Labors of the Apostles

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Labors of the Apostles
Imprimatur by Joannes J. Glennon, 1916

First Years of the Church (A.D. 30-42)

On Pentecost, the harvest feast of the Jews, the Holy Ghost descended on the assembled Apostles and disciples. After Peter’s first sermon, three thousand were added to the Church; and a little later over five thousand more. These early Christians “were persevering in the teaching of the Apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayer.” They had a common fund. Seven deacons were appointed to take care of the poor and to assist in the preaching of the word of God. Mathias was chosen as an Apostle soon after the defection of Judas.

Peter and John were accused before the Sanhedrin for having cured a lame man, and were forbidden to teach in the name of Christ. Before long, all the Apostles were imprisoned and scourged. The bitter opposition of the Jews broke out in an open persecution of the Christians; and the first victim, St. Stephen, was stoned to death in the year 36. Persecuted Christianity now gained disciples everywhere. Enlightened by God in the three visions of unclean animals, Peter received the first pagan convert, Cornelius the centurion, into the Church.

Herod Agrippa began to persecute the Christians about the year 44. St. James the elder, brother of St. John, was put to death; St. Peter was imprisoned, but having been liberated by an angel, “he went into another place,” probably Rome.

St. Paul (37-67).– Saul, a young Pharisee of Tarsus in Cilicia, a disciple of Gamaliel, had approved St. Stephen’s death; but, as he was on his way to Damascus, Our Lord appeared to him and the violent enemy of the Christians was converted and baptized in the year 37. He remained in solitude for three years, and then went to Jerusalem ” to see Peter.” At Antioch he was ordained and officially recognized as an Apostle of the Gospel. Soon afterward, in company with Barnabas, he set out on his first missionary journey (46 – 48). He went first to Cyprus where he converted the proconsul, Sergius Paulus; passed thence to Asia Minor, spreading the Gospel and strengthening the people in the faith of Christ; and then returned to Antioch, and was known by the name of Paul.

Meanwhile a great controversy had arisen in the church of Antioch. The Jewish Christians contended that the Gentiles, who were admitted into the Church without circumcision, should be made subject to the Law of Moses. The difficulty was settled by the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (in the year 50) in the following decision:

“It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things, that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” Out of consideration for the Jewish Christians, Peter had up to this time observed the Mosaic Law. Paul reproved him, fearing that the pagan converts might be led astray if the head of the Church continued to observe the Law of Circumcision. As to the Law itself, both Apostles were of one mind in regarding it as superseded by the New Teaching of Christ.

In the years 50 – 53, St. Paul made his second missionary journey. It extended to Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, –where he tarried a year and a half at Corinth, –Ephesus and Antioch.

On his third missionary journey (53-57), St. Paul went to Asia Minor, remained over two years at Ephesus, and then visited Corinth, Macedonia, Miletus, Caesarea and Jerusalem. Immediately upon his arrival in Jerusalem, the Jews attempted to put him to death, but the guard of the temple freed him. Having spent two years in prison at Caesarea (57 – 59), St. Paul appealed to Caesar, and was sent to Rome, where he was imprisoned for two more years (60 – 62). Having recovered his freedom, he went to the far West (Spain), then to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Crete. He was again imprisoned and at last beheaded in Rome, on June 29th, of the year 67.

Missionary Labors of St. Peter.– The early labors of St. Peter in Palestine are recorded by his companion, St. Luke, in the first twelve chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke afterwards became the companion of St. Paul, and for this reason the subsequent labors of St. Peter are not so well known as those of St. Paul. Soon after receiving the centurion and his household into the Church, Peter, the prince of the Apostles, presided as bishop over a large congregation at Antioch, where the followers of Christ were first called “Christians.” Later on, we see him as missionary traversing Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia and other countries. In the beginning of the reign of Claudius, about the year 42, he arrived at Rome where he established a church and presided over it as bishop.

