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CRITICISM OF ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS.
The first book of our history of the Origins of Christianity has traced the story as far as the death and burial of Jesus. We must now resume the narrative at the point where we left it—to wit, Saturday, 4th April, 33. This will be for some time yet a continuation, in some sort, of the Life of Jesus. Next, after the months of joyous rapture, during which the great Founder laid the foundation of a new order for humanity, these last years were the most decisive in the history of the world. It is still Jesus, some sparks of whose sacred fire have been deposited in the hearts of a few friends who created institutions of the greatest originality, moves, transforms souls, imprints upon everything his divine seal. We have to show how, under this ever active and victorious influence over death, the faith of the resurrection, the influence of the holy Spirit, the gift of tongues, and the power of the Church, established themselves. We shall describe the organization of the Church at Jerusalem, its first trials, its first conquests, the earliest missions which it despatched. We shall follow Christianity in its rapid progress in Syria, as far as Antioch, where was formed a second capital, more important in a sense than that of Jerusalem, which it was destined to supplant. In this new centre, where the converted Pagans constituted the majority, we shall see Christianity separating itself definitely from Judaism, and receiving a name of its own; we shall see especially the birth of the grand idea of distant missions, destined to carry the name of Jesus into the world of the Gentiles. We shall pause at the important moment when Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark set out for the execution of this great design. There we shall interrupt our narrative, and cast a glance at the world which those daring missionaries undertook to convert. We shall endeavour to give an account of the intellectual, political, religious, and social condition of the Roman Empire about the year 45, the probable date of the departure of Saint Paul upon his first mission.ii
Such is the subject-matter of this second book, which we have entitled, The Apostles, for the reason that it expounds the period of common action during which the small family created by Jesus acted in concert, and was grouped morally around a single point—Jerusalem. Our next work, the third, will take us out of this company, and we shall be devoted almost exclusively to the man who, more than any other, represents conquering and travelling Christianity—Saint Paul. Although, from a certain epoch, he called himself an apostle, Paul had not the same right to the title as the Twelve; he is a workman of the second hour, and almost an intruder. The state in which historical documents have reached us are at this stage-misleading. As we know infinitely more of the history of St. Paul than that of the Twelve, as we possess his authentic writings and original memoirs detailing minutely certain periods of his life, we assign to him an importance of the first order, almost exceeding that of Jesus. This is an error. Paul was a great man: in the foundation of Christianity he played a most important part. Still, we must not compare him with Jesus, nor even with any of the immediate disciples of the latter. Paul never saw Jesus, nor did he ever taste the ambrosia of the Galilean preaching. Hence, the most commonplace man who had had his part of the celestial manna, was from that very circumstance superior to him who had only had an after-taste. Nothing can be more false than an opinion which has become fashionable in these days, that Paul was really the founder of Christianity. The real founder of Christianity was Jesus. The first places, next to him, ought to be reserved to those grand and obscure companions of Jesus, to those faithful and zealous women, who believed in him despite his death. Paul was, in the first century, a kind of isolated phenomenon. He did not leave an organized school. On the contrary he left bitter opponents, who strove, after his death, to banish him from the Church and to place him, in a sort of way, on the same footing as Simon Magus. They tried to take away from him that which we regard as the peculiar work—the conversion of the Gentiles. The church of Corinth, which he himself had founded, claimed to owe its origin to him and to St. Peter. iiiIn the second century Papias and St. Justin never mention his name. It was later, when oral tradition came to be regarded as nothing, and when the Scriptures took the place of everything, that Paul assumed a leading part in Christian theology. Paul, it was true, had a theology. Peter and Mary Magdalene had none. Paul left behind him considerable works: none of the writings of the other apostles are to be compared with his, either in regard to their importance or authenticity.
At first glance the documents for the period embraced in this volume are rare and altogether insufficent. The direct testimony is reduced to the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles—chapters, the historical value of which is open to serious objections. Yet, the light which these last chapters of the Gospels cast upon that obscure interval, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, dispels, to some extent, the darkness. An old writing serves to make known, first, the exact date at which it was composed, and, secondly, the period which preceded its composition. Every writing suggests, in fact, retrospective inductions as to the state of society which produced it. Composed, for the most part, between the years 53 and 62, the Epistles of St. Paul are replete with information concerning the early years of Christianity. Moreover, seeing that we are here speaking of great events without precise dates, the essential point is to show the conditions under which they formed themselves, On this subject I ought to remark once for all that the current date inscribed at the head of each chapter is never more than approximate. The chronology of these first years has but a very small number of fixed land-marks. Yet, thanks to the care which the editor of the Acts has taken, not to interrupt the succession of events; thanks to the Epistle to the Galatians, where are to be found some numerical indications of the greatest value; and to Josephus, who gives the dates of events of profane history connected with some facts concerning the apostles, we are able to create for the history of these last a very probable canvas upon which the chances of error are confined within very narrow limits.
I shall again repeat at the beginning of this book what I have already said at the beginning of my Life of Jesus. In histories of that kind, where the general effect alone is ivcertain, and where almost all the details lend themselves more or less to doubt, in consequence of the legendary character of the documents, hypothesis is essential. Upon periods of which we know nothing no hypothesis is possible. To endeavour to reproduce a group of ancient sculpture, which has certainly existed, but of which we possess only a few fragments, and concerning which we possess scarcely any written account, is an altogether arbitrary work. But to attempt to recompose the entire building of the Parthenon from what remains to us by the aid of the ancient text, availing ourselves of the drawing made in the seventeenth century of all the information possible; in one word, inspiring ourselves with the style of those inimitable fragments, trying to seize their soul and their life—what can be more legitimate? We need not boast of having found the ancient sculptor once more; but we have done what we could to approach him. Such a work is so much the more legitimate in history since language permits doubtful forms, which marble does not allow. There is oven nothing to prevent the reader from proposing a choice between diverse theories. The conscience of the writer may be easy since he has put forward as certain that which is certain, as probable that which is probable, as possible that which is possible. In those places where the footing between history and legend is uncertain, the general effect alone is all that need be sought after. Our third book, for which we shall have absolutely historical documents, where we shall have to paint characters of flesh and blood, and to speak of clearly defined facts, will offer a more definite story. It will be seen, however, that the character of that period is not known with greater certainty. Absolute facts speak more loudly than biographical details. We know very little of the incomparable artists who have created these masterpieces of Greek art. But these masterpieces tell us more about the personality of their authors and the public who appreciate them, than the most circumstantial narratives, and the most authentic texts could do.
For the knowledge of the decisive events which happened in the first days after the death of Jesus the authorities are the last chapters of the Gospels containing the narratives of the appearance of the resuscitated Christ. I need not vrepeat here what I have said in the Introduction to my Life of Jesus as to the value of these documents. On that side we have happily a control which was too often wanting in the life of Jesus; I intend to imply an important passage of St. Paul (1 Cor. xv 5-8), which establishes: 1st the reality of the appearances; 2nd, the long duration of the apparitions as opposed to the narrative of the synoptical Gospels; 3rd, the variety of places in which the apparitions took place in contradiction to Mark and Luke. The study of this fundamental text, together with other reasons, confirms us in the views which we have enunciated as to the reciprocal relation of the Synoptics with the fourth Gospel. In all that concerns the narrative of the resurrection and the apparitions, the fourth Gospel maintains that superiority which it has for all the rest of the Life of Jesus. If we wish to find a consecutive logical narrative, which allows that which is hidden behind the allusions to be conjectured, it is there that we must look for it. I am approaching the most difficult of the questions connected with the origin of Christianity. “What is the historic value of the fourth Gospel?” The use which I have made of it in my Life of Jesus is the point to which enlightened critics have taken the most objection. Almost all the scholars who apply the rational method to the history of theology reject the fourth Gospel as apocryphal in every aspect. I have anew reflected much upon this problem, and I am unable sensibly to modify my first opinion. Only as I differ on this point from the general opinion I have thought it necessary to explain in detail the reasons for my persistency. I intend to make it the subject of an appendix at the end of a revised and corrected edition of the Life of Jesus which will shortly appear.
