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APOCRYPHAL ACTS AND APOCALYPSES.
The literature of the false Acts pursues a line quite different from that of the false Gospels. The Acts of the Apostles, the individual work of Luke, were not produced, like the narrative of the life of Jesus, from the diversities of parallel compilations. Whilst the canonical Gospels served as a basis for the amplifications of the apocryphal Gospels, the apocryphal Acts have little connection with the Acts of Luke. The narratives of the preaching and of the death of Peter and Paul never received a final revision. Pseudo-Clement has used them as a literary pretext rather than a direct subject of narrative. The apostolic history was thus the roof of a romantic tissue which never assumed a definite literary form, 281and which people never cease revising. A sort of résumé of these fables, tainted with a strong Gnostic and Manichean colour, appeared under the name of a pretended Leucius or Lucius, a disciple of the apostles. The Catholics, who regretted that they could not make use of the book, sought to amend it. The final result of that successive emendation was the compilation made in the fifth or sixth centuries under the name of the false Abdias.
Almost all those who compiled this sort of works were heretics; but the orthodox, after subjecting them to corrections, soon adopted them. These heretics were very pious people, and at the same time highly imaginative. After they had been anathematised, their books were found to be edifying, and the Churches did their very best to have them introduced into their religious readings. It is in this way that many of the books, many of the saints, many of the festivals of the orthodox Church are the productions of heretics. The fourth Gospel was in this respect one of the most striking examples. This singular book made its way amazingly. It was read more and more, and, apart from the Churches of Asia, which were too well acquainted with its origin, it was accepted on all hands with admiration, and as being the work of the Apostle John.
The false Acts of the Apostles have no more originality than the apocryphal Gospels. In this order, similarly, the individual fancy did not succeed much better in making itself felt. This was plainly visible in that which concerned the legend of Paul. A priest of Asia, a greet admirer of the apostle, thought to satisfy his piety by constructing a short charming romance in which Paul converted a beautiful young girl of Iconium, named Hecla, who was drawn to him by an invincible attraction, and made of her a martyr of virginity. The priest did not conceal his game well; he was questioned, nonplussed, and finished by avowing 282that he had done all this out of love for Paul. The book succeeded none the lees for this, and it was only banished from the Canon with the other apocryphal writings about the fifth or sixth centuries.
St Thomas, the apostle preferred by Gnostics, and later, by the Manicheans, inspired in the same way acts in which the horror of certain sects for marriage is set forth with the utmost energy. Thomas arrived in India while the nuptials of the daughter of the king were in preparation. He so strongly persuaded the fiancés as to the inexpediency of marriage, the wicked sentiments which result from the fact of having begotten children, the crimes which are the consequence of esprit de famille, and the troubles of housekeeping, that they passed the night seated by the side of one another. On the morrow their relations were astonished at finding them in this position, full of a sweet gaiety, and free from any of the ordinary embarrassments incident to such circumstances. The young couple explain to them that bashfulness has no longer any meaning for them, since the cause of it has disappeared. They have exchanged the transient nuptials for the joys of a never-ending paradise. The strange hallucinations to which these moral errors gave scope, are all vividly depicted throughout the entire book. The first outline of a Christian hell, with its categories of torments, is found traced there. This singular writing, which constituted a part of certain Bibles, recalls the theology of the pseudo-Clementine romance, and that of the Elkasaites. In it the Holy Ghost is, like as with the Nazarenes a feminine principle, ‘the mother misericordiæ.’ Water represents the purifying element of the soul and of the body; the unction of oil is then the seal of baptism, like as with the Gnostics. The sign of the cross already possesses all its supernatural virtues, as well as a sort of magic.283
The Acts of St Philip have also a theosophic colouring, and a very pronounced Gnosticism. Those of Andrew were one of the parts of the compilation of the pretended Leucius, who merits the most anathemas. The orthodox Church was at first a stranger to these fables; then she adopted them, at least for popular use. Iconography especially found in them, as in the apocryphal Gospels, an ample repository of subjects and of symbols. Almost all the attributes which have been made use of by imaginative writers to distinguish the apostles, comes from the apocryphal Acts.
The apocalyptic form served also to express how much there existed in the heterodox Christian sects of insubordination, of unruliness, and of dissatisfaction. An ascension or anabaticon of Paul, which set forth the mysteries that Paul was reputed to have seen in his ecstasy, was in great vogue. An apocalypse of Elias enjoyed considerable popularity. It was amongst the Gnostics in particular that the apocalypses, under the name of apostles and prophets, germinated. The faithful were on their guard, and the moderate Church party, who at once feared the Gnostic excesses and the excesses of the pious, admitted only two apocalypses—that of John and of Peter. Nevertheless, writings of the same kind, attributed to Joseph, Moses, Abraham, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zacharias, and the father of John, were in circulation. Two zealous Christians, preoccupied with the substitution of a new world for an old world, excited by their persecutions, greedy, like all the fabricators of apocalypses, of the evil news which came from the four corners of the earth, took up the mantle of Esdras, and wrote under that revered name a number of new pages, which were joined to those which the pseudo-Esdras of 97 had already accepted. It has also been thought that the apocalyptic books attributed to Enoch received 284in the second century some Christian additions. But this appears to us little probable; those books of Enoch, formerly so esteemed, and which Jesus had probably read with enthusiasm, had fallen, at the time of which we now speak, into universal discredit.
