The Life of Christ

Mgr. E Le Camus




UNTIL now Jesus has sought only to awaken, to arouse, to astonish the souls of men. Amid this religious agitation there has been no Organization; the Church is yet like a vague mist raised by the sun of truth which, in its bodiless condition, appears to some extent everywhere, but without any substantial footing. But now the MessiahKing must have subjects, who shall be registered, known, and His forever. The multitudes that we have seen appear and disappear, and then appear once more, are only a hope; the new kingdom must be a visible reality.

This, no doubt, is what John sought through his emissaries, at the very time when Jesus was preparing to put it in execution.

Everything in the Evangelists' narration, however brief it may be, points to the fact that the Master attached a capital importance to the choice of the twelve Apostles.

Alone upon a mountain, He passed the night in prayer, or, it were better to say, in close communion with God. The sentiments He had of pious and tender deference toward His beloved Father, made it a duty for Him to lay at that Father's feet, as a son's homage, the work He was pursuing with all its wealth of hopes. With His Father He deliberated as to the best means of assuring, of localizing, of rendering palpable this germ of life that was now1 beginning to grow. The choice of appointed disciples, attached to His person and intended even to represent Him, seemed to be a measure as wise as it was natural. For, by their constant faith, their distinct lives, and even their prerogatives, they were to be, for the present, the visible personification of the new religious society. As for the future, they were destined to give the most explicit and best authorized testimony to the truth. It would be theirs, above all, faithfully to repeat in the Church the works and words of her Founder, and by their virtues and their teachings to keep the great figure of Him Who had quitted earth, ever living before her eyes. The institution of the Apostolate is a decisive event in the Gospel history. By it Jesus proves the existence of the Kingdom He is come to found, and assures its future life.

During that night of prayer and recollection, He considered under His Father's eye the names of the most faithful, the most generous, the most constant of His disciples; and, at dawn, He rejoined the multitude, and proclaimed Apostles2 the happy ones on whom heaven's choice had fallen.

They were twelve. This number corresponded to the twelve tribes of Israel, to whom Jesus had come as to sheep without a shepherd. Thus each tribe seemed to offer its firstfruits, to present its contingent to the new Church, and to have henceforward its accredited preacher. The first to enter the Messianic Kingdom, they would be elevated to the dignity of chiefs and princes. Twelve thrones awaited them in heaven, for them to judge not only Israel, but the people of the new alliance, in other words, mankind become Christian.3

It is known what importance the ancients attached to the symbolism of numbers, and attentive study has been given to the meaning of the number twelve. Twelve is the result of the number of the Divinity, three, multiplied by the number of creation, four; as if the Twelve, personifying, at the same time, the head and the members of the Church, the principle that gives life and the subject that receives it, were the numerical representation of the alliance of heaven with earth; the result of the union of God with creatures. Whatever may be its mystical signification, the number twelve, fixed by the Savior, was always held sacred by the disciples. The Apostolic circle was never increased nor diminished.

On closely studying this glorious list of Apostles, as carefully preserved in the Synoptics and in the Acts, we find in each the same twelve names, with one exception, namely that of Jude, the brother of James, who is called Lebbæus by St. Matthew and Thaddæus by St. Mark. These names form three groups, each group regularly having the same head and the same members. The order of the members only is at times changed, but never so that any member of one group passes into another. This classing, moreover, seems to be according to the different degrees of intimacy in which, in the daily intercourse of life, each Apostle stood in relation to Jesus Christ.

Thus Peter is first in the first group, which includes also the favorite disciples, Andrew, James, and John.

Philip is first in the second, which is composed of also Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas. These, also, play an important part in the Gospel history.

Finally, James, the son of Alpheus, is first in the third group, which, besides, consists of names less well known: Simon Zelotes, JudeLebbæus, and Judas, the traitor, who is invariably the last recorded, as being a disgrace to so noble a list.4

Seven among these personages are already known to us. Jesus had long since bound them to Himself by ties which, in truth, were less intimate and less definitive than those with which He now honors them.

Peter is the head; this is not the result of chance such chance were, indeed, most persistent in the classing of the Apostles nor is it because he was the first called, for Andrew, at least, and John were his elders in the faith. The reason, therefore, must be sought in the prerogative of a recognized primacy over his colleagues. Later on we shall learn its origin and its consequences. In the meantime we shall prove that there is good ground for accepting, in its full sense, the title of first with which he is honored by St. Matthew.

