Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/146

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ACTS
ACTS
118

tributed as anyone had need. But a certain Ananias, with Saphira his wife, sold a possession and kept back part of the price, the wife being accessory to the deed. St. Peter is inspired by the Holy Ghost to know the deception, and rebukes Ananias for the lie to the Holy Ghost. At the rebuke the man falls dead. Saphira, coming up afterwards, and knowing nothing of the death of her husband, is interrogated by St. Peter regarding the transaction. She also keeps back a part of the price, and lyingly asserts that the full price has been brought to the Apostles. St. Peter rebukes her, and she also falls dead at his words. The multitude saw in the death of Ananias and Saphira God's punishment, and great fear came upon all. This miracle of God's punishment of sin also confirmed the faith of those that believed and drew disciples to them. At this stage of the life of the Church miracles were necessary to attest the truth of her teaching, and the power of miracles was abundantly bestowed upon the Apostles. These miracles are not reviewed in detail in Acts, but it is stated: "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people" (Acts. v, 12). Multitudes both of men and women were added to the Christian community. The people of Jerusalem carried out the sick and laid them on beds and couches in the streets that the shadow of St. Peter might fall on them. They brought the sick from the cities round about Jerusalem, and every one was healed.

The most powerful sect among the Jews at this epoch were the Sadducees. They were especially opposed to the Christian religion on account of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The cardinal truth of the Apostles' teaching was: Life Everlasting through Jesus, Who was crucified for our sins, and Who is risen from the dead. The High-Priest Annas favoured the Sadducees, and his son Ananus. who afterwards became High-Priest, was a Sadducee (Josephus, Antiq., XX, viii). These fierce sectaries made with Annas and Caiphas common cause against the Apostles of Christ, and cast them again into prison. The Acts leaves us in no doubt as to the motive that inspired the High-Priest and the sectaries: "They were filled with jealousy". The religious leaders of the Old Law saw their influence with the people waning before the power which worked in the Apostles of Christ. An angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought the Apostles out, and bade them go and preach in the Temple. The council of the Jews, not finding Peter and John in the prison, and learning of their miraculous deliverance, are much perplexed. On information that they are teaching in the Temple, they send and take them, but without violence fearing the people. It is evident throughout that the common people are disposed to follow the Apostles; the opposition comes from the priests and the classes, most of the latter being Sadducees. The council accuses the Apostles that, contrary to its former injunction not to teach in Christ's name, they had filled Jerusalem with Christ's teaching. Peter's defence is that they must obey God rather than men. He then boldly reiterates the doctrine of the Redemption and of the Resurrection. The council is minded to kill the Apostles. At this point Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a doctor of the Jewish law, held in honour of all the people, arises in the council in defence of the Apostles. He cites precedents to prove that, if the New Teaching be of men, it will be overthrown; and if it be of God, it will be impossible to overthrow it. Gamaliel's counsel prevails, and the council calls the Apostles, beats them, and lets them go, charging them not to speak in the name of Jesus. But the Apostles departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name. And every day, in the Temple and privately they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus the Christ.

A murmuring having arisen of the Grecian Jews, that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, the Apostles, deeming it unworthy that they should forsake the word of God and serve tables, appoint seven deacons to minister. Chief among the deacons was Stephen, a man full of the Holy Spirit. He wrought great signs and wonders among the people. The anti-Christian Jews endeavour to resist him, but are not able to withstand the wisdom and the spirit by which he speaks. They suborn witnesses to testify that he has spoken against Moses and the Temple. Stephen is seized and brought into the council. False witnesses testify that they have heard Stephen say that "this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us". All who sat in the council saw Stephen's face, as it had been the face of an angel. He makes a defence, in which he reviews the chief events in the first covenant, and its relation to the New Law. They rush upon Stephen, drag him out of the city, and stone him to death. And he kneels down and prays: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge", and dies. Beginning with the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem; all were scattered abroad throughout Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. The leader of the persecution was Saul, afterwards to become the great St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. The deacon Philip first preaches in Samaria with great fruit. Like all the preachers of the first days of the Church, Philip confirms his preaching by great miracles. Peter and John go up to Samaria and confirm the converts whom Philip had made. Philip, commanded by an angel, goes down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and on the way converts and baptizes the eunuch of Candace Queen of Ethiopia. Philip is thence transported by Divine power to Azotus and preaches to all the coast cities until be comes to Cæsarea.

Saul, breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, sets out for Damascus to apprehend any Christians whom he may find there. As he draws near to Damascus, the Lord Jesus speaks to him out of the heavens and converts him. St. Paul is baptized by Ananias at Damascus, and straightway for some days abides there, preaching in the synagogues that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He withdraws into Arabia; again returns to Damascus; and after three years be goes up to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Paul is at first distrusted by the disciples of Jesus; but after Barnabas narrates to them Paul's marvellous conversion, they receive Paul, and he preaches boldly in the name of Jesus, disputing especially against the Grecian Jews. They plot to kill him; but the Christians bring Paul down to Cæsarea, and send him forth to Tarsus, his native city.

At this epoch Acts describes the Church in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee as "at peace, being builded up, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and by the strength of the Holy Ghost it was multiplied". Peter now goes throughout all parts comforting the faithful. At Lydda he heals the palsied Æneas; and at Joppa he raises the pious widow Tabitha (Greek, Dorcas) from the dead. These miracles still more confirm the faith in Jesus Christ. At Joppa Peter has the great vision of the sheet let down from Heaven containing all manner of animals, of which he, being in a trance, is commanded to kill and eat. Peter refuses, on the ground that he cannot eat that which is common and unclean. Whereupon it is made known to him from God, that God has cleansed what was before to the Jew unclean. This great vision, revealed three times, was the manifestation of the will of Heaven that the ritual law of the Jews