Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

APOCRYPHA— APOCRYPHAL.

(FROM THE GREEK WORD SIGNIFYING hidden.)

It has been very well remarked that the divine writings might, at one and the same time, be sacred and apocryphal; sacred, because they had undoubtedly been dictated by God Himself; apocryphal, because they were hidden from the nations, and even from the Jewish people.

That they were hidden from the nations before the translation executed at Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, is an acknowledged truth. Josephus declares it in the answer to Appian, which he wrote after Appian’s death; and his declaration has not less strength because he seeks to strengthen it by a fable. He says in his history that the Jewish books being all-divine, no foreign historian or poet had ever dared to speak of them. And, immediately after assuring us that no one had ever dared to mention the Jewish laws, he adds that the historian Theopompus, having only intended to insert something concerning them in his history, God struck him with madness for thirty days; but that, having been informed in a dream that he was mad only because he had wished to know divine things and make them known to the profane, he asked pardon of God, who restored him to his senses.

Josephus in the same passage also relates that a poet named Theodectes, having said a few words about the Jews in his tragedies, became blind, and that God did not restore his sight until he had done penance.

As for the Jewish people, it is certain that there was a time when they could not read the divine writings; for it is said in the Second Book of Kings (chap. xxii., ver. 8, and in the Second Book of Chronicles (chap. xxxiv., ver. 14), that in the reign of Josias they were unknown, and that a single copy was accidentally found in the house of the high priest Hilkiah.

The twelve tribes which were dispersed by Shalmaneser have never re-appeared; and their books, if they had any, have been lost with them. The two tribes which were in slavery at Babylon and allowed to return at the end of seventy years, returned without their books, or at least they were very scarce and very defective, since Esdras was obliged to restore them. But although during the Babylonian captivity these books were apocryphal, that is, hidden or unknown to the people, they were constantly sacred — they bore the stamp of divinity — they were, as all the world agrees, the only monument of truth upon earth.

We now give the name of apocrypha to those books which are not worthy of belief; so subject are languages to change! Catholics and Protestants agree in regarding as apocryphal in this sense, and in rejecting, the prayer of Manasseh, king of Judah, contained in the Second Book of Kings; the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees; the Fourth Book of Esdras; although these books were incontestably written by Jews. But it is denied that the authors were inspired by God, like the Jews.

The other books, rejected by the Protestants only, and consequently considered by them as not inspired by God Himself, are the Book of Wisdom, though it is written in the same style as the Proverbs; Ecclesiasticus, though the style is still the same; the first two books of Maccabees, though written by a Jew, But they do not believe this Jew to have been inspired by God — Tobit — although the story is edifying. The judicious and profound Calmet affirms that a part of this book was written by Tobit the father, and a part by Tobit the son; and that a third author added the conclusion of the last chapter, which says that Tobit the younger expired at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years, and that he died rejoicing over the destruction of Nineveh.

The same Calmet, at the end of his preface, has these words: “Neither the story itself, nor the manner in which it is told, bears any fabulous or fictitious character. If all Scripture histories, containing anything of the marvellous or extraordinary, were to be rejected, where is the sacred book which is to be preserved?”

Judith is another book rejected by the Protestants, although Luther himself declares that “this book is beautiful, good, holy, useful, the language of a holy poet and a prophet animated by the Holy Spirit, that had been his instructor,” etc.

It is indeed hard to discover at what time Judith’s adventure happened, or where the town of Bethulia was. The degree of sanctity in Judith’s action has also been disputed; but the book having been declared canonical by the Council of Trent, all disputes are at an end.

Other books are Baruch, although it is written in the style of all the other prophets; Esther, of which the Protestants reject only some additions after the tenth chapter. They admit all the rest of the book; yet no one knows who King Ahasuerus was, although he is the principal person in the story; Daniel, in which the Protestants retrench Susannah’s adventure and that of the children in the furnace; but they retain Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and his grazing with the beasts.

On the Life of Moses, an Apocryphal Book of the Highest Antiquity.

The ancient book which contains the life and death of Moses seems to have been written at the time of the Babylonian captivity. It was then that the Jews began to know the names given to the angels by the Chaldæans and Persians.

Here we see the names of Zinguiel, Samael, Tsakon, Lakah, and many others of which the Jews had made no mention.

The book of the death of Moses seems to have been written later. It is known that the Jews had several very ancient lives of Moses and other books, independently of the Pentateuch. In them he was called Moni, not Moses; and it is asserted that mo signified water, and ni the particle of. He was called by the general name of Melk. He received those of Joakim, Adamosi, Thetmosi; and it has been thought that he was the same person whom Manethon calls Ozarziph.

Some of these old Hebrew manuscripts were withdrawn from their covering of dust in the cabinets of the Jews about the year 1517. The learned Gilbert Gaumin, who was a perfect master of their language, translated them into Latin about the year 1535. They were afterwards printed and dedicated to Cardinal Bérule. The copies have become extremely scarce.

