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END OF THE FLAVII—NERVA—RECRUDESCENCE OF THE APOCALYPSES.
The death of Domitian followed closely upon that of Flavius and the persecution of the Christians. There were between these events relations which are hardly to be explained. “He had been able,” says Juvenal, “to deprive Rome with impunity of her most illustrious souls, without anyone arming himself to avenge them, but he perished when he became terrible to the cobblers. Behold what lost a man stained with the blood of the Lamia!” It seems probable that Domitilla and Flavius Clemens entered into the plot. Domitilla may have been recalled from Pandataria in the last months of Domitian. There was, however, a general conspiracy around the monster. Domitian felt it, and, like all egotists, he was very exigent as to the fidelity of others. He caused Epaphroditus to be put to death for having helped Nero to kill himself, in order to show what crime the freedman commits who raises his hand against his master, even with a good intention. Domitia his wife, all the people of his household, trembled, and resolved to anticipate the blow which threatened them. With them was associated Stephanus, a freedman of Domitilla, and steward of her household. As he was very robust, he offered himself for the attack, body to body. On the 18th September, towards 176eleven o’clock in the morning, Stephanus, with his arm in a sling, presented himself to hand to the Emperor a memorial on a conspiracy which he pretended to have discovered. The chamberlain Parthenius, who was in the plot, admitted him, and closed the door. Whilst Domitian read with attention, Stephanus drew a dagger from his bandage and stabbed him in the groin. Domitian had time to cry to the little page who attended to the altar of the Lares to give him the sword which was under his pillow and to call for help. The boy ran to the bed’s head, but found only the hilt. Parthenius had foreseen all, and had closed up the ways of escape. The struggle was sufficiently long. Domitian sought to draw the dagger from the wound, and then with his fingers half cut off he tore at the eyes of the murderer, and succeeded in throwing him to the ground and placing himself upon him. Parthenius then caused the other conspirators to enter, who finished off the wretch. It was time; the guards arrived an instant later, and slew Stephanus.
The soldiers, whom Domitian had covered with shame but whose pay he had increased, wished to avenge him, and proclaimed him Divus. The senate was sufficiently strong to prevent this last ignominy. It caused all his statues to be broken or melted, his name to be effaced from the inscriptions, and his triumphal arches to be thrown down. It was ordered that he should be buried like a gladiator; but his nurse succeeded in carrying away his corpse, and in secretly uniting his ashes to those of the other members of his family in the temple of the gens Flavia.
This house, raised up by the chance of the revolutions to such strange destinies, fell thenceforward into great discredit. The persons of merit and virtue whom it yet contained were forgotten. The proud aristocracy, honest and of high nobility, who were 177about to reign could only feel the profoundest aversion for the relics of a middle-class family whose last chief had been the object of their just execration. During the whole of the second century nothing is heard of any Flavius. Flavia Domitilla ended her life in obscurity. It is not known what became of her two sons, whom Domitian had intended for the Empire. One indication leads to the belief that the posterity of Domitilla continued until the end of the third century. That house always preserved, it would appear, an attachment to Christianity. Its family sepulchre, situated on the Via Ardeatina, became one of the most ancient Christian catacombs. It is distinguished from all the others by its spacious approaches; its vestibule in the classical style, fully open to the public road; the size of its principal hall, destined for the reception of the sarcophagi; the elegance and the altogether profane character of the decorative paintings on the vault of this hall. if one holds to the frontispiece, everything recalls Pompeii, or, still better, the Villa of Livy, ad gallinas albas, in the Flaminian Way. In proportion as one descends the underground temple (hypogea) the aspect grows more and more Christian. It is then quite conceivable that this beautiful sepulchre may have received its first consecration from Domitilla, whose family must have been in a great part Christian. In the third century the approaches were enlarged and a collegiate schola was constructed, designed probably for agapes or sacred feasts.
The circumstances which brought the old Nerva to the Empire are obscure. The conspirators who killed the tyrant had, without doubt, a preponderating share in the choice. A reaction against the abominations of the preceding reign was inevitable; the conspirators, however, having taken part in the principal events of the reign, did not want too strong a reaction. Nerva was an excellent man, but reserved, timid, and carrying 178the taste for half measures almost to excess. The army desired the punishment of the murderers of Domitian; the honest party in the Senate wished for the punishment of those who had been the ministers of the crimes of the last government. Dragged about between these opposing requirements, Nerva often appeared weak. One day at his table were found united the illustrious Junius Mauricius, who had risked his life for liberty, and the ignoble Veientus, one of the men who had done the greatest evil under Domitian. The conversation fell upon Catullus Messalinus, the most abhorred of the informers:—“What would this Catullus do if he were alive?” said Nerva. “Faith,” cried Mauricius, at the end of his patience, “he would dine with us.”
