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FIRST AFFAIR IN REGARD TO CIRCUMCISION.
The return of Paul and Barnabas was hailed in the Church of Antioch with a shout of joy. The whole street of Singon was en fête: the Church was assembled. The two missionaries related their adventures and the things which God had done by them. “God Himself,” said they, “had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts xiv. 27, 28). They spoke of the Churches of Galatia, which were almost wholly composed of Pagans. The Church of Antioch, which had for a long time on his account recognised the legitimacy of the baptism of the Gentiles, approved their conduct. They remained there several months, resting from their labours, and refreshing themselves at that source with the apostolic spirit. It was then, it appears, that Paul converted and adopted as a disciple, companion, and fellow-worker, a young uncircumcised man named Titus, who had been born of Pagan parents, and whom we find henceforth always with him.
A serious dissension, which nearly destroyed the work of Jesus, broke out at that time, and threw the nascent Church into great disorder. This dissension embraced the very essence of the situation. It was 29inevitable. It was a crisis that the new religion could not fail but pass through.
Jesus, in raising religion to the highest summit it had ever attained, had not stated very distinctly whether or not he would remain a Jew. He had not indicated what he desired to conserve of Judaism. Sometimes he asserted that he had come to confirm the Law of Moses, at others, to supplant it. To speak the truth, this was, for a great poet like him, an insignificant detail. When one has reached the point of knowing the Heavenly Father, Him whom one adores in spirit and in truth, one no longer belongs to any sect, to any particular religion, or to any school; one has the true religion: all practices become of no account; one does not despise them, for they are the symbols of what has been or is still respectable; but one ceases to impute to them an intrinsic virtue. Circumcision, baptism, the Passover, unleavened bread, sacrifices, all these become equally secondary matters: one thinks no more about them. None of the uncircumcised, moreover, had identified themselves with Jesus, or his life; the question did not hence call for solution. Like all men of genius, Jesus concerned himself with mind alone. Practical questions of the highest importance, questions which appeared paramount to inferior minds, questions which caused the acutest pain to men of application, had no existence for him.
At his death the confusion was general. Abandoned to themselves, deprived of him who had been for them all a living theology, they returned to the practices of Jewish piety. There were men who were in the highest degree devout; but the devotion of the times was Jewish devotion. They preserved their customs, and fell again into those petty observances that ordinary persons looked upon as the essence of Judaism. The world esteemed them as holy men; and by a singular change of front, 30the Pharisees, who had served as a butt for the keenest satires of Jesus, became almost reconciled to his disciples. It was the Sadducees who showed themselves to be the irreconcilable enemies of the new movement. The minute observance of the Law appeared to them the first condition of being a Christian.
Very soon people encountered, in looking at things from this point of view, the greatest difficulties. For, as soon as the family of Christians increased in numbers, it was exclusively amongst the people of non-Israelitish origin, amongst the sympathetic adherents of Judaism who were uncircumcised, that the new faith found the readiest access. To oblige these to become circumcised was out of the question. Peter, with admirable practical good sense, recognised this clearly. On the other hand, timorous persons, such as James, the brother of the Lord, looked upon it as supreme impiety to admit Pagans into the Church, and to eat with them. Peter put off as far as he was able all solution of the question.
