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The second century of the existence of Gentile-Christian communities was characterised by the victorious conflict with Gnosticism and the Marcionite Church, by the gradual development of an ecclesiastical doctrine, and by the decay of the early Christian enthusiasm. The general result was the establishment of a great ecclesiastical association, which, forming at one and the same time a political commonwealth, school and union for worship, was based on the firm foundation of an “apostolic” law of faith, a collection of “apostolic” writings, and finally, an “apostolic” organisation. This institution was the Catholic Church.11Aubé (Histoire des Persécutions de l’Eglise, Vol. II. 1878, pp. 1-68) has given a survey of the genesis of ecclesiastical dogma. The disquisitions of Renan in the last volumes of his great historical work are excellent, though not seldom exaggerated in particular points. See especially the concluding observations in Vol. VII. cc. 28-34. Since the appearance of Ritschl’s monograph on the genesis of the old Catholic Church, a treatise which, however, forms too narrow a conception of the problem, German science can point to no work of equal rank with the French. Cf. Sohm’s Kirchenrecht, Vol. I. which, however, in a very one-sided manner, makes the adoption of the legal and constitutional arrangements responsible for all the evil in the Church. In opposition to Gnosticism and Marcionitism, the main articles forming the estate and possession of orthodox Christianity were raised to the rank of apostolic regulations and laws, and thereby placed beyond all discussion and assault. At first the innovations introduced by this were not of a material, but of a formal, character. Hence they were not noticed by any of those who had never, or only in a vague fashion, been elevated to the feeling and idea of freedom and independence in religion. 2How great the innovations actually were, however, may be measured by the fact that they signified a scholastic tutelage of the faith of the individual Christian, and restricted the immediateness of religious feelings and ideas to the narrowest limits. But the conflict with the so-called Montanism showed that there were still a considerable number of Christians who valued that immediateness and freedom; these were, however, defeated. The fixing of the tradition under the title of apostolic necessarily led to the assumption that whoever held the apostolic doctrine was also essentially a Christian in the apostolic sense. This assumption, quite apart from the innovations which were legitimised by tracing them to the Apostles, meant the separation of doctrine and conduct, the preference of the former to the latter, and the transformation of a fellowship of faith, hope, and discipline into a communion “eiusdem sacramenti”, that is, into a union which, like the philosophical schools, rested on a doctrinal law, and which was subject to a legal code of divine institution.22Sohm (p. 160) declares: “The foundation of Catholicism is the divine Church law to which it lays claim.” In many other passages he even seems to express the opinion that the Church law of itself, even when not represented as divine, is the hereditary enemy of the true Church and at the same time denotes the essence of Catholicism. See, e.g., p. 2: “The whole essence of Catholicism consists in its declaring legal institutions to be necessary to the Church.” Page 700: “The essence of Church law is incompatible with the essence of the Church.” This thesis really characterises Catholicism well and contains a great truth, if expressed in more careful terms, somewhat as follows: The assertion that there is a divine Church law (emanating from Christ, or, in other words, from the Apostles), which is necessary to the spiritual character of the Church and which in fact is a token of this very attribute, is incompatible with the essence of the Gospel and is the mark of a pseudo-Catholicism.” But the thesis contains too narrow a view of the case. For the divine Church law is only one feature of the essence of the Catholic Church, though a very important element, which Sohm, as a jurist, was peculiarly capable of recognising. The whole essence of Catholicism, however, consists in the deification of tradition generally. The declaration that the empirical institutions of the Church, created for and necessary to this purpose, are apostolic, a declaration which amalgamates them with the essence and content of the Gospel and places them beyond all criticism, is the peculiarly “Catholic” feature. Now, as a great part of these institutions cannot be inwardly appropriated and cannot really amalgamate with faith and piety, it is self-evident that such portions become legal ordinances, to which obedience must be rendered. For no other relation to these ordinances can be conceived. Hence the legal regulations and the corresponding slavish devotion come to have such immense scope in Catholicism, and well-nigh express its essence. But behind this is found the more general conviction that the empirical Church, as it actually exists, is the authentic, pure, and infallible creation: its doctrine, its regulations, its religious ceremonial are apostolic. Whoever doubts that renounces Christ. Now, if, as in the case of the Reformers, this conception be recognised as erroneous and unevangelical, the result must