All the good that could be done without breaking with the evil, Nerva did. Progress was never loved more sincerely; a remarkable spirit of humanity, of gentleness, entered into the government and even into the legislation. The Senate regained its authority. Men of sense thought the problem of the times, the alliance of the aristocracy with liberty, definitely resolved. The mania for religious persecution, which had been one of the saddest features of the reign of Domitian, absolutely disappeared. Nerva caused those who were under the weight of accusations of this kind to be absolved, and recalled the banished. It was forbidden to prosecute anyone for the mere practice of Jewish customs; prosecutions for impiety were suppressed; the informers were punished. The fiscus judaicus, as we have seen, afforded scope for much injustice. People who did not owe it were made to pay; in order to ascertain the quality of persons liable to it, they were subjected to disgusting inquiries. Measures were taken to prevent the revival of similar abuses, and a special coinage (FISCI IVDAICI CALVMNIA SVBLATA) recalled the memory of that measure.179
All the families of Israel thus enjoyed a relative calm after a cruel storm. They breathed. For some years the Church of Rome was more happy and more flourishing than she had ever been. The apocalyptic ideas resumed their course; it was believed that God had fixed the time of his coming upon earth for the moment when the number of the elect reached a certain figure; every day they rejoiced to see that number increase. The belief in the return of Nero had not disappeared. Nero, if he had lived, would have been sixty, which was a great age for the part which was destined for him; but the imagination reasons little; besides Nero, the Antichrist became day by day a more ideal personage, placed altogether without the conditions of the natural life. For a long time people continued to speak of his return, even when it was obvious that he could no longer be alive.
The Jews were more ardent and more sombre than ever. It appears that it was a law of religious conscience with this people to pour forth in each of the great crises which tore the Roman Empire one of those allegorical compositions in which the rein was given to prognostications of the future. The situation of the year 97 in many ways resembled that of the year 68. Natural prodigies appeared to multiply. The fall of the Flavii made almost as much impression as the disappearance of the house of Julius. The Jews believed that the existence of the Empire was again in question. The two catastrophes had been preceded by sanguinary madnesses, and were followed by civil troubles, which caused doubts as to the vital powers of a state so agitated. During this eclipse of the Roman power, the imagination of the Messianists again took the field; the eccentric speculations as to the end of the Empire and the end of time resumed their course.
The Apocalypse of the reign of Nerva appeared, according to the custom of compositions of this kind, 180under a fictitious name, that of Esdras. This writer began by becoming very celebrated. An exaggerated part was attributed to him in the reconstitution of the sacred books. The forger for his purpose wanted besides a personage who had been contemporary with a situation of the Jewish people analogous to that through which they were passing. The work appears to have been originally written in that Greek full of Hebraisms which had already been the language of the Apocalypse of John. The original is lost, but from the Greek text translations were made into Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Ethopian, and Arabic which have preserved to us this precious document, and have allowed us to restore its first state. It is a sufficiently fine piece of writing, of a truly Hebrew taste, composed by a Pharisee probably at Rome. Christians read it with avidity, and it was unnecessary to do more than retouch one or two passages to turn it into a very edifying Christian book.
The author may in many ways be considered the last prophet of Israel. The work is divided into seven sections, for the most part affecting the form of a dialogue between Esdras, a supposed exile to Babylon, and the angel Uriel; but it is easy to see behind the biblical personage the ardent Jew of the Flavian epoch, full of rage because of the destruction of the Temple by Titus. The memory of these dark days of the year 70 rises in his soul like the smoke of the pit, and fills it with holy wrath. How far are we, with this fiery zealot, from a Josephus who treats the defenders of Jerusalem as scoundrels? Here is a veritable Jew who is sorry not to have been with those who perished in the fire of the Temple. The Revolution of Judea, according to him, was not an insanity. Those who defended Jerusalem to the uttermost, those assassins whom the moderates sacrificed and regarded as alone responsible for the misfortunes of the nations—those assassins were saints. Their fate 181was enviable; they will be the great men of the future.
