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RETURN OF PAUL TO ANTIOCH—QUARREL BETWEEN PETER AND PAUL—COUNTER-MISSION ORGANISED BY JAMES, BROTHER OF THE LORD.
Paul, however, felt the necessity of revisiting the Churches of Syria. It was three years since he had left Antioch; notwithstanding that his stay there had been shorter than formerly, this new mission had become much more important. The new Churches, recruited from lively, energetic populations, brought to the feet of Jesus homage of an infinite value. Paul had just recounted all this to the Apostles, and bid them attach themselves to the Mother Church, the model of all others. In spite of his taste for independence, he felt sure that, outside of the communion of Jerusalem, there was only schism and dissension. The admirable mixture of opposite qualities which 145could be discerned in him, allowed him to ally, in the most unexpected fashion, docility with pride, revolt with submission, severity with gentleness. Paul chose as a pretext for his departure the celebration of the Passover of the year 54. To give the utmost solemnity to his resolution, and to avoid the possibility of changing his decision, he made a vow to celebrate that Easter at Jerusalem. The mode of performing vows of this kind was to shave the head, and to undertake to say certain prayers, and to abstain from wine during thirty days before the festival. Paul said good-bye to his Church, had his head shaved at Cenchrea, and embarked for Syria. He was accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, who intended to stop at Ephesus, and perhaps also by Silas. As for Timothy, it is probable that he did not go away from Corinth or from the shores of the Ægæan Sea. We find him again at Ephesus within a year.
The ship stayed for some days at Ephesus. Paul had time to go to the synagogue and to dispute with the Jews. They begged him to stay; but he put forward his vow, and declared that at any cost he would celebrate the festival in Jerusalem; all they could get from him was a promise to return. He took leave then of Aquila and Priscilla, and of those with whom he had already entered into relationships, and took ship again for Cæsarea of Palestine, whence he speedily made his way to Jerusalem.
There he celebrated the festival in the way in which he had vowed to do. Perhaps this Hebrew scruple was a concession, like so many others, that he made to the spirit of the Church at Jerusalem. He hoped by an act of great devotion to obtain pardon for his daring, and to conciliate the Judaisers. The discussions were scarcely pacified, and peace was only kept for the sake of business. It is probable that he profited by the opportunity to remit to the poor people in Jerusalem a considerable 146amount of money as alms. Paul, as usual, stayed for a very short time in the metropolis: here there were susceptibilities which could not have failed to bring about divisions if he had prolonged his stay. He, accustomed to live in the exquisite atmosphere of his truly Christian Churches, found here, under the name of Brethren of Jesus, only Jews. He thought that they did not give a sufficiently exalted place to Jesus; he grew indignant that, after Jesus, people should be found to attribute any value whatever to those things which had existed before him.
The head of the Church of Jerusalem was now James, the brother of the Lord. It was not that the authority of Peter had diminished, but he was no longer resident in the city. Partly in imitation of Paul, he had embraced the active apostolic life. The idea that Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles, and Peter the Apostle of the Circumcision, had more and more gained ground. In accordance with this idea, Peter went about preaching the Gospel to the Jews all over Syria. He carried about with him a sister, as spouse and deaconess, thus giving the first example of a married Apostle—an example which the Protestant missionaries more lately followed. John, surnamed Mark, appeared always also as his disciple, his companion, and his interpreter, a circumstance which causes it to be generally believed that the Prince of the Apostles knew no Greek. Peter had in some sort adopted John-Mark, and treated him as a son.