Never were rabbinism, the taste for the marvellous and the imagination of the orientals displayed to greater excess.

Fragment of the Life of Moses.

A hundred and thirty years after the settling of the Jews in Egypt, and sixty years after the death of the patriarch Joseph, Pharaoh, while sleeping, had a dream. He saw an old man holding a balance; in one scale were all the inhabitants of Egypt; in the other was an infant, and this infant weighed more than all the Egyptians together. Pharaoh forthwith called together his shotim, or sages. One of the wise men said: “O king, this infant is a Jew who will one day do great evil to your kingdom. Cause all the children of the Jews to be slain; thus shalt thou save thy empire, if, indeed, the decrees of fate can be opposed.”

Pharaoh was pleased with this advice. He sent for the midwives and ordered them to strangle all the male children of which the Jewesses were delivered. There was in Egypt a man named Abraham, son of Keath, husband to Jocabed, sister to his brother. This Jocabed bore him a daughter named Mary, signifying “persecuted,” because the Egyptians, being descended from Ham, persecuted the Israelites, who were evidently descended from Shem. Jocabed afterwards brought forth Aaron, signifying “condemned to death,” because Pharaoh had condemned all the Jewish infants to death. Aaron and Mary were preserved by the angels of the Lord, who nursed them in the fields and restored them to their parents when they had reached the period of adolescence.

At length Jocabed had a third child; this was Moses, who, consequently, was fifteen years younger than his brother. He was exposed on the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter found him while bathing, had him nursed and adopted him as her son, although she was not married.

Three years after, her father, Pharaoh, took a fresh wife, on which occasion he held a great feast. His wife was at his right hand, and at his left was his daughter, with little Moses. The child, in sport, took the crown and put it on his head. Balaam, the magician, the king’s eunuch, then recalled his majesty’s dream. “Behold,” said he, “the child who is one day to do so much mischief! The spirit of God is in him. What he has just now done is a proof that he has already formed the design of dethroning you. He must instantly be put to death.” This idea pleased Pharaoh much.

They were about to kill little Moses when the Lord sent his angel Gabriel, disguised as one of Pharaoh’s officers, to say to him: “My lord, we should not put to death an innocent child, which is not yet come to years of discretion; he put on your crown only because he wants judgment. You have only to let a ruby and a burning coal be presented to him; if he choose the coal, it is clear that he is a blockhead who will never do any harm; but if he take the ruby it will be a sign that he has too much sense to burn his fingers; then let him be slain.”

A ruby and a coal were immediately brought. Moses did not fail to take the ruby; but the angel Gabriel, by a sort of legerdemain, slipped the coal into the place of the precious stone. Moses put the coal into his mouth and burned his tongue so horribly that he stammered ever after; and this was the reason that the Jewish lawgiver could never articulate.

Moses was fifteen years old and a favorite with Pharaoh. A Hebrew came to complain to him that an Egyptian had beaten him after lying with his wife. Moses killed the Egyptian. Pharaoh ordered Moses’ head to be cut off. The executioner struck him, but God instantly changed Moses’ neck into a marble column, and sent the angel Michael, who in three days conducted Moses beyond the frontiers.

The young Hebrew fled to Mecano, king of Ethiopia, who was at war with the Arabs. Mecano made him his general-in-chief; and, after Mecano’s death, Moses was chosen king and married the widow. But Moses, ashamed to have married the wife of his lord, dared not to enjoy her, but placed a sword in the bed between himself and the queen. He lived with her forty years without touching her. The angry queen at length called together the states of the kingdom of Ethiopia, complained that Moses was of no service to her, and concluded by driving him away and placing on the throne the son of the late king.

Moses fled into the country of Midian, to the priest Jethro. This priest thought his fortune would be made if he could put Moses into the hands of Pharaoh of Egypt, and began by confining him in a low cell and allowing him only bread and water. Moses grew fat in his dungeon, at which Jethro was quite astonished. He was not aware that his daughter Sephora had fallen in love with the prisoner, and every day, with her own hands, carried him partridges and quails, with excellent wine. He concluded that Moses was protected by God and did not give him up to Pharaoh.

However, Jethro the priest wished to have his daughter married. He had in his garden a tree of sapphire, on which was engraven the word Jaho or Jehovah. He caused it to be published throughout the country that he would give his daughter to him who could tear up the sapphire tree. Sephora’s lovers presented themselves, but none of them could so much as bend the tree. Moses, who was only seventy-seven years old, tore it up at once without an effort. He married Sephora, by whom he soon had a fine boy named Gerson.

As he was one day walking in a small wood, he met God (who had formerly called Himself Sadai, and then called Himself Jehovah), and God ordered him to go and work miracles at Pharaoh’s court. He set out with his wife and son. On the way they met an angel (to whom no name is given), who ordered Sephora to circumcise little Gerson with a knife made of stone. God sent Aaron on the same errand, but Aaron thought his brother had done wrong in marrying a Midianite; he called her a very coarse name, and little Gerson a bastard, and sent them the shortest way back to their own country.

