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The conscience of a society of men is like that of an individual. Every impression going beyond a certain degree of violence leaves in the sensorium of the patient a trace which is equivalent to a lesion, and puts it for a long time, if not for ever, under the power of hallucination, or a fixed idea. The bloody episode of August, 64, had equalled in horror the most hideous dreams which a sick brain could conceive. For many years to come the Christian consciousness shall be as if possessed. It is a prey to a sort of vertigo; monstrous thoughts torment. A cruel death appears to be the lot reserved for all believers in Jesus. But is not itself the most certain sign of the nearness of the Great day?

. . . The souls of the victims of the Beast were conceived if as waiting the sacred hour under the divine altar and crying for vengeance. The angel of God calms them, tells them to keep themselves in peace, and wait yet a little while; the moment is not far off when their brethren, destined for immolation, shall be killed in their turn. Nero shall charge himself with that. Nero is this infernal personage to whom God will abandon for a little his power on the eve of the catastrophe; it is this hellish monster who should appear like a frightful meteor in the horizon of the evening of the last days.

The air was everywhere as if impregnated with the spirit of martyrdom. The surroundings of Nero appeared animated against morality by a sort of disinterested hatred; there was from one end to the other of the Mediterranean, a struggle to the death between good and evil. That harsh Roman society had declared war against piety in all its forms; piety saw itself driven, 99forced to leave a world delivered up to perfidy, to cruelty, and to debauchery; there were no honest people who would run such dangers. The jealousy of Nero against virtue had risen to its height, philosophy was only occupied in preparing its disciples for the tortures; Seneca, Thraseas, Barea, Soranus, Musonius, and Cornutus had submitted, or were about to submit, to the consequences of their noble protest. Punishment appeared the natural lot of virtue. Even the sceptical Petronius, because he was of polished manners, could not live in a world where Tigellinus ruled. A touching echo from the martyrs of this Terror has come to us through the inscriptions of the island of religious banishments, where one would not have expected it. In a sepulchral grotto near Cagliari a family of exiles, perhaps devoted to the worship of Isis, has left us its touching complaint, almost Christian. When the unfortunates arrived in Sardinia, the husband fell ill in consequence of the frightful insalubrity of the island; his wife, Benedicta, made a vow beseeching the gods to take her in place of her husband; she was heard.

The uselessness of the massacres was seen, besides, clearly in this circumstance. An aristocratic movement, peculiar to a small number of people, is stopped by a few executions; but it is not the same with a popular movement, for such a movement has neither need of leaders nor of learned teachers. A garden where the flowers have no root can exist no longer: a park mowed becomes better than before. Thus Christianity, far from being arrested by the lugubrious caprice of Nero, multiplied more vigorously than ever; an increase of anger took possession of the survivors’ hearts; it would become more than a dream, they would become masters of the heathen ruling them, as they deserved, with a rod of iron. An incendiary, although another than he whom they accused of having lit this fire, shall devour this impious city, become the temple of Satan. The doctrine of the final conflagration 100of the world takes each day deeper roots. Fire only shall be capable of purging the earth from the infamies which soil it; fire appears the only righteous and worthy end to such a mass of horrors.

The greater part of the Christians at Rome who escaped the ferocity of Nero, doubtless quitted the city. During six or twelve years, the Roman Church found itself in extreme disorder, a large door was opened to legend. Yet there was not a complete interruption in the existence of the community. The Seer of the Apocalypse in December, 68, or January, 69, gives orders to his people to quit Rome. Even by making that passage a prophetic fiction, it is difficult not to conclude that the Church of Rome quickly resumed its importance. The chiefs alone definitively abandoned a city where their Apostolate for the moment could not bear fruit. The point in the Roman world where life was most supportable for the Jews was at that time the province of Asia. There was between the Jewish community at Rome, and that at Ephesus, increasing communication. It was to that side that the fugitives directed themselves. Ephesus was the point where resentment for the events of the year 64 shall be most lively. All the hatreds of Rome were concentrated there; thence shall come forth in four years a furious invective, by which the Christian conscience shall reply to the atrocities of Nero.

There is no unlikelihood in placing among the Christian notables who came from Rome, the Apostle whom we have seen follow in everything Peter’s fortunes. If the accounts relative to the incident, which was placed later on at the Latin Gate, have any truth, we may be permitted to suppose that the Apostle John, escaping punishment as by miracle, should have quitted the city without delay, and afterwards it was natural that he should take refuge in Asia. Like nearly all the data relating to the life of the Apostles, the traditions as to the residence of John at Ephesus are 101subject to doubt; they have yet also their plausible side, and we are inclined rather to admit them than reject them.

