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PROGRESS OF CHRISTIANITY IN ASIA AND PHRYGIA.
The ardour of Paul during his stay at Ephesus was extreme. There were difficulties every day, numerous and animated adversaries. As the Church of Ephesus was not purely a foundation of Paul, it counted in its bosom the Judæo-Christians, who, upon important points, resisted energetically the Apostle of the Gentiles. They were like two flocks accusing each other, and denying to each other the right of speaking in the name of Jesus. The Pagans, for their part, were discontented with the progress 183of the new faith, and already manifested themselves as dangerous. On one occasion, in particular, Paul ran so grave a danger that he compares the position in which he was on that day to that of a man exposed to wild beasts. Perhaps the incident happened at the theatre, which would render the expression altogether just. Aquila and Priscilla saved him, and risked their heads for him.
The Apostle forgot all, however, for the word of God had become fruitful. All the western part of Asia Minor, especially the basins of the Meander and the Hermus, was covered with Churches at this time, of which, without doubt, Paul was in a manner more or less directly the founder. Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, probably Tralles, thus received the germs of the faith. These towns had already important Jewish colonies. The gentleness of manners, and the great tediousness of provincial life, in the heart of a rich and beautiful country, dead for centuries to all political life, and pacified nearly to a level, had prepared many souls for the joys of a pure life. The softness of the Ionian manners, so inimical to national independence, was favourable to the development of moral and social questions. These good populations, without military spirit, effeminate, if I dare say it, were naturally Christian. The family life appears to have been very strong among them; the habit of living in the open air, and, for the women, upon the threshold of their doors, in a delicious climate, had developed great sociability. Asia, with its Asiarchs, presidents of the games and spectacles, seemed a pleasure company, an association of diversions and fêtes. The Christian population even to-day has the charm of gaiety; the women have the clear complexion, the vague and sweet eyes, beautiful blonde hair, a retiring and modest disposition, involving the sentient life of their beauty.
Asia became thus, in some sort, the second province 184of the kingdom of God. The towns of this country, apart from its monuments, did not perhaps differ essentially then from what they are to-day clusters of wooden houses without order, with open balconies covered with an inclined roof; quarters often placed in tiers one upon the other, and always intermingled with beautiful trees. The public buildings necessary in a hot country to a life of pleasure and repose were of a surprising grandeur. There were not here, as in Syria, artificial constructions, very little adapted to comfort, walled towns, rendered necessary by the predatory habits of the Bedouin. Nowhere does the fulness of a sure and satisfied civilisation show itself in more imposing forms than in the ruins of these “magnificent cities of Asia.” Every time that the beautiful countries of which we speak are crushed into pieces by fanaticism, war, or barbarity, they will become mistresses of the world by richness; they hold nearly all the sources of it, and thus force the great number of the more noble people to mass themselves up among them. Ionia, in the first century, was very populous, and covered with towns and villages. At this period, the misfortunes of the civil wars were forgotten. With powerful associations of workmen (ἐργασίαι, συνεργασαι, συμβιώσεις), analogous to those of Italy and Flanders in the Middle Ages, they name their dignitaries, raise public monuments, erect statues, construct works of public utility, found charitable institutions, give every kind of sign of prosperity, of welfare, of moral activity. Side by side with the manufacturing towns, such as Thyatira, Philadelphia, Hieropolis—principally engaged in the great industries of Asia, carpets, the dyeing of cloth, the wool, leather—was developed a prosperous agriculture. The varied products of the districts of the Hermus and the Meander, the mineral riches of Imolus and of Messogio sources of the treasures of 185the old Assyrian town Lydia, had produced at Tralles above all an opulent middle-class, which contracted alliances with the kings of Asia, almost even became itself royal. These upstarts ennobled themselves in a more honourable manner by their literary labours and their generosity. It is true that we must not look in their works for either delicacy or Hellenic perfection. We feel, in contemplating such parvenu monuments, that all nobleness was lost when these people were raised. The municipal spirit, however, was still very energetic. The citizen who had become king, or reached Cæsar’s favour, contended for an official position in the city, and expended his fortune in embellishing it. This movement of construction was in full force in the time of St Paul, partly on account of the earthquakes which, notably in the reign of Tiberius, had desolated the country, and which necessitated much repairing.