Never did Israelite, more pious, more penetrated with the sufferings of Zion, pour out his prayers and tears before Jehovah. A profound doubt, the great doubt of the Jews, rent him,—the same which devoured the Psalmist when he “saw the ungodly in prosperity.” Israel are the chosen people. God has promised happiness to them if they observe the Law. Without having fulfilled that condition in all its rigour, what would be beyond human strength, Israel is better than other nations. In any case, he has never observed the Law more scrupulously than in these last times. Why, then, is Israel the most unfortunate of peoples; and more just he is the more unfortunate? The author sees clearly that the old materialistic solutions of this problem cannot be accepted. Thus is his soul troubled even to death.
Lord, Master Universal, he cries, of all the forests of the earth, and of all the trees that are found therein, thou hast chosen a vine; of all the countries of the world, thou hast chosen a province; of all the flowers of the world, thou hast chosen a lily; of all the wilderness of water, thou host chosen a brook; amongst all the cities, thou hast sanctified Sion; of all the birds, thou hast dedicated a dove to thyself; and of all created beasts, thou wouldest take only a lamb for thyself. thus out of all the people on the face of the earth thou hast adopted one only, and to that beloved people thou hast given a Law which all admire. And now, Lord, what has he done that thou shouldest deliver thine only One to profanation, that upon the root of thy choice thou hast grafted other plants, that thou hast dispersed thy dear ones in the midst of the nations. those who deny thee crowd upon the feet of the faithful. If thou hast come to hate thy people, it must be so! But at least punish them with thine own hands, and lay not this task upon the unfaithful.
Thou hast said that it is for us that thou hast created the world; that the other nations born of Adam are in thine eyes but vile spittle (sic). . . . And now, Lord, behold these nations, thus treated as nothing, rule over us and trample us under foot. And we thy people, we whom thou hast called thy first-born, thy only Son, we the objects of thy jealousy, we are delivered 182unto their hands. If the world has been created for us, why do we not at least possess an heritage? How long, O Lord, how long! . . .
Sion is a desert, Babylon is happy. Is this just? Sion has sinned much. She may have, but is Babylon more innocent? I believed so until I came here, but since I came, what do I see? Such impieties that I marvel that thou bearest them, after having destroyed Sion for so much less iniquity. What nation has known thee save only Israel? What tribe has believed in thee save only that of Jacob? And who has been less rewarded? Amongst the nations I have seen them flourishing and unmindful of thy commandments. Weigh in the balance what we have done, and what they do. Amongst us I confess there are few faithful ones, but amongst them there are none at all. Now they enjoy a profound peace, and we, our life is the life of a fugitive grasshopper; we pass our days in fear and anguish. It had been better for us never to have been born than to be tormented thus without knowing in what our guilt consists. . . . Oh, that we had been burned in the fires of Sion! We are not better than those who perished there!
The angel Uriel, the interlocutor of Esdras, eludes as best he can the inflexible logic of this protestation. The mysteries of God are so profound! The mind of man is so limited! Pressed with questions, Uriel escapes by a Messianic theory like that of the Christians. The Messiah, son of God, but simple man, is on the eve of appearing in Zion in glory, in company with those who have not tasted death, that is to say, with Moses, Enoch, Elias, and Esdras himself. He will recall the ten tribes from the “land of Arzareth” (foreign country). He will fight a great fight against the wicked; after having conquered them, he will reign four hundred years upon the earth with his elect. At the end of that time, the Messiah will die, and all the living will die with him. The world will return to its primitive silence for seven days. Then a new world will appear, and the general resurrection will take place. The Most High will appear upon his throne, and will proceed to a definitive judgment.
The particular turn which Jewish Messianism tended to take, clearly appears here. Instead of an 183eternal reign, of which the old prophets dreamed, for the posterity of David, and which the Messianists after the pseudo-Daniel transferred to their ideal king, we arrive at the notion of a Messianic kingdom as having a limited duration. We have seen the author of the Christian Apocalypse fix that date at a thousand years. Pseudo-Esdras contents himself with four hundred years. The most diverse opinions were current on that subject amongst the Jews. Pseudo-Baruch, without specifying the limit, says distinctly that the Messianic reign will last only as long as the perishable earth. The judgment of the world from that point of view is distinguished from the advent of the Messianic kingdom, and the presidency is given to the Most High alone and not to the Messiah. Then the conception of the Eternal Messiah inaugurating an endless reign, and judging the world, carries him away altogether, and becomes the essential and distinctive feature of Christianity.
