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The year 38 is marked in the history of the nascent Church by a much more important conquest. During that year we may safely place the conversion of that Saul whom we witnessed participating in the stoning of Stephen, and as a principal agent in the persecution of 37, but who now, by a mysterious act of grace, becomes the most ardent of the disciples of Jesus.

Saul was born at Tarsus, in Cilicia, in the year 10 or 12 of our era. Following the custom of the times, his name was latinized into that of Paul; he did not, however, regularly adopt this last name until he became the apostle of the Gentiles. Paul was of the purest Jewish blood. His family, who probably hailed originally from the town of Gischala, in Galilee, pretended to belong to the tribe of Benjamin; while his father enjoyed 90the title of a Roman citizen, a title no doubt inherited from ancestors who had obtained that honour, either by purchase or by services rendered to the state. His grandfather may have obtained it for aid given to Pompey during the Roman conquest (63 B.C.) His family, like most of the good old Jewish houses, belonged to the sect of Pharisees. Paul was brought up according to the strictest principles of this sect, and though he afterwards repudiated its narrow dogmas, he always retained its exaltation, its asperity, and its ardent faith.

During the epoch of Augustus, Tartus was a very flourishing city. The population, though composed chiefly of the Greek and Aramaic races, included, as was common in all the commercial towns, a large number of Jews. A taste for letters and the sciences was a marked characteristic of the place; and no city in the world, not even excepting Athens and Alexandria, had so many scientific institutions and schools. The number of learned men which Tarsus produced, or who prosecuted their studies there, was truly extraordinary; but it must not hence be imagined that Paul received a careful Greek education. The Jews rarely frequented the institutions of secular instruction. The most celebrated schools of Tarsus were those of rhetoric, where the Greek classics received the first attention. It seems hardly probable that a man who had taken even elementary lessons in grammar and rhetoric, could have written in the incorrect non-Hellenistic style of that of the Epistles of St. Paul. He talked constantly and even fluently in Greek, and wrote or rather dictated in that language; but his Greek was that of the Hellenistic Jews, bristling with Hebraisms and Syriacisms, scarcely intelligible to a lettered man of that period, and which can only be understood by trying to discover the Syriac turn of mind which influenced Paul, at the time he was dictating his epistles. He was himself cognizant of the vulgar and detective character of his style. Whenever it was possible he spoke Hebrew—that is to say, the 91Syro-Chaldaic of his time. It was in this language that he thought, it was in this language he was addressed by the mysterious voice on the way to Damascus.

His doctrine, moreover, shows us no direct adaptation from Greek philosophy. The verse quoted from the Thais of Menander, which occurs in his writings, is one of those monostich-proverbs that were familiar to the public, and could easily have been quoted by one who was not acquainted with the original. Two other quotation—one from Epimenides, the other from Aratus—which appear under his name, though it is by no means certain that he used them, may also be understood as having been borrowed at second-hand. The literary training of Paul was almost exclusively Jewish, and it is in the Talmud rather than in the Greek classics that the analogies of his modes of thought must be sought. A few general ideas of popular philosophy, which one could learn without opening a single book of the philosophers, alone reached him. His manner of reasoning is most singular. He knew nothing certainly of the peripatetic logic. His syllogism is not that of Aristotle; on the contrary, his dialectics greatly resemble those of the Talmud. Paul, in general is carried away by words rather than by thought. When a word took possession of his mind it suggested a train of thought wholly irrelevant to the subject in hand. His transitions were sudden, his treatment disjointed, his periods frequently suspended. No writer could be more unequal. We would seek in vain throughout the realm of literature for a phenomenon as capricious as that of the sublime passage in the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, placed by the side of such feeble arguments, painful repetitions, and fastidious subtleties.

His father at the outset intended that he should be a rabbi; and following the general custom, gave him a trade. Paul was an upholsterer, or rather a manufacturer of the heavy cloths of Cilicia, called Cilicium. At various times he had to work at this trade, having no 92patrimonial fortune. It seems quite certain that he had a sister, whose son lived at Jerusalem. As regards a brother and other relatives, who it is said embraced Christianity, the testimony is vague and uncertain.

