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THIRD JOURNEY OF PAUL—FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.
Less great, less possessed by the sacred genius whicn had seized upon him, Paul was made use of in these barren disputes. To reply to little minds, he was obliged to make himself as mean as they were: these miserable quarrels had absorbed him. Paul scorned them as a man of superior genius should. He went straight forward, and left time to decide between him and his enemies. The first rule for a man devoted to great things, is to refuse mediocre men the power of turning him aside from his way. Without discussing with the delegates of James as 173to whether it were right or wrong to preach to the Gentiles and to convert them, Paul only thought of beginning again, even at the risk of encountering new anathemas. After some months passed at Antioch he departed on a third mission, on this occasion to his dear Galatian Churches. At times he was in great perplexity with regard to these Churches; he regretted having grieved them by using harsh language to them; he wished to change his tone, to correct by the gentleness of his words the asperity of his letter. Paul wished above all things to dwell at Ephesus, which he had only touched at first in order to constitute a preaching centre such as there was at Thessalonica and Corinth. The field of that third mission was thus very nearly that of the second. Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece were the provinces that Paul in some sort assigned to himself.
He set out from Antioch, accompanied probably by Titus. He followed the same track as on his second journey, and visited for the third time the Churches of the centre of Asia Minor—Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia. He speedily regained his authority, and soon effaced such false impressions as still remained, and which his enemies had sought to raise against him. At Derbe he took as assistant a new disciple, named Gaius, who followed him. These good Galatians were full of docility, but weak in the faith. Paul, accustomed to express himself with firmness, treated them with a severity that sometimes even he himself was afraid they would take for harshness. He had scruples; he was afraid that he had spoken to his children in a manner that perhaps did not express clearly enough the affection there was for them in his heart.
The motives that had made him in his second journey abstain from preaching the gospel to pro-consular Asia existing no longer, Paul, after having 174finished his tour in Galatia, set out for Ephesus. This was in the middle of the summer. From Antioch in Pisidia, the most natural route to follow should have led him to Apamea-Cibotus, and thence into the basin of the Lycus, to the three neighbouring towns of Colosse, of Laodicæa, of Hierapolis. These three towns for some years will form an active centre of Christian work, and Paul will be in close communication with them. But for the moment he did not stop here, and made acquaintance with no one. Going round the rock of Cadmas, he passed into the valley of Meander, towards the inns of Carura, a great highway of the roads of Asia. Thereçe, a beautiful and easy route, leads, in three days, by Nysa, Tralles, and Magnesia, to the summits of the chain which separates the waters of the Meander from those of the Caystrus. A ravine, where the ancient road and the torrent dispute the narrow space, descends into “the prairie of Asia,” sung of by the Homerides, that is to say, into the plain where the Caystrus forms a lagoon before reaching the sea. It is a beautiful Greek site, with a clear horizon, formed sometimes of from five to six mountain heights, or bounded by low hills. The swans and the beautiful birds which met there at that time even as now gave all the charm of antiquity. There, partly in the marshes, partly hanging to the declivities of Mount Coressus, supported, besides, by Mount Prion and its surroundings on another little isolated hill, rose the immense town destined to be the third capital of Christianity after Jerusalem and Antioch.
We have already had occasion several times to remark that Christianity was most readily accepted in the smaller towns of the Roman Empire. The policy of that Empire had been to multiply isolated municipalities; isolated as regards race, religion, and patriotism. Ephesus was like Alexandria, Antioch, and Corinth, a typical town of this kind. It is easy 175thus to imagine what are still, in our days, the great towns of the Levant. What strikes the traveller when he goes through these labyrinths of infectious bazaars, of narrow and filthy courtyards, of temporary structures, which do not seem expected to last long?—it is the litter of a noble, of a political, and even of a municipal spirit. In these swarms of men, vulgarity and good instincts, idleness and activity, impertinence and amiability, meet each other: everything is found there excepting what constitutes an old local aristocracy; I would say glorious remembrances cultivated in common. With all that, there is much gossiping, prattling, levity; nearly everybody knows everybody else, and the people for ever occupy themselves with each other’s business; there is something active, passionate, unsteady,—a vain curiosity of frivolous folk, greedy after the smallest novelty, ever ready to follow the fashion, never capable of setting it. Christianity was a fruit of that species of fermentation which usually arises in societies of this kind, where men, freed from the prejudices of birth and race, take up more readily the philosophical attitude which calls itself cosmopolitan and humanitarian, than the peasant, the burgess, the noble, or feudal citizen can do. Like the Socialism of our days, like all new ideas, Christianity germinates in what may be called the corruption of great towns. This corruption, in fact, is often only a plainer and freer life, a greater indication of the hidden forces of humanity.
