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THE RELIGION OF AUTHORITY AND OF REASON, OF THE MYSTERIES AND OF TRANSCENDENTALISM
“Some Christians [evidently not all] will not so much as give or accept any account of what they believe. They adhere to the watchwords ‘Prove not, only believe,' and ‘Thy faith shall save thee.' Wisdom is an evil thing in the world, folly a good thing.” So Celsus wrote about the Christians (I. ix.). In the course of his polemical treatise he brings forward this charge repeatedly in various forms; as in I. xii., “They say, in their usual fashion, ‘Enquire not'”; I. xxvi. f., “That ruinous saying of Jesus has deceived men. With his illiterate character and lack of eloquence he has gained of course almost no one but illiterate people”;380380Still Celsus adds that there are also one or two discreet, pious, reasonable people among the Christians, and some who are experts in intelligent argument. III. xliv., “The following rules are laid down by Christians, even by the more intelligent among them. ‘Let none draw near to us who is educated, or shrewd, or wise. Such qualifications are in our eyes an evil. But let the ignorant, the idiots, and the fools come to us with confidence'”; vi. x. f., “Christians say, ‘Believe first of all that he whom I announce to thee is the Son of God.”' “All are ready to cry out, ‘Believe if thou wilt be saved, or else be gone.' What is wisdom among men they describe as foolishness with God, and their reason for this is their desire to win over none but the uneducated and simple by means of this saying.” Justin also represents Christians being charged by their opponents with 220making blind assertions and giving no proof (Apol., I. lii.), while Lucian declares (Peregr., xiii.) that they “received such matters on faith without the slightest enquiry” (ἄνευ τινὸς ἀκριβοῦς πίστεως τὰ τοιαῦτα παρεδέξαντο).
A description and a charge of this kind were not entirely unjustified. Within certain limits Christians have maintained, from the very first, that the human understanding has to be captured and humbled in order to obey the message of the gospel. Some Christians even go a step further. Bluntly, they require a blind faith for the word of God. When the apostle Paul views his preaching, not so much in its content as in its origin, as the word of God, and even when he notes the contrast between it and the wisdom of this world, his demand is for a firm, resolute faith, and for nothing else. “We bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. x. 5), and—the word of the cross tolerates no σοφία λόγου (no wisdom of speech), it is to be preached as foolishness and apprehended by faith (1 Cor. i. 17 f.). Hence he also issues a warning against the seductions of philosophy (Col. ii. 8). Tertullian advanced beyond this position much more boldly. He prohibited Christians (de Præscr. viii. f.) from ever applying to doctrine the saying, “Seek and ye shall find.” “What,” he exclaims (op. cit., vii.), “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or the Academy with the church? What have heretics to do with Christians? Our doctrine originates with the porch of Solomon, who had himself taught that men must seek the Lord in simplicity of heart. Away with all who attempt to introduce a mottled Christianity of Stoicism and Platonism and dialectic! Now that Jesus Christ has come, no longer need we curiously inquire, or even investigate, since the gospel is preached. When we believe, we have no desire to sally beyond our faith. For our belief is the primary and palmary fact. There is nothing further that we have still to believe beyond our own belief. . . . . To be ignorant of everything outside the rule of faith, is to possess all knowledge.”381381Cp. de Carne Christi, ii.: “Si propheta es, praenuntia aliquid; si apostolus, praedica publice; si apostolicus, cum apostolis senti; si tantum Christianus es, crede quod traditum est” (“If you are a prophet, predict something; if an apostle, preach openly; if a follower of the apostles, think as they thought; if you are merely a Christian individual, believe tradition”). But faith was many a time more rigorous among the masses (the “simpliciores” or “simplices et idiotae”) than theologians—even than Tertullian himself—cared. Origen's laments over this are numerous (cp.,`e.g., de Princip., iv. 8).221
Many missionaries may have preached in this way, not merely after but even previous to the stern conflict with gnosticism. Faith is a matter of resolve, a resolve of the will and a resolve to obey. Trouble it not by any considerations of human reason!
Preaching of this kind is only possible if at the same time some powerful authority is set up. And such an authority was set up. First and foremost (cp. Paul), it was the authority of the revealed will of God as disclosed in the mission of the Son to earth. Here external and internal authority blended and coincided, for while the divine will is certainly an authority in itself (according to Paul's view), and is also capable of making itself felt as such, without men understanding its purpose and right (Rom. 9 f.), the apostle is equally convinced that God's gracious will makes itself intelligible to the inner man.
Still, even in Paul, the external and internal authority vested in the cross of Christ is accompanied by other authorities which claim the obedience of faith. These are the written word of the sacred documents and the sayings of Jesus. In their case also neither doubt nor contradiction is permissible.
