THE CHRISTIAN MINORITY OF THE GENTILES (I)

A. The formation of this minority

Origin

The gentile-Christans, who replaced the Judeo-Christian minority at the end of the fourth century, onginated from both a Latin and Greek source.

Palestine had endured a very harsh Roman military occupation, especially after the two Jewish wars of 66-70 and 132-I35 AD. Usually, veterans of the Roman armies settled locally. Thus, for instance, there were some 800 at Hamossa (Qolonieh). The elevation of Palestinian localities to the rank of Roman cities was of course always accompanied by the in-corporation of Roman features. Neapolis (Nablus) was founded by Titus in 72, Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem) by Hadrian in 135, Colonia Septima Severia (Sebaste) and Lucia Septima Severia (Beit-Guvrin) by the Emperor Severius (192-211).

Caesarea (Colonia prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea), the administrative capital, included several Latins such as the Centurion Cornelius108 of the Italian cohort. He was the first gentile to become a Christian along with those of his household. There was a special intervention of The Holy Spirit. This was needed in order for him to be accepted by Peter and his Judeo-Christian companions, who were not ready to receive the gentiles. Peter experienced a decisive vision of the Holy Spirit descending on the occupants of the house of Cornelius. As a consequence the opposition of the Judeo-Christians ceased. Perhaps these, that of Cornelius and other similar cases, were exceptions due to the rigid attitude of the Jews towards pagan customs. When the persecution of the Jews came to an end the surviving Christians, who had lived among them, had become dispersed as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. The Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that they spoke "the word to none except Jews"109. They usually only proclaimed the message to the Jews who lived in these places. Luke, on the other hand, also gives us a glimpse of the first contact of the Gospel with the pagans. However, this was after the wars of 70 and I35AD which broke up the Jewish nation and led to a more thorough Roman local domination. It was easier for the Christians to influence these Roman settlements. This explains why the majority of Palestinians martyred under Decius and Diocletian had Latin names.

However1 another door was very soon to be opened to the pagans. but less extraordinary than that of Cornelius. St Luke refers to these pagans as Greeks110, whereas the Jews living in Greece were referred to as Hellenists:

"But there were some or them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord111".

Growth

The admission of pagans into the Church occurred well outside Palestine where the Jewish society was less hostile to the pagan population. However, the large number of these Christians from Antioch, who had been converted from among the gentiles, was accompanied by the sensational conversion of Cornelius of Caesarea. This was to become a decisive factor for the admission of pagans to Church. The Council of Jerusalem, in the year 50AD, finally sanctioned their admission. Peter recalled his experience in Caesarea:

"Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to hear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace or the Lord Jesus, just as they will"112,

James, the foremost Judeo-Christian, yielded to the evidence of God's will:

"Brethren, listen to rite Synieon has related how God first visited the gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written. .. Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the gentiles who turn to God"113.

St James gives another reason:

"For from early generations Moses has had in every city (hose who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues"114. There was no need then to scandajize them.

The Council sent its final decision to the Church of Antioch:

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.' that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity"115.

The infidelity of the Jews consisted in their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah and to proclaim him to the world. This was the purpose of their election and their vocation. The opposition from the beginning, by the majority, and final rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, became the decisive turning point in the destiny of Israel. This was even greater than the tragedy of Good Friday. Christs Apostles went first of all to the lost sheep of Israel. St Paul preached Christ's redemption to the Jews as the defenitive accomplishment of the Law and the Covenant. Nevertheless, the majority of the Jews refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. St Paul, at that stage, guided and supported by the Holy Spirit turned to the pagans. A page in the Acts of the Apostles enables us to appreciate very precisely this decisive moment at Antioch in Pisidia:

"The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God" 116.

"Now at iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the Word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands"117.

What happened in Asia Minor, and recorded by St Luke in the Acts, must also have occurred in the coastal towns of Palestine where pagans were numerous. Nevertheless, with the exception of Cornelius, this has not been recorded by any historian. Only later in time can the existence of Christians be shown, but without knowing the circumstances of their conversion, who came from among the gentiles. Contacts must have been made fairly quickly, and with a larger number of Christians, their influence would have been felt beyond the Latins of the army of occupation. By the second century a Christian minority stemming from the gentils had become a reality. There are very precise testimonies which confirm its existence before it grew and eventually became the absolute majority of the population.

