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FROM AN ESSAY ON ST. PAUL AND THE TWELVE
EVENTS of the greatest importance in the annals of mankind are not always seen to be important, until the hour for preserving them is past. There is a time before biography passes into history, when a society has not yet learned to register its acts, and individuals have not awoke to the consciousness of national or ecclesiastical life. In this intermediate period, events the most fruitful in results may lie buried (the unfolding of the germ in the bosom of the earth is not the least part of the growth of the plant); they may also be reproduced in a new form and their spirit misunderstood by the imperfect knowledge of after ages. Two or three centuries elapse; documents are lost or tampered with, or confused; there is no eye of criticism to penetrate their meaning. The historian has ‘the veil upon his face’ of a later generation; he cannot see through the events, institutions, opinions in the circle of which he lives. Who can tell what went on in a ‘large upper room’ about the year 40? which may, nevertheless, have had great consequences for the world and the Church. Who, when Christianity was triumphant in the fourth century, would comprehend the simple ways and thoughts of believers in the first? Nor is there anything more likely to be misunderstood, than the differences between the first teachers of a religion, and the disputes of their respective followers about 24a matter of discipline or doctrine which has passed away. The transition may be too gradual to be observed while it is going on. Literature is of a later date; beginning when the Church has already arrived at its full stature, it cannot describe the stages of its infancy and growth. In the extreme distance the objects of earth are no longer distinguishable from the clouds of heaven.
All history receives a colour from the age in which it is written. This is the case with ecclesiastical history even more than secular; it glows with the faith and feelings of the historian; it reflects his principles or convictions—it is sometimes embittered by his prejudices. Eusebius, ‘the father of ecclesiastical history’, believing as he did that the constitution of the Church which he saw around him had existed from the first, was not likely to give a consistent account of its origin or growth. Nor was it to be expected that he should trace the history of doctrines, who, within the Church at least, could have admitted of no doctrinal difference or development. It was impossible for him to describe that of which he had no conception. Had he been disposed to write an accurate account of the progress of the Christian faith in the first two centuries, the scantiness of his materials would have prevented him from doing so. The antiquarian spirit had awoke too late to recover the treasures of the past. Those who preceded him had a similar though less definite impression of the first age, of which they knew so little, and wrote in the same way. It would be an anachronism to expect that he should sift critically the few cases in which the earlier authorities witness against themselves. In point of judgement, he is about on a level with the other ‘Father of History’; that is to say, he is not wholly destitute of critical 25power: yet his criticism is accidental and capricious; most often observable in the case of ecclesiastical writings, which his literary tastes led him to explore. But real historical investigation is unknown to him. No resisting power of inquiry prevents his acceptance of any facts which fell in with the orthodox faith of his age, or seemed to afford a witness to it. Mira cles are believed by him, not upon greater, but upon rather less evidence than ordinary events. He catches, like Herodotus, at any chance similarity, such as that between the first Christians and the Therapeutae of Egypt (ii. c. 17). He feels no difficulty in receiving the statement of Justin Martyr, that Simon Magus was honoured at Rome under the title of the Holy God (Semo Sancus); or the testimony of Tertullian, that the Emperor Tiberius referred the worship of Christ to the senate. He sees the whole history of the Church through the medium of that victory over Paganism and heresy which he had witnessed in his own day. He carries the struggle back into the previous centuries, in which he finds almost nothing else but the conflict of the truth with heresy, and the blood of martyrs the seed of the Church. No one can suppose that the heresiarchs were such as he describes them, or that he has truly seized the relation in which they stood to the primitive Church. The language in which he denounces them is a sufficient evidence that he could not have investigated with calmness the character of the ‘wolf of Pontus’, or the false prophet Montanus and his ‘reptile’ followers. Though living at a distance of a century and a half, he repeats and adopts the conventional abuse of their contemporary adversaries.