For all that, the great apostle endeavored to reason out everything, and in the last resort it is never a question with him of any “sacrifice of the intellect” (see below). Some passages may seem to contradict this statement, but they only seen to do so. When Paul demands the obedience of faith and sets up the authority of “the word” or of “the cross,” he simply means that obedience of faith which is inseparable from any religion whatsoever, no matter how freely and spiritually it may be set forth. But, as Celsus and Tertullian serve to remind us (if any reminder at all is necessary on this point), many missionaries and teachers went about their work in a very different manner. They simply erected their authority wherever they went; it was the letter of Scripture more and more,382382For details on the significance of the Bible in the mission, see Chapter VIII. 222but ere long it became the rule of faith, together with the church (the church as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” στῦλος καὶ ἑδραίωμα τῆς ἀληθείας, as early as 1 Tim. iii. 15). True, they endeavored to buttress the authority of these two magnitudes, the Bible and the church, by means of rational arguments (the authority of the Bible being supported by the proof from the fulfillment of prophecy, and that of the church by the proof from the unbroken tradition which reached back to Christ himself and invested the doctrine of the church with the value of Christ's own words). In so doing they certainly did not demand an absolutely blind belief. But, first of all, it was assuredly not every missionary or teacher who was competent to lead such proofs. They were adduced only by the educated apologists and controversialists. And in the second place, no inner authority can ever be secured for the Bible and the church by means of external proofs. The latter really remained a sort of alien element. At bottom, the faith required was blind faith.
Still, it would be a grave error to suppose that for the majority of people the curt demand that authorities must be simply believed and reason repudiated, acted as a serious obstacle to their acceptance of the Christian religion.383383Naturally it did repel highly cultured men like Celsus and Porphyry. For Celsus, see above, p. 219. Porphyry, the pagan in Macarius Magnes (IV. ix.), writes thus on Matt. xi. 25: “As the mysteries are hidden from the wise and thrown down before minors and senseless sucklings (in which case, of course, even what is written for minors and senseless people should have been clear and free from obscurity), it is better to aim at a lack of reason and of education! And this is the very acme of Christ's sojourn upon earth, to conceal the ray of knowledge from the wise and to unveil it to the senseless and to small children!” In reality, it was the very opposite. The more peremptory and exclusive is the claim of faith which any religion makes, the more trustworthy and secure does that religion seem to the majority; the more it relieves them of the duty and responsibility of reflecting upon its truth, the more welcome it is. Any firmly established authority thus acts as a sedative. Nay more. The most welcome articles of faith are just the most paradoxical, which are a mockery of all experience and rational reflection; the reason for this being that they appear to guarantee the 223disclosure of divine wisdom and not of something which is merely human and therefore unreliable. “Miracle is the favorite child of faith.” That is true of more than miracles; it applies also to the miraculous doctrines which cannot be appropriated by a man unless he is prepared to believe and obey them blindly.
But so long as the authorities consisted of books and doctrines, the coveted haven of rest was still unreached. The meaning of these doctrines always lies open to some doubt. Their scope, too, is never quite fixed. And, above all, their application to present-day questions is often a serious difficulty, which leads to painful and disturbing controversies. “Blind faith” never gains its final haven until its authority is living, until questions can be put to it, and answers promptly received from it. During the first generations of Christendom no such authority existed; but in the course of the second century and down to the middle of the third, it was gradually taking shape—I mean, the authority of the church as represented in the episcopate. It did not dislodge the other authorities of God's saving purpose and the holy Scripture, but by stepping to their side it pushed them into the background. The auctoritas interpretiva is invariably the supreme and real authority. After the middle of the third century, the church and the episcopate developed so far that they exercised the functions of a sacred authority. And it was after that period that the church first advanced by leaps and bounds, till it became a church of the masses. For while the system of a living authority in the church had still defects and gaps of its own—since in certain circumstances it either exercised its functions very gradually or could not enforce its claims at all—these defects did not exist for the masses. In the bishop or priest, or even in the ecclesiastical fabric and the cultus, the masses were directly conscious of something holy and authoritative to which they yielded submission, and this state of matters had prevailed for a couple of generations by the time that Constantine granted recognition and privileges to Christianity. This was the church on which he conferred privileges, this church with its enormous authority over the masses! These were the Christians whom he declared 224to be the support of the throne, people who clung to the bishops with submissive faith and who would not resist their divinely appointed authority! The Christianity that triumphed was the Christianity of blind faith, which Celsus has depicted. When would a State ever have shown any practical interest in any other kind of religion?
Christianity is a complexio oppositorum. The very Paul who would have reason brought into captivity, proclaimed that Christianity, in opposition to polytheism, was a “reasonable service of God” (Rom. xii. 1, λογικὴ λατρεία), and declared that what pagans thought folly in the cross of Christ seemed so to those alone who were blinded, whereas what Christians preached was in reality the profoundest wisdom. He went on to declare that this was not merely reserved for us as a wisdom to be attained in the far future, but capable of being understood even at present by believers as such. He promised that he would introduce the “perfect” among them to its mysteries.384384For the “perfect,” see p. 216. They constitute a special class for Paul. The distinction came to be sharply drawn at a later period, especially in the Alexandrian school, where one set of Christian precepts was formed for the “perfect” (“those who know”), another for believers. Christ himself was said by the Alexandrians (not merely by the gnostics) to have committed an esoteric doctrine to his intimate disciples and to have provided for its transmission. Cp. Clement of Alexandria, as quoted in Eus., H.E., ii. 1: Ἰακώβῳ τῷ δικαίῳ καὶ Ἰωάννῃ καὶ Πέτρῳ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν παρέδωκεν τὴν γνῶσιν ὁ κύριος, οὗτοι τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀποστόλοις παρέδωκαν, κ.τ.λ. (“The Lord delivered all knowledge after the resurrection to James the Just, and John, and Peter; they delivered it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy,” etc.). This promises (cp., e.g., 1 Cor. ii. 6 f., σοφίαν ἐν τοῖς τελείοις) he made good; yet he never withheld this wisdom from those who were children or weak in spiritual things. He could not, indeed he dared not, utter all he understood of God's word and the cross of Christ—λαλοῦμεν θεοῦ σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην (“We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom”)—but he moved freely in the realm of history and speculation, drawing abundantly from “the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” In Paul one feels the joy of the thinker who enters into the thoughts of God, and who is convinced that in and with and through his faith he has 225passed from darkness into light, from confusion, cloudiness, and oppression into the lucid air that frees the soul.
