Section 3: As to Ascension, Acts Inconsistent With Luke
Thus far, the embellishments, made by our anonymous artist, have had for their ground the work of the original hand: meaning always Saint Luke, with whom the common error has identified him. Here comes an instance, in which the whole is altogether of his own workmanship. This is the story of the "two men in white apparel," by whom, what, in his eyes, were the deficiencies in the instruction offered by Jesus to the witnesses of his ascension, may be seen supplied.
Still the same delicacy as before: by his own hand no miracle made: only a quantity of matter, fit for this purpose, put into the hands of readers; and to their imagination is left a task so natural and so, agreeable.
Scarcely, after finishing his instructions to his Apostles, has Jesus ceased to be visible to them, when, if Acts is to be believed, "two men in white apparel"—two men, to whom none of them were known, and by whom none of them were known, make their appearance, and from nobody knows where. But these same two men in white, who are they? "Oh!" says Imagination, for the hints we have already seen given to her are quite sufficient, "Oh!" says Imagination, "they were angels. Think for a moment, and say what else they can have been. Had they been men, could they have been thus unknowing and unknown? could their appearance have been thus sudden? not less sudden than the vanishing of a spirit? not to speak of the beautiful white clothes you see they had,—and would they have been thus dressed? To believe them men, would be to believe in direct contradiction to Saint Luke; for, in his account of the matter, as you may see, from first to last, not two men were there in the whole party, that were not in the most intimate manner known to each other. But though, by Saint Luke's account, so decided a negative is put upon all men-strangers, yet nothing is said about angels. Angels, therefore, they may have been,—you may venture to say they were: and the report made by all persons present, remains nevertheless uncontradicted."
"Another proof, that they cannot have been men, and that therefore they were angels. Of these beings, who were then unknown to all the company, what was the errand? It was no less than the giving to the whole company of the companions of Jesus,—of that Jesus, by whom, after giving to them such instructions as he thought fit to give to them, they had but that moment been left,—the giving to them some other instructions, which he had not thought fit, or else had forgot, to give to them. But, as by no men-strangers could any such conceit have been entertained, as that, by the party in question, any such instructions would be listened to,—so, by no men-strangers can it be that any such instructions were given:—an additional proof that they cannot have been anything but angels." Thus readily does the imagination of the reader, answer with her logic, the call given to her by the imagination of the author.
Angels if they were, they appear not to have been very knowing ones. Sent, for the purpose of giving information,—and such information, nothing of that which was known to all those, to whom they came to give it,—nothing, if they themselves are to be believed, was known to them. Addressing themselves to the company—the company whom Jesus had but that moment left,—"Whom saw ye going up," say they, ver. 11, "into heaven"? Then comes the information, which Jesus, on his departure, Jesus, we are expected to believe, has not thought fit, or else had forgot, to give. "This same Jesus," say they, ver. 11, "which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Here we have the information and—they to whom it was given,—what can they have been the better for it?—"Shall so come." Yes: but when and where, and to what end, and what to do? points these, as to all which, the information is altogether mute.
One other proof is yet behind. What has been seen as yet is in the first chapter. The tenth of his eight and twenty chapters is not finished, where, speaking in agreement with Saint Luke, he now disagrees with himself. On this occasion, it is by the mouth of Peter that he speaks. "God," he makes Peter say, Acts 10:41, "God showed him," Jesus, "openly."—Showed him, let anybody ask, and to whom? "Not," says he, "to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." Thus again it is, that for any men-strangers, not a particle of room is left. But, for angels, considering the materials they are made of, no quantity of room can be insufficient: therefore, once more, nothing can these men have been but angels.