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Art. XI. Lives of the Twelve Apostles ; with Explanatory
Notes. By F. W. P. GREENWOOD, Junior Minister of King's Chapel, Boston. Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins. Bos1828. 12m.
This is a pleasing and useful work. The narrative is easy, and the incidents well arranged; and there is simplicity, beauty, and force in the trains of reflection in which the author occasionally indulges. The latter, with some digressions in which he now and then allows himself, form very attractive parts of the performance, containing views equally just and affecting, and always expressed with terseness and point.
The subject is an interesting one, the lives and fortunes of those re excellent men,' who were selected by Jesus to be the companions of his travels, who shared his confidence, and heard from his own lips, those heavenly truths, which now, after eighteen hundred years, continue to light millions on their way to virtue, to happiness, and to God. Of the history of these favored few, only imperfect accounts have been transmitted to us. Of some of them we hear little beside their names, in the sacred writings; of others more is told us, but still much is left to conjecture. Their characters are presented only in their dim and shadowy outlines, the occurrences of their lives are sparingly related, and after the sacred writings fail us, little light remains to assist or reward our researches. The injuries, of time have spared enough to excite, without gratifying our curiosity. Of the writings of Hegesippus, the earliest ecclesiastical historian, and who lived near the times of the apostles, unfortunately only a few fragments have come down to us, preserved chiefly by the care and diligence of Eusebius. The latter, early in the fourth century, complains of the great paucity of materials for the early history of the church. The scanty and imperfect records to which he had access, age has since inutilated or destroyed. Of fables and romances and traditionary legends we have enough among the Fathers before and after his days, and they may contain a few insulated truths, but mixed up with so much extravagance and error, that they can with difficulty be distinguished. In fact, to separate them from the immense mass of falsehood with which they are incorporated, exceeds the ability of the most sagacious critic, and the task inust be forever abandoned in despair.
Cave, in his . History of the Lives, Acts, and Martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles of our Saviour and the two Evangelists, Mark and Luke, a monument of his learning and piety, has collected, we believe, all, or nearly all, which is worth extracting from ancient records on the subjects of which he treats. He writes with much honesty and fairness, and though as a Protestant, he may be supposed to have felt a strong repugnance to the pretensions of the Romish Church, and was led, in the course of his work, to combat the positions and assertions of some of its champions, he uniformly manifests a spirit of moderation and candor. He cannot, however, be wholly acquitted of the charge of credulity. His narratives are encumbered with gossipping rumors utterly unworthy of being related, he often goes into details which are quite tedious, and his style is far from being attractive. Altogether his performance is not adapted to popular use.
Lardner, in his . History of the Apostles and Evangelists, Writers of the New Testament,' is more critical and discriminating. His work is excellent of its kind. But neither is Lardner's a book designed, or fitted for popular reading. Both together, however, furnish an important storehouse, from which a master of the graces of style may derive ample materials capable of forming the groundwork of several pleasing biographical sketches. We regret that Mr Greenwood has not permitted himself to draw more liberally from these, and similar sources. No one is more capable than he of working up the rough materials they afford into a beautiful and fascinating narrative. We know not that we have any cause of complaint against him. His work might have been rendered more learned, but it might have lost in proportion its attractions. He wrote to be read, to please, to edify, to nourish and strengthen good affections, to excite and gratify a taste for a species of history in the highest degree interesting and profitable, but hitherto too much neglected, and what he attempted, he has certainly accomplished. He has furnished, not a work of profound criticism or of deep research ; this was not wanted. But he has given us a performance, from which no one, learned or unlearned, can rise without benefit and pleasure. So far as the scripture accounts conduct him he is full, and we think, in the main, exceedingly judicious. He has seized on the incidents which are most instructive, and his delineations of character are striking and true. When deserted by these guides, he is occasionally a little too sparing of information, occasionally betrays a little carelessness, and, in a few instances, falls into error, not, however, sufficient very materially to impair the value of the work.
The Lives are preceded by an Introduction, in which Mr Greenwood speaks of the motives of Jesus in calling the twelve apostles, and the interest their history is fitted to excite.
Who were those, in the first place, whom the Saviour of men, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, chose out of the whole world, to be his companions, his pupils, his witnesses, his historians, his apostles, his friends ? What were their qualities? How were they recommended to the notice of Jesus ? What were their occupations, their condition, education, principles? It was a remarkable station which they were called upon to hold ; so near the person, so high in the confidence of the most exalted being whoever appeared on our earth. As disciples ourselves, though it may be unworthy of the name, and as distant from them in merit as we are in time, yet as professed disciples of that heavenly Master, we are naturally curious to learn more than simply the names of our favored predecessors. We would make ourselves acquainted with those men who saw, and heard, and touched, and lived, and conversed with, that holy prophet of God, for whom we feel a reverence only inferior to that which we entertain toward Him who sent him.
* And who were those, we would ask, in the second place, who were appointed by Jesus Christ to publish his religion, and enabled by the assistance of the holy spirit of God to publish it successfully? Who were those, who, in obedience to their Master, went out into all nations, teaching, converting, and baptizing, and planting the parent churches of our faith in learned Greece, and lordly Rome, and benighted Africa, and among those rude people of the North from whom we ourselves are descended ? It was no mean work in which they were employed. No revolution of recorded time can equal it in glory; for thrones were subjected to its power, and the poor and humble of the earth were raised by it to an elevation, for which thrones would have been an inadequate substitute. They, like their Lord, were invested with a control over the operations of nature; and more than that, they, like him, and by his authority, and with his instruction, founded an empire the most broad and lasting which has ever existed, over the human mind. Who were they? As Christians, as subjects of that empire, as men amazed, at the same time that we are rejoiced, at what we have heard and what we behold, we are impelled to inquire who they were, who established a dominion which has already covered the civilized world, and is apparently going on, with ever encroaching steps, to spread itself over the whole earth? If the lives of any men are interesting, theirs must be peculiarly so. They are the great reformers, the great conquerors, whose empire has been continually increasing and strengthening, while the houses and dynasties of heroes and kings, have risen, and flourished, and passed away into forgetfulness and ruin; the only empire which has grown more vigorous and more hopeful with age, because the mind and the heart and the destiny of man, and the good providence of God, are joined to support and perpetuate it. Who were these men?' pp. 11, 12.
