THE ORIGIN OF THE GOSPELS
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE GOSPELS
In far off times, long before the coming of Christ, the word of the prophets prepared man for the deeper teachings of the Gospel. But, already distorted during the centuries before Christ, the Old Testament gave a very faint indication of the higher truths.¹
"The eternal truths which are God's thoughts" we are told by an eminent Individuality in space, have been communicated to the world at all times and in all places, and fitted for all comprehensions with fatherly goodness. But man has often misunderstood and neglected them. Disdaining the high principles taught, carried away by his passions, he has passed by these great things without seeing them. This indifference to moral beauty is a cause of decay and corruption, and would drive nations to their ruin, if the hand of adversity and the great commotions of history, by profoundly shaking the souls of men, did not lead them back to truth.
Jesus came, a powerful Spirit and divine missionary, an inspired medium. He came, incarnating Himself, among the humble of this earth, so as to give an example of a simple and yet grand life, a life of abnegation and of sacrifice, which was to leave on earth uneffaceable traces.
great figure of Jesus surpass all the conceptions of
thought, therefore it cannot have been created by the imagination. In
celestially serene, we see no blot, no shadow. All-perfection creates
perfect harmony, that it appears to us as our ideal realised. His
full of love and light, is especially addressed to the poor and humble,
those men and women of the people, crushed under the weight of matter,
await in suffering and trial the words of life which are to comfort and
And this word of life comes to them with such penetrating sweetness, bringing with it such faith and joy, that it dispels all their doubts and draws them to Christ.
What Jesus meant by "preaching the kingdom of Heaven" to the humble, was making intelligible to all the knowledge of immortality and of the Universal Father, the Father whose voice is heard in the heart and conscience.
Little by little, this doctrine, verbally transmitted in the early times of Christianity, became changed and complicated under the influence of the contrary currents which agitated Christian Society.
Apostles, chosen by Jesus to continue His mission, had
been able to grasp His meaning, having received the impulse of His will
faith. But their knowledge was limited, and they were only able to
piously and lovingly the traditions, the high moral thoughts and the
regeneration which had been implanted in them.
In their journeying through the world, the apostles contented themselves with creating, in town after town, groups of Christian to whom they revealed the essential principles of their faith, and then hastily moved on, to carry the "good news" to other countries.
The Gospels, written in the midst of the convulsions of the death-struggle of the Jewish nation, as well as under the influence of the many controversies of early Christians times, show the traces of the passions and prejudices of the period, and of their reaction on the minds of men. Each group of "the faithful", each community, had its own Gospels, which differed more or less from those of others. ²
Great dogmatic quarrels agitated the Christian world and brought about bloody struggles in the Empire, until Theodosius, by giving supremacy to the Papacy, imposed on Christianity the opinion of the bishop of Rome. From that moment, individual thought, creating many diverse systems, was as much as possible suppressed.
So as to put a stop to the diversity of views, at the time when several Council had been discussing the nature of Jesus, some admitting, some denying His divinity, Pope Damasius confided to St Jerome in 384 the task of drawing up a Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments, which translation was henceforward to be considered as the only orthodox one and to regulate doctrines of the Church. It was what was called the "Vulgate".
This work was one of great difficulty. St Jerome, by his own account, finding himself confronted by as many different versions as there were copies of the Gospels. This infinite variety forced him to make a choice and remodel extensively. In the prefaces to his works, which have been gathered together in one famous book, he expresses the alarm he felt at the responsibility he incurred. Here, for instance, is the one he addressed to Pope Damasius, above his Latin translation of the Gospels.
"From an old work, you oblige me to make a new one. You wish me to judge between the different versions of the Scriptures which are scattered throughout the whole world, and as they vary among themselves, I am to select those which agree with the true Greek text. It is a pious labour, but perilous daring on the part of one who is to be judge by all, to himself judge others, an to try to change the language of an old man, and to bring back to youth a world already old.
"Truly what learned man, or even what ignorant one, but will, when he reads for the first time, the new version, and sees that it disagree with the one he is accostumed to read, cry out at once on me, accusing me of sacrilege, of forgery, because I have dared to add, change and correct the ancient books.