In the whole Apostolic college, there is no figure more strongly emphasized than that of the son of Jona. A true Galilean type, brave even to rashness, devoted even to self-sacrifice, a man of initiative, of intuition, and of resources, Peter's is a rich, beautiful nature. He has, no doubt, the defects of his qualities. Frequently unreflecting, because ordinarily he sees, at once, the knot of a difficulty; presumptuous, because he is energetic; variable, because he is impressionable, one esteems him even when he errs, for one feels that in the midst of his failings he can love, can believe, can hope to the extent of heroism, and can regret with all the bitterness of repentance.

Beside him, his brother Andrew is plainly his inferior, but still he has the honor of having been the first to discover and to hail the Messiah of Israel. The Gospel pictures him full of zeal in announcing the GoodTidings. Though his was a modest part, yet we judge from the history of his martyrdom that his faith was none the less lively, and his love none the less ardent.5

James and John are more prominent than he. With Peter they share the honors of accompanying Jesus on the most solemn occasions of His public life. Like the chief of the Apostles, these two brothers bore a surname, given them by the Master: they were called the Sons of Thunder;6 yet their souls, though, at times, impetuous because of their violent zeal, were particularly meditative. In them we must look rather for men of contemplation than for men of action. The Master's words struck them more forcibly than His acts. John, in submitting to us the sublime discourses of the fourth Gospel, has proved how far his reflective nature had succeeded in assimilating all that was most transcendent and most difficult of repetition in the Savior's thought. They had received from their mother a tender and affectionate nature. Jesus had a special love for John, who was the younger, and of whom we have spoken elsewhere. The destinies of these two brothers were quite different. One was the first of all the Apostles to die; the other was the last. James pointed out to his colleagues the glorious road of martyrdom; John, by his writings, his counsels, his example, solidified all that his colleagues had built; with his benediction he consecrated the Church now definitely established and organized, and brought the Apostolic age to its close.

We have seen Philip summoned, at an early date, to follow Jesus. Prompt in believing, he at once became the auxiliary of grace to guide his friend Nathanael to the light. A positive mind and less enthusiastic than the others, we find him at one time calculating how much money is needed to furnish bread for four thousand men, at another asking the Master, with Whom, besides, he seems to have lived on terms of close familiarity,7 this annoying question: "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Like the four others, he was of Bethsaida. That little town had generously given its contingent to the Apostolic college.

Bartholomew, or the Son of Tolmai, or of Ptolemy, is naturally connected with Philip, since in the opinion of many he is no other than Nathanael, his friend.8 We are already acquainted with the upright, thoughtful, it may be somewhat rude, but profoundly religious character of this sincere Israelite, to whom Jesus gives most honoring testimony. He was of Cana.

Matthew, whom we have identified with Levi, in his list of the Apostles, himself mentions his former occupation as taxgatherer. He modestly places himself after Thomas, his companion, while, in the catalogues given by St. Luke and St. Mark, he is placed first. From his occupation in the office at the customhouse we ought to suppose that he had received some intellectual culture, and it is natural, therefore, that he, the first of all, should undertake to write the discourses and the doings of the Savior. Judging him by the history of his vocation, his character was resolute, energetic, and generous.

His companion, Thomas, or, translating the Aramean name, the Twin, is known to us by three incidents which are related only in the fourth Gospel, and which place in relief the moral character of this Apostle. Unusually serious and reasoning, Thomas was slow to believe. He weighed all the difficulties of a situation, beheld in particular all its unfavorable sides, and easily allowed himself to become discouraged. But, once having gained the certitude for which he was distrustfully looking, he was a man of courageous, explicit, and enthusiastic faith. His love for the Master was capable of heroism.

The head of the third group, James, the son of Alpheus, or Cleophas, as we have said elsewhere, is no other than James the less, so called either because he was of smaller stature,9 or because he was younger than James, the son of Zebedee. By his mother or his father he was cousin to Jesus.10 His wisdom, his piety, his intelligence gained him great influence over the JewishChristian party of his time. He took an important part in the first council. In spite of the ritualistic prejudices that prevailed in his surroundings, he energetically sustained the broad notions of Paul. For thirtyseven years he was Bishop of Jerusalem.

His brother Jude was of a less tranquil nature, if we may judge from the questions he puts to the Savior and from the style of the Epistle we have from his pen. To distinguish him from Judas Iscariot,11 and to do justice, moreover, to his ardent temperament, he had been surnamed Lebbæus, or Thaddæus, the courageous, the man of heart.12

Simon, the Zealot, was his worthy rival;13 for, if we were to give credence to his surname, he belonged to the party of the Kenaïm, which preached and practiced revolt against the yoke of the foreigner, and rose up, like Phineas, more by act than by word, against the abominations of impiety. Thus had Jesus associated in the Apostolic college the most repugnant elements: a member of the sect of Zealots, and a taxgatherer; Simon, the violent defender of national independence, and Matthew, the renegade, who consented to be the appointed representative of foreign tyranny. But under the influence of the divine word all had put off the old man, and joined together in most cordial fraternity.

