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CONTINUATION OF Tl9E SECOND JOURNEY OF PAUL—THE MACEDONIAN MISSION.
The mission at this point entered upon entirely new ground. It was what was called the province of Macedonia; but these regions had not formed a portion of the Macedonian kingdom since the time of Philip. They were, in reality, portions of Thracia, anciently colonised by the Greeks, then absorbed by the powerful monarchy the centre of which was at Pella, and which was included for two hundred years in the great Roman unity. Few countries in the world were, in fact, purer in race than the countries situated between Hæmus and the Mediterranean. That they were composed of diverse branches was true, but each genuinely belonged to the Indo-European family, which were superimposed on it. If we except some Phœnician influences coming from Thasos and from Samothracia, almost nothing foreign had penetrated into the interior. Thracia, which was in great part Celtic, had remained faithful to 70the Aryan life: she preserved the ancient religions, under a form which appeared barbarous to the Greeks and Romans, but which, in reality, was only primitive. As for Macedonia, it was probably the region the most honest, the most serious, the most pious of the ancient world. It was originally a country of feudal boroughs, not of large independent towns; now, the latter is, of all administrations, that which has best conserved human morality, and placed the most forces in reserve for the future. Monarchical through steadfastness of mind and through abnegation, filled with antipathy for charlatanism, and for the frequent barren agitations of small republics, the Macedonians presented to Greece the type of a society analogous to that of the Middle Ages, founded upon loyalism, upon faith in legitimacy and heredity, and upon a conservative spirit, equally removed from the grovelling despotism of the East, and from that democratic fever which, inflaming the blood of the people, wears out quickly those who abandon themselves to it. Thus disencumbered from the causes of social corruption that democracy almost always brings in its train, and yet free from the iron chains which Sparta had invented to fortify herself against revolution, the Macedonians were the people of antiquity who most resembled the Romans. They recall in some other respects the German barons, brave, dissipated, rude, proud, faithful. If they realised but for a moment what the Romans knew how to establish in a durable manner, they would have had less honour in having survived their attempt. The little kingdom of Macedonia, without factions or seditions, with its good interior administration, was the most solid nationality that the Romans had to combat in the East. A strong patriotic and legitimist spirit reigned there to such a degree that after their defeats we see the inhabitants take fire with a 71singular facility against the impostors who pretended to continue their old dynasty.
Under the Romans, Macedonia remained a land worthy and pure. It furnished to Brutus two excellent legions. We do not see the Macedonians, like the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Asiatics, rushing to Rome in order to enrich themselves with the fruits of their evil practices. Despite the terrible substitution of races which followed, it may be said that Macedonia has always preserved the same character. It is a country placed under the normal conditions of European life,—wooded, fertile, watered by splendid rivers, possessing interior sources of wealth; whilst that Greece, meagre, poor, singular in everything, has nothing left it but glory and beauty. A land of miracles, like Judæa and Sinai, Greece flourished once, but can never flourish again. She has created something unique, which cannot be reproduced. It seems that when God has once manifested Himself in a country, He blasts it for ever. A laud of klephtes and of artists, Greece cannot again take an original part on the day when the world enters into the channels of wealth, of industry, of abundant consumption: she can only produce genius. In passing through it one is astonished that a powerful race was able to live upon that pile of arid mountains, in the middle of which is a somewhat humid and deep valley, a little plain, a kilometre in extent—all this compels our wonder. Never has there been so plainly seen the opposition which exists between opulence and high art. Macedonia, on the contrary, will one day resemble Switzerland or the south of Germany. Its villages are like clumps of gigantic trees. She has everything that is required for becoming a country of great culture, and of great industry—vast plains, rich mountains, verdant prairies, extended prospects, very different from 72those charming little mazes of the site of Greece. Solemn and grave, the Macedonian peasant has no longer anything of the assurance and the vivacity of the Hellenic peasant. The women, beautiful and chaste, work in the fields like the men. We might say, a country of Protestant peasants: it is a beautiful and strong race, laborious, steady, loving its country, and full of the future.