The Church at Ephesus was mixed; one party owned Paul’s faith, another was Judeo-Christian. This latter fraction would preponderate through the arrival of the Roman colony, especially if that colony brought with it a companion of Jesus, a Jerusalem doctor, one of those illustrious masters before even whom Paul himself bowed. John was, after the death of Peter and James, the only apostle of the first order who still lived; he had become the chief of all the Judeo-Christian Churches; an extreme respect attached to him; we are led to believe (and no doubt the apostle himself says it), that Jesus had for him a special affection. A thousand stories were founded already upon these data. Ephesus became for a time the centre of Christianity, Rome and Jerusalem being, in consequence of the violence of the times, residences nearly forbidden to the new religion.

The struggle was soon lively between the Judeo-Christian community, headed by the intimate friend of Jesus and the families of the proselytes made by Paul. This struggle reached to all the churches of Asia. There were nothing but bitter declamations against this Balaam, who had sown scandal among the sons of Israel, who had taught them that they could without sin intermarry with heathens. John, on the contrary, was more and more considered like a Jewish high priest. Like James, he bore the petalon, that is to say, the plate of gold upon his forehead. He was the doctor par excellence; they were even accustomed, perhaps because of the incident of the boiling oil, to give him the title of martyr.

It appears that among the number of fugitives who came from Rome to Ephesus was Barnabas. Timothy was imprisoned about the same time; we do not know in what place, perhaps in Corinth. At the end of some 102months he was set free. Barnabas, when he heard this good news, seeing the situation quieter, formed the project of visiting Rome with Timothy, whom he had known and loved as the companion of Paul. The apostolic phalanx dispersed by the storm of 64, sought to reform itself. Paul’s school was the least consistent; it sought, deprived of its head, to support itself by one of the more solid portions of the Church. Timothy, accustomed to be led, would be little if anything after Paul’s death. Barnabas, on the contrary, who had always kept in a middle path between the two parties, and who had not once sinned against charity, became the bond of the scattered debris after the great shipwreck. That excellent man was thus once more the saviour of the work of Jesus, the good genius of concord and peace.

It is the circumstances concerning him that, according to our view, connect the work which bears the title difficult to understand of the epistle to the Hebrews. This writing would appear to have been composed at Ephesus by Barnabas, and addressed to the Church of Rome in the name of the little community of Italian Christians who had taken refuge in the capital of Asia. By his position, in some degree intermediate at the point of meeting of many ideas hitherto never associated, the epistle to the Hebrews comes by right to the conciliatory man, who so many times prevented the different tendencies in the bosom of the young community from reaching an open rupture. The opposition of the Jewish Churches to the Gentile Churches appears, when one reads this little treatise, a question settled, or rather lost in an overflowing flood of transcendental metaphysics and peaceful charity. As we have said, the taste for the midraschim or little treatises of religious exegesis under an epistolary form had made great progress. Paul was set forth quite fully as to his doctrine in his Epistle to the Romans; later on, the Epistle to the Ephesians had been his most 103advanced formula; the Epistle to the Hebrews would appear to be a manifesto of the same order. No Christian book so much resembles the work of the Alexandrian Schools, especially the tractates of Philo. Appollos had already entered on that path. Paul, the prisoner, was singularly pleased with him. An element foreign to Jesus, Alexandrianism, infused itself more and more into the heart of Christianity. In the Johannine writings we see this influence exercising itself in a sovereign manner. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Christian theology is shown to be strongly analagous to that which we have found in the Epistles in Paul’s last style. The theory of the Word developed rapidly. Jesus became more and more “the second God,” the metratone, the assessor of the divinity, the firstborn by right of God, inferior to God alone. As to the circumstances of the time in which it was written, the author explains these only by a few covert words; we feel that he fears to compromise the bearer of this letter, and those to whom it is addressed. A grievous weight appears to oppress him; his secret anguish escapes in brief but deep features.

