The Life of Christ

Mgr E. Le Camus




THE Messianic era is definitely opened. Notwithstanding the unfavorable reception on the part of the Nazarenes, Jesus, far from being discouraged, continues henceforth without truce or repose to spread the GoodTidings and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. He is still alone; the disciples who followed Him to Jerusalem for the first Passover do not seem to have been with Him when, on another feastday, He cured the paralytic at Bethesda. At any rate, we did not see them with Him at Nazareth at the time of the incident in the synagogue. Very probably Jesus had them with Him only from time to time. The festivals over, they returned to their avocations, where the Master will soon rejoin them. For the time being He preaches alone penance and faith in the Gospel.

Wherever He meets with souls, He halts. No longer the synagogue only, but the public square and private houses serve for calling the multitudes together and instructing them. He remains not long in any single place, and gives no lengthy discourses. After scattering among His hearers a few brief and telling maxims, He withdraws and leaves them time for reflection. Therefore, the crowds who have merely caught a glimpse of Him follow Him, eager to hear Him again. With them He will gladly halt upon His way, sometimes at the foot of a mountain, sometimes on the edge of a field of grain, and again near the shore of the lake. It may be said that what was dead in indifference and infidelity comes back to life at His approach. Through kindness, patience, miracles, He stirs up in all places the most salutary excitement.

Such were the circumstances amid which Jesus went about through all the country from Nazareth to Capharnaum. When He reached the shores of the lake, He saw Simon Peter and Andrew, who, in discouragement after a night of fruitless fishing, were throwing their nets for a final attempt.2 He cried out to them: "Come after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men." As they heard that voice so well known to them, the two brothers pushed their bark upon the strand and hastened to welcome Jesus. Not far from them, in another boat were James and John, who, with Zebedee their father and some hired helpers, were cleaning and mending their nets. The Master called them also. This invitation was quite different from the one they had received upon the banks of the Jordan.3 At that time it was question merely of attaching them to Himself by the ordinary ties of faith and affection, but now there were to be created official and definitive bonds to hold the disciple to the Master. Formerly the four had followed Jesus occasionally and for a time only, but now they will follow Him as in duty bound and forever.

Meanwhile the crowd that surrounded Jesus had become numerous, and as they pressed forward to touch Him or to see Him close at hand, it became impossible for Him to speak to all. Then turning toward the two boats down upon the shore, He entered one of them; it was Simon's. This incident, apparently fortuitous, but which was intimately connected with Jesus' particular intentions with regard to His disciple, was a presage of the primacy which, later on, He would give him in the Church; and, in truth for eighteen centuries Jesus has ever remained seated in Peter's bark teaching the Christian society with the most indefectible authority.

He then requested Peter to push out the little boat away from the shore, and, seating Himself, He began to instruct the people. How fair that scene! The blue waves caressing the restless pulpit from which the preacher spoke, and standing on the shore, or clinging to the dark rocks that project into the lake, the many hearers listening with unspeakable delight! The morning calm, the charm of beautiful nature no less than the gracious words of the Master seemed to spread perfect happiness throughout this attentive audience. No temple, no palace ever had above it a vault comparable to the glorious sky of Syria, nor round about it an environment more pleasant to look upon than the lake with its clear waters and the undulating slopes that framed it as with a pied curtain of fieldflowers and violets blossoming beneath rocks that gleamed white in the sun.

When the discourse was ended Jesus dismissed the people, and, turning to Simon, said to him: "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." It was, no doubt, His intention to reward them gratefully for the service they had rendered Him in placing their boat at His disposal; but, most of all, He desired to make lasting the impression His discourse had left upon the souls of Peter and his companions. For fishermen He was preparing a miraculous catch of fishes. Their natural desires could not be understood more thoroughly. Simon replied: "Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing; but at Thy word, I will let down the net." His obedience in making one more trial, notwithstanding the certainty of failure, proves the lofty idea Peter had already conceived of Jesus' power. He was generously rewarded for it by a draught so great that the nets were in danger of breaking. But immediately, in response to a signal, the fishermen who were in the other boat hastened to their aid. They filled both boats to such an extent that they ran the risk of sinking; for ordinarily these fishingcraft in lakes and ponds are not of very great size. Those we found at Tiberias are scarcely an exception to this rule, and six men completely fill them.