For the rest, the Jews, on their part, found themselves in the same situation, and had taken up a similar position. When proselytes or partisans came to them from all parts, the question presented itself to them. Some advanced minds, honest laymen ignorant of science, and removed from the influence of the doctors, did not insist upon circumcision. Sometimes even they dissuaded the new converts from the practice. These simple-minded and good souls desired only the salvation of the world, and sacrificed all the rest to this. The orthodox, on the contrary, with the disciples of Schammai at their head, declared circumcision to be indispensable. Opposed to the proselytising of the Gentiles, they did nothing to facilitate the cause of religion; on the contrary, they exhibited towards the converts a certain coldness; Schammai drove them out of his 31house we are told, with a bâton. This division was clearly manifested in respect of the royal family of Adiabene. The Jew named Ananias who converted her, and who was by no means a savant, strongly dissuaded Izate against circumcision. “One can live as perfectly,” said he, “as a Jew can, without circumcision; to adore God was the really important thing.” The pious Helene was of the same opinion. A rigorist, named Eleazar, declared, on the contrary, that if the king did not undergo circumcision he was an impious person; that the reading of the Law was of no avail if one did not observe it, and that the highest precept was circumcision. The king, at the risk of losing his crown, followed this advice. The petty kings who embraced Judaism, in view of the rich marriages that the family of Herod offered, submitted to the same rite. But true piety was of a less facile composition than politics and avariciousness. Many of the pious converts led the Jewish life without being subjected to the rite which was reputed by the vulgar as the opening of the door to excesses. It was indeed for them a source of perpetual embarrassment. Society bigots, in whom prejudices are strong, are accustomed to represent their religious practices as matters of good taste, of superior education. Whilst in France the devout man, in order to avow his piety, is compelled to conquer a sort of shame, and of human respect, with the Mussulmans, on the other hand, the man who practices his religion is the gentleman; he who is not a good Mussulman is not the person that he ought to be; his position is analogous to that of a boorish, ill-mannered country man with us. Similarly, in England and in the United States, he who does not observe the Sunday, is put to the ban in good society. Amongst the Jews, the position of the uncircumcised was still worse. Contact with such a being was in their eyes something insupportable; circumcision 32appeared to them as obligatory on every one who wished to live amongst them. He who would not submit to it, was a creature of low quality; a sort of impure animal that people avoided; a wretch with whom a man of good standing could hold no relations.
The grand duality which is the essence of Judaism, was revealed in this. The Law, which was essentially restrictive, and made for the purpose of isolating, was totally different in spirit from the Prophets who dreamt of the conversion of the world, and embraced the widest fields. Two words borrowed from the Talmudic language well defines the difference that we have indicated. The agada, the opposite of the halaka, designates popular preaching, proposes to itself the conversion of the heathen, in opposition to the learned casuistry which only thinks of the strict execution of the Law, without aiming at converting any one. To use the phraseology of the Talmud, the gospels are the agadas; the Talmud, on the contrary, is the highest expression of the halaka. It is the agada which has conquered the world and made Christianity; the halaka is the foundation of orthodox Judaism, which still endures without seeking to extend itself. The agada is represented as a thing principally Galilæan; the halaka as a thing peculiarly Jerusalemitish. Jesus, Hillel, the authors of apocalypses and apochryphas, are agadists, pupils of the Prophets, inheritors of their infinite aspirations; Schammai, the Talmudists, the Jews posterior to the destruction of Jerusalem, are the halakistes, the adherents of the Law, with its strict observances. We shall see, up to the time of the supreme crisis of the year 70, the fanaticism of the Law increasing each day, and, on the eve of the great national disaster, terminating in a sort of reaction against the doctrines of St Paul; in those “eighteen measures” which afterwards rendered impossible all intercourse between 33the Jews and the non-Jews, and opened the sad history of exclusive Judaism, hateful and hated, which was the Judaism of the Middle Ages, and is still the Judaism of the East.
