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THE GOSPEL OF LUKE.
As we have already several times had occasion to remark, the Gospel writings at the period at which we have arrived, were numerous. The majority of those writings did not bear the names of Apostles; they were second-hand attempts founded upon oral tradition, which they did not pretend to exhaust. The Gospel of Matthew alone presented itself as having the privilege of an apostolic origin; but that Gospel was not widely diffused; written for the Jews of Syria, it had not yet, to all appearance, penetrated to Rome. It was under these conditions that one of the most conspicuous members of the Church at Rome undertook—“himself also” (Luke i. 3)—to compile a Gospel from former texts, and not forbidding himself, any more than his predecessors had done, to intercalate what tradition and his own beliefs furnished him with. This man was no other than Lucanus or Luke, the disciple whom we have seen attach himself to Paul in Macedonia, follow him in his travels and in his captivity, and play an important part in his correspondence. We may readily believe that after the 132death of Paul he remained in Rome, and as he must have been young when Paul knew him (about the year 52), he would now be scarcely more than sixty years of age. It is impossible, in such cases, to speak with certainty; there is, however, no very strong reason for supposing that Luke was not the author of the Gospel which bears his name. Luke was not yet sufficiently famous for anyone to make use of his name to give authority to a book, as had been done in the case of the Apostles Matthew and John, later, for James and Peter.
Nor does the date appear involved in much uncertainty. All the world admits that the book is of later date than the year 70; but, on the other hand, it cannot be very much later. If it were, the predictions of the immediate appearance of Christ in the clouds, which the author copies without flinching from the oldest documents, would be sheer nonsense. The author throws back the year of the return of Jesus to an indeterminate future; “the end” is postponed as far as possible, but the connection between the catastrophe of Judea and the destruction of the world is maintained. The author preserves also the assertion of Jesus, according to which the generation which listened to him should not pass away until his predictions as to the end of the world were accomplished. Notwithstanding the extreme latitude which the apostolic exegesis claims in the interpretation of the discourses of our Lord, it cannot be allowed that an editor so intelligent as that of the third Gospel, an editor who knows so well how to make the words of Jesus pass through the changes required by the necessities of the time, should have copied a phrase which embodies a peremptory objection to the gift of prophecy attributed to the Master.
It is certainly only by conjecture that we connect Luke and his Gospel with the Christian society in Rome in the time of the Flavii. Yet it is certain that 133the general character of the work of Luke answers well to what such an hypothesis requires. Luke, we have already remarked, has a sort of Roman spirit; he loves order—the hierarchy; he has a profound respect for the centurions, and for the Roman functionaries, and likes to show them as favourable to Christianity. By an able turn, he succeeds in not saying that Jesus was crucified and insulted by the Romans. Between Luke and Clemens Romanus there are considerable analogies. Clemens often cites the words of Jesus from Luke, or a tradition analogous to that of Luke. The style of Luke, on the other hand, by its Latinisms, its general form, and its Hebraisms, recalls the Shepherd of Hermas. The very name of Luke is Roman, and may belong, by a bond of patron and client, or of emancipation, to some M. Annæus Lucanus, of the family of the celebrated poet, which would make a connection the more with that family of Annæa which is to be found everywhere under the dust of Christian Rome. Chapters xxv. and xxvi. of the Acts lead to the belief that the author, like Josephus, had relations with Agrippa II., Berenice, and the little Jewish coterie at Rome. Even down to Herod Antipas, whose misdeeds he almost attempts to extenuate, he represents its intervention in the Gospel history as benevolent in some aspects. May we not also find a Roman custom in that dedication to Theophilus, which recalls that of Josephus to Epaphroditus, and appears altogether foreign to the customs of Syria and Palestine in the first century of our era? We can see, besides, how such a situation recalls that of Josephus, writing almost at the same time, the one telling of the rise of Christianity, the other the Jewish revolution, with a very similar sentiment—moderation, antipathy to extreme parties,—an official tone implying more care for defending positions than for truth,—respect, mingled with fear, for the Roman authority, whose very severities he strives 134to present as excusable necessities, and by whom he affects to have been sometimes protected. It is this which makes us believe that the world in which Luke lived and that of Josephus were very near to each other, and must have had more than one point of contact.