The Acts of the Apostles are the most important document for the history which we are about to relate. I ought to explain myself hero as to the character of that work, its historical value, and the use which I have made of it.
The one thing beyond question is that the Acts had the same author as the third Gospel, of which they are a continuation. It is not worth while to stop to prove this position, which, however, has never been disputed. The vipreface at the beginning of both writings, the dedication of both to Theophilus, the perfect similarity of style and of ideas furnish abundant demonstrations in this regard.
A second proposition, which is not quite so self-evident, but which may be regarded as very probable is, that the author of the Acts was a disciple of Paul. who accompanied him during a great part of his journeyings. At the first glance this proposition appeared indubitable. In many places beginning with the 10th verse of chapter xvi., the author in his story makes use of the pronoun “we,” indicating thus that thenceforward he made one of the company of Paul. That appears to be beyond question. One issue only presents itself to destroy the force of this argument: it is that of supposing that the passages where the pronoun “we” appears have been copied by the last editor of the Acts from an earlier manuscript by, for example, Timothy, and that the editor, out of inadvertence, had omitted to substitute for “we” the name of the narrator. This explanation is scarcely admissible. Such an inadvertence might easily occur in a vulgar compilation. But the third Gospel and the Acts are compositions most carefully edited, composed with reflection, and even with art, written by the same hand, and according to a deliberate plan. The two books together form a whole of absolutely the same style, offering the same favourite locutions, and the same manner of quoting the Scripture. A blunder of editing so really shocking as that would be inexplicable. We are then forced invincibly to conclude that he who wrote the end of the work wrote the beginning also, and that the narrator of all is he who wrote “we” in the passages mentioned.
This becomes still more striking, if we note in what circumstances the narrator thus puts himself in company with Paul. The use of “we” begins at the moment when Paul goes into Macedonia for the first time (xvi. 10). It ceases at the moment when Paul leaves Philippi, It is renewed when Paul, visiting Macedonia for the last time, again goes by way of Philippi (xx. 5-6.) Thenceforward the narrator never again separates himself from Paul until the end. If we further remark that the chapters in which the narrator accompanies the apostle have a specially precise character, it is impossible to believe that the narrator could have been viia Macedonian, or rather a man of Philippi, who went before Paul to Troas during his second mission, who remained at Philippi after the departure of the apostle, and who at the last passage of the apostle through that city (third mission) joined him, not again to leave him. Can it be understood that an editor, writing at a distance, could thus have allowed himself to be ruled by the remembrance of another? Such memories would spoil the unity of the whole, The narrator who says “we” would have his own style; his special expressions; he would be more Paulinian than the editor himself. Now that is not so: the work is perfectly homogeneous.
There will, perhaps, be some surprise that a thesis so evident should have been contradicted. But criticism of the writings of the New Testament shows that many things which appear to be perfectly clear are, upon examination, full of uncertainty. In the matter of style, thoughts, and doctrines, the Acts are scarcely what might be expected from a disciple of Paul. They in no way resemble his epistles. There is not a trace of the lofty doctrines which constitute the originality of the Apostle of the Gentiles. The temperament of Paul is that of a stiff and self-contained Protestant; the author of the Acts gives us the impression of a good Catholic, docile, optimist, calling every priest a “holy father,” every bishop “a great bishop,” ready to swallow any fiction, rather than believe that these holy fathers and great bishops quarrel amongst themselves and often make rude war. Whilst professing a great admiration for Paul, the author of the Acts avoids giving him the title of apostle, and is anxious that the initiative of the conversion of the Gentiles should belong to Peter. We should say, in short, that he is a disciple of Peter, rather than of Paul. We shall soon show that, in two or three circumstances, his principles of conciliation have led him gravely to falsify the biography of Paul; he makes mistakes and omissions of things which are very strange in a disciple of this last. He does not mention a single one of his epistles; he keeps back, in the most surprising fashion, explanations of the first importance. Even in the part, where he must have been the companion of Paul, he is sometimes singularly dry, ill-informed and dull. In short, the softness and vagueness viiiof some of his narratives, the conventionality which may be discerned in them, suggest to us a writer who had no personal communication with the apostles, and who wrote between the years 100 and 120.
Must we insist upon these objections? I think not, and I persist in believing that the last editor of the Acts is really the disciple of Paul who says “we” in the last chapters. All the difficulties, insoluble though they may appear, should be, if not set on one side, at least held in suspense by an argument as decisive as that which results from this word “we.” We may add, that by attributing the Acts to a companion of Paul, two important peculiarities are explained: on the one hand, the disproportion of the work of which more than three-fifths are consecrated to Paul; on the other, the disproportion which may be remarked, even in the biography of Paul himself, whose first mission is dispatched with great brevity, whilst certain parts of the second and third missions, especially his last journey, are told with minute details. A man altogether a stranger to the apostolic history, would not have exhibited these inequalities. His work would have been better planned as a whole. That which distinguishes history composed from documents, from history written wholly or in part by an actor in it, is exactly this disproportion: The historian of the closet takes for his framework the events themselves; the author of memoirs takes his recollections for his framework, or, at least, his personal relations. An ecclesiastical historian, a sort of Eusebius, writing about the year 120, would have bequeathed to us a book very differently distributed after chapter xiii. The bizarre fashion in which the Acts at this time leaves the orbit in which they had revolved until then can, to my thinking, be explained only by the peculiar situation of the author and by his relations with Paul. This result will be naturally confirmed if we find amongst the known fellow labourers of Paul the name of the author to whom tradition attributes our writing.
This is in effect what took place. Manuscripts and tradition assign as the author of the third Gospel a certain Lucas or Lucanus. From what has been said it is evident that if Lucas be really the author of the third Gospel, he is also the author of the Acts. Now we find this Lucas ixmentioned precisely as the companion of Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians (iv. 14); in that to Philemon (24), and in the II Timothy (iv. 11.) This last Epistle is of more than doubtful authenticity. The Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon on their side, although very probably authentic, are not, however, the most undoubted of Paul’s Epistles. But those writings are, in any ease, of the first century, and suffice to prove that there was a Luke amongst the disciples of Paul. The fabricator of the Epistles to Timothy, in short, is certainly not the author of those to the Colossians and to Philemon (supposing, contrary to our opinion, that these last are apocryphal). To admit that a forger should have attributed an imaginary companion to Paul is to suppose something very improbable. But assuredly different forgers would not have pitched upon the same name. Two circumstances give to this reasoning a peculiar force. The first is that the name of Luke, or Lucanus, is an uncommon one amongst the early Christians; the second that the Luke of the Epistles had no other celebrity. To write a celebrated name at the top of a document, as is done in the second Epistle of Peter, and very probably in Paul’s Epistles to Titus and Timothy, was in no way contrary to the habits of the time. But to write at the top of such a document a false name, otherwise obscure, is not to be believed. Was it the intention of the forger to throw over his book the authority of Paul? If it were, why did he not take the name of Paul himself? or at least the name of Timothy or Titus, disciples of the Apostle of the Gentiles, who were much bettor known? Luke scarcely had a place in tradition, legend, or history. The three passages of the Epistles above mentioned are not sufficient to make his name a generally accepted guarantee. The Epistles to Timothy were probably written after the Acts. The mention of Luke in the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon are equivalent to one only, the two documents being really but one. We think, therefore, that the author of the Acts was really Luke, the disciple of Paul.