“We have been rescued from darkness and lifted into the light”—such was the chant which rose from a chorus of Christians during those early centuries. It was intellectual truth and lucidity in which they reveled and gloried. Polytheism seemed to them an oppressive night; now that it was lifted off them, the sun shone clearly in the sky! Wherever they looked, everything became clear and sure in the light of spiritual monotheism, owing to the living God. Read, for example, the epistle of Clemens Romanus,385385Especially chap. xix. f. the opening of the Clementine Homily,3863862 Clem. i. 4-6: τὸ φὼς ἡμῖν ἐχαρίσατο . . . . πηροὶ ὄντες τῇ διανοίᾳ προσκυνοῦντες λίθους καὶ ζύλα καὶ χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον καὶ χαλκόν, ἔργα ἀνθρώπων . . . . ἀμαύρωσιν οὖν περικείμενοι καὶ τοιαύτης ἀχλύος γέμοντες ἐν τῇ ὁράσει ἀνεβλέψαμεν (“He bestowed on us the light . . . . we were blind in understanding, worshipping stones and stocks and gold and silver and brass, the works of men. . . . . Thus, girt with darkness and oppressed by so thick a mist in our vision, we regained our sight”). There are numerous passages of a similar nature. or the epistle of Barnabas;387387Cp. chap. i., chap. ii. 2 f. listen to the apologists, or study Clement of Alexandria and Origen. They gaze at Nature, only to rejoice in the order and unity of its movement; heaven and earth are a witness to them of God's omnipotence and unity. They ponder the capacities and endowments of human nature, and trace in them the Creator. In human reason and liberty they extol his boundless goodness; they compare the revelations and the will of God with this reason and freedom, and lo, there is entire harmony between them! Nothing is laid on man which does not already lie within him, nothing is revealed which is not already presupposed in his inward being. The long-buried religion of nature, religion μετὰ λόγου, has been rediscovered.388388Cp. Justin's Apology, Tertullian's tract de Testimonio Animæ, etc. They look at Christ, and scales fall, as it were, from their eyes! What wrought in him was the Logos, the very Logos by which the world had been created and with which the spiritual essence of man was bound up inextricably, the Logos which had wrought throughout human history in all that was noble and good, and which was finally obliged to reveal its power completely in order to dissipate the obstacles 226and disorders by which man was beset—so weak was he, for all the glory of his creation. Lastly, they contemplate the course of history, its beginning, middle, and end, only to find a common purpose everywhere, which is in harmony with a glorious origin and with a still more glorious conclusion. The freedom of the creature, overcome by the allurements of demons, has occasioned disorders, but the disorders are to be gradually removed by the power of the Christ-Logos. At the commencement of history humanity was like a child, full of good and divine instincts, but as yet untried and liable to temptation; at the close, a perfected humanity will stand forth, fated to enter immortality. Reason, freedom, immortality—these are to carry the day against error, failure, and decay.
Such was the Christianity of many people, a bright and glad affair, the doctrine of pure reason. The new doctrine proved a deliverance, not an encumbrance, to the understanding. Instead of imposing foreign matter on the understanding, it threw light upon its own darkened contents. Christianity is divine revelation, but it is at the same time pure reason; it is the true philosophy.
