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§ I. Fundamental Unity in Diversity.
THE apostolic age did not arrive at once at the full consciousness of the treasures of truth committed to it. After its first period, which was, like a blessed childhood, all calmness and simplicity, it entered upon an era of prolonged conflicts. Did these conflicts make, as some have asserted, a schism among the Apostles, and did they lead to the formation of two hostile Churches—the Judaistic Church, under the conduct of Peter and James, and the Church freed from the synagogue, under the leadership of Paul? Can we discover two contradictory doctrinal systems, as widely divided the one from the other as were subsequently the heresy of the Ebionites and the orthodox faith? This is the question before us for solution.
We have already several times incidentally approached it; we must now give it full consideration, for it is the great theological question of the day. Raised by a scholar of the first rank, distinguished for his laborious research, and the head of a numerous school, it presents itself under continually varying forms. In order to show its full bearing, it will be necessary first to state the view of primitive Christianity taken by those who differ from ourselves. 234 According to Baur, we have in the apostolic age two religious parties in radical opposition within the bosom of the Church. On the one hand, the twelve Apostles range under their banner all the advocates of the perpetual obligation of Judaism; on the other hand, Paul represents the party of emancipation. The former are faithful to the true intention of Jesus Christ, who preached only a spiritualized Judaism, in all points corresponding to Ebionitism. Paul introduces an entirely new element. The contest is declared at Jerusalem and at Antioch, and is carried on in all the Churches. There is no trace of reconciliation between the Apostles during their life, but Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, makes the first advance toward conciliation by his strong declaration of love for his nation, and his prediction of its glorious future. He takes a second step in the same direction when, on his last visit to Jerusalem, he joins himself to some Jewish Christians, who had taken upon them the vow of the Nazarite. But this attempt at reconciliation was too premature to lead to any result. The Judaizing party were inveterate in their hatred to the great Apostle, who is plainly referred to in the following century, in the "Clementines," under the name of Simon Magus. Even in this curious document, however, tokens of an approaching reconciliation may be discerned. The Judaistic party makes some concessions. In the first place, baptism is substituted for circumcision; then Peter is represented as the Apostle of the Gentiles. The reputed Epistle of James continues this good work by combating the spirit of Judaism in its exaggerated form, no less than the Pauline school. This school responds to 235 these advances. The Epistle to the Hebrews is designed to harmonize the views of Paul with Judaism, interpreted, or rather allegorized, after the Alexandrine method. The Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians take the same ground, for they tend to show that the death of Jesus Christ has effected a reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, the two great sections of mankind. But the document which most evidently bears the trace of these conciliatory intentions is that ascribed to Luke, and known as the Acts of the Apostles. The writer endeavors to effect a sort of retrospective reconciliation between the Apostles, and he does it with consummate skill, by representing Peter as a satellite of St. Paul, and putting into his mouth utterances worthy only of the Apostle to the Gentiles. The tradition relating to Peter's sojourn at Rome, his connection with Paul, and their common martyrdom, belong to the same system. The pastoral letters which so forcibly denounce the dangers of anti-Judaic Gnosticism, as well as the letters to which the names of the apostolic Fathers are attached, are animated by the same spirit. The final result of all these attempts at conciliation is the composition of the fourth Gospel, which resolves all contradictions. It rises into the lofty regions of transcendental philosophy, leaving far below all past differences. To the writer of that Gospel, Jews and Gentiles come into one and the same category; they both belong to the kingdom of darkness, which is perpetually at war with the kingdom of light.235235See note K, at the end of the volume.