The very name of Luke, or Lucanus, and the profession of physician, which the disciple of Paul thus named exercised, answer completely to the indications which the two books furnish as to their author. We have shown in effect xthat the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts was probably from Philippi, a Roman colony, where Latin was the prevailing language. Further, the author of the Gospel and of the Acts knew little of Judaism and the affairs of Palestine; he scarcely knew Hebrew. He is abreast of the ideas of the Pagan world, and he writes Greek with tolerable correctness. The work was composed far from Judea for the use of people who knew little of its geography, who cared nothing for either profound Rabbinical learning’s or for Hebrew names. The dominant idea of the author is, that if the people had been free to follow their inclinations they would have embraced the faith of Jesus, and that it was the Jewish aristocracy who prevented them. The word Jew is always used by him in a bad sense, and as synonymous with enemy of Christians. On the other hand he shows himself very favourable to the Samaritan heretics.
What date may we give to the composition of this important document? Luke appears for the first time in company with Paul on the occasion of the first journey of the apostle to Macedonia, about the year 52. Suppose that lie was then 25 years of age; there is nothing unnatural in supposing him to have lived to the year 100. The narrative of the Acts stops at the year 63. But the edition of the Acts being evidently later than that of the third Gospel, and the date of that third Gospel being fixed with sufficient precision in the years which followed the destruction of Jerusalem (70), we cannot dream of placing the production of the Acts earlier than 71 or 72.
If it were certain that the Acts were composed immediately after the Gospel we might stop at this point. But doubt is permissible. Some facts lead to the belief that a considerable interval passed between the composition of the third Gospel and that of the Acts. Thus there is a singular contradiction between the last chapters of the Gospel and the first of the Acts. According to the former account the ascension took place on the very day of the resurrection; according to the Acts it took place only after forty days. It is clear that the second version presents the legend to us in a more advanced form—a form which was adopted when the need was felt for creating a place for the various apparitions, and for giving to the life xibeyond the tomb of Jesus a complete and logical frame-work. We are even tempted to suppose that the new fashion of conceiving things was not told to the author or did not come into his head except in the interval between the composition of the two works. In any case it is very remarkable that the author finds himself compelled to add new circumstances to his first account and to extend it. If his first book were still in his hands why did he not make the additions to his first account which, separated as they are, look so awkward? That, however, is not decisive, and a grave circumstance leads to the belief that Luke conceived at the same time the plan of both. That is the preface placed at the head of the Gospel, which appears common to the two books. The contradiction we have pointed out may perhaps be explained by the little rare which was taken to present an accurate account of the way in which the time was spent. This it is which makes all the accounts of the life of Jesus after his resurrection in complete disagreement as to the duration of that life. So little care was taken to be historical that the same narrator made no scruple about proposing two irreconcilable systems in succession. The three accounts of the conversion of Paul in the Acts present also little differences, which prove simply that the author did not trouble himself much about the exactness of the details.
It appears then that we shall be very near the truth in supposing that the Acts were written about the year 80. The spirit of the book, in fact, corresponds completely with the age of the first Flavians. The author carefully avoids all that can wound the Romans. He loves to show how favourable the Roman authorities were to the new sect; how they sometimes even embraced it; how they at least defended it against the Jews; how greatly superior is imperial justice to the passions of the local powers. He insists especially on the advantages which Paul owed to his rights as a Roman citizen. He abruptly cuts his narrative short at the moment of the arrival of Paul at Rome, perhaps in order to avoid the necessity of relating the cruelties of Nero towards the Christians. The contrast with the Apocalypse is striking. The Apocalypse, written in the year 68, is full of the memory of the iniquities of Nero; a horrible hatred of Rome overspreads xiiit. Here we see a mild man, who lives in a period of calm. After about the year 70 until the last years of the first century, the situation was not altogether unpleasant for the Christians. Personages of the Flavian family attached themselves to Christianity. Who knows if Luke did not know Flavius Clemens, if he were not of his familia, if the Acts were not written for that powerful personage, whose official position required caution? Some indications have led to the belief that this book was composed at Rome. One might have said indeed that the principles of the Roman Church weighed upon the author. That Church, from the earliest ages, had the political and hierarchical character which has always distinguished it. The good Luke could enter into that spirit. His ideas of ecclesiastical authority are very advanced: we see the form of the episcopate sprouting. He writes history in that tone of an apologist at any cost which is that of the official historians of the court of Rome. He acts as an ultramontane historian of Clement XIV would act; praising at the same time the Pope and the Jesuits, and seeking to persuade by a narrative full of compunction that both sides in that debate observed the rules of charity. In two hundred years it will also be settled that Cardinal Antonelli and Mgr de Merode loved each other like two brothers. The author of the Acts was, but with a simplicity which will not again be equalled, the first of those complacent narrators, sanctimoniously satisfied, determined to believe that everything goes on in the Church in an evangelic fashion. Too loyal to condemn his master Paul, too orthodox not to share the official opinion which prevailed, he smoothed over differences of doctrine, to allow only the common end to be seen—that end which all these great founders pursued in effect by paths so opposed and through rivalries so energetic.
We can understand how a man who has placed himself intentionally in such a disposition of mind, is the least capable in the world of representing things as they really happened. Historical fidelity is a matter of indifference to him; edification is all he cares for. Luke scarcely conceals this; he writes in order that Theophilus may recognise the truth of what the catechists have taught him. There was then already a recognised system of ecclesiastical history, xiiiwhich was officially taught, and the framework of which, as well as that of the Gospel history itself, was probably already settled. The dominant character of the Acts, like that of the third Gospel, is a tender piety, a lively sympathy with the Gentiles, a conciliatory spirit, an extreme pro. occupation with the supernatural, love for the humble and lowly, a grand democratic sentiment, or rather the persuasion that the people are naturally Christian, that it is the great who prevent them from following their good instincts, an exalted idea of the power of the Church and of its heads, a remarkable taste for community of life. The system of composition is the same in both books, so that we are with respect to the history of the apostles on the same footing as we should be with regard to the Gospel history if we had one single text only, the Gospel of Luke.
The disadvantages of such a situation are manifest. The life of Jesus, as related by the third evangelist alone, would be extremely defective and incomplete. We know it, because so far as the life of Jesus is concerned, comparison is possible. Together with Luke we possess (without speaking of the fourth Gospel) Matthew and Mark, who, as compared with Luke, are in part, at least, original. We can lay a finger on the violent proceedings by means of which Luke dislocates or mixes up anecdotes, on the way in which he modifies the colour of certain facts according to his personal views, of the pious legends which he adds to the most authentic traditions. Is it not evident that if we could make such a comparison of the Acts, we should find faults of a precisely similar description? The first chapters of the Acts would even appear, without doubt, inferior to the third Gospel, for these chapters were probably composed with fewer and less universally accepted documents.
