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The most different tendencies were apparent in the Church of Jesus, which demonstrated the wonderful fecundity of the newly-awakened conscience in the bosom of humanity; but which at the same time created an immense danger for that newly-born institution. Thousands of hands, so to say, were tearing the new religion to pieces, some wishing to 66keep it within the Jewish pale, whilst others wished to sever every bond between it and that Judaism from which it had sprung. The second coming of Jesus, and the idea of his rule for a thousand years, were the two questions which brought these two contrary feelings most prominently forward. The Gnostics, and, up to a certain point, the author of the Epistle of St John, no longer paid any regard to the fundamental doctrines of the first century. They did not any longer trouble themselves much about the end of the world: it was relegated to the background, where it had scarcely any meaning, and these lofty dreams ought now to be forgotten by every one. In Asia Minor the greater number of Christians lived upon that idea, and refused to go any further in search of the truth as to the meaning of Jesus; and in close approximation to that school where, it would seem, the Johannistic writings were being thought out, a man who might have some intercourse with the authors of these writings was working on a totally different, or rather I should say on a totally opposite, line of thought.
But we must speak of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, the most striking personality at a period when two Christians could still differ from each other to an extent which we cannot picture to ourselves now. It has often been thought that Papias was one of St John’s disciples, but this must certainly be a mistake. He never saw any of the Apostles, as he belongs to the third generation of Christians, but no doubt he consulted those who had seen them. He was a very careful man, a searcher after truth in his own fashion, and one who knew the Scriptures thoroughly. He made it his occupation zealously to collect the words of Jesus, to comment on those words in their most literal sense, to classify them according to their matter, and, in a word, to gather together all the traditions of the apostolic age which had already 67disappeared. He therefore undertook an investigation of vast extent, which he carried on according to rules such as a sound judgment would prescribe. Dissatisfied with the small books which were said to be an exact picture of the life of Jesus, he thought he could do better, and laid claim to giving the true interpretation of Jesus' doctrine. He only believed in original teaching, and so he spent his life in questioning those who might know something about primitive tradition.
“I am not,” he says, in his preface, “like most of those who allow themselves to be captivated by a flow of words; all I cared for were those which teach the truth. Full of mistrust for the extraordinary precepts which have got about, I only wish to know those that the Saviour had entrusted to his disciples, and which spring from truth itself. If, for example, I were to meet any one who had been a follower of the elders, I should ask him, What did Andrew say? What did Peter say? What did Philip, Thomas, James, John, or any other of the disciples of our Lord say? What do Aristion and Presbuteros Johannes, disciples of the Saviour, say? For I did not think that all the books could bring me so much profit as data collected from living and permanent tradition.”
No Apostle had been alive for some time when Papias conceived this project, but there were still persons living who had known some of the members of that first upper chamber. The daughters of Philip, who had reached an extreme old age, and who were not quite in their right mind, filled Hierapolis with their wonderful stories, and Papias had seen them. At Ephesus and at Smyrna Presbuteros Johannes and Aristion both asserted that they were the depositants of precious traditions which it seems they said they had received from the Apostle John. Papias did not belong to that school which was 68attached to John, and from which it is said the fourth Gospel proceeded, though it is probable that he knew Aristion and Presbuteros. His was composed, in a great part, of quotations borrowed from conversations of these two persons who in his eyes were evidently the best representatives of the apostolic chain and of the authentic doctrine of Jesus. It is needless to say that the Jewish Christian Papias does not mention the Apostle St Paul, either directly or indirectly.
This attempt to reconstruct the teaching of Jesus by mere oral tradition a hundred years after his death would have been a paradox if Papias had refused to make use of the written texts, and in this respect his method was not so exclusive as he seems to imply in his preface. Whilst preferring oral tradition, and whilst, perhaps, not assigning any absolute value to any of the texts which were in circulation, he read the Gospels of which copies came into his possession. It is certainly vexing that we cannot judge for ourselves how much he knew in this respect. But here Eusebius appears to have been very far-sighted. According to his usual custom, he read the works of Papias pen in hand, to note his quotations from the canonical writings, and he only found two of our Gospels—that of St Mark and of St Matthew—mentioned. Papias noticed a curious opinion of Presbuteros on Mark’s Gospel, and the citations by which this latter traditionalist excused, as he imagined, the disorder and the fragmentary character of the compilation of the said Evangelist. As to the Gospel attributed to St Matthew, Papias looked upon it as a free and tolerably faithful translation of the Hebrew work written by the Apostle of that name, and he valued it especially on account of the authentic words of Jesus which were to be found in it. Besides this, he met with an anecdote in Papias, which formed part of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, but he 69is not sure that the Bishop of Hierapolis took them from that Gospel.