The details of the pilgrimage of Peter are unknown to us. What was told about him in later days is mainly fabulous. We only know that the life of the Apostle of the Circumcision was, like that of the Apostle of the Gentiles, a series of trials. It may be believed also that the itinerary which serves as foundation for the fabulous acts of Peter—a journey which conducts the Apostle from Jerusalem to Cæsarea, from Cæsarea 147along the coast by Tyre, Sidon, Beyrout, Byblos, Tripoli, Antaradus to Laodicea-upon-the-sea, and from Laodicea to Antioch—is but imaginary. The Apostle certainly visited Antioch; we think even that he used it as his headquarters after a certain date. The lakes and the ponds formed by the Orontes and the Arkeuthas about the town, which furnished to the lower classes of the people fresh water fish of inferior quality, perhaps afforded him the opportunity of again taking up his old trade of fisherman.
Many of the brothers of the Lord, and some members of the Apostolic College, travelled even from the bordering parts of Judæa. As Peter, and in a different manner to that of the missionaries of the school of Paul, they travelled with their wives, and lived at the cost of the Churches. The trade which they had exercised in Galilee was not, like that of Paul, of a nature to enable them to subsist upon it, and they had abandoned it a long time ago. The wives who accompanied them, who were called “sisters,” were the origin of those novices, a kind of deaconesses and of nuns, living under the direction of a clergyman, who played an important part in the history of ecclesiastical celibacy.
Peter having thus ceased to be the resident chief of the Church of Jerusalem, several members of the Apostolic Council having in the same way taken up with an itinerant life, the first place in the Mother Church was given up to James. He was thus “the bishop of the Hebrews,” that is to say, of that part of the disciples who spoke the Semitic languages. That did not compromise the chief part of the universal Church: no one had been exigent enough to claim the right to such a title, people being divided between Peter and Paul; but his presidency of the Church at Jerusalem, joined to his quality of brother of the Lord, gave James an immense power, since the Church at Jerusalem always remained the centre of concord. James was, moreover, very old; some ambitious movements, 148too much prejudice, were the consequences of such a position. All the faults which must later make the Court of Rome the flail of the Church, and the principal agent of its corruption, were already germinating in this primitive community of Jerusalem.
James was a worthy man in many respects, but with a narrow mind, that Jesus would have assuredly pierced with his keenest railleries, if he knew him, or even if be knew him as he has been represented to us. Was he really the brother, or only a cousin-german, of Jesus? All the witnesses in this respect agree so well together, that one is forced to believe the latter hypothesis. But, in that case, Nature must have played one of her most fantastic tricks. Perhaps this brother, being converted only after the death of Jesus, possessed less of the true tradition of the Master than those who, without being his relations, had accompanied him in his lifetime. It is less surprising that two children born of the same mother, or of the same family, should have been at first enemies, then reconciled; should remain so profoundly diverse, that the only known brother of Jesus would have been a kind of Pharisee, an ascetic exterior, a devotee tainted with all the absurdities that Jesus attacked without mercy. One thing is certain, namely, that the person who has been called up to this time “James, brother of the Lord,” or “James the Just,” or the “Rampart of the People,” was in the Church of Jerusalem the representative of the most intolerant Jewish party. Whilst the active Apostles travelled all over the world, in order to conquer it for Jesus, the brother of Jesus at Jerusalem did all that was possible to destroy their work, and to contradict Jesus after his death, in a more profound fashion perhaps than he had done in his life-time.