This Theophilus is otherwise unknown; his name may be only a fiction or a pseudonym to distinguish some one of the powerful adepts of the Church of Rome—one of the Clemens, for instance. A little preface clearly explains the intention and the situation of the author:—
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us which from the beginning were eye-witnesses of the word, it seemed good to me, also having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee, in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
It does not necessarily follow from this preface that Luke must have had under his eyes, in working, these numerous writings to whose existence he bears witness; but the reading of the book leaves no doubt on that point. The verbal coincidences of the text of Luke with that of Mark, and, by consequence, with Matthew, are very frequent. No doubt Luke may have had under his eyes a text of Mark which differed very little from our own. We might say that he has assimilated it bodily, except the part of Mark vi. 45 to viii. 26, and the story of the Passion, for which he has preferred an ancient tradition. In the rest, the coincidence is literal, and when there are variants, it is easy to see the motive which has induced Luke to correct, in view of those whom he addressed, the original which he had under his hands. In the parallel passages of the three texts, the details which Matthew adds to Mark, Luke has not; what Luke 135appears to add, Matthew always has. In the passages which are wanting in Mark, Luke always has another recension than Matthew. In other words, in the parts common to the three Evangelists, Luke offers a sensible agreement in terms with Matthew only when the last presents a similar agreement with Mark. Luke has not certain passages of Matthew without any visible reason why he should have neglected them. The discourses of Jesus are fragmentary in Luke as in Mark; it would be incomprehensible that Luke, if he had known Matthew, should have broken up the grand discourses which the last gives. Luke, it is true, recalls a host of Logia which are not to be read in Mark, but these Logia did not come to his knowledge in the arrangement which we find in Matthew. Let us add that the legends of childhood and the genealogies have in the two evangelists in question nothing in common. Why should Luke cheerfully expose himself to evident objections? We can only conclude that Luke did not know one Matthew; and in effect, the essays of which he speaks in his prologue might bear the names of disciples or of apostles, but none of them could have borne a name like that of Matthew, since Luke distinguishes clearly between apostles, witnesses, and actors in the Gospel history, and traditionary authors and editors who have only reduced to writing the traditions without any special title to do so.
By the side of the book of Mark, Luke had surely on his table other narratives of the same kind, from which also he borrowed largely. The long passage from ix. 51 to xviii. 14, for example, has been copied from an earlier source, for it is all in confusion: Luke composed better than that when he followed oral tradition only. It has been calculated that a third of the text of Luke is to be found in neither Mark nor Matthew. Some of the Evangelists lost to us from whom Luke thus borrowed, contained very precise 136details; “those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell,” those “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice.” Many of these documents were simply resettings of the Gospel of the Hebrews, strongly impressed with Ebionism, and thus approached Matthew. Hence may be explained in Luke certain passages analogous to Matthew which do not appear in Mark. The majority of the primitive Logia are to be found in Luke, not disposed in the form of great discourses as in our Matthew, but backed about and applied to particular circumstances. Not only has Luke not had St Matthew’s Gospel under his hands, but it does not seem that he can have made use of any collection of the discourses of Jesus where already the great series of maxims of which we have verified the insertion in our Matthew were gathered. If he possessed such collections, he neglected them. On the other hand, Luke sometimes connects himself with the Gospel of the Hebrews, above all, where it is better than Matthew. It is possible that he had a Greek translation of the Hebrew Gospel.