Thus it will be seen that this learned man who was so well acquainted with the Scriptures, who had been in the habit of associating, so it was said, with the disciples of John, and had learnt from them the words of Jesus, did not yet know St John’s Gospel, a work which appears to have been produced only a few miles from the town in which he was living. Certainly if Eusebius had found any traces of it in the writings of the Bishop of Hierapolis, he would have mentioned it, just as he tells us that he found quotations from the first Epistle of John. It is a singular fact that Papias, who does not know St John’s Gospel, knows the Epistle attributed to him, and which is, in a manner, intended to prepare the way for the Gospel. Perhaps the forgers communicated this Epistle to him, but not the Gospel, as they feared his stringent criticism, or perhaps some time elapsed between the Epistle and the Gospel. One can never touch on this question of the writings said to be John’s without meeting with contradictions and anomalies.
From this mass of conscientious research Papias composed five books which he called Exegeses or “Expositions of the Words of the Saviour,” and which he certainly looked upon as a correct representation of the teachings of Jesus. The disappearance of this work is the most regrettable loss which the field of primitive Christian literature has ever sustained. If we had Papias' book, no doubt a large number of difficulties which confront us in that obscure history would be removed, and most likely that is the very reason why we do not possess it. His work was written from so personal a point of view that it became a scandal for orthodoxy. The four Gospels had an authority which excluded every other, and in fifty years we shall find mystical reasons 70why there should be four and why there could not be more than four. No author who declared that he did not think much of those holy texts could possibly be looked upon with favour.
Besides this, Papias, although he seems to be a very severe critic, was really extremely credulous. He added things to the Gospels which, not being protected by the authority of inspiration, seemed shocking and absurd. St Mark, with his ponderous thaumaturgy, appears reasonable beside the extravagant wonders which he alleges. The teaching and the parables which he attributes to Jesus are, to say the least of it. extraordinary and absurd, and the whole had that fabulous character which the Gospel accounts, or at least those of the first three, avoided so carefully. The miracles that he attributed to Philip, on the authority of his old, half-crazy daughters, exceeded everything, and those which he alleged Justus Barsabbas worked, went beyond tradition, whilst his account of the death of St John, and especially that of Judas, was such as nobody had ever heard before. He even seemed to be versed in the dreams of Gnosticism when he asserts that God gave the government of the world to angels, who acquitted themselves badly of their duty.
But his wild millenarianism damaged Papias more than anything else in the mind of all the orthodox. His mistake was that he accepted the apocalypse of the year 68 in the sense that its author meant. With the Seer of Patmos he admitted that after the first resurrection of the dead Christ would reign personally on earth for a thousand years. This is what he makes Jesus say, according to a tradition that had been handed down by the presbuteroi:—
A day will come in which vines shall grow, each of which shall contain ten thousand stems; and each stem shall have ten thousand branches; and each branch, ten thousand shoots; and on each shoot there shall be ten thousand grapes; and each 71grape, when pressed, shall produce twenty-five thousand hogsheads of wine. And when one of the saints shall seize one of the bunches of grapes, another bunch will cry out, “Take me for I am better; and bless God for me.” And each grain of wheat shall produce ten thousand ears; and each ear shall produce ten thousand grains; and each grain, ten thousand pounds of flour. And it shall be the same with the fruit trees as with all cereals, with herbs, according to their different properties. And all animals that live on the simple fruits of the earth shall be peaceful and kind towards each other, obedient and respectful towards men.
It was added that Judas refused to believe all these fine things, and from the day that he heard his Master speak thus he became a semi-unbeliever.
Besides this, Papias did not make use of any great amount of discernment in his choice of the words of Jesus when he attributed to him such which appear to have been scattered about in the Jewish apocalypses, and which may be seen more particularly in the Apocalypse of Baruch. His book was directly opposed to the proposition which the other held so dear, and proved how valuable the written Gospels were, by checking the manner in which the traditional words of Jesus were degraded. Already Montanist ideas, with their simple materialism, were making themselves felt, and, like certain Gnostics, Papias could not understand any perfect innocence of life without a total abstention from animal food. The relative good sense of the Galilean dreams had disappeared to make way for the extravagancies of the far East, and so the impossible was sought after, and a sort of subversive gentleness of humanity, such as India alone, as the price of her political annihilation, has been able to realise in life.