A rich province of Southern Phrygia, in particular the little basin of the Lycus, a tributary of the Meander, was soon formed into active Christian centres. Three towns close to each other—Colossus or Colosse, Laodicæa upon the Lycus, and Hieropolis—there diffused the Word of Life. Colosse, which had formerly been of most importance, seemed to decline; it was an old city which remained faithful to the ancient manners, and which would not change them. Laodicæa and Hieropolis, on the contrary, became, under the Roman rule, very considerable towns. The summit of this beautiful country is Mount Cadmas, the father of all the mountains of Eastern Asia, massive and gigantic, full of dark precipices, and crowned with snow throughout the year. The waters which flow from it nourish upon the slopes of the valleys orchards full of fruit trees, which are traversed by rivers abounding in fish, and brightened by tame storks. The other side exhibits the 186strangest freaks of nature. The petrifying quality of the water of one of the tributaries of the Lycus, and the enormous mineral stream which falls in a cascade from the mountains of Hieropolis, have sterilised the plain and formed crevasses, grotesque caverns, beds of subterranean rivers, of fantastic basins, like petrified snow, serving as a reservoir to the waters, which glisten with all the colours of the rainbow; deep trenches through which roll a series of resounding cataracts. On this side the heat is extreme, the soil being simply a vast plain paved with limestone; but upon the heights of Hieropolis the purity of the air, the splendid light, the view of the Cadmas, floating like an Olympus in a dazzling atmosphere, the burning summits of Phrygia vanishing in the blue of heaven in a rosy hue, the opening of the Meander, the oblique sections of Messogio, the distant snowy summits of the Imolus, are absolutely dazzling. Saint Philip lived there; Paphas also; there Epictetus was born. All the valley of the Lycus offers the same character of dreamy mysticism. The population was not originally Greek; it was partly Phrygian. There was also, it would appear, around the Cadmas an ancient Semitic establishment, probably an annexe of Lydia. This peaceful valley, separated from the rest of the world, became for Christianity a place of refuge. Christianity underwent, as we shall see, grave trials.
The evangelist of these regions was Epaphroditus or Epaphras of Colosse, a very zealous man, a friend and fellow-worker with Paul. The Apostle had only passed through the valley of the Lycus; he had never remained there; but these Churches, composed chiefly of converted Pagans, were not less completely dependent on him. Epaphras exercised upon the three villages a sort of episcopacy. Nymphadore, or Nymphas, who gathered a Church in his house at Laodicæa; the rich and benevolent 187Philemon, who, at Colosse, presided over a similar conventicle; Appia, deaconess of this town, perhaps the wife of Philemon; Archippus, who also filled an important function there, recognised Paul as chief. The last appears even to have worked directly with Paul. The Apostle called him his “companion in arms.” Philemon, Appia, and Archippus must have been relatives or in intimate connection with each other.
Paul’s disciples travelled constantly, and reported to their master. Each one, though hardly converted, was a zealous catechist, spreading around him the faith with which he was filled. The delicate moral aspirations which prevailed in the country propapagated the movement like a train of gunpowder. The catechists went everywhere; as soon as they were received, they were jealously guarded; all and each tried to supply their wants. A cordiality, a joy, an infinite benevolence, prevailed by degrees, and touched the hearts of all. Judaism, besides, had preceded Christianity in these regions. Jewish colonies had been founded there by exiles from Babylon two centuries and a half before, and had perhaps carried there some of those industries (carpet-making, for example) which under the Roman emperors produced in the country so much wealth and so many strong associations.
Did the preaching of Paul and his disciples reach Great Phrygia, the region of Azanes, of Synnades, of Colia, of Docimius? We have seen that in his two first journeys, Paul preached in Phrygia Parorea; that in his second journey he traversed Phrygia, Epicteta, without preaching; that in his third journey he traversed Apamea, Cibotos, and Phrygia, called at a later date Pacatiana. It is extremely probable that the remainder of Phrygia, as well as Bithynia, owed to Paul’s disciples the seeds of Christianity. About the year 112, Christianity appears 188in Bithynia as a worship which had taken root, which had penetrated all the ranks of society, which had invaded the villages and the rural districts, as well as the towns and cities, and had brought about a long cessation of the official worship, so that the Roman authority was reduced by it to command the restoration of Pagan sacrifices. Some of the proselytes returned to the temples, and the victims, now made slaves, found buyers here and there. About the year 112, some men, on being asked if they were Christians, replied that they had been, but they had ceased to be “more than twenty years ago”—a clear proof that the first Christian preaching took place during the lifetime of Paul.