From this it appears that Luke held with regard to Mark a position analogous to that which Matthew held to the same Evangelist. By both Mark has been enlarged by additions borrowed from documents drawn more or less from the Hebrew Gospel. To explain the numerous additions which Luke made to the common basis of Mark, and which are not in Matthew, a large part must be attributed to oral tradition. Luke plunged deeply into that tradition; he drew from it; he looked upon it as on the same footing as the numerous authors of essays on Gospel History who had existed before him. Did he scruple to insert in his text stories of his own invention, in order to stamp upon the work of Jesus the impression which he believed to be the true one? Certainly not. Tradition itself did no otherwise. Tradition is a collective work, since it expresses the mind of all; but at the same 137time there has always been someone who uttered for the first time the bright saying or the significant anecdote. Luke has often been that someone. The spring of the Logia had been dried up; and, to say the truth, we believe that it never produced anything more. On the contrary, the liberty of the Agada shows itself entirely in the right which Luke assumes of handling his documents according to his convenience, of culling, intercalating, transposing, and combining at his will, to obtain the arrangement which suited him the best. Not once did he say, If this history is true like this it cannot be true like that. The true material is nothing to him; the idea, the dogmatic and moral aim, are everything. I will even add the literary effect. Thus it is possible that what has caused him not to admit into his bundle of Logia collected before him or even to divide them violently, it may be a scruple of his delicate taste which has made him find these artificial groupings a little heavy. Nothing equals the ability with which he cuts down previous collections created upon the framework of Logia thus dispersed. He encases them, serves them like little gems in the delightful narratives which provoke them and lead up to them. The art of arranging has never been carried so far. Naturally, however, that method of composing brings about with Luke, as with Matthew, and generally with all the Gospels of the “second hand” artificially edited from earlier documents, repetitions, contradictions, and incoherencies, coming from the diverse documents which the last editor sought to blend together. Mark alone, by his primitive character, is exempt from this defect, and it is the best proof of his originality.
We have insisted elsewhere upon the errors which the distance of the Evangelist from Palestine has made him commit. His exegesis rests only the Septuagint, which he follows in its greatest blunders. The author was not a Jew by birth; he certainly writes for those who are not Jews; he has only a superficial acquaintance 138with the geography of Palestine, and the manners of the Jews. He omits everything that would be uninteresting to non-Israelites, and he adds notes which would be uninteresting to a native of Palestine. The genealogy which he attributes to Jesus leads to the belief that he was addressing people who could not easily verify a Biblical text. He extenuates all that shows the Jewish origin of Christianity, and although he may have a sort of tender compassion for Jerusalem, the Law has ceased to exist for him, save as a memory.
The spirit which inspired Luke is thus much more easy to determine than that which inspired Mark and the author of the Gospel according to Matthew. These two last Evangelists are neutral, taking no part in the quarrels which were rending the Church. The partisans of Paul, and those of James, might equally adopt them. Luke, on the contrary, is a disciple of Paul, moderate certainly, tolerant, full of respect for Peter, even for James, but a decided supporter of the adoption into the Church of Pagans, Samaritans, publicans, sinners, and heretics of all sorts. It is in him that we find the pitiful parable of the Good Samaritan, of the Prodigal Son, of the Lost Sheep, of the Lost Drachma, where the position of the penitent sinner is placed almost above that of the just man who has not failed. Certainly Luke was in that matter in agreement with the very spirit of Jesus, but there is on his part preoccupation, prejudice, fixed ideas. His boldest stroke was the conversion of one of the two thieves of Calvary. According to Mark and Matthew, the two malefactors insulted Jesus. Luke puts a fine sentiment into the mouth of one of them. “We receive the due rewards of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.” In return, Jesus promises that that very day he shall be with him in Paradise. Jesus goes further. He prays for his executioners. “They know not what they do.” 139In Matthew, Jesus appears ill-disposed towards Samaria, and recommends his disciples to avoid the cities of the Samaritans as in the way of Pagans. According to Luke, on the contrary, he is in frequent communication with the Samaritans, and speaks of them in terms of praise. It is to the journey to Samaria that Luke attaches a great amount of teaching and of narrative. Far from imprisoning Jesus in Galilee, like Mark and Matthew, Luke obeyed an anti-Galilean and anti-Judaic tendency—a tendency which will be much more visible in the fourth Gospel. In many other respects the Gospel of Luke forms a sort of intermediary between the two first Gospels and the fourth, which appears at first to offer no trace of union with them.
