5 MAY 1866, Page 16


LES APOTRES.• THE book which M. Renan calls The Apostles,—but which is only concerned with the Apostles as a point of departure for a criti- cism on the great empire which was transformed by the spiritual forces which they transmitted,—will not, and indeed could not well, attract the attention of his Life of Jesus. To know how an imaginative pantheist, who has devoted great genius and almost all the energies of an industrious life, to the Semitic literature and history, would conceive and delineate, without calling in the aid of the supernatural, the great figure of Him to whom the Western world traces all its conceptions of the supernatural, was a matter of interest not only to students, but to the world at large. There will be much the same kind of interest no doubt, on a lower level, about his life of St. Paul. But the present volume only fills up the hiatus between the crucifixion and the departure of St. Paul on his first great mission to the Gentile world,—an interval which offers fewer materials for the imaginative reconstruction of Christian history, and more difficulties to the reconstructor, than any other in the story of Christianity. Accordingly M. Renan passes over the ground as lightly as possible, devoting the greater part of the present work to a delineation which is full of ability, but necessarily not very original, of the influences already at work in the Roman Empire favourable to the new doctrine and to the rapid development of a machinery for spreading it. M. Renan's object is of course to show that the spread of Christianity was due to obvious human causes, for which the ground had long been prepar- ing in the history both of the East and West. Nor will any one who believes in the supernatural as the root of Christianity, and a permanent element of all spiritual life, dispute with him a single inch of this latter ground. That the world was prepared for Christ before Christ was sent into the world, is so essential a part of the teaching of revelation, that here at least the naturalists and the supernaturalists are absolutely at one. M. Renan only differs from us here in thinking that the supernatural, which he admits to have been an essential element in the Christian faith, essential to its success and uni- versal reception, was an essential error. He only differs from the Christian historian in making an effort to show how that neces- sary alloy, as he regards it, crept in without tainting the earnestness and simplicity of the first Christians.

And in this, the critical point of this volume, probably neither those who are most opposed to M. Renan nor those who most agree with him will think him very successful. The latter will say, justly enough, that he has attempted to solve a difficult historical problem purely by means of the imagination without any hints to guide him. Rejecting as they do the supernatural as simply impossible, the proper course for naturalistic historians is to admit that the transition from the despair and dejection caused by the crucifixion to the confident faith in Christ's resurrection and permanent presence with his disciples, is so full of matter to them incredible, that it is better to confess their absolute ignorance of the true historical links by which this transformation was worked, and to take up the new faith once more at a point where it had fairly gained that access of fortunate credulity which was its warrant for conquering the world. M. Renan, however, is too eager to construct a picturesque history, to take this course. He can neither abandon the materials which he believes full of fable to those who believe them historical, nor accept them as trustworthy; but feels himself constrained to select very arbitrarily from them, and recast in a sentimental form such hints as he thinks most capable of poetical treatment. The result is very weak, and, while probably the most popular, is certainly much the worst, part of this book. In the attempt to conceive from the purely human side the figure of our Lord, there was a boldness of conception and evidence of long and deep meditation which could not but be striking and instructive even to those who felt most pro- foundly its failure. In many respects M. Renan got beyond the or- dinary limitations of French genius. He had lived long enough in the East, and studied its literature deeply enough, to gain a certain insight into our Lord's prophetic character which ordinary ratio- nalists have either ignored or contented themselves with simply condemning as fanatical. But there are no similar data, and no similar irritants of the higher imagination, if we may use the ex- pression, in the early apostolic history. If the resurrection was not a fact, it was a fancy, one which showed not the spiritual strength of the apostles, but their spiritual weakness. And the • Les .4p6tres. Par Ernest Bens. Paris: Levy. mood of mind into which it threw the missionary Church was not a prophetic fever of idealistic anticipation, such as M. Renan tried to sketch in our Lord, but a fever of ignorant superstition, with reverted eyes fixed on vacancy and conversing with a phantom or a dream. M. Renan does not like to realize this. He wanes to find in the faith which, as he thinks, invented a resurrection, and then leaned upon its own spectral fancy with the full weight of life-long conviction, the same kind of ideal nobility which he had previously discerned in the prophet who foresaw the triumph of pure ideas, as M. Renan thinks them, over the gross and selfish pagan world. But even taking our stand on M. Renan's own ground, we ought to pity the former, even though we admire the jatier. For the apostles, according to his own theory, were diking their master of his highest triumph. Instead of spreading his pure ' ideas,' whatever they were, and testing their true power, they were in M. Renan's opinion making their fulcrum for moving the world, not out of his idealism, but out of a legend born of their own prolific superstition.