Such was the conception entertained by most of the apologists, and they tried to show how the entire content of Christianity was embraced by this idea. Anything that did not fit in, they left out. It was not that they rejected it. They simply explained it afresh by means of their “scientific” method, i.e., the method of allegorical spiritualizing, or else they relegated it to that great collection of evidence, the proof of prophecy. In this way, anything that seemed obnoxious or of no material value was either removed or else enabled to retain a formal value as dart of the striking proof which confirmed the divine character of Christianity. It is impossible in these pages to exhibit in detail the rational philosophy which thus emerged;389389I have endeavored to expound it in my Dogmengeschichte I.(3), pp. 462-507 [Eng. trans., iii. 267 f.]. for our immediate purpose it is enough to state that a prominent group of Christian teachers existed as late as the opening of the fourth century (for Lactantius was among their number) who held this conception of Christianity. As apologists and as 227teachers ex cathedra they took an active part in the Christian mission. Justin,390390See the Acta Justini, and his Apology. We know that Tatian had Rhodon as one of his pupils (Eus., H.E. v. 13). for example, had his “school,” no less than Tatian. The theologians in the royal retinue of Constantine also pursued this way of thinking, and it permeated any decree of Constantine that touched on Christianity, and especially his address to the holy council.391391This address, even apart from its author, is perhaps the most impressive apology ever written (for its genuineness, see my Chronologie, ii. pp. 116 f., and Wendland in Philolog. Wochenschr. 1902, No. 8). It was impressive for half-educated readers, i.e., for the educated public of those days. Very effectively, it concludes by weaving together the (fabricated) prophecies of the Sibylline oracles and the (interpolated) Eclogue of Virgil, and by contrasting the reign of Constantine with those of his predecessors. The Christianity it presents is exclusive; even Socrates finds no favor, and Plato is sharply censured (ch. ix.) as well as praised. Still, it is tinged with Neoplatonism. The Son of God as such and as the Christ is put strongly in the foreground; he is God, at once God's Son and the hero of a real myth. But everything shimmers in a sort of speculative haze which corresponds to the style, the latter being poetic, flowery, and indefinite. When Eusebius wishes to make the new religion intelligible to the public at large, he describes it as the religion of reason and lucidity; see, for example, the first book of his church history and the life of Constantine with its appendices. We might define all these influential teachers as “rationalists of the supernatural,” to employ a technical term of modern church history; but as the revelation was continuous, commencing with creation, never ceasing, and ever in close harmony with the capacities of men, the term “supernatural” is really almost out of place in this connection. The outcome of it all was a pure religious rationalism, with a view of history all its own, in which, as was but natural, the final phenomena of the future tallied poorly with the course traversed in the earlier stages. From Justin, Commodian, and Lactantius, we learn how the older apocalyptic and the rationalistic moralism were welded together, without any umbrage being taken at the strange blend which this produced.
But authority and reason, blind faith and clear insight, do not sum up all the forms in which Christianity was brought 228before the world. The mental standpoint of the age and its religious needs were so manifold that it was unwilling to forgo any form, even in Christianity, which was capable of transmitting anything of religious value. It was a complex age, and its needs made even the individual man complex. The very man who longed for an authority to which he might submit blindfold, often longed at the same moment for a reasonable religion; nor was he satisfied even when he had secured them both, but craved for something more, for sensuous pledges which gave him a material representation of holy things, and for symbols of mysterious power. Yet, after all, was this peculiar to that age? Was it only in these days that men have cherished such desires?
From the very outset of the Christian religion, its preaching was accompanied by two outward rites, neither less nor more than two, viz., baptism and the Lord's supper. We need not discuss either what was, or what was meant to be, their original significance. The point is, that whenever we enter the field of Gentile Christianity, their meaning is essentially fixed; although Christian worship is to be a worship in spirit and in truth, these sacraments are sacred actions which operate on life, containing the forgiveness of sins, knowledge, and eternal life.392392See the gospel of John, the epistle of John, and the Didachê with its sacramental prayer. No doubt, the elements of water, bread, and wine are symbols, and the scene of operation is not external; still, the symbols do actually convey to the soul all that they signify. Each symbol has a mysterious but real connection with the fact which it signifies.
To speak of water, bread, and wine as holy elements, or of being immersed in water that the soul might be washed and purified: to talk of bread and wine as body and blood, or as the body and the blood of Christ, or as the soul's food for immortality: to correlate water and blood—all this kind of language was quite intelligible to that age. It was intelligible to the blunt realist, as well as to the most sublime among what may be called “the spiritualists.” The two most sublime spiritualists of the church, namely, John and Origen, were the most profound exponents of the mysteries, while the great gnostic 229theologians linked on their most abstract theosophies to realistic mysteries. They were all sacramental theologians. Christ, they held, had connected, and in fact identified, the benefits he brought to men with symbols; the latter were the channel and vehicle of the former; the man who participates in the unction of the holy symbol gets grace thereby. This was a fact with which people were familiar from innumerable mysteries; in and with the corporeal application of the symbol, unction or grace was poured into the soul. T he connection seemed like a predestined harmony, and in fact the union was still more inward. The sentence of the later schoolmen, “Sacramenta continent gratiam,” is as old as the Gentile church, and even older, for it was in existence long before the latter sprang into being.