"Two reason comfort me under these accusations. The first is that you, the sovereign Pontiff, have commanded me, and the second is that truth cannot exist in things that differ, even if they have the approbation of the wicked.
"This short preface applies only to the four Gospels which are in the following order, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
"After having compared a certain number of Greek Versions from among the oldest, which do not differ essentially from these Versions, we have combined them in such a fashion (ita calamo temperavimus) that, correcting only what appeared to us to alter the sense, we have kept the rest as it was." ³
Thus, it was according to a first translation from Hebrew into Greek, for the versions bearing the names of Mark and Matthew, and, in a more general manner, from numerous copies all differing among themselves (tot sunt enim exemplaria quot codices) that the Vulgate was put together, corrected, augmented and modified, as the author himself admits, from ancient manuscripts.
This official translation, which was certainly intended to be final by the Pope who ordered its execution, was nevertheless remodelled at various times by order of other Roman Pontiffes. That which was considered good between the years 386 and 1586, and was approved by the Council of Trent, was declared insufficient and erroneous by Sixte-Quint in 1590. A new revision was made by his orders, and that edition which bore his name was again modified by Clement VIII, whose edition is in use to-day. From this the French translations of the Canonical books, which have been tampered with so often during the ages, have been made.
Nevertheless, in spite of all these vicissitudes, we do not hesitate to admit the authenticity of the Gospels in their primitive texts. The word of Christ appears therein with power, and all doubt must vanish under the spell of His sublime personality. Through the altered or distorted version, one feels the force of the grand original idea. The hand of the great Sower is seen in the depth of these teachings, in which are united moral beauty and love, and one recognises a celestial envoy.
But, beside this powerful hand, the feeble hand of man has introduced into these pages weak conceptions, which do not agree with the fundamental thought, and which provoke incredulity.
If the Gospels are acceptable on many points, it is still necessary to submit them as a whole to the verdict of reason. All the words and deeds recorded in them cannot be attributed to Christ.
the period which separated the death of Jesus from
the final compilation of the Gospels, many sublime thoughts had been
many doubtful things had come to be accepted as true, many badly
precepts had warped the original instruction. The most beautiful, the
branches of this tree of life had been cut off to serve various ends.
smothered at their birth those great principles which would have led to
to the true faith which they are still seeking to-day.
The thought of Christ still lives in the teachings of the Church and in the sacred writings, but mixed with diverse elements of all kinds, introduced by the popes and the councils, in order to assure, to fortify and render absolute the authority of the Church. That is the object which has been pursued through the ages, and which has caused the constant remodeling of the original documents. In spite of all, what yet remains in the Church of truly Christian spirit, has been sufficient to engender admirable works, works of charity which make the glory of the Christian Churches, and which show up strangely in company with the ambitious enterprises with which are surrounded, enterprises inspired by the love of power and material advantages.
A great work would be necessary to separate Christ's real thought from the mass of the Gospels, a work possible, though arduous, for those inspired and guided by a sure intuition, but impossible for those who would undertake to wander, trusting only to their own faculties, through this labyrint, in which are mixed truth and fiction, the sacred with profane, the genuine with the false.
In all ages certain men, under the impulse of a superior force, have consecrated themselves to this difficult task.
Supported and illuminated by that divine spark which only shows itself intermittently to men, but which is never extinguished, they have braved all acusations, all tortures even, to affirm what they believed to be the truth. Of such were the Apostles of the Reformation. They died at thei post, but from out of space they still support and inspire those who fight for this great cause. Thanks to their efforts the darkness of night is beginning to lift from many souls, and a brilliant dawn is at hand.
It is by the aid of the light conveyed by this new revelation, both scientific and philosophical, which has alread spread throughout the whole world, under the name of Modern Spiritualism, that we will seek to free the doctrine of Jesus from the obscurity in which the work of centuries has developed it.
We shall thus arrive at the conclusion that His doctrine and that of the spirits are identical, that Spiritualism is simply the return to primitive Christianity under more definite form, and we shall do so with an imposing train of experimental proofs which will render impossible the renewed misrepresentation of the ideas of Christ.³Works of St Jerome, edition of the Benedictins 1693, V. I. Col. 1425 .