There is scarcely an anecdote or a parable proper to Luke which does not breathe that spirit of mercy, and of appeal to sinners. The only saying of Jesus which ever appears a little harsh becomes in his hands an apologue, full of indulgence and of long-suffering. The unfruitful tree ought not to be cut down too quickly; a good gardener opposes the anger of the proprietor, and asks leave to dig about the roots of the unhappy tree, and to dung it before condemning it altogether. The Gospel of Luke is especially the Gospel of pardon, and of pardon obtained by faith. “There is more joy in heaven over a sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” “The Son of Man is come not to destroy men, but to save them.” Any quantity of straining is lawful to him, if only he can make each incident of the Gospel history a history of pardoned sinners. Samaritans, publicans, centurions, guilty women, benevolent Pagans, all those whom Pharisaism despises, are his clients. The idea that Christianity has pardons for all the world is his alone. The door is open; conversion is possible to all. It is no longer a question of the Law; a new devotion, the 140worship of Jesus, has replaced it. Here it is the Samaritan who does the good deed, whilst the priest and the Levite pass indifferent by. There a publican comes out of the Temple justified by his humility, whilst the irreproachable but haughty Pharisee goes out more guilty than before. Elsewhere the sinful woman is raised by her love for Jesus, and is permitted to bestow on him particular marks of tenderness. Elsewhere, again, the publican Zacchaeus becomes at the first onset a son of Abraham, by the simple fact of his having shown eagerness to see Jesus. The offer of an easy pardon has always been the principal means of success in all religions. “Even the most guilty of men,” says Bhagavat, “if he comes to adore me, and to turn himself to me in his worship, must be accepted as good.” Luke adds the taste for humility. “That which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God.” The powerful shall be cast down from his throne, the humble shall be exalted; there, in brief, is the revolution wrought by Jesus. Now, the haughty is the Jew, proud of his descent from Abraham; the humble is the gentle man who draws no glory from his ancestors, and owes everything that he is to his faith in Jesus.
The perfect conformity of these views with those of Paul may readily be seen. Paul had no Gospel in the sense in which we understand the word. Paul had never heard Jesus, and intentionally speaks with much reserve of his relations with his immediate disciples. He had seen very little of them, and had passed only a few days in the centre of their traditions, at Jerusalem. He had scarcely heard tell of the Logia; of the tradition of the Gospel he knew only fragments. It must be added, however, that these fragments agree well with what we read in Luke. The account of the Last Supper, as Paul gives it, is identical, save for a few details of small importance, with that of the third Gospel. Luke, without doubt, carefully avoids all 141that might offend the Judeo-Christian party, and awaken controversies which he desires to put to rest; he is as respectful to the Apostles as he can be; he fears, however, that they will assume a too exclusive position. His policy, in this respect, has inspired him with the boldest of ideas. By the side of the Twelve he creates, of his own authority, seventy disciples, to whom Jesus gives a mission which in the other Gospels is reserved for the Twelve alone.
