The apostles by Ernest Renan - PDF

The apostles

The apostles by Ernest Renan
The apostles by Ernest Renan


The first book of our History of the Origins of Christianity brought us down to the death and burial of Jesus, and we must now resume the subject at the point where we left it — that is to say, on Saturday, the fourth of April, in the year 33. 

The work will be for some time yet a sort of continuation of the life of Jesus. Next to the months of joyful rapture, during which the great Founder laid the bases of a new order of things for humanity, these few succeeding years were the most decisive in the history of the world. It is still Jesus, who, by the holy fire kindled in the hearts of a few friends from the spark he himself has placed there, creates institutions of the highest originality, stirs and transforms souls, and impresses on everything his divine seal. 

We have to show how, under this influence, always active and victorious over death, the faith in the resurrection, in the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the gift of tongues, and in the power of the Church, became firmly established. 

We shall describe the organization of the Church of Jerusalem, its first trials, and its first triumphs, and the earliest missions to which it gave birth. "We shall follow Christianity in its rapid progress through Syria as far as Antioch, where it established a second capital in some respects more important than Jerusalem, and destined, even, to supplant the latter. In this new center, where converted heathen were in the majority, we shall see Christianity separate itself definitively from Judaism, and receive a name of its own; and we shall note, above all, the birth of the grand idea of distant missions destined to carry the name of Jesus throughout the Gentile world. 

We shall pause at the solemn moment when Paul, Barnabas, and Mark depart to carry this great design into execution; and then, interrupting for a while our narrative, we shall cast a glance at the world which these fearless missionaries undertake to convert. We shall en- deavour to give an account of the intellectual, political, moral, religious, and social condition of the Roman Empire at about the year 45, the probable date of the departure of St Paul on his first mission. Such is the scope of this second book, which we have called The Apostles because it is devoted to that period of common action, during which the little family created by Jesus acted in concert and was grouped morally around a single point — Jerusalem. 

Our next and third book will lead us out of this company and will have for almost its only character the man who, more than any other, represents conquering and traveling Christianity — St Paul. Although from a certain epoch he called himself an apostle, Paul, nevertheless, was not so by the same right as the Twelve; ^he is, in fact, a laborer of the second hour, and almost an intruder. 

Historical documents, as they have reached us, are apt to cause some misapprehension on this point. As we know infinitely more of the affairs of Paul than of those of the Twelve, as we possess his authentic writ- 1 The author of the Acts does not directly give to St Paul the title of apostle. This title is, in general, reserved by him for the members of the central college, at Jerusalemings and original memoirs relating with minute precision certain epochs of his life, we give him the importance of the first order, almost superior even to that of Jesus. 

This is an error. Paul was a very great man and played a very considerable part in the foundation of Christianity, but he should neither be compared to Jesus, nor even to his immediate disciples. Paul never saw Jesus, nor did he ever taste the ambrosia of the Gali- lean's preaching; and the most mediocre man who had partaken of that heavenly manna, was, through that very privilege, superior to him who had, as it were, only an after-taste. . Nothing is more false than an opinion which has become fash- I unable in these days, and which implies that Paul was the true founder of Christianity. 

Jesus alone is its true founder, and the next places to him should be reserved for his grand yet obsecure companions — for those affectionate women and faithful friends who believed in him in spite of death. Paul was, in the first century, a kind of isolated phenomenon. Instead of an organized school, he left vigorous adversaries, who, after his death, wished to banish him from the Church, to place him on the same footing with Simon the Magician.

 They even have denied him the credit of that which we consider his special work — the conversion of the Gentiles. The Church of Corinth, which he alone had founded,' professed to owe its origin to him and to St Peter.

Author:  Ernest Renan
Publication date: 1869

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