Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ I. Various Phases of St. Paul's Captivity.

AS he crossed the threshold of the citadel Paul entered on a captivity which was to terminate only with his life. Let us endeavor to follow him through its various phases. The Tribune Lysias was much embarrassed by the presence of this prisoner, whose crime was unknown to him. He thought his guilt might be most easily ascertained by putting Paul under torture in its least cruel form. This was an expeditious method recommended by the Roman law, but only to be applied to slaves, or in cases of exceptional seriousness.146146"Edictum divi Augusti extat: quæstiones neque semper in omni causa et persona desiderari debere arbitror, sed cum capitalia et atrocia maleficia non aliter explorari et investigari possunt quam per servorum quæstiones, efficacissimas eas esse ad requirendam veritatem existimo." (Wieseler, work quoted, p. 376.)

Lysias thought he had before him a common agitator, a low ringleader of a despised people. He felt no hesitation in inflicting a degrading penalty on a man whom he regarded as worse than a slave. Paul, however, appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen, and the very name sufficed to cover him with a powerful shield. The next day the Tribune brought his prisoner before the bar of the Sanhedrim, hoping to discover the cause of the hostility of the Jews to him. The Jews were vehemently desirous to have the whole matter left in their hands. Religious offenses were still within their province, and they might thus have avenged themselves on Paul, without all the delays of Roman jurisdiction.147147Wieseler, p. 378. It was important for Paul that these tactics should be frustrated. If the Sanhedrim were unanimous in finding him guilty of profaning the Temple, he might be at once given over to his implacable enemies. He therefore sought to divide them by setting forth in strong language his belief in a resurrection. Such a challenge could not fail to kindle strife between the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul cannot be accused of duplicity, for there were in truth certain views common to him and to the Pharisees, and his opposition to their spirit of formalism was too well known to permit any misconception of his attitude toward them. We do not hesitate, however, to prefer his defense in the presence of the clamorous crowd, or before Felix and Festus, as being less politic and more noble. The violent words of Paul to Ananias, compared to the conduct of the Saviour under similar circumstances, make us sensible of the vast distance between the Master and the disciple. The Apostle still carried a human heart within his bosom, and he had ever to be on his guard against the outbreak of his impetuous disposition.148148There has been much dispute among commentators as to how Paul could have said of the High Priest, "οὐκ ᾔδειν." Acts xxiii, 5. It has been maintained that Paul spoke ironically, "I know him, but do not recognize him." It has also been conjectured that the High Priest being illegally in office, Paul designed to give him a rebuke. These explanations are too ingenious. It is better to suppose that Paul really did not, at the first moment, recognize the High Priest. The sitting of the Sanhedrim ended in a great dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The exasperation of the latter against Paul seemed so great that the Tribune once more interposed, and to save Paul's life remanded him to prison. On learning of a nefarious plot laid by the Jews against the captive, Lysias sent him away to Cæsarea.

The Procurator Felix, to whose tribunal Paul was now brought, was a freedman of the Emperor Claudius, brother of Pallas, the favorite of Agrippina. He belonged to that class, famous for its baseness and immorality, which then governed the world by governing the Cæsars, purchasing power by flattery, and using it with tyranny to recover the price paid for it. Tacitus has characterized Felix with one stroke of his incisive pen, when he says, "At once a debauchee and a tyrant, he performed functions little less than royal with the spirit of a slave."149149"Per omnem sævitiam ac libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit." Tacitus, "Hist.," v, 9. In order to establish his position in Judæa, he married Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa. He made his government odious to the Jews, indulging himself, as we further learn from Tacitus, in every sort of crime.150150"Annals," xii, 54. He had continually to suppress attempts at sedition, headed sometimes by robbers called sicarii, sometimes by false messiahs. He acted with the greatest severity toward the chiefs of the nation, in consequence of riots between the Jews and the Syrians in Cæsarea.151151Josephus, "Ant.," viii, 7. Such a man was likely to hold Paul and his accusers in an even balance, and to treat both with the impartiality of a common hatred. It is more than probable that if Paul had not been able to appeal to his rights as a Roman citizen he would have been left to perish in some obscure dungeon, or would have been put to death as a leader of sedition. But it was not possible for even a Felix to treat a Roman citizen with this cruel indifference. He was compelled to hear his cause. His marked antipathy to the rulers of the Sanhedrim was a circumstance favorable to the accused. The charges brought by the Jews against Paul were as false as they were bitter. They accused him, by the mouth of their advocate Tertullus, with being the chief of a sect which they represented as politically dangerous, stirring up sedition in Judæa and throughout the world. They knew well that nothing would be more sure to irritate the cruel Proconsul than such suspicions as these. They mentioned also the profanation of their Temple as a pretext for bringing the accused within their own jurisdiction. Paul refuted their accusations point by point, by the clear and simple narration of his last journey to Jerusalem. Felix was convinced of his innocence, but, willing to pacify the Jews, he remanded him to prison. He subsequently gave him at intervals several mock hearings, in which he sought rather to gratify his own curiosity and that of his wife Drusilla, than to do justice to Paul. Reproved in his conscience by Paul's solemn reasonings of righteousness and judgment to come, he left him for two years in prison, secretly hoping that Paul and his friends would in the end offer a large sum for his release.

