Clement, who writes in similar terms, Augustine, who criticizes dancing, and several other Christian teachers reveal that the theoleptic dance persisted for several centuries. (9) According to the non-canonical Acts of John, it was Jesus who instituted this dancing:
“Jesus gathered us all together and bade us make a ring, holding one another’s hands, and himself standing in the middle.”
The words of the chant which followed are given; it contains such expressions as “Divine Grace is dancing”. “The Holy Twelve dance with us. All things join in the dance. Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing.” At another point Jesus says: “Give heed unto my dancing.”(219)
There thus seems a strong case for the supposition that the religion instituted by Christ was one which, like those preceding it, was based upon an actual experience of divinity by living persons, and not merely upon the promise of post-mortem salvation. This makes intelligible the matter-of-fact way in which the early Christians referred to the Holy Spirit. “Received ye the Spirit?” asks Paul, as if it were something as definite as an attack of influenza. It was an experience about which there could be no doubt. Having once experienced it one could not deny it, and Christians went to martyrdom rather than recant, with just the same rapture that witches were to go to the stake 1,500 years later. (“I will not be other than I am; I find too much content in my condition,” as one of Mme. Bourignon’s girls told the Inquisitors.) This presumably was what the Christians meant when they said: “We now that we have passed from death into life.” For, no doubt, by comparison with this intense experience ordinary life was colourless.
It is interesting, too, to note the reason which they give as the cause of this knowledge. It is not, as one might have expected, that they have been baptized, nor that they believe a certain doctrine, nor that they have renounced mundane interests; it is, quite simply, “because we love the brethren”. Early Christianity seems to have been a movement based, in a quite literal sense, on love. Paul, indeed, devotes a whole chapter to saying that, without love, all other gifts are vain. Hence it was part of this filling of the heart with love, of this revelation of the soul’s potentialities for love, that men and women took to living together— and called themselves Agapetae, that is, people who put Agape into practice. There is much other evidence of this desire to establish a new, loving relationship, regardless of sex, on a group basis. The deacon Nicolas offered to share his loved wife with the other members of the group, for instance— an offer which later writers interpreted as merely immoral, but which was probably chaste as far as sex was concerned. (124) No doubt, in some congregations the desire for a loving relationship was not modified by the ideal of chastity, and may have led to licence, as was alleged to have been the case with the Carpocratians. In others, as — already noted, the ideal of chastity was carried to the extreme of castration, as with the Valesians.