In this was an imitation of that chapter of Numbers in which God, in order to console Moses under a burden which had become too heavy, pours out upon seventy elders a part of the spirit of government which, until then, had been the gift of Moses alone. As though with the intention of rendering more conspicuous this division, and this likeness of powers, Luke divides between the Twelve and the Seventy the apostolic instructions which in the collections of Logia form only a single discourse addressed to the Twelve. This number of seventy or seventy-two had, moreover, the advantage of corresponding with the number of the nations of the earth, as the number twelve answered to the tribes of Israel. There was, indeed, an opinion that God had divided the earth amongst seventy-two nations, over each of which an angel presided. The figure was mystical; besides the seventy elders of Moses, there were seventy-one members of the Sanhedrim, seventy or seventy-two Greek translators of the Bible. The secret thought which dictated to Luke this so grave addition to the Gospel text is thus evident. It was necessary, to save the legitimacy of the apostolate of Paul, to present that apostolate as parallel to the powers of the Twelve,—to show that one might be an Apostle without being one of the Twelve —which was precisely Paul’s case. The Twelve, in a word, did not exhaust the apostolate; the plenitude of their powers did not make the existence of others impossible, “and besides,” the sage disciple of 142Paul hastens to add, “these powers, in themselves, are nothing; what is important to them, as to every other faithful man, is to have their names written in heaven.” Faith is everything; faith is the gift of God, which he bestows on whom he will.
From such a point of view the privileges of the sons of Abraham are reduced to a very small thing. Jesus, rejected by his own, finds his true family only amongst the Gentiles. Men of distant countries, the Gentiles of Paul, have accepted him as king, whilst his companions, whose natural sovereign he was, have shown him that they will none of him. Woe to them! When the lawful king shall return, he will put them to death in his presence. The Jews imagine that because Jesus has eaten and drunk with them, and taught in their streets, they will always enjoy their privileges. They are in error. Many shall come from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and they shall lament at the door. The lively impression of the misfortunes which have befallen the Jewish people may be read upon every page, and these misfortunes, the author finds, the nation has merited through not having understood Jesus and the mission with which he was charged for Jerusalem. In the genealogy Luke avoids tracing the descent of Jesus from the kings of Judah. From David to Salathiel the descent is through collaterals.
Other and less open signs discover a favourable intention towards Paul. It is not unquestionably merely by chance that, after having described how Peter was the first to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, the author does not give the famous words, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church;” words which were already taking their place in the tradition. The story of the Canaanitish woman, which the author had undoubtedly read in Mark, is omitted because of the harsh words which 143it contains, and for which the pitiful ending is no sufficient compensation. The parable of the tares, which appears to have been imagined against Paul, that untoward sower who came after the authorised sowers and made a mingled harvest out of a pure one, is also neglected. Another passage, where we think we may see an insult to the Christians who shake off the bondage of the Law, is retorted, and becomes an attack on the Judeo-Christians. The rigour of the principles of Paul upon the apostolic spirit, is pushed even further than in Matthew, and what is equally important, is that precepts addressed elsewhere to the little group of missionaries are here applied to the whole body of the faithful. “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” “Whoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” And after these sacrifices he says yet again, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” Between the Apostle and Jesus there is no difference. He who hears the Apostle hears Jesus; he who despises the Apostle despises Jesus and despises also him that hath sent him.
The same exaltation may be remarked in all that relates to poverty. Luke hates riches, regards the simple attachment to property as an evil. When Jesus came into the world there was no room for him in the inn; he was born in the midst of the simplest of beings, sheep and oxen. His first worshippers were shepherds. All his life he was poor. It is absurd to save, for the rich man can carry nothing away with him. The disciple of Jesus has nothing to do with the goods of this world: he must renounce all that he possesses. The happy man is the poor man; the rich man is always guilty: hell is his certain fate. So the poverty of Jesus was 144absolute. The Kingdom of God will be the festival of the poor; a shifting of the social strata, an accession of new classes, will take place. With the other Evangelists the persons who are substituted for the original guests are people gathered out of the highways, the first comers; with Luke they are the poor, the halt, the lame, the blind, all who have been the sport of fortune. In this new kingdom it will be better to have made friends amongst the poor, even by injustice, than to have been correctly economical. It is not the rich who should be invited to dinners, it should be the poor; and the reward shall be paid at the resurrection of the just—that is to say, in the reign of a thousand years. Alms are a supreme precept; alms are strong enough to purify impure things; they are greater than the Law itself.
