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CHAPTER XVII.

THE DIVINE MISSION OF CHRIST DEMONSTRATED BY THE MARVELLOUS PROPAGATION AND THE PERPETUITY OF THE CHRIS

TIAN RELIGION.

At the dawn of Christianity, the Roman Empire, after having reached the summit of intellectual culture, had sunk into the lowest depths of moral and religious degradation. When Christ appeared, He called about Him twelve men, His first disciples, and made them the instruments of the mightiest moral revolution that has ever taken place in the annals of time. They were commanded to destroy idolatry the world

over,

and to establish in its stead the worship of the One, True and Living God; to root out the most inveterate and the stormiest passions from the hearts of men, and to implant therein the reign of the Prince of peace.

Our Saviour lays on them the weighty obligation of preaching His Gospel to all nations, to the end of time, and He strengthens them with a two-fold prophecy, concerning its world-wide dissemination and its enduring stability. He promises that the

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seed of the word shall take root and spread throughout the world and that His kingdom on earth shall last till time shall be no more. “ You shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” 1 "And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations.”2 “I have chosen you and have appointed you, that you should go and bring forth fruit and your fruit shall remain.” “The gates of Hell shall not pre

3 vail against My Church.” “Behold, I am with

I you all days unto the end of the world.” 5

The Apostles have implicit faith in their Master's words. They know that He is God, for they have been witnesses of the miracles He had wrought in proof of His Divinity. They know that His word is omnipotent; that He who in the beginning said : “Let there be light, and there was light”: “Let the earth bring forth fruit” and it was so done,—that He can through their ministry make the light of His truth to shine on the darkened intellects of men and their hearts to yield a rich harvest of good works. And, therefore, they go forth full of courage and full of confidence in the success of their mission. Their only weapon is the Cross; their only credentials the Gospel.

St. Peter begins his Apostolic ministry in Jerusalem, where his first sermon is followed by the con

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1 Acts I., 8.
? Matt. XXIV.
3 John XV.

4 Matt. XVI.
5 Ibid. XXVIII.

version of three thousand souls. Of these, some had no doubt been witnesses of Christ's death, nay had even perhaps taken part therein. He afterwards carries the Faith to Antioch where he establishes his See, and ends his labors and his life in Rome. St. Paul traverses the Empire from East to West. The history of his journeys and labors, as sketched in the Acts of the Apostles, excites our unqualified astonishment. St. Andrew preaches in Scythia and Greece. St. John evangelizes Ephesus and Asia Minor. St. James the Less exercises the Apostolate in Judea and Galilee. St. James the Greater is said to have penetrated even into Spain. St. Thomas carries the light of truth into India. St. Bartholomew makes Christ known to the people of Armenia, and so on of the other Apostles. Thus they fulfil the command of their Master “ to teach all nations," and that with such amazing celerity and in so incredibly short a time that St. Paul could exclaim: “Their sound hath gone forth to all the earth and their words unto the ends of the whole world."

But if we are amazed at the holy audacity of the Apostles and their first disciples in undertaking the tremendous task laid on them, our wonder is increased when we consider the marvellous success which crowned their labors, for it is easier far to preach the Gospel than to persuade men to accept it. The seed of the word soon sprang up and grew into a mighty tree, spreading its branches far and wide,

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* Rom. X., 18.

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sheltering the nations, beneath its ample shade, and feeding them with its life-giving fruit.

In a few years Christianity had secured so strong a foothold in the Roman Empire, as to fill its disciples with joyful enthusiasm, and its enemies with alarm and dismay.

Twenty-five years after the death of Christ, St. Paul, writing to the Romans, congratulates them in that their "faith is spoken of in the whole world," 1 and of course, spoken of by those who were in sympathy and communion with the faith of Rome.

About thirty years later, Pliny, Proprætor of Bithynia, in a letter to the emperor Trajan, expresses his concern at the growing numbers and influence of the Christians in his own and the neighboring province of Pontus. “The contagion of this superstition,” he says, “has spread not only to the

” cities, but about the villages and open country." He adds that in consequence of the rapid diffusion of Christianity the temples of the gods are almost abandoned and the sale of victims for the sacrifices wellnigh suspended. He asks, therefore, what course he is to pursue in checking the further progress of the evil.

St. Justin Martyr whose death occurred 66 years after that of St. John the Evangelist, declares that “there is not any one race of men, Barbarian or Greek, or of those who are nomads or shepherds in tents, among whom prayers and eucharists are not

1 Rom. I., 8.

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offered to the Father of the universe through the name of the crucified Jesus.

St. Irenæus, who was born in 120, records with great force the marvellous propagation of Christianity up to his own time: “The Church,” he says, “scattered throughout all the world, even unto the ends of the earth, received from the Apostles and their disciples, the faith in one God, the Father Almighty. ... The Church having received this faith, although it be scattered abroad through the whole world, carefully preserves it, dwelling as in one habitation, and believes alike in these doctrines, as though she had one soul and the same heart. . . And although there be many diverse languages in the world, yet the power of tradition is one and the same.

And he proceeds to illustrate by a beautiful comparison, the cause of this unity. As the light, he says, which illumines this world, is everywhere the same, because it emanates from the luminary of day, so the light of faith is always and everywhere the same, because it proceeds from Jesus Christ, the Sun of justice.

Tertullian, who was born about the year 160, in his Apologia, speaks in still more forcible language of the progress of Christianity: “We are but of yesterday,” he says, “and yet we have filled every place belonging to you, cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum. We leave you only your temples.” ,

. i Dial. with Tryphon. * Lib. I., Ch. X.

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