Page images

From The Reader. had led him to reside on the frontiers of GalRENAN'S “ LIFE OF JESUS.”

ilee, and to travel much amid the scenes celVie de Jésus. Par Ernest Renan, Membre de ebrated in the history of Christ. 66 All that

l'Institut. (Paris : Michel Lévy Frères.) history,” he adds, “ which, at a distance,

WIThin the last year or two the name of seems to float in the clouds of an unreal Ernest Renan has been heard of as that of a world, thus acquired, as it were, a body and French scholar and thinker almost singular solidity which astonished me.

The striking for the seriousness of his tone and purpose accord of the texts and the places, the maramong bis literary compatriots, and worthy vellous harmony of the Gospel ideal with the to be known and studied beyond the limits country which served for its frame, were to of France. A Breton by birth, and now over me like a revelation. I had before my eyes forty years

of age, he has long had the repu- a fifth Gospel, torn, but still legible, so that tation of being one of the best French ori- thenceforward, through the medium of the entalists—in which capacity he held the He- narratives of Matthew and Mark, I have brew Professorship in the Collège de France, seen, instead of an abstract being such as until the recent outcry against his hetero- one would say, never existed, a noble human doxy forced the government to remove him. figure living and moving.” He wrote the For, along with his scholarship, he possesses present work while these impressions were a rare amount of the purely speculative spirit fresh upon him and the sacred scenes were and genius, and the faculty also of a remark- still in view; he had then scarcely any books ably eloquent and graceful writer; and, al- by him; and the only additions he has made though most of his writings were on such since his return home have consisted of refsubjects as might naturally be handled by a erences, notes, and verifications. A beloved Professor of Hebrew, the entire tenor and sister was with him in the East, where she substance of these writings—his - General died of a fever which for a time threatened History of the Semitic Tongues,” his " Es- his own life ; and it is to her memory that says on Religious History,” his “ Essays in the work is dedicated. Morals and Criticism,” his treatise “ On the Renan's 6 Life of Jesus” is at this moOrigin of Language,” his dissertation « On ment a European book. Everywhere it is Averroes and Averroism,” etc.-had been being read, and everywhere it is making a such as to make it clear that this Hebrew profound sensation. Perhaps the first thing Professor was not one of the usual stamp, that will strike any one who reads it is the but had utterly parted from the Church in thorough contrast it presents to the famous his conceptions both of Judaism and of Chris-“ Life of Jesus” by the German Strauss. M. tianity,

in fact, a skeptic of a new Renan, indeed, does not reject Strauss, but and very advanced type. What Bishop Co- rather accepts him on the whole. " It is allenso is now in England, Renan, by the exer- most needless to remark," he says in a note cise of a genius of far greater philosophic in his Introduction, “ that not a word in the comprehension, of far richer information, and work of M. Strauss justifies the strange and of far more poetical and sentimental quality, absurd calumny by which it has been athas for some time been across the Channel. tempted to discredit, with superficial persons, The clergy anathematize him; but the skep- a work convenient, exact, ingenious, and contical French laity are proud of him, and view scientious, though spoilt in its general porhis career with ever-increasing interest. tions by an exclusive system. Not only has

Into this state of opinion about himself, M. Strauss never denied the existence of and about the great questions which he rep- Jesus, but every page of his book implies resents, Renan has flung his new book-his that existence. What is truc is that M. “Life of Jesus.” He had this book, it Strauss supposes the personal character of seems, in reserve ; and its publication has for Jesus more obliterated for us than perhaps in some time been expected. It was written, he reality it is.” It is by the practical extentells us, almost exactly as it now is, in the sion given to this last remark by M. Renan Holy Land, in the summer of 1861, at the in his work that he has made it so complete close of an expedition on which he had been a contrast to the work of Strauss. Strauss's sent by the French Government for the ex- work is an attempt to disintegrate the Gospel ploration of ancient Phænicia. This mission narratives from beginning to end-to show