The captivity of the Apostle at this time was not rigorous. It was not, however, the merely nominal imprisonment known as custodia libera, which allowed the prisoner the right of living in the house of a consul, a praetor, or a magistrate. This sort of detention was granted only to the most illustrious offenders, and Paul was not of this number. We know positively that he was committed to the guard of Roman soldiers; but there were many degrees in military captivity, and the magistrate could at will relax or tighten the bonds.152152Wieseler, work quoted, pp. 380, 381. Felix commanded that Paul should be treated leniently, and be allowed free intercourse with his friends. Acts xxiv, 23. The Apostle thus received frequent communications from the Churches. Can we suppose that he was himself entirely silent during these two years passed at Cæsarea, so near to his beloved Churches in Asia Minor—those Churches for which he had expressed such tender anxiety to the Ephesian elders? Had he not forewarned them at Miletus of the dangerous inroads that would be made by oriental Gnosticism on these Christians, already beset with so many snares, and blown about by such various winds of doctrine? Was it not high time to put them on their guard against perils so serious? These considerations seem to us to justify the supposition that the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, and the lost Epistle to the Laodiceans, were written during this period of captivity at Cæsarea.153153Most commentators assign to these Epistles a later date, namely, the early part of Paul's captivity at Rome. Wieseler does so on the ground of the great freedom he enjoyed during that portion of his captivity. But the imprisonment at Cæsarea was sufficiently lax to allow direct and frequent communications with the Churches. (See Reuss, "Geschichte der H. Schr. N. T.," p. 98.) The Epistle to Philemon may also well have been written at this date. Paul had met in his imprisonment with a poor fugitive slave belonging to a Christian at Colosse. Full of the thought that in Christ there is neither bond nor free, he had devoted himself with most affectionate solicitude to this unhappy outcast of society, and, according to his own beautiful expression, had in his bonds begotten him to the faith. He thus gave the strongest demonstration of the absolute equality which exists between Christians, and he secured the future emancipation of the slave by sending him back as his own son in the faith, and consequently as a brother of his master, to the house from which he had fled.154154It appears to us, in spite of Neander's opinion, infinitely more probable that Onesimus should have fled from Colosse to Cæsarea than from Colosse to Rome. The fact that Paul was, in his captivity, the companion of a slave, proves that his confinement was not so light as at first it was at Rome, and we have thus an incidental argument in favor of our supposition. Wieseler (p. 455) endeavors to identify the Epistle to Philemon with that to the Laodiceans spoken of in Colossians iv, 16. He does so on the ground that the Epistle to Philemon is also addressed to Archippus, who in the Epistle to the Colossians (iv, 17) is mentioned as an inhabitant of Laodicea. But this latter fact does not appear clearly from the text. Besides, it is difficult to understand how a mere letter of recommendation could be spoken of as an epistle addressed to an entire Church.