The Christian religion was intelligible and impressive, owing to the fact that it offered men sacraments.393393Many, of course, took umbrage at the Lord's supper as the eating and drinking of flesh and blood. The criticism of the pagan (Porphyry) in Mac. Magnes, III. xv., is remarkable. He does not attack the mystery of the supper in the Synoptic tradition, but on John vi. 53 (“Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in yourselves”) he observes: “Is it not, then, bestial and absurd, surpassing all absurdity and bestial coarseness, for a man to eat human flesh and drink the blood of his fellow tribesman or relative, and thereby win life eternal? [Porphyry, remember, was opposed to the eating of flesh and the tasting of blood in general.] Why, tell me what greater coarseness could you introduce into life, if you practice that habit? What further crime will you start, more accursed than this loathsome profligacy? The ear cannot bear to hear it mentioned—and by ‘it,' I am far from meaning the action itself, I mean the very name of this strange, utterly unheard of offence. Never, even in extraordinary emergencies, was anything like this offence enacted before mankind in the most fantastic presentations of the Erinyes. Not even would the Potidæans have admitted anything like this, although they had been debilitated by inhuman hunger. Of course we know about Thyestes and his meals, etc. [then follow similar cases from antiquity]. All these persons unintentionally committed this offence. But no civilized person ever served up such food, none ever got such gruesome instructions from any teacher. And if thou wert to pursue thine inquiries as far as Scythia or the Macrobii of Ethiopia, or to travel right round the margin of the sea itself, thou wouldst find people who eat lice and roots, or live on serpents, and make mice their food, but all refrain from human flesh. What, then, does this saying mean? For even although it was meant to be taken in a more mystical or allegorical (and therefore profitable) sense, still the mere sound of the words upon the ear grates inevitably on the soul, and makes it rebel against the loathsomeness of the saying. . . . . Many teachers, no doubt, attempt to introduce new and strange ideas. But none has ever devised a precept so strange and horrible as this, neither historian nor philosopher, neither barbarian nor primitive Greek. See here, what has come over you that you foolishly exhort credulous people to follow such a faith? Look at all the mischief that is set thus afoot to storm the cities as well as the villages! Hence it was, I do believe, that neither Mark nor Luke nor Matthew mentioned this saying, just because they were of opinion that it was unworthy of civilized people, utterly strange and unsuitable and quite alien to the habits of honorable life.” Without its 230mysteries, people would have found it hard to appreciate the new religion. But who can tell how these mysteries arose? No one was to blame, no one was responsible. Had not baptism chanced to have been instituted, had not the observance of the holy supper been enjoined (and can any one maintain that these flowed inevitably from the essence of the gospel?), then some sacrament would have been created out of a parable of Jesus, not of a word or act of some kind or another. The age for material and certainly for bloody sacrifices was now past and gone; these were no longer the alloy of any religion. But the age of sacraments was very far from being over; it was in full vigor and prime. Every hand that was stretched out for religion, tried to grasp it in sacramental form; the eye saw sacraments where sacraments there were none, and the senses gave them body.394394By the end of the second century, at the very latest, the disciplina arcani embraced the sacraments, partly owing to educational reasons, partly to the example of pagan models. It rendered them still more weighty and impressive.
Water and blood, bread and wine—though the apostle Paul was far from being a sacramental theologian, yet even he could not wholly avoid these mysteries, as is plain if one will but read the tenth chapter of First Corinthians, and note his speculations upon baptismal immersion. But Paul was the first and almost395395Not quite the last, for Marcion and his disciples do not seem to have been sacramental theologians at all. the last theologian of the early church with whom sacramental theology was really held in check by clear ideas and strictly spiritual considerations. After him all the flood-gates were opened, and in poured the mysteries with their lore. In Ignatius, who is only sixty years later than Paul, they had already dragged down and engulfed the whole of intelligent theology. A man like the author of Barnabas believes he has fathomed the depths of truth when he connects his ideas with the water, the blood, and the cross. And the man who wrote 231these words—“There are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree in one” (1 John v. 8)—had a mind which lived in symbols and in mysteries. In the book of Revelation the symbols generally are not what we call “symbols” but semi-real things — e.g., the Lamb, the blood, the washing and the sprinkling, the seal and the sealing. Much of this still remains obscure to us. What is the meaning, for example, of the words (1 John ii. 27) about the “unction,” an unction conveying knowledge which is so complete that it renders any further teaching quite unnecessary?
But how is this, it may be asked? Is not John a thorough “spiritualist”? And are not Origen, Valentinus, and Basilides also “spiritualists”? How, then, can we assert that their realistic expressions meant something else to them than mere symbols? In the case of John this argument can be defended with a certain amount of plausibility, since we do not know his entire personality. All we know is John the author. And even as an author he is known to us merely on one side of his nature, for he cannot have always spoken and written as he does in his extant writings. But in regard to the rest, so far as they are known to us on several sides of their characters, the plea is untenable. This is plain from a study of Clement and Origen, both of whom are amply accessible to us. In their case the combination of the mysterious realistic element with the spiritual is rendered feasible by the fact that they have simply no philosophy of religion at all which is capable of being erected upon one level, but merely one which consists of different stories built one upon the other.396396This construction is common to them and to the idealist philosophers of their age. In the highest of these stories, realism of every kind certainly vanishes; in fact, even the very system of intermediate agencies and forces, including the Logos itself, vanishes entirely, leaving nothing but God and the souls that are akin to him. These have a reciprocal knowledge of each other's essence, they love each other, and thus are absorbed in one another. But ere this consummation is reached, a ladder must be climbed. And every stage or rung has special forces which correspond to it, implying a theology, a metaphysic, and 232an ethic of its own. On the lowest rung of the ascent, religion stands in mythological guise accompanied by sacraments whose inward value is as yet entirely unknown. Even so, this is not falsehood but truth. It answers to a definite state of the soul, and it satisfies this by filling it with bliss. Even on this level the Christian religion is therefore true. Later on, this entirely ceases, and yet it does not cease. It ceases, because it is transcended; it does not cease, because the brethren still require this sort of thing, and because the foot of the ladder simply cannot be pulled away without endangering its upper structure.