Aaron and Moses then went to Pharaoh’s palace by themselves. The gate of the palace was guarded by two lions of an enormous size. Balaam, one of the king’s magicians, seeing the two brothers come, set the lions upon them; but Moses touched them with his rod, and the lions, humbly prostrating themselves, licked the feet of Aaron and Moses. The king, in astonishment, had the two pilgrims brought into the presence of all his magicians, that they might strive which could work the most miracles.

The author here relates the ten plagues of Egypt, nearly as they are related in Exodus. He only adds that Moses covered all Egypt with lice, to the depth of a cubit; and that he sent among all the Egyptians lions, wolves, bears, and tigers, which ran into all the houses, notwithstanding that the doors were bolted, and devoured all the little children.

According to this writer, it was not the Jews who fled through the Red Sea; it was Pharaoh, who fled that way with his army: the Jews ran after him; the waters separated right and left to see them fight; and all the Egyptians, except the king, were slain upon the sand. Then the king, finding that his own was the weaker side, asked pardon of God. Michael and Gabriel were sent to him and conveyed him to the city of Nineveh, where he reigned four hundred years.

The Death of Moses.

God had declared to the people of Israel that they should not go out of Egypt until they had once more found the tomb of Joseph. Moses found it and carried it on his shoulders through the Red Sea. God told him that He would bear in mind this good action and would assist him at the time of his death. When Moses had lived six score years, God came to announce to him that he must die and had but three hours more to live. The bad angel Samael was present at the conversation. As soon as the first hour had passed he began to laugh for joy that he should so soon carry off the soul of Moses; and Michael began to weep. “Be not rejoiced, thou wicked beast,” said the good to the bad angel; “Moses is going to die, but we have Joshua in his stead.”

When the three hours had elapsed God commanded Gabriel to take the dying man’s soul. Gabriel begged to be excused. Michael did the same. These two angels having refused, God addressed Himself to Zinguiel. But this angel was no more willing to obey than the others. “I,” said he, “was formerly his preceptor, and I will not kill my disciple.” Then God, being angry, said to the bad angel Samael, “Well, then, wicked one, thou must take his soul.” Samael joyfully drew his sword and ran up to Moses. The dying man rose up in wrath, his eyes sparkling with fire. “What! thou villain,” said Moses, “wouldst thou dare to kill me? — me, who when a child, put on my head the crown of a Pharaoh; who have worked miracles at the age of eighty years; who have led sixty millions of men out of Egypt; who have cut the Red Sea in two; who have conquered two kings so tall that at the time of the flood they were not kneedeep in water? Begone, you rascal; leave my presence instantly.”

This altercation lasted a few moments longer, during which time Gabriel prepared a litter to convey the soul of Moses, Michael a purple mantle, and Zinguiel a cassock. God then laid His hands on Moses’ breast and took away his soul.

It is to this history that St. Jude the apostle alludes in his epistle when he says that the archangel Michael contended with the devil for the body of Moses. As this fact is to be found only in the book which I have just quoted, it is evident that St. Jude had read it, and that he considered it as a canonical book.

The second history of the death of Moses is likewise a conversation with God. It is no less pleasant and curious than the first. A part of this dialogue is as follows:

Moses.

— I pray Thee, O Lord, let me enter the land of promise, at least for two or three years.

God.

— No; My decree expressly saith that thou shalt not enter it.

Moses.

— Grant, at least, that I may be carried thither after my death.

God.

— No; neither dead nor alive.

Moses.

— Alas! but, good Lord, thou showest such clemency to Thy creatures; Thou pardonest them twice or three times; I have sinned but once, and am not to be forgiven!

God.

— Thou knowest not what thou sayest; thou hast committed six sins. I remember to have sworn thy death, or the destruction of Israel; one of the two must be accomplished. If thou wilt live Israel must perish.

Moses.

— O Lord, be not so hasty. All is in Thy hands. Let Moses perish, rather than one soul in Israel.

After several discourses of this sort, the echo of the mountain says to Moses, “Thou hast but five hours to live.” At the end of five hours God sends for Gabriel, Zinguiel and Samael. He promises Moses that he shall be buried and carries away his soul.

When we reflect that nearly the whole earth has been infatuated by similar stories, and that they have formed the education of mankind, the fables of Pilpay, Lokman, or Æsop appear quite reasonable.

Apocryphal Books of the New Law.

There were fifty gospels, all very different from one another, of which there remain only four entire — that of James, that of Nicodemus, that of the infancy of Jesus, and that of the birth of Mary. Of the rest we have nothing more than fragments and slight notices.

The traveller Tournefort, sent into Asia by Louis XIV., informs us that the Georgians have preserved the gospel of the Infancy, which was probably communicated to them by the Azmenians.