The life of Simon Peter, whose name uniformly appears at the head of the apostolic list, stands first in the volume. He formed a prominent figure in the little group assembled around the person of our Lord. His forward and impetuous temper, his ardent attachment to his master, his energy and firmness, which procured him the emblematic name of Cephas, or Peter, a Rock, and lastly, his age, contributed to bring him often into notice, and laid the foundation of that precedency be obtained among the apostles. Of the twelve he is most frequently mentioned, and his characVOL. V.-NO. V.
ter most fully discloses itself, in the sacred histories. Mr Greenwood gives us the following short description of some of his distinguishing traits.
Peter's character now rapidly unfolds itself; a character of strong and contrasted features; bold, honest, and vehement, and yet wavering and inconstant; now forward and daring before all his companions, and now more timid than any of them. Wherever we meet with him, it is the same Simon that we see; distinguished alike for high and generous virtues, and for faults inconsistent with those virtues and altogether unwor. thy of them. Strength and weakness, courage and irresolution, impetuosity and indecision, are mixed up in his temperament in a striking and yet perfectly natural combination; and at the bottom of the whole, there is a purity of feeling, and an integrity of purpose, which endear him to his Master, and fit him
at last for his important destination and office.' p. 18. Of Peter's travels after he left Judea, probably about the year fifty, till his arrival, some years after, at Rome, no accounts, which can be depended on, have been handed down to us. Epiphanius informs us, that he was often in Pontus and Bithynia ; and Origen, as quoted by Eusebius, observes, that he is supposed to have preached to the Jews of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia and Asia ; who finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downwards, for he requested that it might be in that manner. Cave
that he arrived at Rome in the year sixtythree, and Lardner sixtythree or sixtyfour of the christian era. This date is probably not far from the truth. We hear of him perpetually in Judea till near the year fifty, about which time, or a little before, the apostolic synod was holden at Jerusalem, at which he was present. He soon after visited Antioch, and may then have passed into the above named countries, all of which are mentioned at the beginning of his first Epistle. Thence probably he went to Rome. There is good reason for believing, that he suffered martyrdom in the year sixty four, or sixty five of our era, in the beginning of Nero's persecution. He could therefore have been at Rome only a short time, one or two years at most. Nicephorus, comparatively, however, a modern writer,* and not entitled to the utmost credit, fixes the time of his episcopate' there at two years.
Mr Greenwood has not done full justice to this subject. Peter'is said,' he observes, to have been bishop of Rome for twentyfour, or twenty five years,' nor does he hint, except in a note, at the end of the volume, that the truth of this report has ever been doubted. The assertion originated with Jerome, but appears wholly destitute of support. It is impossible to reconcile it with the accounts we have of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, and the incidental notices of him in the Epistles of Paul;
* He wrote early in the fourteenth century.
the turn of expression employed by Origen in the passage already quoted, certainly does not favor it, but the reverse ; and Nicephorus and Lactantius, or the author of a work usually ascribed to him, expressly contradict it. In fact, the supposition is attended with numerous and insuperable difficulties, and the evidence against it from antiquity is so strong, that it has been rejected as unfounded by several Romanists, inferior to none in a knowledge of ecclesiastical chronology. *
We are unacquainted with Mr Greenwood's authorities for supposing that Peter was originally buried in the Catacombs.' There is a tradition, that his body was embalmed after the Jewish manner, and buried on the Vatican Mount; that a small temple was erected on the spot, on the destruction of which by Heliogabalus, it was removed to the cemetery on the Appian Way, two miles from Rome, whence it was reconveyed to the Vatican in the time of Pope Cornelius, A. D. 251, and that the temple was afterwards rebuilt and enlarged by Constantine in honor of the apostle's memory. This tradition derives support from one or two circumstances, which we think deserving of notice. That Peter, executed as a criminal, should have been buried on the Vatican Hill, the scene of his crucifixion, is in itself in the highest degree probable; for the place was, at that time, held in little esteem by the Romans, on account of its bad air and all sorts of filth collected there. The church mentioned as erected over the spot, must have been a rude structure. Its destruction by Heliogabalus may seem to need explanation, and may appear, at first view, somewhat improbable. But history has preserved a fact, which renders it quite probable. Heliogabalus, we are told, first brought the Vatican Mount into repute, by clearing away the rubbish and removing the causes of its unhealthiness. It was during this process, undoubtedly, that the small church' alluded to, was destroyed, and the relics of Peter removed to the Catacombs. This striking, and as Paley would call it, ' undesigned' coincidence, we do not recollect to have seen noticed.
His family,' says Mr Greenwood, consisted as far as we can ascertain, of Simon himself, his brother, and his father, bis wife and her mother. He asterwards observes, it is probable that he was a married man. That he was once married is certain, for his wise's mother, is expressly mentioned in the Gospels. Some Romish writers have asserted, that he left his wife on becoming a disciple of Christ. But it has been inferred from an expression of St Paul, that she accompanied hiin on his travels, and Clemens of Alexandria mentions her martyrdom.
* This point is argued at some length by Cave, in his English Lives, and resumed and pursued in a subsequent work, Script. Eccles. Historia Literaria.