After this brief sketch we must now try to see the significance of the realistic sacramental theology for these spiritualists. Men like Origen are indeed from our standpoint the most obnoxious of the theologians who occupied themselves with the sacraments, the blood, and the atonement. In and with these theories they brought back a large amount of polytheism into Christianity by means of a back-door, since the lower and middle stories of their theological edifice required397397For a considerable length of time one of the charges brought by Christians against the Jews was that of angel-worship (Preaching of Peter, in Clem. Alex., Strom., vi. 5; Arist., Apol., xiv. Celsus also is acquainted with this charge, and angel-worship is, of course, a note of the errorists combated in Colossians). Subsequently the charge came to be leveled against the Christians themselves, and Justin had already written rather incautiously (Apol. I. vi.): [τὸν θεὸν] καὶ τὸν παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ υἱὸν ἐλθόντα καὶ διδάξαντα ἡμᾶς ταῦτα καὶ τὸν τῶν ἄλλων ἑπομένων καὶ ἐξομοιουμένων ἀγαθῶν ἀγγέλων στρατόν, πνεῦμά τε τὸ προφητικὸν σεβόμεθα καὶ προσκυνοῦμεν (“Both God and the Son who came from him and taught us these things, also the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to him, and also the prophetic Spirit—these we worship and adore”). The four words πνεῦμά τε τὸ προφητικὸν are supposed by some to be an interpolation. to be furnished with angels and archangels, æons, semi-gods, and deliverers of every sort. This was due both to cosmological and to soteriological reasons, for the two correspond like the lines AB and BA.398398As to the “descent” and “ascent” of the soul, cp. Anz., “Zu Frage nach dem Ursprung des Gnosticismus” (Texte u. Unters. xv. 4, 1897). But, above all, theology was enabled by this means to respond to the very slightest pressure of popular religion, and it is here, of course, that we discover the final clue to the singular enigma now before us. This theology of the mysteries and of these varied layers and stages afforded the best means of conserving the spiritual character of the Christian 233religion upon the upper level, and at the same time of arranging any compromise that might be desirable upon the lower. This was hardly the result of any conscious process. It came about quite naturally, for everything was already present in germ at the very first when sacraments were admitted into the religion.399399The necessity of priests and sacrifices was an idea present from the first in Gentile Christianity—even at the time when Christians sought with Paul to know of spiritual sacrifices alone and of the general priesthood of believers. Cp. Justin's Dial., cxvi.: οὐ δέχεται παρ᾽ οὐδενὸς θυσίας ὁ θεός, εἰ μὴ διὰ τῶν ἱερέων αὐτοῦ (“God receives sacrifices from no one, save through his priests”).
So much for the lofty theologians. With the inferior men the various stages dropped away and the sacramental factors were simply inserted in the religion in an awkward and unwieldy fashion. Read over the remarks made even in that age by Justin the rationalist upon the “cross,” in the fifty-fifth chapter of his Apology. A more sturdy superstition can hardly be imagined. Notice how Tertullian (de Bapt., i.) speaks of “water” and its affinity with the holy Spirit! One is persuaded, too, that all Christians with one consent attributed a magical force, exercised especially over demons, to the mere utterance of the name of Jesus and to the sign of the cross. One can also read the stories of the Lord's supper told by Dionysius of Alexandria, a pupil of Origen, and all that Cyprian is able to narrate as to the miracle of the host. Putting these and many similar traits together, one feels driven to conclude that Christianity has become a religion of magic, with its center of gravity in the sacramental mysteries. “Ab initio sic non erat” is the protest that will be entered. “From the beginning it was not so.” Perhaps. But one must go far back to find that initial stage—so far back that its very brief duration now eludes our search.
Originally the water, the bread and wine (the body and the blood), the name of Jesus, and the cross were the sole sacraments of the church, whilst baptism and the Lord's super were the sole mysteries. But this state of matters could not continue. For different reasons, including reasons of philosophy, the scope of all sacraments tended to be enlarged, and so our period witnesses the further rise of sacramental details—anointing, the laying on of hands, sacred oil and salt, etc. But the most 234momentous result was the gradual assimilation of the entire Christian worship to the ancient mysteries. By the third century it could already rival the most imposing cultus in all paganism, with its solemn and precise ritual, its priests, its sacrifices, and its holy ceremonies.
These developments, however, are by no means to be judged from the standpoint of Puritanism. Every age has to conceive and assimilate religion as it alone can; it must understand religion for itself, and make it a living thing for its own purposes. If the traits of Christianity which have been described in the preceding chapters have been correctly stated, if Christianity remained the religion of God the Father, of the Saviour and of salvation, of love and charitable enterprise, then it was perhaps a misfortune that the forms of contemporary religion were assumed. But the misfortune was by no means irreparable. Like every living plant, religion only grows inside a bark. Distilled religion is not religion at all.
Something further, however, still remains to be considered.