There can be no doubt that the fishermen had witnessed a miracle. It was not chance nor the approach of a storm that had gathered this great number of fishes into Peter's net; for Jesus could not count upon luck after the slender results of the night, and Peter had no need of information from Jesus to know that fishing is good when the storm is about to break. No, Peter knew well what was superhuman in this incident. He analyzed it thus: Jesus, by an act of supreme authority, has commanded the fishes to assemble around the boat,4 and with superhuman knowledge He knew that they had obeyed. Now He Who can accomplish such prodigies is not a simple mortal. Therefore in Jesus there is something of God. When the divine majesty permits itself to be seen through the means of extraordinary works, it fills one not only with amazement, but with fear. Peter fell upon his knees and cried out: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'' But with touching kindness came Jesus' answer: "Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men."5 Andrew, James, and John were of the same mind as Simon Peter. Jesus included them in the same invitation, and when they had drawn their boats upon the shore, He said to them: "Leave your nets and follow me." And all, enchanted with the thought of becoming fishers of men, left their fathers and their companions, their boats, their nets, and the catch of fish itself, and joined with Jesus to depart from Him no more.

In the history of the world, there has been, perhaps, no event of greater importance than the unanimous response of these four men to the call of Jesus. The vocation of Abraham had made certain for mankind the knowledge of one only living and personal God; that of Moses had manifested to the people the providential and permanent action of their God in human affairs; the vocation of the four disciples will give this God as brother and liberator to fallen humanity. All that preceded was transitory, and merely prefaced the religious transformation that the fishermen of Galilee are to effect upon a perverted world. In their nets, which they shall draw over all the universe east and west, north and south, they will gather the peoples of every race, of every tongue, of every civilization. A prodigy, indeed! and what is the miraculous draught of fishes on the lake when compared with that which these same men, relying on the word of Jesus, have succeeded in effecting in the meshes of the Gospel nets?




JESUS probably spent that day in the company of His new disciples6 on the Shores of the lake. But He determined to go to Capharnaum On the Sabbath following to preach to the people in the synagogue.

That city played an important part in the Gospel history. A few words uttered by Jesus7 give us the opinion that it was then at the height of prosperity; but it was a prosperity altogether material, no attention being given to the great questions of the intellectual and moral order.

It is on the side of the little promontory situated between Aïn and Tin and Tabigah that we must look for its ancient site. The remains of aqueducts, which we saw for ourselves five years ago, decide the matter.8 They serve to distribute over the whole plain of Genesareth the irrigating waters of which Josephus speaks. Built on the road of the caravans, the little town was perpetually traversed by strangers, and enriched by the traffic they brought there. Merchants met there to buy or sell the early fruits, fresh and salt fish, corn and grain of all kinds. The Syrian traders willingly unrolled there their bales of rich stuffs, and the Bedouins came to exchange the wool of their sheep for household utensils and clothes. Jews, Pagans, and Proselytes elbowed each other in their moneymaking pursuits. There were Customs9 and a garrison, for the town was on the frontier line between the kingdoms of Philip and of Antipas.

From this point Jesus could communicate with Galilee on the west, with Gaulanitis and Ituræa on the north, Decapolis and Peræa on the east and south; and after His apostolic journeys He was certain of finding in Peter's house or in that of other faithful friends a free and cordial welcome. Indeed, He became so constant a guest of these excellent families that according to the Gospel10 Capharnaum was from this time on His official domicile, His city, and He paid tribute there as a regularly enrolled inhabitant.11

Nothing could be lovelier than the panorama that unfolds at the foot of this little town. From the eminence formed by the rock on which it was built the eye can follow in turn both shores, at that time covered with delightful dwellings, from Magdala on the right and WadiSemak on the left, as far as BethsaidaJulias on the north, and then rest on the blue waters of the lake beaten by the white wings of countless thousands of birds. Even today when the great shadows of the hills that line the western coast begin to descend like gauze curtains over this cradle, where the life of former days seems to slumber forever, one feels the real charm of reverie before this gracious view, and sees how pleased the Son of God must have been to repeat His discourses on heaven amid such natural beauty.