In the beginning, several of these gospels, now regarded as apocryphal, were cited as authentic, and were even the only gospels that were cited. In the Acts of the Apostles we find these words uttered by St. Paul (chap. xx., ver. 35), “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

St. Barnabas, in his Catholic Epistle (Nos. 4 and 7), makes Jesus Christ speak thus: “Let us resist all iniquity; let us hate it. Such as would see Me enter into My kingdom must follow Me through pain and sorrow.”

St. Clement, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, puts these words into the mouth of Jesus Christ: “If you are assembled in My bosom and do not follow My commandments, I shall reject you and say to you, ‘Depart from Me; I know you not; depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity.’ ”

He afterwards attributes to Jesus Christ these words: “Keep your flesh chaste and the seal unspotted, in order that you may receive eternal life.”

In the Apostolical Constitutions, composed in the second century, we find these words: “Jesus Christ has said, ‘Be ye honest exchange brokers.’ ”

We find many similar quotations, not one of which is taken from the four gospels recognized by the Church as the only canonical ones. They are, for the most part, taken from the gospel according to the Hebrews, a gospel which was translated by St. Jerome, and is now considered as apocryphal.

St. Clement the Roman says, in his second Epistle: “The Lord, being asked when his reign should come, answered: ‘When two shall make one, when that which is without shall be within, when the male shall be female, and when there shall be neither female nor male.’ ”

These words are taken from the gospel according to the Egyptians; and the text is repeated entire by St. Clement of Alexandria. But what could the author of the Egyptian gospels, and what could St. Clement himself be thinking of? The words which he quotes are injurious to Jesus Christ; they give us to understand that He did not believe that His reign would come at all. To say that a thing will take place when two shall make one, when the male shall be female, is to say that it will never take place. A passage like this is rabbinical, much rather than evangelical.

There were also two apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. They are quoted by St. Epiphanius. In these Acts it is related that St. Paul was the son of an idolatrous father and mother, and turned Jew in order to marry the daughter of Gamaliel; and that either being refused, or not finding her a virgin, he took part with the disciples of Jesus. This is nothing less than blasphemy against St. Paul.

The Other Apocryphal Books of the First and Second Centuries.
I.

The Book of Enoch, the seventh man after Adam, which mentions the war of the rebellious angels, under their captain, Samasia, against the faithful angels led by Michael. The object of the war was to enjoy the daughters of men, as has been said in the article on “Angel.”

II.

The Acts of St. Thecla and St. Paul, written by a disciple named John, attached to St. Paul. In this history Thecla escapes from her persecutors to go to St. Paul, disguised as a man. She also baptizes a lion; but this adventure was afterwards suppressed. Here, too, we have the portrait of Paul: Statura brevi, calvastrum, cruribus curvis, sorosum, superciliis junctis, naso aquilino, plenum gratia Dei.

Although this story was recommended by St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, and others, it had no reputation among the other doctors of the Church.

III.

The Preaching of Peter. This writing is also called the Gospel or Revelation of Peter. St. Clement of Alexandria speaks of it with great praise; but it is easy to perceive that some impostor had taken that apostle’s name.

IV.

The Acts of Peter, a work equally supposititious.

V.

The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. It is doubted whether this book is by a Jew or a Christian of the primitive ages; for it is said in the Testament of Levi that at the end of the seventh week there shall come priests given to idolatry — bellatores, avari, scribæ iniqui, impudici, puerorum corruptores et pecorum; that there shall then be a new priesthood; that the heavens shall be opened; and that the glory of the Most High, and the spirit of intelligence and sanctification, shall descend upon this new priest; which seems to foretell Jesus Christ.

VI.

The Letter of Abgarus, a pretended king of Edessa, to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ’s answer to King Abgarus. It is, indeed, believed that, in the time of Tiberius, there was a toparch of Edessa who had passed from the service of the Persians into that of the Romans, but his epistolary correspondence has been considered by all good critics as a chimera.

VII.

The Acts of Pilate. Pilate’s letter to Tiberius on the death of Jesus Christ. The life of Procula, Pilate’s wife.

VIII.

The Acts of Peter and Paul, in which is the history of St. Peter’s quarrel with Simon the magician. Abdias, Marcellus, and Hegesippus have all three written this story. St. Peter first disputed with Simon which should resuscitate one of the Emperor Nero’s relatives, who had just died; Simon half restored him, and St. Peter finished the resurrection. Simon next flew up in the air, but Peter brought him down again, and the magician broke his legs. The Emperor Nero, incensed at the death of his magician, had St. Peter crucified with his head downwards, and St. Paul decapitated, as one of St. Peter’s party.

IX.

The Acts of Blessed Paul the Apostle and Teacher of the Nations. In this book St. Paul is made to live at Rome for two years after St. Peter’s death. The author says that when St. Paul’s head was cut off there issued forth milk instead of blood, and that Lucina, a devout woman, had him buried twenty miles from Rome, on the way to Ostia, at her country house.