God, after having formally communicated His will by the ministry of the prophets, has used in these last days the instrumentality of the Son by whom He had created the world, and who maintains everything by his power. This Son, the reflex of the Father’s glory and the imprint of his essence, whom the Father has been pleased to appoint heir of the universe, has expiated sin by his appearance in this world; then he has gone to sit down in the celestial regions at the right hand of the majesty, with a title superior to that of the angels. The Mosaic law had been announced by the angels; it contains only the shadow of the good things to come; ours has been announced first by the Lord, then it has been transmitted to us in a sure manner by those who heard it from him, God bearing them witness by signs, prodigies, and all sorts of 104miracles, as well as by the gifts of the Holy Spirit; thanks to Jesus all men have been made sons of God, Moses has been a servant, Jesus has been the Son; Jesus has especially been par excellence the high priest after the order of Melchisedic.

This order is much superior to the Levitical priesthood, and has totally abrogated it; Jesus is priest throughout eternity.

“For such an high priest became us who is holy, harmless, and separate from sinners, and raised higher than the heavens, who does not need each day like the other priests to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for those of the people. The old law made high priests of men who were liable to fall: the new law has constituted the Son to all eternity. We have such a high priest, who is seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty, as the minister of the true sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord hath built. Christ is the high priest of good things to come. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of an heifer sprinkle those who are unclean, gives carnal purity: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who has offered himself to God, a spotless victim, purify our conscience from dead works? It is thus He is the Mediator of the New Testament; for to have a testament it is necessary that the death of the testator should be proved, as a testament has no effect while the testator lives. The first covenant, also, was inaugurated with blood. It is by means of blood that everything is legally purged, and without shedding of blood there is no pardon.”

We are, therefore, sanctified once for all by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, who shall appear a second time to those who wait for him. The old sacrifices never attained their end since they were renewed unceasingly. If the expiatory sacrifice recurred every year on a fixed day, is that not a proof that the blood of the victims was powerless? In place of those perpetual holocausts Jesus has offered his single sacrifice, which renders the other useless. Consequently there is no longer need of a sacrifice for sin.

The feeling of the dangers which surrounded the Church fills the author’s mind. He has before his eyes 105only a perspective of sufferings. He thinks of the tortures which the prophets and the martyrs of Antiochus have endured; the faith of many succumbed. The author is very severe on these falls.

” For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again into repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame. For the earth, which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God. But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards His name in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end. That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Some believers already had shown themselves neglectful of attendance upon the gatherings in the church. The apostle declares that these gatherings are the essence of Christianity, that it is there we exhort, animate, and watch each other, and that it is necessary to be all the more assiduous in that as the great day of final appearance approaches.

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. . . . . . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions. Partly while ye were made a gazing-stock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and 106took joyfully spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in Heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while he that shall come will come.

Faith sums up the attitude of the Christian. Faith is the steady waiting for that which is promised, the certainty of what is not yet seen. It is faith which made the great men of the ancient law, who died without having obtained the things promised, having only seen them and hailed them from afar, confessing themselves strangers and pilgrims upon this earth, always searching for a better country which they have not found, the heavenly. The author quotes on this subject the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab the harlot.

What more shall I say, for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jepthah, of David also, and Samuel and of the prophets. Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth. And these, all having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily 107beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin.

The author then explains to the confessors that the sufferings which they endure are no punishments, but that they ought to be taken as paternal corrections such as a father administers to his son, and which are a pledge of his tenderness. He invitee them to hold themselves in readiness against light minds which, after the manner of Esau, give their spiritual patrimony in exchange for a worldly and momentary advantage. For the third time the author turns back upon his favourite thought that after a fall which has put one outside of Christianity, there is no return. Esau also sought to regain the paternal benediction, but his tears and regrets were useless. We know that there had been, in the persecution of 64, some renegades through weakness, who, after their apostacy, desired to re-enter the Church. Our doctor demands that they should be repulsed. What blindness, indeed, equals that of the Christian who hesitates or denies “after having come to the holy mountain of Sion, and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and myriads of angels in their choir, the Church of the firstborn written in heaven, and of God the universal Judge, of the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, after having been purified by the blood of propitiation which speaks better things than that of Abel . . .?”

