Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Their Lives, their Wives, their Children.

After the article “Apostle” in the Encyclopædia, which is as learned as it is orthodox, very little remains to be said. But we often hear it asked — Were the apostles married? Had they any children? if they had, what became of those children? Where did the apostles live? Where did they write? Where did they die? Had they any appropriated districts? Did they exercise any civil ministry? Had they any jurisdiction over the faithful? Were they bishops? Had they a hierarchy, rites, or ceremonies?

Were the Apostles Married?

There is extant a letter attributed to St. Ignatius the Martyr, in which are these decisive words: “I call to mind your sanctity as I do that of Elias, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and the chosen disciples Timothy, Titus, Evadius, and Clement; yet I do not blame such other of the blessed as were bound in the bonds of marriage, but hope to be found worthy of God in following their footsteps in his kingdom, after the example of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Isaiah, and the other prophets — of Peter and Paul, and the apostles who were married.”

Some of the learned assert that the name of St. Paul has been interpolated in this famous letter: however, Turrian and all who have seen the letters of Ignatius in the library of the Vatican acknowledge that St. Paul’s name appears there. And Baronius does not deny that this passage is to be found in some Greek manuscripts: Non negamus in quibusdam græcis codicibus. But he asserts that these words have been added by modern Greeks.

In the old Oxford library there was a manuscript of St. Ignatius’s letters in Greek, which contained the above words; but it was, I believe, burned with many other books at the taking of Oxford by Cromwell. There is still one in Latin in the same library, in which the words Pauli et apostolorum have been effaced, but in such a manner that the old characters may be easily distinguished.

It is however certain that this passage exists in several editions of these letters. This dispute about St. Paul’s marriage is, after all, a very frivolous one. What matters it whether he was married or not, if the other apostles were married? His first Epistle to the Corinthians is quite sufficient to prove that he might be married, as well as the rest:

“Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?”

It is clear from this passage that all the apostles were married, as well as St. Peter. And St. Clement of Alexandria positively declares that St. Paul had a wife. The Roman discipline has changed, which is no proof that the usage of the primitive ages was not different.

Children of the Apostles.

Very little is known of their families. St. Clement of Alexandria says that Peter had children, that Philip had daughters, and that he gave them in marriage. The Acts of the Apostles specify St. Philip, whose four daughters prophesied, of whom it is believed that one was married, and that this one was St. Hermione.

Eusebius relates that Nicholas, chosen by the apostles to co-operate in the sacred ministry with St. Stephen, had a very handsome wife, of whom he was jealous. The apostles having reproached him with his jealousy, he corrected himself of it, brought his wife to them and said, “I am ready to yield her up; let him marry her who will.” The apostles, however, did not accept his proposal. He had by his wife a son and several daughters.

Cleophas, according to Eusebius and St. Epiphanius, was brother to St. Joseph, and father of St. James the Less, and of St. Jude, whom he had by Mary, sister to the Blessed Virgin. So that St. Jude the apostle was first cousin to Jesus Christ.

Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, tells us that two grandsons of St. Jude were informed against to the Emperor Domitian as being descendants of David and having an incontestable right to the throne of Jerusalem. Domitian, fearing that they might avail themselves of this right, put questions to them himself, and they acquainted him with their genealogy. The emperor asked them what fortune they had. They answered that they had thirty-nine acres of land, which paid tribute, and that they worked for their livelihood. He then asked them when Jesus Christ’s kingdom was to come, and they told him “At the end of the world.” After which Domitian permitted them to depart in peace; which goes far to prove that he was not a persecutor. This, if I mistake not, is all that is known about the children of the apostles.


Where did the Apostles Live? Where did They Die?

According to Eusebius, James, surnamed the Just, brother to Jesus Christ, was in the beginning placed first on the episcopal throne of the city of Jerusalem; these are his own words. So that, according to him, the first bishopric was that of Jerusalem — supposing that the Jews knew even the name of bishop. It does, indeed, appear very likely that the brother of Jesus Christ should have been the first after him, and that the very city in which the miracle of our salvation was worked should have become the metropolis of the Christian world. As for the episcopal throne, that is a term which Eusebius uses by anticipation. We all know that there was then neither throne nor see.

