Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. In Asia Minor (1 Pet. 1:1) and Probably in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12; 9:5).




              2. In Rome:

              Arrival of St. Peter in Rome.




                            St. Peter, bishop of Rome:

              The fact, Its bearing.




                            St. Peter, and St. Mark:

              The Gospel according to St. Mark.


                                          The church of Alexandira.




                            Martyrdom of St. Peter (place and date).




              3. St. Peter’s Personal Appearance and Character.






              1. The Christian Church of Jerusalem between 45 and 70 A.D.


              2. Was James “the Brother of the Lord” identical with James “the Son of Alpheus”?




              3. The position of St. james

              in the eyes of the Jews (the Epistle of ST. James).


                            in the eyes of the apostles and early Christians.




              4. Martyrdom of St. James (Manner and Date).


§ 1. Labors of St. Peter

1. In Asia Minor and Probably in Corinth. When we bear in mind the very prominent part ascribed to St. Peter in the preaching of Christianity by the opening chapters of the book of the Acts, it seems strange indeed that afterwards only incidental notices of his labors should be found in this and the other inspired writings of the New Testament. This appears all the more surprising because all such incidental notices clearly point to a fact which we would of course expect, viz., that the greatest consideration continued to surround his words and person. But whatever may be thought of the fragmentary character of these notices, it cannot be denied that they supply valuable though scanty details about the labors of the head of the Church during the long and eventful journeys of St. Paul which we have briefly described in the preceding chapters.

Thus from these sources of information we learn that, while St. Paul was pre-eminently the Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Peter was regarded as especially entrusted “with the gospel of the circumcision,” and that he probably preached the glad tidings of salvation “to the children of Israel dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” During his missionary labors he was, not unlikely, accompanied by his wife, who rendered to him those services which “the rest of the apostles and the brethren of the Lord” received from pious women who followed them with a view to contribute towards the spread of the Gospel by every means in their power, such as assisting the missionaries with their worldly goods, preaching to and baptizing women in the various cities which they traversed.

Finally, from an allusion of St. Paul to Cephas’ party, as a Corinthian faction distinct from those of Paul and Apollo, to whose preaching in Corinth these latter parties owed their origin, it has been inferred that the existence of Cephas’ party pointed back likewise to the preaching of St. Peter in the capital of Achaia. This inference is, indeed, rejected by many, yet it seems to be fairly probable, since St. Dionysius of Corinth, writing in the latter part of the second century, is quoted by Eusebius as speaking of Peter and Paul as the founders of the Corinthian Church.

2. In Rome. It is hardly necessary in the present day to rehearse all the testimonies which go to prove that St. Peter went to Rome (that is “the Babylon” spoken of in 1 Peter 5:13) and labored there: to appeal, for instance, to the words of St. Clement of Rome (about 95 A.D.) in his Epistle to the Corinthians, to those of St. Ignatius Martyr a few years later in his Epistle to the Romans,| of St. Dionysius of Corinth, of Clement of Alexandria,* of St. Irenæus,† of Tertullian,‡ who all wrote before the end of the second century, and referred explicitly or implicitly to St. Peter’s presence in the capital of the empire. All their testimonies, and countless others in the third and following centuries, have been tested over and over again by critics, by Catholics, Protestants, and Rationalists alike, and the unequivocal verdict is that “in the light of such early and unanimous testimony it may be regarded as an established fact that Peter visited Rome.”

But while this most important point may be considered as settled, the same thing cannot be said of the question of the time when St. Peter reached the capital of the world, for the reference to this tradition is comparatively late and apparently discordant. It is only with Eusebius that we begin to hear of a date for the coming of Peter to Rome, and unfortunately his chronology is somewhat inconsistent, for, while in his Chronicle he admits that the apostle came to Rome in the third year of Caligula (March 15th, A.D. 39 to March 15th, A.D. 40), in his Ecclesiastical History he puts St. Peter’s arrival under Claudius (January 24th, A.D. 41, to October 13th, A.D. 54). Unfortunately, also, Lactantius—or whoever may be the author of the “De mortibus Persecutorum”—ascribes the arrival of the head of the Church under the reign of Nero, “after the apostles had preached already for twenty-five years.” It is, indeed, true that the influence of St. Jerome, who, in his Latin revision of Eusebius’ Chronicle, adopted the precise year 42 A.D., the second year of Claudius, as the date of Peter’s coming to Rome, has rendered this date extremely prevalent among subsequent ecclesiastical writers, yet it cannot be denied that for several centuries its accuracy has been questioned and rejected by many scholars, both within and without the Church.

