Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/147

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ACTS
ACTS
119

should cease; and that henceforth salvation should be offered without distinction to Jew and Gentile. The meaning of the vision is unfolded to Peter, when he is commanded by an angel to go to Cæsarea, to the Gentile centurion Cornelius, whose messengers were even then come to fetch him. He goes, and hears from Cornelius also the centurion's own vision. He preaches to him and to all assembled; the Holy Ghost descends upon them, and Peter commands that they be baptized. Returning to Jerusalem, the Jews contend with Peter that he has gone in to men uncircumcised, and eaten with them. He expounds to them his vision at Joppa, and also the vision of Cornelius, wherein the latter was commanded by an angel to send and fetch Peter from Joppa, that he might receive from Peter the Gospel. The Jews acquiesce, glorifying God, and declaring that "unto the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life". Those who had been scattered abroad from Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's martyrdom had travailed as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch preaching Christ; but they preached to none save the Jews. The calling of the Gentiles was not yet understood by them. But now some converts from Cyprus and Cyrene come up to Antioch, and preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. A great number believe, and turn to the Lord. The report of the work at Antioch comes to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem; and they send Barnabas, "a good man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith", to them. He takes Paul from Tarsus, and they both dwell at Antioch a whole year, and teach many people. The disciples of Christ are called Christians first at Antioch.

The rest of Acts narrates the persecution of the Christians by Herod Agrippa; the mission of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch by the Holy Ghost, to preach to the Gentile nations; the labours of Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus and in Asia Minor, their return to Antioch; the dissension at Antioch concerning circumcision; the journey of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, the decision of the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, the separation of Paul from Barnabas, in whose stead he takes Silas, or Silvanus; Paul's visit to his Asiatic Churches, his foundation of the Church at Philippi; Paul's sufferings for Jesus Christ; Paul's visit to Athens, his foundation of the churches of Corinth and of Ephesus; Paul's return to Jerusalem, his persecution by the Jews; Paul's imprisonment at Cæsarea; Paul's appeal to Cæsar, his voyage to Rome; the shipwreck; Paul's arrival at Rome, and the manner of his life there. We see therefore that a more proper title of this book would be "The Beginnings of the Christian Religion". It is an artistic whole, the fullest history which we possess of the manner in which the Church developed.

The Origin of the Church.—In Acts we see the fulfilment of Christ's promises. In Acts, i, 8, Jesus had declared that the Apostles should receive power when the Holy Ghost should come upon them, and should be His witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. In John, xiv, 12, Jesus had declared: "He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater works than these shall he do. Because I go to the Father". In these passages is found the key-note of the origin of the Church. The Church developed according to the plan conceived by Christ. There is, assuredly, in the narration evidence of the working out of a great plan; for the reason that the writer records the working out of the great design of Christ, conceived in infinite wisdom, and executed by omnipotent power. There is throughout a well-defined, systematic order of narration, an exactness and fullness of detail. After the calling of the first twelve Apostles, there is no event in the history of the Church so important as Paul's conversion and commission to teach in Christ's name.

Up to Paul's conversion, the inspired historian of the Acts has given us a condensed statement of the growth of the Church among the Jews. Peter and John are prominent in the work. But the great message is now to issue forth from the confines of Judaism; all flesh is to see the salvation of God; and St. Paul is to be the great instrument in preaching Christ to the Gentiles. In the development of the Christian Church Paul wrought more than all the other Apostles; and therefore in Acts St. Paul stands forth, the prominent agent of God in the conversion of the world. His appointment as the Apostle of the Gentiles does not prevent him from preaching to the Jews, but his richest fruits are gathered from the Gentiles. He fills proconsular Asia, Macedonia, Greece, and Rome with the Gospel of Christ; and the greater part of Acts is devoted exclusively to recording his work.

Division of Book.—In the Acts there are no divisions of the narration contemplated by the author. It is open to us to divide the work as we deem fit. The nature of the history therein recorded easily suggests a greater division of Acts into two parts: 1. The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among the Jews (i–ix); 2. The beginning and propagation of the Christian religion among the Gentiles (x–xxviii). St. Peter plays the chief rôle in the first part; St. Paul, in the second part.

Object.—The Acts of the Apostles must not be believed to be an isolated writing, but rather an integral part in a well-ordered series. Acts presupposes its readers to know the Gospels; it continues the Gospel narrative. The Four Evangelists close with the account of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. St. Mark is the only one who essays to give any of the subsequent history, and he condenses his account into one brief sentence: "And they went forth and preached everywhere: the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark, xvi, 20). Now the Acts of the Apostles takes up the narrative here and records succinctly the mighty events which were wrought by the Holy Ghost through chosen human agents. It is a condensed record of the fulfilment of the promises of Jesus Christ. The Evangelists record Christ's promises which He made to the disciples, regarding the establishment of the Church and its mission (Matt., xvi, 15–20); the gift of the Holy Ghost (Luke, xxiv, 49; John, xiv, 16, 17); the calling of the gentiles (Matt., xxviii, 18–20; Luke, xxiv, 46, 47). Acts records the fulfilment. The history begins at Jerusalem and ends at Rome. With divine simplicity Acts shows us the growth of the religion of Christ among the nations. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished by the revelation to St. Peter; Paul is called to devote himself specially to the Gentile ministry, the Holy Ghost works signs in confirmation of the doctrines of Christ; men suffer and die, but the Church grows; and thus the whole world sees the Salvation of God. Nowhere in Holy Writ is the action of the Holy Ghost in the Church so forcibly set forth as in the Acts. He fills the Apostles with knowledge and power on Pentecost; they speak as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak; the Holy Ghost bids Philip the deacon go to the eunuch of Candace; the same Spirit catches up Philip, after the baptism of the eunuch, and brings him to Azotus; the Holy Ghost tells Peter to go to Cornelius; when Peter preaches to Cornelius and his family the Holy Ghost falls on them all; the Holy Ghost directly commands that Paul and Barnabas be set apart for the Gentile ministry; the Holy Ghost forbids Paul and Silas to preach in Asia; constantly, by the laying on of the