Refinement of manners being, according to the modern ideas of the middle-classes, in direct proportion to personal wealth, it might be imagined, from what has just been said that Paul was badly brought up and undistinguished amongst the proletariat. This idea would, however, be quite erroneous. His politeness, when he chose, was extreme, and his manners, exquisite. Despite the defects in his style, his letters show that he was a man of uncommon intelligence, who could find for the expression of his lofty sentiments, language of rare felicity; and no correspondence displays more careful attention, finer shades of meaning, and more charming hesitancy and timidity. Some of his pleasantries shock us. But what animation! What a fund of charming sayings! What simplicity! One can easily see that his character, when his passions did not make him irascible and fierce, was that of a polite, earnest, and affectionate man, susceptible at times, and a trifle jealous. Inferior as such men are in the eyes of the general public, they yet possess within small Churches, immense advantages, because of the attachments they inspire, their practical aptitude, and their skill in escaping from the greatest difficulties.

Paul had a sickly appearance, which did not correspond with the greatness of his soul. He was uncomely, short, squat, and stooping, his broad shoulders awkwardly sustaining a little bald pate. His sallow countenance was half concealed in a thick beard; his nose was aquiline, his eyes piercing, while his black, heavy eye-brows met across his forehead. Nor was there anything imposing about his speech; his timid and embarassed air, and incorrect language, gave at first but a poor idea of his eloquence. He gloried, however, in his exterior defects, and even shrewdly extracted advantage 93from them. The Jewish rare possesses the peculiarity of presenting at once types of the greatest beauty, and of the most utter ugliness; but this Jewish ugliness is something quite unique. Some of the strange visages which at first excite a smile, assume, when lighted up by emotion, a rare brilliance and majesty.

The temperament of Paul was not less peculiar than his exterior. His constitution was sickly, yet its singular endurance was tested by the way in which he supported an existence full of fatigues and sufferings. He makes constant allusions to his bodily weakness. He speaks of himself as a sick man, exhausted, and nigh unto death; add to this, that he was timid, without any appearance or prestige, without any of those personal advantages, calculated to produce an impression, so much so, that it was a marvel people were not repelled by such uninviting an exterior. Elsewhere, he mysteriously hints at a secret affliction, “a thorn in the flesh,” which he compares to a messenger of Satan sent, with God’s permission, to buffet him, “lest he should be exalted above measure.” Thrice he besought the Lord to deliver him, and thrice the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” This was evidently some bodily infirmity; for it is not to be supposed that he refers to the allurements of carnal delights, since he himself informs us in another place that he was insensible to these. It would seem he was never married: the thorough coldness of his temperament, the result of the intense ardour of his brain, manifests itself throughout his life, and he boasts of it with an assurance savouring of affectation, to an extent which is disagreeable.

At an early age he came to Jerusalem, and entered, as it is said, the school of Gamaliel the Elder. This Gamaliel was the most cultured man in Jerusalem. As the name of Pharisee was applied to every prominent Jew who was not of a priestly family, Gamaliel was taken for a member of that sect. Yet he had none of its narrow and exclusive spirit. He was a liberal, intelligent 94man, acquainted with Greek, and understood the heathen. It is possible that the broad ideas professed by Paul after he received Christianity, were a reminiscence of the teachings of his first master; yet it must be admitted that at first he had not learned much moderation from him. Breathing the heated atmosphere of Jerusalem, he became an ardent fanatic. He was the leader of a young, unbending, and enthusiastic Pharisee party, which carried to extremes their keen attachment for the national traditions of the past. He had not known Jesus, and was not present at the bloody scene of Golgotha; but we have seen him take an active part in the murder of Stephen, and among the foremost of the persecutors of the Church. He breathed only threatenings and slaughter, and went up and down Jerusalem bearing a mandate which authorized and legalized all his brutalities. He went from synagogue to synagogue, compelling the more timid to deny the name of Jesus, and subjecting others to scourging or imprisonment. When the Church of Jerusalem was dispersed, his persecutions were extended to the neighbouring cities. Exasperated by the progress of the new faith, and learning that there was a group of the faithful at Damascus, he obtained from the high-priest Theophilus, son of Hanan, letters to the synagogue of that city, which conferred on him the power of arresting all evil-thinking persons, and of bringing them bound to Jerusalem.

