Till about the year 60 the apostles did not leave the holy city except upon temporary missions. This explains the obscurity in which the majority of the members of the central council remained.
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.
Thunder-storms, in these countries, are accompanied by prodigious sheets of lightning; the atmosphere is, as it were, everywhere furrowed with ridges of flame. Whether the electric fluid had penetrated the room itself or whether a dazzling flash of lightning had suddenly illuminated the faces of all, everyone was convinced that the Spirit had entered, and that it had alighted on the head of each in the form of tongues of fire. The idea that the Spirit had alighted on them in the form of jets of flame, resembling tongues of fire, gave rise to a series of singular ideas, which took a foremost place in the thought of the period.
The tongues of fire appeared a striking symbol. People were convinced that God desired to signify in this manner that he poured out upon the apostles his most precious gifts of eloquence and of inspiration. But they did not stop there. Jerusalem was, like the majority of the large cities of the East, a city in which many languages were spoken. The diversity of tongues was one of the difficulties which one found there in the way of propagating a universal form of faith. One of the things, moreover, which alarmed the apostles, at the commencement of a ministry destined to embrace the world, was the number of languages which were spoken there: they were asking themselves incessantly how they could learn so many tongues. “The gift of tongues” became thus a marvelous privilege. It was believed that the preaching of the Gospel would clear away the obstacle which was created by the diversity of idioms. There was in this a liberal idea; they meant to imply that the Gospel should have no language of its own; that it should be translatable into every tongue; and that the translation should be of the same value as the original.
The custom of living together, holding the same faith, and indulging the same expectation, necessarily produced many common habits. All lived in common, having but one heart and one mind. No one possessed anything which was his own. On becoming a disciple of Jesus, one sold one’s goods and made a gift of the proceeds to the society. The chiefs of the society then distributed the common possessions to each, according to his needs. They lived in the same quarter. They took their meals together, and continued to attach to them the mystic sense that Jesus had prescribed. They passed long hours in prayers. Their prayers were sometimes improvised aloud, but more often meditated in silence. The concord was perfect; no dogmatic quarrels, no disputes in regard to precedence. The tender recollection of Jesus effaced all dissensions. Joy, lively and deep-seated, was in every heart. Their morals were austere, but pervaded by a soft and tender sentiment. They assembled in houses to pray and to devote themselves to ecstatic exercises. The recollection of these two or three first years remained and seemed to them like a terrestrial paradise, which Christianity will pursue henceforth in all its dreams and to which it will vainly endeavor to return. Such an organization could only be applicable to a very small church.
The apostles chosen by Jesus, and who were supposed to have received from him a special mandate to announce to the world the kingdom of God, had, in the little community, an incontestable superiority. One of the first cares, as soon as they saw the sect settle quietly down at Jerusalem, was to fill the vacancy that Judas of Kerioth had left in its ranks. The opinion that the latter had betrayed his master, and had been the cause of his death, became more and more general. The legend was mixed up with him, and every day one heard of some new circumstance which enhanced the black-heartedness of his deed. In order to replace him, it was resolved to have recourse to a vote of some sort. The sole condition was that the candidate should be chosen from the groups of the oldest disciples, who had been witnesses of the whole series of events, from the time of the baptism of John. This reduced considerably the number of those eligible. Two only were found in the ranks, Joseph Bar-Saba, who bore the name of Justus, and Matthias. The lot fell upon Matthias, who was accounted as one of the Twelve. But this was the sole instance of such a replacing.
The body of Twelve lived, generally, permanently at Jerusalem. Till about the year 60 the apostles did not leave the holy city except upon temporary missions. This explains the obscurity in which the majority of the members of the central council remained. Very few of them had a Stole. This council was a kind of sacred college or senate, destined only to represent tradition and a spirit of conservatism. It finished by being relieved of every active function, so that its members had nothing to do but to preach and pray; but as yet the brilliant feats of preaching had not fallen to their lot. Their names were hardly known outside Jerusalem, and about the year 70 or 80 the lists which were given of these chosen Twelve agreed only in the principal names.
The “Brothers of the Lord” appear often by the side of the “apostles,” although they were distinct from them. Their authority, however, was equal to that of the apostles. Here two groups constituted, in the nascent Church, a sort of aristocracy founded solely on the more or less intimate relations that their members had had with the Master. These were the men whom Paul denominated “the pillars” of the Church at Jerusalem. For the rest, we see that no distinctions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy yet existed. The title was nothing; the personal authority was everything. The principle of ecclesiastical celibacy was already established, but it required time to bring all these germs to their complete development. Peter and Philip were married and had sons and daughters.
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