Embarking at Troas, Paul and his companions (Silas, Timothy, and probably Luke) set sail with a fair wind, touched the first evening at Samothracia, and the morrow approached Neapolis, a town situated upon a small promontory opposite the Isle of Thasos. Neapolis was the port of the great city of Philippi, situated about three leagues thence in the interior. It was the point where the great Egnatine road, which traversed Macedonia and Thracia from west to east, touched the sea. Taking this road, which they did not need to quit until reaching Thessalonica, the Apostles ascended the stony slope cut in the rocks which overlooked Neapolis, emerged from the little chain of mountains which forms the coast, and entered the beautiful plain in the centre of which stands, detached upon a projecting promontory of the mountain, the city of Philippi.
This rich plain, the lowest portion of which is composed of a lake and of marshes, communicates with the basin of Strymon from behind Pangea. The gold mines which at the Hellenic and Macedonian epoch had made the country celebrated, were now almost abandoned. But the military importance of the position of Philippi, squeezed in between the mountain and the morass, had given to it a new life. The battle which ninety-four years before the arrival of the Christian missionaries had opened its gates, brought to it an unexpected splendour. Augustus had established there one of the most considerable 73Roman colonies, under the jus italicum. The city was much more Latin than Greek; Latin was there the common tongue; the religions of Latium seemed to have been transported thither intact. The surrounding plain, dotted with towns, was equally, at the epoch at which we have now arrived, a kind of Roman canton, thrown into the heart of Thracia. The colony was inscribed in the Voltinian tribune. It had been formed principally of the wrecks of the Antonine party, which Augustus had cantoned on these coasts; it was there mixed with portions of the old Thracian stock. In any case, it was a hard-working population, living orderly and peaceably; besides, it was very religious. The confraternities flourished there, particularly those under the patronage of the god Sylvain, who was considered as a sort of tutelary genius of the Latin domination. The mysteries of the Bacchus of Thracia embraced exalted ideas in regard to immortality, and made the population familiar with the views of a future life, and of an idyllic paradise very similar to that which Christianity had spread. Polytheism was in these countries less complicated than elsewhere. The religion of Sabazius, common to Thracia and to Phrygia, in close rapport with the ancient Orpheism, and yet detached by the syncretism of the times from the Dionysian mysteries, included the germs of monotheism. A certain infantile simplicity of taste prepared the way for the Gospel. Everything indicated habits honest, serious, and amiable. One felt oneself to be in a centre analogous to that in which the agronomic and sentimental poetry of Virgil was created. The ever green plain was favourable for the varied culture of vegetables and flowers. Splendid fountains, gushing from the base of the mountain of shining marble which crowned the city, diffused, when properly applied, wealth, shade and freshness. The thickets of poplars and willows, of fig trees and cherry trees and 74of wild vines, exhaled the sweetest odours, and scented the brooks, which abounded on all sides. Moreover, the prairies, which were overrun or covered with monster roses, exhibited herds of dull-eyed buffaloes, with enormous horns, with their heads just above the water; whilst the bees and the swarms of black and blue butterflies gyrated from flower to flower. Pangaea, with its majestic summits, which were covered with snow till the middle of June, stretched out as if to unite the city across the morass. Beautiful ranges of mountains bounded the horizon on all the other sides, leaving only an aperture through which the sky vanished, and showing in the clear distance the basin of Strymon.
Philippi offered to the mission a most appropriate field. We have already seen that in Galatia the Roman colonies of Antioch in Pisidia and of Iconium had very favourably received the new doctrine. We shall observe the same thing at Corinth and at Alexandria-Troas. The population, which had been for a long time settled there, and possessing ancient local traditions, gave few signs of innovations. The Jewry of Philippi, if there was one, was little important; at most, it was limited probably to the women celebrating the Sabbath. Even in the towns in which there were no Jews, the Sabbath was usually celebrated by some of the people. In any case, it seems clear that there was no synagogue there. When the apostolic band entered the city, it was on the first day of the week. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke remained some days within doors, awaiting, according to custom, the Sabbath day. Luke, who knew the country, remembered that the people who had adopted Jewish customs were wont to assemble on that day without in the suburbs, upon the banks of a small secluded rivulet, which issued from the ground a league and a half from the city, from an enormous boiling spring, and which was called Gangas 75or Gangites. Perhaps it went then by the antique Aryan name of the sacred rivers (Ganga). What is certain is that the peaceful scenes recounted in the Acts, and which marked the first establishment of Christianity in Macedonia, took place at the same spot where a century before the fate of the world had been decided. Gangites marked the spot in the great battle of the year 42 before Jesus Christ, where were placed the foremost ensigns of Brutus and of Cassius.