Perhaps the most probable view regarding the arrival of St. Peter in the capital of the empire is the one which admits that he made two distinct visits to Rome, the first one either under Caligula or early under Claudius, the other one under Nero. This opinion presents a plausible account of the fluctuations of ecclesiastical tradition concerning St. Peter’s arrival in Rome and harmonizes well with the traditional length of twenty-five years of his Roman episcopate, traces of which go as far back as the end of the second century. Again, it enables us to understand how the church of Rome had already assumed the form of a flourishing and well-organized community when St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans; why the Apostle of the Gentiles, who desired so much to see the capital of the empire, was, however, long deterred from going to and preaching in it “lest he should build upon another man’s foundation”; why, in fact, he did not intend to preach, but simply to call there on his way to Spain. Finally, the theory in question gives a natural explanation of the singular fact that the ancient martyrologies mention two distinct festivals in honor of the Chair of St. Peter, the former of which, marked for January 18th, was destined to commemorate the “Cathedra S. Petri qua primum Romæ sedit.”

But whatever difficulties may be found in the way of determining the precise date of St. Peter’s arrival in Rome, it remains beyond doubt that he visited that city and labored long therein, for only his prolonged leadership can account for the honor in which his memory was universally held by the Christians of Rome, and for the way in which his figure overshadowed that of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. Indeed, to admit that St. Peter ever set his foot in the Eternal City—as most Protestant writers actually do—otherwise than in virtue of the fulness of his apostolic power must ever appear a strange position to hold, and one arising from strong prejudices against the authority possessed by the Roman pontiffs to feed the whole flock of Christ as successors of St. Peter. If the prince of the apostles went to Rome at all, and especially if he long labored and died there, it must seem only reasonable to grant that the Roman Church has the right to trace back the series of her bishops to the one who was pre-eminently her first bishop, to affirm that each of his successors holds an authority inherited from him, and finally to claim for itself that fulness of power which Christ had entrusted to Peter, and “which makes it a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this Church on account of its pre-eminent authority.”

The precise form of teaching used by this first bishop of Rome has been embodied and handed down to us in our second canonical gospel, the writing of which, according to a very ancient tradition recorded by Eusebius, is the work of Mark, the spiritual “son” of St. Peter. In point of fact the rapid, graphic, circumstantial, and eminently practical character of St. Mark’s gospel commends it as an original and faithful picture of the living word of Peter, the former fisherman of Galilee and the personal witness of the deeds of Christ, when addressing such men of action as the Romans of his time. It is to this same disciple of St. Peter that tradition ascribes the foundation of the great Church of Alexandria in Egypt, and although the tradition to that effect is found for the first time in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius—that is, not earlier than the fourth century—it should not be rejected at once, for it is beyond doubt that this historian had at his disposal early and complete lists of the Alexandrian bishops.

That St. Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome is a fact no less certain than his arrival in that great city, for the same testimonies which tell in favor of the latter establish equally well the former. Tradition affirms also with no less cogency that he suffered under Nero, and several particulars which have come down to us through the same channel place it practically beyond doubt that he suffered in the great Neronian persecution. This is notably the case with the traditional statement that he was crucified, and more particularly still with the declaration that he was buried in the Vatican, for the imperial circus and gardens of the Vatican were then the great scene of the butchery. As the great fire of Rome began about the middle of July 64 A.D., and as the bloody edict of persecution appeared and was carried out very soon afterwards, it is probable that St. Peter was one of the early victims of Nero, and that he was put to death either before the end of 64 or in the beginning of 65 A.D.—that is, only a few months after the Apostle of the Gentiles. This opinion is indeed somewhat at variance with the commonly received view that the two apostles died on the same day—a view the prevalence of which is perhaps to be traced back to the influence of St. Jerome,—but it harmonizes well with what was the primitive tradition of the Church, viz., that Peter and Paul “suffered martyrdom about the same time.”

3. St. Peter’s Personal Appearance and Character. The earliest known representation of St. Peter’s features is that on a medal recently found in the cemetery of Domitilla, and probably referable to the close of the first or the beginning of the second century. It is in close agreement with the traditional representations in old Greek mosaics and other early Christian pictures, and the features of the apostle are so strongly characterized as to have all the appearance of a portrait. He has a broad forehead, rather coarse features, an open and undaunted countenance, short gray hair and short thick beard, both curled, full lips, and protruding eyebrows. This representation harmonizes also with the following descriptive portrait which Nicephorus, a Greek historian of the fifteenth century, gives of St. Peter, and which he probably took from some ancient picture of the apostle: “He was not fat, but pretty tall and upright; had a fair and rather pale countenance. His hair and beard were thick, frizzled, and not long. His eyes were black, his eyebrows protuberant, his nose somewhat long and rather flat than sharp.”