Eusebius adds, after St. Clement, that the other apostles did not contend with St. James for this dignity. They elected him immediately after the Ascension. “Our Lord,” says he, “after His resurrection, had given to James, surnamed the Just, to John and to Peter the gift of knowledge”— very remarkable words. Eusebius mentions James first, then John, and Peter comes last. It seems but just that the brother and the beloved disciple of Jesus should come before the man who had denied Him. Nearly the whole Greek Church and all the reformers ask, Where is Peter’s primacy? The Catholics answer — If he is not placed first by the fathers of the church, he is in the Acts of the Apostles. The Greeks and the rest reply that he was not the first bishop; and the dispute will endure as long as the churches.

St. James, this first bishop of Jerusalem, always continued to observe the Mosaic law. He was a Rechabite; he walked barefoot, and never shaved; went and prostrated himself in the Jewish temple twice a day, and was surnamed by the Jews Oblia, signifying the just. They at length applied to him to know who Jesus Christ was, and having answered that Jesus was the son of man, who sat on the right hand of God, and that He should come in the clouds, he was beaten to death. This was St. James the Less.

St. James the Greater was his uncle, brother to St. John the Evangelist, and son of Zebedee and Salome. It is asserted that Agrippa, king of the Jews, had him beheaded at Jerusalem. St. John remained in Asia and governed the church of Ephesus, where, it is said, he was buried. St. Andrew, brother to St. Peter, quitted the school of St. John for that of Jesus Christ. It is not agreed whether he preached among the Tartars or in Argos; but, to get rid of the difficulty, we are told that it was in Epirus. No one knows where he suffered martyrdom, nor even whether he suffered it at all. The Acts of his martyrdom are more than suspected by the learned. Painters have always represented him on a saltier-cross, to which his name has been given. This custom has prevailed without its origin being known.

St. Peter preached to the Jews dispersed in Pontus, Bithynia, Cappadocia, at Antioch, and at Babylon. The Acts of the Apostles do not speak of his journey to Rome, nor does St. Paul himself make any mention of it in the letters which he wrote from that capital. St. Justin is the first accredited author who speaks of this journey, about which the learned are not agreed. St. Irenæus, after St. Justin, expressly says that St. Peter and St. Paul came to Rome, and that they entrusted its government to St. Linus. But here is another difficulty: if they made St. Linus inspector of the rising Christian society at Rome, it must be inferred that they themselves did not superintend it nor remain in that city.

Criticism has cast upon this matter a thousand uncertainties. The opinion that St. Peter came to Rome in Nero’s reign and filled the pontifical chair there for twenty-five years, is untenable, for Nero reigned only thirteen years. The wooden chair, so splendidly inlaid in the church at Rome, can hardly have belonged to St. Peter: wood does not last so long; nor is it likely that St. Peter delivered his lessons from this chair as in a school thoroughly formed, since it is averred that the Jews of Rome were violent enemies to the disciples of Jesus Christ.

The greatest difficulty perhaps is that St. Paul, in his epistle written to the Colossians from Rome, positively says that he was assisted only by Aristarchus, Marcus, and another bearing the name of Jesus. This objection has, to men of the greatest learning, appeared to be insurmountable.

In his letter to the Galatians he says that he obliged James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, to acknowledge himself and Barnabas as pillars also. If he placed James before Cephas, then Cephas was not the chief. Happily, these disputes affect not the foundation of our holy religion. Whether St. Peter ever was at Rome or not, Jesus Christ is no less the Son of God and the Virgin Mary; He did not the less rise again; nor did He the less recommend humility and poverty; which are neglected, it is true, but about which there is no dispute.

Callistus Nicephorus, a writer of the fourteenth century, says that “Peter was tall, straight and slender, his face long and pale, his beard and hair short, curly, and neglected — his eyes black, his nose long, and rather flat than pointed.” So Calmet translates the passage.

St. Bartholomew is a word corrupted from Bar. Ptolomaios, son of Ptolemy. The Acts of the Apostles inform us that he was a Galilean. Eusebius asserts that he went to preach in India, Arabia Felix, Persia, and Abyssinia. He is believed to have been the same as Nathanael. There is a gospel attributed to him; but all that has been said of his life and of his death is very uncertain. It has been asserted that Astyages, brother to Polemon, king of Armenia, had him flayed alive; but all good writers regard this story as fabulous.

St. Philip. — According to the apocryphal legends he lived eighty-seven years, and died in peace in the reign of Trajan.

