RETURN FROM EGYPT. PART 1.
How sorrowful is exile! and how sweet to breathe the air of our native land! The bread of the stranger, like that of the wicked, leaves grit in the mouth and bitterness in the heart; his streams tell not of the sports of our childhood; the song of his birds has no melodious notes; his scenes are destitute of that sweet and charming attraction possessed by the scenes of our own country! . . . .
What must have been the joy of the two holy spouses when they beheld again that land of Canaan, whose grand boundaries, soft outlines, universal harmony, and variety of aspects contrasted so happily and so strikingly with the monotonous splendours of Egypt! Here a population rustic and hardy, with a warlike turn, an open address, a worship grave and pure; there, slaves herded by castes, given to plunder, mingling with their worship infamous practices, and exhausting their resources to erect temples to the ox Apis, the crocodile, and the sea-onion! One must be profoundly religious, as Joseph and Mary were—one must love one's country as the Hebrews loved theirs, to understand the pious and sweet impressions which the two Galilean spouses felt at the sight of the land of Jehovah and their beautiful city of Nazareth.
After so long an absence, the Holy Family returned to their humble hearth, amidst the congratulations, the astonishment, the eager inquiries of their relations, who all vied with each other in entertaining them; but desolation and bitter reverses soon succeeded to all this joy. The deserted dwelling of the poor family was scarcely habitable: the roof, decayed and fallen-in in places, was ornamented here and there with long grass, and had afforded free entrance into the interior to the wintry blast and the beating rains of the equinoxes; 1 the lower apartment was cold, damp, and green; wild pigeons made their nests in the mysterious and hallowed cell where the Word was made flesh; brambles shot up their brown thorny garlands in the small court; everything, in fine, in that old dwelling, already gilded by ages, had assumed that ruinous and desolate appearance which fastens upon deserted edifices as the seal of the master's absence. It was necessary to set about these urgent repairs ; it was necessary to replace tools and furniture either unfit for use or altogether vanished; perhaps they had to repay a sum borrowed in Egypt to enable them to return. Then it was, no doubt, that they sold the paternal fields till the year of jubilee. Of all that Joseph and Mary possessed before their long journey, they had nothing left but the ruined house of Nazareth, the workshop of Joseph, and their own arms; but Jesus was there. Young as he was, Jesus took up the axe, and followed his aged father into the villages, where work was found for them; 2 his work, proportioned to his age and strength, was never wanting to aid his mother. Easy circumstances had long disappeared; but by dint of privations, working late and early, and good courage, they provided for absolute necessity. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph gave themselves up to hard labour, and He who could command legions of angels never asked of God, for himself or those belonging to him, anything but daily bread. The interior life of this happy family, who have been surnamed the terrestrial Trinity has not come to the knowledge of men: it is the course of water lost among the grass; it if? the holy of holies, with its cloud of perfumes and its double veil. Nevertheless, by studying minutely and examining one by one, and in all their aspects, the facts of the gospel, what we know leads us to surmise to a certain extent what we do not know; and the public life of Jesus Christ casts certain brilliant lights upon his hidden life, and that of the Blessed Virgin. We will endeavour to fill up this void with all that reserve, and all that conscientious application, which so grave a subject demands.
Jesus, in whom were hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, 3 had no need of being taught by men; therefore every supposition to the contrary is positively rejected by the Church. St. John also, in his gospel, informs us that the Jews in the time of Jesus Christ considered him as a young man without learning, 4 and the astonishment of the Nazarenes to see him so profoundly versed in sacred literature, sufficiently testifies that they had no knowledge of his having been, like St. Paul, educated at "the feet of a master." The Talmudists and the Jewish authors of the Toldos maintain, on the contrary, that a celebrated rabbin initiated Jesus in the mysteries of science and magic; but setting aside the second part of the assertion, which is absurd, and taking the matter only from a mere human point of view, as the rationalists do, this is evidently false, for two reasons. First, Jesus was neither a zealot, nor a man wedded to traditions; and we see, all through the gospel, that he strongly disapproved of the narrow-minded views, captious distinctions, and low subtleties of the doctors of the synagogue. Secondly, the rabbi Josue Perachia, whom they assign him as preceptor, had still to be born, since he flourished a century later.
To place Jesus in the midst of the rabbins as a scholar, would be as illogical as to attempt to support an oak by surrounding it with reeds. He did not teach like them, says the evangelist, 5 and this it is easy to conceive, for he derived his wisdom from himself; and his teaching, still taking it from a natural point of view, seems to flow from a soul most elevated, most pure, and upright, and from a mind so vast and so uniformly sound, that assuredly it had not been warped in the disputes of the schools.
