CHAPTER XXVII, from the third volume of the Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ, A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their beginnings to A.D. 325
Copyright by Will Durant. See the book at Amazon
CHRISTIANITY arose out of Jewish apocalyptic- esoteric revelations of the coming Kingdom; it derived its impetus from the personality and vision of Christ; it gained strength from the belief in his resurrection, and the promise of eternal life; it received doctrinal form in the theology of Paul; it grew by the absorption of pagan faith and ritual; it became a triumphant Church by inheriting the organizing patterns and genius of Rome.
The apostles were apparently unanimous in believing that Christ would soon return to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. “The end of all things is near,” says the first epistle of Peter; “be serious and collected, therefore, and pray.” “Children,” says the first epistle of John, “it is the last hour. You have heard that Antichrist was coming, and many Antichrists” (Nero, Vespasian, Domitian?) “have indeed appeared. So we may be sure that it is the last hour.” The belief in the Messianic mission, bodily resurrection, and earthly return of Christ formed the basic faith of early Christianity. This creed did not prevent the apostles from continuing to accept Judaism. “Day after day,” says Acts, “they all went regularly to the Temple”; they obeyed the dietetic and ceremonial laws; they proclaimed their faith at first only to Jews, and often preached it in the Temple courts.
They believed that they had received from Christ or the Holy Spirit miraculous powers of inspiration, healing, and speech. Many sick and infirm persons came to them; some were cured, says Mark, by anointing with oil- always a popular treatment in the East. The author of Acts draws a touching picture of the trustful communism in which these early Christians lived:
There was but one heart and soul in the multitude who had become believers, and not one of them claimed anything that belonged to him as his own, but they shared everything they had with one another…. No one among them was in any want, for any who owned lands or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds and put them at the disposal of the Apostles; then they were shared with everyone in proportion to his need.
As the number of proselytes increased, the apostles, by a laying on of hands, ordained seven deacons to administer the affairs of the community. For some time the Jewish authorities tolerated the sect as small and harmless; but as the “Nazarenes” multiplied in a few years from 120 to 8000, the priests became alarmed. Peter and others were arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin; the Sadducees wished to condemn them to death, but a Pharisee named Gamaliel- probably the teacher of Paul- advised a suspended judgment; as a compromise the prisoners were flogged and released. A little later (A.D. 30?) Stephen, one of the ordained deacons, was summoned before the Sanhedrin on the charge that he had “used abusive language about Moses and about God.” He defended himself with reckless vehemence:
You stubborn people, with heathen hearts and ears, you are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your forefathers did! Which of the prophets did not your forefathers persecute? They killed the men who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whom you have now betrayed and killed- you who had the Law given you by angels, and did not obey it! *03117