In towns where there was no synagogue, the meetings of those who were affiliated to Judaism were held in small hypethral erections, or frequently simply in the open air in enclosed spaces, which were called proseuchæ. People delighted in establishing these oratories near the sea or rivers, so as to have facilities for ablutions. The Apostles repaired to the place indicated. Many women, in fact, resorted there for devotion. The Apostles spoke to them, and proclaimed to them the mystery of Jesus. They were listened to attentively. One woman, in particular, was touched. “The Lord,” says the writer of the Acts, “opened her heart.” She was called Lydia or Lydian, because she was from Thyatira. She traded in one of the principal products of Lydian industry—purple. She was a pious person, of the order of those who were called “believing in God,” that is to say, a Pagan by birth, but observing the precepts denominated “Noachic.” She was baptised, with all her house, and did not rest until, through much entreaty, she induced the four missionaries to take up their abode with her. They remained there some weeks, teaching each Sunday at the place of prayer, upon the banks of the Gangites.
A small Church, almost wholly composed of women, was formed. It was very pious, very obedient, and most devoted to Paul. Besides Lydia, this Church embraced within its bosom Evhodia and Syntyche, 76who with the Apostle fought valiantly for the Gospel, but who sometimes had disputes in regard to the ministry of deaconesses. Epaphroditus, a courageous man, whom Paul treated as a brother, a fellow-worker, a companion in arms; Clement, and others still, whom Paul called “his fellow-workers, and whose names,” said he, “are written in the book of life.” Timothy was also much beloved of the Philippians, and he had for them great devotion. It was the only Church from which Paul accepted pecuniary succour, because it was rich, and was little burdened by poor Jews. Lydia was undoubtedly the principal author of these gifts. Paul accepted them from her, for he knew her to be strongly attached to him. This woman gave from the heart; one had not to fear reproaches on her part, nor for an interested return. Paul preferred, doubtless, to be indebted to a woman (probably a widow), of whom he was sure, rather than to men, in respect of whom he would have been less independent, if he had had some acquaintance with them.
The absolute purity of Christian manners disarmed all suspicion. Perhaps, moreover, it is not too audacious to suppose that it is Lydia whom Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians, calls “my dear spouse.” That expression can be taken, if one so desires, as a simple metaphor. Is it, nevertheless, absolutely impossible that Paul may have contracted with that sister a union more intimate? The only thing certain is, that Paul did not take this sister with him in his journeys. Notwithstanding this, a whole branch of ecclesiastical tradition has claimed that he was married.
The character of the Christian woman became more and more outlined. To the Jewish woman, sometimes so strong, so devoted; to the Syrian woman, who is indebted to the soft languor of a distempered organisation for flashes of enthusiasm 77and of love; to Tabitha, Mary Magdalen, succeeded the Greek women, Lydia, Phœbe, Chloe, vivacious, gay, active, amiable, distinguished, open-hearted to all, yet nevertheless circumspect, giving themselves up to their master to whom they were subordinate, capable of the greatest things, because they were contented to be the fellow-labourers of the men and their sisters, and to aid them when they performed worthy actions. These Greek women, sprung from a fine and healthy race, experienced at the turn of life a change which transformed them. They became pale, and their eyes wandered languishingly; they then covered the bands of thick hair which bounded their cheeks with a black veil, and devoted themselves to austere cares, and brought to bear on these an animated and intelligent ardour. The “female servant,” or Greek deaconess, surpassed even her of Syria and of Palestine in courage. These women, guardians of the secrets of the Church, ran the greatest dangers, and endured every torment, rather than divulge anything. They created the dignity of their sex, and justly too, because they did not speak of their rights; they did more than the men, in assuming the attitude of limiting themselves to serving the latter.