Records of the earliest heretics have passed away; no one of them is fairly known to us from his own writings. Their names have become a byword 26among men; at another tribunal we may believe that many judgements passed upon them have been reversed. The true history of the century which followed the withdrawal of the Apostles has also perished, or is preserved only in fragmentary statements. It is a matter of conjecture how the constitution of the Church arose; it is a parallel speculation, out of what simpler elements the earliest liturgies were compiled. But it does not follow that nothing happened in an age of which we know nothing. The least philosophy of history suggests the reflection that in the primitive Church there must have existed all the varieties of practice, belief, speculation, doctrine, which the different circumstances of the converts, and the different natures of men acting on those circumstances, would be likely to produce. The Church acquired unity in its progress through the world; it was more scattered and undisciplined at first than it after wards became. Even the Apostles do not work together in the spirit of an order; they and their followers are not an army ‘set under authority’, of which the leaders say to one man ‘come, and he cometh’, and to another ‘go, and he goeth’. The Church of the Apostles may be compared more truly to ‘the wind blowing where it listeth’, or even to ‘the lightning shining from one part of the heaven to the other’. Paul and Barnabas and Apollos, and even Priscilla and Aquila, have their separate ways of acting; they walk in different paths; they do not attempt to control one another. Whatever caution is observable in their mode of dealing with each other’s spheres of labour is a matter of courtesy, not of ecclesiastical discipline. It is not certain, perhaps on the whole improbable, that those who came from James to Antioch (Gal. ii. 12) 27represented the community at Jerusalem. There is no Church which claims to be the metropolis of other Churches; nor any subordination within the several Churches to a single authority. The words of the Epistle to the Ephesians (iv. 11), ‘He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers’, are hardly reconcilable either with three orders of clergy, or with the distinction of clergy and laity. They describe a state of the Church in which there was less of system and more of impulse than at a later period; in which ‘all the Lord’s people were prophets’, and natural or spiritual gifts became offices ‘in the beginning of the Gospel’. Compare Rom. xii. 6; 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29.
Many doubts and possibilities arise in our minds respecting the age of the Apostles when we look on the picture ‘through a microscope’, and dwell on those points which are commonly unnoticed. We are tempted to frame theories and reconstructions, which are better, perhaps, represented by queries. Did those who remained behind in the Church regard the death of the martyr Stephen with the same feelings as those who were scattered abroad? or was he in their eyes only what James the Just appeared to be to the historian Josephus? Were the Apostles at Jerusalem one in heart with the brethren at Antioch? Were the teachers who came from Jerusalem to Antioch saying, ‘Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved’, commissioned by the Twelve? Were the Twelve absolutely at one among themselves? Are the ‘commendatory epistles’ spoken of in the Epistle to the Corinthians, to be ascribed to the Apostles at Jerusalem? Can ‘the grievous wolves’, whose entrance into the Church of Ephesus the Apostle foresaw, be other than 28the Judaizing teachers? Were ‘the multitude’ of believing Jews, who were all zealous for the law, and liable to be quickened in their zeal for it by the very sight of St. Paul, engaged in the tumult which follows? Lastly, how far does the narrative of the Acts convey the lively impression of contemporaries, how far the recollections of another generation? These questions cannot have detailed answers; to raise them, however, is not without use, for they make us regard the facts in many points of view; they afford a help in the prosecution of the main inquiry, ‘What was the relation of St. Paul to the Twelve?’
If we conceive of the Apostles as exercising a strict and definite rule over the multitude of their converts, living heads of the Church as they might be termed, Peter or James of the circumcision and Paul of the uncircumcision, it would be natural to connect them with the acts of their followers. One would think that, in accordance with the spirit of the concordat, they should have ‘delivered over to Satan’ the opponents of St. Paul, rather than have lived in communion and company with them. To hold out the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, and yet secretly to support or not to discountenance their enemies, would seem to be treachery to their common Master. Especially when we observe how strongly the Judaizers are characterized by St. Paul as ‘the false brethren who came in unawares’, ‘the false Apostles transforming themselves into Apostles of Christ’, ‘grievous wolves entering in’, and with what bitter personal weapons they assailed him (1 Cor. ix. 3-7). Indeed, the contrast between the vehemence with which St. Paul treats his Judaizing antagonists, and the gentleness or silence which he preserves towards the Apostles at Jerusalem, is a remarkable circumstance.29
It may be questioned whether the whole difficulty does not arise from a false conception of the authority of the Apostles in the early Church. Although the first teachers of the word of Christ, they were not the rulers of the Catholic Church; they were not its bishops, but its prophets. The influence which they exercised was personal rather than official, derived doubtless from their ‘having seen the Lord’, and from their appointment by Him, yet confined also to a comparatively narrow sphere; it was exercised in places in which they were, but hardly extended to places where they were not. The Gospel grew up around them they could not tell how; and the spirit which their preaching first awakened passed out of their control. They seemed no longer to be the prime movers, but rather the spectators of the work of God, which went on before their eyes. The thousands of Jews that believed and were zealous for the law would not lay aside the garb of Judaism at the bidding of James or Peter; the false teachers of Corinth or of Ephesus would not have been less likely to gain followers, had they been excommunicated by the Twelve. The movement which, in twenty years from the death of Christ, had spread so widely over the earth, they did not seek to reduce to rule and compass. It was beyond their reach, extending to communities of the circumstances of which they were hardly informed, and in which, therefore, it was not to be expected that they should interfere between St. Paul and his opponents.
