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CHAPTER I.

FIRST JOURNEY OF PAUL—THE CYPRUS MISSION.

Journeying from Antioch, Paul and Barnabas, accompanied by John-Mark, reached Seleucia. The distance from Antioch to the latter city is a short day’s journey. The route follows at a distance the right bank of the Orontes, winding its way over the outermost slopes of the mountains of Pieria, and crossing by fords the numerous streams which descend from the heights. On all sides there are copses of myrtles, arbutus, laurels, green oaks; while prosperous villages are perched upon the sharply-cut ridges of the mountains. To the left, the plain of Orontes unfolds to view its splendid cultivation. On the south, the wooded summits of the mountains of Daphne bound the horizon. We are now beyond the borders of Syria. We stand on soil classical, smiling, fertile, and civilised. Each name recalls the powerful Greek colony which gave to these regions so high a historical importance, and which established there a centre of opposition that sometimes assumed a violent form against the Semitic genius.

Seleucia was the port of Antioch, and the chief northern outlet of Syria towards the west. The city was situated partly in the plain and partly on 2the abrupt heights, facing the angle made by the deposits of the Orontes at the foot of the Coryphas, about a league and a half to the north of the mouth of the river. It was here that the hordes of depraved beings, creatures of a rotten secularism, embarked every year to invade Rome and to infect it. The dominant religion was that of Mount Casius—a beautiful, regularly-formed summit, situated on the other side of the Orontes, and with which was associated various legends. The coast is inhospitable and tempestuous. The wind descending from the mountain tops, gives the waves a back stroke, and produces almost always a deep ground swell. An artificial basin, communicating with the sea by a narrow channel, shelters ships from the recurring shocks of the waves. The quays, the mole formed of enormous blocks are still standing and waiting in silence the not far distant day when Seleucia shall again become what she was formerly—one of the grandest termini in the globe. Paul, in saluting for the last time with his band the brethren assembled on the dark sands of the beach, had in front of him the beautiful section of the circle formed by the coast at the mouth of the Orontes; to the right, the symmetrical cone of the Casius, from which was to ascend three hundred years later the smoke of the last Pagan sacrifice; to the left, the rugged steeps of Mount Coryphas; behind him, in the clouds, the snows of Taurus, and the coast of Cilicia, which forms the Gulf of Issus. The hour was a solemn one. Although Christianity had for several years extended beyond the country which was its cradle, it had not yet reached the confines of Syria. The Jews, however, considered the whole of Syria, as far as Amanus, as forming part of the Holy Land, and sharing its prerogatives, its rights and duties. This, then, was the moment when Christianity really quitted its native soil, and launched forth into the vast world.

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Paul had already travelled much in order to spread the name of Jesus. He had been for seven years a Christian, and not for a single day had his ardent conviction been lulled to rest. His departure from Antioch with Barnabas, marked, however, a decisive change in his career. He began then that Apostolic life, in which he displayed unexampled activity, and an unheard-of degree of ardour and of passion. Travelling was then very difficult, when it was not done by sea; for carriage roads and vehicles hardly existed. This is why the propagation of Christianity made its way along the banks of the large rivers. Pozzuoli and Lyons were Christianised when a multitude of towns in the vicinity of the cradle of Christianity had not heard tell of Jesus.

Paul, it seems, journeyed almost always on foot existing doubtless on bread, vegetables, and milk. What a life of privations and of trials is that of a wandering devotee! The police were negligent or brutal. Seven times was Paul put in chains. Hence, he preferred, when practicable, to travel by water. Certainly, when it is calm, these seas are delightful; but they have also suddenly their foolish caprices; the ship may run aground in the sand, and all that one can do is to seize on a plank. There were perils everywhere. “In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in death oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils on the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness: I have known all” (2 Cor. xi. 23-27). 4The Apostle wrote that in the year 56, when his trials were far from being at an end. For nearly ten years longer he must lead that existence, which death alone could worthily crown.