The Gnostics, in like manner, could show psalms, pieces of apocryphal prophets, revelations under the name of Adam, Seth, Noria, the imaginary wife of Noah, recitals of the nativity of Mary, full of improprieties, and great and small interrogations of Mary. Their gospel of Eve was a tissue of chimerical equivocations. Their Gospel of Philip presented a dangerous quietism, clothed in a form borrowed from Egyptian rituals. The ascension or anabaticon of Isaiah was made up of the same stuff, in the third century, and was a true source of heresies. The Archonties, the Hieracities, the Messalians, proceeded from that. Like the author of the Acts of Thomas, the author of the Ascension of Isaiah is one of the precursors of Dante, by the complaisance with which he expatiates upon the description of heaven and hell. This singular work, adopted by the sects of the Middle Ages, was the cherished book of the Hogomites of Thrace and of the Cathares of the West.
Adam had likewise his apocryphal revelations. A testament addressed to Seth, a mystic apocalypse borrowed from Zoroastrian ideas, circulated under his name. It is a clever enough book, which recalls many of the Jeschts, Sadies, and Sirouzé of the Persians, and also at times the books of the Mendaites. Adam therein explains to Seth, from his recollections of Paradise and the signs of the angel Uriel, the mystic liturgies of day and night which all creatures celebrate from hour to hour before the Eternal. The first hour of the night is the hour of the adoration of demons; during that hour they cease to annoy man. The second hour is the hour 285of the adoration of fish; then comes the adoration of abysses; then the thrice holy of the seraphim: before the Fall men heard at that hour the measured beating of their wings. At the fifth hour of the night the adoration of the waters takes place. Adam at that hour heard the prayer of the great billows. The middle of the night is marked by an accumulation of storms, and by a great religious terror. Then all nature reposes, and the waters sleep. At this hour, if one takes water, and if the priest of God mixes it with holy oil and anoints with this oil the sick who cannot sleep, the latter are cured. At the time the dew falls, the hymn of herbs and grain is sung. At the tenth hour, at the full early dawn, comes the turn of men, the gates of heaven are opened, so as to let enter the prayers of all living beings. They enter, prostrate themselves before the throne, then depart. Everything that one asks at the moment when the seraphim are beating their wings and when the cock crows, one is sure to obtain. Great joy is shed over the world when the sun shines forth from the paradise of God upon creation. Then comes an hour of expectation and of profound silence, until the priests have offered incense to God.
At each hour of the day the angels, the birds, every creature, rises up in like manner to adore the Supreme Being. At the seventh hour there is a repetition of the ceremony of entering and retiring. The prayers (Priéres) of all living beings enter, prostrate themselves, and walked out again. At the tenth hour the inspection of the waters takes place. The Holy Spirits descends over the waters and springs. Without this, in drinking the water, one would be subject to the malignity of the demons. At this hour again water mixed with oil cures all manner of sickness. This naturalism, which recalls that of the Elkasaites, was attenuated by the Catholic Church, 286but the principle it contained was not entirely rejected. The exorcisms of water and of the different elements, the division of the day into canonical hours, the employment of holy oils, conserved by the orthodox Church, had their origin in ideas analogous to those which the Adamite Apocalypse has complaisantly developed.
The Christian Sibyl women do little more than repeat without comprehending the ancient oracles. Those of the Apocalypse, in particular, she never ceases vatianating, though, and announcing the near destruction of the Roman Empire. The favourite idea at that epoch was that the world, before it came to an end, would be governed by a woman. The sympathy of the old sibyllists for Judaism and Jerusalem is now changed to hatred; but the horror for the Pagan civilisation is no less. The domination of Italy over the world has been the most fatal of all dominations: it will be the last. The end is near. Wickedness springs from the rich and the great, who plunder the poor. Rome is to be burned; wolves and foxes are to live amongst its ruins; it will be seen whether her gods of brass will save her. Hadrian, when the Sibyllists of the year 117 saluted with so much expectation, was an iniquitous and avarcious king, a despoiler of the entire world, wholly occupied with frivolous devices, an enemy of true religion, the sacreligious instituter of an infamous cult, the abettor of the most abominable idolatry, Like the sibyllists of 117, he of whom we have been speaking asserts that Hadrian could have but three successors. Their names (Antonine) recall that of the Most High (Adonai). The first of the three will reign a long time, and this evidently refers to Antoninus Pius. This prince, in reality so admirable, is treated as a miserable king, who out of pure avarice despoiled the world and heaped up at Rome treasures which the terrible exile, the assassin of his mother (Nero, 287the Antichrist), will abandon to the pillage of the peoples of Asia.
Oh! how thou shalt weep then, despoiled of thy brilliant garments and clad in habits of mourning, O proud queen, daughter of old Latinus! Thou shalt fall, no more to rise again. The glory of thy legions, with their proud eagles, will disappear. Where will be thy strength! what people will be allied to thee, of those whom thou hast overcome by thy follies.
