|« Prev||Chapter 5. The Religion of the Spirit and of…||Next »|
THE RELIGION OF THE SPIRIT AND OF POWER, OF MORAL EARNESTNESS AND HOLINESS\341341In presenting this aspect of the Christian religion, one has either to be extremely brief or very copious. In the volume which has been already mentioned (on p. 125), Weinel has treated it with great thoroughness. Here I shall do no more than adduce the salient points.
In its missionary activities the Christian religion presented itself as something more than the gospel of redemption and of ministering love; it was also the religion of the Spirit and of power. No doubt, it verified its character as Spirit and power by the very fact that it brought redemption and succor to mankind, freeing them from demons (see above, pp. 125 f.) and from the misery of life. But the witness of the Spirit had a wider reach than even this. “I came to you in weakness and fear and with great trembling; nor were my speech and preaching in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. ii. 3, 4). Though Paul in these words is certainly thinking of his conflict with demons and of their palpable defeat, he is by no means thinking of that alone, but also of all the wonderful deeds that accompanied the labors of the apostles and the founding of the church. These were not confined to his own person. From all directions they were reported, in connection with other missionaries as well. Towards the close of the first century, when people came to look back upon the age in which the church had been established, the course of events was summed up in these words (Heb. ii. 3): “Salvation began by being spoken through the Lord, and was confirmed for us by those who heard it, while God accompanied 200their witness by signs and wonders and manifold miracles and distributions of the holy Spirit.”
The variety of expressions342342Cp. Justin's Dial. xxxix.: φωτιζόμενοι διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ χριστοῦ τούτου· ὁ μὲν γὰρ λαμβάνει συνέσεως πνεῦμα, ὁ δὲ βουλῆς, ὁ δὲ ἴσχύος, ὁ δὲ ἰάσεως, ὁ δὲ προγνώσεως, ὁ δὲ διδασκαλίας, ὁ δὲ φόβου θεοῦ (“Illuminated by the name of Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another the spirit of counsel, another the spirit of might, another the spirit of healing, another the spirit of foreknowledge, another the spirit of teaching, another the spirit of the fear of God”). here is in itself a proof of the number of phenomena which emerge in this connection. Let us try to single out the most important of them.
(1) God speaks to the missionaries in visions, dreams, and ecstasy, revealing to them affairs of moment and also trifles, controlling their plans, pointing out the roads on which they are to travel, the cities where they are to stay, and the persons whom they are to visit. Visions occur especially after a martyrdom, the dead martyr appearing to his friends during the weeks that immediately follow his death, as in the case of Potamiæna (Eus., H.E., vi. 5), or of Cyprian, or of many others.
It was by means of dreams that Arnobius (Jerome, Chron., p. 326) and others were converted. Even in the middle of the third century, the two great bishops Dionysius and Cyprian343343Cp. my essay on “Cyprian als Enthusiast” in the Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft iii. (1902), pp. 177 f. were both visionaries. Monica, Augustine's mother, like many a Christian widow, saw visions frequently; she could even detect, from a certain taste in her mouth, whether it was a real revelation or a dream-image that she saw (Aug., Conf., vi. 13. 23: “Dicebat discernere se nescio quo sapore, quem verbis explicare non poterat, quid interesset inter revelantem te et animam suam somniantem”). She was not the first who used this criterion.
(2) At the missionary addresses of the apostles or evangelists, or at the services of the churches which they founded, sudden movements of rapture are experienced, many of them being simultaneous seizures; these are either full of terror and dismay, convulsing the whole spiritual life, or exultant outbursts of a joy that sees heaven opened to its eyes. The simple question, “What must I do to be saved?” also bursts upon the mind with an elemental force.201
(3) Some are inspired who have power to clothe their experience in words—prophets to explain the past, to interpret and to fathom the present, and to foretell the future.344344These prophecies do not include, however, the Christian Sibylline oracles. The Jewish oracles were accepted in good faith by Christians, and quoted by them (ever since Hermas) as prophetic; but the production of Christian Sibyllines did not begin, in all likelihood, till after the middle of the third century. These oracles are an artificial and belated outcome of the primitive Christian enthusiasm, and are simply a series of forgeries. Cp. my Chronologie i., pp. 581 f., ii., pp. 184 f. Their prophecies relate to the general course of history, but also to the fortunes of individuals, to what individuals are to do or leave undone.
(4) Brethren are inspired with the impulse to improvise prayers and hymns and psalms.
(5) Others are so filled with the Spirit that they lose consciousness and break out in stammering speech and cries, or in unintelligible utterances—which can be interpreted, however, by those who have the gift.
(6) Into the hands of others, again, the Spirit slips a pen, either in an ecstasy or in exalted moments of spiritual tension; they not merely speak but write as they are bidden.
(7) Sick persons are brought and healed by the missionaries, or by brethren who have been but recently awakened; wild paroxysms of terror before God's presence are also soothed, and in the name of Jesus demons are cast out.
(8) The Spirit impels men to an immense variety of extraordinary actions—to symbolic actions which are meant to reveal some mystery or to give some directions for life, as well as to deeds of heroism.
(9) Some perceive the presence of the Spirit with every sense; they see its brilliant light, they hear its voice, they smell the fragrance of immortality and taste its sweetness. Nay more; they see celestial persons with their own eyes, see them and also hear them; they peer into what is hidden or distant or to come; they are even rapt into the world to come, into heaven itself, where they listen to “words that cannot be uttered.”345345Cp., however, Orig., Hom. xxvii. 11, in Num. (vol. 10, p. 353): “In visions there is wont to be temptation, for the angel of evil sometimes transforms himself into an angel of light. Hence you must take great care to discriminate the kind of vision, just as Joshua the son of Nun on seeing a vision knew there was a temptation in it, and at once asked the figure, Art thou on our side, or on our foes'?” (“Solet in visionibus esse tentatio; nam nonnunquam angelus iniquitatis transfigurat se in angelum lucis, et ideo cavendum est et sollicite agendum, ut scienter discernas visionum genus, sicut et Iesus Nave, cum visionem viderit, sciens in hoc esse tentationem, statim requisit ab eo qui apparuit et dicit: Noster es an adversariorum?”). See also what follows.202
(10) But although the Spirit manifests itself through marvels like these, it is no less effective in heightening the religious and the moral powers, which operate with such purity and power in certain individuals that they bear palpably the stamp of their divine origin. A heroic faith or confidence in God is visible, able to overthrow mountains, and towering far above the faith that lies in the heart of every Christian; charitable services are rendered which are far more moving and stirring than any miracle; a foresight and a solicitude are astir in the management of life, that operate as surely as the very providence of God. When these spiritual gifts, together with those of the apostles, prophets, and teachers, are excited, they are the fundamental means of edifying the churches, proving them thereby to be “churches of God.”