and was,

that they are an accumulation of myths upon himself, are resolved by him into a practice, some basis of fact which, as being so covered in perfect good faith, of a “ thaumaturgy over with myths, is no longer recoverable. then universally credited in such lands as Renan, on the other hand, accepting, in a Judea. In the case of one of the miracles, modified form, some of Strauss's results, and indeed—that of the raising of Lazarus—he quietly omitting from the Gospel narrative goes farther, and resorts to a supposition what he considers mere " legends," sets him- which, notwithstanding the subtle delicacy self to construct the real character and life with which he expresses it, will shock the of Jesus out of the materials that remain. reader greatly. He supposes that, in this His work is eminently imaginative and con- case, there may have been a “ pious fraud" structive, while that of Strauss is critical and though he does not give it in this blunt destructive. Throughout the body of the name, but implies that the oriental standard book the constant endeavor is to trace out in such matters must not be identified with and vividly represent the lineaments of the the occidental-on the part of Martha and real historic Christ as he walked and moved Mary and Lazarus himself, without Christ's about in Judea ; and only now and then does knowledge. No passage in the whole work he permit a critical remark to intrude itself will shock more than this. as he proceeds. What of criticism there is It is but another statement of the peculiin the work is chiefly contained in the Intro- arity of the book that it rejects from the first duction. There M. Renan gives his views as the notion of the Divinity of Christ, except to the authorship and the relative degrees of in the sense in which divinity might be precredibility of the Four Gospels; and there dicted of the noblest and grandest human also he announces, once for all, the skeptical being that ever walked on the face of the peculiarity, if it may be so called, which earth. It is of the man Christ, of Jesus of readers must be prepared to find in his book, Nazareth, that M. Renan essays to write the and which, wherever it is read, will provoke life. But, that being once understood by the reclamations against it as, with all its ex- reader, the astonishment will be at the untraordinary literary and moral merits, a blow paralleled devotion, the almost trembling at the substance of received Christianity, and fascination of heart and soul, with which M.. occasion sorrow in pious minds that a man Renan treats his theme. Not a breath of the of such high and tender and yearningly de- Voltaire spirit, or of the skeptical spirit of vout genius should, as regards his religious the eighteenth century, is preceptible here. faith, be no other than he is.

Renan and all that old French mockery are. That peculiarity of the book is its entire millions of miles apart; Jesus is literally to. rejection of the miraculous. “ It is not,” he M. Renan the grandest human being that, says, ..

“in the name of this or of that philos- ever trod this earth, and the founder of the opby, it is in the name of universal experi- religion which, in its 'essence, must be the ence, that we banish miracle from history." religion of humanity forever; and to got: And again, “ Until a new order of things, back, by research and imagination through we shall maintain this principle of historical the intervening eighteen hundred years, to, criticism, that a supernatural story cannot the exact time, and spot, and manner of this. be admitted as such, that it implies always matchless reality, so as to behold it closely credulity or imposture, and that the duty of and follow reverently and yet intelligently in the bistorian is to interpret it and to find out its footsteps, is, in M. Renan's view, that suwhat portion of truth, and what portion of preme feat of historical literature which, error, it may contain.” And again, in the though others have attempted it before, it body of the work, “ If ever the worship of has been left for him to attempt again in a Jesus shall become feeble among men, it will new way. One may certainly say that, for be precisely on account of the acts which poetic vividness in the narrative, and for originally caused belief in him.” Hence, depth and tenderness of reverent feeling, as the miracles of the Gospel narratives, so far well as for definiteness of attempt at the as M. Renan does not resolve them into philosophic investigation of that human myths of later formation, but recognizes character of Jesus which is all that M. them as part and parcel of the original series Renan recognizes, his work surpasses all that of events as done and countenanced by Jesus has been written as yet, to the same purpose





and on the same theme, by the most eloquent were his cousins-german. Mary, in fact, had Unitarians.

a sister, named also Mary, who married a To give even an abridged account of the certain Alpheus or Cleophas (these two story which M. Renan sets forth in his vol- names seem to designate one person), and

was the mother of several sons, who played ume—beginning with Jesus, as he supposes a considerable part among the first disciples him to have been at first, “the young car- of Jesus. These cousins-german, who adpenter of Galilee,” acted on by the circum- hered to the young master while his true stances of his nativity, neighborhood, nation, brothers opposed him, took the name of and time, but with a certain grand and orig-" brothers of the Lord.” The true brothers inal conception of his own moral mission and of Jesus were, as well as their mother, of no of God as - the Father,” and proceeding sisters married at Nazareth, and there he

importance till after his death.