B. The juridical structure of this minority

In Palestine it must have been a very modest minonty at first, And this even with respect to the numbers of Judeo-Christians, who themselves were a minority among the Jewish population. It is also probable that the conflicts, provoked by the Jewish revolts against the Roman occupation favoured the growth of the Judeo-Christians rather than that of this minority stemming from the gentiles. It is obvious that it was in the coastal towns and settlements where the spread of Christianity was made easier by the presence of the occupying military forces, Also, because here the pagans were more numerous and any Jewish influence was crushed by Roman repression.

However, it is difficult to retrace the growth and importance of this minority. This is due to a lack of sufficient documents from that time. Nevertheless, it is without doubt that it existed from the second century onwards. The evidence for this lies in the fact that in Jerusalem renamed Aelia Capitolina in I35AD, it was found necessary to create an episcopal hierarchy formed by gentile-Christians. This in turn implies a large enough community of the faithful of the same origin, This hierarchical structure, confirmed historically, assures us of the existence of a community which had to be governed. Hence it is worthwhile considering the birth and development of this hierarchy taken from the gentile-Christians in Jenusalern. And this since, historically speaking, it constitutes a certain starting point of this new Christian minority stemming from the gentiles.

Hadrian, soon after becoming Emperor, was in Palestine in 129AD. He discovered a ruined Jerusalem as a consequence of the war of 70AD. Nonetheless the city, held by the Tenth Legion Fretensis had always been populated to a certain extent, even without the Jews. Hadrian decided to reconstruct it, modelling it along the lines of the classical Greco-Roman towns of the epoch. He gave it the name of Colonia Aelia Capitolina. He also wanted to enforce the building of a series of pagan temples. This at once provoked a second Jewish revolt in 132 under the leadership of Bar Kokba. Hadrian was forced to wage a very violent war in Palestine. He definitively crushed the rebellion with the capture of Beitar on the 9th of August, 135, Once the war was won and the Judean Jews exterminated or sold into slavery118, Hadrian realized his conception of Aelia119. In the area of the old Jewish Temple120 he built a temple to the three gods, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. For the temple to Venus in the forum he chose the site of the Holy Sepulchre. The grotto in Bethlehem was dedicated to Adonis and a sacred grove planted around it121. Nevertheless, Christianity and the pagan religion coexisted side by side122. In his choice of these sites we can See his intention to abolish the old Jewish and Christian form of worship. For the same reason the Jews were forbidden, under pain of death, to enter Jerusalem or the surrounding areas123. Hadrian replaced the former Jewish population, which had been either decimated or deported, by foreigners who were not Jews.

It can easily be imagined that, during the brief time that the Jewish followers of Bar Kokba were masters of Jerusalern, the Judeo-Christians in the city left. They left just as their ancestors had done, all the more so since Bar Kokba's zealots treated them mercilessly. Justin wrote in his Apologia:

"In the last Judean war, the chief of the revolt made the Chnstians undergo the ultiniate tortures if they did not deny and blaspheme Chnst"124.

In all probability these Judeo-Christians, ethnic Jews, were unable to return immediately to Jerusalem. However, sometime later they are found to be firmly established on Mount Sion125

. Eusebius assures us that Hadrian brought in foreigners to replace the Jewish population:

"Thus the city was reduced to being deserted by the Jews and to losing those who had formerly lived there. It received foreign inhabitants. The Roman city, by which it was replaced, changed its name to Aelia, in honour of the new Emperor Aelius Hadrianus"126

This new foreign population also included Christians. For this reason the Church of Palestine sent a bishop chosen from among the gentile-Christians to Jerusalem. This was also done out of a concern to establish immediately, in Jerusaleni, the continuation of a Christian episcopal hierarchy. This is expressly affirmed by Eusebius:

"The Church of the city was also composed of gentile-Christians, and the first to receive the responsibility after the bishops or the Circumcision was Marc"127.

Mark came from Caesarea and was the first of the hierarchy of the gentile-Christians. Eusebius gives us the list of the successors of Mark as far as Narcissus, at the beginning of the third century. When we consider the harsh Roman occupation, following the wars of 70 and 135AD, it is not surprising that the bishops have Latin names:

"We have shown that since Hadrian's time the Church of this country consisted of gentile-Christians following those of the Circumcision. And that Mark, from among the gentile-Christians, was the first bishop to direct it. After him the lists of bishops of this country name Cassiarus, Publius, then Maximus, and afler them Julian, then Capiton, followed by Valens and Dolechiatmus, and finally Narcissus"128

A great personality and contemporary of Bishop Mark was Justin, son of Priscus, from the new town of Neapolis (Nablus). He was a philosopher who was converted and in 150AD addressed an apology to the Emperor Antoninus (138-161). Later he addressed another to Marcus Aurelius (161-180).