Formerly, as now, the Jews in such mixed towns held a very conspicuous position. That place was, to a small extent, what Smyrna and Salonica are at the present day. Ephesus especially possessed a very populous Jews’ quarter. The Pagan inhabitants were fanatical enough, as happens in all towns which are centres of pilgrimages and famous rites. The devotion to Artemis of Ephesus, spreading over 176the entire world, supported several considerable industries. But the importance of the town as the capital of Asia, the movement of business, the wealth of the people, of every race, made Ephesus a very useful centre for the diffusion of Christian ideas. These ideas found nowhere a better reception than in the populous commercial cities, full of strangers, visited by Syrians, Jews, and that population of uncertain origin who from time to time have commanded all the ports of the Mediterranean.
For centuries Ephesus had been nothing more than a purely Hellenic town. Formerly Ephesus had shone in the first rank, the least artistic among the Greek cities; but now and then she had allowed herself to be seduced by the manners of Asia. The town always had a bad reputation among the Greeks. Corruption, the introduction of luxury, was, according to the Greeks, a result of the effeminate manners of Ionia; at this time, and in this way, Ephesus was the centre and the abridgment of Ionia. The domination of the Lydians and of the Persians had destroyed energy and patriotism alike. Ephesus, like Sardis, was the most advanced point of Asiatic influence upon Europe. The excessive importance which the worship of Artemis took there, extinguished the scientific spirit, and favoured the over-flowing of all superstitions. It was an almost theocratic town; the fêtes there were numerous and splendid; the right wing of the temple peopled the town with courtesans. The scandalous sacerdotal institutions maintained there appeared each day more devoid of all sense of shame. That brilliant country of Heraclites, of Parhasius, perhaps of Apella, was only a town of porticoes, of stadia, of gymnasia, of theatres, a town of common-place sumptuosity, in spite of the masterpieces of painting and of sculpture that she still guards.
Although the gate had been spoilt by the engineers 177of Attains Philadelphus, the town increased rapidly, and became the principal emporium of the region on this side of the Taurus. It was the port of landing for what came from Italy and Greece, a sort of hostelry or mart on the threshold of Asia. Produce of every kind was heaped together there, and the town became a cosmopolitan one, where the socialistic ideas gained ground among the men who had lost all idea of patriotism. The country was extremely rich; the commerce immense; but nowhere was public spirit at a lower ebb. The inscriptions breathed the most shameful servility, the most absolute submission to the Romana.
It has been called the meeting-place of harlots and their prey. The town swarmed with magicians, diviners, mummers, and flute players; eunuchs, jewellers, sellers of amulets and medals, and romancers. The title of “Ephesian novels” designated, like that of “Milesian fables,” a species of literature, Ephesus being one of the towns which was especially chosen as the scene of love romances. The softness of the climate, in fact, put aside serious things: dancing and music remained the sole occupation. Public life degenerated into bacchanalian festivities: there was no such thing as study. The most extravagant miracles of Apollonius are reputed to have happened at Ephesus. The most celebrated Ephesian of the time at which we have now arrived was an astrologer named Balbilas, who possessed the confidence of Nero and Vespasian, and who appears to have been a scoundrel. A beautiful Corinthian temple, whose ruins can be seen at the present day, was raised about the same period. It was perhaps a temple dedicated to poor Claudius, whom Nero and Agrippa had just “drawn to heaven with a hook,” according to the happy word of Gallio.
Ephesus had already been reached by Christianity when Paul went to sojourn there. We have seen 178that Aquila and Priscilla had remained there, after having set out from Corinth. This pious couple, to whom, by a singular destiny, it was reserved to figure in the origin of the Churches of Rome, of Corinth, of Ephesus, formed a little nucleus of disciples. Of this number, doubtless, was that Epasnetus whom St Paul calls “the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ,” and whom he loved so much. Another much more important conversion was that of a Jew named Apollonius or Apollos, originally of Alexandria, who had settled at Ephesus a little after the first journey of Paul. He had acquired in the Jewish schools of Egypt a profound knowledge of the Scriptures, an ingenious manner of interpreting them, a sublime eloquence. He was a kind of Philo, in quest of new ideas which then dawned on all parts of Judaism. In his journeys, he found him-self of the same belief with the disciples of John the Baptist, and had received their baptism. He had also heard them speak of Jesus, and it seems certain that from that time he accorded to the latter the title of Christ; but his idea of Christianity was incomplete. On his arrival at Ephesus he betook himself to the synagogue, where he had much success by his lively and inspired delivery. Aquila and Priscilla heard him, and were enraptured to receive such an auxiliary. They took him aside, instructed him more fully, and gave him more precise ideas upon certain points. As they were not very clever theologians themselves, they did not dream, it seems, of re-baptising him in the name of Jesus. Apollos formed around him a little group, whom he taught his doctrine, corrected by Aquila and Priscilla, but on whom he merely bestowed the baptism of John, the only one he knew. After some time he wished to pass into Achaia, and the brethren of Ephesus gave him a very warm letter of recommendation to those of Corinth.179
It is under these circumstances that Paul arrived at Ephesus. He lodged with Aquila and Priscilla, as he had already done at Corinth; associated himself anew with them, and worked in their shop. Ephesus was justly celebrated for its tents. The artisans of this trade probably inhabited the poor suburbs which extended from Mount Prion to the steep hill of Aiā-Solouk. There doubtless was the first Christian household; the apostolic basilicas were there, the venerated graves of all Christianity. After the destruction of the temple of Artemis, Ephesus having exchanged its Pagan celebrity for an equally celebrated Christianity, and having become a town of the first order in the memories and legends of the new worship. Byzantine Ephesus was wholly grouped round a hill which had the advantage of possessing the most precious monuments of Christianity. The old site being exchanged from an infectious marsh, where an active civilisation had ceased to regulate the course of the waters, the old town had been abandoned little by little; its gigantic monuments, in consequence of their nearness to navigable canals and the sea, had been made use of as quarries, and thus the town had been displaced for nearly a league. Perhaps the choice of a domicile which some poor Jews in the reign of Claudius or Nero had made was the first cause of this removal. The most ancient Turkish conquest continued the Byzantine tradition; a great Mussulman town succeeded to the Christian town, which still exists in the midst of so many memories of ruin, fever, and oblivion.