A fundamental distinction, in fact, is here necessary. From the point of view of historical value, the book of the Acts divides itself into two parts; one, including the first twelve chapters, and relating the principal facts of the history of the primitive Church; the other containing the remaining sixteen chapters, all devoted to the missions of St. Paul. That second part includes in itself two distinct kinds of narrative; those on the one hand, of which the narrator gives himself out as eye-witness; on the other, those xivin which he relates only what he has been told. It is clear that oven in the last case his authority is great. Often the conversations of Paul have furnished his information. Towards the end, moreover, the narrative assumes an astonishing character of precision. The last pages of the Acts are the only completely historical pages which we possess of the origins of Christianity. The first, on the contrary, are those which are most open to attack of all the New Testament. It is especially in the first years that the author obeyed impulses like those which preoccupied him in the composition of his gospel, and even more deceptive. His system of forty days; his account of the ascensions, closing by a species of final carrying off, theatrical solemnity; the strange life of Jesus; his manner of relating the descent of the Holy Ghost, and the miraculous preachings; his mode of understanding the gift of tongues, so different from that of St. Paul, unveil the preoccupation of a period relatively low when the legend is very ripe, rounded as it were in all parts. Everything is done with him with a strange setting and a great display of the marvellous. It must be remembered that the author wrote half a century after the events, far from the country where they happened, concerning incidents which neither he nor his master had seen, according to traditions in part fabulous or transmogrified. Not merely is Luke of another generation than the first founders of Christianity, but he is of another world; he is Hellenist with but very little of the Jew, almost a stranger to Jerusalem and the secrets of the Jewish life; he has not touched the primitive Christian society; he has scarcely known its last representatives. We see in the miracles, which he relates, rather inventions a priori than transformed facts; the miracles of Peter and Paul form two series, which answer each other. His persons resemble each other. Peter differs in nothing from Paul, nor Paul from Peter. The discourses, which he puts into the mouths of his heroes, though admirably appropriate to the circumstances, are all in the same style, and belong to the author rather than to those to whom he attributes them. We even find impossibilities. The Acts, in a word, are a dogmatic history, arranged to support the orthodox doctrine of the time, or to inculcate the ideas which seemed most agreeable to the piety of the author. Let us add xvthat it could be no otherwise. The origin of every religion is known only by the narratives of the faithful. It is only scepticism which writes history ad narrandum.
These are not simple suspicions, conjectures of a criticism defiant to excess. They are solid inductions; every time that we are permitted to examine the narrative of the Acts, we find it incorrect and unsystematic. The examination of the Gospels, which can be done only by comparison with the Synoptics, we can make with the help of the Epistles of Paul, especially of the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. It is clear that where the Acts and the Epistles clash, the preference ought always to be given to the Epistles—texts of an absolute authenticity, more ancient, of a complete sincerity, and free from legends. In history documents have the more authority the less they possess of historical form. The authority of all the chronicles must yield to that of an inscription, of a medal, of a map, of an authentic letter. From this point of view, the letters of certain authors, or of certain dates, are the basis of all the history of the origins of Christianity. Without them, it might be said that doubt would attach to them, and would ruin, from top to bottom, even the life of Jesus itself. Now, in two very important particulars, the Epistles put in a striking light the private tendencies of the author of the Acts, and his desire to efface all trace of the divisions which existed between Paul and the Apostles of Jerusalem.
And first, the author of the Acts says that Paul, after the incident at Damascus (ix, 19 et seq., xxii, 17 et seq.), having come to Jerusalem at a period when his conversion was hardly known; that he was presented to the Apostles; that he lived with the Apostles and the faithful on a footing of the greatest cordiality; that he disputed publicly with the Hellenist Jews; that a plot of theirs, and a celestial revelation, brought about his departure from Jerusalem. Now Paul tells us that things came about very differently. To prove that he owed nothing to the Twelve, and that he received his doctrine and his mission from Jesus, he asserts (Gal. i., 11 et seq.), that after his conversion he avoided taking counsel with anyone whatever, or going to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him; that he went of his own accord, and without commission from anyone, to preach in Hauran; that three years later, it is true, he xviaccomplished the journey to Jerusalem to make acquaintance with Peter; that he stayed there fifteen days with him; but that he saw no other apostle unless it were James, the Lord’s brother, so that his face was unknown to the churches of Judea. The effort to soften down the asperities of the rude apostle by presenting him as a follow worker with the Twelve, labouring at Jerusalem in concert with them, evidently appears hero. Jerusalem is made his capital and point of departure; it is desired that his doctrine shall be so identified with that of the apostles, that he might in some sort replace them in the preaching; his first apostolate is reduced to the synagogues of Damascus; he is described as having been disciple and auditor, which he certainly never was; the time between his conversion and his first journey to Jerusalem is materially abridged; his stay in that city is prolonged; he is described as preaching there to the general satisfaction; as having lived intimately with all the apostles, although he himself says that he saw only two; the brethren of Jerusalem are described as watching over him, whilst Paul declares that his face was unknown to them.
The desire to make of Paul an assiduous visitor to Jerusalem, which has led our author to advance and to prolong his first stay in that city after his conversion, appears to have induced him to ascribe to the apostle one journey too many. According to him Paul came to Jerusalem with Barnabas, bearing the offering of the faithful during the famine of the year 44 (Acts xi. 30, xii. 25). Now Paul declares expressly that between the journey which took place three years after his conversion and the journey about the business of the circumcision, he did not go to Jerusalem (Gal. i. and ii.) In other words, Paul formally excludes the idea of any journey between Acts ix. 26 and Acts xv. 2. If we were to deny, against all reason, the identity of the journey related Acts xv. 2, et seq. we should not obtain the smallest contradiction. “After three years,” says St. Paul, “I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter . . . Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas.” It has been doubted whether these fourteen years date from the conversion, or the journey which followed three years after that event. Let us take the first hypothesis, which is the most favourable xviito those who would defend the account in the Acts. There would then be eleven years, at least, according to St. Paul, between his first and his second journey to Jerusalem; now. surely there were not eleven years between what is told Acts ix. 26 et seq. and what is told Acts xi, 30! And if against all probability that hypothesis is maintained, we find ourselves in the presence of another impossibility. In fact, what is told in Acts xi. 30 is contemporaneous with the death of James the son of Zebedee, which furnishes the only date fixed by the Acts of the Apostles, since it proceded by very little the death of Herod Agrippa I. which happened in the year 44. The second journey of Paul having taken place at least fourteen years after his conversion, if Paul had really made that journey in the year 44, the conversion would have taken place in the year 30, which is absurd. It is, therefore, impossible to maintain for the journey related Acts xi. 30 and xii. 35 any reality.
These comings and goings appear to have been related by our author in a very inexact fashion. In comparing Acts xvii. 14-16; xviii. 5, with I. Thess. iii. 1-2, we find another disagreement. But seeing that does not concern matters of dogma, we need not speak of it here.