certainly be a strong detestation of “the divine Church law.” Indeed, the inclination to sweep away all Church law is quite intelligible, for when you give the devil your little finger he takes the whole hand. But, on the other hand, it cannot be imagined how communities are to exist on earth, propagate themselves, and train men without regulations; and how regulations are to exist without resulting in the formation of a code of laws. In truth, such regulations have at no time been wanting in Christian communities, and have always possessed the character of a legal code. Sohm’s distinction, that in the oldest period there was no “law”, but only a “regulation”, is artificial, though possessed of a certain degree of truth; for the regulation has one aspect in a circle of like-minded enthusiasts, and a different one in a community where all stages of moral and religious culture are represented, and which has therefore to train its members. Or should it not do so? And, on the other hand, had the oldest Churches not the Old Testament and the διατάξεις of the Apostles? Were these no code of laws? Sohm’s proposition: “The essence of Church law is incompatible with the essence of the Church,” does not rise to evangelical clearness and freedom, but has been formed under the shadow and ban of Catholicism. I am inclined to call it an Anabaptist thesis. The Anabaptists were also in the shadow and ban of Catholicism; hence their only course was either the attempt to wreck the Church and Church history and found a new empire, or a return to Catholicism. Hermann Bockelson or the Pope! But the Gospel is above the question of Jew or Greek, and therefore also above the question of a legal code. It is reconcilable with everything that is not sin, even with the philosophy of the Greeks. Why should it not be also compatible with the monarchical bishop, with the legal code of the Romans, and even with the Pope, provided these are not made part of the Gospel.
The movement which resulted in the Catholic Church owes its right to a place in the history of Christianity to the victory 3over Gnosticism and to the preservation of an important part of early Christian tradition. If Gnosticism in all its phases was the violent attempt to drag Christianity down to the level of the Greek world, and to rob it of its dearest possession, belief in the Almighty God of creation and redemption, then Catholicism, inasmuch as it secured this belief for the Greeks, preserved the Old Testament, and supplemented it with early Christian writings, thereby saving — as far as documents, at least, were concerned — and proclaiming the authority of an important part of primitive Christianity, must in one respect be acknowledged as a conservative force born from the vigour of Christianity. 4 If we put aside abstract considerations and merely look at the facts of the given situation, we cannot but admire a creation which first broke up the various outside forces assailing Christianity, and in which the highest blessings of this faith have always continued to be accessible. If the founder of the Christian religion had deemed belief in the Gospel and a life in accordance with it to be compatible with membership of the Synagogue and observance of the Jewish law, there could at least be no impossibility of adhering to the Gospel within the Catholic Church.
Still, that is only one side of the case. The older Catholicism never clearly put the question, “What is Christian?” Instead of answering that question it rather laid down rules, the recognition of which was to be the guarantee of Christianism. This solution of the problem seems to be on the one hand too narrow and on the other too broad. Too narrow, because it bound Christianity to rules under which it necessarily languished; too broad, because it did not in any way exclude the introduction of new and foreign conceptions. In throwing a protective covering round the Gospel, Catholicism also obscured it. It preserved Christianity from being hellenised to the most extreme extent, but, as time went on, it was forced to admit into this religion an ever greater measure of secularisation. In the interests of its world-wide mission it did not indeed directly disguise the terrible seriousness of religion, but, by tolerating a less strict ideal of life, it made it possible for those less in earnest to be considered Christians, and to regard themselves as such. It permitted the genesis of a Church, which was no longer a communion of faith, hope, and discipline, but a political commonwealth in which the Gospel merely had a place beside other things.33In the formation of the Marcionite Church we have, on the other hand, the attempt to create a rigid œcumenical community, held together solely by religion. The Marcionite Church therefore had a founder, the Catholic has none. In ever increasing measure it invested all the forms which this secular commonwealth required with apostolic, that is, indirectly, with divine authority. This course disfigured Christianity and made a knowledge of what is Christian an obscure and difficult matter. But, in Catholicism, religion for the first time obtained a formal dogmatic system. Catholic Christianity 5discovered the formula which reconciled faith and knowledge. This formula satisfied humanity for centuries, and the blessed effects which it accomplished continued to operate even after it had itself already become a fetter.