X.

The Acts of the Blessed Apostle Andrew. The author relates that St. Andrew went to the city of the Myrmidons and that he baptized all the citizens. A young man named Sostratus, of the town of Amarea, which is at least better known than that of the Myrmidons, came and said to the blessed Andrew: “I am so handsome that my mother has conceived a passion for me. I abhorred so execrable a crime, and have fled. My mother, in her fury, accuses me to the proconsul of the province of having attempted to violate her. I can make no answer, for I would rather die than accuse my mother.” While he was yet speaking, the guards of the proconsul came and seized him. St. Andrew accompanied the son before the judge, and pleaded his cause. The mother, not at all disconcerted, accused St. Andrew himself of having instigated her son to the crime. The proconsul immediately ordered St. Andrew to be thrown into the river; but, the apostle having prayed to God, there came a great earthquake, and the mother was struck by a thunderbolt.

After several adventures of the same sort the author has St. Andrew crucified at Patras.

XI.

The Acts of St. James the Greater. The author has him condemned to death at Jerusalem by the pontiff, and, before his crucifixion, he baptizes the registrar.

XII.

The Acts of St. John the Evangelist. The author relates that, at Ephesus — of which place St. John was bishop — Drusilla, being converted by him, desired no more of her husband Andronicus’s company, but retired into a tomb. A young man named Callimachus, in love with her, repeatedly pressed her, even in her tomb, to consent to the gratification of his passion. Drusilla, being urged both by her husband and her lover, wished for death, and obtained it. Callimachus, when informed of her loss, was still more furious with love; he bribed one of Andronicus’s domestics, who had the keys of the tomb; he ran to it, stripped his mistress of her shroud, and exclaimed, “What thou wouldst not grant me living, thou shalt grant me dead.” A serpent instantly issued from the tomb; the young man fainted; the serpent killed him, as also the domestic who was his accomplice, and coiled itself round his body. St. John arrives with the husband, and, to their astonishment, they find Callimachus alive. St. John orders the serpent to depart, and the serpent obeys. He asks the young man how he has been resuscitated. Callimachus answered that an angel had appeared to him, saying, “It was necessary that thou shouldst die in order to revive a Christian.” He immediately asked to be baptized, and begged that John would resuscitate Drusilla. The apostle having instantly worked this miracle, Callimachus and Drusilla prayed that he would also be so good as to resuscitate the domestic. The latter, who was an obstinate pagan, being restored to life, declared that he would rather die than be a Christian, and, accordingly, he incontinently died again; on which St. John said that a bad tree always bears bad fruit.

Aristodemus, high-priest of Ephesus, though struck by such a prodigy, would not be converted; he said to St. John: “Permit me to poison you; and, if you do not die, I will be converted.” The apostle accepted the proposal; but he chose that Aristodemus should first poison two Ephesians condemned to death. Aristodemus immediately presented to them the poison, and they instantly expired. St. John took the same poison, which did him no harm. He resuscitated the two dead men, and the high-priest was converted.

St. John having attained the age of ninety-seven years, Jesus Christ appeared to him, and said, “It is time for thee to come to My table, and feast with thy brethren”; and soon after the apostle slept in peace.

XIII.

The History of the Blessed James the Less, and the brothers Simon and Jude. These apostles went into Persia, and performed things as incredible as those related of St. Andrew.

XIV.

The Acts of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist. St. Matthew goes into Ethiopia, to the great town of Nadaver, where he restores to life the son of Queen Candace, and founds Christian churches.

XV.

The Acts of the Blessed Bartholomew in India. Bartholomew went first to the temple of Astaroth. This goddess delivered oracles, and cured all diseases. Bartholomew silenced her, and made sick all those whom she had cured. King Polimius disputed with him; the devil declared, before the king, that he was conquered, and St. Bartholomew consecrated King Polimius bishop of the Indies.

XVI.

The Acts of the Blessed Thomas, apostle of India. St. Thomas entered India by another road, and worked more miracles than St. Bartholomew. He at last suffered martyrdom, and appeared to Xiphoro and Susani.

XVII.

The Acts of the Blessed Philip. He went to preach in Scythia. They wished to make him a sacrifice to Mars, but he caused a dragon to issue from the altar and devour the children of the priests. He died at Hierapolis, at the age of eighty-seven. It is not known what town this was, for there were several of the name.

All these histories are supposed to have been written by Abdias, bishop of Babylon, and were translated by Julius Africanus.

XVIII.

To these abuses of the Holy Scriptures was added one less revolting — one which did not fail in respect for Christianity, like those which have just been laid before the reader, viz., the Liturgies attributed to St. James, St. Peter, and St. Mark, the falsehood of which has been shown by the learned Tillemont.

XIX.