That which is most important about our present subject which furnishes thin critical ray of light for the difficult question of the historical value of the Acts is a comparision of the passages relative to the business of the circumcision in the Acts (chap. xv.) and in the Epistle to Galatians (chap. ii). According to the Acts the brethren in Judea being come to Antioch and having maintained the necessity of circumcision for the converted Pagans, a deputation, composed of Paul, Barnabas and many others was sent from Antioch to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and the elders in this question. They were received with much warmth by the whole community; a great assembly took place. Dissension scarcely showed itself, checked as it was under the effusions of a common charity and the happiness of finding themselves together. Peter announces the opinion which he had expected to find in the mouth of Paul, that converted Pagans do not become subject to the law of Moses. James appends to that only a very slight restriction. Paul does not speak, and, to say the truth, is under no necessity of speaking, since his xviiidoctrine is put into the mouth of Peter. The opinion of the brethren of Judea is supported by none. A solemn decree is formulated by the advice of James. This decree is signified to the churches by deputies specially appointed.
Let us now compare the account of Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians. Paul’s version is that the journey to Jerusalem which he undertook on that occasion was the effect of a spontaneous movement, and even the result of a revolution. Arrived at Jerusalem, he communicates his gospel to those whom it concerned; he has, in particular, interviews with those who appear to be considerable personages. They do not offer him a single criticism; they communicate nothing to him; they only ask that he should remember the poor of Jerusalem. If Titus, who accompanied him, consented to allow himself to be circumcised it is “because of false brethren unawares brought in.” Paul makes this passing concession to them, but he does not submit himself to them. As to men of importance (Paul speaks of them only with a shade of bitterness and irony), they have taught him nothing new. More, Peter, having come later to Antioch, Paul “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” First, in effect, Peter ate with all indiscriminately. The emissaries of James having arrived, Peter hides himself and avoids the uncircumcised. “Seeing that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel,” Paul apostrophises Peter before them all, and reproaches him bitterly with his conduct.
The difference is palpable. On the one hand a solemn agreement, on the other anger ill-restrained, extreme susceptibilities. On the one side a sort of council; on the other nothing resembling it. On one side a formal decree issued by a recognized authority; on the other different opinions, which remain in existence without any reciprocal yielding, save for form’s sake. It is useless to say which version merits the preference. The account in the Acts is scarcely probable, since according to this account the council was occasioned by a dispute of which no trace is to be found when the council has met. The two orators expressed themselves in a sense altogether different from that which we know to have been otherwise their usual part. The decree which the council is said to have decided xixupon is assuredly a fiction. If this decree of which James would have settled the terms had been really promulgated, why those terrors of the good and timid Peter? Why did he hide himself? He and the Christian community of Antioch were acting in the fullest conformity with the decree the terms of which had been settled by James himself. The business of the circumcision occurred about the year 51. Some years afterwards, about the year 56, the quarrel which the decree ought to have ended is more lively than ever. The Church of Galatia is troubled by new envoys from the Church of Jerusalem. Paul answered this new attack of his enemies by his thundering epistle. If the decree mentioned in Acts xv. had had any real existence, Paul had a very simple means of silencing debate—he had only to quote it. Now all that he says supposes the non-existence of this decree. In 57, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, ignores the same decree, and even violates its prescriptions. The decree orders abstinence from meats offered to idols. Paul, however, is of opinion that those meats may be eaten if no one is scandalized thereby, but they ought to be abstained from in cases where scandal would arise. In 58, then, about the time of the last journey of Paul to Jerusalem, James is more obstinate than ever. One of the characteristic features of the Acts—a feature which proves plainly that the author proposes to himself less to prevent historical truth and even to satisfy logic, than to edify pious readers—is the circumstance that the question of the admission of the uncircumcised is always settled, yet is always open. It is settled at first by the baptism of the eunuch of Queen Candace, then by the baptism of the centurion Cornelius, both miraculously ordained; then by the foundation of the church of Antioch (xi. 19, et. seq.) then by the pretended Council of Jerusalem, which does not prevent that; on the last pages of the book (xxi. 20-21.) the question is still in suspense. To tell the truth it has always remained in that state. The two fractions of the nascent Christianity never agreed upon it. One of them, however, that which clung to the practices of Judaism remained infertile, and faded into obscurity. Paul was so far from being accepted by all that after his death a part of Christendom anathematized him, and pursued him with calumnies.xx
In our third book we shall have to deal in detail with the question which lies at the root of all those curious incidents. Here we have desired to give only some examples of the manner in which the author of the Acts understands history, of his system of conciliation, of his preconceived ideas. Must we conclude from them that the first chapters of the Acts are devoid of authority, as some celebrated critics think, that fiction so far enters as to create both pieces and persons, such as the eunuch of Candace, the centurion Cornelius, and even the deacon Stephen and the pious Tabitha? I think by no means. It is probable that the author of the Acts has not invented the persons, but is a skilful advocate, who writes to prove his case, and who makes the most of the facts which have come to his knowledge to support his favourite theories, which are the legitimacy of the calling of the Gentiles, and the divine institution of the hierarchy. Such a document must be used with great caution, but to reject it absolutely is as uncritical as to follow it blindly. Some paragraphs, besides, even in the first part, have a universally recognised value, and represent authentic memoirs extracted by the last editor. Chapter xii., in particular, is excellent matter, and may have been the work of John-Mark.
It may be seen in what distress we should be if the only documentary authorities we have for this history were a legendary book like this. Happily, we have others which refer directly to the period which will be the subject of our third book, and which shed a great light upon this. These are the Epistles of St. Paul. The Epistles to the Galatians especially is a veritable treasury, the basis of the chronology of this age, the key which opens everything, the testimony which ought to re-assure the most sceptical as to the reality of matters concerning which they might doubt. I beg, serious readers who may be tempted to regard me as too bold or too credulous, to read again the two first chatters of that remarkable document. They are certainly the two most important chapters for the study of nascent Christianity. The Epistles of St. Paul have, in fact, an unequalled advantage in that history: their absolute authenticity. No doubt has ever been raised by serious criticism as to the authenticity of xxithe Epistle to the Galatians. of the two Epistles to the Corinthians, of the Epistle to the Romans. The reasons for which the two Epistles to the Thessalonians and that to the Philippians, have been attacked are valueless. At the beginning of our third volume we shall have to discuss the more specious, although indecisive, objections which have been raised against the Epistle to the Colossians, and the note to Philemon; the special problem presented by the Epistle to the Ephesians; the strong reasons, finally, which point to the rejection of the two Epistles to Timothy, and that to Titus. The epistles of which we shall have to make use in this volume are those whose authenticity is indisputable; for, at least, the inductions which we shall draw from the others are independent of the question of whether they have or have not been dictated by St. Paul.