In almost all his journeys Paul had companions; but he systematically refused the assistance from which the other Apostles, Peter, in particular, drew much consolation and succour—I mean, a companion in his Apostolic ministry, and in his labours. His aversion to marriage proceeded from a feeling of delicacy. He did not wish to burden the Church with the support of two persons. Barnabas followed the same rule. Paul reverted often to that fact—he cost the Churches nothing. He deemed it perfectly just that the Apostle should live upon the community,—that the catechist should share everything in common with the catechumen; but he was sensitive on the point; he had no desire to make capital out of that which was legitimate. His constant practice, with one single exception, was to earn his subsistence by his own labour. With Paul this was a question of morals and of good example; for one of his maxims was: “That if any one would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. iii. 10-12). He added to it likewise a naïve sentiment of personal economy, fearing that people might reproach him with what he cost, and exaggerated his scruples, in order to anticipate murmurs; for people had come to be very circumspect in regard to questions of money, because of having to live among those who thought much of it. In every place where Paul took up his abode, he settled down and returned to his trade of tent-making. His exterior life resembled that of an artisan who makes a tour of Europe, and scatters about him the ideas with which he is permeated.

Such a mode of life, which has become impossible in our modern society for any but a working man, was easy in societies in which either religious confraternities 5or commercial aristocracies constituted a species of freemasonry. The life of Arab travellers—d’Ibn-Batoutah, for example—greatly resembled that which must have been led by St Paul. They wandered from one end of the Mahometan world to the other, halting in every large town, engaging there in the avocation of judge or physician, getting married, finding everywhere a hearty welcome, and the chance of employment. Benjamin de Tudela, and the other Jewish travellers of the Middle Ages, led a similar life, going from Jewry to Jewry, and entering at once upon terms of intimacy with their hosts. These Jewries were distinct quarters, enclosed often by a gate, having a religious chief, who had an extended jurisdiction. In the centre there was a common court, and a place ordinarily used for meetings and for prayers. The relations which exist amongst the Jews in our own day, present still something of the same character. In every place where Jewish life is established and well-organised, the journeys of Israelites, who bear with them letters of recommendation, are made from ghetto to ghetto. That which takes place at Trieste, at Constantinople, at Smyrna, is, in this respect, the exact picture of that which took place in the time of St Paul at Ephesus, at Thessalonica, and Rome. The new-comer who presents himself on Sabbath at the synagogue, is remarked, surrounded, and questioned. He is asked where he hails from, who his father is, and what news he brings. In almost all Asia, and in a part of Africa, the Jews have thus exceptional facilities for travelling,—thanks to the species of secret society which they form, and to the neutrality they observe in the intestine quarrels of the different countries. Benjamin de Tudela travelled over the whole world without having seen any other thing save Jews; Ibn-Batoutah without having seen any one except Mahometans.

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These little coteries constituted excellent mediums for the propagation of doctrines. Each knew his neighbour well, each closely watched the other; nothing could be further removed from the vulgar freedom of our modern societies, in which men come in contact with each other so little. The divisions of parties in a city were always made according to religion, when politics was not the paramount consideration. A religious question falling into one of these faithful Israelitish communities, set everything on fire, and settled schisms and strifes. Most frequently a religious question was but a firebrand which was eagerly laid hold of by reason of previous hatreds—a pretext which was seized upon for reckoning up and denouncing one another.

The establishment of Christianity was not discussed outside the synagogues, with which latter the coasts of the Mediterranean were already covered, when Paul and the other Apostles set out upon their missions. These synagogues had ordinarily little to distinguish them; they were like the other houses, forming with the quarter of which they were the centre and link a small vicus (village) or aingiport (small alley). One thing distinguished these quarters; this was the absence of ornaments of sculpture vivant, which necessitated recourse for decoration to expedients, crude, pronounced, and false. But that which more than anything else designated the Jewish quarter to new-comers disembarking at the port of Seleucia or Cæsarea, was the type of race—young women decked in gaudy colours, white, red and green, without medium tints; matrons with pleasing figures, rosy cheeks, slightly embonpoint, with kindly, maternal eyes. Having landed, and received a warm welcome, the Apostles awaited the Sabbath. They then betook themselves to the synagogue. It was a custom, when a stranger appeared intelligent or eager to make himself know, 7to invite him to address to the people a few words of edification. The Apostle took advantage of this custom, and expounded the Christian thesis. Jesus had proceeded precisely in the same manner. Astonishment was at first the general feeling. Opposition did not manifest itself until a little later, not until some conversions had taken place. Then the elders of the synagogues resorted to violence; forthwith they ordered to be applied to the Apostle the cruel and shameful chastisements which were inflicted on heretics; on other occasions they made an appeal to the authorities to have the innovator either expelled or beaten. The Apostle did not preach to the Gentiles until after he had preached to the Jews. The converts from Paganism were in general the least numerous, and yet they almost all were recruited from the classes of the population which were already in contact with Judaism, and had been brought to embrace it.