An incident happened which hastened the departure of the missionaries. The city began to speak of them, and public imagination was engaged already upon the marvellous virtues which were attributed to them. One morning, as they were repairing to the place of prayer, they encountered a young slave—probably a ventriloquist—who passed for a witch, and predicted the future. Her masters made a great deal of money out of that ignoble performance. The poor girl, either because she possessed indeed a spirit of divination, or because she was tired of her infamous calling, had no sooner perceived the missionaries than she started to follow them, uttering 78loud cries. The faithful pretended that she was rendering homage to the new faith and to those who preached it. This was repeated several times. At length, one day, Paul exorcised her. The girl, calmed, pretended to be freed from the spirit which tormented her. But the anger of her masters was extreme. Through the healing of the girl they lost their livelihood. They entered a process against Paul, and Silas as his accomplice, and caused them to be taken to the agora, before the duumvirs.
It would have been difficult to found a claim for indemnity upon such peculiar grounds. The plaintiffs laid special stress on the fact of the trouble caused in the city, and of illegal preaching. “They preach customs,” said they, “that we are not allowed to follow, inasmuch as we are Romans.” The city, in fact, was under the Italian law, and liberty of worship became the more constrained the nearer people were to the Roman city. The superstitious population, excited by the masters of the witch, made, at the same moment, a hostile demonstration against the Apostles. These sorts of petty uprisings were frequent in ancient towns. The newsmongers, the unemployed, the “plunderers of the agora,” as Demosthenes had already denominated them, lived on them. The duumvirs, believing that they were dealing with ordinary Jews, condemned—without informing themselves of, or inquiring into, the position of the accused—Paul and Silas to be beaten. The lictors divested the Apostles of their garments, and beat them cruelly in public. They were next cast into prison, put in one of the innermost cells, and had their feet made fast in the stocks.
Whether they had not been allowed to speak in their own defence, or whether they purposely had courted the glory of suffering humiliation for their Master, it does not appear that either Paul or Silas took advantage of their title of citizens before 79the tribunal. It was during the night in the prison that they declared their rank. The jailor was much troubled. Thus far he had treated the two Jews with harshness; now he found himself in the presence of two Romans, Paulus and Silvanus, unlawfully condemned. He washed their wounds, and gave them to eat. It is probable that the duumvirs were informed at the same time; for early in the morning they sent the lictors to order the jailor to release the captives. The Valerian and the Porcian laws were express. The application of stripes to a Roman citizen constituted a grave offence. Paul, taking advantage of this circumstance, refused thus to leave his confinement. He demanded, it is related, that the duumvirs should themselves come and give him his liberty. The embarrassment of the latter was somewhat great. They came and besought Paul to quit the city.
The two prisoners, once at liberty, repaired to the house of Lydia. They were received as martyrs. They addressed to the brethren a few parting words of exhortation and consolation, and departed. In no city had Paul ever been so beloved, and so much loved. Timothy, who was not implicated in the prosecution, and Luke, who played a secondary part, remained at Philippi. Luke did not see Paul again until five years after.
Paul and Silas, having departed from Philippi, followed the Egnantine road, which led to Amphipolis. This was one of the most beautiful day’s journey Paul ever experienced. In leaving the plain of Philippi, the road enters a smiling valley, dominated by the peaks of Panga. The natives cultivated there flax and the plants of the most temperate countries. Large villages were to be seen in every indentation of the mountain. The Roman road was made of marble flagstones. At each step, almost under every plane tree, deep wells filled with water, 80coming directly from the snowy vicinage, and filtering through the thick layers of permeable earth, presented themselves to the traveller. Through the openings in the white marble rocks issued rivulets of incomparable limpidity. It is in such a locality that one learns to place pure water in the first rank of the gifts of Nature. Amphipolis was a large city, the capital of a province, and about an hour’s journey from the mouth of the Strymon. The Apostles do not appear to have stopped there, probably because it was a purely Hellenic city.