It seems, therefore, that the personal appearance of the prince of the apostles contrasted much with, and was in some particulars inferior to, that of St. Paul; and perhaps the same thing may be said in reference to his character when compared with that of the Apostle of the Gentiles. By nature, and indeed as by an almost necessary outcome of his primitive avocation in life, he was more self-reliant and less refined than St. Paul. He was as good and sincere a man as his joint founder of the Roman Church, but was much less even-balanced and much more easily betrayed by the impression of the moment into rash words and deeds. In him, then, much more than in the Doctor of the nations, natural dispositions needed to be corrected and elevated by the grace of the apostolate in order that he might remain to the end true to his faith and to his love for his Master; and in point of fact it seems as if this pre-eminent grace of the apostolate had been less successful in perfecting nature in him than in St. Paul, for even long years after he had received the effusion of Pentecost and exercised his apostolic functions he was still “prone to vacillate and often mistaken as to the wisest plan to adopt.”|

Be this as it may, it cannot be denied that the practical sense and prompt energy which characterized from the first the Galilean fisherman followed him when he took the helm of the Church, and that his habit of speaking quickly for his fellow-disciples proved later of great avail, when once converted he had to confirm his brethren by a prompt and unequivocal expression of the right belief. Finally, his denials of the Son of God produced in his soul that deep humility which Christ had recommended to those in high station in His Church, and which shone forth in St. Peter’s lowly acceptance of Paul’s rebuke in Antioch, and more strikingly still in his care to make known in his preaching—recorded, as we have seen, in our second canonical Gospel—many details humiliating to himself.

§ 2. St. James of Jerusalem

1. The Christian Church of Jerusalem between 45 and 70 A.D. While St. Peter and St. Paul were spreading the Gospel far and wide St. James presided over the destiny of the Christian church in Jerusalem. He had assumed this responsible and difficult charge soon after the death of “James the brother of John,” who was put to death by Herod Agrippa I. in 44 A.D.; and for a long time one of his principal cares was to interest the members of the other Christian communities in the distressing poverty of the faithful who resided in the Holy City. The great bulk of these consisted, naturally, of Jewish converts, who, more than anywhere else, found it hard to divest themselves of the notion that the Mosaic Law should be fully enforced upon the Gentiles who wished to embrace Christianity, and it must be confessed that in Jerusalem many things concurred to keep them in this frame of mind. The Temple, that magnificent house of Jehovah, upon which they had been used from their childhood to gaze with national pride, was still standing before their eyes with all the splendor of its architecture and all the pomp of its ceremonial. Its precincts, where was still found the wall of partition with its inscription, threatening instant death against every uncircumcised trespasser, continued to appear to them as sacred as before they had believed in the Messiahship of Jesus, and reminded them forcibly of the immense distance which they had been taught to set between the circumcised and the uncircumcised worshipper of Jehovah. That this Judaistic feeling, and all that it implied, redoubled in intensity when the great Jewish festivals brought into the capital of Judæa circumcised men from every quarter of the world, “with their offerings and vows,” can be easily imagined. Thus, then, day after day, year after year, their veneration for the Mosaic worship and ordinances was kept alive, and it made them long for a state of things when all men should worship the great God of Israel in exactly the same manner and under the same conditions as the saintly ancestors of the chosen people. In Jerusalem, also, more than anywhere else, it was easy to remember that Christ Himself had received circumcision and submitted to Mosaic observances, and that, far from rejecting the Law, He had distinctly affirmed that He had not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. Finally, both the example of James “the brother of the Lord,” who appeared to all a living model of faithfulness to the Law, and the opposite conduct of Paul, who was reported to teach men utter disregard for it, were calculated, each in its own way, to attach the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem to Mosaic social and religious practices.

It is probably because of its Judaistic appearance that, after the short storm it underwent under Herod Agrippa I., the Christian community of Jerusalem enjoyed long years of freedom from persecution, even while the Jewish leaders were most bent on bringing about the condemnation and death of St. Paul. It is also likely enough that this long period of peace, joined to the apparent lack of severance of Christianity from Judaism in the Holy City, contributed much to induce a large number of Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messias.

While the church of Jerusalem shared so much in the religious feelings of the Jews of the time—and continued to do so up to the ruin of the city by Titus in 70 A.D.—it seems that a large number, if not the bulk, of its members, bearing in mind the prophetic words of the Saviour concerning the future ruin of both Temple and city, persevered in their wish that war with Rome should be avoided, despite the well-nigh unbearable injustice and tyranny of Gessius Florus, the second successor of the procurator Festus. In point of fact numbers of them withdrew to Pella shortly before Jerusalem was invested by the Roman forces under Titus.