The amplest evidence for all these traits is to be found in the pages of early Christian literature from its earliest record down to Irenæus, and even further. The apologists allude to them as a familiar and admitted fact, and it is quite obvious that they were of primary importance for the mission and propaganda of the Christian religion. Other religions and cults could doubtless point to some of these actions of the Spirit, such as ecstasy, vision, demonic and anti-demonic manifestations, but nowhere do we find such a wealth of these phenomena presented to us as in Christianity; moreover, and this is of supreme importance, the fact that their Christian range included the exploits of moral heroism, stamped them in this field with a character which was all their own and lent them a very telling power. What existed elsewhere merely in certain stereotyped and fragmentary forms, appeared within Christianity in a wealth of expression where every function of the spiritual, the mental, and the moral life seemed actually to be raised above itself.346346We must not ignore the fact that these proofs of “the Spirit and power” were not favorable to the propaganda in all quarters. Celsus held that they were trickery, magic, and a gross scandal, and his opinion was shared by other sensible pagans, although the latter were no surer of their facts than Celsus himself. Paul had observed long ago that, instead of recommending Christianity, speaking with tongues might on the contrary discredit it among pagans (see 1 Cor. xiv. 23: “If the whole congregation assemble and all speak with tongues, then will not uneducated or unbelieving men, who may chance to enter, say that you are mad?”).203
In all these phenomena there was an implicit danger, due to the great temptation which people felt either to heighten them artificially, or credulously to exaggerate them,347347At that period, as all our sources show, belief in miracles was strong upon the whole; but in Christian circles it seems to have been particularly robust and unlimited, tending more and more to deprive men of any vision of reality. Compare, for example, the apocryphal Acts, a genre of literature whose roots lie in the second century. We must also note how primitive popular legends which were current acquired a Christian cast and got attached to this or that Christian hero or apostle or saint. One instance of this may be seen in the well-known stories of corpses which moved as if they could still feel and think. Tertullian (de Anima, li.) writes thus: “I know of one woman, even within the church itself, who fell peacefully asleep, after a singularly happy though short married life, in the bloom of her age and beauty. Before her burial was completed, when the priest had begun the appointed office, she raised her hands from her side at the first breath of his prayer, put them in the posture of devotion, and, when the holy service was concluded, laid them back in their place. Then there is the other story current among our people, that in a certain cemetery one corpse made way of its own accord for another to be laid alongside of it” (this is also told of the corpse of bishop Reticius of Autun at the beginning of the fourth century). or to imitate them fraudulently, or selfishly to turn them to their own account.348348Cp. what has been already said (p. 132) on exorcists being blamed, and also the description of the impostor Marcus given by Irenæus in the first book of his great work. When the impostor Peregrinus joined the Christians, he became (says Lucian) a “prophet,” and as such secured for himself both glory and gain. The Didachê had already endeavored to guard the churches against men of this kind, who used their spiritual gifts for fraudulent ends. There were even Christian minstrels; cp. the pseudo-Clementine epistle de Virginitate, ii. 6: “Nec proicimus sanctum canibus nec margaritas ante porcos; sed dei laudes celebramus cum omnimoda disciplina et cum omni prudentia et cum omni timore dei atque animi intentione. Cultum sacrum non exercemus ibi, ubi inebriantur gentiles et verbis impuris in conviviis suis blasphemant in impietate sua. Propterea non psallimus gentilibus neque scripturas illis praelegimus, ut ne tibicinibus aut cantoribus aut hariolis similes simus, sicut multi, qui ita agunt et haec faciunt, ut buccella panis saturent sese et propter modicum vini eunt et cantant cantica domini in terra aliena gentilium ac faciant quod non licet” (“We do not cast what is holy to the dogs nor throw pearls before swine, but celebrate the praises of God with perfect self-restraint and discretion, in all fear of God and with deliberate mind. We do not practice our sacred worship where the heathen get drunk and impiously blaspheme with impure speech at their banquets. Hence we do not sing to the heathen, nor do we read aloud our scriptures to them, that we may not be like flute-players, or singers, or soothsayers, as many are who live and act thus in order to get a mouthful of bread, going for a sorry cup of wine to sing the songs of the Lord in the strange land of the heathen and doing what is unlawful”). See also the earlier passage in i. 13: May God send workmen who are not “operarii mercenarii, qui religionem et pietatem pro mercibus habeant, qui simulent lucis filios, cum non sint lux sed tenebrae, qui operantur fraudem, qui Christum in negotio et quaestu habeant” (“mere hirelings, trading on their religion and piety, irritating the children of light although they themselves are not light but darkness, acting fraudulently, and making Christ a matter of profit and gain”).204