We have already seen how certain influential teachers—teachers, in fact, who founded the whole theology of the Christian Church—felt a strong impulse, and made it their definite aim, to get some rational conception of the Christian religion and to present it as the reasonable religion of mankind. This feature proved of great importance to the mission and extension of Christianity. Such teachers at once joined issue with contemporary philosophers, and, as the example of Justin proves, they did not eschew even controversy with these opponents. They retained all that they had in common with Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics; they showed how far people could go with them on the road; they attempted to give an historical explanation400400Jewish Alexandrian philosophers had been the pioneers in this direction, and all that was really needed was to copy them. But they had employed a variety of methods in their attempt, amongst which a choice had to he made. All these attempts save one were childish. One was quite appropriate, viz., that which explained the points of agreement by the sway of the same Logos which worked in the Jewish prophets and in the pagan philosophers and poets. One attempt, again, was naïve, viz., that which sought to expose the Greek philosophers and poets as plagiarists—though Celsus tried to do the same thing with reference to Christ. Finally, it was both naive and fanatical to undertake to prove that all agreements of the philosophers with Christian doctrine were but a delusion and the work of the devil. of the points in common between themselves and paganism; 235and in this way they inaugurated the great adjustment of terms which was inevitable, unless Christians chose to remain a tiny sect of people who refused to concern themselves with culture and scientific learning. Still, as these discussions were carried on in a purely rational spirit, and as there was a frankly avowed partiality for the idea that Christianity was a transparently rational system, vital Christian truths were either abandoned or at any rate neglected. This meant a certain impoverishment, and a serious dilution, of the Christian faith.
Such a type of knowledge was certainly different from Paul's idea of knowledge, nor did it answer to the depths of the Christian religion. In one passage, perhaps, the apostle himself employs rational considerations of a Stoic character, when those were available for the purposes of his apologetic (cp. the opening sections of Romans), but he was hardly thinking about such ideas when he dwelt upon the Christian σοφία, σύνεσις, ἐπιστήμη, and γνῶσις (“wisdom,” “intelligence,” “understanding,” and “knowledge”). Something very different was present to his mind at such moments. He was thinking of absorption in the being of God as revealed in Christ, of progress in the knowledge of his saving purpose, manifested in revelation and in history, of insight into the nature of sin or the power of demons (those “spirits of the air”) or the dominion of death, of the boundless knowledge of God's grace, and of the clear anticipation of life eternal. In a word, he had in view a knowledge that soared up to God himself above all thrones, dominions, and principalities, and that also penetrated the depths from which we are delivered—a knowledge that traced human history from Adam to Christ, and that could, at the same time, define both faith and love, both sin and grace.
Paradoxical as it may appear, these phases of knowledge were actually fertilized and fed by the mysteries. From an early period they attached themselves to the mysteries. It was in the train of the mysteries that they crossed from the soil of heathenism, and it was by dint of the mysteries that they grew and developed 236upon the soil of Christianity. The case of the mysteries was at that time exactly what it was afterwards in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Despite all their acuteness, it was not the rationalists among the schoolmen who furthered learning and promoted its revival—it was the cabbalists, the natural philosophers, the alchemists, and the astrologers. What was the reason of this, it may be asked? How can learning develop itself by aid of the mysteries? The reply is very simple. Such development is possible, because learning or knowledge is attained by aid of the emotions and the imagination. Both are therefore able to arouse and to revive it. The great speculative efforts of the syncretistic philosophy of religion, whose principles have been already outlined (cp. pp. 30 f.), were based upon the mysteries (i.e., upon the feelings and fancies, whose products were thrown into shape by the aid of speculation). The gnostics, who to a man were in no sense rationalists, attempted to transplant these living and glowing speculations to the soil of Christianity, and withal to preserve intact the supremacy of the gospel. The attempt was doomed to fail. Speculations of this kind contained too many elements alien to the spirit of Christianity which could not be relinquished.401401These included the distinction between the god of creation (the demiurgus) and the god of redemption (redemption corresponding to emanation, not to creation), the abandonment of the Old Testament god, the dualistic opposition of soul and body, the disintegration of the redemptive personality, etc. Above all, redemption to the syncretist and the gnostic meant the separation of what had been unnaturally conjoined, while to the Christian it meant the union of what had been unnaturally divided. Christianity could not give up the latter conception of redemption, unless she was willing to overturn everything. Besides, this conception alone was adequate to the monarchical position of God. But as separate fragments, broken up as it were into their constituent elements, they were able to render, and they did render, very signal services to a fruitful Christian philosophy of religion—these separate elements being originally prior perhaps to the combinations of later ages. All the more profound conceptions generated within Christianity subsequently to the close of the first century, all the transcendental knowledge, all those tentative ideas, which nevertheless were of more value than mere logical deductions—all this sprang in large measure from the contact of Christianity with the ancient lore 237of the mysteries. It disengaged profound conceptions and rendered them articulate. This is unmistakable in the case of John or of Ignatius or of Irenæus, but the clearest case is that of the great Alexandrian school. Materials valuable and useless alike, sheer fantasy and permanent truth which could no longer be neglected, all were mixed up in a promiscuous confusion—although this applies least of all to John, who, more than anyone, managed to impress a lofty unity even upon the form and expression of his thoughts. Such ideas