In Rome, St. Mark, a companion of St. Peter, wrote the second of the four Gospels and St. Peter approved it . St. Peter then sent Mark to Alexandria to establish a Christian church and govern it as bishop. The churches of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria justly trace their origin to St. Peter, and are honored as patriarchal sees. St. Peter was martyred at Rome, together with St. Paul, June 29, 67. He was crucified, as Our Lord had foretold.

St. Peter in Rome.– St. Peter had labored in Rome during a visit previous to the last sojourn, which ended with his death. This fact is proved:

1. By many documents of Christian antiquity:

(a.) The writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Epiphanius, Eusebius, Orosius and Jerome.

(b.) The Liberian catalogue of popes, compiled about the year 360.

(c.) The ancient martyrologies which note a feast established in honor of “the chair of St. Peter which he first used at Rome.”

(d.) The works of Suetonius, a pagan writer who tells of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius, because “at the instigation of a certain Chrestus” (Christ) they created continual disturbances, thus proving that there existed in Rome a Christian community as early as the reign of Claudius (41-54), the time when Peter first visited Rome.

2. By the Sacred Scriptures:

(a.) The first Epistle of Peter was written from a city which was called Babylon. Now this cannot mean the ancient Babylon on the Euphrates, which, according to Pliny and Strabo, had at this time become “a great solitude.” St. Peter did not extend his missionary labors so far as that Babylon, nor was there ever a Christian community there. Moreover, “Babylon” is a very natural figurative expression for Rome. In this sense it was understood by Papias, a disciple of the Apostles, as Eusebius notes.

(b.) That there was a Christian community in Rome before the advent of St. Paul, is proved by St. Paul himself, for he longed “to see the Roman church, whose faith is spoken of throughout the world.” Moreover the church of Rome was already in a flourishing condition about the year 57, when St. Paul wrote his Epistle although he himself had not, as yet, visited it. Who founded the Roman church, if it was not Peter? No other Apostle has ever been mentioned as its founder.

3. By ancient church history. The date of St. Peter’s sojourn in Rome, as established by tradition (i. e. during the time from his baptism of Cornelius to his imprisonment by Herod Agrippa, 38-44) fits in well with the fact that, during all this time, we have no historical record of Peter’s presence anywhere else.

St. Peter, of course, did not remain constantly in Rome. In the year 50 he presided at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, and he went also to Corinth, Antioch and other places.

The Other Apostles.– Concerning the other Apostles we know very little. St. James the elder suffered death about the year 42. St. James the younger, first bishop of Jerusalem, was stoned to death in 62. St. John, the brother of James the elder, was imprisoned with St. Peter in Jerusalem. Afterwards, while residing in Ephesus, he governed the growing congregations of Asia Minor, and gathered around him some distinguished disciples, e. g., Ignatius and Polycarp. During the reign of Domitian, he went to Rome, where he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil. Having been miraculously preserved, he was banished to the island of Patmos, in the Mean Sea, where he wrote the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelations. After the death of Domitian, in the year 96, he returned to Ephesus, and there wrote the fourth Gospel to prove the divinity of Christ. His constant sermon was, “Little children, love one another.” He died about the year 101.

For the rest we have to rely upon traditions. All the Apostles, except St. John, suffered martyrdom. St. Andrew preached the Gospel in Scythia (Southern Russia), St. Thomas in Parthia, St. Bartholomew in Southern Arabia (India), St. Philip in Phrygia. With regard to the death of the Blessed Virgin, there are two traditions, the first of which states that she died in Jerusalem, about the year 45, surrounded by the Apostles; the other, that she accompanied St. John to Ephesus, where she died at a later date.

Before the close of the first century, we find Christian communities in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Ethiopia and Egypt. These communities included many persons of education and good social position. That the new converts did not belong solely to the poor and illiterate class is proved:

1. By the many martyrs in the highest stations of life, e. g., Flavius Clemens, a cousin of Domitian.

2. By the rich contributions to the Church.

3. By the frequent refutations of the false systems of pagan philosophy.

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