St. Thomas Didymus. — Origen, quoted by Eusebius, says that he went and preached to the Medes, the Persians, the Caramanians, the Baskerians, and the magi — as if the magi had been a people. It is added that he baptized one of the magi, who had come to Bethlehem. The Manichæans assert that a man who had stricken Thomas was devoured by a lion. Some Portuguese writers assure us that he suffered martyrdom at Meliapour, in the peninsula of India. The Greek Church believes that he preached in India, and that from thence his body was carried to Edessa. Some monks are further induced to believe that he went to India, by the circumstance that, about the end of the fifteenth century, there were found, near the coast of Ormuz, some families of Nestorians, who had been established there by a merchant of Moussoul, named Thomas. The legend sets forth that he built a magnificent palace for an Indian king named Gondaser: but all these stories are rejected by the learned.

St. Matthias. — No particulars are known of him. His life was not found until the twelfth century by a monk of the abbey of St. Matthias of Treves. He said he had it from a Jew, who translated it for him from Hebrew into Latin.

St. Matthew. — According to Rufinus, Socrates, and Abdias, he preached and died in Ethiopia. Heracleon makes him live a long time and die a natural death. But Abdias says that Hyrtacus, king of Ethiopia, brother to Eglypus, wishing to marry his niece Iphigenia, and finding that he could not obtain St. Matthew’s permission, had his head struck off and set fire to Iphigenia’s house. He to whom we owe the most circumstantial gospel that we possess deserved a better historian than Abdias.

St. Simon the Canaanite, whose feast is commonly joined with that of St. Jude. — Of his life nothing is known. The modern Greeks say that he went to preach in Libya, and thence into England. Others make him suffer martyrdom in Persia.

St. Thaddæus or Lebbæus. — The same as St. Jude, whom the Jews in St. Matthew call brother to Jesus Christ, and who, according to Eusebius, was his first cousin. All these relations, for the most part vague and uncertain, throw no light on the lives of the apostles. But if there is little to gratify our curiosity, there is much from which we may derive instruction. Two of the four gospels, chosen from among the fifty-four composed by the first Christians, were not written by apostles.

St. Paul was not one of the twelve apostles, yet he contributed more than any other to the establishment of Christianity. He was the only man of letters among them. He had studied under Gamaliel. Festus himself, the governor of Judæa, reproaches him with being too learned; and, unable to comprehend the sublimities of his doctrine, he says to him, “Insanis, Paule, multæ te litteræ ad insaniam convertunt.” “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.”

In his first epistle to the Corinthians he calls himself sent. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are ye not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle unto others, yet, doubtless, I am unto you,” etc.

He might, indeed, have seen Jesus while he was studying at Jerusalem under Gamaliel. Yet it may be said that this was not a reason which could authorize his apostleship. He had not been one of the disciples of Jesus; on the contrary, he had persecuted them, and had been an accomplice in the death of St. Stephen. It is astonishing that he does not rather justify his voluntary apostleship by the miracle which Jesus Christ afterwards worked in his favor — by the light from heaven which appeared to him at midday and threw him from his horse, and by his being carried up to the third heaven.

St. Epiphanius quotes Acts of the Apostles, believed to have been composed by those Christians called Ebionites, or poor, and which were rejected by the Church — acts very ancient, it is true, but full of abuse of St. Paul. In them it is said that St. Paul was born at Tarsus of idolatrous parents — utroque parente gentili procreatus — that, having come to Jerusalem, where he remained some time, he wished to marry the daughter of Gamaliel; that, with this design, he became a Jewish proselyte and got himself circumcised; but that, not obtaining this virgin (or not finding her a virgin), his vexation made him write against circumcision, against the Sabbath, and against the whole law.

“Quumque Hierosolymam accessisset, et ibidem aliquandiu mansisset, pontificis filiam ducere in animum induxisse, et eam ob rem proselytum factum, atque circumcisum esse; postea quod virginem eam non accepisset, succensuisse, et adversus circumcisionem, ac sabbathum totamque legem scripsisse.”

These injurious words show that these primitive Christians, under the name of the poor, were still attached to the Sabbath and to circumcision, resting this attachment on the circumcision of Jesus Christ and his observance of the Sabbath; and that they were enemies to St. Paul, regarding him as an intruder who sought to overturn everything. In short, they were heretics; consequently they strove to defame their enemies, an excess of which party spirit and superstition are too often guilty. St. Paul, too, calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers,” and loads them with abuse. In his letter to the Philippians he calls them dogs.

St. Jerome asserts that he was born at Gisceala, a town of Galilee, and not at Tarsus. Others dispute his having been a Roman citizen, because at that time there were no Roman citizens at Tarsus, nor at Galgala, and Tarsus was not a Roman colony until about a hundred years after. But we must believe the Acts of the Apostles, which were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and therefore outweigh the testimony of St. Jerome, learned as he might be.