It is not necessary to refer in this place to the rules of criticism which have been followed in the composition of this work; that has already been done in the introduction to the Life of Jesus. The first twelve chapters of the Acts are in effect a document analogous to the synoptical Gospels, and require to be treated in the same fashion. Documents of this kind, half historical, half legendary, can never be regarded as wholly legend or wholly history. Almost everything in them is false in detail, nevertheless it may enclose some precious truths. To translate these narratives pure and simple is not to write history. These narratives are, in fact, often contradicted by other and more authentic texts. In consequence, even when there is only one text, one is always constrained to fear that if there had been others there would have been the same contradictions. For the Life of Jesus the narrative of Luke is continually controlled and corrected by the two other synoptical Gospels and by the fourth. Is it not probable, I repeat, that if we had for the Acts the analogue of the Synoptics and of the fourth Gospel, the Acts would be corrected on a host of points where we have now only their testimony? In our third book, where we shall be in clear and definite history, and where we shall have in our hands original and often biographical information, we shall be guided by other rules. When St. Paul himself tells us the story of some episode of his life which he had no interest in presenting xxiiin any particular light, it is clear that all that we need do is to insert his very words, word for word, in our narrative, according to the method of Tillemont. But when we are concerned with a narrator preoccupied with a system, writing as the advocate of certain ideas, editing after this infantine fashion, with vague and soft outlines, colours absolute, and strongly marked such as legend always offers, the duty of the critic is not to stick close to the text; his duty is to discover what truth the text may embody, without ever being too certain of having found it. To debar criticism from such interpretations would be as unreasonable as to command an astronomer to concern himself only with the apparent state of the heavens. Does not astronomy, on the contrary, consist in rectifying the parallax caused by the position of the observer, and to construct a real and veracious chart instead of a deceptive apparent one?
How besides can it be pretended that documents should be followed to the letter when they are full of impossibilities? The first twelve chapters of the Acts are a tissue of miracles. Now it is an absolute rule of criticism to give no place in historical documents to miraculous circumstances. This is not the result of a metaphysical system, but simply a matter of observation. Facts of that kind can never be verified. All the pretended miracles that we can study closely resolve themselves either into illusions or impostures. If a single miracle were proved, we could hardly reject all those of ancient history in a mass, for after all, admitting that a great number of these last were false, it is still possible to believe that certain of them were true. But it is not thus. All discussable miracles fade away. May we not reasonably conclude from that fact that the miracles which are removed from us by centuries, and concerning which there is no way of establishing an exhaustive discussion, are also without reality? In other words, there is no miracle except when one believes it; the substance of the supernatural is faith. Catholicism itself, which pretends that the miraculous power is not yet extinct within its bosom, undergoes the power of this law. The miracles which it pretends to work happen only in places of its choice. When there is so simple a method of proving its authenticity, why not do so in open daylight? xxiiiA miracle in Paris, under the eyes of competent and learned men, would put an end to all doubts. But alas! that is what never happens. Never has a miracle been wrought before the public whom it is desirable to convert, I would say before the incredulous. The condition of the miracle is the credulity of the witness. No miracle is performed before those who might discuss and criticise it. To that rule there is not a single exception. Cicero said, with his usual good sense and acuteness, “Since when has that secret force disappeared? Is it not since men have become less credulous?”
“But,” it is said, “if it is impossible to prove that there has ever been a supernatural fact, it is equally impossible to prove that there has not been one. The positive savant who denies the supernatural proceeds then as gratuitously as the believer who admits it.” In no way. It is for him who affirms a proposition to prove it. He, before whom it is affirmed, has but one thing to do, to wait for the proof, and to yield if it is good. Supposing we had called upon Buffon to give a place in his Natural History to sirens and centaurs, Buffon would have answered, “Show me a specimen of these beings, and I will admit them; until you do, they do not exist for me”—“But prove that they do not exist?”—“It is for you to prove that they exist.” The burden of proof in science rests upon those, who make the assertion. Why do we not believe in angels or devils, although innumerable historic texts assume their existence? Because the existence of an angel or a devil has never yet been proved.
To maintain the reality of the miracle appeal is made to the phenomena, which, it is said, could have been produced only by going beyond the laws of nature, the creation of man for example. “The creation of man,” it is said, “could have come about only by the direct intervention of the Deity; why should not that intervention be repeated at other decisive moments of the development of the universe?” I shall not insist upon the strange philosophy, and the paltry idea of the Divinity which such a method of reasoning involves, for history has its method, independent of all philosophy. Without entering, in the smallest degree, upon the province of theodicy, it is easy to show how defective such an argument is. It is equivalent xixto saying that everything which does not happen in the existing state of the world, everything which we cannot explain by the existing condition of science, is miraculous. But then the sun is a miracle, for science is far from having explained the sun; the conception of every man is a miracle, for philosophy is still silent on that point; conscience is a miracle, for it is an absolute mystery; every animal is a miracle, for the origin of life is a problem concerning which we have almost no information. If we say that all life, that every soul is in effect of a superior order in nature, we are simply playing upon words. We are anxious that this should be understood; but then there must be an explanation of the word miracle. Can that be a miracle which happens every day and every hour? Miracle is not the unexplained; it is a formal derogation in the name of a particular will of known laws. What we deny is the exceptional; those are the private interventions, like that of a clockmaker, who has made a clock, very well, it is true, but to which he is from time to time obliged to put his hand to supply the deficiencies of the wheel-work. That God permeates everything, especially everything that lives, is distinctly our theory; we only say that no special intervention of a supernatural force has ever been proved. We deny the reality of private supernaturalism until a demonstrated fact of this kind has been presented to us. To seek this fact before the creation of man; to fly beyond history to periods, where all verification is impossible, in order to escape from verifying historical miracles, is to take refuge behind a cloud, to prove one obscure thing by another still morn obscure, to dispute a known law, because of a fact of which we are not certain. Miracles are appealed to which took place before any witness existed, simply because it is impossible to quote one of which there is any credible witness.
Without doubt, in distant ages, things happened in the universe, phenomena which offer themselves no more, at least upon the same scale in the actual state of things. But these phenomena may be explained by the date at which they have occurred. In the geological formation a great number of minerals and precious atones are found, which it would appear are no longer produced in nature. Nevertheless Messrs. Mitscherlich, Ebelman, de Sénarmont, xxvDaubree have artificially recomposed the majority of these minerals and precious stones. If it is doubtful whether they will ever succeed in artificially producing life, it is because the artificial reproduction of the circumstances under which life commences (if it ever does commence) will be always out of the reach of humanity. How can we bring back a state of the planet which has disappeared for thousands of years? How are we to try an experiment which will occupy centuries? The diversity of the moans and the centuries of slow evolution—these are the things that are forgotten when we speak of the phenomena of old times, which do not happen to-day as miracles. In some celestial body at the present moment things are perhaps being done which have ceased upon this earth for an infinite period of time. Surely the formation of humanity is the most shocking and absurd thing in the world, if it is supposed to be sudden, instantaneous. It reverts to general analogies (without ceasing to be mysterious) if we see in it the result of a slow progress continued during incalculable periods. We must not apply the laws of maturity to embryonic life. The embryo develops all its organs one after another; the adult man, on the contrary, creates no more organs. He creates no more because he is no longer of an age to create; he does not even invent language because he is not called upon to invent it. But what is the use of meeting adversaries who continually evade the question? We ask for an authenticated historical miracle; we are told that there were such things before history existed. Assuredly, if a proof were required of the necessity for supernatural beliefs in certain states of the soul, it might be found in the fact that minds penetrating enough in every other respect have been able to rest the edifice of their faith on such a desperate argument.