The city was built of black rocks, very hard in spite of their porosity. They had been carefully whitened from time to time, and these luminous tints, in contrast with the somber rocks or the bits of verdure that framed them, must have had a most pleasing effect beneath the beautiful eastern sun. Various suburbs, or groups of houses upon the shores of the lake, like those upon the Bay of Naples, served to lengthen the city itself. Thus it was that, lying on both slopes of the little promontory, it had on the right, facing the lake, its port where Aïn and Tin are now, and on the left toward the east, its suburbs as far as Tabigah, where there are still many insignificant ruins. In that part, no doubt, around a well still in existence and named by Josephus as Capharnaum12 itself, dwelt the industrial population, forming, as it were, a manufacturing suburb. The plentiful waters of the spring were used partly for the service of the mills, traces of which are yet found. Potters and especially tanners, from whom the name Tabigah seems to be derived, found there all the needed resources for their trades.

More than once, no doubt, did Jesus seat Himself in the midst of these honest workingmen and proclaim to them the new era when all men should be deemed equal in the liberty of the children of God, all called to the same felicity, and all united in the same hopes.

Nevertheless He preferred the synagogue for preaching and for rousing the souls of men. A centurion,13 of foreign birth, but probably a proselyte of the gate, and belonging to the garrison of Capharnaum, had built a particularly beautiful synagogue. He had wished, in this way, to give the Jewish population a proof of his good will and to render to Jehovah his faithful homage.

At Jesus's first appearance the multitude came in haste, for the news of His coming had spread over all the country. They wished to see Him and to hear Him. He spoke to them, and the general impression was that His teaching was quite different from that of the Jewish rabbis. Neither in substance nor in form did His discourses bear any resemblance to the dry commentaries or the minute discussions of the doctors of the synagogue. Jesus took up the living, practical questions of religion, and treated them with an authority and clearness that astonished all. The rabbis relied on the traditions of the ancients; Jesus had reason and man's conscience for His support; the former busied themselves with ridiculous trifles, He with the most serious matters of the moral life. They discussed unceasingly and without reaching any conclusion; He asserted and in a few words proved what He asserted. The multitude did not fail to do justice to the superiority of His teaching and were filled with admiration for Him.

But while they were all thus wrapt in attention to His words, an unlookedfor incident occurred and served to expose in a new light His superior nature. Among the crowds of hearers there was one unfortunate man whose condition should have kept him away from a pious gathering. He was possessed of an unclean spirit. He had listened in silence to this new teacher for some time; but the demon in whose power he was was less patient than he. Satan could not but consider the preacher's triumph odious and intolerable. Every word from the Holy One of God was a shaft that struck him with violence. And now in his fury, no longer placing a check upon his hatred, he broke forth, and, using the voice of the man, possessed, he cried out: "Let us alone, what have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God!" The assembly, in amazement at an interruption so bold and so little in harmony with the general admiration, wondered what was about to happen. Jesus recognized the voice of Satan the enemy, and scorned his selfish and unwelcome homage. "Hold thy peace," He said menacingly, "and go out of him." At once the unclean spirit, throwing his victim into frightful convulsions, hurled him violently into the middle of the synagogue, and with a loud cry went out of his body. He had not injured him.

The excitement in the assembly was intense. The two powers that disputed the empire of the world, Satan and the Messiah, had just been seen in conflict. Satan had been put to rout before Him in Whose hands was all power over evil spirits as well as over disease and the elements. All were filled with those sentiments of fear that had stirred Peter and his companions after the miraculous draught of fishes, and they said: "What word is this, for with authority and power He commandeth the unclean spirits and they go out?"

For the Jews of this epoch nothing could be more fortunate than the manifestation of this power. The demon's visible influence over this benighted people had assumed awful proportions, and at all times14 as Jesus continues His way, we shall find unfortunate beings, given up to diabolical power, who are hastening to seek deliverance. Josephus,15 asserting the frequency of this terrible phenomenon, thought that it should be attributed to the souls of vicious men who after their death returned to seek a dwellingplace in the bodies of the living. The people, less acquainted with the philosophical theories of Hellenism, were of a different opinion, and Jesus by His actions and by His words established their conviction.16 They thought that the evil spirits themselves, the fallen angels, companions and instruments of Satan, had power to seize upon a man and to torment him, soul and body at the same time.