This proselytism, as we see,. was confined to the towns. The first apostles of Christianity did not preach in country places. The countryman (paganus) was the last to embrace Christianity. The local patois, which the Greek had not been able to root out in the country districts, was in part the cause of this. To tell the truth, the peasant living outside the towns, was quite a rare thing in the country, at the time when Christianity first began to spread. The organisation of that Apostolic religion, consisting of assemblies (ecclesia), was essentially urban. Islamism, in like manner, is also par excellence a religion of the town. It is not complete without its grand mosques, its schools, its ulemas (doctors), its muezzins (the callers to prayers).

The gaiety, the sprightliness of heart, which these evangelical odysseys breathed, were something new, original, and charming. The Acts of the Apostles, 8the expression of that first transport of the Christian conscience, is a book of gladness, of serene fervency. Since the Homeric poems, no work so full of such genuine sensation had appeared. A morning breeze, an odour of the sea—if I may be permitted to say so—inspiring a sort of cheerfulness and force, permeates the whole book, and made it an excellent compagnon de voyage, an exquisite breviary for him who followed the ancient landmarks along the Southern seas. It was the second poem of Christianity. The lake of Tiberias and its fishing barques had furnished the first. Now, a current more powerful, aspirations towards lands more distant, allure us on to the high seas.

The first point at which the three missionaries touched, was the island of Cyprus, an ancient, mixed settlement where the Grecian race and the Phœnician race, planted at first side by side, had ended by nearly exterminating one another. It was the native country of Barnabas, and that circumstance doubtless had much to do in determining the direction in which the mission should make its first advance. Cyprus had already received the seeds of the Christian faith; in any case, the new religion embraced several Cypriotes in its fold. The number of Jewries there was considerable. It should, however, be remembered that the whole circle of Seleucia, Tarsus, and Cyprus was by no means extensive; and the small group of Jews scattered over those points, represented nearly what would be the parent families established at St Brieuc, Saint-Malo, and Jersey. Paul and Barnabas, then, set out for the countries with which they were already more or less familiar.

The Apostolic band disembarked at the ancient port of Salamis. They traversed the whole island from east to west, inclining towards the south, and probably following the sea coast. It was the most Phœnician portion of the island, containing the towns of Citium, Amathontus, and Paphos, old Semitic 9centres whose original customs had not yet been effaced. Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogues of the Jews. Only a single incident of the journey has been left on record. It occurred at Neo Paphos, a modern town, which had been built at some distance from the ancient town, so celebrated for the worship of Venue (Palæpaphos). Neo Paphos was at that time, as it would seem, the residence of the Roman pro-consul who governed the island of Cyprus. This pro-consul was Sergius Paulus, a man of illustrious birth, who, it appears (although it occurred often with the Romans), permitted himself to be amused with enchantments, and the superstitious beliefs of the country in which chance had placed him. He had near him a Jew named Bar-jesus, who passed himself off for a magician, and gave himself a title which is translated as elim, or “sage.” He produced there, it is said, scenes analogous to those which took place at Sebaste between the Apostles and Simon the magician. Bar-jesus raised a bitter opposition against Paul and Barnabas. Later tradition asserts that the occasion of this feud was the conversion of the pro-consul. It is related that in a public discussion, Paul, in order to silence his adversary, was obliged to strike him with temporary blindness, and that the pro-consul, moved by that great wonder, was converted.