There is a shadow upon the list we have just examined, cast there by the name that comes last. It is evident that it is only with regret that the Evangelists evoke the memory of the miscreant who had malice enough in his soul to betray the best of Masters. Judas Iscariot, native of Keriot,14 or, again, the man with the leathern girdle (in which girdle he carried perhaps the common treasure), was of an intensely selfish nature. Selfishness not unusually renders the coldest men very demonstrative toward those from whom they expect some favor. It was probably at the time when the enthusiasm with which the Galileans welcomed Jesus seemed to promise the immediate inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom that Judas joined the Master's following, made known his zeal, and was naturally chosen to be one of the Twelve. Besides, it is not impossible that in the beginning there may have been some sincerity in the affection he showed for Jesus. His egotism could well find secret food in the proof he gave of his faith, and of his devotion. Selfish men long think that they are living only for the sake of others, until they finally call upon others to live for them. Judas' soul had no element of greatness. According to some15 the son of a courier, and, at any rate, of low extraction, he was of those to whom all means are good, if by them they themselves are but exalted. His nature, cold, positive, and practical, had caused him to be chosen treasurer of the Apostolic college. And even while awaiting future dignity in the Kingdom of God, he derived for himself present consolation by stealing from the common treasury. This unfaithfulness promptly stifled all the germs of faith that were in his heart, and in due season, through incredulity, resentment, and self-interest, he was capable of the most horrifying crimes. The Apostles' indignation, shared by honest hearts in all ages, has joined to his name the qualification of traitor, a blot as well merited as it is indelible.

Malice that coldly calculates, hypocrisy that conceals its true ends, energy that knows no surcease of evil desire, all these qualities had place in his perverted nature, and our faith wonders how Jesus, Who was not ignorant of what lay deep down in the man's character, could have made him an Apostle. To understand this choice, we must recollect that though He foresees what is fated through the natural play of human liberty, to be our last end, God acts, nevertheless, as if He foresaw nothing. For His prescience cannot bind our free will. As the Creator gives life, intelligence, and the other means of domination to men, who are sure to misuse them to the sorrow of their kind, so Jesus, judging in human wise, estimated the worth of Judas at the time when he was chosen, and ignored what He knew in His divine nature of the man's future life. In addition to this the wretched betrayer, having attained his Apostleship by cunning, ended only in serving the designs of heaven by the selling his Master. When he had betrayed Him, he felt himself forced to do Him homage, and the angry protestation drawn from him by his conscience in the very depth of his despair, became the compensation planned by Providence for the cowardly denial of Simon Peter. The falsehood uttered by the head of the Apostles, when he said with an oath that he knew not Jesus, was obliterated by the remarkable testimony of Judas, the traitor, who cried out: "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood."

Such, then, were these twelve men, who, henceforth, were a corporation regularly organized for the reception and transmission of divine teaching. Where the Master would be, there should be, from now on, also the Apostolic college, seated at His table, living on the alms He would gather, serving Him as circumstances should demand. In these unremitting and intimate relations, these dulled natures were to undergo a gradual change. There was much to be done. The least illiterate of all the Apostles was a taxgatherer; the rest had spent their youth in gaining their livelihood by the sweat of their brow in rough and painful labor. At least four were fishermen. The others were the offspring of those common people to whom the Savior so joyfully and so successfully preached His Gospel. With the exception of Judas all had kind hearts; and upon these fleshly hearts the new LawGiver meant to engrave the New Law for the world. When His work shall have been completed, the Holy Spirit shall breathe upon them, and, scattering these twelve living tablets to the four winds of heaven, He shall guide them about the world to reveal through them God's truth to a corrupted mankind.

We have clearly reached a critical stage in the Gospel history. Here is the first visible, official, definite result of so many hardships, discourses, miracles. God's Kingdom is now not merely at hand or yet to come; it is being peopled; for the Church, through these twelve men, is established. Instruction is the only thing that remains to be done, and to this Jesus proceeds without delay.