The Apostolic name acquired a sacredness in the second century which was unknown to it in the first. We must not attribute either to the persons or to the writings of the Apostles the authority with which after ages invested them. No Epistle of James and 30Paul was received by those to whom it was sent, like the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as the Word of God. Nor are they quoted in the same manner with books of the Old Testament before the time of Irenaeus. We might have imagined that every Church would have preserved an unmistakable record of its lineage and descent from some one of the Twelve. But so far is this from being the case, that no connexion can be traced certainly, between the Gentile Churches of the second century and that of Jerusalem in the first. Jerusalem was not the metropolis of all Churches, but one among many; acknowledged, indeed, by the Gentile Christians with affection and gratitude, but not prescribing any rule, or exercising authority over them.
The moment we think of the Church, not as an ecclesiastical or political institution, but, as it was in the first age, a spiritual body, that is to say, a body partly moved by the Spirit of God, dependent also on the tempers and sympathies of men swayed to and fro by religious emotion, the perplexity solves itself, and the narrative of Scripture becomes truthful and natural. When the waves are high, we see but a little way over the ocean. The first fervour of religious feeling does not admit a uniform level of Church government. It is not a regular hierarchy, but ‘some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, others pastors and teachers’, who grow together ‘into the body of Christ’. The description of the early Church in the Epistles everywhere implies a great freedom of individual action. Apollos and Barnabas are not under the guidance of Paul; those ‘who were distinguished among the apostles before him’, could hardly have owned his authority. No attempt is made to bring the different Churches under a common system. We cannot imagine any bond by which 31they could have been linked together, without an order of clergy or form of Church government common to them all; this is not to be found in the New Testament. It was hard to keep the Church at Corinth at unity with itself; it would have been still harder to have brought it into union with other Churches.
Of this fluctuating state of the Church, which was not yet addicted to any one rule, we find another indication in the freedom, almost levity, with which professing Christians embraced ‘traditions of men’. The attitude of the Church of Corinth towards the Apostle was not that of believers in a faith ‘once delivered to the saints’. We know not whether Apollos was or was not a teacher of Alexandrian learning among its members, or what was the exact nature of ‘the party of Christ’, 1 Cor. i. 12. But that heathen as well as Jewish elements had found their way into the Corinthian community, is intimated by the ‘false wisdom’, and the sitting at meat in the idol’s temple. It is a startling question which is addressed to a Christian Church: ‘How say some among you that there is no resurrection?’ (1 Cor. xv. 12). It is not less startling that there should have been fornication among them, such as was not even named among the Gentiles. In the Church at Colossae again something was suspected by the Apostle, probably half Jewish and half heathen in its character, which he designates by the singular expression of a ‘voluntary humility and worshipping of angels’. And mention is made in the Roman Church of those who preached Christ of envy and strife, as well as those who preached Christ of peace and goodwill (Phil. i. 15).
Amid such fluctuation and unsettlement of opinions we can imagine Paul and Apollos, or Paul and Peter, 32preaching side by side in the Church of Corinth or of Antioch, like Wesley and Whitfield in the last century, or Luther and Calvin at the Reformation, with a sincere reverence for each other, not abstaining from commenting on or condemning each other’s doctrine or practice, and yet also forgetting their differences in their common zeal to save the souls of men. Personal regard is quite consistent with differences of religious belief; some of which, with good men, are a kind of form belonging only to their outer nature, most of which, as we hope, exist only on this side of the grave. We can imagine the followers of such men incapable of acting in their noble spirit, with a feebler sense of their high calling, and a stronger one of their points of disagreement; losing the principle for which they were alike contending in ‘oppositions of knowledge’, in prejudice and personality. And lastly, we may conceive the disciples of Wesley or of Whitfield (for of the Apostles themselves we forbear to move the question) reacting upon their masters and drawing them into the vicious circle of controversy, disuniting them in their lives, though incapable of making a separation between them.
A subject so wide is matter not for an essay but for a book; it is the history of the Church of the first two centuries. We must therefore narrow our field of vision as much as possible, and content ourselves with collecting a few general facts which have a bearing on our present inquiry.