Every particular relative to St. Peter and St. Paul is interesting. If Nicephorus has given us a portrait of the one, the Acts of St. Thecla, which, though not canonical, are of the first century, have furnished us with a portrait of the other. He was, say these acts, short in stature, his head was bald, his thighs were crooked, his legs thick, his nose aquiline, his eyebrows joined, and he was full of the grace of God. — Statura brevi, etc.

These Acts of St. Paul and St. Thecla were, according to Tertullian, composed by an Asiatic, one of Paul’s own disciples, who at first put them forth under the apostle’s name; for which he was called to account and displaced — that is, excluded from the assembly; for the hierarchy, not being then established, no one could, properly speaking, be displaced.


Under What Discipline Did the Apostles and Primitive Disciples Live?

It appears that they were all equal. Equality was the great principle of the Essenians, the Rechabites, the Theraputæ, the disciples of John, and especially those of Jesus Christ, who inculcated it more than once.

St. Barnabas, who was not one of the twelve apostles, gave his voice along with theirs. St. Paul, who was still less a chosen apostle during the life of Jesus, not only was equal to them, but had a sort of ascendancy; he rudely rebukes St. Peter.

When they are together we find among them no superior. There was no presiding, not even in turn. They did not at first call themselves bishops. St. Peter gives the name of bishop, or the equivalent epithet, only to Jesus Christ, whom he calls the inspector of souls. This name of inspector or bishop was afterwards given to the ancients, whom we call priests; but with no ceremony, no dignity, no distinctive mark of pre-eminence. It was the office of the ancients or elders to distribute the alms. The younger of them were chosen by a plurality of voices to serve the tables, and were seven in number; all which clearly verifies the reports in common. Of jurisdiction, of power, of command, not the least trace is to be found.

It is true that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for not giving all their money to St. Peter, but retaining a small part for their own immediate wants without confessing it — for corrupting, by a trifling falsehood, the sanctity of their gifts; but it is not St. Peter who condemns them. It is true that he divines Ananias’ fault; he reproaches him with it and tells him that he has lied to the Holy Ghost; after which Ananias falls down dead. Then comes Sapphira; and Peter, instead of warning, interrogates her, which seems to be the action of a judge. He makes her fall into the snare by saying, “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much.” The wife made the same answer as her husband. It is astonishing that she did not, on reaching the place, learn of her husband’s death — that no one had informed her of it — that she did not observe the terror and tumult which such a death must have occasioned, and above all, the mortal fear lest the officers of justice should take cognizance of it as of a murder. It is strange that this woman should not have filled the house with her cries, but have been quietly interrogated, as in a court of justice, where silence is rigidly enforced. It is still more extraordinary that Peter should have said to her, “Behold the feet of them which have carried thy husband out at the door, and shall carry thee out”— on which the sentence was instantly executed. Nothing can more resemble a criminal hearing before a despotic judge.

But it must be considered that St. Peter is here only the organ of Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; that it is to them that Ananias and his wife have lied, and it is they who punish them with sudden death; that, indeed, this miracle was worked for the purpose of terrifying all such as, while giving their goods to the Church, and saying that they have given all, keep something back for profane uses. The judicious Calmet shows us how the fathers and the commentators differ about the salvation of these two primitive Christians, whose sin consisted in simple though culpable reticence.

Be this as it may, it is certain that the apostles had no jurisdiction, no power, no authority, but that of persuasion, which is the first of all, and upon which every other is founded. Besides, it appears from this very story that the Christians lived in common. When two or three of them were gathered together, Jesus Christ was in the midst of them. They could all alike receive the Spirit. Jesus was their true, their only superior; He had said to them:

“Be not ye called rabbi; for one is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon earth; for one is your father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even Christ.”

In the time of the apostles there was no ritual, no liturgy; there were no fixed hours for assembling, no ceremonies. The disciples baptized the catechumens, and breathed the Holy Ghost into their mouths, as Jesus Christ had breathed on the apostles; and as, in many churches, it is still the custom to breathe into the mouth of a child when administering baptism. Such were the beginnings of Christianity. All was done by inspiration — by enthusiasm, as among the Therapeutæ and the Judaïtes, if we may for a moment be permitted to compare Jewish societies, now become reprobate, with societies conducted by Jesus Christ Himself from the highest heaven, where He sat at the right hand of His Father. Time brought necessary changes; the Church being extended, strengthened, and enriched, had occasion for new laws.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01