It is clear that, for nascent Christianity, here was the point upon which its future depended. Judaism—did it or did it not impose particular rites upon the multitudes which professed it? Did it establish a distinction between the monotheistic basis which constituted its essence, and the observances with which it was surcharged? If the former party had triumphed, as the Schammaites wished it should, the Jewish propaganda would have been wiped out. It is quite certain that the world would not have become Jewish, in the narrow sense of the word. That which constituted the attraction of Judaism, was not its rites, which did not differ in principle from those of other religions: it was its theological simplicity. We accept it as a sort of deism, or religious philosophy; and, in fact—in the mind of a Philo, for example—Judaism was itself very closely associated with philosophical speculations. With the Essenians it had reassumed the form of a social Utopia; with the author of the poem attributed to Phocylides, it had become a simple catechism of good sense and of honesty; with the author of the treatise of “The Empire of Reason,” a sort of Stoicism. Judaism, like all religions founded primarily upon caste and tribalism, was encumbered by practices destined to separate the believer from the rest of the world. These practices were no longer an obstacle on the day when Judaism justly aspired to become the universal religion, without either exclusion or separation. It was as Deism and not as Mosaicism that it was to become the universal religion of humanity. “Love all men,” said Hillel, “and draw them together with the Law; act not otherwise than you would not wish that others 34should act to you. Here is the whole Law, the rest is the commentary of it.” When we read the treatises of Philo, entitled, “Of the Contemplative Life,” or, “That Every Honest Man is Free;” when we read even the Sibylline verses written by the Jews, we are transported into an order of ideas which contain nothing specially Jewish, into a world of general mysticism which is not more Jewish than Buddhist or Pythagorean. The Pseudo-Phocylides goes the length of abolishing the Sabbath. We perceive that all these men, ardent for the amelioration of humanity, seek to reduce Judaism to a general morale, to strip it of all that it possesses of individuality, and of everything that would make of it a restricted religion.
Three capital reasons, in fact, rendered Judaism a thing very exclusive. These were, circumcision, the prohibition of mixed marriages, and the distinction between meats permissible or forbidden. Circumcision was for adults a painful ceremony; a ceremony, moreover, not free from danger, and disagreeable to the last degree. That was one of the reasons which interdicted the Jews from leading a life in common with other races, and made of them a separate caste. At the baths and at the gymnasiums, most important places in ancient cities, circumcision exposed the Jews to all manner of affronts. Every time that the attention of the Greeks or the Romans was drawn to the subject, it was the signal for outbursts of pleasantry. The Jews were very sensitive on the point, and avenged themselves by cruel reprisals. Many, in order to escape the ridicule, and wishing to pass themselves off for Greeks, attempted to dissimulate their original mark by a surgical operation, the details of which have been preserved to us by Celsus. As for the converts who submitted to that initiatory ceremony, there was only one course they could take—that was, to conceal themselves 35to escape the sarcasms. No man of the world could resign himself to such a situation, and this was doubtless the reason that the conversions to Judaism were much more numerous among the women than among the men, the former not being subjected at first to an experience, shocking and repulsive in every respect. We find many instances of Jewish women being married to Pagans, but there is not a single instance of a Jew being married to a Pagan woman. Hence the origin of much of the jeering. The necessity made itself felt by a broad casuistry which brought peace into troubled households.
Mixed marriages were the origin of difficulties of a similar kind. The Jews regarded these marriages as pure fornication. It was the crime that the kanaīm punished with the dagger, simply because the Law in not prescribing any particular punishment for it, left its repression in the hands of zealots. Although united by faith and love to Christ, two Christians could thus be prevented from contracting marriage. The Israelite converted to Jesus who wished to espouse a sister of the Grecian race, expected that union, holy in his eyes, to be called by the most outrageous names.
The prescriptions as to meats being pure or impure were not of the least consequence. We can judge of this by that which still takes place in our own time. Nudity being no longer a part of modern manners, circumcision no longer subjects Israelites to these inconveniences. But the necessity of slaughtering for themselves continues to be very embarrassing for them. It requires of those who are strict not to eat with Christians, and, consequently, to be sequestered from general society. That precept is the principal cause which still places Judaism, in many countries, in the position of an exclusive sect. In countries where Israelites are not separated from the rest of the nation, it is a rock of offence; for, to 36understand it, it is sufficient on this point to have seen Puritan Jews arrive from Germany or Poland, who are shocked at the licences their co-religionists permit on this side of the Rhine. In cities like Salonica, in which the majority of the population is Jewish, and where the wealth is in the hands of the Jews, the actual trade of the community is on this account rendered impossible. Even in ancient times these restrictions were irksome. A Jewish law, the relic of innumerable centuries during which the responsibilities of property were an essential part of religious legislation, stamped the pig with a brand of infamy, which had no raison d’être in Europe. That old antipathy, having its origin in the East, appeared puerile to the Greeks and the Romans. A multitude of other prohibitions had descended from a time when one of the pre-occupations of the leaders of civilisation was to constrain their subordinates from eating things unclean, or from touching carrion. The hygiene of marriage, in fine, had given room for the enacting of a code of legal impurities for women sufficiently complicated. The peculiarity of these kind of prohibitions is their survival from times when they had a raison d’être, and of their becoming at length so vexatious that they might have had their origin in what was proper and salutary.