It was in the primitive days of Christianity, during the first sixty years of its course, that their effects were most conspicuous, but they continued to exist all through the second century, although in diminished volume.349349They must have been generally and inevitably discredited by the fact that the various parties in Christianity during the second century each denied that the other possessed the Spirit and power, explaining that when such phenomena occurred among its opponents they were the work of the devil, and unauthentic. Irenæus confirms this view.350350He actually declares (see above, p. 135) that people are still raised from the dead within the Christian church (ii. 31. 2). On the spiritual gifts still operative in his day, cp. ii. 32. 4: Διὸ καὶ ἐν τῷ ἐκείνου ὀνόματι (that of Jesus) οἱ ἀληθῶς αὐτοῦ μαθηταὶ, παῤ αὐτοῦ λαβόντες τὴν χάριν, ἐπιτελοῦσιν ἐπ᾽ εὐεργεσίᾳ τῇ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀνθρώπων, καθὼς εἷς ἕκαστος αὐτῶν δωρεὰν εἴληφε παῤ αὐτοῦ· οἱ μὲν γὰρ δαίμονας ἐλαύνουσι βεβαίως καὶ ἀληθῶς, ὥστε πολλάκισ καὶ πιστεύειν αὐτοὺς ἐκείνους τοὺς καθαρισθάντας ἀπὸ τῶν πονηρῶν πνευμάτων καὶ εἶναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ· οἱ δὲ καὶ πρόγνωσιν ἔχουσι τῶν μελλόντων καὶ ὀπτασίας καὶ ῥήσεις προφητικάς· ἄλλοι δὲ τοὺς κάμνοντας διὰ τῆς τῶν χειρῶν ἐπιθέσεως ἰῶνται καὶ ὑγιεῖς ἀποκαθιστᾶσιν· ἤδη δὲ καὶ νεκροὶ ἠγέρθησαν καὶ παρέμειναν σὺν ἡμῖν ἱκανοῖς ἔτεσι· καὶ τί γάρ; οὐκ ἔστιν ἀριθμὸν εἰπεῖν τῶν χαρισμάτων ὧν κατὰ παντὸς τοῦ κόσμου ἡ ἐκκλησία παρὰ θεοῦ λαβοῦσα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ σταυρωθέντος ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, ἑκάστης ἡμέρας ἐπ᾽ εὐεργεσίᾳ τῇ τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐπιτελεῖ (cp. above, p.135). Irenæus distinctly adds that these gifts were gratuitous. Along with other opponents of heresy, he blames the Gnostics for taking money and thus trading upon Christ. A prototype of this occurs as early as Acts viii. 15 f. (the Case of Simon Magus), where it is strongly reprimanded (τὸ ἀργύριόν σου σὺν σοὶ εἴη εἰς ἀπώλειαν, “Thy money perish with thee!”). The Montanist movement certainly gave new life to the “Spirit,” which had begun to wane; but after the opening of the third century the phenomena dwindle rapidly, and instead of being the hall-mark of the church at large, or of every individual community, they become no more than the endowment of a few favored individuals. The common life of the church has now its priests, its altar, its sacraments, its holy book and rule of faith. But it no longer possesses “the Spirit and power.”351351All the higher value was attached to such people as appeared to possess the Spirit. The more the phenomena of Spirit and power waned in and for the general mass of Christians, the higher rose that cultus of heroes in the faith (i.e., ascetics, confessors, and workers of miracles) which had existed from the very first. These all bear unmistakable signs of the Christ within them, in consequence of which they enjoy veneration and authority. Gradually, during the second half of the third century in particular, they took the place of the dethroned deities of paganism, though as a rule this position was not gained till after death.—Though Cyprian still made great use of visions and dreams, he merely sought by their means to enhance his episcopal authority. In several cases, however, they excited doubts and incredulity among people; cp. Ep. lxvi. 10: “Scio somnia ridicula et visiones ineptas quibusdam videri” (“I know that to some people dreams seem absurd and visions senseless”). This is significant. 205Eusebius is not the first (in the third book of his history) to look back upon the age of the Spirit and of power as the bygone heroic age of the church,352352H. E., iii. 37: “A great many wonderful works of the Holy Spirit were wrought in the primitive age through the pupils of the apostles, so that whole multitudes of people, on first hearing the word, suddenly accepted with the utmost readiness faith in the Creator of the universe.” for Origen had already pronounced this verdict on the past out of an impoverished present.353353In c. Cels. II. viii., he only declares that he himself has seen still more miracles. The age of miracles therefore lay for Origen in earlier days. In II. xlvii. he puts a new face on the miracles of Jesus and his apostles by interpreting them not only as symbolic of certain truths, but also as intended to win over many hearts to the wonderful doctrine of the gospel. Exorcisms and cures are represented by him as still continuing to occur (frequently; cp. I. vi.). From I. ii. we see how he estimated the present and the past of Christianity: “For our faith there is one especial proof, unique and superior to any advanced by aid of Grecian dialectic. This diviner proof is characterized by the apostle as ‘the demonstration of the Spirit and of power'—‘the demonstration of the Spirit' on account of the prophecies which are capable of producing faith in hearer and reader, ‘the demonstration of power' on account of the extraordinary wonders, whose reality can be proved by this circumstance, among many other things, that traces of them still exist among those who live according to the will of the Logos.” Yet this impoverishment and disenchantment hardly inflicted any injury now upon the mission of Christianity. During the third century, that mission was being prosecuted in a different way from that followed in the first and second centuries. There were no longer any regular missionaries—at least we never hear of any such. And the propaganda was no longer an explosive force, but a sort of steady fermenting process. Quietly but surely Christianity was expanding from the centers it had already occupied, diffusing itself with no violent shocks or concussions in its spread.
If the early Christians always looked out for the proofs of the Spirit and of power, they did so from the standpoint of their moral and religious energy, since it was for the sake of the latter object that these gifts had been bestowed upon the church. 206Paul describes this object as the edification of the entire church,354354Cp. pseudo-Clem., de Virgin., I. xi.: “Illo igitur charismate, quod a domino accepisti, illo inservi fratribus pneumaticis, prophetis, qui dignoscant dei esse verba ea, quae loqueris, et enarra quod accepisti charisma in ecclesiastico conventu ad aedificationem fratrum tuorum in Christo” (“Therefore with that spiritual gift which thou hast received from the Lord, serve the spiritual brethren, even the prophets, who know that the words thou speakest are of God, and declare the gift thou hast received in the church-assembly to the edification of thy brethren in Christ”). while as regards the individual, it is the new creation of man from death to life, from a worthless thing into a thing of value. This edification means a growth in all that is good (cp. Gal. v. 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control”), and the evidence of power is that God has not called many wise after the flesh, nor many noble, but poor and weak men, whom he transformed into morally robust and intelligent natures. Moral regeneration and the moral life were not merely one side of Christianity to Paul, but its very fruit and goal on earth. The entire labor of the Christian mission might be described as a moral enterprise, as the awakening and strengthening of the moral sense. Such a description would not be inadequate to its full contents.