Catholic Christianity grew out of two converging series of developments. In the one were set up fixed outer standards for determining what is Christian, and these standards were proclaimed to be apostolic institutions. The baptismal confession was exalted to an apostolic rule of faith, that is, to an apostolic law of faith. A collection of apostolic writings was formed from those read in the Churches, and this compilation was placed on an equal footing with the Old Testament. The episcopal and monarchical constitution was declared to be apostolic, and the attribute of successor of the Apostles was conferred on the bishop. Finally, the religious ceremonial developed into a celebration of mysteries, which was in like manner traced back to the Apostles. The result of these institutions was a strictly exclusive Church in the form of a communion of doctrine, ceremonial, and law, a confederation which more and more gathered the various communities within its pale, and brought about the decline of all nonconforming sects. The confederation was primarily based on a common confession, which, however, was not only conceived as “law,” but was also very soon supplemented by new standards. One of the most important problems to be investigated in the history of dogma, and one which unfortunately cannot be completely solved, is to show what necessities led to the setting up of a new canon of Scripture, what circumstances required the appearance of living authorities in the communities, and what relation was established between the apostolic rule of faith, the apostolic canon of Scripture, and the apostolic office. The development ended with the formation of a clerical class, at whose head stood the bishop, who united in himself all conceivable powers, as teacher, priest, and judge. He disposed of the powers of Christianity, guaranteed its purity, and therefore in every respect held the Christian laity in tutelage.
But even apart from the content which Christianity here received, this process in itself represents a progressive secularising of the Church. This would be self-evident enough, even if it 6were not confirmed by noting the fact that the process had already been to some extent anticipated in the so-called Gnosticism (See vol. I. p. 253 and Tertullian, de præscr. 35). But the element which the latter lacked, namely, a firmly welded, suitably regulated constitution, must by no means be regarded as one originally belonging and essential to Christianity. The depotentiation to which Christianity was here subjected appears still more plainly in the facts, that the Christian hopes were deadened, that the secularising of the Christian life was tolerated and even legitimised, and that the manifestations of an unconditional devotion to the heavenly excited suspicion or were compelled to confine themselves to very narrow limits.
But these considerations are scarcely needed as soon as we turn our attention to the second series of developments that make up the history of this period. The Church did not merely set up dykes and walls against Gnosticism in order to ward it off externally, nor was she satisfied with defending against it the facts which were the objects of her belief and hope; but, taking the creed for granted, she began to follow this heresy into its own special territory and to combat it with a scientific theology. That was a necessity which did not first spring from Christianity’s own internal struggles. It was already involved in the fact that the Christian Church had been joined by cultured Greeks, who felt the need of justifying their Christianity to themselves and the world, and of presenting it as the desired and certain answer to all the pressing questions which then occupied men’s minds.
The beginning of a development which a century later reached its provisional completion in the theology of Origen, that is, in the transformation of the Gospel into a scientific system of ecclesiastical doctrine, appears in the Christian Apologetic, as we already find it before the middle of the second century. As regards its content, this system of doctrine meant the legitimising of Greek philosophy within the sphere of the rule of faith. The theology of Origen bears the same relation to the New Testament as that of Philo does to the Old. What is here presented as Christianity is in fact the idealistic religious philosophy of the age, attested by divine revelation, made accessible to all by the incarnation of the Logos, and purified from any 7connection with Greek mythology and gross polytheism.44The historian who wishes to determine the advance made by Græco-Roman humanity in the third and fourth centuries, under the influence of Catholicism and its theology, must above all keep in view the fact that gross polytheism and immoral mythology were swept away, spiritual monotheism brought near to all, and the ideal of a divine life and the hope of an eternal one made certain. Philosophy also aimed at that, but it was not able to establish a community of men on these foundations. A motley multitude of primitive Christian ideas and hopes, derived from both Testaments, and too brittle to be completely recast, as yet enclosed the kernel. But the majority of these were successfully manipulated by theological art, and the traditional rule of faith was transformed into a system of doctrine, in which, to some extent, the old articles found only a nominal place.55Luther, as is well known, had a very profound impression of the distinction between Biblical Christianity and the theology of the Fathers, who followed the theories of Origen. See, for example, Werke, Vol. LXII. p. 49, quoting Proles: “When the word of God comes to the Fathers, me thinks it is as if milk were filtered through a coal sack, where the milk must become black and spoiled.”