The confusion of Roman authority in Judea, explains these arbitrary vexations. The insane Caligula was in power, and the administrative service was everywhere distracted. Fanaticism had gained all that the civil power had lost. After the dismissal of Pilate, and the concessions made to the natives by Lucius Vitellius, the country was permitted to govern itself according to its own laws. A thousand local tyrannies profited by the weakness of an indifferent authority. In addition , Damascus had just passed into the hands 95of Hartat, or Hâreth, whose capital was at Petra. This bold and powerful prince, having beaten Herod Antipas, and withstood the Roman forces, commanded by the imperial legate, Lucius Vitellius, had been marvellously aided by fortune. The news of the death of Tiberius (16th March, 37), had suddenly arrested the march of Vitellius. Hâreth seized Damascus, and established there an ethnarch or governor. The Jews at the time of this new occupation formed a numerous party at Damascus, where they carried on an extensive system of proselytizing, especially among the females. It was thought advisable to seek to make them contented; and the best method of doing so was to grant concessions to their autonomy, and every concession was simply a permission to commit further religious violences. To punish and even kill those who did not think with them, was their idea of independence and liberty.

Paul, in leaving Jerusalem, followed doubtless the usual road, and crossed the Jordan at the “Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob.” His mental excitement was now at its greatest height, and he was at times troubled and shaken in his faith. Passion is not a rule of faith. The passionate man flies from one extreme creed to another, but always retains the same impetuosity. Now, like all strong minds, Paul almost loved that which he hated. Was he sure, after all, that he was not thwarting the designs of God? Perhaps he remembered the calm, dispassionate views of his master Gamaliel. Often these ardent souls experienced terrible revulsions. He felt a liking for those whom ho had tortured. The more these excellent sectarians were known, the better they were liked; and none had greater opportunities of knowing them better than their persecutor. At times he fancied he saw the sweet face of the Master who inspired his disciples with no much patience, regarding him with an air of pity and tender reproach. He was also much 96impressed by the accounts of the apparitions of Jesus, describing him as an ariel being who was at times visible; for at the epochs and in the countries when and where there is a tendency to the marvellous, miraculous recitals influence equally each opposing party. The Mahommedans, for instance, are afraid of the miracles of Elias; and, like the Christians, pray to St. George and St. Anthony for supernatural cures.

Having crossed Ithuria, and while in the great plain of Damascus, Paul, with several companions, all, as it appears, journeying on foot, approached the city, and had probably already reached the beautiful gardens which surrounded it The time was noon. The road from Jerusalem to Damascus has in nowise changed. It is the one, which, leaving Damascus in a south-westerly direction, crosses the beautiful plain watered by the streams flowing into the Abana and the Pharpar, and upon which are now marshalled the villages of Dareya, Kaukab, and Sasa. The exact locality of which we speak, which was the scene of one of the most important facts in the history of humanity, could not have been beyond Kaukab (four hours from Damascus). It is even probable that the point in question was much nearer the city, perhaps about Dareya (an hour and a half from Damascus), or between Dareya and Meidan. The great city lay before Paul, and the outlines of several of its edifices could be dimly traced through the thick foliage: behind him towered the majestic dome of Hermon, with its ridges of snow, making it resemble the bald head of an old man; upon his right were the Hauran, the two little parallel chains which enclose the lower course of the Pharpar, and the tumuli of the region of the lakes; and upon his left were the outer spurs of the Anti-Libanus stretching out to Mt Hermon. The impression produced by these richly-cultivated fields and beautiful orchards, separated from one another by trenches and laden with the most delicious fruits, is that of peace 97and happiness. Let one imagine to himself a shady road, passing through rich soil, crossed at intervals by irrigating canals, bordered by declivities and serpentining through forests of olives, walnuts, apricots, and prunes; trees draped by graceful festoons of vines; and then will be presented to the mind the image of the scene of that remarkable event which has exerted so great an influence upon the faith of the world. In the environs of Damascus one can scarcely believe oneself in the East; especially after leaving the arid and burning regions of the Gaulonitide and of Ithuria. It is joy indeed to meet once more the works of man and the blessings of Heaven. From the most remote antiquity until the present time this zone, which surrounds Damascus with freshness and health, has had but one name, has inspired but one dream,—that of the “Paradise of God.”