One particular circumstance gave to the prohibitions in regard to meat much importance. The flesh provided for the sacrifices made to the gods was considered as impure. Now these meats, after the sacrifices, were often carried to the market, where it became very difficult to distinguish them; hence the inextricable scruples. The strict Jews did not regard as lawful the indiscriminate provisioning of them-selves in the market. They held that the seller should be questioned as to the origin of the meat, and that before accepting the dish the host should be questioned as to how it had been supplied. The imposing 37of that load of casuistry upon converts had evidently been carried to excess. Christianity would not have been Christianity if, like the Judaism of our day, it had been compulsory to have slaughtering done separately, or if the Christian could not, without violating his conscience, eat with other men. When one has discovered in that network of difficulties religions surcharged with prohibitions pertaining to life; when one has seen the Jew in the East; the Mussulmans separated by their ritualistic laws, as if by a wall, from the European world, where they might take their place, one can comprehend the immense importance of the questions which were to be decided at the time at which we are now arrived. The question to be decided was, whether Christianity should be a religion of formulas and rituals, a religion of ablutions, of purifications, of distinctions between things pure and things impure, or, on the other hand, the religion of mind, the idealistic cult, which has killed or shall kill by degrees religious materialism, all formularies, all ceremonies. Or, better still, the question to be decided was whether Christianity was to be a petty sect or a universal religion; whether the idea of Jesus should be overshadowed by reason of the incapacity of his disciples; or whether that idea, by virtue of its original force, should triumph over the scruples of backward and narrow minds, which were ready to have it replaced and obliterated.
The mission of Paul and Barnabas had presented the question with such a force that there was no way of avoiding a solution. Paul, who in the first period of his ministry had, it appears, preached circumcision, now declared it useless. He had surreptitiously admitted Pagans into the Church; he had constituted Churches composed of Gentiles; Titus, his intimate friend, had not been circumcised. The Church at Jerusalem could not longer close its 38eyes to facts so notorious. Broadly speaking, this Church was, on the point with which we are now engaged, hesitating, or favourable to the party the most backward. The conservative senate was there. In close proximity to the Temple, in perpetual contact with the Pharisees, the old Apostles, timid and narrow-minded, could not lend themselves to the profoundly revolutionary theories of Paul. Many of the Pharisees, however, had embraced Christianity without renouncing the essential principles of their sect. To such persons, the supposition that one could be saved without circumcision was blasphemy. To them the Law seemed to remain in its entirety. They had been told that Jesus had come to fulfil the Law, not to abrogate it. The privileges of the children of Abraham appeared to them intact: the Gentiles could not enter into the kingdom of God without being previously affiliated with the family of Abraham; in a word, before becoming a Christian, it was necessary to be made a Jew. Never, we can see, had Christianity had to resolve a more fundamental doubt. If one might credit the Jewish party, the love feast even, the common repast, would have been impossible; the two sections of the Church of Jesus would not have been able to commune the one with the other. From the theological point of view, the matter was still more serious; the question was to know whether one could be saved through the works of the Law or by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Some members of the Church of Judæa having arrived at Antioch without, as it would appear, any mission from the apostolic body, provoked discussion. They proclaimed loudly that one could not be saved without circumcision. It is necessary to recall that the Christians, who had at Antioch a name and a distinct individuality, had nothing of the kind at Jerusalem; that which did not oppose whoever came from Jerusalem had not in the whole Church much force, 39for the centre of authority was there. People were greatly excited. Paul and Barnabas resisted in the most energetic manner. There were long disputes. To bring it to an end, it was decided that Paul and Barnabas should go to Jerusalem to consult with the Apostles and the Elders on the subject.