This hellenising of ecclesiastical Christianity, by which we do not mean the Gospel, was not a gradual process; for the truth rather is that it was already accomplished the moment that the reflective Greek confronted the new religion which he had accepted. The Christianity of men like Justin, Athenagoras, and Minucius is not a whit less Hellenistic than that of Origen. But yet an important distinction obtains here. It is twofold. In the first place, those Apologists did not yet find themselves face to face with a fixed collection of writings having a title to be reverenced as Christian; they have to do with the Old Testament and the “Teachings of Christ” (διδάγματα Χριστοῦ). In the second place, they do not yet regard the scientific presentation of Christianity as the main task and as one which this religion itself demands. As they really never enquired what was meant by “Christian,” or at least never put the question clearly to themselves, they never claimed that their scientific presentation of Christianity was the first proper expression of it that had been given. Justin and his contemporaries make it perfectly clear that they consider the traditional faith existing in the churches to be complete and pure and in itself requiring no scientific revision. In a word, the gulf which existed 8between the religious thought of philosophers and the sum of Christian tradition is still altogether unperceived, because that tradition was not yet fixed in rigid forms, because no religious utterance testifying to monotheism, virtue, and reward was as yet threatened by any control, and finally, because the speech of philosophy was only understood by a small minority in the Church, though its interests and aims were not unknown to most. Christian thinkers were therefore still free to divest of their direct religious value all realistic and historical elements of the tradition, while still retaining them as parts of a huge apparatus of proof, which accomplished what was really the only thing that many sought in Christianity, viz., the assurance that the theory of the world obtained from other sources was the truth. The danger which here threatened Christianity as a religion was scarcely less serious than that which had been caused to it by the Gnostics. These remodelled tradition, the Apologists made it to some extent inoperative without attacking it. The latter were not disowned, but rather laid the foundation of Church theology, and determined the circle of interests within which it was to move in the future.66They were not the first to determine this circle of interests. So far as we can demonstrate traces of independent religious knowledge among the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the post-apostolic age, they are in thorough harmony with the theories of the Apologists, which are merely expressed with precision and divested of Old Testament language.
But the problem which the Apologists solved almost offhand, namely, the task of showing that Christianity was the perfect and certain philosophy, because it rested on revelation, and that it was the highest scientific knowledge of God and the world, was to be rendered more difficult. To these difficulties all that primitive Christianity has up to the present transmitted to the Church of succeeding times contributes its share. The conflict with Gnosticism made it necessary to find some sort of solution to the question, “What is Christian?” and to fix this answer. But indeed the Fathers were not able to answer the question confidently and definitely. They therefore made a selection from tradition and contented themselves with making it binding on Christians. Whatever was to lay claim to authority in the 9Church had henceforth to be in harmony with the rule of faith and the canon of New Testament Scriptures. That created an entirely new situation for Christian thinkers, that is, for those trying to solve the problem of subordinating Christianity to the Hellenic spirit. That spirit never became quite master of the situation; it was obliged to accommodate itself to it.77It was only after the apostolic tradition, fixed in the form of a comprehensive collection, seemed to guarantee the admissibility of every form of Christianity that reverenced that collection, that the hellenising of Christianity within the Church began in serious fashion. The fixing of tradition had had a twofold result. On the one hand, it opened the way more than ever before for a free and unhesitating introduction of foreign ideas into Christianity, and, on the other hand, so far as it really also included the documents and convictions of primitive Christianity, it preserved this religion to the future and led to a return to it, either from scientific or religious considerations. That we know anything at all of original Christianity is entirely due to the fixing of the tradition, as found at the basis of Catholicism. On the supposition — which is indeed an academic consideration — that