The Book of Psalms was in a measure the calyx from which the Christian bee sucked its first juice.
Today we continue Christianity Appears
with a selection from Histoire des Origines du Christianisme by J. Ernest Renan published in 1881. The selections are presented in a series of installments for 5 minute daily reading.
Previously in Christianity Appears.
The beliefs in popular medicine, which constituted a part of the force of Jesus, were continued in his disciples. The power of healing was one of the marvelous gifts conferred by the Spirit. The first Christians, like almost all the Jews of the time, looked upon diseases as the punishment of a transgression, or the work of a malignant demon. The apostles passed, just as Jesus did, for powerful exorcists. People imagined that the anointings of oil administered by the apostles, with imposition of hands and invocation of the name of Jesus, were all-powerful to wash away the sins which were the cause of disease, and to heal the afflicted one. Oil has always been in the East the medicine par excellence. For the rest, the simple imposition of the hands of the apostles was reputed to have the same effect. This imposition was made by immediate contact. Nor is it impossible that, in certain cases, the heat of the hands, being communicated suddenly to the head, insured to the sick person a little relief.
The sect being young and not numerous, the question of deaths was not taken into account until later on. The effect caused by the first demises which took place in the ranks of the brethren was strange. People were troubled by the manner of the deaths. It was asked whether they were less favored than those who were reserved to see with their eyes the advent of the Son of Man? They came generally to consider the interval between death and the resurrection as a kind of blank in the consciousness of the defunct. At the time of which we speak, belief in the resurrection almost alone prevailed. The funeral rite was undoubtedly the Jewish rite. No importance was attached to it; no inscription indicated the name of the dead. The great resurrection was near; the bodies of the faithful had only to make in the rock a very short sojourn. It did not require much persuasion to put people in accord on the question as to whether the resurrection was to be universal, that is to say, whether it would embrace the good and the bad, or whether it would apply to the elect only. One of the most remarkable phenomena of the new religion was the reappearance of prophecy. For a long time people had spoken but little of prophets in Israel. That particular species of inspiration seemed to revive in the little sect. The primitive Church had several prophets and prophetesses analogous to those of the Old Testament. The psalmists also reappeared. The model of our Christian psalms is without doubt given in the canticles which Luke loved to disseminate in his gospel, and which were copied from the canticles of the Old Testament. These psalms and prophecies are, as regards form, destitute of originality, but an admirable spirit of gentleness and of piety animates and pervades them. It is like a faint echo of the last productions of the sacred lyre of Israel. The Book of Psalms was in a measure the calyx from which the Christian bee sucked its first juice. The Pentateuch, on the contrary, was, as it would seem, little read and little studied; there was substituted for it allegories after the manner of the Jewish midraschim in which all the historic sense of the books was suppressed.
The music which was sung to the new hymns was probably that species of sobbing, without distinct notes, which is still the music of the Greek Church, of the Maronites, and in general of the Christians of the East. It is less a musical modulation than a manner of forcing the voice and of emitting by the nose a sort of moaning in which all the inflections follow each other with rapidity. That odd melopoeia was executed standing, with the eyes fixed, the eyebrows crumpled, the brow knit, and with an appearance of effort. The word amen, in particular, was given out in a quivering, trembling voice. That word played a great part in the liturgy. In imitation of the Jews, the new adherents employed it to mark the assent of the multitude to the words of the prophet or the precentor. People, perhaps, already attributed to it some secret virtues and pronounced it with a certain emphasis. We do not know whether that primitive ecclesiastical song was accompanied by instruments. As to the inward chant, by which the faithful “made melody in their hearts,” and which was but the overflowing of those tender, ardent, pensive souls, it was doubtless executed like the catilenes of the Lollards of the Middle Ages, in medium voice. In general, it was joyousness which was poured out in these hymns.
Till now the Church of Jerusalem presents itself to the outside world as a little Galilean colony. The friends whom Jesus had made at Jerusalem and in its environs, such as Lazarus, Martha, Mary of Bethany, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, had disappeared from the scene. The Galilean group, who pressed around the Twelve, alone remained compact and active. The proselytism of the faithful was chiefly carried on by means of struggling conversions, in which the fervor of their souls was communicated to their neighbors. Their preachings under the porticoes of Solomon were addressed to circles not at all numerous. But the effect of this was only the more profound. Their discourses consisted principally of quotations from the Old Testament, by which it was sought to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.
The real preaching was the private conversations of these good and sincere men; it was the reflection, always noticeable in their discourses, of the words of Jesus; it was, above all, their piety, their gentleness. The attraction of communistic life carried with it also a great deal of force. Their houses were a sort of hospitals, in which all the poor and the forsaken found asylum and succor.
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