First among these general facts, is the ignorance of the third and fourth centuries respecting the first, and earlier half of the second. We cannot err in supposing that those who could add nothing to what is recorded in the New Testament of the life of Christ and His Apostles, had no real knowledge of lesser matters, as, for example, the origin of Episcopacy. 33They could not understand, they were incapable of preserving the memory of a state of the Church which was unlike their own. The contemporaries of the Apostles have nothing to tell of their lives and for tunes; the next generation is also silent; in the third generation the license of conjecture is already rife. No fact worth mentioning can be gathered from the writings of the Apostolical Fathers. Irenaeus, who lived about fifty years later, and within a century of St. Paul, has not added a single circumstance to what we gather from the New Testament; he has fallen into the well-known error of supposing that our Lord was fifty years old at the time of His ministry; he has stated also that ‘Papias was John’s hearer, and the associate of Polycarp’, though Papias himself, in the preface to his discourses, by no means asserts that he was ‘hearer and eyewitness of the holy Apostles’ (Euseb. H. E. iii. 39); he has repeated as a discourse of Christ’s the fable of Papias respecting the bunches of grapes; this he would have literally interpreted. Justin, who was somewhat earlier than Irenaeus, has given a measure of the knowledge and criticism of his own age in the story of Simon Magus. Tertullian, at the close of the next century, believed that the emperor Tiberius had consulted the Roman senate respecting the worship of our Lord (Euseb. H. E. ii. 2). Eusebius himself verified from the Archives of Edessa the fabulous correspondence of Abgarus and Jesus, and the miraculous narrative which follows (H. E. i. 13). In at least half the instances in which we are able to test his quotations from earlier writers, they exhibit some degree of inaccuracy or confusion. It is hard to believe the statement of Poly crates of Ephesus (about A.D. 180), that ‘John, who rested on the bosom of the Lord, was a priest, and bore the sacerdotal plate’ (Euseb. 34H. E. iii. 32), or that Philip the Evangelist was one of the Twelve Apostles. But what use can be made of such sandy materials? It is idle to have recourse to remote reconcilements when the facts themselves are uncertain; equally so to argue precisely from turns of expression where language is rhetorical.
The second general fact is the unconsciousness of this ignorance, and the readiness with which the vacant space is filled up, and the Church of the second century assimilated to that of the third and fourth. History often conceals that which is discordant to preconceived notions; silently dropping some facts, exaggerating others, adding, where needed, new tone and colouring, until the disguise can no longer be detected. By some process of this kind the circumstance into which we are inquiring has been forgotten and reproduced. Nothing has survived relating to the great crisis which Christianity under went in the age of the Apostles themselves; it passed away silently in the altered state of the Church and the world. Not only in the strange account of the dispute between the Apostles, given by Origen and others, is what may be termed the ‘animus’ of concealment discernible, but in fragments of earlier writings, in which the two Apostles appear side by side as co-founders of the Corinthian, as well as of the Roman Church (Caius and Dion, of Corinth, quoted by Euseb., ii. 25), pleading their cause together before Nero; dying on the same day, their graves being appealed to as witnesses to the tale, probably as early as the first half of the second century. The unconscious motive which gave birth to such fictions was, seemingly, the desire to throw a veil over that occasion on which they withstood one another to the face. And the truth indistinctly shines through this legend of the latter part of the second century, when 35it is further recorded that St. Paul was at the head of the Gentile Church at Rome, Peter of the circumcision.
Bearing in mind these general considerations, which throw a degree of doubt on the early ecclesiastical tradition, and lead us to seek for indications out of the regular course of history, we have to consider, in reference to our present subject, the following statements:—
1. That Justin, who is recorded to have written against Marcion, refers to the Twelve in several passages, but nowhere in his genuine writings mentions St. Paul. And when speaking of the books read in the Christian assemblies, he names only the Gospels and the Prophets (Apol. i. 67).
. That Marcion, who was nearly contemporary with Justin, is said to have appealed to the authority of St. Paul only.
(On the other hand, it is true that in numerous quotations from the Old Testament, Justin appears to follow St. Paul. It is difficult to account for this singular phenomenon.)
3. That in the account of James the Just, given by Josephus and Hegesippus (about A.D. 170), he is represented as a Jew among Jews; living, according to Hegesippus, the life of a Nazarite; praying in the Temple until his knees became hard as a camel’s, and so entirely a Jew as to be unknown to the people for a Christian; a description which, though its features may be exaggerated, yet has the trace of a true resemblance to the part which we find him acting in the Epistle to the Galatians. It falls in, too, with the fact of his peaceable continuance as head of the Church at Jerusalem, in the Acts of the Apostles; and is not inconsistent with the spirit of the Epistle which bears his name. (Comp. Euseb. ii. 23.)