The question had for Paul a personal importance. His action until now had been almost entirely independent. He had only spent a fortnight at Jerusalem since his conversion, and for eleven years he had not put a foot in it. In the eyes of many he was a sort of heretic, teaching on his own account, and scarcely in communion with the rest of the faithful. He declared proudly that he had had his revelation, his apostleship. To go to Jerusalem was, in appearance at least, to forfeit his liberty, to subject his apostleship to that of the Mother Church, to learn from others what he knew through his own and personal revelation. He did not deny the authority of the Mother Church; but he defied it, because he was acquainted with the obstinacy of some of its members. He therefore took precautions so as not to compromise himself too much. He declared that in going to Jerusalem he would not submit to any dictation; he even feigned, indulging a pretension that was habitual to him, that in this he was obeying a command of Heaven, and of having had a revelation on the subject. He took with him his disciple Titus, who shared all his opinions, and who, as we have said above, was not circumcised.
Paul, Barnabas, and Titus set out on their journey. The Church at Antioch accompanied them on their route as far as Laodicæa-on-the-sea. They followed the coast of Phœnicia, then traversed Samaria, finding at every step brethren, to whom they recounted the marvels of the conversion of the Gentiles. There was great joy everywhere. In this way they reached Jerusalem. This was one of the most 40solemn hours in the history of Christianity. The grand doubt was now to be solved. The men upon whom rested the whole future of the new religion were going to be ranged face to face. Upon their grandeur of soul, upon their uprightness of heart depended the future of humanity.
Eighteen years had rolled on since the death of Jesus. The Apostles had grown old. One of them had suffered martyrdom. Others probably were dead. We know that the deceased members of the apostolic college were not replaced; that the college became extinct when they had disappeared. On the part of the Apostles, they formed themselves into a college of elders, in which authority was divided. The “Church,” the reputed depository of the Holy Spirit, was composed of the Apostles, of the elders, and of all the brotherhood. Amongst the simple-minded brethren themselves there were degrees. Inequality was perfectly admissible; but that inequality was altogether moral; it was neither a question of external prerogative nor of material advantage. The three principal “pillars,” as we have said, of the community were still Peter, James, the brother of the Lord, and John, the son of Zebedee. Many Galileans had disappeared. They had been replaced by a certain number of persons belonging to the party of the Pharisees. “Pharisee” was synonymous with “devotee”; but all the best saints of Jerusalem were also strong devotees. Lacking the mind, the finesse, the grandeur of Jesus, they had, after his death, fallen into a kind of stupid bigotry, a state similar to that which their master so strongly combated. They were incapable of irony; they had almost forgotten the eloquent invectives of Jesus against the hypocrites. Some had developed into a sort of Jewish Indian priests, after the manner of John the Baptist and of Banou, monks totally addicted to formulas, and at whom Jesus certainly, if 41he had been still alive, could not have aimed sarcasms enough.
James, in particular, surnamed the Just, or “the brother of the Lord,” was one of the most exact observers of the Law that there was. According to certain traditions—very doubtful, it is true—he was even an ascetic, practising all the Nazarene abstinences, observing celibacy, drinking no intoxicating liquors, eschewing flesh, never cutting his hair, forbidding himself anointings and baths, wearing neither sandals nor garments of wool, clothed in plain linen. Nothing, we see, was more contrary to the idea of Jesus, who, at least from the death of John the Baptist, declared affectations of that kind perfectly vain. Abstinence—already in favour with certain branches of Judaism—became the fashion, and formed the dominant trait of the fraction of the Church which, later on, was to be connected with a pretended Ebion. The pure Jews were opposed to those abstinences; but the proselytes, particularly the women, inclined much to them. James did not stir from the Temple; he remained there alone, it is said, for long hours in prayer, until the callus of his knees had contracted, like those of the chamois. It is believed that he passed his time there after the manner of Jeremiah, a penitent for the people, weeping for the sins of the nation, and turning aside the chastisements that threatened them. He had only to raise his hands to heaven to perform miracles. He had been surnamed the Just, and also Obliam, that is to say, “Rampart of the people,” because it was supposed that it was his prayers which prevented the Divine wrath from sweeping everything away. The Jews, as we are assured, held him in the same veneration as the Christians. If that singular man was really the brother of Jesus, he must have been at least one of those inimical brothers who abjured him and wished him arrested; and it is probable to 42such recollections that Paul, irritated by a mind so narrow, made allusion when he wrote concerning these pillars of the Church at Jerusalem:—“Whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth no man’s person” (Gal. ii. 6). Jude, the brother of James, was, it seems, in entire agreement with his ideas.