Such a theory raises a question with which we have already seen St Paul and his faithful greatly concerned. In such a conception there is an enormous difference between the fate of those who are alive at the appearance of the Messiah, and those who have died beforehand. Our seer even asks himself a question which is odd enough, but certainly logical:—Why did not God make all men alive at the same time? He gets out of the difficulty by the hypothesis of provisional “depôts” (pronaptuaria) where the souls of departed saints are held in reserve until the judgment. At the great day the depôts will be opened, so that the contemporaries of the appearance of the Messiah shall have only one advantage over the others—that of having enjoyed the reign of four hundred years. In comparison with eternity, that is a very small matter, and the author thinks himself justified in maintaining that there will be no point or privilege,—the first and the last will be all equals in 184the Day of Judgment. Naturally, the souls of the just, confined in a sort of prison, feel some impatience, and often say: “Until what time is this to continue? When will be the day of the harvest?” The angel Jeromiel answers them, “When the number of those like unto you is complete?” The time is coming. As the bowels of a woman nine months pregnant cannot contain the fruit which they bear, so the depôts of Sheol, too full in some sense, hasten to render up the souls which they contain. The total duration of the universe is divided into twelve parts; ten parts and a half of that period have gone by; The world is approaching its end with an incredible rapidity. The human race is decaying fast; the stature of man dwindles; like the children born of old parents, our races have no longer the vigour of the earlier ages. “The age has lost its youth, and time begins to grow old.”
The signs of the last days are those which we have enumerated twenty times. The trumpet shall sound. The order of Nature will be reversed; blood shall flow from wood, and the stones shall speak. Enoch and Elias will appear to convert man. Men must hasten to die, and are as nothing compared with those that are to come. The more the world is weakened by old age, the more wicked it will become. Truth will withdraw day by day from the earth; good shall seem to be exiled.
The small number of the elect is the dominant thought of our sombre dreamer. The entrance to eternal life is like a narrow strait between two seas, like a narrow and slippery passage which gives access to a city; on the right there is a precipice of fire, on the left a sea without bottom; a single man can scarcely hold himself there. But the sea into which one enters is also immense, and the city is full of every good thing. There is in this world more silver than gold, more copper than silver, more iron than 185copper. The elect are the gold; the rarer things are, the more precious they are. The elect are the adornments of God; those adornments would be valueless if they were common. God is not grieved by the multitude of those who perish. Unhappy ones! they exist no longer than a puff of smoke or a flame; they are burned, they are dead. We may see how deeply rooted in Judaism the atrocious doctrines of election and of predestination had already become—doctrines which a little later were to cause such cruel tortures to so many devout souls. These frightful severities to which all the schools of thought which deal in damnation are accustomed, at times revolts the pious sentiment of the author. He allows himself to exclaim:—
Oh Earth! what hast thou done in giving birth to so many beings destined to perdition? It had been better had we no existence, rather than that we should exist only to be tortured Let humanity weep! let the beasts of the field rejoice! The condition of these last is better than ours; they do not expect the Judgment; they have no punishment to fear; after death, there is nothing for them. Of what use is life to us, since we owe to it an eternity of torments? Better annihilation than the prospect of judgment.
The Eternal God answers that intelligence has been given to man that he may be without excuse in the Day of Judgment and that he has nothing to reply.
The author plunges more and more deeply into strange questions, which raise formidable dogmas. Can it be that from the moment that one draws his last breath that he is damned and tortured, or will an interval pass, during which the soul is in repose until the Judgment? According to the author, the fate of each man is fixed at death. The wicked, excluded from the place of departed spirits, are in the condition of wandering souls, tormented provisionally with seven punishments, of which the two principal are seeing the happiness enjoyed by those in the asylum 186of just souls, and to assist in the preparations for the punishment reserved for themselves. The just, guarded in their limbo by angels, enjoy seven joys, of which the most agreeable is that of seeing the sufferings of the wicked, and the tortures which await them. The soul of the author, pitiful at bottom, protests against the monstrosities of his theology. “The just at least,” asks Esdras, “may not they pray for the damned,—the son for his father, the brother for his brother, the friend for his friend?” The answer is terrible. “Just as in the present life the father cannot be the substitute for the son, nor the son for the father, the master for his slave, nor the friend for his friend, to be sick, to sleep, to eat, to be cured in his place; so in that day no one can interfere for another, each shall bear his own justice or his own injustice.” Esdras adduces in vain the examples of Abraham, and of other holy persons who have prayed for their brethren. The Day of Judgment will be the first of a definite state, where the triumph of justice will be such that the righteous himself cannot pity the damned. Assuredly we agree with the author when he exclaims after these responses, supposed to be divine,
I have already said, and I say again,—“Better were it for us that Adam had not been created upon the earth. At least after having placed him there God should have prevented him from doing evil. What advantage is it for man to pass his life in sadness and in misery, when after his death he can expect nothing else than punishments and torments? Oh, Adam! how enormous was thy crime! By sinning thou didst lose thyself and hast dragged down in thy fall all the men of whom thou went the father. And of what value is immortality to us if we have done only deeds worthy of death?”