From Amphipolis the Apostles, after quitting the estuary of Strymon, proceeded between the sea and the mountain, across the thick woods and the prairies which extend to the sand on the sea shore. The first halt, under the plane trees, near a cooling fountain which issues from the sand, a few steps from the sea, is a delicious place. The Apostles then entered Aulon of Arethusa, a deep rent, a kind of Bosphorus cut perpendicularly, which served as an outlet from the interior lakes to the sea, and passed, probably without any one knowing it, by the side of the tomb of Euripides. The beauty of the trees, the freshness of the air, the rapidity of the waters, the strong growth of the ferns and shrubs of all kinds, recall the prospect of Grand Chartreuse or of Grésivaudan, thrown into the bottom of a furnace. The basin of the lakes of Mygdonia, in fact, is torrid, having, as we might say, surfaces of molten lead; the snakeweeds, raising their heads out of the water and seeking the shade, imprint there only a few wrinkles. The flocks, towards the south, crowded together round the foot of the trees, seem shrivelled up. If it were not for the hum of the insects and the song of the birds, which alone in creation can resist such oppression, it might be regarded as the kingdom of the dead.
Traversing the small town of Apollonia, without halting, Paul skirted the south side of the lakes, and 81continuing almost as far as the bottom of the plain whose depressed centre they occupy, he arrived at the foot of the small range of heights which form the east side of the gulf of Thessalonica. When one attains the summits of these hills, the outline of Olympus is seen in all its splendour. The base and the middle regions of the mountain are blended with the azure of the sky; the snows of the summit appear as an ethereal dwelling suspended in space. But, alas! the holy mountain had been already disenchanted. Man had ascended it, and had clearly seen that the gods no longer dwelt there. When Cicero, in his exile at Thessalonica, saw their white summits, he knew that there was there only snow and rocks. Paul, doubtless, had no regard for these enchanted places belonging to another race. A great city was before him, and from experience he divined that he would find there an excellent base for establishing something grand.
Since the Roman domination, Thessalonica had become one of the most important commercial ports of the Mediterranean. It was a very wealthy and populous city. It had a grand synagogue, serving as a religious centre to the Judaism of Philippi, of Amphipolis, and of Apollonia, all of which had only oratories. Paul followed here his usual practice. For three consecutive Sabbaths he spoke in the synagogue, repeating his uniform discourse on Jesus, proving that he was the Messiah, that the Scriptures had found in him their fulfilment, that he had to suffer, and that he had risen again. Some Jews were converted; but the conversions were numerous, especially among the Greeks “fearing God.” It was always this class which furnished to the new faith its most zealous adherents.
The women came in crowds. All that was best in the feminine society of Thessalonica had already for a long time observed the Sabbath and the Jewish 82ceremonies; the élite of these pious dames flocked to the new preachers. The ordinary phenomena of thaumaturgy, of glossology, of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of mystical effusions, and of ecktases were produced. The Church of Thessalonica soon rivalled that of Philippi in piety and in delicate attentions to the Apostle. Paul nowhere expended more ardour, tenderness, and penetrating grace. This man, naturally vivacious and passionate, exhibited in his mission a surprising gentleness and calmness; he was a father, a mother, a nurse, as he himself said; while his austerity and rudeness served but to enhance his charm. Stubborn and stern natures have, when they wish to be unctuous, unequalled powers of seduction. Severe language, never flattery, has much more chance of being made agreeable, with women in particular, than softness, which is often the indication of feeble and interested views.
Paul and Silas lived at the house of one Jesus, an Israelite by race, who, according to the usage of the Jews, had Grecianised his name to that of Jason; but they would accept nothing but lodgings. Paul laboured at his trade night and day, in order to cost the Church nothing. The rich purple merchants of Philippi and the sisterhood would, moreover, have been grieved if others than they had furnished to the Apostle the things requisite for existence. On two occasions, during his sojourn at Thessalonica, Paul received from Philippi an offering which he accepted. That was altogether contrary to his principles; his rule was to maintain himself, without receiving anything from the Churches; yet he would have made a scruple about refusing this present of the heart: the pain that he would have given to pious women prevented him. Perhaps, moreover, as we have already stated, he preferred to contract obligations from the women, who never restrained his action, except in regard to men like Jason, in 83respect of whom he desired to preserve his authority.