Every plague, civil war, invasion, and famine announces the revenge that God prepares on behalf of his elect. It is towards Italy especially that the judge will show himself severe. Italy will be reduced to a pile of black volcanic cinders, mixed with naphtha and asphalte. Hades will be its portion. Then finally equality will exist for all; no longer will there be either slaves or masters, or kings, or chiefs, or advocates, or corrupt judges. Rome will endure the ills she has inflicted on others: those whom she has vanquished will triumph in their turn over her. That will take place in the year in which the figures cast up will correspond to the numerical value of the name of Rome, that is to say, in the year of Rome 948 (195 of J. C.).
The author calls this the day which he longs for. He employs epic accents to celebrate Nero, the Antichrist, preparing in the shades or beyond the seas the ruin of the Roman world. The contests between the Antichrist and the Messiah will come to pass. Men, far from becoming better, will only grow more wicked. The Antichrist is to be finally vanquished, and shut up in the abyss. The resurrection and the eternal happiness of the just will crown the apocalyptic cycle. Attached to the initials of the verses which express these terrible images, the eye distinguishes the acrostic ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟ ΩΓΗΡ ΣΤΑΥΔΟΣ; the initial letters of the first five words give in their turn ΙΧΘΥΕ “fish,” a designation under which the initiated were early accustomed to 288recognise Jesus. As people were persuaded that the acrostic was one of the processes which the old sibyls had employed to make known their secret meaning, people were struck with astonishment to see so clear a revelation of Christianity delineated upon the margins of a writing that was thought to have been composed in the sixth generation which followed the deluge. There was an old translation of this singular production in barbarous Latin verse, which gave rise to another fable. It was pretended that Cicero had found his Erythrean fragment so beautiful that he had translated it into Latin verse before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Such were the sombre images which, under the best of sovereigns, assailed the sectarian fanatics. We must not blame the Roman police for treating such books at times with severity; they were now puerile, then full of menaces: no modern state would tolerate their like. The visionaries dreamed only of conflagrations. The idea of a deluge of fire, in contradistinction to the deluge of water, and distinct from the final conflagration, was accepted by many amongst them. There was also a talk about a deluge of wind. These chimeras troubled more than one bead, even outside of Christianity. Under Marcus Aurelius an impostor attempted, in making use of the same species of terrors, to provoke disorders which might have led to the pillage of the city. It is not wise to repeat too often Judicare seculum per ignem. People are subject to strange hallucinations. When the tragic scenes which he imagined were slow in coming, he sometimes took upon himself to realise them. At Paris the people formed the Commune because the fifth act of the siege, which had been promised, did not come to pass.
The Antichrist continued to be the great preoccupation of the makers of apocalypses. Although it was evident that Nero was dead, his shadow 289haunted the Christian imagination — people continued to announce his return. Often, however, it was not Nero that people saw behind this fantastic personage; it was Simon Magus.
From Sebaste was to issue Belial, who commands the high mountains, the sea, the blazing sun, the brilliant moon, the dead themselves, and who was to perform numerous miracles before men. It is not integrity, but error which will be in him. He will lead astray many mortals, both of the Hebrew faithful and of the elect, and others belonging to the lawless race who have not yet heard tell of God. But whilst the threats of the great God are being put into execution, and whilst the conflagration will roll over the earth in huge floods, fire will also devour Belial and the insolent men who have put their faith in him.
We have been struck, in the Apocalypse, with this mysterious personage of the False Prophet, a thaumaturgic seducer of the faithful and the Pagans, allied to Nero, who follows him to the region of the Parthians, who must reappear and perish with him in the lake of brimstone. We are led to surmise that this symbolical personage designates Simon Magus. In seeing in the Sibylline Apocalypse “Belial of Sebaste” playing an almost identical part, we are confirmed in that hypothesis. The personal relations of Nero and Simon Magus are perhaps not no fabulous as they appear. In any case, this association of the two worst enemies that nascent Christianity had encountered, was well adapted to the spirit of the times, and to the taste for apocalyptical poetry in general. In the Ascension of Isaiah Belial is Satan, and Satan assumes in some sort the human form of a king, the murderer of his mother, who is to reign over the world, in order to establish the empire of evil. The author of the pseudo-Clemen tine romance believes that Simon will reappear as Antichrist at the end of time. In the third century a still greater trouble was introduced into that order of fantastic ideas. People distinguished two Antichrists, the one for the East, the other for the West290—Nero and Belial. Later, Nero finished by becoming, in the eyes of the Christians, the Christ of the Jews. The suppulations of the works of Daniel came to complicate these chimeras. St Hippolytus, in the time of Severus, is wholly engrossed with them. A certain Juda proved by Daniel that the end of the world was to come about the year 10 of Septimus Severus (of J. C. 202-203). Every persecution appeared to be a confirmation of the dismal prophecies which had accumulated. From all these confused data, the Middle Ages drew the grandiose myth which remains, amidst transformed Christianity, as an incomprehensible relic of primitive Messianism.291
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