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PHILO AN APOLOGIST OF THE
THE manner in which our author speaks of the Esseans; the energy, the zeal, the eloquence, which he displays in his account of them, prove that he is not merely the historian, but their friend and apologist; that his object was not to gratify the public curiosity, by a lukewarm description of a hitherto unknown sect, but to defend, encourage, and support an injured people, under the various persecutions and calumnies with which they were assailed. We will point out a few instances, in which the language of Philo is obviously levelled against those charges and misrepresentations, which are known to have been urged against the early followers of Jesus.
1. Philo thus alludes to and defends the primitive believers from certain accusations which were made against them, and for which, though false, they suffered the most cruel treatment."Many powerful men rise against the Esseans
in their own country, some of whom, being eager to surpass the fierceness of untameable beasts, omit no measure to gratify their cruelty; and they cease not to sacrifice whole flocks of those within their power, or like butchers to tear their limbs in pieces, until themselves are brought to that justice which inspects the affairs of men; yet not one of those furious persecutors have been able to substantiate any accusation against this band of holy men." The accusations here
As the enemies of the gospel had associated ideas of infamy and reproach with the christian name, the believers assumed the title of dyso, or saints, by which they inculcated that they were free from the impurities usually ascribed to them. This leads me to notice a remark made by Mr. Wakefield, in his excellent Commentaries on Matthew, p. 2. "The application of the word saint to the evangelists, apostles, and other celebrated men of the christian church, is an ignorant device of some in later times, who have not been sufficiently aware of the true import of this term. Every christian indiscriminately was denominated, in the days of the apostles, a saint or holy person; and this title was intended merely as a general and political appellation, in contradistinction to the word heathen or gentile; who was called, in a civil sense, unholy and unrighteous, one who was not a professor of christianity."
This account, which the writer, I believe, derived from Taylor's theory, is altogether erroneous. The term saint was not used by the apostles in a political sense, or to denote a christian, in opposition to a gentile. The apostles
alluded to, were such as the following-that they disturbed society, and turned the world upside down; that they were atheists or haters of the popular gods; that they were the preachers of sedition and treason, and wished to make Jesus of Nazareth king instead of Cæsar, and that, while they pretended to superior purity of morals, and undertook the arduous task of reforming the world, they were guilty in their nightly meetings, of the grossest impurities.
An observation of Gibbon renders it necessary to transcribe his words on this subject. "The precautions with which the disciples of Christ performed the offices of religion, were at first
applied it to themselves and their brethren, in expression of their superior moral purity, as professors of the new faith, and of their entire freedom from the gross immoralities alleged against them by their enemies. Philo acted a similar part, to answer the same end; and he inculcates, by the term holy men, men not given to impurities, as they were sometimes accused, but men consecrated to God by distinguished sanctity. I add, that the supposition of the word being used in a civil sense, is injurious to the first followers of Jesus. They never aimed at making any distinction between men, but such as was marked out by their moral character. And they well knew, that an attempt to introduce a political distinction, between them and unbelievers, would countenance the notion, that their profession was merely of a political nature, and hostile to the authority of Caesar.
dictated by fear and necessity; but they were continued from choice. By imitating the awful secrecies, which reigned in the Eleusinian mysteries, the Christians had flattered themselves, that they should render their sacred institutions more respectable in the eyes of the pagan world. But the event, as it often happens to the operations of subtile policy, deceived their wishes and their expectations. It was concluded, that they only conceived what they would have blushed to disclose. Their mistaken prudence afforded an opportunity for malice to invent, and for suspicious credulity to believe, the horrid tales, which described the Christians as the most wicked of human kind, who practised in their dark recesses every abomination that a depraved fancy could suggest, and who solicited the favour of their unknown God by the sacrifice of every moral virtue. There were many who pretended to confess, or to relate the ceremonies of this abhorred society. It was asserted, that a new born infant, entirely covered over with flour, was presented like some mystic symbol of initiation to the knife of the proselyte, who unknowingly inflicted many a secret and mortal wound on the innocent victim of his error; that as soon as the cruel deed was perpetrated, the sectaries drank up the blood, greedily tore asunder the quivering members, and pledged themselves to mutual
secrecy by a mutual consciousness of guilt. It was as confidently affirmed, that this inhuman sacrifice was succeeded by a suitable entertainment, in which intemperance served as a provocative to brutal lust; till at the appointed moment the lights were suddenly extinguished, shame was banished, nature was forgotten; and, as accident might direct, the darkness of the night was polluted by the incestuous commerce of sisters and brothers, of sons and of mothers." The Decline, &c. Vol. II. c. 16.
Calumnies like these, which Gibbon has so delineated as to impress on his readers a strong suspicion of their truth, while he affects himself to treat them as false, were very industriously circulated by the enemies of the Gospel from its very first appearance, and the language of Philo and Josephus was calculated and intended to refute them. The former emphatically calls the Christians, a band of holy men, i. e. men free from the impurities ascribed to them. His language implies, that they had no mystery but that of godliness; that they taught no doctrine, but righteousness, holiness, and justice;* that they
* Παιδεύονται δε ευσέβειαν, όσιότητα, δικαιοσύνην, οικονομίαν, πολιτείαν, επισημην των προς αλήθειαν αγαθών και κακων και αδιαφόρων, όροις και κανοσι τρίτο