Fabricius places among the apocryphal writings the Homily (attributed to St. Augustine) on the manner in which the Symbol was formed. But he certainly does not mean to insinuate that this Symbol or Creed, which we call the Apostles’, is the less true and sacred. It is said in this Homily, in Rufinus, and afterwards in Isidorus, that ten days after the ascension, the apostles, being shut up together for fear of the Jews, Peter said, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty;” Andrew, “and in Jesus Christ, His only son;” James, “who was conceived by the Holy Ghost;” and that thus, each apostle having repeated an article, the Creed was completed.

This story not being in the Acts of the Apostles, our belief in it is dispensed with — but not our belief in the Creed, of which the apostles taught the substance. Truth must not suffer from the false ornaments in which it has been sought to array her.

XX.

The Apostolical Constitutions. The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, which were formerly supposed to have been digested by St. Clement the Roman, are now ranked among the apocryphal writings. The reading of a few chapters is sufficient to show that the apostles had no share in this work. In the eleventh chapter, women are ordered not to rise before the ninth hour. In the first chapter of the second book it is desired that bishops should be learned, but in the time of the apostles there was no hierarchy — no bishop attached to a single church. They went about teaching from town to town, from village to village; they were called apostles, not bishops; and, above all things, they did not pride themseves on being learned.

In the second chapter of the second book it is said that a bishop should have but one wife, to take great care of his household; which only goes to prove that at the close of the first and the commencement of the second century, when the hierarchy was beginning to be established, the priests were married.

Through almost the whole book the bishops are regarded as the judges of the faithful; but it is well known that the apostles had no jurisdiction.

It is said, in chapter xxi., that both parties must be heard; which supposes an established jurisdiction. In chapter xxvi. it is said, “The bishop is your prince, your king, your emperor, your God upon earth.” These expressions are somewhat at variance with the humility of the apostles.

In chapter xxviii., “At the feasts of the Agapæ, there must be given to the deacon double that which is given to an old woman, and to the priest double the gift to the deacon, because the priests are the counsellors of the bishops and the crown of the Church. The reader shall have a portion, in honor of the prophets, as also the chanter and the doorkeeper. Such of the laity as wish to receive anything shall apply to the bishop through the deacon.” The apostles never used any term answering to laity, or marking the difference between the profane and the priesthood.

In chapter xxxiv., “You must reverence the bishop as a king, honor him as a master, and give him your fruits, the works of your hands, your first fruits, your tenths, your savings, the presents that are made to you, your corn, your wine, your oil, your wool,” etc. This is a strong article.

In chapter lvii., “Let the church be long; let it look towards the East; let it resemble a ship; let the bishop’s throne be in the middle; let the reader read the books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Job,” etc.

In chapter xvii. of the third book, “Baptism is administered for the death of Jesus; oil for the Holy Ghost. When we are plunged into the water, we die; when we come out of it, we revive. The Father is the God of all. Christ is the only Son of God, his beloved Son, and the Lord of glory. The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, sent by Christ the teacher, preaching Christ Jesus.” This doctrine would now be explained in more canonical terms.

In chapter vii. of the fifth book are quoted some verses of the Sibyls on the coming of Jesus and the resurrection. This was the first time that the Christians admitted the verses of the Sibyls, which they continued to do for more than three hundred years. In chapter v. of the eighth book are these words: “O God Almighty, give to the bishop, through Christ, the participation of the Holy Spirit.” In chapter iv., “Commend yourself to God alone, through Jesus Christ”; which does not sufficiently express the divinity of our Lord. In chapter xii. is the Constitution of James, the brother of Zebedee.

In chapter xv. the deacon is to say aloud, “Incline yourselves before God through Christ.” At the present day these expressions are not very correct.

XXI.

The Apostolical Canons. The sixth canon ordains that no bishop or priest shall separate himself from his wife on pretence of religion; if he do so, he is to be excommunicated, and if he persist he is to be driven away. The seventh — that no priest shall ever meddle with secular affairs. The nineteenth — that he who has married two sisters shall not be admitted into the clergy. The twenty-first and twenty-second — that eunuchs shall be admitted into the priesthood excepting such as have castrated themselves. Yet Origen was a priest, notwithstanding this law. The fifty-fifth — that if a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or a clerk eat flesh which is not clear of blood, he shall be displaced. It is quite evident that these canons could not be promulgated by the apostles.

XXII.

The Confessions of St. Clement to James, brother of the Lord, in ten books, translated from Greek into Latin by Rufinus. This book commences with a doubt respecting the immortality of the soul: “Utrumne sit mihi aliqua vita post mortem, an nihil omnino postea sim futurus.” St. Clement, disturbed by this doubt and wishing to know whether the world was eternal or had been created — whether there were a Tartarus and a Phlegethon, an Ixion and a Tantalus, etc., resolved to go into Egypt to learn necromancy, but having heard of St. Bartholomew, who was preaching Christianity, he went to him in the East, at the time when Barnabas was celebrating a Jewish feast. He afterwards met St. Peter at Cæsarea, with Simon the magician and Zacchæus. They disputed together, and St. Peter related to them all that had passed since the death of Jesus. Clement turned Christian, but Simon remained a magician.