4. That the same Hegesippus regards the heresies 36as arising out of schism in the Jewish Church. He was himself a Hebrew convert; and after stating that he travelled to Rome, whither he went by way of Corinth, and had familiar conversation with many bishops, he declares ‘that in every succession and in every city the doctrine prevails according to what is declared by the law and the prophets and the Lord’ (Euseb. iv. 22). This is not the language of a follower of St. Paul.
5. That in the Clementine Homilies, written about the year 160, though a work generally orthodox, St. Paul is covertly introduced under the name of Simon Magus, as the impersonation of Gnostic error, as the enemy who had pretended ‘visions and revelations’, and who ‘withstood’ and blamed Peter. No writer doubts the allusion in some of these passages to the Epistles of St. Paul. Assuming their connexion, we ask, What was the state of mind which led an orthodox Christian, who lived probably at Rome, about the middle of the second century, to affix such a character to St. Paul? and what was the motive which induced him to veil his meaning? What, too, could have been the state of the Church in which such a romance grew up? and how could the next generation have read it without perceiving its true aim? Doubtful as may be the precise answer to these questions, we cannot attribute this remarkable work to the wayward fancy of an individual; it is an indication of a real tendency of the first and second centuries, at a time when the flame was almost extinguished, but still slumbered in the mind of the writer of the Clementine Homilies. It is observable that at a later date, about the year 210-230, in the form which the work afterwards received under the title of ‘the Clementine Recognitions’, which have been preserved in a Latin translation, the objection able passages have mostly vanished.37
6. Lastly, that in later writings we find no trace of the mind of St. Paul. His influence seems to pass from the world. On such a basis ‘as where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’, it might have been impossible to rear the fabric of a hierarchy. But the thought itself was not present to the next generation. The tide of ecclesiastical feeling set in another direction. It was not merely that after-writers fell short of St. Paul, or imperfectly interpreted him, but that they formed themselves on a different model. It was not only that the external constitution of the Church had received a definite form and shape, but that the inward perception of the nature of the Gospel was different. No writer of the latter half of the second century would have spoken as St. Paul has done of the law, of the sabbath, of justification by faith only, of the Spirit, of grace, of moderation in things indifferent, of forgiveness. An echo of a part of his teaching is heard in Augustine; with this exception, the voice of him who withstood Peter to the face at Antioch was silent in the Church until the Reformation. The spirit of the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians has revived in later times. But there is no trace that the writings of the Apostle left any lasting impress within the Church, or perhaps any where in the first ages.
Yet the principle of the Apostle triumphed, though at the time of its triumph it may seem to have lost the spirit and power of the Apostle. The struggle which commenced like Athanasius against the world, ended as the struggle of the world against the remnant of the Jewish race. Beginning within the confines of Judea, it spread in a widening circle among the Jewish proselytes, still wider and more faintly marked in the philojudaizing Gentile, fading in the distance as Christianity became a universal religion. 38Two events had a great influence on its progress. First, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the flight to Pella of the Christian community; secondly, the revolt under Barchocab; both tending to separate, more and more, both in fact and the opinion of mankind, the Christian from the Jew.
It would be vain to carry our inquiry further, with the view of gleaning a few results respecting the first half of the second century. Remote probabilities and isolated facts are not worth balancing. The consciousness that we know little of the times which followed the Apostles is the best part of our knowledge. And many will deem it well for the purity of the Christian faith, that while Christ Himself is clearly seen by us—as a light, at the fountain of which a dead Church may receive life, and a living one renew its strength—the origin of ecclesiastical institutions has been hidden from our eyes. In the second and third centuries Christianity was extending its borders, fencing itself with creeds and liturgies, taking possession of the earth with its hierarchy. Whether this great organization was originally every where the same, whether it adopted the form chiefly of the Jewish worship and ministry or of the Roman magistracy, or at first of the one and afterwards of the other, cannot be certainly determined. A cloud hangs over the dawn of ecclesiastical history. By some course of events with which we are not acquainted, the Providence of God leading the way, and the thoughts of man following, the Jewish Synagogue became the Christian Church; the Passover was superseded by Easter; the Christian Sunday took the place of the Jewish Sabbath. While the Old Testament retained its authority over Gentile as well as Jewish Christians, the law was done away in Christ, and the Judaizer of the first century be came the Ebionitish heretic of the second and third.39
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