The Christian communism had religion for a basis, while modern socialism has nothing of the kind.
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.
This family of simple and united brethren drew associates from every quarter. In return for that which these brought, they obtained an assured future, the society of a congenial brotherhood, and precious hopes. The general custom, before entering the sect, was for each one to convert his fortune into specie. These fortunes ordinarily consisted of small rural, semi-barren properties, and difficult of cultivation. It had one advantage, especially for unmarried people: it enabled them to exchange these plots of land against funds sunk in an assurance society, with a view to the Kingdom of God. Even some married people came to the fore in that arrangement; and precautions were taken to insure that the associates brought all that they really possessed, and did not retain anything outside the common fund. Indeed, seeing that each one received out of the latter a share, not in proportion to what one put in, but in proportion to one’s needs, every reservation of property was actually a theft made upon the community. The Christian communism had religion for a basis, while modern socialism has nothing of the kind.
Under such a social constitution, the administrative difficulties were necessarily very numerous, whatever might be the degree of fraternal feeling which prevailed. Between two factions of a community, whose language was not the same, misapprehensions were inevitable. It was difficult for well-descended Jews not to entertain some contempt for their coreligionists who were less noble. In fact, it was not long before murmurs began to be heard. The “Hellenists,” who each day became more numerous, complained because their widows were not so well treated at the distributions as those of the “Hebrews.” Till now, the apostles had presided over the affairs of the treasury. But in face of these protestations they felt the necessity of delegating to others this part of their powers. They proposed to the community to confide these administrative cares to seven experienced and considerate men. The proposition was accepted. The seven chosen were Stephanas, or Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas. Stephen was the most important of the seven, and, in a sense, their chief.
To the administrators thus designated were given the Syriac name of Schammaschin. They were also sometimes called “the Seven,” to distinguish them from “the Twelve.” Such, then, was the origin of the diaconate, which is found to be the most ancient ecclesiastical function, the most ancient of sacred orders. Later, all the organized churches, in imitation of that of Jerusalem, had deacons. The growth of such an institution was marvellous. It placed the claims of the poor on an equality with religious services. It was a proclamation of the truth that social problems are the first which should occupy the attention of mankind. It was the foundation of political economy in the religious sense. The deacons were the first preachers of Christianity. As organizers, financiers, and administrators, they filled a yet more important part. These practical men, in constant contact with the poor, the sick, the women, went everywhere, observed everything, exhorted, and were most efficacious in converting people. They accomplished more than the apostles, who remained on their seats of honor at Jerusalem. They were the founders of Christianity, in respect of that which it possessed which was most solid and enduring.
At an early period women were admitted to this office. They were designated, as in our day, by the name of “sisters.” At first widows were selected; later, virgins were preferred. The tact which guided the primitive Church in all this was admirable. The grand idea of consecrating by a sort of religious character and of subjecting to a regular discipline the women who were not in the bonds of marriage, is wholly Christian. The term “widow” became synonymous with religious person, consecrated to God, and, by consequence, a “deaconess.” In those countries where the wife, at the age of twenty-four, is already faded, where there is no middle state between the infant and the old woman, it was a kind of new life, which was created for that portion of the human species the most capable of devotion. These women, constantly going to and fro, were admirable missionaries of the new religion
The bishop and the priest, as we now know them, did not yet exist. Still, the pastoral ministry, that intimate familiarity of souls, not bound by ties of blood, had already been established. This latter has ever been the special gift of Jesus, and a kind of heritage from him. Jesus had often said that to everyone he was more than a father and a mother, and that in order to follow him it was necessary to forsake those the most dear to us. Christianity placed some things above family; it instituted brotherhood and spiritual marriage. The ancient form of marriage, which placed the wife unreservedly in the power of the husband, was pure slavery. The moral liberty of the woman began when the Church gave to her in Jesus a guide and a confidant, who should advise and console her, listen always to her, and on occasion counsel resistance on her part. Woman needs to be governed, and is happy in so being; but it is necessary that she should love him who governs her. This is what neither ancient societies nor Judaism nor Islamism have been able to do. Woman has never had, up to the present time, a religious conscience, a moral individuality, an opinion of her own, except in Christianity.
It was now about the year 36. Tiberius, at Caprea, has little idea of the enemy to the empire which is growing up. In two or three years the sect had made surprising progress. It numbered several thousand of the faithful. It was already easy to foresee that its conquests would be effected chiefly among the Hellenists and proselytes.
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