The doctrine of Luke is, it will be seen, pure Ebionism—the glorification of poverty. According to the Ebionites, Satan is king of this world, and he gives its good things to his fellows. Jesus is the prince of the world to come. To participate in the good things of the diabolical world is equivalent to exclusion from the other. Satan is the sworn enemy of Christians and of Jesus; the world, its princes and its rich men, are his allies in the work of opposition to the kingdom of Jesus. The demonology of Luke is material and bizarre. His miracle-mongering has something of the crude materialism of Mark: it terrifies the spectators. Luke does not know in this way the softened tones of Matthew.
An admirable popular sentiment, a fine and touching poetry, the clear and pure sound of a silvery soul, something removed from earthliness and exquisite in tone, prevent us from dreaming of these blemishes, these many failures of logic, these singular contradictions. The judge and the importunate widow, the friend with the three loaves, the unfaithful steward, the prodigal son, the pardoned woman that was a 145sinner, many of the combinations proper to Luke at first appear to positive minds little conformable to scholastic reason and to a strict morality; but these apparent weaknesses, which are like the amiable imperfections of a woman’s thought, are a feature of truth the more, and may well recall the tone of emotion, soon expiring, soon breathless, the altogether womanly movement of the words of Jesus, ruled by image and by sentiment much more than by reason. It is, above all, in the stories of the childhood and of the Passion that we find a divine art. These delicious episodes of the cradle, of the shepherds, of the angel who announces great joy to the lowly, of heaven descending upon earth amongst the poor to sing the song of peace on earth to men of good will; then the old man, worthy personification of ancient Israel, whose part is finished, but who considers himself happy in that he has lived his life, since his eyes have seen the glory of his people and the light revealed to all nations; and that widow of eighty who dies consoled; and the Canticles, so pure, so gentle—Magnificat, Gloria in Excelsis, Nunc Dimittis, Benedictus—which will soon serve as the basis of a new liturgy; all that exquisite pastoral traced with a delicate outline on the forefront of Christianity—all that is assuredly the work of Luke. Never was sweeter cantilena invented to put to sleep the sorrows of poor humanity.
The taste which carried Luke towards pious narratives naturally inclined him to create for John the Baptist a childhood like that of Jesus. Elizabeth and Zecharias long barren, the vision of the priest at the hour of incense, the visit of the two mothers, the Canticle of the father of John the Baptist, were as the propylæa before the porch, imitated from the porch itself, and reproducing its principal lines. There is no necessity for denying that Luke may have found in the documents of which he made use the germs of these exquisite narratives which have been one of the 146principal sources of Christian art. In fact, the style of the childhoods of Luke, truncated, full of Hebraisms, is scarcely that of a prologue. Moreover, this part of the work is more Jewish than the rest: John the Baptist is of sacerdotal origin; the rites of the purification, and of circumcision, are carefully accomplished; the family of Jesus go on a pilgrimage every year; many anecdotes are altogether in the Jewish taste. A remarkable fact is that the part of Mary—nothing in Mark—grows little by little in proportion as we get further from Judea, and as Joseph loses his paternal character. The legend wants her, and allows itself to be led away to speak of her at length. It can only be imagined that the woman whom God has chosen to impregnate by the Spirit must be no ordinary woman; she it is who serves as the guarantee for whole chapters of the Gospel history; who has created for herself in the Church a position which has become more important from day to day.