His thence to the modifications, some of them

passed the years of his first youth. Nazarstrong and awful, which M. Renan supposes eth was a small town

the populawere gradually effected by successive influen- tion at present is from three to four thousand ces in Christ's character and his views of his souls ; and it cannot have changed much. mission, till they ended in the majestic proc- The cold there is keen in winter, and the lamation of the coming Kingdom of Hea- climate very healthy. The town, as at that ven” and the world's final revolution—would epoch all the smaller Jewish towns, was a here be quite impossible,

collection of huts built without style, and with any satisfac

must have presented the dry and poor aspect tion to the reader. Only from M. Renan's wbich villages in the Semitic countries still own work, read continuously, can his version offer. The houses, as far as appears, did not of the Gospel history be adequately gathered. differ much from those cubes of stone, withThe following selected extracts, however out elegance either exterior or interior, (which we make longer and more numerous which now cover the richer parts of the Lithan usual, because the work is still untrans- banus, and which, mingled with vines and lated), may serve to give an idea of its gene. The surrounding country, on the other hand,

fig-trees, have still a very agreeable look. ral spirit and style, as well as to bring out is charming; and no spot in the world was some of the more important points of M. so fitted for dreams of absolute happiness. Renan's theory:

Even in our days Nazareth is still a delicious

place of residence--the only spot, perhaps, His Family and Native Place.He came in Palestine where the soul feels itself somefrom the ranks of the people. His father, what relieved from the burden which opJoseph, and his mother Mary, were persons presses it in the midst of desolation uneof middling condition, belonging to the class qualled. The people are amiable and of artisans living, by their labor, in that cheerful ; the gardens are fresh and green. state, common in the East, which is neither Antoninus Martyr, at the end of the sixth cenone of easy circumstances nor of misery: tury, drew an enchanting picture of the fer

If we set aside something of the sordid tility of the country round, comparing it to and the repulsive which Islamism everywhere Paradise. Some valleys on the western side carries with it, the town of Nazareth, in the fully justify his description. The fountain, time of Jesus, did not differ much, perhaps, round which were gathered the life and from what it is at present. The streets gayety of the small town, is destroyed; its where he played as a child, we see them still choked-up channels give now only turbid in those stony paths or those small crossways water. But the beauty of the women who which separate the huts. The house of Jo- meet there in the evening -- that beauty. seph much resembled, doubtless, those poor which was already, remarked in the sixth shops, lighted by the door, serving at once as century, and in which people saw a gift of working-booth, kitchen, and bed-chamber, the Virgin Mary-is preserved in a striking and having for their furniture a mat, some manner. It is the Syrian type, in all its cushions on the ground, one or two clay ves- grace, so full of languour. Doubtless, Mary sels, and a painted chest. The family, pro- was there almost every day, and took her ceeding from one or more marriages, was place, the urn on her shoulder, in the string numerous enough. Jesus had brothers and of her fellow-countrywomen who have left no sisters, of whom he seems to have been the name. Antoninus Martyr remarked that eldest. All the others remain obscure; for the Jewish women, elsewhere disdainful to it

appears that the four persons represented Christians, are here full of affability. Even as his brothers, and of whom at least one, to the present day religious animosities are James, became of great importance in the less keen at Nazareth than elsewhere. first years of the development of Christianity, His Youth and Education.--He learned