To sum up, the Church at Jerusalem had been more and more broadened by the spirit of Jesus. The dead weight of Judaism had borne it down. Jerusalem was for the new faith an unwholesome centre, and would have ended by destroying it. In that capital of Judaism, it was very difficult to cease being a Jew. Moreover, new men, like St Paul, all but systematically avoided residing there. Forced now, under pain of being separated from the primitive Church, to come to confer with their elders, they found themselves in a position full of hardship; and the work, which could not live except by the power of concord and of abnegation, ran an immense risk.
The interview, in fact, was singularly protracted and embarrassing. People listened favourably at first to the account that Paul and Barnabas gave of their missions; for every one, even the most Judaised, was of opinion that the conversion of the Gentiles was the harbinger of the Messiah. The curiosity to see the man of whom so much was being said, and who had led the sect into so new a path, was at first very lively. They glorified God for having made an Apostle out of a persecutor. But when they came to circumcision, and the obligation of practising the Law, dissension broke out in all its force. The Pharisean party set forth its pretensions in the most uncompromising manner. The party in favour of emancipation responded with triumphant force. They cited the cases of several uncircumcised persons who had received the Holy Ghost. If God made no distinction between Pagans and 43Jews, how could they have the temerity to do it for Him? How could that be held for unclear which God had purified? Why impose a yoke on the converts that the race of Israel had not been able to bear? It was through Jesus that one was saved, and not through the Law. Paul and Barnabas advanced in support of that thesis the miracles which God had wrought for the conversion of the Gentiles. But the Pharisees objected with no less force that the Law was not abolished; that one never ceased to be a Jew; that the obligations of a Jew remained ever the same. They refused to hold relations with Titus, who was uncircumcised; they openly accused Paul of infidelity, and of being an enemy of the Law.
The most admirable characteristic in the histories of the origins of Christianity is that that radical and serious division, embracing a question of the first importance, did not occasion in the Church a complete schism, which would have been its ruin. The eager and impulsive mind of Paul had here a splendid opportunity of displaying itself; his sound practical sense, his sagacity, and his judgment, remedied everything. The two parties were eager, excited, almost harsh to one another; nobody rejected his advice; the question was not yet shaped; people remained united in the common work. A superior bond, the love that every one had for Jesus, the remembrance which all entertained for him, were stronger than the divisions. The most fundamental dissension that was ever produced in the bosom of the Church, did not lead to reprobation. This is a great lesson that succeeding centuries have seldom been able to imitate.
Paul understood that in large and heated assemblies he could never succeed, because that there narrow minds would always have the sway, and because Judaism was too long at Jerusalem for one 44to hope to be able to extort from it a concession of principles. He went and saw separately all personages of consideration, in particular, Peter, James, and John. Peter, like all men who exist for the most part on elevated sentiment, was indifferent to questions of party. These disputes grieved him; he wished for union, concord, and peace. His timid and rather contracted mind detached itself with difficulty from Judaism; he would have preferred that the new converts had accepted circumcision, but he saw the impossibility of such a solution. Deep and tender natures are always undecided; they sometimes even have to resort to a little dissimulation. They desire to please everybody—no question of principle seems with them to outweigh the value of peace. They let themselves be carried away by different parties, and to making contradictory promises and engagements. Peter sometimes committed this by no means heinous fault. To Paul, he was for uncircumcision; to the strict Jews, be sided with the partisans of circumcision. The soul of Paul was so grand, so sincere, so full of the new zeal which Jesus had brought into the world, that Peter could not fail to sympathise with him. They loved each other, and when they were together, it was as sovereigns of the entire world of the future, which they divided between them.