Simon fell in love with a woman named Luna, and, while waiting to marry her, he proposed to St. Peter, to Zacchæus, to Lazarus, to Nicodemus, to Dositheus, and to several others, that they should become his disciples. Dositheus answered him at once with a blow from a stick; but the stick having passed through Simon’s body as if it had been smoke, Dositheus worshipped him and became his lieutenant, after which Simon married his mistress and declared that she was Luna herself, descended from heaven to marry him.

But enough of the Confessions of St. Clement. It must, however, be remarked that in the ninth book the Chinese are spoken of under the name of Seres as the justest and wisest of mankind. After them come the Brahmins, to whom the author does the justice that was rendered them by all antiquity. He cites them as models of soberness, mildness, and justice.

XXIII.

St. Peter’s Letter to St. James, and St. Clement’s Letter to the same St. James, brother of the Lord, governor of the Holy Church of the Hebrews at Jerusalem, and of all churches. St. Peter’s Letter contains nothing curious, but St. Clement’s is very remarkable. He asserts that Peter declared him bishop of Rome before his death, and his coadjutor; that he laid his hands upon his head, and made him sit in the episcopal chair in the presence of all the faithful; and that he said to him, “Fail not to write to my brother James as soon as I am dead.”

This letter seems to prove that it was not then believed that St. Peter had suffered martyrdom, since it is probable that this letter, attributed to St. Clement, would have mentioned the circumstance. It also proves that Cletus and Anacletus were not reckoned among the bishops of Rome.

XXIV.

St. Clement’s Homilies, to the number of nineteen. He says in his first homily what he had already said in his confessions — that he went to St. Peter and St. Barnabas at Cæsarea, to know whether the soul was immortal, and the world eternal.

In the second homily, No. xxxviii., we find a much more extraordinary passage. St. Peter himself, speaking of the Old Testament, expresses himself thus: “The written law contains certain false things against the law of God, the Creator of heaven and earth; the devil has done this, for good reasons; it has also come to pass through the judgments of God, in order to discover such as would listen with pleasure to what is written against Him,” etc.

In the sixth homily St. Clement meets with Appian, the same who had written against the Jews in the time of Tiberius. He tells Appian that he is in love with an Egyptian woman and begs that he will write a letter in his name to his pretended mistress to convince her, by the example of all the gods, that love is a duty. Appian writes a letter and St. Clement answers it in the name of his pretended mistress, after which they dispute on the nature of the gods.

XXV.

Two Epistles of St. Clement to the Corinthians. It hardly seems just to have ranked these epistles among the apocryphal writings. Some of the learned may have declined to recognize them because they speak of “the phœnix of Arabia, which lives five hundred years, and burns itself in Egypt in the city of Heliopolis.” But there is nothing extraordinary in St. Clement’s having believed this fable which so many others believed, nor in his having written letters to the Corinthians.

It is known that there was at that time a great dispute between the church of Corinth and that of Rome. The church of Corinth, which declared itself to have been founded first, was governed in common; there was scarcely any distinction between the priests and the seculars, still less between the priests and the bishop; all alike had a deliberative voice, so, at least, several of the learned assert. St. Clement says to the Corinthians in his first epistle: “You have laid the first foundations of sedition; be subject to your priests, correct yourselves by penance, bend the knees of your hearts, learn to obey.” It is not at all astonishing that a bishop of Rome should use these expressions.

In the second epistle we again find that answer of Jesus Christ, on being asked when His kingdom of heaven should come: “When two shall make one, when that which is without shall be within, when the male shall be female, when there shall be neither male nor female.”

XXVI.

Letter from St. Ignatius the martyr to the Virgin Mary, and the Virgin’s answer to St. Ignatius:

“To Mary the Mother of Christ, from her devoted Ignatius: You should console me, a neophyte, and a disciple of your John. I have heard several wonderful things of your Jesus, at which I have been much astonished. I desire with all my heart to be informed of them by you, who always lived in familiarity with Him and knew all His secrets. Fare you well. Comfort the neophytes, who are with me from you and through you. Amen.”

“The Holy Virgin’s Answer to Her Dear Disciple Ignatius:

“The Humble Servant of Jesus Christ: All the things which you have learned from John are true; believe in them; persevere in your belief; keep your vow of Christianity. I will come and see you with John, you and those who are with you. Be firm in the faith; act like a man; let not severity and persecution disturb you, but let your spirit be strengthened and exalted in God your Saviour. Amen.”

It is asserted that these letters were written in the year 116 of the Christian era, but they are not therefore the less false and absurd. They would even have been an insult to our holy religion had they not been written in a spirit of simplicity, which renders everything pardonable.

XXVII.

