not know German, if he is acquainted with what has been written in our language on these matters, can quite easily follow my discussion. The excellent collection entitled Revue de Theologie, which was printed up to a few years ago in Strasbourg is an encyclopædia of modern exigesis which does not dispense certainly with a reference to German and Dutch books, but where all the discussions of learned theology for half a century back have their echo. The writings of MM. Reuss, Reville, Scherer, Kienlen, Coulin, and generally the theses of the faculty of Strasbourg, will likewise present to readers desirous of more ample instruction, a solid acquisition. It “goes without saying” that those who can read the writings of Christian Baur, the father of all these studies; of Zeller, of Schougler, of Voltemar, Hitgenfeld, de Lucke, Lipsius, Holtzman, Ewald, Kelm, Hansrath, and Scholten, are much more edified still. I have declared all my life that Germany has acquired an eternal glory in founding the critical science of the Bible and the studies which are connected with it. I have spoken plainly enough to prevent myself being accused of passing silently over obligations which I have recognised a hundred times. The German School of exegetes has its defects; there defects are those which a theologian, however liberal he may be, cannot avoid; but the patience, the tenacity of mind, and the good faith which have been displayed in this work of analysis are truly admirable. Among many very beautiful stories which Germany has placed in the edifice of the human mind, erected at the common expense by all peoples, Biblical science is perhaps the block which has been cut with the greatest care, and which bears in the highest degree the stamp of the workman.
In regard to this volume, as in regard to the preceding, I owe much to the ever-ready scholarship and to the inexhaustible kindness of my learned confreres and friends, MM. Egger, Léon Renier, Derenbourg, Waddington, Bossier, de Longpérier, de Witte, Le Blant, Dulaurier, who have been quite willing that I should consult them constantly upon points connected with their special studies. M. Neubauer has reviewed the Talmudic portion. In spite of his labours in the Chamber M. Noel Parfait has been desirous not to discontinue his labours as an accomplished corrector. Lastly, I ought to express my extreme gratitude to MM. Amari, Pietro Rosa, Fabio Gori, Fiorelli, Minervini, and de Luca, who, during a journey in Italy which I made last year, were the most invaluable of guides to me.
We shall see how this journey will connect itself on many sides with the subject of the present volume. Although I had already known Italy, I was longing to salute once more that land of great memories, the learned mother of all Renaissance. According to a Rabbinical legend, there was at Rome during that long mourning of beauty which is called the middle ages an antique statue preserved in a secret place, and so beautiful that the Romans came by night to kiss it by stealth. The xixfruit of these profane embraces was, it is said, the Anti-Christ. This son of the marble statue was certainly at least a son of Italy. All the great protests of the human conscience against the extremes of Christianity have come in former times from that land; and thence they will still come in the future.
I should not conceal that the taste for history, the incomparable delight which one feels in seeing the spectacle of humanity unrolled, has especially enthralled me in this volume. I have had too much pleasure preparing it to ask for any other reward than that of having done so. Often I have reproached myself with so much enjoyment of it in my study while poor country is consuming itself in a prostrated agony, but I have had a tranquil conscience. At the time of the elections of 1869, I offered myself to the suffrages of my fellow citizens; all my addresses bore in large letters: “No Revolution; no War; a war will be as fatal as a revolution.” In the month of September, 1870, I implored the enlightened spirits of Germany and Europe to think of the frightful misfortunes which were threatening civilization. During the siege in Paris, in the month in November, 1870, I exposed myself to much unpopularity by counselling the calling together of an Assembly having powers to treat for peace. At the the elections of 1871 I replied to the overtures which were made to me: “Such a mandate can be neither sought for nor refused.” After the re-establishment of order I applied as much attention as I could to the reforms which I considered the most urgent to save our country. I have therefore done what I could. We owe our country to be sincere with here; we are not obliged to apply charlatanism to make her accept our services or agree with our ideas. Yet perhaps this volume, although addressed above all to the curious and the artistic, will contain much instruction. We shalt see crime pushed to its height, and the protest of the saints raised in the most sublime accents—such a spectacle shall not be without religious fruit. I never believed so thoroughly that religion is not a subjective duping of our nature, that it responds to an exterior reality, and that he who shall have followed its inspirations will have been the best inspired. To simplify religion is not to shake, it is often to fortify it. The little Protestant sects of our own day, like budding Christianity, are there to prove it. The great error of Catholicism is to believe that it can struggle against the progress of materialism with a complicated dogmatism, encumbering itself every day with a fresh addition of the marvellous. People cannot longer bear a religion founded on miracles; but such a religion might be very living still if it took a part of the dose of positivism which has entered into the intellectual temperament of the working classes. The people who have charge of souls should reduce dogma as much as possible, and make out of worship a means of moral education, of beneficent association. Beyond the family and outside of the State man has need of the Church. The United States of America could not have made their wonderful democracy last but through their innumerable sects. If, as one might suppose, Ultramontane Catholicism cannot succeed longer in the great cities in drawing people to its temples, there needs only the individual initiative created by the little centres where the weak find lessons, moral succour, patronage, and sometimes material assistance. Civil society, whether it calls itself a commune, a canton or a province, a State or father land, has many duties towards the improvement of the individual; but what it does is necessarily limited. The family ought to do much more, but often it is insufficient; some tunes it is wanting altogether. The association created in the name of moral principle can alone give to every man coming into this world a xxbond which unites him with the past, duties as to the future, examples to follow a heritage of virtue to receive and to transmit, and a tradition of devotion to continue.
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