In the effort to transform this superstition into something noble M. Renan falls into mere French sentimentalism, and the part of his book which treats of the first year after the crucifixion reads like a poor French novel into which, to heighten its colouring, he imports the most fanciful eulogies on the women whose tender devotion to our Lord was, as he thinks, the chief cause of the new and false belief in his reappearance. Standing by the superior historical authenticity,—so far as he can admit authenticity at all in anything which includes the miraculous,—of the gospel of St. John, M. Renan holds that the first vision of Christ after his death was seen by Mary Magdalene, and ascribes to her the merit, as he persists in calling it, of embodying Christ's idea in a fictitious and mythical fact. He supposes that some of the scattered and affrighted disciples had already removed the body without com- municating this to the nearest and dearest of his circle, that Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, that one only thought occupied her woman's heart, where had they put the body ?' " Suddenly she hears a light rustling behind her. There is a man standing. At first she believes it to be the gardener. ' Oh I' she says, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou halt laid him, that I may take him away.' For the only answer she thinks that she hears herself called by her name, Mary I' It was the voice that had so often thrilled her before. It was the accent of Jesus.

Oh 1 my master,' she cries. She is about to touch him. A sort of instinctive movement throws her at his feet to kiss them. The light vision gives way, and says to her, ' Touch me not.' Little by little the shadow disappears. But the miracle of love is accom- plished. That which Cephas could not do, Mary has done. She has been able to draw life, sweet and penetrating words, from the empty tomb. There is now no more talk of inferences to be deduced, or of conjectures to be formed. Mary has seen and heard. The resur- rection has its first direct witness." " Peter," adds M. Renan, "only saw the empty cave, and the linen cloth, and the napkin; only Mary loved enough to pass the bounds of nature and revive the shade of the perfect [exquis] master. In these kind of marvellous crises, to see after the others is nothing. All the merit is in seeing for the first time ; for the others afterwards model their visions on the received type. It is the peculiarity of fine organizations to con- ceive the image promptly, justly, and with a sort of intimate sense of the end. The glory of the resurrection belongs, then, to Mary of Magdala." And in a later part of his book the other women are aesociated.with Mary in similar sentimental panegyrics. Of course the other visions of Christ are painted in like fashion. When the twelve are collected together with shut doors on the evening of the third day, some one feels a breath of air, and imagines it the breath of their master, some one else fancies he hears the word "Schalom," or "Peace be unto you." When one hears all hear, and so the time of visions begins. A chivalrous sentiment arises which induces the disciples to believe without seeing. There is even a competition among them who shall be most content with least evidence. And so there grows up the faith on which the Church is built.

This sort of thing requires no criticism, indeed is capable of none. Admit with M. Renan that the supernatural is nothing in the world, and this is perhaps as good as any other mode of ac- counting for the credulity of the apostles so as to save their good faith. As good, but no better. The accounts given are so abso- lutely inconsistent with these interpretations, that M. Renan gains Bathing at all by keeping to the skeleton of the facts in St. John's, or any other gospel, and might much better say at once that the actual accounts are incredible and he does not know what to put in their place. It seems to us perfect sentimentalism to call a delu- sion of the kind imputed to Mary Magdalene a "triumph of love." No doubt without love such a delusion would not be