In view of what we have said elsewhere of the existence of these superior beings and of their power upon the world, we find no difficulty in accepting literally both the Savior's words and the Evangelists' assertions.

In fact, there seems to be nothing to prevent evil spirits from contact either with our soul or with our body. They can, by internal or external representations, excite our imaginations, allure our sensibility and thus disturb our intellect, or even, in some degree, bind our will. The moral state that follows is most extraordinary; the diabolical influence becomes stronger, suggestions more numerous, impressions more vivid. The subject seems to be less and less his own property. The ego is gradually blotted out, not, indeed, annihilated, but put in a condition somewhat like sleep or like lunacy. As a wound or an afflux of blood to the brain or strong sensations of pain can disturb our reason and silence our will, so the demon by substituting himself for these various causes is able to produce the same effects. And why not? Because he is a spirit? But God, too, is a spirit and He acts directly upon us and upon all creation.

As complement to our theory, we must add that it is not illogical to see diabolical possession engendering disease. The devil, entering into man to do him injury, may disturb his health by the very fact that he disturbs his reason; he may cause men to become maniacs, epileptics, furious in anger, deaf, dumb. This is the reason why the Evangelists frequently call the possessed the sick, and say that Jesus cured the demoniacs. Their expressions are quite correct; for ordinarily the sick were possessed, and those possessed were sick.

Yet, it must be observed, that however great its violence, diabolical influence over the possessed is at all times an extrinsic fact. No doubt the demon can force his victim to do or to say what he would do or say himself, as the hypnotist makes the one hypnotized act or speak; but his power never goes so far as to substitute the demon for the human ego. He is always an exterior agent, an exterior evil. That is why this evil itself, since it is not the substance of our liberty, not ourself, can exist in us without sin. It is a strange phenomenon in any case, and God, in fact, does not, at least ordinarily, grant the demon this awful power except over men who have already freely submitted to the devil's yoke.

Inasmuch as Jesus bore to mankind salvation, deliverance, consolation, it was part of His mission to give succor to these wretched beings whom human science was incapable of relieving. According to Josephus, medicine of different vegetable or mineral substances was used in vain to cure them. Against a supernatural enemy there was required a supernatural force. But, in the synagogue at Capharnaum this force had just made itself known.

Glorified by all, Jesus departed from the assembly and went to the house of Simon Peter.17 Popular ovations never prevented Him from belonging at all times to His first friends, however poor they were, and Peter had the honor of being His host. It was nearly midday.18 The ceremonies in the synagogue had begun at about nine o'clock in the morning.

On entering they learned that Peter's wife's mother had fallen prey to a violent attack of fever.19 These illnesses were not rare in the country. The swamps that surround the Jordan before it falls into the Lake of Genesareth send forth dangerous miasmas; and we learn that the physicians did not permit Josephus to pass a single night at Capharnaum20 after his fall from the horse, but without loss of time, in order to avoid a renewal of the fever, had him borne away to Tarichæ. The joy of the family was disturbed by this incident, and Peter's wife must have appeared particularly troubled by the need of her mother's assistance on so great an occasion. They told Jesus of her illness, and asked Him if He could do anything for the sick woman. Was He, who gave help to the unknown, to close His ears to the request of friends? He was led to the bedside of the poor woman, and, leaning toward her, He immediately took her by the hand and raised her up. This was the means He took of entering into spiritual communication with her whom He wished to cure. By His look or by His words, He doubtless conveyed something that would prepare her to merit a miracle. For He at once uttered His command to the fever, and the fever disappeared so promptly and so completely that the woman arose and began to serve the guests.

In this gathering were Peter and Andrew, James and John, evident proof that former relations had served to bring together again these two groups of brothers.21

The evening was spent, no doubt, in pious conversation. In the meantime the whole city was thinking of the two miraculous cures we have just recounted, and the people impatiently awaited the setting of the sun so that, the Sabbath having ended, they might be permitted to bring all the sick and those possessed to Jesus.

That evening, in fact, the people came in crowds before Simon's house. The sick of every kind were there. Jesus cured them all simply by imposing His hands upon them. The demoniacs, in particular, were there in large numbers. He delivered them, as, in the morning, He had delivered the one in the synagogue. But the demons, fleeing before His authority, proclaimed His divine character with loud cries. It may be that they sought in this way to provoke a premature religious agitation, and to compromise the work of the Messiah. Jesus threatened them and prevented them from saying that He was the Christ.