This society of half-converted Pharisees, this world 149which was in reality more Jewish than Christian, living around the temple, preserving the old practices of the Jewish religion, as if Jesus had not declared them vain, formed unbearable company for Paul. That which particularly annoyed him was the opposition of all this class to his missionary work. Like the Jews of the strict observance, the partisans of James did not wish to make proselytes. The ancient religious parties often had such contradictions. On the one hand, they proclaimed that they alone had possession of the truth; on the other, they only wished to enlarge their sphere: they pretended to preserve the truth for themselves. French Protestantism presents in our days a similar phenomenon. Two opposite parties, the one desiring, before everything else, the preservation of old customs; the other capable of gaining to Protestantism a world of new adherents, being produced in the bosom of the reformed Church. The conservative party has waged, in a second ground, a war to the knife. It has repulsed with scandal all that has resembled an abandonment of the family traditions, and it has preferred to the brilliant destinies that are offered to them, the pleasure of remaining a little club, without importance, shut up, composed of well-thinking men,—that is to say, of men partaking of the same prejudices, and regarding the same things as aristocratic. The feeling of defiance that the members of the old party of Jerusalem experienced before the stern missionary who introduced to them multitudes of new brethren without titles of Jewish nobility, must be something analogous. They looked upon themselves as overruled, and instead of falling at the feet of Paul, and thanking him, they found in him a disturber, an intruder who forced his way with men recruited from every place. More than one hard word, it seems, had been exchanged. It is probable that at this moment James, the brother of the Lord, conceived the unsuccessful project of overthrowing 150the work of Jesus,—I mean the project of a counter mission charged to follow the Apostle of the Gentiles, to contradict his dogmas, to persuade converts that they must be circumcised, and practise all the Law. Sectarian movements are not produced without schisms of this kind; when one recalls the heads of Saint-Simonianism quarrelling amongst themselves, but yet remaining ardent Saint-Simonians, and as such voluntarily reconciled by the survivors after his death.
Paul avoided these scandals by setting out as soon as possible for Antioch. It was probably then that Silas left him. The latter was the founder of the Church at Jerusalem. He remained there, and henceforth attached himself to Peter. Silas, as the compiler of the “Acts,” appears to have been a conciliatory man, oscillating between the two parties, and in turn attached to each of the two chiefs; a thoroughly good Christian, and of the opinion which in triumphing saved the Church. Never, in fact, did the Christian Church bear in its bosom a cause of schism so deep as that which agitated it at this moment. Luther and the most fossilised scholar differed less than Paul and James. Thanks to some gentle and generous spirits—Silas, Luke, Timothy—all the attacks were softened, all the heartburnings concealed. A beautiful tale, calm and dignified, has not allowed it to be seen that the fraternal understanding in these years was traversed by such terrible rents.
At Antioch Paul breathed freely. He there met with his old companion Barnabas, and without doubt they felt great joy at seeing each other; for the motive which had separated them for a short time was not a question of principle. Perhaps Paul also found at Antioch his disciple Titus, who had not shared the second journey, but who henceforth attached himself to him. The recital of miraculous conversions wrought by Paul astonished the young and active Church. Paul, for his part, felt a lively 151joy at revisiting the town which had been the cradle of his apostleship—the places where, ten years before, he had conceived the Church which had conferred on him the title of Missionary of the Gentiles. An incident of the greatest gravity was soon to interrupt these sweet effusions, and to revive with a degree of gravity those divisions which up to then had been lulled for a moment.
Whilst Paul was at Antioch, Peter arrived there. This at first only redoubled the joy and cordiality. The Apostle of the Jews and the Apostle of the Gentiles loved each other as very good and very ardent natures always love each other, when they found themselves in relation to each other. Peter communicated without reserve with the converted Pagans, and even, in open violation of the Jewish Law, he did not object to eating with them; but soon this good understanding was disturbed. James had executed his fatal project. Some brethren, provided with letters of recommendation signed by him as the chief of the Twelve, and as the only one who had the right to authorise a mission, set out from Jerusalem. Their pretext was that one could not preach the doctrine of Christ if he had not been to Jerusalem to compare his doctrine with that of James, the brother of the Lord, and if he did not carry an attestation from the latter. Jerusalem was, according to them, the source of all faith,—of every apostolic commission: the true Apostles lived there. Whoever preached without a letter of authority from the chief of the Mother Church, and without having sworn obedience to him, ought to be repelled as a false prophet and a false apostle, as an emissary of the devil. Paul, who had no such letters, was an intruder, boasting of personal relations with them without reality, and of a mission the title to which he could not produce. He alleged his visions, contending even that the fact of having seen Jesus in a supernatural fashion was worth much 152more than the fact of having known him personally. “What can be more chimerical?” said the Jerusalemites. No vision was so valuable as the evidence of the senses: visions are not actualities. The spectre that he saw was perhaps an evil spirit: idolaters had visions as well as saints. When the apparition was questioned, it answered all that was wanted: the spectre shone for an instant, and then disappeared quickly; there was no time to talk to it at leisure. The mind of the dreamer was not his own: in that state volition ceases. To see the Son out of the flesh! but that is impossible: one would die of it. The superhuman brightness of that light would kill. Even an angel, to make himself visible, is obliged to assume a body!”