likely, but the deepest love would involve so keen a sense of the terrible difference between real converse and a dream of con- verse, that it would be less likely, more unlikely, to fall into any such delusions than a slighter and more excitable feeling. Again, there seems real misrepresentation in M. Renan's asser- tion that the few first visions once established, there was " a fearful emulation" (une emulation effrayante) among the disciples, a sort of outbidding of each other in credulity. " Merit con- sisting in believing without having seen, faith at any price, gratuitous faith, faith passing even into folly, was exalted as the first of spiritual gifts." Of course the hint for this assertion must be the saying of our Lord's to Thomas recorded by St. John, " Thomas, because thou hest seen, thou haat believed ; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed," and M. Renan even wishes to make out that St. John hoped to earn this blessing for himself on the ground that he had no separate vision. But the blessing was not for those who had not had a separate and private vision, but who had not seen at all, and St. John records at least three occasions on which the principal apostles, and he of course among them, saw our Lord after his resurrection. M. Renan's remark would only have any meaning if .he agreed with Baur and other rationalistic critics in ascribing the fourth gospel to a writer of the next age. But this theory he still, even more strongly than before, rejects. And as a matter of fact, whatever may have been the blessing promised to those who did not see and yet believed, we know decisively, from St. Paul that " above five hundred brethren " claimed to have seen Christ after his resurrection, at once,—from the author of the book of Acts, that to have been a witness of the resurrection was a sine qud non for the qualification of the new apostle chosen afterJudas's death or expulsion from the number of the twelve,—from St. Paul that he based his claim to be called an apostle on his having himself seen Christ " as one born out of due season," and that as far as evidence goes there is much to show that the members of the early Church did ascribe the greatest possible value to having direct witnesses of the resurrection, and showed no disposition at all to inculcate mystical belief in it on any other ground. If any such feeling had been entertained St. Paul would probably have entertained it. Whereas, on the contrary, be bases the whole of his preaching on the historical 'evidence to his resurrection, recounting an appear- ance to Peter, to the twelve, to five hundred brethren at once, most of whom, he adds, were still alive, then to James, then, again, to the apostles, last of all to himself, ignoring altogether, and character- istically enough if he knew of it, the vision to Mary Magdalene or the women on which M. Renan builds so much. We do not pre- tend to deny that none of the extant histories of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection agree together. And if M. Renan had simply asserted that that alone was sufficient reason for re- jecting them, we could only have differed from him. But it is precisely contrary to all we know to say that there was any dis- position either to believe, or to inculcate belief, on other than direct testimony. What we can say for certain is that on one day the disciples were overpowered with grief and dismay, and, within three days, full of the most perfect faith and joy, on multiplied evidences (of actual perception, as they believed, which were absolutely convincing to them) of their master's resurrec- tion, — so absolutely convincing that to preach it became the work of their lives as well as to believe it, the joy and consolation. We can say no more than this. But it is certain that even ignorant men do as a rule require convictions of the very strongest kind to mould their actual and practical lives upon. Very much weaker convictions are enough for dreaming, for the charm of reverie, for the luxury of memory. A number of fishermen or other labourers of very different moulds of temperament, would scarcely agree to spend themselves on spreading news of a historical fact on which they built so much expectation, if they had had any lingering doubts about it. Whether absolute conviction might spring from delusive sources, is of course a question. But certainly we doubt whether any such conviction could spring from those pointed out by M. Renan. Dreamy hesitating beliefs might; but scarcely the driving impulse to publish the resurrection as a fact bearing immediately and most powerfully on the history of the generation then living. Every one admits that the expectation of a speedy return of Christ to wind up the age was engraved in the minds of the apostles ;—that was their secondary rainbow, and gives us a pale reflection of the much more vivid primary colours in which the certainty of his resurrection was painted upon their memories.