Paul's opinion was shared by Christians of the sub-apostolic age by the apologists and great Christian fathers like Tertullian355355The highly characteristic passage in Apol. xlv., may be quoted in this connection: “Nos soli innocentes, quid mirum, si necesse est? enim vero necesse est. Innocentiam a deo edocti et perfecte eam novimus, ut a perfecto magistro revelatam, et fideliter custodiamus, ut ab incontemptibili dispectore mandatam. Vobis autem humana aestimatio innocentiam tradidit, humana item dominatio imperavit, inde nec plenae nec adeo timendae estis disciplinae ad innocentiae veritatem. Tanta est prudentia hominis ad demonstrandum bonum quanta auctoritas ad exigendum; tam illa falli facilis quam ista contemni. Atque adeo quid plenius, dicere: Non occides, an docere: ne irascaris quidem?” etc. (“We, then, are the only innocent people. Is that at all surprising, if it is inevitable? And inevitable it is. Taught of God what innocence is, we have a perfect knowledge of it as revealed by a perfect teacher, and we also guard it faithfully as commanded by a judge who is not to be despised. But as for you, innocence has merely been introduced among you by human opinions, and it is enjoined by nothing better than human rules; hence your moral discipline lacks the fullness and authority requisite for the production of true innocence. Human skill in pointing out what is good is no greater than human authority in enforcing obedience to what is good; the one is as easily deceived as the other is disobeyed. And so, which is the ampler rule—to say, ‘Thou shalt not kill,' or ‘Thou shalt not so much as be angry'?”) 207and Origen. Read the Didachê and the first chapter of Clemens Romanus, the conclusion of Barnabas, the homily entitled “Second Clement,” the “Shepherd” of Hermas, or the last chapter of the Apology of Aristides, and everywhere you find the ethical demands occupying the front rank. They are thrust forward almost with wearisome diffuseness and with a rigorous severity. Beyond all question, these Christian communities seek to regulate their common life by principles of the strictest morality, tolerating no unholy members in their midst,356356Martyr. Apoll., xxvi.: “There is a distinction between death and death. For this reason the disciples of Christ die daily, torturing their desires and mortifying them according to the divine scriptures; for we have no part at all in shameless desires, or scenes impure, or glances lewd, or ears attentive to evil, lest our souls thereby be wounded.” and well aware that with the admission of immorality their very existence at once ceases. The fearful punishment to which Paul sentences the incestuous person (1 Cor. 5) is not exceptional. Gross sinners were always ejected from the church. Even those who consider all religions, including Christianity, to be merely idiosyncrasies, and view progress as entirely identical with the moral progress of mankind—even such observers must admit that in these days progress did depend upon the Christian churches, and that history then had recourse to a prodigious and paradoxical system of levers in order to gain a higher level of human evolution. Amid all the convulsions of the soul and body produced by the preaching of a judgment, which was imminent, and amid the raptures excited by the Spirit of Christ, morality advanced to a position of greater purity and security. Above all, the conflict undertaken by Christianity was one against sins of the flesh, such as fornication, adultery, and unnatural vices. In the Christian communities, monogamy was held to be the sole permissible union of the sexes.357357It formed part of the preparation for Christianity that monogamy had almost established itself by this time among the Jews and throughout the Empire as the one legal form of union between the sexes. Christianity simply proclaimed as an ordinance of God what had already been carried out. Contrary practices, such as concubinage, were still tolerated, but they counted for little in the social organism. Of course the verdict on “fornication” throughout the Empire generally was just as lax as it had always been, and even adultery on the man's side was hardly condemned. The church had to join issue on these points. The indissoluble character of marriage 208was inculcated (apart from the case of adultery),358358We may ignore casuistry in this connection. and marriage was also secured by the very difficulties which second marriages encountered.359359The second century was filled with discussions and opinions about the permissibility of second marriages. Closely bound up with the struggle against carnal sins was the strict prohibition of abortion and the exposure of infants.360360Cp. the Didachê; Athenag., Suppl., xxxv., etc. (above, p. 123). Christians further opposed covetousness, greed, and dishonesty in business life; they attacked mammon-worship in every shape and form, and the pitiless temper which is its result. Thirdly, they combated double-dealing and falsehood. It was along these three lines, in the main, that Christian preaching asserted itself in the sphere of morals. Christians were to be pure men, who do not cling to their possessions and are not self-seeking; moreover, they were to be truthful and brave.