Strauss admits that all the wisdom and science of the time would not have been able to form a man like Jesus Christ. " If," says he, " Jesus Christ had exhausted all the tuition of his time, it is no less true that none of those elements sufficed, even by a great deal, to cause a revolution in the world; and the leaven indispensable for so great a work, could have been derived only from the depths of his own
His eloquence, like his morality, was his own. It was not the emphatic exaggerations of the rabbins, nor the majestic, striking, and violently contrasted diction of the ancient prophets ; it was, as he himself said, a fountain of living water, reflecting in its course the birds of heaven, the harvests and the flowers of the fields This eloquence, perfectly simple, penetrated to the bottom of things, and was allied, without effort, to great thoughts. Each word was a precious seed of virtue; every instruction cast into the mysterious spaces of the future a long train of light, which was to grow insensibly, and extend to the perfect day of the regeneration of the world. Even those who have audaciously denied his miracles, have not been able to help acknowledging that his words were those of a God. 6
Jesus was endowed with a soul profound and meditative, which needed an ample space in which to extend itself. Confined during the day to manual labour, which absorbed all his time, he made up at night for his obscure fatigue, and became again lawgiver and prophet in presence of the starry heaven. Standing upon an elevated platform, whence could be seen the mountains and extensive woods of the land of Canaan, he poured forth his soul before the Author of nature, of whom he was the envoy, the Son, and the equal. These communings, all alone with God, in the silence of the night, and the desert, and in silent thought, were one of the habits of Jesus Christ; we find many examples of them in the gospel. The model of men, the Word incarnate, would, no doubt, teach his followers to separate the pure gold of prayer from the monstrous alloy of ostentation and hypocrisy which the Pharisees of his time were accustomed to mix up with it.
The Blessed Virgin, who was never importunate or exacting, made no sort of opposition to this retirement; she knew that Jesus then sounded the depths of the immeasurable abyss which opened beneath the feet of the human race, and that the redemption of the world would be the fruit of these silent meditations. Respecting the labours of that mighty mind which redoubled upon itself, and looking to the future glory which every moment brought nearer and nearer, Mary already saw the heavens opened, death vanquished, and the Messias rallying all nations beneath his standard. .... But on a sudden the prophecy of the aged man in the temple presented itself, dark as a funeral bier, at the end of this enchanted perspective; a cold chill ran through the veins of the poor mother, and her heart, in which the love of Jesus had so large a share, melted in infinite agony. A secret voice cried out to her, " There must be an expiation of blood I Christ must die ! " Then, humbly laying down the work to which she was condemned by her indigence, 7 the daughter of David came to look after her Son; she wanted to see him, to make sure, in a maternal embrace, that he was still there,—that he was still alive!
When he saw her, Jesus cast down his pensive eye, which had been fixed upon the stars; his youthful forehead, contracted by a thought as vast as the world, became again the smooth and shining forehead of the child. Then Mary, shutting up in her heart her sinister fears, advised repose after the long watch. It was necessary to recruit his strength for the following day; the walk would be fatiguing and the labour painful .... The Son of God followed his mortal mother in silence, for he loved her, and was subject to her.
An extraordinary incident, which overpowered the soul of the Blessed Virgin, marked the entrance of Jesus into the state of adolescence. Joseph and Mary, religious observers of the law of their fathers, went up "regularly every year to Jerusalem, at the time of the Passover. This journey, which they had performed stealthily, and lost in the crowd, as long as the son of the enemy of God had occupied the throne of the Maccabees, had become easier since the exile of Archelaus, and the occupation of the country by the Romans.
1 The time of rains in Judea, is that of the equinoxes, and especially of the autumnal equinox : it is also the season for storms, which are accompanied with violent showers, or hail.—(Volney, Voyage en Syrie.)
2 St. Justin, martyr (Dialog, cum Try phone), relates that Jesus Christ helped his father to make yokes and ploughs. And Godes-card, t. xiv. p. 436, Vie de la Sainte Vierge, says, " A very ancient author assures us, that in his time yokes were shown which our Saviour had made with his own hands."
3 S. Paul., Ep. ad Coloss. c. ii. v. 9.
4 S. John., c. vii. v. 15.
5 Matt. vii. 29.
6 "I own to you that the majesty of the Scriptures astonishes me," says Bousseau; "the sanctity of the gospel speaks to my heart. Look at the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp, how small they are by the side of this! Can it be that a "book at once so sublime and simple could be the work of men ? Can it be that he whose history it relates could be himself but a man P Is that the tone of an enthusiast, or of an ambitious sectarian P What meekness! what purity in his manners! what affecting gracefulness in his instructions! what sublimity in his maxims ! what profound wisdom in his discourses! . . . ."—(Emile, t. iii. p. 365.)
7 Tertullian, says, in the third century, that Mary earned her livelihood by working; and Celsus, in the second century, said that Mary was a woman who had lived by the work of her hands.