Felix was removed from Cæsarea, and Festus came in his place. The new governor, like his predecessor, had to wage warfare with the Jewish brigands, who under the name of Sicariii laid waste the country. He had also some serious differences with the Temple authorities at Jerusalem.155155Josephus, "Antiquities," xx, 8-10. Probably the hostility between him and the priest's party broke out soon after his entry upon office. It may have even begun to manifest itself at the time of his journey to Jerusalem. Acts xxv, 1. In that case the tergiversations in the treatment of the Apostle would be explained. Festus at first shows himself favorable to the Jews; and willing to do them a pleasure, leaves Paul in prison. Then suddenly he turns against them, and haughtily refuses to allow the prisoner to be brought before the Sanhedrim. The High Priest is therefore compelled to go down to Cesarea to sustain the accusation. The Jews, finding it hopeless to get Paul brought before their own tribunal, as guilty of crimes exclusively concerning their religion, change their tactics, and accuse him of stirring up rebellion against the Emperor. This appears from the defense of the accused, who strongly asserts his innocence on this point. Acts xxv, 8. Wearied of this interminable trial, indignant at being made a tool to serve the policy of the Roman procurators in their relations with the Jews, Paul takes a decisive step, and appeals to the Emperor. This was of course the highest jurisdiction, and there was no power in the empire the decisions of which might not be revised and reversed by this supreme authority.156156Dio Cassius uses the following words with reference to these appeals to the Emperor: Δίκαζε δὲ, καὶ αὐτὺς ἱδία τὰ τε ἐφέσιμα καὶ τὰ ἀναπόμπιμα ὅσα ἀν παρὰ τε τῶν μειζόνων ἀρχόντων ἀφικνῆται, μὴτε γαρ αὐτοδικος μήτ᾽ αὐτοτελἡς οὔτω τις παράπαν ἔστω ὥστε μὴ οὐκ ἐφέσιμον ἀπ, αὐτοῦ δίκην γίγνεσθαι. ("Dio Cassius," ii, 19, 53.) Speaking of Augustus, he says, "He judged appeals and causes sent up to him even after the decision of the very highest authorities, for there was no independent or supreme judge from whom there could be no appeal to him." Henceforward Paul's cause was withdrawn from the inferior tribunals. It must be pleaded and receive its solution at Rome.

The judicial ceremony, therefore, which was enacted at Cæsarea a few days later, can only be regarded as a sort of amusement given by Festus to his illustrious guests—an amusement worthy of a blasé Roman, to whom the enthusiasm and faith of St. Paul were but a curious phenomenon. The King Agrippa, before whom Paul appeared, was Herod Agrippa, son of the nephew of Herod the Great, of the same name. Brought up in the palace of the Cæsars, he had attained to his high rank by flattery, and had received from the munificence of the Emperor, to whom he had been an assiduous courtier,157157Δαβὼν δὲ τὴν δωρεὰν παρὰ τοῦ Καισαρος. (Josephus, "Antiquities," xx, 7, 1.) with the title of king, the tetrarchies formerly held by Philip and Lysanias. Like all favorites, he used his power despotically, making and unmaking the high priests at his pleasure. Versed in all intrigue, he lived a life of shameless license, in incestuous connection with his sister, the famous Bernice, who was subsequently to try the power of her charms on Vespasian and Titus.

Attention has often been drawn to the sharpness of outline with which these various personages are sketched by the sacred historian. On the one hand we see the Roman of the decline, essentially a materialist, treating religious questions with contemptuous irony, and charging Paul with madness when he speaks of the resurrection of the dead, and carries his hearers into that invisible world which has no existence for the pagan. Acts xxv, 19; xxvi, 24. On the other hand, Agrippa perfectly represents the man who knows the truth without loving it, and who, while giving to it the assent of his reason, refuses to yield to it his heart, and to break the chains of licentiousness. Acts xxvi, 28. In contrast to these two types of the ancient world, how nobly does Paul stand forth as the representative of the new religion! He gives an account, grand in its simplicity, of his past life, of his conversion, and his mission to the Gentiles. Acts xxvi, 4-23. His only crime is, that he has obeyed the call of God; for this alone have the Jews sought to kill him. He has no other apology to offer than his absolute devotion to the truth. The history of his ministry is the most eloquent commentary on the reply of Peter to the Sanhedrim: "We cannot but speak those things which we have seen and heard." Was it possible for him to resist commands so direct from God? Festus and Agrippa recognize fully the innocence of Paul, but he has appealed to Cæsar, and he must needs be sent to Rome.