The apologists shared the views of the sub-apostolic fathers. At the close of his Apology, addressed to the public of paganism, Aristides exhibits the Christian life in its purity, earnestness, and love, and is convinced that in so doing he is expressing all that is most weighty and impressive in it. Justin follows suit. Lengthy sections of his great Apology are devoted to a statement of the moral principles in Christianity, and to a proof that these are observed by Christians. Besides, all the apologists rely on the fact that even their opponents hold goodness to be good and wickedness to be evil. They consider it superfluous to waste their time in proving that goodness is really goodness; they can be sure of assent to this proposition. What they seek to prove is that goodness among Christians is not an impotent claim or a pale ideal, but a power, which is developed on all sides and actually exercised in life.361361Celsus distinctly admits that the ethical ideas of Christianity agree with those of the philosophers (I. iv.); cp. Tert., Apol., xlvi.: “Eadem, inquit, et philosophi monent atque profitentur” (“These very things, we are told, the philosophers also counsel and profess”). Here too we must, however, recognize a complexio oppositorum, and that in a twofold sense. On the one hand, morality, viewed in its essence, is taken as self-evident; a general agreement prevails on this (purity in all the relationships of life, perfect love to one's neighbors, etc.). On the other hand, under certain circumstances it is still maintained that Christian ethics are qualitatively distinct from all other ethics, and that they cannot be understood or practiced apart from the Spirit of God. This estimate answers to the double description given of Christian morality, which on one side is correct behavior in every relationship on earth, while on the other side it is a divine life and conduct, which is supernatural and based on complete asceticism and mortification. This extension of the definition of morality, which is most conspicuous in Tatian, was not, however, the original creation of Christianity; it was derived from the ethics of the philosophers. Christianity merely took it over and modified it. This is easily understood, if we read Philo, Clement, and Origen. It was of special importance 209to them to be able to show (cp. the argument of the apostle Paul) that what was weak and poor and ignoble rose thereby to strength and worth. “They say of us, that we gabble nonsense among females, half-grown people, girls, and old women.362362Celsus, III. xliv.: “Christians must admit that they can only persuade people destitute of sense, position, or intelligence, only slaves, women, and children, to accept their faith.” Not so. Our maidens ‘philosophize,' and at their distaffs speak of things divine” (Tatian, Orat., xxxiii.). “The poor, no less than the well-to-do, philosophize with us” (ibid., xxxii.). “Christ has not, as Socrates had, merely philosophers and scholars as his disciples, but also artizans and people of no education, who despise glory, fear, and death.”363363Justin, Apol., II. x. He adds: δύναμίς ἐστιν τοῦ ἀρρήτου πατρὸς καὶ οὐχὶ ἀνθρωπείου λόγου κατασκευή (“He is a power of the ineffable Father, and no mere instrument of human reason”). So Diognet. vii.: ταῦτα ἀνθρώπου οὐ δοκεῖ τὰ ἔργα, ταῦτα δύναμίς ἐστι θεοῦ (“These do not look like human works; they are the power of God”). “Among us are uneducated folk, artizans, and old women who are utterly unable to describe the value of our doctrines in words, but who attest them by their deeds.”364364Athenag., Suppl. xi.; cp. also Justin, Apol., I. lx.: παῤ ἡμῖν οὖν ἔστι ταῦτα ἀκοῦσαι καὶ μαθεῖν παρὰ τῶν οὐδὲ τοὺς χαρακτῆρας τῶν στοιχείων ἐπισταμένων, ἰδιωτῶν μὲν καὶ βαρβάρων τὸ φθέγμα, σοφῶν δὲ καὶ πιστῶν τὸν νοῦν ὄντων, καὶ πηρῶν καὶ χήρων τινῶν τὰς ὄψεις· ὡς συνεῖναι οὐ σοφίᾳ ἀνθρωπείᾳ ταῦτα γεγονέναι, ἀλλὰ δυνάμει θεοῦ λέγεσθαι (“Among us you can hear and learn these things from people who do not even know the forms of letters, who are uneducated and barbarous in speech, but wise and believing in mind, though some of them are even maimed and blind. From this you may understand these things are due to no human wisdom, but are uttered by the power of God”). Tertull., Apol., xlvi.: “Deum quilibet opifex Christianus et invenit, et ostendit, et exinde totum quod in deum quaeritur re quoque adsignat, licet Plato adfirmet factitatorem universitatis neque inveniri facilem et inventum enarrari in omnes difficilem” (“There is not a Christian workman who does not find God, and manifest him, and proceed to ascribe to him all the attributes of deity, although Plato declares the maker of the universe is hard to find, and hard, when found, to be expounded to all and sundry”). Similar retorts are addressed by 210Origen to Celsus (in his second book), and by Lactantius (Instit., VI. iv.) to his opponents.
A whole series of proofs is extant, indicating that the high level of morality enjoined by Christianity and the moral conduct of the Christian societies were intended to promote, and actually did promote, the direct interests of the Christian mission.365365Ignat., ad Ephes. x.: ἐπιτρέψατε αὐτοῖς (i.e., the heathen) κἂν ἐκ τῶν ἔργων ὑμῖν μαθητευθῆναι· πρὸς τὰς ὀργὰς αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς πραεῖς, πρὸς τὰς μεγαλορρημοσύνας αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς ταπεινόφρονες, πρὸς τὰς βλασφημίας αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς τὰς προσευχάς . . . . μὴ σπουδάζοντες ἀντιμιμήσασθαι αὐτούς· ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν εὑρεθῶμεν τῇ ἐπιεικείᾳ· μιμητὰι τοῦ κυρίου σπουδάζωμεν εἶναι (“Allow them to learn a lesson at least from your works. Be meek when they break out in anger, be humble against their vaunting words, set your prayers against their blasphemies . . . .; be not zealous to imitate them in requital. Let us show ourselves their brethren by our forbearance, and let us be zealous to be imitators of the Lord”). The apologists not infrequently lay great stress on this.366366Cp. also 2 Clem. lxiii.: τὰ ἔθνη ἀκούοντα ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ἡμῶν τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς καλὰ καὶ μεγάλα θαυμάζει· ἔπειτα καταμαθόντα τὰ ἔργα ἡμῶν ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἄξια τῶν ῥημάτων ὧν λέγομεν, ἔνθεν εἰς βλασφημίαν τρέπονται, λέγοντες εἶναι μῦθόν τινα καὶ πλάνην (“When the Gentiles hear from our mouth the words of God, they wonder at their beauty and greatness; then, discovering our deeds are not worthy of the words we utter, they betake themselves to blasphemy, declaring it is all a myth and error”). Such instances therefore did occur. Indirectly, they are a proof of what is argued above. Tatian mentions “the excellence of its moral doctrines” as one of the reasons for his conversion (Orat., xxix.), while Justin declares that the steadfastness of Christians convinced him of their purity, and that these impressions proved decisive in bringing him over to the faith (Apol., II. xii.). We frequently read in the Acts of the Martyrs (and, what is more, in the genuine sections) that the steadfastness and loyalty of Christians made an overwhelming impression on those who witnessed their trial or execution; so much so, that some of these spectators suddenly decided to become Christians themselves.367367Even the second oldest martyrdom of which we know, that of James, the son of Zebedee, as related by Clement of Alexandria in his Hypotyposes (cp. Eus., H.E., ii. 9), tells how the accuser himself was converted and beheaded along with the apostle.—All Christians recognised that the zenith of Christian morality was reached when the faith was openly confessed before the authorities, but the sectarian Heracleon brought forward another view, which of course they took seriously amiss. His contention was that such confession in words might be hypocritical as well as genuine, and that the only conclusive evidence was that afforded by the steady profession, which consists in words and actions answering the faith itself (Clem. Alex., Strom., IV. ix. 71 f.). 211But it is in Cyprian's treatise “to Donatus” that we get the most vivid account of how a man was convinced and won over to Christianity, not so much by its moral principles, as by the moral energy which it exhibited. Formerly he considered it impossible to put off the old man and put on the new. But “after I had breathed the heavenly spirit in myself, and the second birth had restored me to a new manhood, then doubtful things suddenly and strangely acquired certainty for me. What was hidden disclosed itself; darkness became enlightened; what was formerly hard seemed feasible, and what had appeared impossible seemed capable of being done.”