The apostle closes by recalling to his readers the members of the Church who were still in the dungeons of the Roman authorities, and especially the memory of their spiritual leaders who were no more—those 108great initiators who had preached the word of God to them, and whose death had been a triumph for the faith. Let them consider the close of these holy lives and they will be strengthened. Let them beware of false doctrines, especially those which make holiness consist in useless ritual practices, such as distinction in meats. The disciple or friend of St. Paul is met here again. The fact is, the entire epistle is like the epistles of Paul, a long demonstration of the complete abrogation of the law of Moses by Jesus; to bear the shame of Jesus, to go forth from the world, “for we have no permanent city—we seek one which is to come; “to obey the chief ecclesiastics, to be very respectful to them, to render their task easy and agreeable, “since they watch over souls and must render an account of them,” that is the duty before them. No writing shows, perhaps, better than this the mystic rôle of Jesus increasing and closing by filling up completely the Christian conscience. Not only is Jesus the Logos who has created the world, but his blood is the universal propitiation, the seal of a new alliance. The author is so preoccupied with Jesus that he makes some errors in reading that he may find him everywhere. In his Greek manuscript of the Psalms, the two letters ΤΙof the word ΩΤΙΑ, in Ps. xl. (xxxix.) v. 6, were a little doubtful; he has seen a Μ, and as the preceding word ends with an Σ, he reads σῶμα which presents a fine Messianic meaning: “Thou hast desired sacrifice no longer, but thou hast given me a body: then I said, ‘Lo I come!’”

A singular thing! the death of Jesus in Paul’s school takes a larger importance than his life. The precepts of the Lake of Gennesareth little interested this school, and appear to have been scarcely known to them; what they saw as the first plan was the sacrifice of the Son of God giving himself up for the expiation of the sins of the world. Absurd ideas which, restated later on by Calvinism, caused the Christian theology 109to deviate widely from the primitive ideal. The synoptical Gospels which are the really divine part of Christianity, are not the work of Paul’s school. We shall soon see them coming forth from little quiet family which still preserved in Judea the true traditions of the life and person of Jesus.

But what was wonderful in the beginnings of Christianity was that those who draw the car in the contrary way most obstinately were those who worked best to make it advance. The Epistles to the Hebrews, marked definitively in the history of the religious evolution of humanity, the disappearance of sacrifice, that is to say of what up till then had constituted the essence of religion. To primitive man God is an all-powerful Being who must be appeased or bribed. Sacrifice comes either from fear or interest. To gain God’s favour we offer him a present capable of touching him, a fine piece of meat of the fattest kind, a cup of cocoa or wine. Plagues and diseases were considered as the blows of an offended God; and it was thought that by substituting another person for the persons threatened, the anger of the Supreme Being could be averted; perhaps indeed, it was said, God will be pleased with an animal, if the beast be good, useful, or innocent. God was thus judged after the pattern of men, and in fact in our day in certain parts of the East and of Africa, the aborigenes hope to gain a stranger’s favour by killing at his feet a sheep, whose blood runs over his boots, and whose flesh will serve him for food; in the same way they imagine that the Supernatural Being will be sensible of the offering of an object, especially if by that offering he who presents the sacrifice deprives himself of something. Up till the great transformation of prophecy in the eighth century, B.C., the idea of sacrifice was not much more elevated among the Israelites than among other nations. A new era commences with Isaiah, crying in the name of Jehovah: “Your sacrifices disgust me, what are your 110goats or bullocks to me?” The day on which he wrote that wonderful page (about 740 B.C.) Isaiah was the real founder of Christianity. It was decided on that very day, that of two supernatural functions as to which the respect of the old tribes was divided, the hereditary sacrifices of the sorcerer, or inspired book which they believed to be the depository of the divine secrets, it was the second that should determine the future of religion. The sorcerer of the Semitic tribes, the nabi became “the prophet,” or sacred tribune, consecrated to the progress of social equity, and while the sacrificer (the priest) continued to boast the efficacy of the slaughters by which he profited, the prophet dared to proclaim that the true God cares much more for justice and mercy than for all the bullocks in the world. Ordained, however, by ancient rituals from which it was not easy to escape, and maintained by the interests of the priests, the sacrifices remained a law of ancient Israel. About the time of which we write, and even before the destruction of the third temple, the importance of these rites grew less. The dispersion of the Jews led to something secondary being seen in the functions which could not be accomplished at Jerusalem. Philo proclaimed that worship consisted especially in pious hymns, which must be sung by the heart as well as the mouth; he ventured to say that such prayers were worth more than offerings. The Essenes professed the same doctrine. St. Paul, in the epistle to the Romans, declares that religion is a worship of pure reason. The epistle to the Hebrews, in developing this theory that Jesus is the true High Priest, and that his death was a sacrifice abrogating all the others, struck a last blow at the bloody immolations. The Christians, even those of Jewish origin, ceased more and more to believe in the legal sacrifice, which they only countenanced by sufferance. The generating idea of the mass, the belief that the sacrifice of Jesus is renewed by the eucharistic act, appeared already, but in the still obscure distance.

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