The conversion of a Roman of that order at this epoch is a thing absolutely inadmissible. Paul, doubtless, took for faith the manifestations of interest which Sergius evinced towards him; mayhap even he mistook irony for favour. The Orientals do not understand irony. Their maxim, moreover, is that he who is not for them is against them. The curiosity exhibited by Sergius Paulus was in the eyes of the missionaries regarded as a favourable disposition. Like many other Romans, Paulus might be very credulous. Probably the sorceries to which Paul and 10Barnabas had more than once recourse, but which we are unfortunately precluded from believing, appeared to him very striking and more wonderful than those of Bar-jesus. But, from a feeling of astonishment to conversion, is a long step. The legend appears to attribute to Paulus Sergius the reasonings of a Jew or of a Syrian. The Jew and the Syrian regard the miracle as the proof of a doctrine preached by the Thaumaturgus. The Roman, if he was enlightened, regarded the miracle as a trick by which he could amuse himself, and, if he was credulous and ignorant, as one of those things which happened now and then. But the miracle to him was no proof of doctrine. Absolutely destitute of theological sentiment, the Romans could not imagine that a dogma could be the aim that a god proposed to himself in working a miracle. The miracle was to them either a fantastical, although natural, thing (the idea of the laws of nature was foreign to them, unless they had studied the Grecian philosophy), or an act revealing to them the immediate presence of divinity. If Sergius Paulus had actually believed in the miracles of Paul, the reasoning that he would have employed would have been: “This man is very powerful: he is perhaps a god;” and not, “The doctrine which this man preaches is the truth.” In any case, if the conversion of Sergius Paulus rested upon motives so flimsy, we believe we are doing an honour to Christianity in not calling it a conversion, and in striking off Sergius Paulus from the number of the Christians.

What is probable is that he had for the mission a benevolent regard; hence the mission retained for him the remembrance of a wise and good man. The supposition of Saint Jerome, according to whom Saul should have taken from Sergius Paulus his name of Paul, is but mere conjecture: we must not say, however, that that conjecture is improbable. It was 11from this moment that the author of the Acts constantly substituted the name of Paul for that of Saul. Perhaps the Apostle adopted Sergius Paulus as his patron, and took his name in token of clientship. It is possible, too, that Paul, following the example of a great many Jews, had two names—the one Hebrew, the other obtained by vulgarly Grecianising or Latinising the first (in like manner as the Josephs called themselves Hegesippus, etc.)—and that it was only at the moment when he entered into more intimate and more direct relations with the Pagan world, that he began to bear the single name of Paul.

We do not know how long this Cyprus mission lasted. The mission possessed, evidently, no great importance, inasmuch as Paul never speaks of it in his epistles; and as he never dreamt of seeing again the churches that he had founded in the island, probably he regarded the latter as belonging to Barnabas more than to himself. The first essay of apostolic journeying, in any case, was decisive in the career of Paul. From that time he assumed the tone of master: till then he had been as a subordinate of Barnabas. The latter had been longer in the Church: he had been his introducer and his guarantor; people were more certain of Barnabas. In the course of this mission the rôles were exchanged. The talent of Paul for preaching necessitated that the office of speaking should devolve almost entirely on him. Henceforward, Barnabas was no more than a companion of Paul,—one of his suite. With admirable self-abnegation, that truly holy man lent himself to everything, and left everything to his intrepid friend, whose superiority he recognised. Not so with John-Mark. Disagreements, which soon ended in a rupture, broke out between him and Paul. We do not know the cause of them. Probably the teachings of Paul as to the relations of the Jews 12and the Gentiles shocked the Jerusalemitish prejudices of John, and appeared to him in contradiction with the ideas of Peter, his master. Perhaps, also, that ever-increasing self-sufficiency of Paul was insupportable to those who each day saw it become more pervading and more imperious.

Nevertheless, it is not probable that Paul, from this time, either took, or allowed himself to be given, the title of Apostle. Up till now, that title had only been borne by the Twelve of Jerusalem; it was not considered as transferable; it was believed that Jesus alone had the power to bestow it. Perhaps Paul had already often said to himself that he also had received it directly from Jesus, in his vision on the road to Damascus; but he had not yet openly arrogated to himself so lofty a pretension. It required the grossest provocations of his enemies to constrain him to an act which at first he would have regarded as one of temerity.

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