It was doubtless at the close of one of their conversations that Paul, with the exaggeration of language and the verve that were habitual to him, said to Peter, “We quite understand one another; yours is the gospel of circumcision; mine is the gospel of uncircumcision.” Paul laid hold of these words later on as a sort of regular treaty, which ought to be accepted by all the Apostles. It is difficult to believe that Peter and Paul should dare to repeat outside their private conversations words which would have injured to the highest degree the pretensions 45of James, and probably even those of John. But the words were uttered. These large schemes, which were hardly those of Jerusalem, struck greatly the enthusiastic soul of Peter. Paul made upon him the greatest impression, and won him over completely. Up to this time Peter had travelled little; his pastoral visits had not, it seems, been extended beyond Palestine. He must have been about fifty years of age. Paul’s eagerness for travelling, the recitals of the apostolic journeys, the projects that had been communicated to him in regard to the future, fired his zeal. It was from this time that Peter was seen to absent himself from Jerusalem, and to lead in his turn the wandering life of apostleship.
James, with the sanctity of a life so equivocal, was the chief of the Judaistic party. It was through him that almost all the conversions of Pharisees had been made: the exigencies of that party were imposed on him. Everything tends to the belief that he did not make any concession upon the dogmatic principle; nevertheless, a moderate and conciliatory opinion soon began to make itself manifest. The legitimacy of the conversion of the Gentiles was admitted; it was declared that it was useless to be disquieted in regard to what concerned circumcision; it was only necessary to maintain a few interesting prescriptions, the morale or the suppression of which would shock too keenly the Jews. In order to reassure the Pharisean party, it was remarked that the existence of the Law was not for the sake of compromise, seeing that Moses had from time immemorial, and would always be, for the people to be read in the synagogues. The converted Jews thus remained submissive to the entire Law, and the exemptions only concerned the converted Pagans. In practice, however, people were to avoid shocking those who had more contracted 46ideas. It was probably these moderate persons, the authors of that harmless contradiction, who counselled Paul to induce Titus to let himself be circumcised. Titus, in fact, had become one of the principal difficulties of the situation. The converted Pharisees of Jerusalem willingly supported the idea that, far removed from them, at Antioch, or in the depths of Asia Minor, there were Christians uncircumcised. But in their midst at Jerusalem, to be obliged to associate with them, and thus to commit a flagrant violation of that Law to which they were attached to the bottom of their hearts, this was what they could not consent to.
Paul took the most infinite precautions in acceding to this demand. It was indeed owned that it was not as a matter of necessity that the circumcision of Titus was demanded, as Titus would remain a Christian even if he did not submit to that rite; but it was asked of him as a mark of condescension for the brethren whose consciences were pledged, and who otherwise could not hold relations with him. Paul consented, but not without uttering some severe words against the authors of such an exaction, against those false brethren who only had entered the Church to diminish the extent of the liberties created by Jesus. He protested that be would in nothing submit his opinions to theirs; that the concession he had made was for once only, for the sake of the general good, and of peace. With such reservations he gave his consent, and Titus was circumcised.
That concession cost Paul much, and the sentence in which he spoke of it is one of the most original that he ever wrote. The language that it cost him seemed not to be able to run off his pen. The sentence, at first sight, appeared to mean that Titus was not circumcised, whilst it implied that he was. The remembrance of that painful moment often returned to him; that semblance of returning to Judaism appeared 47to him sometimes as a denying of Jesus; he re-assured himself by saying,—“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” Like all men who possess a multiplicity of ideas, Paul set little store by forms. He perceived the vanity of everything which was not a thing of the soul, and when the supreme interests of conscience were at play, he, usually so stubborn, abandoned all else.