this fixing had not taken place because of the non-appearance of the Gnosticism which occasioned it, and on the further supposition that the original enthusiasm had continued, we would in all probability know next to nothing of original Christianity to-day. How much we would have known may be seen from the Shepherd of Hermas. The work first began with the scientific treatment of individual articles contained in the rule of faith, partly with the view of disproving Gnostic conceptions, partly for the purpose of satisfying the Church’s own needs. The framework in which these articles were placed virtually continued to be the apologetic theology, for this maintained a doctrine of God and the world, which seemed to correspond to the earliest tradition as much as it ran counter to the Gnostic theses. (Melito), Irenæus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, aided more or less by tradition on the one hand and by philosophy on the other, opposed to the Gnostic dogmas about Christianity the articles of the baptismal confession interpreted as a rule of faith, these articles being developed into doctrines. Here they undoubtedly learned very much from the Gnostics and Marcion. If we define ecclesiastical dogmas as propositions handed down in the creed of the Church, shown to exist in the Holy Scriptures of both Testaments, and rationally reproduced and formulated, then the men we have just mentioned were the first to set up dogmas88So far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the idea of dogmas, as individual theorems characteristic of Christianity, and capable of being scholastically proved, originated with the Apologists. Even as early as Justin we find tendencies to amalgamate historical material and natural theology. — dogmas but no 10system of dogmatics. As yet the difficulty of the problem was by no means perceived by these men either. Their peculiar capacity for sympathising with and understanding the traditional and the old still left them in a happy blindness. So far as they had a theology they supposed it to be nothing more than the explanation of the faith of the Christian multitude (yet Tertullian already noted the difference in one point, certainly a very characteristic one, viz., the Logos doctrine). They still lived in the belief that the Christianity which filled their minds required no scientific remodelling in order to be an expression of the highest knowledge, and that it was in all respects identical with the Christianity which even the most uncultivated could grasp. That this was an illusion is proved by many considerations, but most convincingly by the fact that Tertullian and Hippolytus had the main share in introducing into the doctrine of faith a philosophically formulated dogma, viz., that the Son of God is the Logos, and in having it made the articulus constitutivus ecclesiæ. The effects of this undertaking can never be too highly estimated, for the Logos doctrine is Greek philosophy in nuce, though primitive Christian views may have been subsequently incorporated with it. Its introduction into the creed of Christendom, which was, strictly speaking, the setting up of the first dogma in the Church, meant the future conversion of the rule of faith into a philosophic system. But in yet another respect Irenæus and Hippolytus denote an immense advance beyond the Apologists, which, paradoxically enough, results both from the progress of Christian Hellenism and from a deeper study of the Pauline theology, that is, emanates from the controversy with Gnosticism. In them a religious and realistic idea takes the place of the moralism of the Apologists, namely, the deifying of the human race through the incarnation of the Son of God. The apotheosis of mortal man through his acquisition of immortality (divine life) is the idea of salvation which was taught in the ancient mysteries. It is here adopted as a Christian one, supported by the Pauline theology (especially as contained in the Epistle to the Ephesians), and brought into the closest 11connection with the historical Christ, the Son of God and Son of man (filius dei et filius hominis). What the heathen faintly hoped for as a possibility was here announced as certain, and indeed as having already taken place. What a message! This conception was to become the central Christian idea of the future. A long time, however, elapsed before it made its way into the dogmatic system of the Church.99It is almost completely wanting in Tertullian. That is explained by the fact that this remarkable man was in his inmost soul an old-fashioned Christian, to whom the Gospel was conscientia religionis, disciplina vitæ and spes fidei, and who found no sort of edification in Neoplatonic notions, but rather dwelt on the ideas “command”, “performance”, “error”, “forgiveness”. In Irenæus also, moreover, the ancient idea of salvation, supplemented by elements derived from the Pauline theology, is united with the primitive Christian eschatology.