Nowhere, it seems, had Paul so much as at Thessalonica succeeded in realising his ideal. The population to which he addressed himself was chiefly composed of laborious workmen; Paul entered into their spirit: he preached to them order, industry, and to hold fast to the good in sight of the heathen. A complete new series of precepts were added to his lessons; to wit, economy, application to business, industrial honour founded upon ease and independence. By a contrast, which ought not to surprise us, he expounded to them, at the same time, the most fantastic mysteries of the Apocalypse that had ever been described to them. The Church at Thessalonica was a model that Paul afterwards delighted to cite, and whose good odour, like a perfume of edification, spread everywhere. There were nominated, besides Jason, among the notables of the Church, Gaius, Aristarchus, and Secundus; Aristarchus was circumcised.
That which had happened twenty times before happened again at Thessalonica. The discontented Jews fomented trouble. They employed a band of idlers, of vagabonds, and of those poor creatures of every description who in ancient cities passed the day and night under the columns of the basilicas, ready to make a noise for whoever paid them for it. They went in a body to assail the house of Jason. They called loudly for Paul and Silas. As they did not find them, the rioters seized Jason, together with some of the faithful, and brought them before the politarcs or magistrates. The most confusing cries were raised. “Revolutionaries are in the city,” said some, “and Jason has received them.” “All these people,” said others, “are in revolt against the edicts of the emperor.” “They have a king they call Jesus,” said a third 84party, The excitement was great, and the politarcs were somewhat alarmed. They compelled Jason and the faithful who had been arrested with him to give bail, then sent them away. The following night the brethren led Paul and Silas out of the city, and had them conducted to Beræa. The persecutions of the Jews against the little Church continued, but that only served to consolidate it.
The Jews of Beræa were more liberal and better educated than those of Thessalonica. They listened willingly, and allowed Paul, without interruption, to expound his ideas in the synagogue. For several days it was to them a lively source of curiosity. They passed the time in perusing the Scriptures, in order to find there the texts cited by Paul, and to see whether they were correct. Many were converted, among others a certain Jew, named Sopater or Sosipater, son of Pyrrhus. Here, nevertheless, as in all the other Churches of Macedonia, the women were in the majority. The converts belonged all to the Greek race, to that class of devout persons who, without being Jews, practised the Jewish ceremonies. Many Greeks and proselytes were also converted, and the synagogue for once remained peaceable. The storm came from Thessalonica. The Jews of that city, learning that Paul had preached with success at Beræa, came to the latter city, and renewed there their plotting. Paul was again obliged to depart hurriedly, and without taking Silas with him. Many of the brethren of Beræa accompanied him as an escort.
The warning given by the synagogues of Macedonia was such that sojourning in this country seemed to have become impossible to Paul. He saw himself tracked from city to city, and the rioters to spring up, as it were, from under his feet. The Roman police were not very hostile to him; but they acted in the circumstances according to the 85habitual practice of police. When there was disturbance in the street, they would blame everybody, and without fretting themselves as to that which served as the true pretext for the excitement, they would beg of people to be quiet or to move on. It was in effect an encouragement to disturbance, and to establish in principle that it only needed a few fanatics to deprive a citizen of his liberty. The policeman never piques himself much on philosophy. Paul hence resolved to depart, and to go to some distant country, where the hatred of his adversaries could not follow him. Leaving Silas and Timothy in Macedonia, he, with the Beræans, directed his steps towards the sea.
Thus ended that brilliant Macedonian mission, the most successful of any that Paul had as yet accomplished. Churches composed of entirely new elements had been formed. It was no longer the easy-going Syrian woman, the good-natured Lycaonian woman; it was the subtle, delicate, elegant, spiritual races, who, prepared by Judaism, now embraced the new religion. The coast of Macedonia was completely covered with Greek colonies. The Greek genius had there borne its choicest fruits. These noble Churches of Philippi and of Thessalonica, composed of the most distinguished women of each city, were unquestionably the two greatest conquests that Christianity had yet made. The Jewish woman was outstripped; submissive, retired, and obedient, participating little in religion, the latter was not easily converted. It was the woman “fearing God,” the Greek woman, wearied of the goddesses brandishing their spears on the summit of the Acropolis, the virtuous woman turning her back on a worn-out Paganism, and seeking the pure religion, who was attracted heavenwards. These were the second foundresses of our faith. Next to the Galileans who followed Jesus and served him, Lydia, Phœbe, the obscure pious women of Philippi and of Thessalonica 86are the true saints to whom the new faith owed its most rapid progress.
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