Tertullian and Origen speak in similar terms.
But it is not merely Christians themselves who bear witness that they have been lifted into a new world of moral power, of earnestness, and of holiness; even their opponents bear testimony to their purity of life. The abominable charges circulated by the Jews against the moral life of Christians did hold their own for a long while, and were credited by the common people as well as by many of the educated classes.368368Probably, e.g., by Fronto, the teacher of M. Aurelius (cp. the Octavius of Minutius Felix), and also by Apuleius, if the woman described in Metam., ix. 14 (omnia prorsus ut in quandam caenosam latrinam in eius animam flagitia confluxerant—“every vice had poured into her soul, as into some foul cesspool”) was a Christian (spretis atque calcatis divinis numinibus invicem certae religionis mentita sacrilega presumptione dei, quem praedicaret unicum—“scorning and spurning the holy deities in place of the true religion, she affected to entertain a sacrilegious conception of God—the only God, as she proclaimed”). The orator Aristides observed in the conduct of Christians a mixture of humility and arrogance, in which he finds a resemblance between them and the Jews (Orat., xlvi.). This is his most serious charge, and Celsus raises a similar objection (see Book III., Chapter V.). But anyone who examined the facts found something very different. Pliny told Trajan that he had been unable to prove anything criminal or vicious on the part of Christians during all his examination of them, and that, on the contrary, the purpose of their gatherings was to make themselves more conscientious and virtuous.369369“Adfirmabant autem [i.e., the Christians under examination] hanc fuisse summam vel culpae suae vel erroris, quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem, seque sacramento non in scelus aliquod obstringere, sed ne furta, ne latrocinia, ne adulteria committerent, ne fidem fallerent, ne depositum appellati abnegarent” (“They maintained that the head and front of their offending or error had been this, that they were accustomed on a stated day to assemble ere daylight and sing in turn a hymn to Christ as a god, and also that they bound themselves by an oath, not for any criminal end, but to avoid theft or robbery or adultery, never to break their word, or to repudiate a deposit when called upon to refund it”). 212Lucian represents the Christians as credulous fanatics, but also as people of a pure life, of devoted love, and of a courage equal to death itself. The last-named feature is also admitted by Epictetus and Aurelius.370370Both of course qualify their admission. Epictetus (Arrian, Epict. Diss., iv. 7. 6) declares that the Galileans' ἀφοβία before tyrants was due to habit, while Aurelius attributes the readiness of Christians to die, to ostentation (Med. xi. 3). Most important of all, however, is the testimony of the shrewd physician Galen. He writes (in his treatise371371Extant in Arabic in the Hist. anteislam. Abulfedae (ed. Fleischer, p. 109). Cp. Kalbfleisch in the Festschrift für Gomperz (1902), pp. 96 f., and Norden's Kunstprosa, pp. 518 f. “de Sententiis Politiæ Platonicæ”) as follows: “Hominum plerique orationem demonstrativam continuam morte assequi nequeunt, quare indigent, ut instituantur parabolis. veluti nostro tempore videmus homines illos, qui Christiani vocantur, fidem suam e parabolis petiisse. Hi tamen interdum talia faciunt, qualia qui vere philosophantur. Nam quod mortem contemnunt, id quidem omnes ante oculos habemus; item quod verecundia quadam ducti ab usu rerum venerearum abhorrent. sunt enim inter eos et feminae et viri, qui per totam vitam a concubitu abstinuerint;372372From the time of Justin (and probably even earlier) Christians were always pointing, by way of contrast to the heathen, to the group of their brethren and sisters who totally abjured marriage. Obviously they counted on the fact that such conduct would evoke applause and astonishment even among their opponents (even castration was known, as in the case of Origen and of another person mentioned by Justin). Nor was this calculation quite mistaken, for the religious philosophy of the age was ascetic. Still, the applause was not unanimous, even among strict moralists. The pagan in Macarius Magnes, III. xxxvi. (i.e., Porphyry) urged strongly against Paul that in 1 Tim. iv. 1 he censures those who forbid marriage, while in 1 Cor. 7 he recommends celibacy, even although he has to admit he has no word of the Lord upon virgins. “Then is it not wrong to live as a celibate, and also to refrain from marriage at the order of a mere man, seeing that there is no command of Jesus extant upon celibacy? And how can some women who live as virgins boast so loudly of the fact, declaring they are filled with the Holy Ghost like her who bore Jesus?” The suspicious attitude of the early Christians towards sexual intercourse (even in marriage) comes out in Paul unmistakably. On this point the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (beginning with the Acts of Paul) are specially significant, as they mirror the popular ideas on the subject. The following facts may be set down in this connection. (1) Marriage was still tolerated as a concession to human weakness. (2) The restriction of sexual intercourse, or even entire abstinence from it, was advocated and urgently commended. (3) Second marriage was designated “a specious adultery” (εὑπρεπὴς μοιχεία). (4) Virgins were persuaded to remain as they were. (5) Instead of marriage, platonic ties (“virgines subintroductæ”) were formed, audaciously and riskily. Cp. Tertull., de Resurr., viii.: “Virginitas et viduitas et modesta in occulto matrimonii dissimulatio et una notitia eius (“Virginity and widowhood and secret self-restraint upon the marriage-bed and the sole practical recognition of that restraint [i.e., monogamy]”). Such, in the order of diminuendo, were the four forms assumed by sexual asceticism. sunt etiam qui in 213animis regendis coercendisque et in acerrimo honestatis studio eo progressi sint, ut nihil cedant vere philosophantibus.”373373“As a rule, men are unable to follow consecutively any argumentative speech, so that they need to be educated by means of parables. Just as in our own day we see the people who are called Christians seking their faith from parables. Still, they occasionally act just as true philosophers do. For their contempt of death is patent to us all, as is their abstinence from the use of sexual organs, by a certain impulse of modesty. For they include women and men who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives, and they also number individuals who in ruling and controlling themselves, and in their keen pursuit of virtue, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of real philosophers.” Galen, of course, condemns the faith of Christians as a mere obstinate adherence to what is quite unproven: περὶ διαφορᾶς σφυγμῶν, II. iv. (ἵνα μή τις εὐθὺς κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς, ὡς εἰς Μωυσοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ διατριβὴν ἀφιγμένος, νόμων ἀναποδείκτων ἀκούῃ—“That no one may hastily give credence to unproven laws, as if he had reached the way of life enjoined by Moses and Christ”), and III. iii. (θᾶττον ἄν τις τοὺς ἀπὸ Μωυσοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ μεταδιδάξειεν ἢ τοὺς ταῖς αἵρεσι προστετηκότας ἰατρούς τε καὶ φιλοσόφους—“One could more easily teach novelties to the adherents of Moses and Christ than to doctors and philosophers who are stuck fast in the schools”). One can hardly imagine a more impartial and brilliant testimony to the morality of Christians. Celsus, too, a very prejudiced critic of Christians, finds no fault with their moral conduct. Everything about them, according to him, is dull, mean, and deplorable; but he never denies them such morality as is possible under the circumstances.