if Paul experienced these terrible visions, it was because he carried them in his heart. Every step in his journey towards Damascus awakened in him painful perplexities. The odious part of executioner, which he was about to undertake, became insupportable. The houses which he saw through the trees were, perhaps, those of his victims. This thought beset him and delayed his steps; he did not wish to advance; he seemed to be resisting a mysterious impulse which pressed him forward. The fatigue of the journey, joined to this pre-occupation of mind, overwhelmed him. He had, it would seem, inflamed eyes, probably the beginning of ophthalmia. In these prolonged journeys, the last hours are the most trying. All the debilitating effects of the days just past accumulate, the nerves relax their power, and a re-action sets in. Perhaps, also, the sudden passage from the sun-smitten clam to the cool shades of the gardens enhanced his suffering condition and seriously excited the fanatical traveller. Dangerous fevers, accompanied by delirium, are quite sudden in these latitudes, and in a few minutes the victim is prostrated 98as by a thunder-stroke. When the crisis is over, the sufferer retains only the impression of a period of profound darkness, relieved at intervals by dashes of light in which he has seen images outlined against a dark background. It is quite certain that a sudden stroke instantly deprived Paul of his remaining consciousness, and threw him senseless on the ground. From the accounts which we have of this singular event, it is impossible to say whether any exterior fact led to the crisis to which Christianity owes its most ardent apostle. But in such cases, the exterior fact is of little importance. It was the state of St. Paul’s mind; it was his remorse on his approach to the city in which he was to commit the most signal of his misdeeds, which were the true causes of his conversion. For my part, I much prefer the hypothesis of an affair personal to Paul, and experienced by him alone. It is not, however, improbable that a thunder-storm suddenly burst forth. The flanks of Mount Hermon are the point of formation for thunder-showers which are unequalled in violence. The most unimpressionable person cannot observe without emotion these terrible hurricanes of fire. It ought to be remembered that in ancient times accidents from lightning were considered divine revelations; that with the ideas regarding providential interference then prevalent, nothing was fortuitous; and that every man was accustomed to view the natural phenomena around him as having a direct relation to himself. The Jews in particular always considered that thunder was the voice of God, and that lightning was the fire of God. Paul at this juncture was in a state of great excitement, and it was but natural that he should interpret as the voice of the storm the thoughts which were passing in his mind. That a delirious fever, resulting from a sun-stroke or an attack of ophthalmia, had suddenly seized him; that a flash of lightning blinded him for a time; that a peal of thunder had produced a cerebral commotion, temporarily depriving him of sight—it matters little. The 99recollections of the apostle on this point appear to be rather confused; he was persuaded that the incident was supernatural, and such a conviction would not permit him to entertain any clear consciousness of material circumstances. Such cerebral commotions produce sometimes a sort of retroactive effect, and completely perturb the recollections of the moments immediately preceding the crisis. Paul, moreover, elsewhere informs us that he was subject to visions; and a circumstance, insignificant as it might appear to others, was sufficient to make him beside himself.

And what did he see, what did he hear, while he was a prey to these hallucinations? He saw the countenance which had haunted him for several days; he saw the phantom of which so much had been told. He saw Jesus himself, who spoke to him in Hebrew, saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? “Impetuous natures pass instantaneously from one extreme to the other. For them there exists solemn moments which change the course of a lifetime, which colder natures never experience. Reflective men do not change, but are transformed; ardent men, on the contrary, change and are not transformed. Dogmatism is a shirt of Nessus which they cannot tear off. They must have a pretext for loving and hating. Our western races alone have been able to produce those minds—large yet delicate, strong yet flexible—which no empty affirmation can mislead, no momentary illusion carry away. The East has never produced men of this stamp. Instantly, the most thrilling thoughts rushed in upon the soul of Paul. Awakened to the enormity of his conduct, he saw himself stained with the blood of Stephen, and this martyr appeared to him as his father, his initiator into the new faith. Touched to the quick, his sentiments experienced a revulsion as complete as it was sudden; still, all this was but a new phase of fanaticism. His sincerity and his need of an absolute faith precluded any middle course; it was already clear that he would 100one day exhibit in the cause of Jesus the same fiery zeal he had shown in persecuting him.

With the assistance of his companions, who led him by the hand, Paul entered Damascus. His friends took him to the house of a certain Judas, who lived in the street called Straight, a grand colonnaded avenue over a mile long and a hundred feet broad, which crossed the city from east to west, and the line of which yet forms, with a few deviations, the principal artery of Damascus. The blindness and delirium had not yet subsided. For three days Paul, a prey to fever, neither ate nor drank. It is easy to imagine what passed during this crisis in that burning brain maddened by violent disease. Mention was made in his hearing of the Christians of Damascus, and in particular of a certain Ananias, who appeared to be the chief of the community. Paul had often heard of the miraculous powers of new believers over maladies, and he became impressed by the idea that the imposition of hands would cure him of his disease. His eyes all this time were highly inflamed, and in his delirious imaginings he thought he saw Ananias enter the room and make to him the sign familiar to Christians. From that moment he felt convinced he should owe his recovery to Ananias. The latter, informed of this, visited the sick man, spoke kindly, addressed him as his “brother,” and laid his hands upon his head; and from that hour peace returned to the soul of Paul. He believed himself cured; and as his ailment had been purely nervous, he was indeed cured. Little crusts or scales, it is said, fell from his eyes; he partook of food and recovered his strength.