Fragments of the Apostles. We find in them this passage: “Paul, a man of short stature, with an aquiline nose and an angelic face, instructed in heaven, said to Plantilla, of Rome, before he died: ‘Adieu, Plantilla, thou little plant of eternal salvation; know thy own nobility; thou art whiter than snow; thou art registered among the soldiers of Christ; thou art an heiress to the kingdom of heaven.’” This was not worthy to be refuted.

XXVIII.

There are eleven Apocalypses, which are attributed to the patriarchs and prophets, to St. Peter, Cerinthus, St. Thomas, St. Stephen the first martyr, two to St. John, differing from the canonical one, and three to St. Paul. All these Apocalypses have been eclipsed by that of St. John.

XXIX.

The Visions, Precepts, and Similitudes of Hermas. Hermas seems to have lived about the close of the first century. They who regard his book as apocryphal are nevertheless obliged to do justice to his morality. He begins by saying that his foster-father had sold a young woman at Rome. Hermas recognized this young woman after the lapse of several years, and loved her, he says, as if she had been his sister. He one day saw her bathing in the Tiber; he stretched forth his hand, drew her out of the river and said in his heart, “How happy should I be if I had a wife like her in beauty and in manners.” Immediately the heavens opened, and he all at once beheld this same wife, who made him a courtesy from above, and said, “Good morning, Hermas.” This wife was the Christian Church; she gave him much good advice.

A year after, the spirit transported him to the same place where he had seen this beauty, who nevertheless was old; but she was fresh in her age, and was old only because she had been created from the beginning of the world, and the world had been made for her.

The Book of Precepts contains fewer allegories, but that of Similitudes contains many. “One day,” says Hermas, “when I was fasting and was seated on a hill, giving thanks to God for all that he had done for me, a shepherd came, sat down beside me, and said, ‘Why have you come here so early?’ ‘Because I am going through the stations,’ answered I. ‘What is a station?’ asked the shepherd. ‘It is a fast.’ ‘And what is this fast?’ ‘It is my custom.’ ‘Ah!’ replied the shepherd, ‘you know not what it is to fast; all this is of no avail before God. I will teach you that which is true fasting and pleasing to the Divinity. Your fasting has nothing to do with justice and virtue. Serve God with a pure heart; keep His commandments; admit into your heart no guilty designs. If you have always the fear of God before your eyes — if you abstain from all evil, that will be true fasting, that will be the great fast which is acceptable to God.’ ”

This philosophical and sublime piety is one of the most singular monuments of the first century. But it is somewhat strange that, at the end of the Similitudes, the shepherd gives him very good-natured maidens — valde affabiles — to take care of his house and declares to him that he cannot fulfil God’s commandments without these maidens, who, it is plain, typify the virtues.

This list would become immense if we were to enter into every detail. We will carry it no further, but conclude with the Sibyls.

XXX.

The Sibyls. — What is most apocryphal in the primitive church is the prodigious number of verses in favor of the Christian religion attributed to the ancient sibyls. Diodorus Siculus knew of only one, who was taken at Thebes by the Epigoni, and placed at Delphos before the Trojan war. Ten sibyls — that is, ten prophetesses, were soon made from this one. She of Cuma had most credit among the Romans, and the sibyl Erythrea among the Greeks.

As all oracles were delivered in verse, none of the sibyls could fail to make verses; and to give them greater authority they sometimes made them in acrostics also. Several Christians who had not a zeal according to knowledge not only misinterpreted the ancient verses supposed to have been written by the sibyls, but also made some themselves, and which is worse, in acrostics, not dreaming that this difficult artifice of acrosticizing had no resemblance whatever to the inspiration and enthusiasm of a prophetess. They resolved to support the best of causes by the most awkward fraud. They accordingly made bad Greek verses, the initials of which signified in Greek — Jesus, Christ, Son, Saviour, and these verses said that with five loaves and two fishes He should feed five thousand men in the desert and that with the fragments that remained He should fill twelve baskets.

The millennium and the New Jerusalem, which Justin had seen in the air for forty nights, were, of course, foretold by the sibyls. In the fourth century Lactantius collected almost all the verses attributed to the sibyls and considered them as convincing proofs. The opinion was so well authorized and so long held that we still sing hymns in which the testimony of the sibyls is joined with the predictions of David:

Solvet sæclum in favilla,

Teste David cum Sibylla.

This catalogue of errors and frauds has been carried quite far enough. A hundred might be repeated, so constantly has the world been composed of deceivers and of people fond of being deceived.

But let us pursue no further so dangerous a research. The elucidation of one great truth is worth more than the discovery of a thousand falsehoods. Not all these errors, not all the crowd of apocryphal books have been sufficient to injure the Christian religion, because, as we all know, it is founded upon immutable truths. These truths are supported by a church militant and triumphant, to which God has given the power of teaching and of repressing. In several countries it unites temporal with spiritual authority. Prudence, strength, wealth are its attributes, and although it is divided, and its divisions have sometimes stained it with blood, it may be compared to the Roman commonwealth — constantly torn by internal dissensions, but constantly triumphant.

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