Others, abandoning miracles of the physical order, entrench themselves behind moral miracles, without which they maintain that these events cannot be explained. Certainly the formation of Christianity is the greatest event in the religious history of the world. But it is not a miracle for all that. Buddhism, Babism have had martyrs as numerous, as exalted, as resigned as Christianity. The miracles of the foundation of Islam are of a wholly different xxvicharacter, and I confess that they affect me little. It must, however, be remarked that the Mussulman doctors base upon the establishment of Islam, upon its diffusion as by a train of fire, upon its rapid conquests, upon the force which gives it everywhere an absolute reign, the same reasonings which the Christian apologists base upon the establishment of Christianity, and assert that they clearly behold there the finger of God. Let us allow, if it is desired, that the foundation of Christianity is a unique fact. Hellenism is another absolutely unique fact, understanding by that word the ideal perfection in literature, in art, in philosophy, which Greece has achieved. Greek art surpasses all other art, as Christianity surpasses all other religions, and the Acropolis at Athens—a collection of masterpieces by the side of which everything else is no bettor than clumsy fumbling, or more or less successful imitation—is perhaps that which in its way most successfully defies comparison. Hellenism, in other words, is as much a miracle of beauty as Christianity is a miracle of sanctity. A unique thing is not a miraculous thing. God is in varying degrees in all that is beautiful, good, and true. But he is never in one of his manifestations in so exclusive a fashion that the presence of his breath in a religious or a philosophical movement ought to be deemed a privilege or exception.
I hope that the interval of two years and a half passed since the publication of the Life of Jesus will lead some of my readers to consider these problems with greater calmness. Religious controversy is always one of bad faith, without any intention or desire that it should be so. There is no independent discussion; no anxious seeking for the truth; it is the defence of a position already taken up to prove that the dissident is ignorant or dishonest. Calumnies, misinterpretations, falsifications of ideas and of texts, triumphant reasonings over things that an opponent has never said, cries of victory over mistakes which he has not made, nothing appears disloyal to the man who would hold in his hand the interests of absolute truth. I should have ignored history if I had not expected all that. I am cool enough to be almost insensible to it, and I have a sufficiently lively taste for matters of faith to be able to understand in a kindly spirit what there is that is often touching in the sentiment which inspired those who contradicted xxviime. Often, in seeing so much simplicity, such a pious assurance, a wrath coming so frankly from good and pure souls, I have said, with John Huss, at the sight of an old woman who sweated under a faggot for his burning: Oh, sancta simplicitas! I have regretted certain emotions, which could only be profitless. According to the beautiful expression of the Scriptures, “God is not in the tempest.” Ah! without doubt, if this trouble led to the discovery of the truth, we should be consoled for many agitations. But it is not thus: truth does not exist for the passionate man. It is reserved for the minds of those who seek for it without prejudice, without persistent love, without lasting hatred, with an absolute liberty, and without any after intention of acting in the business of humanity. These problems are only some of the innumerable questions of which the world is full, and which the curious examine. No one is offended by the enunciation of a theoretical opinion. Those who hold to their faith as to a treasure have a very simple method of defending it—that of taking no note of works written in a sense different from their own. The timid do better not to read them.
There are practical persons who, with regard to a work of science, ask what political party the author proposes to satisfy, and who are anxious that every poem should convey a moral lesson. Such persons do not admit that it is possible to write for something else besides a propaganda. The idea of art and of science aspiring only to find the true, and to realize the beautiful, outside of all politics, is to them incomprehensible. Between us and such persons misunderstandings are inevitable. “These people,” as the Greek philosopher said, “take back with their left hand what they give with their right.” A host of letters, dictated by a worthy sentiment, which I have received, may be summed up thus:—“What do you want? What end do you propose?” Good God! the same that every one proposes in writing history. If I had many lives at my disposal I would devote one to writing the history of Alexander, another to writing the history of Athens, a third, it may be, to writing a history of the French Revolution, or a history of the Order of St. Francis. What end should I propose to myself in writing those works? One only, to find the truth and to make it live, to work so that xxviiithe great things of the past may be known with the greatest possible exactitude, and expounded in a manner worthy of them. The notion of overthrowing the faith of anyone is far removed from me. These works ought to be executed with a supreme indifference, as if one were writing for a deserted planet. Every concession to scruples of an inferior order is a failure in the worship of art and of truth. Who does not admit that the absence of the proselytising spirit is at once the quality and the defect of a work composed in this spirit?
The first principle of the critical school in effect is that in matters of faith everyone admits what he wants to admit, and, as it were, makes the bed of his belief in proportion to his own stature. Why should we be so senseless as to mix ourselves up with what depends upon circumstances concerning which no one knows anything? If anyone accepts our principles, it is because he possesses the turn of mind and the necessary education for them; all our efforts would give neither, did one not already possess those qualities. Philosophy differs from faith, inasmuch as faith operates by itself, independently of the understanding that we have of the dogmas. We believe, on the contrary, that a truth has no value, save when it is reached by itself, when one sees the whole order of ideas to which it belongs. We do not force ourselves to silence such of our opinions as are not in harmony with the belief of a portion of our fellow-man; we make no sacrifice to the exigencies of divergent orthodoxies; but on the other hand we do not dream of attacking or provoking them; we act as though they did not exist. For myself, the day when I may be convicted of an effort to convert to my views a single adherent who did not come of himself would cause me the most acute pain. I should conclude from it, either that my mind had lost its freedom and calmness, or that something was oppressing me so that I could not content myself any longer with the free and joyous contemplation of the universe.
If, moreover, my aim had been to make war upon established religions, I should have worked in another way, undertaking only to point out the impossibilities and the contradictions of the texts and dogmas held as sacred. That minute task has been done a thousand times, and done xxixwell. In 1856, I wrote as follows:—“I protest once for all against the false interpretation which would be put upon my labours, if the various essays upon the history of religions which I have or may publish in the future, be treated as polemical works. Looked at as such, I should be the first to admit that these essays were very weak. Controversy requires tactics to which I am a stranger; it is necessary to know the weak side of one’s adversary, to hold to it, never to touch doubtful questions, to avoid all concession, that is to say, to renounce the very essence of the scientific spirit. Such is not my method. The fundamental question upon which religious discussion must turn, that is to say, the question of revelation and of the supernatural, I never touch, not that that question may not be resolved for me with entire certainty, but because the discussion of such a question is not scientific, or rather because independent science supposes it to be resolved beforehand. Assuredly if I had any polemical or proselytising object in view, this would be a cardinal fault, it would be to transport into the region of delicate and obscure problems a question which is usually treated in the coarsest terms by controversialists and apologists. So far from regretting the advantages which I should thus give my opponent, I rejoice in them, if thereby I might convince the theologians that my writings are of another order than theirs, that in them they must look only for pure researches of study, open to attack as such, wherein an attempt is sometimes made to apply to the Jewish religion and to the Christian the principles of criticism which are followed in other branches of history and philology. I intend at no time to enter into the discussion of questions of pure theology any more than M.M. Burnouf, Creuzer, Guigniaut, and so many other critical historians of the religions of antiquity have thought themselves obliged to undertake the reputation of, or the apology for, the forms of worship with which they were occupied, The history of humanity is for me a vast whole, where everything is essentially unequal and diverse, but where everything of the same order arises from the same causes and obeys the same laws. These laws I inquire into with no other intention than that of discovering the exact tint of what really is. Nothing will make the change an obscure xxxposition, but one which is fruitful for science for the part of controversialist, an easy fact, inasmuch as it wins for the writer an assured favour amongst people who think it their duty to oppose war to war. In that polemic, the necessity for which I am far from disputing, but which is neither to my taste nor to my abilities, Voltaire is enough. One cannot be at the same time a good controversialist and a good historian. Voltaire, weak in scholarship; Voltaire, who appears so devoid of the sentiment of antiquity to us who are initiated into a better method; Voltaire is twenty times victorious over those who are even more innocent of criticism than he is himself. A new edition of the works of this great man would satisfy the want which appears to be felt at the present moment of answering the encroachments of theology; an answer bad in itself, but worthy of what it has to fight against; an old-fashioned answer to a science that is out of date. Let us do better, we who possess love of truth and a vast curiosity; let us leave these disputes to those whom they please; let us labour for the small number of those who march in the front rank of the human mind. Popularity, I know, belongs by preference to writers who, instead of pursuing the most elevated form of truth, apply themselves to struggling against the opinion of their times; but by a just revenge they have no value so soon as the opinion they have contested has ceased to exist. Those who refuted the magic and judicial astrology in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, rendered an immense service to reason, yet their writings are unknown at the present day; their very victory has caused them to be forgotten.