will, of course, be little to the taste of anyone who holds that empiricism or rationalism confines knowledge within limits which one must not so much as try to overleap; but anyone who assigns greater value to tentative ideas than to a deliberate absence of all ideas whatsoever, will not be disposed to underestimate the labor expended by the thinkers of antiquity in connection with the mysteries. At any rate, it is beyond question that this phase of Christianity, which went on developing almost from the very hour of its birth, proved of supreme importance to the propaganda of the religion. Christianity gained special weight from the fact that in the first place it had mysterious secrets of its own, which it sought to fathom only to adore them once again in silence, and secondly, that it preached to the perfect in another and a deeper sense than it did to simple folk. These mysterious secrets may have had, as it is plain that they did have, a deadening effect on thousands of people by throwing obstacles in the way of their access to a rational religion; but on other people they had a stimulating effect, lending them wings to soar up into a supra-sensible world.402402With this comparative appreciation of speculation in early Christianity, we concede the utmost that can be conceded in this connection. It is a time-honored view that the richest fruit of Christianity, and in fact its very essence, lies in that “Christian” metaphysic which was the gradual product of innumerable alien ideas dragged into contact with the gospel. But this assertion deserves respect simply on the score of its venerable age. If it were true, then Jesus Christ would not be the founder of his religion, and indeed he would not even be its forerunner, since be neither revealed any philosophy of religion nor did he lay stress on anything which from such a standpoint is counted as cardinal. The Greeks certainly forgot before very long the Pauline saying ἐκ μέρους γινώσκομεν . . . . βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι (“We know in part . . . . for now we see in a mirror, darkly”;), and they also forgot that as knowledge (γνῶσις) and wisdom (σοφία) are charismatic gifts, the product of these gifts affords no definition of what Christianity really is. Of the prominent teachers, Marcion, Apelles, and to some extent Irenæus, were the only ones who remained conscious of the limitations of knowledge.238
This ascent into the supra-sensible world (θεοποίησις, apotheosis) was the last and the highest word of all. The supreme message of Christianity was its promise of this divine state to every believer. We know how, in that age of the twilight of the gods, all human hopes concentrated upon this aim, and consequently a religion which not only taught but realized this apotheosis of human nature (especially in a form so complete that it did not exclude even the flesh) was bound to have an enormous success. Recent investigations into the history of dogma have shown that the development of Christian doctrine down to Irenæus must be treated in this light, viz., with the aim of proving how the idea of apotheosis—that supreme desire and dream of the ancient world, whose inability to realize it cast a deep shadow over its inner life—passed into Christianity, altered the original lines of that religion, and eventually dominated its entire contents.403403Cp. my Dogmengeschichte (third ed.) i., especially pp. 516 f. [Eng. trans., iii. 275 f.]. The presupposition for it in primitive Christianity was the promise of a share in the future kingdom of God. As yet no one could foresee what was to fuse itself with this premise and transform it. But Paul coordinated with it the promise of life eternal in a twofold way: as given to man in justification (i.e., in the Spirit, as an indissoluble inner union with the love of God), and as infused into man through holy media in the shape of a new nature. The fourth evangelist has grasped this double idea still more vividly, and given it sharper outline. His message is the spiritual and physical immanence of life eternal for believers. Still, the idea of love outweighs that of a natural transformation in his conception of the unity of believers with the Father and Son, so that he only approaches the verge of the conception. “We have become gods.” He still seems to prefer the expression “children of God.” The apologists also keep the idea of apotheosis secondary to that of a full knowledge of God,404404Yet cp. Justin., Dial. cxxiv., a parallel to the great section in John. x. 33 f. but even after the great epoch when “gnosticism” was opposed and assimilated, the church went 239forward in the full assurance that she understood and preached apotheosis as the distinctive product of the Christian religion. When she spoke of “adoptio” by God, or of “participatio dei,” for example, although a spiritual relationship continued to be understood, yet its basis and reality lay in a sacramental renewal of the physical nature: “Non ab initio dii facti sumus; sed primo quidem homines, tunc demum dii” (We were not made gods at first; at first we were men, thereafter we became gods at length). These are the words of Irenæus (cp. IV. xxxviii. 4, and often elsewhere), and this was the doctrine of Christian teachers after him. “Thou shalt avoid hell when thou hast gained the knowledge of the true God. Thou shalt have an immortal and incorruptible body as well as a soul, and shalt obtain the kingdom of heaven. Thou who hast lived on earth and knows the heavenly King, shalt be a friend of God and a joint-heir with Christ, no longer held by lusts, or sufferings, or sicknesses. For thou hast become divine, and all that pertains to the God-life hath God promised to bestow on thee, seeing that thou, now become immortal, art deified.”405405Hippol., Philos. x. 34. Cp. pseudo-Hippolytus, Theoph., viii.: εἰ ἀθάνατος γέγονεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἔσται καὶ θεός (“If man become immortal, he shall also be divine”). This was the sort of preaching which anyone could understand, and which could not be surpassed.
Christianity, then, is a revelation which has to be believed, an authority which has to be obeyed, the rational religion which may be understood and proved, the religion of the mysteries or the sacraments, the religion of transcendental knowledge. So it was preached. It was not that every missionary expressed but one aspect of the religion. The various presentations of it were all mixed up together, although every now and then one of them would acquire special prominence. It is with amazement that we fathom the depths of this missionary preaching; yet those who engaged in it were prepared at any moment to put everything else aside and rest their whole faith on the confession that “There is one God of heaven and earth, and Jesus is the Lord.”240
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