Pseudo-Esdras admits liberty; but liberty has but a small right of existence in a system which makes so cardinal a point of predestination. It is for Israel that the world was created; the rest of the human race are damned.
And now, Lord, I pray not for all men (thou knowest better 187than I what concerns them), but I will entreat thee on behalf of thy people; of thy heritage; of the perpetual source of my tears. . . .
Inquire of the earth and she will tell thee that it is to her that the right of weeping belongs. All those who are born or who will be born come out of the earth; yet almost all of them hasten to destruction, and the greater part of them are destined to perish! . . .
Disquiet not thyself because of the great number of those who must perish, for they also having received liberty have scoffed at the Most High, have rejected his holy law, have trampled his just ones under foot, and have said in their hearts “There is no God.” So whilst ye enjoy the rewards that have been promised, they will partake of the thirst and the torments which have been prepared for them. It is not that God hath desired the destruction of men; but the men who are the work of his hands have defiled the name of their Maker, and have been ungrateful to him who has given them life. . . .
I have reserved to myself a grape of the bunch, a plant from the forest. Let the multitude then perish who have been born in vain, if only I may keep my single grape, my plant that I have tended with so much care! . . .
A special vision is designed, as in almost all apocalypses, to give in an enigmatic fashion the philosophy of contemporary history, and as usual also the date of the book may be precisely arrived at from it. An immense eagle (the eagle is the symbol of the Roman Empire in Daniel) extends its wings over all the earth and holds it in its grip. It has six pairs of great wings, four pairs of pinions or opposing wings, and three heads. The six pairs of great wings are six Emperors. The second amongst them reigns for so long that none of those who succeed him reach half the number of his years. This is obviously Augustus; and the six Emperors referred to are the six Emperors of the house of Julius—Cæsar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, masters of the East and of the West. The four pinions or opposing wings are the four usurpers or Anti-Cæsars—Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Nerva, who, according to the author, must not be considered as true Emperors. The reigns of the three first Anti-Cæsars are periods of trouble, during which 188we may believe that the Empire is at an end; but the Empire rises again, though not as she was at the first. The three heads (the Flavii) represent this new resuscitated Empire. The three heads always act together, make many innovations, surpass the Julii in tyranny, put the topstone to the impieties of the Empire of the Eagle (by the destruction of Jerusalem), and mark the end. The middle head (Vespasian) is the greatest; all the three devour the pinions (Galba, Otho, Vitellius), who aspire to reign. The middle head dies; the two others (Titus and Domitian) reign; but the head on the right devours that on the left (an evident allusion to the popular belief as to the fratricide of Domitian); the head on the right, after having killed the other, is killed in its turn; only the great head dies in its bed; but not without cruel torments (an allusion to the Rabbinical fables as to the maladies by which Vespasian expiated his crimes towards the Jewish nation).
Then comes the turn of the last pair of pinions, that is to say, of Nerva, the usurper, who succeeded, the right hand head (Domitian) and is with regard to Flavius in the same relation as Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were with Julius. The last reign is short and full of trouble; it is less a reign than an arrangement made by God to bring about the end of the world. In fact, after some moments, according to our visionary, the last Anti-Cæsar (Nerva) disappears; the body of the eagle takes fire, and all the earth is stricken with astonishment. The end of the profane world arrives, and the Messiah comes to overwhelm the Roman Empire with the bitterest reproaches.
