From the year 38 to the year 44 no persecution seems to have been directed against the Church.
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 persecution of the year 37 had for its result, as is always the case, the spread of the doctrine which it was wished to arrest. Till now the Christian preaching had not extended far beyond Jerusalem; no mission had been undertaken; enclosed within its exalted but narrow communion, the mother Church had spread no halos around herself nor formed any branches. The dispersion of the little circle scattered the good seed to the four winds of heaven. The members of the Church of Jerusalem, driven violently from their quarters, spread themselves over every part of Judea and Samaria, and preached everywhere the Kingdom of God. The deacons, in particular, freed from their administrative functions by the destruction of the community, became excellent evangelists.
The scene of the first missions, which was soon to embrace the whole basin of the Mediterranean, was the region about Jerusalem, within a radius of two or three days’ journey. Philip the Deacon was the hero of this first holy expedition. He evangelized Samaria most successfully. Peter and John, after confirming the Church of Sebaste, departed again for Jerusalem, evangelizing on their way the villages of the country of Samaria. Philip the Deacon continued his evangelizing journeys, directing his steps toward the south, into the ancient country of the Philistines.
Azote and the Gaza route were the limits of the first evangelical preachings toward the south. Beyond were the desert and the nomadic life upon which Christianity has never taken much hold. From Azote Philip the Deacon turned toward the north and evangelized all the coast as far as Caesarea, where he settled and founded an important church. Caesarea was a new city and the most considerable of Judea. It was in a kind of way the port of Christianity, the point by which the Church of Jerusalem communicated with all the Mediterranean.
Many other missions, the history of which is unknown to us, were conducted simultaneously with that of Philip. The very rapidity with which this first preaching was done was the reason of its success. In the year 38, five years after the death of Jesus, and probably one year after the death of Stephen, all this side of Jordan had heard the glad tidings from the mouths of missionaries hailing from Jerusalem. Galilee, on its part, guarded the holy seed and probably scattered it around her, although we know of no missions issuing from that quarter. Perhaps the city of Damascus, from the period at which we now are, had also some Christians, who received the faith from Galilean preachers.
The year 38 is marked in the history of the nascent Church by a much more important conquest. During that year we may safely place the conversion of that Saul whom we witnessed participating in the stoning of Stephen, and as a principal agent in the persecution of 37, but who now, by a mysterious act of grace, becomes the most ardent of the disciples of Jesus.
From the year 38 to the year 44 no persecution seems to have been directed against the Church. The faithful were, no doubt, far more prudent than before the death of Stephen, and avoided speaking in public. Perhaps, too, the troubles of the Jews who, during all the second part of the reign of Caligula, were at variance with that prince, contributed to favor the nascent sect.
This period of peace was fruitful in interior developments. The nascent Church was divided into three provinces, Judea, Samaria, Galilee, to which Damascus was no doubt attached. The primacy of Jerusalem was uncontested. The Church of this city, which had been dispersed after the death of Stephen, was quickly reconstituted. The apostles had never quitted the city. The brothers of the Lord continued to reside there and to wield a great authority.
Peter undertook frequent apostolical journeys in the environs of Jerusalem. He had always a great reputation as a thaumaturgist. At Lydda in particular he was reputed to have cured a paralytic named Ãteneas, a miracle which is said to have led to numerous conversions in the plain of Saron. From Lydda he repaired to Joppa, a city which appears to have been a centre for Christianity. Peter made a long sojourn at Joppa, at the house of a tanner named Simon, who dwelt near the sea. The organization of works of charity was soon actively entered upon.
The germ of those associations of women, which are one of the glories of Christianity, existed in the first churches of Judea. At Jaffa commenced those societies of veiled women, clothed in linen, who were destined to continue through centuries the tradition of charitable secrets. Tabitha was the mother of a family which will have no end as long as there are miseries to be relieved and feminine instincts to be gratified.
The Church of Jerusalem was still exclusively composed of Jews and of proselytes. The Holy Ghost being shed upon the uncircumcised before baptism, appeared an extraordinary fact. It is probable that there existed thenceforward a party opposed in principle to the admission of Gentiles, and that all did not accept the explanations of Peter. The author of the Acts would have us believe that the approbation was unanimous. But in a few years we shall see the question revived with much greater intensity. This matter of the good centurion was, perhaps, like that of the Ethiopian eunuch, accepted as an exceptional case, justified by a revelation and an express order from God. Still the matter was far from being settled. This was the first controversy which had taken place in the bosom of the Church; the paradise of interior peace had lasted for six or seven years.
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