Almost immediately after this he was baptized. The doctrines of the Church were so simple that he had nothing new to learn, and became at once a Christian and a perfect one., And from whom else did he need instruction? Had not Jesus himself appeared to him? He too, like James and Peter, had had his vision of the risen Jesus. He had learned everything by direct revelation. 101Here the fierce and unconquerable nature of Paul was again made manifest. Smitten down on the public highway, he was willing to submit, but only to Jesus, to that Jesus who had left the right hand of the Father to convert and instruct him. Such was the foundation of his faith; and such will be the starting point of his pretensions. He will maintain that it was by design that he did not go to Jerusalem immediately after his conversion, and place himself in relations with those who had been apostles before him; he will main-tam that he has received a special revelation, for which he is indebted to no human agency; that, like the Twelve, he is an apostle by divine institution and by direct commission from Jesus; that his doctrine is the true one, although an angel from heaven should say to the contrary.

An immense danger found entrance through this proud man into the little society of the poor in spirit who until now had constituted Christianity. It will be a real miracle if his violence and his inflexible personality do not overthrow everything. But at the same time his boldness, his initiative force, his prompt decision, will be precious elements when brought into contact with the narrow, timid, and indecisive spirit of the saints of Jerusalem! Certainly, if Christianity had remained confined to these good people, shut up in a conventicle of elect, leading a communistic life, it would, like Essenism, have faded away, leaving scarcely a trace behind. It is this ungovernable Paul who will secure its success, and who at the risk of every peril will boldly launch it on the high seas. By the side of the obedient faithful, accepting his creed from his superior without questioning him, there will be a Christian disengaged from all authority who will believe only from personal conviction. Protestantism thus existed five years after the death of Jesus, and St. Paul was its illustrious founder. Surely Jesus had not anticipated such disciples; and it was such as these who would most largely contribute to the vitality of his work and insure its eternity.


Violent natures disposed to proselytism only change the object of their passion. As ardent for the new faith as he had been for the old, St. Paul, like Omar, dropped in one day his part of persecutor for that of apostle. He did not return to Jerusalem, where his position towards the Twelve would have been peculiar and delicate. He tarried at Damascus and in the Hauran for three years (38-41), preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. Herod Agrippa I. held the sovereignty of the Hauran and of the neighbouring countries; but his power was at several points superseded by that of a Nabatian king, Hâreth. The decay of the Roman power in Syria had delivered to the ambitious Arab the great and rich city of Damascus, besides a part of the countries beyond Jordan and Mount Hermon, then just being opened up to civilization. Another emir, Soheyn, perhaps a relative or lieutenant of Hâreth, had received from Caligula the command of Ithuria. It was in the midst of this great awakening of the Arab nation, upon this strange soil, where an energetic race manifested with great success its feverish activity, that Paul first displayed the ardour of his apostolic soul. Perhaps the material and so remarkable a movement which revolutionized the country was prejudicial to a theory and to a preaching wholly idealistic, and founded on a belief of a near approach of the end of the world. Indeed, there exists no traces of an Arabian Church founded by St. Paul. If the region of the Hauran became, towards the year 70, one of the most important centres of Christianity, it was owing to the emigration of Christians from Palestine; and it was the Ebonites, the enemies of St. Paul, who had in this region their principal establishment.

At Damascus, where there were many Jews, the teachings of Paul received more attention. In the synagogues of that city he entered into warm arguments to prove that Jesus was the Christ. Great indeed was the astonishment of the faithful on beholding 103him who had persecuted their brethren at Jerusalem, and who had come to Damascus “to bring themselves bound unto the chief-priests,” now appearing as their chief defender. His audacity and personal peculiarities almost alarmed them. He was alone; he sought no counsel; he established no school; and the emotions he excited were those of curiosity rather than those of sympathy. The faithful felt that he was a brother, but a brother distinguished by singular peculiarities. They believed him to be incapable of treachery; but amiable and mediocre natures always experience sentiments of mistrust and alarm when brought in contact with powerful and original minds, who they know must one day supersede them.

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