The dominant idea in the Christian community, at the moment at which we are now arrived, was the coming of the Holy Spirit.
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.
Galilee thus counted but an hour in the history of Christianity; but it was the sacred hour, par excellence; it gave to the new religion that which has made it endure — its poetry, its penetrating charms. “The Gospel,” after the manner of the synoptics, was a Galilean work. But “the Gospel” thus extended has been the principal cause of the success of Christianity, and continues to be the surest guarantee of its future. It is probable that a fraction of the little school which surrounded Jesus in his last days remained at Jerusalem.
It is about this period that we can place the vision of James, mentioned by St. Paul. James was the brother, or at least a relation, of Jesus. We do not find that he had accompanied Jesus on his last sojourn to Jerusalem. He probably went there with the apostles, when the latter quitted Galilee.
It is very remarkable that the family of Jesus, some of whose members during his life had been incredulous and hostile to his mission, constituted now a part of the Church, and held in it a very exalted position. One is led to suppose that the reconciliation took place during the sojourn of the apostles in Galilee. The celebrity which had attached itself to the name of their relative, those who believed in him, and were assured of having seen him after he had arisen, served to make an impression on their minds. From the time of the definite establishment of the apostles at Jerusalem, we find with them Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the brothers of Jesus. In what concerns Mary, it appears that John, thinking in this to obey a recommendation of the Master, had adopted and taken her to his own home. He perhaps took her back to Jerusalem. This woman, whose personal history and character have remained veiled in obscurity, assumed hence great importance. The words that the evangelist put into the mouth of some unknown woman, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked,” began to be verified. It is probable that Mary survived her son a few years. As for the brothers of Jesus, their history is wrapped in obscurity. Jesus had several brothers and sisters. It seemed probable, however, that in the class of persons which were called “Brothers of the Lord” there were included relations in the second degree. The question is only of moment so far as it concerns James, whom we see playing a great part in the first thirty years of Christianity.
The apostles henceforth separated no more, except to make temporary journeys. Jerusalem became their head-quarters; they seemed to be afraid to disperse, while certain acts served to reveal in them the prepossession of being opposed to return again into Galilee, which latter had dissolved its little society. An express order of Jesus is supposed to have interdicted their quitting Jerusalem, before, at least, the great manifestations which were to take place. People’s thoughts were turned with great force toward a promise which it was supposed Jesus had made. During his lifetime Jesus, it was said, had often spoken of the Holy Spirit, which was understood to mean a personification of divine wisdom. He had promised his disciples that the Spirit would nerve them in the combats that they would have to engage in, would be their inspirer in difficulties, and their advocate if they had to speak in public. Sometimes it was supposed that Jesus suddenly presented himself in the midst of his disciples assembled, and breathed on them out of his own mouth a current of vivifying air. At other times the disappearance of Jesus was regarded as a premonition of the coming of the Spirit. Many people established an intimate connection between this descent and the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.
The affection that the disciples had the one for the other, while Jesus was alive, was thus enhanced tenfold after his death. They formed a very small and very retired society, and lived exclusively by themselves. At Jerusalem they numbered about one hundred and twenty. Their piety was active, and, as yet, completely restrained by the forms of Jewish piety. The Temple was then the chief place of devotion. They worked, no doubt, for a living; but at that time manual labor in Jewish society engaged very few. Everyone had a trade, but that trade by no means hindered a man from being educated and well-bred.
The dominant idea in the Christian community, at the moment at which we are now arrived, was the coming of the Holy Spirit. People were believed to receive it in the form of a mysterious breath, which passed over the assembly. Every inward consolation, every bold movement, every flush of enthusiasm, every feeling of lively and pleasant gayety, which was experienced without knowing whence it came, was the work of the Spirit. These simple consciences referred, as usual, to some exterior cause the exquisite sentiments which were being created in them. When all were assembled, and when they awaited in silence inspiration from on high, a murmur, any noise whatever, was believed to be the coming of the Spirit. In the early times, it was the apparitions of Jesus which were produced in this manner. Now the turn of ideas had changed. It was the divine breath which passed over the little Church, and filled it with a celestial effluvium. These beliefs were strengthened by notions drawn from the Old Testament. The prophetic spirit is represented in the Hebrew books as a breathing which penetrates man and inspires him. In the beautiful vision of Elijah, God passes by in the form of a gentle wind, which produces a slight rustling noise.
Among all these “descents of the Spirit,” which appear to have been frequent enough, there was one which left a profound impression on the nascent Church. One day, when the brethren were assembled, a thunder-storm burst forth. A violent wind threw open the windows: the heavens were on fire.
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