The emissaries cited on this head a number of visions which had been seen by infidels and heretics, and concluded from them that the chief Apostles, those who had seen Jesus, had an immense superiority. They even declared that they could show texts of Scripture proving that visions came from an offended God, whilst to converse face to face was the privilege of his friends. “How can Paul assert that by an interview of an hour Jesus had rendered him capable of teaching? It needed a whole year of lessons for Jesus to form his Apostles. And if Jesus really appeared to him, how did he know that he did not teach the reverse of the doctrine of Jesus? Let him prove the reality of the interview which he had had with Jesus, by conforming himself to His precepts, by loving His Apostles, by not declaring war with those whom Jesus had chosen. If he wished to serve the truth, let him make himself the disciple of Jesus’ disciples, and then he could be a useful auxiliary.”
The question of ecclesiastical authority and of individual revelation, of Catholicism and of Protestantism, showed itself with a real grandeur. Jesus had settled nothing clearly in this matter. So long 153as he lived, and throughout the first years following his death, Jesus was so essentially the soul and body of His little Church, that no idea of government or of constitution offers itself. Now, on the contrary, it was necessary to know if there was a power representing Jesus, or if the Christian conscience remained free; if to preach Jesus, subscription to articles of faith were necessary, or if he had the command received from Jesus sufficed. As Paul did not offer any other proof of his immediate mission than his affirmation, his position was weak in many ways. We shall see with what prodigies of eloquence and of activity the great innovator, attacked in every quarter, will face all assaults and maintain his position without absolutely breaking with the Apostolic College, whose authority he recognised each time that his liberty was not straitened. But the struggle rendered him less amiable to us. A man who disputes, resists, speaks of himself; a man who maintains his opinion and his prerogative, who gives pain to others, who denounces them to their face, such a man is antipathetic to us. Jesus, in such a case, yielded everything, escaped from his difficulty by some charming word.
The emissaries of James arrived at Antioch. James, while admitting that converted Gentiles could be saved without observing the Law of Moses, in no way admitted that a true Jew, a circumcised Jew, could, without sin, violate the law. The scandal of the disciples of James was at its height when they saw the chief of the Churches of the circumcision act like a true Pagan, and destroy those exterior compacts that a respectable Jew looked upon as titles of nobility and marks of his superiority. They spoke keenly to Peter, who was much frightened. This man, profoundly good and just, wanted peace above everything: he scarcely knew how to contradict anybody. This made him changeable: at least he was so to all appearance; he was easily disconcerted, 154and did not know how to find a quick reply. Already, from the life of Jesus, this kind of timidity, coming from awkwardness rather than from want of heart, had led him into a fault which cost him many tears. Knowing little about argument, incapable of holding up his head against contradiction, in difficult cases he was silent and hesitated. Such a kind of temper made him again commit a great act of feebleness. Placed between two classes of people, one of whom he could not content without annoying the other, he isolated himself completely, and lived apart, refusing all communications with the uncircumcised. This manner of acting keenly wounded the converted Gentiles. What was graver still, was that all the circumcised imitated him; even Barnabas allowed himself to follow this example, and avoided uncircumcised Christians.