2. Was James “the Brother of the Lord” Identical with James “the Son of Alpheus”? It is difficult in the present day to determine whether James “the brother of the Lord,” who ruled over the Christians of Jerusalem after 44 A.D., is identical with the apostle James called “the son of Alpheus” in the sacred narrative. On the one hand, many able scholars urge in favor of the identity (1) how natural it is to suppose that St. Luke, after having recognized only two James, viz., the son of Zebedee and the son of Alpheus, up to the twelfth chapter of the book of the Acts, and, having in that chapter recorded the death of one of them (James the son of Zebedee), should go on in the same and following chapters to speak of “James,” meaning thereby the other James already mentioned by him, and not a different James not yet introduced to his readers; (2) that the more probable meaning of St. Paul’s words in Galat. 1:19, “But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James, the brother of the Lord,” is that the James in question is identical with the son of Alpheus, since here St. Paul speaks of the twelve primitive apostles, from whom he disclaims to have received commission to preach the Gospel; (3) that the great authority ascribed to James the brother of the Lord among, or even, as we are told, over, apostles points to one of the primitive apostles, and consequently to one who is to be identified with James the son of Alpheus.

On the other hand, such Catholic scholars as the Bollandist Henschein, R. Simon, Danko, Schegg, de Smedt, etc., maintain with the current notion of the Greek Church, and with what seems to have been the primitive tradition in this regard, that James the Lord’s brother is different from James, the son of Alpheus. They readily admit that the brother of the Lord was an apostle, but only in the same sense as Barnabas or Paul, and appeal to several passages of Holy Writ where the brethren of Jesus are clearly distinguished from the primitive apostles as proving that James, one of the former, should not be identified with one of the latter.

Perhaps this second position (to which St. Jerome himself rallied when advanced in years, though he had strenuously defended the first in his youth) is more probable.

3. The Position of St. James in the Eyes of both Jews and Christians. Few Christian bishops ever enjoyed a more general esteem and admiration from their contemporaries than the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Jews, who witnessed day after day his long prayers on his knees in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and knew that in everything he gave to his followers the example of a scrupulous observance of the Mosaic Law, gradually looked upon him as one of the glories of Judaism, and surnamed him “the Just.” It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that, profiting by the great respect which surrounded him in the Holy City, and which was, of course, noticed by those of the Jewish race who came to Jerusalem for the yearly festivals, that the Lord’s brother should have addressed “to the twelve tribes scattered abroad” the catholic epistle ascribed to him.

Nor did he enjoy less authority in the eyes of the apostles and in those of the early Christians. His fellow-apostles ever saw in him a near relative of Jesus, one who had been favored with a special apparition of the Lord, and who, although personally a most strict observer of the Jewish Law, had clearly realized the divine plan that the Gentiles should be admitted into the Church without being required to submit to circumcision and to most of what it implied. Hence they ever felt that despite his differences from them in outward conduct he was inwardly with them in all essential points of belief and worship, that he was the man the most suited to be the head of the church of Jerusalem, then so entirely Jewish, and, finally, that he was one of the very “pillars” of primitive Christianity. As to the early Christians of Jerusalem, they had naturally the deepest veneration for the saintly head of the Church, for the man whose relationship with the Messias was well known, and whose personal influence in the Holy City secured for them a long period of peace on the part of the Jewish authorities.

4. Martyrdom of St. James. In spite, or rather on account, of his great popularity in Jerusalem James “the Just” was sentenced to death in consequence of what seems to have been a combination of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. On the one hand, these latter hated a man whose whole influence was exerted in favor of Pharisaic customs and beliefs and whose daily life was a silent censure of their own worldly conduct; on the other hand, many of the Pharisees, while unable to find fault with his manner of carrying out the Mosaic Law, were jealous of his authority, and, especially as he perseveringly made use of it to discourage their cherished project of a national uprising against Rome, they watched for an opportunity to put him to death. At length, as the successor of Festus delayed much to reach Palestine, and as Ananus, the new high priest appointed by Agrippa II., was a Sadducee well known for his unscrupulousness, this was seized upon as a favorable opportunity to bring about a condemnation by the union of both Pharisees and Sadducees against James, the more so because once the sentence was passed it might freely be carried out without waiting for its ratification by the procurator, still far away in Alexandria. The Sanhedrim was therefore gathered by Ananus and the charge of breaking the Law distinctly set forth against James and some others: the issue of the trial was of course a sentence of death. Even after all these forms of justice the Jewish leaders did not dare to carry out directly their sentence against James “the Just,” but had recourse to a scheme calculated, as they thought, to divide the multitude about his fate. They got him to ascend the pinnacle of the Temple and bade him to declare himself openly against Jesus. What they expected happened: James proclaimed generously his faith in Christ, and in consequence his enemies, simulating a righteous indignation against words so offensive to Jewish prejudice, hurled him from the eminence and then stoned him.

Such was probably the manner in which St. James’ martyrdom was brought about in 62 or 63 A.D.

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