As the proof of “the Spirit and of power” subsided after the beginning of the third century, the extraordinary moral tension also became relaxed, paving the way gradually for a morality which was adapted to a worldly life, and which was no longer equal to the strain of persecution.374374The number of those who lapsed during the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian was extraordinarily large; but Tertullian had already spoken of “people who are only Christians if the wind happens to be favorable” (Scorp., i.). This began as far back as the second century, in connection with the question, whether any, and if so what, post-baptismal sins could be forgiven. 214But the various stages of the process cannot be exhibited in these pages. It must suffice to remark that from about 230 A.D. onwards, many churches followed the lead of the Roman church in forgiving gross bodily sins, whilst after 251 A.D. most churches also forgave sins of idolatry. Thus the circle was complete; only in one or two cases were crimes of exceptional atrocity denied forgiveness, implying that the offender was not re-admitted to the church. It is quite obvious from the later writings of Tertullian (“nostrorum bonorum status iam mergitur,” de Pudic., i.), and from many a stinging remark in Origen's commentaries, that even by 220 A.D. the Christian churches, together with their bishops and clergy, were no longer what they had previously been, from a moral point of view;375375The “Shepherd” of Hermas shows, however, the amount of trouble which even at an earlier period had to be encountered. nevertheless (as Origen expressly emphasizes against Celsus; cp. III. xxix.-xxx.) their morals still continued to excel the morals of other guilds within the empire and of the population in the cities, whilst the penitential ordinances between 251 and 325, of which we possess no small number, point to a very earnest endeavor being made to keep up morality and holiness of life. Despite their moral deterioration, the Christian churches must have still continued to wield a powerful influence and fascination for people of a moral disposition.
But here again we are confronted with the complexio oppositorum. For the churches must have also produced a powerful effect upon people in every degree of moral weakness, just on account of that new internal development which had culminated about the middle of the third century. If the churches hitherto had been societies which admitted people under the burden of sin, not denying entrance even to the worst offender, but securing him forgiveness with God and thereafter requiring him to continue pure and holy, now they had established themselves voluntarily or involuntarily as societies based upon unlimited forgiveness. Along with baptism, and subsequent to it, they had now developed a second sacrament; it was still without form, but they relied upon it as a thing which had form, and considered themselves justified in applying it in almost every 215case—it was the sacrament of penitence. Whether this development enabled them to meet the aims of their Founder better than their more rigorous predecessors, or whether it removed them further from these aims, is not a question upon which we need to enter. The point is that now for the first time the attractive power of Christianity as a religion of pardon came fully into play. No doubt, everything depended on the way in which pardon was applied but it was not merely a frivolous scoff on the part of Julian the apostate when he pointed out that the way in which the Christian churches preached and administered forgiveness was injurious to the best interests of morality, and that there were members in the Christian churches whom no other religious societies would tolerate within their bounds. The feature which Julian censured had arisen upon a wide scale as far back as the second half of the third century. When clerics of the same church started to quarrel with each other, as in the days of Cyprian at Carthage, they instantly flung at each other the most heinous charges of fraud, of adultery, and even of murder. One asks, in amazement and indignation, why the offending presbyter or deacon had not been long ago expelled from the church, if such accusations were correct? To this question no answer can be given. Besides, even if these repeated and almost stereotyped charges were not in every case well founded, the not less serious fact remains that one brother wantonly taxed another with the most heinous crimes. It reveals a laxity that would not have been possible, had not a fatal influence been already felt from the reverse side of the religion of the merciful heart and of forgiveness.