The orthodox Church perceived the danger of these chimeras very quickly, and the millenium, above all, became an object of repugnance for every Christian of common sense. Minds who, like Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius, and the 72Hellenistic Fathers, saw nothing but a revealed philosophy in Jesus, made it their chief business not to attribute to him or to the apostles an opinion which daily became more self-evidently absurd, and to remove from the very threshold of Christianity that fatal objection that the dominant idea of its founders was a manifest dream. Every possible means were sought for to get rid of the apocalypse, and the fidelity of Papias, who was most strongly imbued of all the ecclesiastical writers with the primitive ideas to tradition, was fatal to him. Men strove to forget him, his works were not copied, and only curious readers cared for his writings: and Eusebius, whilst respecting him, says clearly that he was a man of small mind, without any judgment.
Papias' mistake was that of being too conservative, and by being the friend of tradition he seemed to be behind everybody else. The progress of Christianity would naturally make of him an inconvenient man, and a witness to be suppressed, whilst in his own time he certainly responded to the state of many men’s minds. The millennists looked upon him as their principal authority; Irenæus esteems him openly, and places him immediately after the Apostles, on the same footing as Polycarp, and calls him by a name which is very appropriate to his character: “A Father of the Church.”11Ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ (vide Liddell and Scott in verb:)—Translator. The Bishop of Lyon thought that his discourses on the vines of the kingdom of David were beautiful and authentic. Irenæus allows these dreams of a concrete idealism, coarse as they may be, whilst Justin has heard of them, and Tertullian and Commodian exceed the materialism of Papias himself. St Hippolytus, Methodius, Nepos, Bishop of Arsinœ in Egypt, Victorinus Pettavius, Lanctantius, the Apollinarists, St Ambrose, Sulpicius-Severus—or St Martin—believe the old 73tradition in this respect. Up to the fifth century the faithful who were most oxthodox Christians maintained that after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all the nations, there would be a resurrection of the just only; that those who were then on the earth, good and bad, would be preserved alive: the good to obey the just who had been raised as their princes, and the bad to be altogether subject to them. A Jerusalem, consisting altogether of gold, cypress, and cedar, rebuilt by the nations, who should come, led by their kings, to work at the re-erection of its walls,—a restored Temple, which should become the centre of the world,—crowds of victims around the altar,—the gates of the city open day and night in order to receive the tribute of the people,—pilgrims coming in their due order according as they were allowed to come every week, every month, or every year,—the saints, the patriarchs, and the prophets passing a thousand years in one perpetual Sabbath in perfect agreement with the Messiah, who would give them a hundred fold all that they have given up for him—this was the essentially Jewish Paradise of which many dreamed, even in the times of St Jerome and St Augustine. Orthodoxy fought against these ideas; but as they were openly expressed in many passages of the Fathers, they were never strictly qualified as heresies. St Epiphanius, who was a man of most strict research, who tried to enlarge his catalogue of heresies by making two or three sects out of one, has not devoted a special chapter to the millenarians—and to be consistent he must first of all have got rid of the Apocalypse of the received Canon of Scripture; and so, in spite of the most ingenious attempts of the Greek Fathers, every attempt to do so was unsuccessful.
Besides this there were degrees in the materialism of those simple believers. Some, like Irenæus, saw 74in the first resurrection nothing but a beginning of incorruption, a means of becoming accustomed to the sight of God, a period during which the saints would enjoy the conversation and the companionship of the angels, and would treat about spiritual matters with them. Others only dreamt of a gross paradise of eating and drinking. They asserted that the saints would spend all that time in feasts of carnal pleasure, and that children would be born during Messiah’s reign; that the lords of that new world would wallow in gold and precious stones, and that every creature would immediately obey their slightest desire.
The ideas of the infinite, of the immortality of the soul, were so far absent from these Jewish dreams that a thousand years seemed enough for the most exacting minds. A man must have been very greedy of life if at the end of that time he had not been surfeited with it. In our eyes, a paradise of a thousand years seems only a small thing, as every year would bring us nearer to the time when everything would vanish. The last years which preceded annihilation would seem to us to be a hell, and the thought of the year 999, would be quite enough to poison the happiness of the foregoing years. But it is no good to ask for logic to try and solve the intolerable destiny which falls to the lot of man. Carried away irresistibly to believe in what is right, and cast into a world that is injustice itself, requiring an eternity to make good his claims, and stopped short by the grave, what can he do? He clings to the coffin and yields his flesh to his fleshless bones, his life to the brain full of rottenness, light to the closed eye, and pictures to himself chimeras that he would laugh at in a child, so that he may not have to avow that God has been able to mock his own creatures to the extent of laying upon them the burden of duty without any future recompense.75
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