But meanwhile the huge gulf which existed between both Testaments and the rule of faith on the one hand, and the current ideas of the time on the other, had been recognized in Alexandria. It was not indeed felt as a gulf, for then either the one or the other would have had to be given up, but as a problem. If the Church tradition contained the assurance, not to be obtained elsewhere, of all that Greek culture knew, hoped for, and prized, and if for that very reason it was regarded as in every respect inviolable, then the absolutely indissoluble union of Christian tradition with the Greek philosophy of religion was placed beyond all doubt. But an immense number of problems were at the same time raised, especially when, as in the case of the Alexandrians, heathen syncretism in the entire breadth of its development was united with the doctrine of the Church. The task, which had been begun by Philo and carried on by Valentinus and his school, was now undertaken in the Church. Clement led the way in attempting a solution of the problem, but the huge task proved too much for him. Origen took it up under more difficult circumstances, and in a certain fashion brought it to a conclusion. He, the rival of the Neoplatonic philosophers, the Christian Philo, wrote the first Christian dogmatic, which competed with the philosophic systems of the time, and which, founded on the Scriptures of both Testaments, presents a peculiar union of the apologetic theology of a Justin and the Gnostic theology of a Valentinus, 12while keeping steadily in view a simple and highly practical aim. In this dogmatic the rule of faith is recast and that quite consciously. Origen did not conceal his conviction that Christianity finds its correct expression only in scientific knowledge, and that every form of Christianity that lacks theology is but a meagre kind with no clear consciousness of its own content. This conviction plainly shows that Origen was dealing with a different kind of Christianity, though his view that a mere relative distinction existed here may have its justification in the fact, that the untheological Christianity of the age with which he compared his own was already permeated by Hellenic elements and in a very great measure secularised.1010On the significance of Clement and Origen see Overbeck, “Über die Anfänge der patristischen Litteratur” in d. Hist. Ztschr. N. F., Vol. XII. p. 417 ff. But Origen, as well as Clement before him, had really a right to the conviction that the true essence of Christianity, or, in other words, the Gospel, is only arrived at by the aid of critical speculation; for was not the Gospel veiled and hidden in the canon of both Testaments, was it not displaced by the rule of faith, was it not crushed down, depotentiated, and disfigured in the Church which identified itself with the people of Christ? Clement and Origen found freedom and independence in what they recognized to be the essence of the matter and what they contrived with masterly skill to determine as its proper aim, after an examination of the huge apparatus of tradition. But was not that the ideal of Greek sages and philosophers? This question can by no means be flatly answered in the negative, and still less decidedly in the affirmative, for a new significance was here given to the ideal by representing it as assured beyond all doubt, already realised in the person of Christ and incompatible with polytheism. If, as is manifestly the case, they found joy and peace in their faith and in the theory of the universe connected with it, if they prepared themselves for an eternal life and expected it with certainty, if they felt themselves to be perfect only through dependence on God, then, in spite of their Hellenism, they unquestionably came nearer to the Gospel than Irenæus with his slavish dependence on authority.
The setting up of a scientific system of Christian dogmatics, which 13was still something different from the rule of faith, interpreted in an Antignostic sense, philosophically wrought out, and in some parts proved from the Bible, was a private undertaking of Origen, and at first only approved in limited circles. As yet, not only were certain bold changes of interpretation disputed in the Church, but the undertaking itself, as a whole, was disapproved.1111Information on this point may be got not only from the writings of Origen (see especially his work against Celsus), but also and above all from his history. The controversy between Dionysius of Alexandria and the Chiliasts is also instructive on the matter. The circumstances of the several provincial churches in the first half of the third century were still very diverse. Many communities had yet to adopt the basis that made them into Catholic ones; and in most, if not in all, the education of the clergy — not to speak of the laity — was not high enough to enable them to appreciate systematic theology. But the schools in which Origen taught carried on his work, similar ones were established, and these produced a number of the bishops and presbyters of the East in the last half of the third century. They had in their hands the means of culture afforded by the age, and this was all the more a guarantee of victory because the laity no longer took any part in deciding the form of religion. Wherever the Logos Christology had been adopted the future of Christian Hellenism was certain. At the beginning of the fourth century there was no community in Christendom which, apart from the Logos doctrine, possessed a purely philosophical theory that was regarded as an ecclesiastical dogma, to say nothing of an official scientific theology. But the system of Origen was a prophecy of the future. The Logos doctrine started the crystallising process which resulted in further deposits. Symbols of faith were already drawn up which contained a peculiar mixture of Origen’s theology with the inflexible Antignostic regula fidei. One celebrated theologian, Methodius, endeavoured to unite the theology of Irenæus and Origen, ecclesiastical realism and philosophic spiritualism, under the badge of monastic mysticism. The developments of the following period therefore no longer appear surprising in any respect.