Very beautiful, and also very unhistoric, are the narratives proper to the third Gospel of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In this part of his book, Luke almost abandons his original Mark, and follows other texts. Hence we have a narrative even more legendary in character than that of Matthew. Everything is exaggerated. At Gethsemane, Luke adds the angel, the sweating of blood, the curing of the amputated ear of Malchus. The appearance before Herod Antipas is entirely of his invention. The beautiful episode of the daughters of Jerusalem, intended to present the crowd as innocent of the death of Jesus, and to throw all the odium of it upon the great men and their chiefs, the conversion of one of the malefactors, the prayer of Jesus for his executioners, drawn from Isaiah liii. 12, are deliberate additions. For the sublime cry of despair, Eli, eli, lama sabachthani, which was no longer in harmony with the ideas of the Divinity of Jesus which were 147growing up, he substitutes a calmer text, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Finally the life of Jesus after his resurrection is related on an altogether artificial plan, conformable in part to that of the Gospel of the Hebrews, according to which that life beyond the tomb lasted but for one day, and was brought to a close by an ascension which Matthew and Mark altogether ignore.
The Gospel of Luke is then an amended Gospel, completed and strongly impressed with legend. Like the pseudo-Matthew, Luke corrects Mark, foreseeing objections, effacing real or apparent contradictions, suppressing more or less difficult features, and vulgar exaggerated or insignificant details. What he does not understand, he suppresses or turns with infinite skill. He adds touching and delicate details. He invents little, but he modifies much. The aesthetic transformations which he creates are surprising. The picture which he has drawn of Mary and her sister Martha, is a marvellous thing: no pen has ever traced ten more charming lines. His arrangement of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment is not less exquisite. The episode of the disciples at Emmaus, is one of the finest and most delicately-shaded in any language.
The Gospel of Luke is the most literary of the Gospels. Everything in it reveals a large and gentle mind, wise, moderate, sober, and rational, even in the midst of unreason. His exaggerations, his improbabilities, his inconsequences, are somewhat of the nature of parables, and give its charm to it. Matthew rounds off the somewhat harsh outlines of Mark; Luke does more—he writes and shows a true understanding of the art of composition. His book is a beautiful narrative well followed up, at once Hebraic and Hellenistic, uniting the emotion of the drama with the serenity of the idyll. Everyone there smiles, weeps, sings; everywhere there are tears and canticles; 148it is the hymn of the new people, the hosannah of the little ones and the humble introduced into the kingdom of God. A spirit of the holy childhood, of joy, of fervour, the evangelic sentiment in its originality, spreads over the whole legend a colouring of an incomparable sweetness. Never was writer less sectarian. Never a reproach, never a harsh word for the old excluded people; is not their exclusion punishment enough? It is the most beautiful book there is. The pleasure that the author must have had in writing it will never be sufficiently understood.
The historical value of the third Gospel is certainly less than that of the two first. Nevertheless, one remarkable fact which proves that the so-called synoptical Gospels really contain an echo of the words of Jesus, results from the comparison of the Gospel of Luke with the Acts of the Apostles. On both sides the author is the same. Yet when we compare the discourses of Jesus in the Gospels with the discourses of the Apostles in the Acts, the difference is absolute; here the charm of the most utter simplicity, there (I should say in the discourses of the Acts, especially towards the last chapters) a certain rhetoric, at times cold enough. Whence can this difference arise? Evidently because in the second case Luke makes the discourses himself, while in the first he follows a tradition. The words of Jesus were written before Luke; those of the Apostles were not. A considerable inference may be drawn from the account of the Last Supper in the First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians. The most anciently written Gospel text that there is may be found here (the First Epistle to the Corinthians is of the year 57.) Now this text coincides absolutely with that of Luke. Luke then has his own value, even when he is separated from Mark and Matthew.
Luke marks the last degree of deliberate revision at which the Gospel tradition may arrive. After him 149we have no more than the apocryphal Gospel based upon pure amplification and à priori supposition, without the use of any new documents. We shall see later how the texts of the kind of Mark, of Luke, and of the pseudo-Matthew were still insufficient for Christian piety, and how a new Gospel came into existence which had the pretension of surpassing them. We shall have, above all things, to explain why none of the Gospel texts succeeded in suppressing the others, and how the Christian Church exposed itself by its very good faith to the formidable objections which sprang out of their diversities.
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