to read and write, doubtless according to continuator of the time of the Captivity, were, the method of the East, which consists in with their brilliant dreams of the future, their placing in the child's hands a book, which impetuous eloquence, their invectives mingled he repeats in cadence with his little com- with enchanting pictures, his true masters. rades until he knows it by heart. It is He read, doubtless, also some of the apocrydoubtful, however, whether he knew well the phal works—that is to say, of those writings Hebrew Scriptures in their original tongue. sufficiently modern, the authors of which, in His biographers make him quote them from order to give themselves an authority more the Aramean translations. . The school- willingly allowed to the very ancient writings, master in the small Jewish towns was the sheltered themselves under the names of Hazzan or reader in the synagogues. Jesus prophets and patriarchs. One of these books, frequented little the higher schools of the above all, struck him; it was the Book of scribes, or Soferim (Nazareth, perhaps, had Daniel. Betimes his character in part not one of them); and he had none of those revealed itself. The legends delight in showtitles which confer, in vulgar eyes, the rights ing him, from his childhood, revolting against of knowledge. It would nevertheless, be a paternal authority, and walking from comgreat error to imagine that Jesus was what mon paths in order to follow his calling. It we should now call uneducated. . , . It is is certain, at least, that the relations of kinnot probable that he had learned Greek. dred were to him of small concern. His That language was little spread in Judea be- family do not seem to have liked him ; and, yond the classes which shared in the govern- at times, he is found hard towards them. ment, and the towns inhabited by pagans, Jesus, like all men exclusively preoccupied like Cesarea. The idiom proper to Jesus was by an idea, came to regard the ties of blood the Syriac dialect, mixed with Hebrew, then as of small account. spoken in Palestine. . . . Neither directly nor Galilee and Southern Judea.--Every people indirectly did any element of Hellenic culture called to high destinies ought to be a small reach Jesus. He knew nothing beyond Ju- complete world, enclosing opposed poles daism ; his mind preserved that frank naïvetè within its bosom. Greece had, at a few which an extended and varied culture always leagues from each other, Sparta and Athens, enfeebles. Nay, within the bosom of Judaism, two antipodes to a superficial observer, but in he remained a stranger to many efforts that reality rival sisters, necessary the one to the had been made, often parallel to his own. other. It was the same with Judea. Less On the one hand, the asceticism of the Esse- brilliant in one sense than the development nians or Therapeutæ, on the other, the fine of Jerusalem, that of the north was on the essays of religious philosophy made by the whole much more fruitful; the most living Jewish school of Alexandria, and of which performances of the Jewish people always his contemporary Philo was the ingenious in- came thence. A complete absence of the terpreter, were unknown to him. Hap- sentiment of nature, bordering somewhat on pily for him he knew nothing of the strange the dry, the narrow, the sullen, struck all scholasticism which was being taught at Je- works of purely hierosolymite origin with a rusalem, and which was ultimately to form character grandiose indeed, but sad and re the Talmud. If some Pharisees had already pulsive. With her solemn doctors, her inbrought it into Galilee, he did not attend sipid canonists, her hypocritical and atrathem; and, when, afterwards, he came in con- bilious devotees, Jerusalem could not have tact with this silly casu istry, it inspired him conquered humanity. . The north alone only with disgust. One may suppose never- produced Christianity; Jerusalem, on the theless, that the principles of Hillel were not contrary, is the true native country of the unknown to him. Hillel, fifty years before obstinate Judaisia which, founded by the him, had uttered aphorisnis which had much Pharisees and fixed by the Talmud, has travanalogy to his own. By his poverty humbly ersed the Middle Ages and reached our own endured, by the sweetness of his character, by days. A ravishing natural scenery contribhis opposition to hypocrites and to priests, uted to form this spirit, much less austere, Hillel was the true master of Jesus, if it is less fiercely monotheistic, if I may so say, lawful to talk of a aster when one is con- which impressed upon all the dreams of the cerned with so high an originality. Galilean mind something idyllic and charmThe reading of the Old Testament made far ing: The saddest country in the world is, more impression upon him. . ; • The Law perhaps, the region near Jerusalem. Galiappears not to have had much charm for lee, on the other hand, is a land very green, him ; he believed that a better could be made. very shady, smiling all over-the true land But the religious poetry of the Psalms was in of the Song of Songs and of the chants of the wonderful accord with his lyrical soul; they Well-beloved. During the two months of remained, all his life, his food and sustenance. March and April the champaign is a dense The Prophets, in particular Isaiah and his thicket of flowers of incomparable freshness