Still, this forgiveness is not to be condemned by the mere fact that it was extended to worthless characters. We are not called upon to be its judges. We must be content to ascertain, as we have now ascertained, that while the character of the Christian religion, as a religion of morality, suffered some injury in the course of the third century, this certainly did not impair its powers of attraction. It was now sought after as the religion which formed a permanent channel of forgiveness to mankind. Which was partly due, no doubt, to the fact that different groups of people were now appealing to it.216
Yet, if this sketch of the characteristics of Christianity is not to be left unfinished two things must still be noted. One is this: the church never sanctioned the thesis adopted by most of the gnostics,376376It is surprising that the attractiveness of these (gnostic) ideas was not greater than it seems to have been. But by the time that they sought to establish their situation on Christian soil or to force their way in, the church's organization was well knit together, so that gnosticism could do no more in the way of breaking it up or creating a rival institution. that there was a qualitative distinction of human beings according to their moral capacities, and that in consequence of this there must also be different grades in their ethical conduct and in the morality which might be expected from them. But there was a primitive distinction between a morality for the perfect and a morality which was none the less adequate, and this distinction was steadily maintained. Even in Paul there are evident traces of this view alongside of a strictly uniform conception. The Catholic doctrine of “præcepta” and “consilia” prevailed almost from the first within the Gentile church, and the words of the Didachê which follow the description of “the two ways” (c. vi.: “If thou canst bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou shalt be perfect: but if thou canst not, do what thou canst”) only express a conviction which was very widely felt. The distinction between the “children” and the “mature” (or perfect), which originally obtained within the sphere of Christian knowledge, overflowed into the sphere of conduct, since both spheres were closely allied.377377The ascetics are not only the “perfect” but also the “religious,” strictly speaking. Cp. Origen (Hom. ii. in Num., vol. x. p. 20), who describes virgins, ascetics, and so forth, as those “qui in professione religionis videntur”; also Hom. xvii. in Luc. (vol. v. p. 151), where, on 1 Cor. i. 2, he observes: “Memini cum interpretarer 1 Cor. i. 2 dixisse me diversitatem ecclesiae et eorum qui invocant nomen domini. Puto enim monogamum et virginem et eum, qui in castimonia perseverat, esse de ecclesia dei, eum vero, qui sit digamus, licet bonam habeat conversationem et ceteris virtutibus polleat, tamen non esse de ecclesia et de numero, qui non habent rugam aut maculam aut aliquid istius modi, sed esse de secundo gradu et de his qui invocant nomen domini, et qui salvantur quidem in nomine Jesu Christi, nequaquam tamen coronantur ab eo” (church = virgins, ascetics, and the once married: those who call on the name of the Lord = the second rank, i.e., the twice married, even though their lives are pure otherwise). Christianity had always her heroic souls in asceticism and poverty and so forth. They were held in exceptional esteem (see above), and they had actually to be warned, even 217in the sub-apostolic age, against pride and boasting (cp. Ignat., ad Polyc. v.: εἴ τις δύναται ἐν ἁγνείᾳ μένειν εἰς τιμὴν τῆς σαρκὸς τοῦ κυρίου, ἐν ἀκαυχησίᾳ μενέτω· ἐάν καυχήσηται, ἀπώλετο—“If anyone is able to remain in purity to the honor of the flesh of the Lord, let him remain as he is without boasting of it. If he boast, he is a lost man;” also Clem. Rom. xxxviii.: ὁ ἁγνὸς ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἤτω καὶ μὴ ἀλαζονευέσθω—“Let him that is pure in the flesh remain so and not boast about it”). It was in these ascetics of early Christianity that the first step was taken towards monasticism.
Secondly, veracity in matters of fact is as liable to suffer as righteousness in every religion: every religion gets encumbered with fanaticism, the indiscriminate temper, and fraud. This is writ clear upon the pages of church history from the very first. In the majority of cases, in the case of miracles that have never happened, of visions that were never seen, of voices that were never heard, and of books that were never written by their alleged authors, we are not in a position at this time of day to decide where self-deception ended and where fraud began, where enthusiasm became deliberate and then passed into conventional deception, any more than we are capable of determining, as a rule, where a harsh exclusiveness passes into injustice and fanaticism. We must content ourselves with determining that cases of this kind were unfortunately not infrequent, and that their number increased. What we call priest-craft and miracle-fraud were not absent from the third or even from the second century. They are to be found in the Catholic church as well as in several of the gnostic conventicles, where water was changed into wine (as by the Marcosians) or wine into water (cp. the books of Jeû).
Christianity, as the religion of the Spirit and of power, contained another element which proved of vital importance, and which exhibited pre-eminently the originality of the new faith. This was its reverence for the lowly, for sorrow, suffering, and death, together with its triumphant victory over these contradictions of human life. The great incentive and example alike for the eliciting and the exercise of this virtue lay in the Redeemer's life and cross. Blent with patience and hope, this reverence overcame any external hindrance; it recognized in 218suffering the path to deity, and thus triumphed in the midst of all its foes. “Reverence for what is beneath us—this is the last step to which mankind were fitted and destined to attain. But what a task it was, not only to let the earth lie beneath us, we appealing to a higher birthplace, but also to recognize humility and poverty, mockery and despite, disgrace and wretchedness, suffering and death—to recognize these things as divine.”378378Goethe, Wanderjahre xxiv., p. 243. Here lies the root of the most profound factor contributed by Christianity to the development of the moral sense, and contributed with perfect strength and delicacy. It differentiates itself, as an entirely original element, from the similar phenomena which recur in several of the philosophical schools (e.g., the Cynic). Not until a much later period, however,—from Augustine onwards,—did this phase of feeling find expression in literature.
Even what is most divine on earth has its shadow nevertheless, and so it was with this reverence. It was inevitable that the new aesthetic, which it involved, should become an aesthetic of lower things, of death and its grim relics; in this way it ceased to be aesthetic by its very effort to attain the impossible, until finally a much later period devised an aesthetic of spiritual agony and raptures over suffering. But there was worse behind. Routine and convention found their way even into this phase of feeling. What was most profound and admirable was gradually stripped of its inner spirit and rendered positively repulsive379379Goethe (ibid., p. 255) has said the right word on this as well: “We draw a veil over those sufferings (the sufferings of Christ in particular), just because we reverence them so highly. We hold it is a damnable audacity to take these mysterious secrets, in which the depth of the divine sorrow lies hid, and play with them, fondle them, trick them out, and never rest until the supreme object of reverence appears vulgar and paltry.” by custom, common talk, mechanical tradition, and ritual practices. Yet, however strongly we feel about the unsightly phlegm of this corruption, and however indignantly we condemn it, we should never forget that it represented the shadow thrown by the most profound and at the same time the most heroic mood of the human soul in its spiritual exaltation; it is, in fact, religion itself, fully ripe.219
|« Prev||Chapter 5. The Religion of the Spirit and of…||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version