The capital concession which involved the circumcision of Titus, appeased much of the ill-feeling. It was admitted that in distant countries in which the new converts had no daily intercourse with the Jews, it would be sufficient if they abstained from blood, together with meats offered in sacrifice to the gods, or suffocated, and that they observed the same laws as the Jews in regard to marriage, and the relations between the sexes. The use of pork meat, the interdiction of which was everywhere the symbol of Judaism, was left free. It was almost the embodiment of the Noachic precepts; that is to say, which it was supposed had been revealed to Noah, and which were imposed on all proselytes. The idea that the blood was the life, that the blood was life itself, inspired in the Jews an extreme horror for meats from which the blood had not been let. To abstain from these was for them a precept of natural religion. Demons were supposed to be particularly greedy of blood, so in eating meat not bled people ran the risk of having for companion of the food they partook of a demon. A man who about that period wrote under the usurped name of the celebrated Greek moralist Phocylides a short course of Jewish natural morals, simplified the usages of the non-Jews, by seizing upon similar solutions. That bold impostor did not essay to convert his reader to Judaism; he sought merely to inculcate on him the “Noachical precepts,” with some greatly modified Jewish rules in regard to meat and to marriage. The first of these rules 48was altered by him to accord with hygienic requirements and alimentary convenience, to the abstaining from things forbidden or unclean; the second had reference to the regulating and the purifying of sexual relations. All the rest of the Jewish ritual went for nothing.
For the rest, that which issued from the assembly at Jerusalem was only agreed to by word of mouth, and was not even stated in very strict terms, for we shall see them frequently set aside. The idea of dogmatic canons emanating from a council was not yet heard of. By reason of profound good sense, these simple people attained to the loftiest pinnacle of policy. They saw that the only way of escaping great questions was to leave them unresolved, to take a middle course which would please no one, and to leave problems to wear themselves out, and to die from lack of a raison d’être.
People were content to be divided. Paul explained to Peter, James, and John the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles; the former entirely approved of it, finding nothing in it to reprimand, and not attempting to add anything thereto. Paul and Barnabas were heartily given the right hand of fellowship; their immediate right divine to the apostleship of the Pagan world was admitted; people recognised in them a sort of peculiar grace for what was the special object of their vocation. The title of Apostle of the Gentiles, which Paul had already assumed, was, as he assures us, officially conferred on him; and without doubt people accorded to him, at least by tacit assent, the fact which he prized the most, to wit, that he had had his special revelation as direct as those who had seen Jesus; in other words, that his vision on the way to Damascus was of as much importance as the other appearances of Christ risen from the dead. All that was required of the three representatives of the 49Church of Antioch in return, was not to forget the poor at Jerusalem. The Church of that city, in fact, by reason of its communistic organisation, its peculiar responsibilities, and the misery which reigned in Judea, appeared to be nearing its last gasp. Paul and his party accepted gladly that idea. They hoped by a kind of contribution to shut the mouth of the intolerant Jerusalemitish party, and to reconcile it with the thought that he existed for the Church of the Gentiles. By means of a trifling tribute they purchased liberty of thought, and remained in communication with the central Church, outside of which one did not dare hope for salvation.
In order that no doubt should remain as to the reconciliation, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, in returning to Antioch, were to be accompanied by two of the principal members of the Church at Jerusalem, Judas Bar-Saba and Silvanus or Silas, who were charged with disavowing the brethren from Judæa who had created the trouble in the Church at Antioch, and to render witness to Paul and Barnabas, whose services and devotion were recognised. The joy at Antioch was very great. Judas and Silas held the rank of prophets: their inspired speech was appreciated extremely by the Church at Antioch. Silas was so much charmed with that atmosphere of life and of liberty, that he had no desire to return to Jerusalem. Judas alone returned to the Apostles, and Silas attached himself to Paul by bonds of brotherhood, which every day became more intimate.50
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