and colors. The animals there are small, but I watchword thenceforward was “Good tidof extreme docility. . . . In no country in ings”-news that the Kingdom of Heaven is the world do the mountains lay themselves at band. Jesus will no longer be merely a out with more harmony or inspire higher delightful moralist, aspiring to enclose subthoughts. Jesus seems to have particularly lime lessons in some loving and brief aphor. loved them. The most important acts of his isms; he is the transcendent revolutionist divine career took place on the mountains ; who strives to renew the world from its there was he best inspired ; it was there that foundations, and to found on earth the ideal he held secret communion with the ancient which he has conceived. To " wait for the prophets, and that he showed himself to the Kingdom of God” will be the synonym for eyes of disciples already transfigured. ... being a disciple of Jesus. . . . Who is to Jesus lived and grew up in this intoxicating establish this Kingdom of God? Let us remedium; but, from his infancy, he made al member that the first thought of Jesusma most annually the journey to Jerusalem for thought so profound with him that it had the festival.

probably no origin, but belonged to the very The Theology of Jesus.-A high notion of roots of his being-was that he was the Son Deity, which he did not owe to Judaism, and of God, the intimate of his Father, the doer which seems to have been in all its parts the of his will; and then the answer of Jesus to creation of his own great soul, was, in a man- such a question will not be doubtful. The ner, the principle of his whole power.

conviction that he would cause God to reign The highest consciousness of Deity that has possessed itself of his spirit in a manner quite ever existed in the breast of humanity was absolute. He considered himself as the unia that of Jesus. One sees, on the other hand, versal reformer. Heaven, earth, all nature, that Jesus, starting from such a disposition madness, malady, and death are hut his inof soul as his, never could have been a spec- struments. In his access of heroic will he ulative philosopher like Cakya-Mouni. Noth- believed himself all-powerful. If the Earth ing is farther from scholastic theology than is not ready for this last transformation, the the Gospel. The speculations of the Greek Earth will be burnt, purified by fire and the fathers on the divine essence came from quite breath of God. A new Heaven will be creanother spirit. God conceived immediately ated, and the whole world will be peopled as Father--this is all the theology of Jesus. with the angels of God. A radical revolu... . It is probable that, from the first,

he tion, embracing even physical nature itselfregarded himself as being to God in the rela- such was the fundamental thought of Jesus. tion of a son to his father. Here is his great Inadequate Modern Appreciation of great act of originality; in this he is not like one Characters and Movements.-Our principles of his race. Neither Jew nor Mussulman has of positive science are hurt by the dreams understood this delicious theology of love. which the plan of Jesus embraced. We The God of Jesus is not that fatal master who know the history of the earth ; cosmical revkills us when he pleases, condemns us when olutions of the kind which Jesus expected are he pleases, saves us when he pleases. The produced only by geological or astronomical God of Jesus is Our Father.

causes, the connection of which with moral Matured Notion of his Mission.—This name matters has never been ascertained. But, to " Kingdom of God,” or Kingdom of be just to great creative minds, it is necesHeaven,” was the favorite term with Jesus sary not to stop at the prejudices they may for expressing the revolution which he brought have shared with their time. : .. The deism into the world. Like almost all the other of the eighteenth century and a certain kind Messianic terms, it came from the Book of of protestantism have accustomed us to conDaniel. According to the author of that ex- sider the founder of the Christian faith only traordinary book, to the four profane king- as a great moralist, a benefactor of humanity. doms, destined to sink, a fifth empire was to We see in the Gospel only good maxims; succeed, which should be that of the Saints, we throw a prudent veil over the strange inand should endure forever. This kingdom tellectual state in which it was born. There of God upon the earth had naturally received are people, also, who regret that the French diverse interpretations. . . All that Jesus Revolution went more than once out of the owed to John was, to some extent, lessons in track of principles, and was not the work of preaching and popular action. From that wise and moderate men. Let us not impose moment, in fact, he preached with much our small plans of middle-class good sense more force, and imposed himself on the crowd upon those extraordinary movements so with authority. It seems, also, that his so- greatly beyond our stature. Let us continue journ near John, less by the action of the to admire the "morality of the Gospel”Baptist than by the natural progress of bis let us suppress in our religious instructions own thoughts, greatly matured his ideas re- the chimera that was the soul of it; but let specting the * Kingdom of Heaven."

Kingdom of Heaven.” His us not believe that, by simple ideas of good

« PreviousContinue »