I intend to hold invariably to this rule of conduct—the only one worthy of a scholar. I know that the researches of religious history touch upon living questions which appear to demand a solution. Persons familiar with free speculation do not understand the calm deliberation of thought; practical minds grow impatient with science, which does not answer to their eagerness. Let us avoid these vain excitements. Let us avoid finding anything. Let us rest in our respective Churches, profiting by their daily worship and their tradition of virtue, participating in their good work, and rejoicing in the poetry of their past. Nor should their intolerance repel us, We may even forgive xxxithat intolerance, for it is like egotism, one of the necessities of human nature. To suppose that it will henceforward form now religious families, or that the proportion amongst those which now exist will ever greatly change is to go against all appearances. There will soon be great schism in the Catholic Church; the days of Avignon, of the anti-popes, of the Clementists and the Urbanists will probably return. The Catholic Church may have its fourteenth Century again, but, notwithstanding her divisions, she will still remain the Catholic Church. It is probable that within a hundred years the relations between the number of Protestants, of Catholics, and of Jews will not have sensibly changed. But a great alteration will be made, or, rather, will have become apparent to the eyes of all. Each of these religious families will have two sorts of faithful ones; some believing absolutely as in the Middle Ages; others sacrificing the letter and holding only to the spirit. This second fraction will grow in every communion, and as the spirit agrees as much as the letter divides, the spiritualists of each communion will have reached such a point of agreement that they will altogether neglect to amalgamate. Fanaticism will be lost in a general tolerance. Dogma will become a mysterious ark which no one will ever want to open. If the ark is empty, then what matters it. One single religion will, I fear, resist this dogmatic softening; that is Islamism. There are amongst certain Mussulmans of the old school and amongst certain eminent men in Constantinople, there are in Persia, especially, forms of a large and conciliatory spirit. If these good forms are suffocated by the fanaticism of the ulemas, Islamism will perish, for two things are evident: the first, that modern civilization does not desire that the ancient religions should die out altogether; the second is, that it will not allow itself to be hampered in its work by old religious institutions. These last have the choice between submission and death.
As for pure religion, the pretension of which is not to be a sect or a Church apart, why should it submit to the inconveniences of a position of which it has none of the advantages? Why should it raise flag against flag when it knows that salvation is possible everywhere and to everybody; that it depends on the degree of nobility which xxxiieach carries in himself? We can understand how Protestantism in the sixteenth century brought about an open rupture. Protestantism began with a very absolute faith. Far from corresponding to a weakening of dogmatism, the Reformation marked a renaissance of the most rigid Christian spirit. The movement of the nineteenth century, on the contrary, springs from a sentiment which is the very reverse of dogmatism; it arises not in sects or separate Churches, but in a general softening of all the Churches. The marked divisions increase the fanaticism of orthodoxy and provoke reactions. The Luthers and Calvins made the Caraffa, the Ghislieri, the Loyolas, the Philip II.’s. If our Church rejects them let us not recriminate; let us learn to appreciate the sweetness of modern manners, which has rendered those hatreds powerless; let us console ourselves by dreaming of that invisible Church which takes in the excommunicated saints, the best souls of every century. The banished of a Church are always its best men; they are in advance of their times; the heretic of to-day is the orthodox of to-morrow. What besides is the excommunication of men? Our Heavenly Father excommunicates only dry souls and narrow hearts. If the priest refuses to admit us to the cemetery, let us forbid our families to cry out. God is the Judge; the earth is a good mother who makes no differences; the corpse of a good man entering the unconsecrated corner carries consecration with it.
Undoubtedly there are circumstances in which the application of these principles is difficult. The spirit breathes where it will; the spirit is liberty. Now it is to persons who are as it were chained to absolute faith I would speak; of men in holy orders or clothed with some ministerial authority. Even then a fine soul knows how to find the ways of issue. A worthy country priest, by his solitary studies and by the purity of his his, comes to see the impossibility of literal dogmatism; must he sadden those whom he has hitherto consoled by explaining to them simple changes which they cannot understand? God forbid! There are not two men in the world who have exactly the same duties. The good Bishop Colenso accomplished an act of honesty such as the Church has not seen since its origin, in writing his doubts as soon as they came xxxiiito him. But the humble Catholic priest, in a country of narrow and timid minds, ought to hold his tongue. How many discreet tombs around our village churches hide in this way poetic reserves—angelic silences! Will those whose duty it has been to speak equal the merit of those secrets known to God alone?
Theory is not practice. The ideal must remain the ideal; it must fear lest it soil itself by contact with reality. Thoughts which are good for those who are preserved by their nobility from all moral danger may not be, if they are, applied without their inconveniences for those who are surrounded with baseness. Great things are achieved only with ideas strictly defined; the man absolutely without prejudice would be powerless. Let us enjoy the liberty of the sons of God; but let us take care lest we become accomplices in the diminution of virtue which would menace society if Christianity were to grow weak. What should we be without it? What could replace the great schools of seriousness and respect, such as St. Sulpice, or the devoted ministry of the Sisters of Charity? How can we avoid being affrighted by the pettiness and the cold heartedness which have invaded the world? Our disagreement with persons who believe in positive religions is, after all, purely scientific; at heart we are with them! We have only one enemy who is theirs also—vulgar materialism, the baseness of the interested man.
Peace then, in God’s name! Let the various orders of humanity live side by side, not falsifying their own intelligence in order to make reciprocal concessions which will lessen them, but in naturally supporting each other. Nothing ought to reign here below to the exclusion of its opposite. No one force ought to be able to suppress the others. The harmony of humanity results from the free emission of the most discordant notes. If orthodoxy should succeed in killing science we know what would happen. The Mussulman world of Spain died from having too conscientiously performed that task. If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experience of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder. The instincts of art, carried to the highest point of refinement, but without honesty, made of the Italy of the Renaissance a den of xxxivthieves, an evil abode. Weariness, stupidity, mediocrity are the punishment of certain Protestant countries where, under the pretence of good sense and Christian spirit, art has been suppressed and science reduced to something paltry. Lucretius and St. Theresa, Aristophanes and Socrates, Voltaire and Francis of Assisi, Raphael and Vincent, St. Paul have an equal right to exist, and humanity would be the less if one of the elements which compose it were wanting.1
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