Origen was another remarkable personality of Egyptian origin who brought fame to the gentile-Christians of Palestine. He first came to Caesarea in about 215 and finally settled there in 233AD. He opened a catechetical school and turned it into "the intellectual centre of the Church"129. This was a particularly peaceful and fruitful activity which took place during the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249)

Julius Africanus (l80?-250?) of Jerusalem, a retired officer at Emmnaus, was also a first rank Christian. Thanks to his excellent relationship with the imperial family he obtained for Emmaus the title of city. He then saw it enhanced with the classical monuments of a Roman city. Being a Christian he also had a basilica built commemorating the Gospel event there130. He wrote five volumes of chronologies, used by Eusebius, and was in correspondence with his neighbour in Caesarea, the "most venerable" Origen, his "Lord" and his "son"131

Another celebrity of the Church of the Palestinian gentile-Christians was the Bishop of Jerusalem, Alexander, He was a Cappadocian scholar, a co-disciple of Origen. The Jerusalem community chose him as their Bishop in 212, He initiated there a library of great value.

"According to Fr Abel, it seems that Alexander gave great encouragement for pilgrimages and topographical research in Jerusalem and Palestine".132

Having courageously confessed his Christian faith, during the persectition of Decius. after leaving the prison at Tyre in 253, he died peacefilly,133

These personalities of the Palestinian Church of gentile origin of the second and third centuries lead us to form a good picture of a gentile-Christian community in full development. Lack of documentation prevents us from having a description of this Church or of being able to estimate its numerical importance, However, it is easy to guess its influence judging from these personalities, islands which have not become lost in the forgetfullness of histoy.

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Notes

105. LOMBARDI, La Croce nella Citta. p.92.

106. ALLRD, Histoire despersecutions pendant les deux premiers siecles, p.374.

107. EUSEBE, HE III,32 (PG, XX, 281-285)

108. MEDEBILEELE, Le Diocese patriarchal Latin de Jerusalem, p.18

109. Act, XI, 20-24

110. la Sainte Bible, note e)pour Act, XI, 20:"Grecs, par opposition a Juifs", designent les incirconcis en general

111. Act., XI, 20-24

112. Ibid., XV,7-11

113 Ibid., XV,13-19

114. Ibid., XV, 21

115. Ibid., XV, 28-29

116. Ibid., XII 44

117. Ibid., XIV 1-3

118. ABEL F.M., Histoire de la Palestine, 2 voll., Paris 1952, II, P. 96 "On les vendait "sur deux marches"ou des pratiques supersticieuses et des rejouissances attirait les gens de fort loin: Mambre et Gaza".

119. LUDOVICUS DINDORFIUS, chronicon paschale, CCXXIV, 119 (PG, XCII, 6!3 BC.616A), Hadrien "avait aneanti le Temple des Juifs qui existaient a Jerusalem, fonda les deux bains publics, le theatre, le capitol, le nymphee a quatre portiques, le Dodecapylon -cirque ou amphiteatre, precedemment connu sous le vocable de "Gradins"- et l'Esplanade quadrangulaire. Il repartit la ville en sept quartiers et constitua amphodarques des hommes speciaux, a chacun desqueles il assigna un quartier, et jusqu'a ce jour chaque quartier joint du nom de l'amphodarque"

120. BAGATTI., L'Eglise de la Gentilite en Palestine, Jerusalern 1968, p.7.

121. ABEL., Histoire de la Palestine II, p104.

122. Ibidem

123. EUSEBE, HE, IV, 6 (PG, XX, 312B-313A)

124. JUSTIN, Apol. I pro Christianis, XXXI (PG, VI, 374C-377A), reproduit par EUSEBE,

125 ABEL, V., Jerusalem Nouvelle, Paris 1914-1926, p.473-474.

126. EUSEBE, HE, IV. 6 (PG, XX, 313A-316A).

127. Ibid., HE IV, 6 (PG, XX 316A).

I28 Ibid., HE, V, 12 (PG, XX, 457C-460A); look at also EUSEBE, Ordo Episcoporum...Hierosalymorum (PG, XX, 1550); DOWLING, The Episcopal succession in Jerusalem, in Palestine Explo. Fund Quarterly Statement, 1013, P.164-175

129. ABEL, Histoire de la Palestine, II, P. 184

130. LC., XXIV, 13-35; ABEL., V, Emmaus, sa basilique et son histoire, Paris 1992, p.334 SS

131. BAGATTI, l'Eglise de la Gentilite en palestine, P.29

132. ABEL., OPT cit. II, P.185

133. ibid., p.206

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