Outrages proceeded chiefly from the Sadducees, that is to say, from the upper clergy, who crowded the Temple and derived from it immense profits.
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 Galilean group which had listened to the Master, though preserving always its precedence, seemed as if swamped by the floods of newcomers speaking Greek. One could already perceive that the principal parts were to be played by the latter. At the time at which we are arrived no pagan, that is to say, no man without some anterior connection with Judaism, had entered into the Church. Proselytes, however, performed very important functions in it. The circle de provenance of the disciples had likewise largely extended; it is no longer a simple little college of Palestinians; we can count in it people from Cyprus, Antioch, and Cyrene, and from almost all the points of the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, where Jewish colonies had been established. Egypt alone was wanting in the primitive Church, and for a long time continued to be so.
It was inevitable that the preachings of the new sect, although delivered with so much reserve, should revive the animosities which had accumulated against its Founder, and eventually brought about his death. The Sadducee family of Hanan, who had caused the death of Jesus, was still reigning. Joseph Caiaphas occupied, up to 36, the sovereign pontificate, the effective power of which he gave over to his father-in-law Hanan, and to his relatives, John and Alexander. These arrogant and pitiless men viewed with impatience a troop of good and holy people, without official title, winning the favor of the multitude. Once or twice Peter, John, and the principal members of the apostolic college were put in prison and condemned to flagellation. This was the chastisement inflicted on heretics. The authorization of the Romans was not necessary in order to apply it. As we might indeed suppose, these brutalities only served to inflame the ardor of the apostles. They came forth from the Sanhedrim, where they had just undergone flagellation, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Him whom they loved. Eternal puerility of penal repressions applied to things of the soul! They were regarded, no doubt, as men of order, as models of prudence and wisdom; these blunderers, who seriously believed in the year 36 to gain the upper hand of Christianity by means of a few strokes of a whip!
These outrages proceeded chiefly from the Sadducees, that is to say, from the upper clergy, who crowded the Temple and derived from it immense profits. We do not find that the Pharisees exhibited toward the sect the animosity they displayed to Jesus. The new believers were strict and pious people, somewhat resembling in their manner of life the Pharisees themselves. The rage which the latter manifested against the Founder arose from the superiority of Jesus — a superiority which he was at no pains to dissimulate. His delicate railleries, his wit, his charm, his contempt for hypocrites, had kindled a ferocious hatred. The apostles, on the contrary, were devoid of wit; they never employed irony. The Pharisees were at times favorable to them; many Pharisees had even become Christians. The terrible anathemas of Jesus against Pharisaism had not yet been written, and the accounts of the words of the Master were neither general nor uniform. These first Christians were, besides, people so inoffensive that many persons of the Jewish aristocracy, who did not exactly form part of the sect, were well disposed toward them. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who had known Jesus, remained no doubt with the Church in the bonds of brotherhood.
The most celebrated Jewish doctor of the age, Rabbi Gamaliel the elder, grandson of Hillel, a man of broad and very tolerant ideas, spoke, it is said, in the Sanhedrim in favor of permitting gospel preaching. The author of the Acts credits him with some excellent reasoning, which ought to be the rule of conduct of governments on all occasions when they find themselves confronted with novelties of an intellectual or moral order. “If this work is frivolous,” said he, “leave it alone — it will fall of itself; if it is serious, how dare you resist the work of God? In any case, you will not succeed in stopping it.” Gamaliel’s words were hardly listened to. Liberal minds in the midst of opposing fanaticisms have no chance of succeeding.
A terrible commotion was produced by the deacon Stephen. His preaching had, as it would appear, great success. Multitudes flocked around him, and these gatherings resulted in acrimonious quarrels. It was chiefly Hellenists, or proselytes, habituals of the synagogue, called Libertini, people of Cyrene, of Alexandria, of Cilicia, of Ephesus, who took an active part in these disputes. Stephen passionately maintained that Jesus was the Messiah, that the priests had committed a crime in putting him to death, that the Jews were rebels, sons of rebels, people who rejected evidence. The authorities resolved to dispatch this audacious preacher. Several witnesses were suborned to seize upon some words in his discourses against Moses. Naturally they found that for which they sought. Stephen was arrested and led into the presence of the Sanhedrim. The sentence with which they reproached him was almost identical with the one which led to the condemnation of Jesus. They accused him of saying that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the Temple and change the traditions attributed to Moses. It is quite possible, indeed, that Stephen had used such language. A Christian of that epoch could not have had the idea of speaking directly against the Law, inasmuch as all still observed it; as for traditions, however, Stephen might combat them as Jesus had himself done; nevertheless, these traditions were foolishly ascribed by the orthodox to Moses, and people attributed to them a value equal to that of the written Law.
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