As Catholicism, from every point of view, is the result of 14the blending of Christianity with the ideas of antiquity,1212The three or (reckoning Methodius) four steps of the development of church doctrine (Apologists, Old Catholic Fathers, Alexandrians) correspond to the progressive religious and philosophical development of heathendom at that period: philosophic moralism, ideas of salvation (theology and practice of mysteries), Neoplatonic philosophy, and complete syncretism. so the Catholic dogmatic, as it was developed after the second or third century on the basis of the Logos doctrine, is Christianity conceived and formulated from the standpoint of the Greek philosophy of religion.1313“Virtus omnis ex his causam accipit, a quibus provocatur (Tertull., de bapt. 2.) This Christianity conquered the old world, and became the foundation of a new phase of history in the Middle Ages. The union of the Christian religion with a definite historical phase of human knowledge and culture may be lamented in the interest of the Christian religion, which was thereby secularised, and in the interest of the development of culture which was thereby retarded (?). But lamentations become here ill-founded assumptions, as absolutely everything that we have and value is due to the alliance that Christianity and antiquity concluded in such a way that neither was able to prevail over the other. Our inward and spiritual life, which owes the least part of its content to the empiric knowledge which we have acquired, is based up to the present moment on the discords resulting from that union.
These hints are meant among other things to explain and justify1414The plan of placing the apologetic theology before everything else would have much to recommend it, but I adhere to the arrangement here chosen, because the advantage of being able to represent and survey the outer ecclesiastical development and the inner theological one, each being viewed as a unity, seems to me to be very great. We must then of course understand the two developments as proceeding on parallel lines. But the placing of the former parallel before the latter in my presentation is justified by the fact that what was gained in the former passed over much more directly and swiftly into the general life of the Church, than what was reached in the latter. Decades elapsed, for instance, before the apologetic theology came to be generally known and accepted in the Church, as is shown by the long continued conflict against Monarchianism. the arrangement chosen for the following presentation, which embraces the fundamental section of the history of Christian dogma.1515The origin of Catholicism can only be very imperfectly described within the framework of the history of dogma, for the political situation of the Christian communities in the Roman Empire had quite as important an influence on the development of the Catholic Church as its internal conflicts. But inasmuch as that situation and these struggles are ultimately connected in the closest way, the history of dogma cannot even furnish a complete picture of this development within definite limits. A few more remarks are, however, necessary.15
1. One special difficulty in ascertaining the genesis of the Catholic rules is that the churches, though on terms of close connection and mutual intercourse, had no real forum publicum, though indeed, in a certain sense, each bishop was in foro publico. As a rule, therefore, we can only see the advance in the establishment of fixed forms in the shape of results, without being able to state precisely the ways and means which led to them. We do indeed know the factors, and can therefore theoretically construct the development; but the real course of things is frequently hidden from us. The genesis of a harmonious Church, firmly welded together in doctrine and constitution, can no more have been the natural unpremeditated product of the conditions of the time than were the genesis and adoption of the New Testament canon of Scripture. But we have no direct evidence as to what communities had a special share in the development, although we know that the Roman Church played a leading part. Moreover, we can only conjecture that conferences, common measures, and synodical decisions were not wanting. It is certain that, beginning with the last quarter of the second century, there were held in the different provinces, mostly in the East, but later also in the West, Synods in which an understanding was arrived at on all questions of importance to Christianity, including, e.g., the extent of the canon.1616See Tertullian, de pudic. 10: “Sed cederem tibi, si scriptura Pastoris, quæ sola moechos amat, divino instrumento meruisset incidi, si non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum etiam vestrarum inter aprocrypha et falsa iudicaretur;” de ieiun. 13: “Aguntur præterea per Græcias certis in locis concilia ex universis ecclesiis, per quæ et altiora quæque in commune tractantur, et ipsa repræsentatio totius nominis Christiani magna veneratione celebratur.” We must also take into account here the intercourse by letter, in which connection I may specially remind the reader of the correspondence between Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, Euseb., H.E. IV. 23, and journeys such as those of Polycarp and Abercius to Rome. Cf. generally Zahn, Weltverkehr und Kirche während der drei ersten Jahrhunderte, 1877.