We have no space to review the far more interesting and original remarks of M. Renan on the causes which promoted the rapid spread of the Christian faith. He dwells chiefly on the growing craving for closer social ties and social education for the poor, tics answering to the intimacies of Church communities,— the tendency to social democracy,—and the yearning of the West for that kind of religion,—that recognition of an insatiable thirst after an infinite principle,—which, whether in good or evil form, in the form of a worship of Christ or of Isis,—the East alone seemed able to supply. On all these points M. Henan speaks with a knowledge far above that of most of his critics. Nor will any one who is not weak enough to think that a precise convergence between many different streams of natural and supernatural influence implies a doubt of the reality of the latter, hesitate to accept his teaching. Perhaps the finest passage of the book as a specimen of mere style and vivid description is M. Renan's picture of Antioch when first the Christian Church there was founded. In some part of it we may trace perhaps ironic allusions to the Paris of the French Empire. With part of this brilliant passage we will conclude our notice :—

"The degradation of certain Levantine cities dominated by the spirit of intrigue, delivered up entire to low cunning, can scarcely give us a conception of the degree of corruption reached by the human race at Antioch. It was an inconceivable medley of merry andrews, quacks, buffoons, magicians, miraclemongers, sorcerers, priests, impostors ; a city of races, games, dances, processions, fetes, debauches, of unbridled luxury, of all the follies of the East, of the most unhealthy superstitions, and of the fanaticism of the orgy. By turns servile and ungrateful, cow- ardly and insolent, the people of Antioch were the perfect model of those crowds devoted to Cesariem, without country, without nationality, with- out family honour, without a name to keep. The great Corso, which traversed the city, was like a theatre, where rolled day after day the waves of a trifling, light-headed, changeable, insurrection-loving populace, a populace sometimes spirituel, occupied with songs, parodies, squibs, impertinences of all sorts. The city was very literary, but literary only in the literature of rhetoricians. The eights were strange ; there were some games in which bands of naked young girls took part in all the exercises with a mere fillet round them ; at the celebrated festival of Maionma troops of courtezans swam in public in basins filled with limpid water. This fete was like an intoxication, like a dream of Sardanapalus, where all the pleasures, all the debaucheries, not excluding some of a more delicate kind, wore unrolled pellmell. This river of dirt, which, making its exit by the mouth of the Orontes, was about to invade Rome, had here its principal sources. Two hundred decurions were employed in regulating the religions ceremonies and celebrations. The municipality possessed great public .domains, the rents of which the dunmoirs divided between the poor citizens. Like all cities of pleasure, Antioch had a lowest section of the people, living on the public or on sordid gains. The beauty of works of art and the infinite charm of nature prevented this moral degrada- tion from degenerating entirely into ugliness and vulgarity. The site of Antioch is one of the most picturesque in the world. The city occupied the interval between the Orontes and the slopes of Mount Silpius, one of the spurs of Mount Cssius. Nothing could equal the abundance and beauty of the waters. The fortified space, climbing up perpendicular rocks, by a real tour de force of military architecture inclosed the summit of the mountain; and formed with the rocks at a tremendous height an indented crown of marvellous effect. This disposition of their ramparts, uniting the advantages of the ancient Acropolos with those of the groat walled cities, was in general preferred by the Generals of Alexander, as one sees in the Pierian Selencia, in Ephesus, in Smyrna, in Theesalonica. The result was various astonishing perspectives. Antioch had within its walls mountains 700 feet in height, perpendicular rocks, tor- rents, precipices, deep ravines, cascades, inaccessible caves ; in the midst of all these delicious gardens. A thick wood of myrtles, of flowering box, of laurels, of plants always green—and of the most tender green, rocks carpeted with pinks, with hyacinths, and cyclamens, give to these wild heights the aspect of gardens hung in the air. The variety of the flowers, the freshness of the turf, composed of an incredible number of minute grasses, the beauty of the plane trees which border the Orontes, inspire the gaiety, the something of sweet scent with which the beautiful genius of Chrysestom, Libanius, and Julian is, as it were, intoxicated. On the right bank of the river stretches a vast plain bordered on one side by the Amanns and the oddly truncated mountains of Pieria, on the other side by the plateaux of Cyrrhestiea, behind which one is conscious of the dangerous neighbourhood of the Arab and the desert. The valley of the Orontes, which opens to the west, brings this interior basin into communication with the sea, or rather with the vast world in the bosom of which the Mediterranean has constituted from all time a sort of neutral highway and federal bond."