Paul was not here, as he was in his first missions, in the midst of a synagogue, ignorant of the new mystery, which he must endeavour to gain over. He had before him a Church which had been formed in the most original and spontaneous fashion, with the aid of two good Jewish merchants, and of a strange doctor, who was still only half a Christian. The company 180of Apollos was composed of about twelve members. Paul questioned them, and perceived that their faith was still incomplete: in particular, they had never heard of the Holy Ghost. Paul completed their instruction, re-baptised them in the name of Jesus, and “laid his hands on them.” The Spirit immediately descended on them; they spake with tongues, and prophesied like perfect Christians.
The Apostle sought to enlarge this little circle of believers. He was not afraid of finding himself here in the presence of the intellectual and scientific spirit which had stopped him short at Athens. Ephesus was not a great intellectual centre. Superstition reigned there without any control; everybody lived in foolish preoccupations of demonology and theology. The magic formulas of Ephesus (Ephesia Grammata) were celebrated, books of sorcery abounded, and a number of men employed their time in these foolish puerilities. Apollonius of Tyana was at Ephesus about this time.
Paul, according to his habit, preached in the synagogue. During the space of three months, he did not cease each Sabbath to teach the Kingdom of God. He had little success. They did not come against him with riotings or severities, but they received his doctrine with insulting and scornful words. He then resolved to renounce the synagogue, and re-united himself to part of his disciples in a place which they called Σχολὴ Τυράννου, “The school of one Tyrannus.” Perhaps it was a public spot there, one of those scholæ or semicircular vaults (or apses) which were so numerous in ancient towns, and which served as xystes for conversation and free instruction. Perhaps, on the other hand, it served as a private hall of a personage—of a grammarian, for example—named Tyrannus. In general, Christianity profited very little by these scholæ, which nearly always formed parts of the hot baths and gymnasia. The favourite 181place of the Christian propaganda, after the synagogue, was the private house, the chimney corner, In this vast metropolis of Ephesus. preaching might, however, be done openly. During two years, Paul did not cease to speak in the Schola Tyranni. This prolonged teaching in a public place, after a little time, made noise enough. The Apostles supplemented it by frequent visits to the houses of those who had been converted or touched. All pro-consular Asia heard the name of Jesus, and several Churches, subordinate to Ephesus, were established around. They also spoke of certain miracles effected by Paul. His reputation as a worker of miracles had reached such a point that people eagerly sought for the “hand-kerchiefs and aprons” which had touched his garment, to apply them to the sick. They believed that a medical virtue was exhaled from his body, and was so transmitted.
The taste of the Ephesians for magic introduced episodes still more shocking. Paul was believed to have a great power over devils. It appears that the Jewish exorcists sought to steal his charms and to exorcise “in the name of Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” There is a legend of the misadventure of these quacks, who pretended to be sons or disciples of a certain High Priest named Scæva. Having wished to drive out an evil spirit by means of the aforesaid formula, they were grossly insulted by the possessed man, who not content with that, threw himself upon them, tore their clothes in pieces, and beat them soundly. The degradation of the popular mind was such, that many Jews and many Pagans believed in Jesus for such a poor motive. These conversions took place above all among the men who occupied themselves with magic. Struck by the superiority of Paul’s formula, the lovers of occult sciences came to him to exchange confidences concerning their practices. Many even brought their 182books of magic and burnt them; they valued at fifty thousand pieces of silver (drachmæ) the price of the Ephesia Grammata burnt in this manner.
Let us turn our eyes away from these sad shadows. All that is done by the popular ignorant masses is spotted with unpleasantness. Illusion, chimera, are the conditions of the great things created by the people. It is only the work of wise men which can be pure; but wise men are usually powerless. We have a physiology and a medicine very superior to that of Paul; we are disengaged from a crowd of errors of which he partook, alas! and it is to be feared that we may never do a thousandth part of what he did. It is only when humanity as a whole shall be instructed, and reach a certain point of positive philosophy, that human affairs will be led by reason. One would never understand the history of the past if one did not refuse to treat as good and great movements in which many mean and equivocal features are mixed up.
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