The incidents of his voyage are familiar to us all. In the midst of perils of the sea, he manifests the same calmness, the same courage, the same zeal for souls, the same unvarying forgetfulness of self. After the shipwreck, and a sojourn of three months in the island of Malta, made use of by the Apostle for the foundation of a Church, he lands on those shores of Italy which he was to water with his blood, and receives at Puteoli the brotherly welcome of the Christians of the country. Forty miles from Rome, in the little town of Appii Forum, Paul is met by some Christians from the capital of the world; a still larger number are awaiting him at a little inn called the "Three Taverns,"158158Tres Tabernæ. thirty miles nearer the metropolis. Thus escorted, he enters the city by that Appian way which had witnessed so many triumphal processions amid its tombs. Little did any dream that this prisoner, conducted by a centurion, and surrounded by a group of poor and mean men, was the greatest conqueror who had ever trodden that path, and that no victory could be comparable with that he was to win over all the combined powers of the pagan world, which found their focus in the imperial city. The Centurion who brought Paul to Rome belonged to one of the legions of the praetorian guard.159159We must thus understand the words: σπείρης Σεβαστῆς. (Acts xxvii, 1.) Wieseler mentions that detachments of this prætorian guard were often sent on distant missions. He handed over his prisoner, according to his duty, to the prætorian prefect under whom he served. All the criminals who had appealed to the jurisdiction of Cæsar were put in charge of this high dignitary of the court. The prefect, at this time, was Burrhus, a man of distinction and moderation, and of severe morals, whose happy influence restrained even Nero in his career of crime.160160Tacitus, "Annals," xii, 2. He treated Paul with indulgence, probably in consequence of the favorable letters received from Festus, and also on the report of the Centurion, who had become the friend of his prisoner. Paul was allowed to remain under the guard of a soldier in a house hired by himself, and had free communication with his friends. This lenient captivity lasted for two years, during which Paul was not inactive. He first of all called the chief of the Jews together for solemn conference, thus showing how full was his heart of that charity which hopeth all things. Was not his very presence in that prison the living proof of their obduracy? and were not the chains which bound him riveted by their fierce fanaticism? Here, as every-where else, Paul found them the implacable enemies of Jesus Christ, and of his Church. The last recorded words of the Apostle addressed to them seem like the echo of the anathema pronounced by Christ on the Pharisees shortly before his death. Acts xxviii, 25-27. These stern utterances are the final judgment of the Apostle upon the Jews as a nation.161161See Baumgarten, work quoted, second part, c. ii.

After being thus repulsed by the rulers of the synagogue at Rome, Paul turned once more with success to the Gentiles. As in the prison at Cæsarea he had preached the Gospel to a poor slave, his companion in captivity, so now he endeavored to win to Christ the soldiers who guarded him by turns. His bonds were by this means to become famous through the whole prætorium. Phil. i, 13. In the same manner, he embraced every opportunity afforded him to fulfill his apostolic commission among the inhabitants of the great city, and his captivity contributed much to the increase of the Christian Church in Rome.

This state of things lasted till the year 62. Then every thing was changed. From Paul's letter to the Philippians we learn, first, that the party of Judaizing Christians had commenced their intrigues against him; they did not hesitate even "to add affliction to his bonds." Phil. i, 15, 16. The greatness of Paul's soul, his absolute disinterestedness and sublime charity, were brought out under these circumstances. In presence of the colossal paganism which was ever before his eyes in Rome, minor differences must be lost sight of, and help must be accepted from all who preached Jesus Christ, even if they preached only from unworthy motives, and to provoke contention and strife. Phil. i, 18. The captivity of the Apostle became increasingly strict. We cannot but wonder at the all but interminable delays in the hearing of his cause at Rome. But he had already waited two years at Cæsarea; and Nero, who began to show a disposition to tyranny, was not likely to be more eager than his proconsuls to do prompt justice. Nor must we forget that his trial could not come on till his accusers had arrived, for their charge must be laid before the imperial tribunal. At the time of year when the Apostle reached Rome the sea voyage was impracticable. Some months, therefore, must elapse before his trial could begin.

The Jews had no interest in hastening the matter to a conclusion; on the contrary, they might wish to allow time for the impression favorable to Paul, produced by the reports of Festus, to wear away. They awaited some auspicious moment for gaining the ear of the Emperor. They doubtless thought such a moment had arrived when Octavia Poppaea was raised to the rank of empress, for she openly protected them, and Josephus asserts that she was a proselyte.162162Θεοσεβὴς γὰς ἦν. (Josephus, "Ant.," xx, 8, 11. It was easy to obtain her intervention in a cause which so closely concerned her protégés. The wise Burrhus, prefect to the praetorians, was just dead, and had been succeeded by Fennius Rufus and the wicked Tigellinus, the creature of Poppæa.163163Wieseler, pp. 403, 404. Paul was directly in the power of the natural protectors of his most deadly enemies. He had little hope of obtaining justice from Nero at a time when, according to the expression of Tacitus, the young Emperor was inclining to crime.164164Tacitus, "Annals," xiv, 52. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle had already expressed forebodings of the fatal issue of his trial. He still thinks there is a possibility of his being set at large, but the thought of approaching death is ever present with him. Phil. i, 19-26. He is ready that his blood should be poured forth—a holy libation upon the sacrifice of the faith of the Churches.165165Phil. ii, 17. For a full description of the Apostle's spiritual position at this time, see Neander's "Practical Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians," p. 71. But it is the second letter to Timothy which is especially full of the presentiments of immediate death. It is like the dying testament of the Apostle. The hour of martyrdom is at hand; already he is left alone, forsaken by all who did not share his courageous and disinterested faith. The disciples from Asia Minor have gone back to their country. 2 Tim. i, 15. Demas has saddened his heart by a cowardly defection. 2 Tim. iv, 10. Luke alone is with him. The malice of enemies becomes daily more declared. He has been summoned to stand before the bar of Cæsar unsustained by any human aid. 2 Tim. iv, 16. But his word has been mighty, none the less; and, with the help of God, he has been enabled to confess Christ before heathen Rome, and before the Emperor.