2. The degree of influence exercised by particular ecclesiastics 16on the development of the Church and its doctrines is also obscure and difficult to determine. As they were compelled to claim the sanction of tradition for every innovation they introduced, and did in fact do so, and as every fresh step they took appeared to themselves necessary only as an explanation, it is in many cases quite impossible to distinguish between what they received from tradition and what they added to it of their own. Yet an investigation from the point of view of the historian of literature shows that Tertullian and Hippolytus were to a great extent dependent on Irenæus. What amount of innovation these men independently contributed can therefore still be ascertained. Both are men of the second generation. Tertullian is related to Irenæus pretty much as Calvin to Luther. This parallel holds good in more than one respect. First, Tertullian drew up a series of plain dogmatic formulæ which are not found in Irenæus and which proved of the greatest importance in succeeding times. Secondly, he did not attain the power, vividness, and unity of religious intuition which distinguish Irenæus. The truth rather is that, just because of his forms, he partly destroyed the unity of the matter and partly led it into a false path of development. Thirdly, he everywhere endeavoured to give a conception of Christianity which represented it as the divine law, whereas in Irenæus this idea is overshadowed by the conception of the Gospel as real redemption. The main problem therefore resolves itself into the question as to the position of Irenæus in the history of the Church. To what extent were his expositions new, to what extent were the standards he formulated already employed in the Churches, and in which of them? We cannot form to ourselves a sufficiently vivid picture of the interchange of Christian writings in the Church after the last quarter of the second century.1717See my studies respecting the tradition of the Greek Apologists of the second century in the early Church in the Texte und Unters. z. Gesch. der alt christl. Litteratur, Vol. I. Part I. 2. Every important work speedily found its way into the churches of the chief cities in the Empire. The diffusion was not merely from East to West, though this was the general rule. At the beginning of the fourth century there was in Cæsarea a Greek translation of Tertullian’s Apology and a collection 17of Cyprian’s epistles.1818See Euseb., H.E. II. 2; VI. 43. The influence of the Roman Church extended over the greater part of Christendom. Up till about the year 260 the Churches in East and West had still in some degree a common history.
3. The developments in the history of dogma within the period extending from about 150 to about 300 were by no means brought about in the different communities at the same time and in a completely analogous fashion. This fact is in great measure concealed from us, because our authorities are almost completely derived from those leading Churches that were connected with each other by constant intercourse. Yet the difference can still be clearly proved by the ratio of development in Rome, Lyons, and Carthage on the one hand, and in Alexandria on the other. Besides, we have several valuable accounts showing that in more remote provinces and communities the development was slower, and a primitive and freer condition of things much longer preserved.1919See the accounts of Christianity in Edessa and the far East generally The Acta Archelai and the Homilies of Aphraates should also be specially examined. Cf. further Euseb., H. E. VI. 12, and finally the remains of the Latin-Christian literature of the third century — apart from Tertullian, Cyprian and Novatian — as found partly under the name of Cyprian, partly under other titles. Commodian, Arnobius, and Lactantius are also instructive here. This literature has been but little utilised with respect to the history of dogma and of the Church.
4. From the time that the clergy acquired complete sway over the Churches, that is, from the beginning of the second third of the third century, the development of the history of dogma practically took place within the ranks of that class, and was carried on by its learned men. Every mystery they set up therefore became doubly mysterious to the laity, for these did not even understand the terms, and hence it formed another new fetter.
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