Paul’s anger was extreme. When we recall the ritual meaning of the meal in common, refusing to eat with a part of the community meant excommunication. Paul broke out into reproaches, treated this kind of thing as hypocrisy, accused Peter and his imitators of falsifying the meaning of the gospel. The Church must soon assemble: the two Apostles would meet there. To his face, and before all the assembly, Paul violently apostrophised Peter, and reproached him for his inconsequence. “If thou,” said he to him, “being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
Then he developed his favourite theory of the salvation coming by Jesus, and not by the Law,—of the abrogation of the Law by Jesus. It is probable that Peter did not answer him. Exactly, it was Paul’s advice; as all men who seek by innocent artifices to get out of a difficulty, he did not pretend to be right; he only wanted to satisfy one side, and not to alienate others. In this manner one only succeeds, as a general rule, in being in opposition to everybody.155
Only the removal of the envoys of James made an end to the disagreement. After their departure, good Peter began again without doubt to eat with the Gentiles as before. These singular alternatives of violence and of fraternity are one of the features of a Jewish character. Modern critics conclude from certain passages in the Epistle to the Galatians that the quarrel between Peter and Paul absolutely made them contradict each other, not only in the “Acts” but in other passages from the Epistle to the Galatians. Ardent men pass their life in disputing with each other, without ever actually quarrelling. It is not necessary to judge these tempers after the manner of things whose actions happen in our time between men well educated and susceptible upon the point of honour. This last word, in particular, has scarcely ever had any meaning to the Jews.
It seems certain, nevertheless, the quarrel of Antioch left deep traces. The great Church on the borders of the Orontes was split in two, if we are permitted to explain thus, that in two parishes there was on the one hand the parish of the circumcised, on the other, that of the uncircumcised. The separation of these two portions of the Church continued for a long time. Antioch, as they tell us later, had two bishops, one appointed by Peter and the other by Paul. Evhode and Ignatius are named as having filled up after the Apostles that office.
As for the animosity of the emissaries of James, it only increased. The quarrel of Antioch left them a feeling, the indignant expression of which, a century after, one still finds in the writings of the Judæo-Christian section. The eloquent adversary who had almost destroyed the Church of Antioch, without any real reason became their enemy. They vowed vengeance, which even in his lifetime raised up for him troubles without number, and after his death bloody anathemas and atrocious calumnies. 156Passion and religious enthusiasm are far from overcoming human weaknesses. On leaving Antioch, the agents of the Jerusalemite party vowed to overthrow the foundations of Paul, to destroy his Churches, and to throw down what he had built up with so much labour. It seems that on this occasion new letters were sent from Jerusalem in the name of the Apostles. It is possible that a specimen of those hateful letters may have been preserved for us in the Epistle of Jude, brother of James, and like him “brother of the Lord,” which forms part of the canon. It is a manifesto of the most violent description against nameless adversaries, who are presented as rebels and impure men. The style of this piece, which comes much nearer to classic Greek than that of the greater portion of the writings of the New Testament, has much analogy with the style of the Epistle of James. James and Jude did not probably know any Greek: the Church of Jerusalem had perhaps Hellenic secretaries for communications of this kind. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to, write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like 157manner, giving themselves over to fornication, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, the Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of things which they know not, but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots. Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. And Enoch, also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.”