Thou hast reigned over the world by terror and not by truth; thou hast crushed the poor; thou hast persecuted peaceable people; than hast hated the just; thou hast loved the liars; thou hast broken down the walls of those who have done thee no wrong. Thy violences have gone up before the throne of the Eternal God, and thy pride has reached even unto the Almighty. The 189Most High hath regarded his table of the times and hast seen that the measure is full and that the moment has arrived. Wherefore thou shall disappear, O Eagle! thou and thy horrible wings and thy accursed pinions, thy perverse heads and thy detestable claws and all thy wicked body, so that the earth may breathe again, may live again, delivered from tyranny, and may begin to hope once more in the justice and mercy of him who has done it.
The Romans will then be judged; judged living, and exterminated on the spot. Then the Jewish people will breathe. God will preserve them in joy until the Day of Judgment.
It will scarcely be doubted after this that the author wrote during the reign of Nerva, a reign which appeared without solidity or future, because of the age and of the weakness of the sovereign, until the adoption of Trajan (end of 97). The author of the Apocalypse of Esdras, like the author of the Apocalypse of John, ignorant of real politics, believes that the Empire which he hates, and the infinite resources of which he does not see, is approaching the end of its career. The authors of the two Revelations, passionately Jewish, clap their hands in advance over the ruin of their enemy. We shall see the same hopes renewed after the reverses of Trajan in Mesopotamia. Always on the look out for the moments of weakness on the part of the Empire, the Jewish party, at the appearance of any black spot on the horizon, break out in advance into shouts of triumph, and applaud, by anticipation. The hope of a Jewish Empire succeeding to the Roman Empire, still filled these burning souls whom the frightful massacres of the year 70 had not crushed. The author of the Apocalypse of Esdras had perhaps in his youth fought in Judea; sometimes he appears to regret that he did not find his death. We see that the fire is not extinct, that it still lives in the ashes, and that before abandoning all hope, Israel will tempt her fortune more than once. The Jewish revolts under Trajan and Adrian 190will answer to this enthusiastic cry. The extermination of Bether will be required to bring to reason the new generation of revolutionaries who have risen from the ashes of 70.
The fate of the Apocalypse of Esdras was as strange as the work itself. Like the Book of Judith and the discourse upon the Empire of Reason, it was neglected by the Jews, in whose eyes every book written in Greek became at once a foreign book; but immediately upon its appearance it was eagerly adopted by the Christians, and accepted as a book of the Canon of the Old Testament, really written by Esdras. The author of the Epistle attributed to St Barnabas, the author of the apocryphal epistle which is called the Second of Peter, certainly read it. The false Herman appears to imitate its plan, order, use of visions, and turn of dialogue. Clement of Alexandria makes a great show of it. The Greek Church, departing further and further from Judeo-Christianity, abandons it, and allows the original to be lost. The Latin Church is divided. The learned doctors, such as St Jerome, see the apocryphal character of the whole composition, and reject it with disdain, whilst St Ambrose makes more use of it than of no matter what other holy book, and distinguishes it in no way from the revealed Scriptures. Vigilance detects there the germ of its heresy as to the uselessness of prayers for the dead. The Liturgy borrows from it. Roger Bacon quotes it with respect. Christopher Columbus finds in it arguments for the existence of another world. The enthusiasts of the sixteenth century nourish themselves upon it. Antoinette Bourignon, the illuminée, sees in it the most beautiful of the holy books.
In reality, few books have furnished so many elements of Christian theology as this anti-Christian work. Limbo, original sin, the small number of the elect, the eternity of the pains of hell, the punishment by fire, the free choice of God, have there found their 191crudest expression. If the terrors of death have been greatly aggravated by Christianity, it is upon books like this that the responsibility must rest. The sombre office, so full of grandiose dreams, which the Church recites over the coffins, appears to have been inspired by the visions, or, if you choose, by the nightmares of Esdras. Christian iconography itself, borrowed much from these bizarre pages, in all that relates to the representation of the state of the dead. The Byzantine mosaics, and the miniatures which offer representations of the Last Judgment, seem to be based upon the description which our author gives of the place of departed spirits. From its assertions principally is derived the idea that Esdras recomposed the lost Scriptures. The angel Uriel owes to him his place in Christian art. The addition of this new celestial personage to Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael gives to the four corners of the Throne of God, and consequently to the four cardinal points, their respective guardians. The Council of Trent, whilst excluding from the Latin Canon the book so much admired by the Early Fathers, did not forbid it to be reprinted at the end of the editions of the Vulgate, in a different character.