But though he has thus once been delivered out of the mouth of the lion, (2 Tim. iv, 17,) he knows he shall not escape a second time, and he gives his last exhortation to his most faithful friend. His heart is full, as at Miletus, of anxious care for the Churches. The heresy which then he feared has already begun to make havoc among them, (2 Tim, ii, 17; iii, 13; iv, 3,) and dangers are rife within and without. The Apostle points out to those who shall survive him the important work which will devolve upon them. He forewarns them of inevitable suffering and persecution, and epitomizes his own experience of the Christian vocation in all its height of privilege and depth of self-sacrifice in the noble words, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." Was not his whole career one "bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus," filling up that which was behind in the afflictions of Christ in his flesh, for his body's sake, the Church? Was not the living sacrifice already consumed by the fire of a fervent love? With what beautiful simplicity does he make the last surrender of himself when he says, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand;" (2 Tim. iv, 6;) and as he adds, " Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," can we not see its brightness already circling the aged brow? This prisoner of the Lord Jesus has for his crown the many Churches founded by his ministry. Those honorable sufferings, which give such irresistible weight to his testimony, are like the thorns under which the brow of the Redeemer bled. There is but little left for Nero to do to perfect the crown of martyrdom, and to set on the apostleship of Paul the last and most sacred seal of blood. He has fought a good fight, he has finished his course. "Having given himself to God," says Chrysostom, "Paul desired to bring with himself the whole world as an offering. To this end he traversed sea and land, Greece and the barbarous countries, everywhere plucking up the thorns of sin, that he might sow the seed of the Gospel; and every-where transforming men into angels.166166Ἐπειδὴ καλῶς ἑαυτὸν καθίερωσε καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην προσήνεγχε. (Chrysost., "De laudib. Pauli apost.," Homily I.) "Qui vocatus a Domino," adds St. Jerome in his forcible language, "effusus est super faciem universæ terræ."167167Hieron., vol. iii., p. 1412. See Note F, at the end of this volume, on the captivity of Paul.

We shall presently consider Paul in the light of the first of the great teachers of the primitive Church; hitherto we have regarded him only as the man of conflict and of action, the missionary and the controversialist. If we inquire into the peculiar character of the missions undertaken and directed by him, we shall find that they differ somewhat from those of the foregoing period. The Divine Spirit works not less mightily in Paul than in Peter, but the part of the human agent is more distinctly observable. The thousands converted on the day of Pentecost and in Solomon's porch were acted upon by a sudden and irresistible influence, produced by the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Conversions in masses like these do not recur in this second period of the Church. The proselytes are many, but they are made one by one, through the personal efforts of St. Paul. The longer he remains in any place, the more important is the Church there formed. Results seem proportioned in their magnitude to the amount of direct personal effort. When we come to examine his teaching, we shall see how wise he was in his adaptation of the means he employed to win souls, and how admirably he sought and found the point of contact between those he addressed and the Gospel he preached. His ministry is accompanied with miracles, but he has less frequent recourse than earlier preachers to this method of persuasion. In many places he founded Churches by the power of his word alone. In these missions of the Apostle to the Gentiles, therefore, the Divine Spirit works more directly upon the conscience and less by external manifestations. Man cannot derive any glory to himself from this fact, for though God's method of intervention assumes a different form, it is none the less to this sovereign intervention of grace that the most beautiful fruits of the Apostle's labor are to be ascribed.168168See Note G, at the end of the volume.

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