Phrygia was thenceforward, and remained for three hundred years, an essentially Christian country. There first begins the public profession of Christianity; there, from the third century, are to be found upon monuments exposed to every one’s eyes, the word ΧΡΗΣΤΙΑΝΟΣ or ΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΟΣ: these epitaphs, without openly avowing Christianity, exhibit Christian dogmas in a veiled form; there, from the time of Severus the Second, great towns adopted upon their coins biblical symbols, or, rather, assimilated their old traditions to biblical story. A large number of the Ephesian and Roman Christians came from Phrygia. The names which are shown oftenest upon the Phrygian monuments are old Christian names—names belonging specially to the Apostolic age, those which fill the martyrology. It is very probable that this prompt adoption of the doctrine of Jesus was natural to the race and to the former religious institutions derived from the Phrygian people. Apollonius of Tyana had, it is said, temples among these simple populations: the idea of gods clothed in human form appeared very natural to them. What remains of ancient Phrygia often 189breathes something of religion, of morality, of depth, of something analogous to Christianity. Some good workers, near to Cotia, made a vow “to the saintly and just God;” not far from there, another vow is addressed to “the holy and just God.” Such an epitaph in verses of this province, not very classical in style, incorrect and bad in form, seems imprinted with a very modern sentiment of a touching kind of romance. The country itself differs much from the rest of Asia. It is sad, austere, sombre, bearing the profound imprint of old geological catastrophes, burnt, or rather incinerated, and agitated by frequent earthquakes.
Pontus and Cappadocia heard the name of Jesus at about the same time. Christianity illuminated all Asia Minor like a sudden fire. It is probable that the Judæo-Christians laboured on their part to spread the Gospel there. John, who belonged to this party, was received in Asia as an Apostle with authority superior to that of Paul. The Apocalypse, addressed in the year 68 to the Churches of Ephesus, of Smyrna, of Pergamos, of Thyatira, of Sardis, of Philadelphia, and of Laodicæa-upon-the-Lycus, is obviously written for Judæo-Christians. Without doubt, between the death of Paul and the composition of the Apocalypse, there was in Ephesus and in Asia a second Judæo-Christian mission. Otherwise, if Paul had been during ten years the sole chief of the Churches of Asia, we should find it difficult to understand why he had been so quickly forgotten there. St Philip and Paphias, the glories of the Church of Hieropolis; Miletum, the glory of that of Sardis, were Judæo-Christians. Neither Paphias nor Polycrates of Ephesus quote Paul; the authority of John has absorbed everything, and John is for these Churches a great Jewish priest. The Churches of Asia in the second century, the Church of Laodicæa especially, are the scene of a controversy 190which attacks the vital question of Christianity, and the traditional party of which shows itself very distant from the ideas of Paul. Montanism is a kind of return towards Judaism in the heart of Phrygian Christianity. In other words, in Asia, as in Corinth, the memory of Paul, after his death, appears to have suffered during one hundred years a kind of eclipse. The very Churches which he had founded abandoned him, as one who had gone too far, so that in the second century Paul appears to have been discarded.
This reaction must have set in shortly after the Apostle’s death, perhaps even before. The second and third chapters of the Apocalypse are a cry of hate against Paul and his friends. This Church of Ephesus, which owes so much to Paul, is praised be-cause “it cannot bear with them which are evil,” for having known how to “try them which say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars,” for hating “the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which 1 also hate,” adds the celestial voice. The Church of Smyrna is congratulated on being the object of the insults of men “which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” “But I have a few things against thee,” says the Divine voice to the Church of Pergamos, “because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel,—to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee,” says the same voice to the Church of Thyatira, “because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not . . . But unto you 191I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.” And to the Church of Philadelphia, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Perhaps the vague reproaches addressed by the All-Seeing to the Churches of Sardis and Laodicæa included also some allusions to the great debate which broke up the Church of Jesus.
Let us say, then, if Paul had been the only missionary of Asia, one could not conceive that, so soon after his death (even supposing that he was dead when the Apocalypse appeared), his adherents could be represented as in a minority in the Churches of this country; one could not conceive that the Church of Ephesus, of which above all he was the principal founder, would have bestowed upon him an insulting nickname. Paul, as a rule, refused to trespass on the ground of others, to preach to, and to work in, the Churches which he had not established. But his enemies did not observe the same discretion. They followed him step by step, and applied themselves to destroy his works by insults and calumny.
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