1 St. Matt. x, 14, marks out the part of the chosen twelve.

2 St. Luke vi, 13.

3 St. Matt. xix, 28.

4 List of the Apostles according to:

St. Matt. (x, 2-4)

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John

Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew

James, Lebbæus, Simon, Judas

St. Mark (iii, 16-19)

Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew

Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas

James, Thaddæus, Simon

St. Luke (vi, 14-16)

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John

Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas

James, Simon, Jude, Judas

Acts (i, 13)

Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew

Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew

James, Simon, Jude

5 Cf. Acta et Martyrium S. Andrew, Apost. Migne. Patrol. Grec., t. ii, 12181248.

6 St. Mark iii, 17.

7 St. John vi, 5.

8 It would be very surprising if Nathanael, after having been called to follow Jesus together with companions, all of whom became Apostles, should have been excluded from the Apostleship. Hence we find him (St. John xxi, 1, 9) named among the Apostles and distinguished from the disciples. But if he was an Apostle how shall we account for his name not being in the four lists which we have just transcribed? If he is there, where is his proper place? By the side of Philip, no doubt, who brought him to Jesus; now Philip's ordinary companion is called Bartholomew. But St. John does not mention Bartholomew at all in his Gospel, while the Synoptics, on the contrary, make no mention of Nathanael. This can be explained easily if Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. This identity is the more easily admitted since the first name alone is a proper name, while the second is only a patronymic. St. John always uses the former. The Synoptics prefer the latter, perhaps to avoid putting in their list two names with the same etymological signification, for Nathanael and Matthew may both be translated by "Theodore"or "Gift of God."

9 The Greek qualifying adjective o mikros more co commonly signifies "small in stature" (Xenophon, Mem., i, 42; Homer, Iliad, v. 801). Sometimes, however, it signifies "younger" (cf. Judges 3 vi, 15).

10 We have said elsewhere that Mary Cleophas, designated in St John xix, 25, as sister of the Blessed Virgin, may have been only her sisterinlaw, either by her marriage to Cleophas, a brother of Joseph, as Hegesippus claims, or because she was Joseph's sister.

11 St. John xiv, 22, clearly notes that these two are not to be confounded.

12 Thaddæus and Lebbæus have analogous meanings the latter being derived from Leb, the heart, and the former from breast, or from Shaddai, powerful. The name Thoda is given by the Talmud to one of the disciples of Jesus. The Apocryphal Acts of Lebbæus in Tischendorf, p. 961, say that the surname Thaddæus was given him when the Precursor baptised him. This Apostle was more generally designated by his surname than by his given name, that the memory of the traitor might not be renewed. Mill's ingenious conjecture (Proleg., § 386) gives Jude only the surname Thaddæus. Taking the text of St. Matthew as many manuscripts have it, kai Lebbaios o epiklhqeis Qaddaios, he thinks that the first four words, written in the margin, referred to the preceding name Maqqaios, and that they were wrongly attached to the name Qaddaios which followed. So that the primitive text would have "Lebbæus or Levi, surnamed Matthew, the publican." By this Jude would be rid of his double surname and the identity of Levi with Matthew would be peremptorily settled.

13 St. Matthew and St. Mark call him o Kananaios. It is not probable that this word is to be translated either by the word "Cananite." or by the words "citizen of Cana." There is better reason for accepting it as a peculiar form of the adjective Kanna (Kananit in the Talmud), which means "zealot." St. Luke, therefore, merely translated the Hebrew into Greek.

14 The word "Iscariot" is ordinarily analysed as consisting of Ish, which means "man" and Keriot, which, according to many, is a place of the tribe of Juda, mentioned in the book of Josue xv, 25, and sought in the ruins of Kereitein, sixteen kil. south of Hebron. Others, following Josephus, B. J., i, 6, 5; iv, 8, 1; Antiq., xiv, 3, 4, make it Kuryût, three kil. north of Silo. In this hypothesis, Judas was the only Apostle selected from outside of Galilee. Ewald, however, supposes that he was originally from Karta, in the tribe of Zabulon (Josue xxi, 34). On the other hand, it has been said with good reason that surnames in the New Testament scarcely ever indicate the place of birth of those who bear them. They generally, and particularly in the case of Apostles, refer to something which reveals their physical or moral condition. So, if Judas had this surname before he committed his crime, it signified, perhaps, the "man with the leathern girdle or apron" (ascorith); if he received it only afterward, it may be translated the "man of strangulation" (ish ascara) or the "man of lies" (ish schecker).

15 This opinion is sustained by the fact that, according to St. John (vi, 71, and xiii, 2 and 26), Simon, the father of Judas, already bore the surname of the "man with the leathern girdle." This girdle or apron seems, according to the rabbis, to have been the costume of curriers. Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in Matt. x, 4, says: "Quærit Gemara: Quid est ascorith? Respondit Bar bar Channah: Indumentum Coriarii. Glossa: Cinctorium indutum a coriariis supra vestes suas."

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