If anything proves the promptitude with which the false prophecy of Esdras was received by the Christians, it is the use which was made of it in the little treatise of Alexandrian exegesis, imitated from the Epistle to the Hebrews, to which the name of Barnabas was attached from a very early date. The author of this treatise cites the false Esdras as he quotes Daniel, Enoch, and the old prophets. One feature of Esdras is especially striking—the wood from which the blood flows—in which is naturally seen the image of the Cross. Now everything leads us to believe that the treatise attributed to Barnabas was composed, like the Apocalypse of Esdras, in the reign of Nerva. The writer applies, or rather alters 192to make applicable to his time, a prophecy of Daniel concerning ten reigns (Cæsar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vespasian, Titus), and a little king (Nerva), who shall humiliate the three (Flavius), reduced to one (Domitian), who have preceded him.
The facility with which the author has been able to adopt the prophecy of the false Esdras, is so much the more singular, since few Christian doctors express as energetically as he the necessity for an absolute separation from Judaism. The Gnostics in this respect have said nothing stronger. The author presents himself to us as an ex-Jew, well versed in the Ritual, the agada, and the rabbinical disquisitions, but strongly opposed to the religion which he has left. Circumcision appears to him to have always been a mistake of the Jews—a misunderstanding into which they have been betrayed by some perverse genius. The Temple itself was a mistake; the worship which was practised in it was almost idolatrous; it rested wholly upon the Pagan idea that God could be shut up in a house. The Temple destroyed through the fault of the Jews, would never be re-erected; the true Temple is that spiritual house which is raised in the hearts of Christians. Judaism, in general, has been only an aberration, the work of a bad angel, who has led the Jews in opposition to the commands of God. What the author fears most is lest the Christian should have only the air of a Jewish proselyte. All has been changed by Jesus, even the Sabbath. The Sabbath formerly represented the end of the world; transplanted to the first day of the week, it represents, by the joy with which it is celebrated, the opening of a new world inaugurated by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Sacrifices and the Law are alike at an end. The whole of the Old Testament was but a symbol. The cross of Jesus solves all problems; the author finds it everywhere, by means of 193bizarre ghematrioth. The Passion of Jesus is the propitiatory sacrifice of which others were merely the image. The taste which Egypt, ancient Egypt and Jewish Egypt, had for allegories, appears to revive in these explanations, wherein it is impossible to see anything besides arbitrary turns. Like all the readers of the apocalypses, the author believed that he was on the eve of the Judgment. The times are evil; Satan has all power over earthly matters; but the day is not far distant when he and his will alike perish. “The Lord is at hand with his recompense.”
The scenes of disorder which followed each other from day to day in the Empire gave, moreover, only too much reason for the sombre predictions of the pseudo-Esdras and the pretended Barnabas. The reign of the feeble old man whom all parties had agreed to put into power, in the hours of surprise which followed the death of Domitian, was an agony. The timidity with which he was reproached was really sagacity. Nerva felt that the army always regretted Domitian, and bore only with impatience the domination of the civil element. Honest men were in power, but the reign of honest men, when it is not supported by an army, is always weak. A terrible incident showed the depth of the evil. About the 27th October 97 the Prætorians, having found a leader in Casperius Ælianus, besieged the palace, demanding with loud cries the punishment of those who had slain Domitian. Nerva’s somewhat soft temperament was not suited to such scenes. He virtuously offered his own life, but he could not prevent the massacre of Parthenius and of those who had made him Emperor. The day was decisive, and saved the Republic. Nerva, like a wise man, understood that he ought to associate with himself a young captain whose energy should supply what he was deficient in. He had relations, but, attentive only to the good of the state, he sought 194the worthiest. The Liberal party counted amongst its members an admirable soldier, Trajan, who then commanded upon the Rhine at Cologne. Nerva chose him. This great act of political virtue assured the victory of the Liberals, which had remained always doubtful since the death of Domitian. The true law of Cæsarism, adoption, was found. The military were bridled. Logic required that a Septimus Severus, with his detestable maxim, “Please the soldier; mock at the rest,” should succeed Domitian. Thanks to Trajan, the catastrophe of history was adjourned and retarded for a century. The evil was conquered, not for a thousand years, as John believed, nor even for four hundred years, as the pseudo-Esdras dreamed, but for a hundred years—which is much.
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