The multitude of the sick ceased calling for the all-powerful intervention of the Savior only when the night was far advanced, and those who had been informed of this good fortune when it was too late, determined to take their turn the next morning. But at an early hour, before daylight, Jesus had departed.


1 St. Luke alone gives a complete account of the vocation of these four. St. Matthew and St. Mark give only a summary narration; but their story no more excludes that of St. Luke than an abridgment does the history it epitomizes. According to them, it is while Peter and Andrew are fishing that Jesus invites them to follow Him. St. Luke does not contradict this, but tells in what circumstances they were fishing. It is on their return when they are arranging their damaged nets that James and John, moved by what they had witnessed, are called to follow the Master.

2 St. Mark i, 16; St. Matt iv, 18.

3 St. John i, 3543.

4 It is no more difficult for Him who created the fishes to assemble them at a certain moment in one part of the lake, than it is to preserve in them the instinct of gathering in prodigious numbers at such or such season of the year on the coasts of Newfoundland or of the Baltic to begin at these places the long journey that brings them annually to the coast of France.

5 The Greek word that Jesus employs, zwgrwn, implies that the prey captured is permitted to live. So that, while Peter captured the fish to put them to death, he will take men in order to make them live.

6 Certainly the day He found the disciples fishing was not the Sabbath. But as, on the other hand, He seems to have only gone to Simon's house on leaving the synagogue, everything would leave us to suppose that He had passed the previous day outside the town

7 St. Matt. xii, 23.

8 See in Vigouroux, Dict. Biblique. fascic., viii, p. 202, article on Capharnaum

9 St. Mark ii, 14, et parall.

10 St. Matt. ix, 1; xiii, 136; St. Mark ii, 1, etc.

11 St. Matt. xvii, 24.

12 B. J., iii, 10, 8: Kafarnaoum authn oi epicwrioi kalousi.

13 St. Luke vii, 2.

14 Elsewhere we have given the general reason of this outbreak of the infernal powers at the time Jesus appeared. It has been maintained that we should look for the special cause either in the total disappearance of the spirit of prophecy, as in III Kings xvi, 14, or in the repulse that God wished to give by these terrible manifestations to the materialistic doctrines of the Sadducees, as in our days the exceptional development of Spiritism seems destined to refute by facts the theories of Positivism. It is more probable that God desired to make known His anger against His faithless people, and to make them comprehend by means of this shameful servitude the full benefit of deliverance by the Messiah.

15 B. J., vii, 6, 3.

16 It has been said that He was not charged with the correction of these popular prejudices; but we can see no reason He could have had for permitting them to continue. Religious dogma is deeply concerned in this matter. At all events, no one will pretend that Jesus was obliged to give them deeper root; and He would have done this either by His teaching or by His method of proceeding with those possessed, if the popular opinion were not in harmony with His own convictions. Cf. Luke ix, 1; x, 19; xi, 21, 22; Mark ix, 29.

17 St. Mark says that the house belonged to Simon and Andrew, which implies that the brothers, originally of Bethsaida (St. John i, 44), had a domicile at Capharnaum. it was, perhaps, for the sake of deriving greater gain from their fishing that they had selected two establishments in the chief centers on the northern part of the lake.

18 Josephus informs us that on the Sabbath dinner was eaten at midday, on returning from the synagogue. (Autobiog., 54.)

19 It is known that the medical science of the ancients, from Hippocrates to Galen, de diff. Febr., i, cited in Wetstein, specialized one kind of fever called "the great fever." Now whereas Matthew and Mark speak of the sick one as paressousa, Luke specifies: sunecomenh puretw megalw. Such accuracy well befits a physician. (Cf. Col. iv, 14.)

20 Josephus, Autobiog., 72.

21 This cure is incorrectly placed, in Matt. viii, 14, much later, during another sojourn at Capharnaum. The reason doubtless is that to show forth more plainly the power of the young Thaumaturgus, this Evangelist endeavors to group together, not in chronological order but rather didactically, the stories or the miracles (viiiix, 34) which took place after the Sermon on the Mount.

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