Paul from this moment was for a section of the Church one of the most dangerous of heretics, a false Jew, a false Apostle, a false prophet, a new Balaam, a Jezebel, a villain who prophesied (lit. 158preluded.) the destruction of the temple—in two words, a Simon Magus. Peter was angrier than all, and was always busy in fighting him. They were accustomed to designate the Apostle of the Gentiles by the sobriquet of Nicholas (Conquerer of the People), a name akin to Balaam. This seemed a happy nickname; a Pagan seducer, who had visions although an infidel, a man who persuaded people to sin with Pagan women, appeared the true type of Paul, this false missionary, this partisan of mixed marriages. His disciples for the same reason were called Nicolaitans. Far from forgetting his character of persecutor, they insisted on it in a most odious fashion. His gospel was a false gospel. It was of Paul that the question was raised, when the fanatics of the party talked between themselves in innuendoes of a person whom they called “the apostate,” or “the enemy,” or “the impostor,” the forerunner of Anti-Christ, that the chief of the Apostles follows in his footsteps to repair the evil which he does. Paul was “the frivolous man” of whom the Gentiles, having seen their ignorance, have received the doctrine which is opposed to the Law; his visions, which he calls “depths of God,” they qualified as “the depths of Satan,” his Churches, they named “the synagogues of Satan;” in spite of Paul, they proclaim boldly that the Twelve only are the foundation of the Church of Christ. A whole legend begins from this time to be formed against Paul. They refuse to believe that a true Jew could have been capable of committing such an atrocity as that of which he had been guilty. They pretended that he had been born a Pagan, and that he had been made a proselyte. And why? Calumny is never without plenty of reasons for it. Paul was circumcised because he wished to marry the daughter of the High Priest. The High Priest, being a wise man, having refused her to him, Paul, out of spite, began 159to declaim against circumcision, the Sabbath, and the Law. . . . That is the reward which one obtains from fanatics for having served their cause, otherwise than they understand it; let us say rather, for having served the cause which they lost by their narrow spirit and their foolish exclusiveness.
James, on the contrary, became for the Judæo-Christian party the head of all Christianity, the bishop of bishops, the president of all the good Churches, of those that God had truly founded. It was probably after his death that they created for him this apocryphal character; but there is no doubt that legend in this case may be based in several respects upon the real character of the hero. The grave and rather emphatic delivery of James; his manners, which recalled a sage of the old world, a solemn Brahmin or an antique mobed; his pompous and ostentatious sanctity made him conspicuous in the popular eye, an official, holy man, even already a species of Pope. The Judæo-Christians accustomed themselves to believe that he had been clothed with the Jewish priesthood; and as a sign of the High Priest was the pétalon or breastplate of gold, they decorated him with it. “The Rampart of the people,” with his golden breastplate, thus became a sort of Jewish bonze, an imitation High Priest, for the use of the Judæo-Christians. They supposed that, as the High Priest, he entered, by virtue of a special permission, once a year into the sanctuary; they even pretended that he belonged to the sacerdotal race. They asserted that he had been ordained by Jesus the bishop of the Holy City; that Jesus had entrusted him with his own episcopal throne. The Judæo-Christians made a good many of the people of Jerusalem believe that it was the merits of this servant of God which held off the thunderbolt which was ready to burst on the people. They nearly went as far as creating for him as for 160Jesus, a legend founded upon biblical passages, where they pretended that the prophets had spoken of him in parables.
The image of Jesus in this Christian family became smaller year by year, whilst in the Churches of Paul it took more and more colossal proportions. The Christians of James were simple, pious Jews—hasidim—believing in a Jewish mission of Jesus; the Christians of Paul were good Christians in the sense which has prevailed ever since. The Law, the temple, sacrifices, high priests, all became indifferent to them. Jesus has replaced everything else, abolished everything else; to attach a meaning of sanctity to what has been before, is to do injury to the merits of Jesus. It was natural that to Paul, who had not seen Jesus, the wholly human figure of the Galilæan Master should transform itself into a metaphysical type much more easily than for Peter and the others who had talked with Jesus. To Paul, Jesus is not a man who has lived and taught; he is Christ who has died for our sins, who saves us, who justifies us; He is an altogether Divine being: we partake of him; we communicate with Him in a wonderful manner; He is for man Wisdom and Righteousness, Santification and Redemption; He is the King of Glory, All Powerful in Heaven and Earth, which is soon to be delivered to Him; He is only inferior to God the Father. If this school only had written the Scriptures, we should not touch upon the person of Jesus, and we might doubt its existence. But those who know Him, and who guarded His memory, possibly wrote about this time the first notes upon which these Divine writings (I speak of the Gospels) which have made the fortune of Christianity, and which have transmitted to us the essential features of the most important character which has ever been known.161
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