Such is the system which, during almost twenty 236years, has been perpetually under discussion in Germany. We have already refuted many of its statements. Never did the criticism of internal evidence assume such license. Its proofs are, in truth, drawn not from writings of which it is the business of the critic to fix the date, but from the preconceived system of the theologian. All that does not coincide with that system is prejudged and rejected. A purely hypothetical chronology is thus assigned to the monuments of the apostolic age. The most speculative theories are readily admitted as axioms, by which other hypotheses may be established. The results arrived at by sound criticism with reference to the principal writings of the New Testament suffice to undermine the very foundation of all this skillful theorizing. Indeed, the very elaborateness of the system suggests doubt. How can we suppose such wise diplomacy in the first two centuries of the Church? The New Testament, according to the Tübingen school, must have been written after the manner of the protocols of a congress—a singular explanation, surely, of that sublime simplicity which lends to it all its charm and power. We have already shown, in giving an account of the conference at Jerusalem, and of the dispute at Antioch, that the violence on either side was not on the part of the Apostles, but was excited by fanatical Jewish agitators. The picture we shall draw of the heresies of the primitive Church will give still more demonstrative evidence of this important fact. Besides, an attentive study of the various forms of apostolic doctrine proves that nothing can be more false than the theory that they were essentially at variance, so that there really existed two systems of 237Christianity, that of James and Peter, and that of Paul. The hypothesis of a decided opposition between the Apostles being once set aside, there remains no reason for supposing any of those retrospective attempts at conciliation by which the historical facts of the first century are said to have been transmuted. We do not deny that the reconciliation of the Christians of Jewish origin with those gathered from among the Gentiles was gradual, but we see no ground for postponing it to the second century, in opposition to the testimony of the Acts, and that of Paul's Epistles.
Reduced to their true proportions, the divergences between the sacred writers no longer present themselves as radical or irreconcilable; on the contrary, they form the regular steps of a ladder, which enables us to rise gradually to the culminating point of revelation. Among these types of doctrine, two are distinguished by their originality and their broad results; the other two represent no less an important aspect of the truth, to which it was well that a sort of independent prominence should in this way be given, because it would not have been definable with sufficient clearness in the wide synthesis of doctrine presented by St. Paul and St. John.
The attempt to represent the doctrine of James and of Peter, as opposed to that of Paul, really arises from a false view of the relation of the Old and New Testament. Those who hold that the old economy germinally contains the new, see no antagonism between the doctrine of James and that of the Apostle of the Gentiles. It is too commonly forgotten that the Judaism of James had no analogy with Pharisaism. 238It was, as we have said, the true ideal Judaism which was in harmony with the designs of God—a Judaism, consequently, which contained all the principal elements of Christianity. Developed and expanded by the acceptance of the Gospel, it could not differ essentially from the doctrine taught by St. Paul. James had been brought to a profound comprehension of the old covenant; he had grasped its spirit, and the fundamental principle which was to survive the theocratic forms in which it had been incarnated, as the life of the soul subsists after its bodily tenement has crumbled into dust. This fundamental principle was in its essence the conception of right, of justice, of duty, of conscience. James, in transferring this to Christianity, only introduced into it a permanent element of all true religion. On the other hand, Paul understood the Gospel too well not to perceive its point of contact with the Old Testament, and from the height on which he stood, the unity of the divine plan could not escape his notice. If, then, we admit the existence in the primitive Church of two types of doctrine, we nevertheless deny that these constituted two different systems of Christianity. The theologians who trace the commencement of Gnosticism to Paul, and of Ebionitism to James, are guilty of a strange anachronism. To us it is clear that both Apostles draw from one common source—the teaching and the life of Christ. In all there is manifest the influence of one and the same Spirit.
With these reservations, we do not for a moment deny the presence of differences among the sacred writers; unity prevails, but diversity exists. Nor do 239we at all dispute that of the two principal doctrinal types of the apostolic era the second is immeasurably broader and richer than the first; but the first has, nevertheless, its own peculiar value, and is admirably adapted to meet the moral necessities of every age. The diversity thus recognized is perfectly explained by the method of the Gospel revelation, which comes to us not in the form of a code, but is borne to us, as it were, wave upon wave, on the flood of the life of the primitive Church.
Each of the sacred writers preserves his individuality and speaks his own language. The imperfections of detail in each are like his peculiar accent; they testify to his being a free organ of the Spirit of God, not a mere passive instrument. They all melt into the great central light of truth produced by the collective testimony of the Apostles. It is this collective testimony which alone is authoritative, and which sets us free from the rabbinical yoke of isolated words under which the Church has been too long in bondage.
We cannot consent, moreover, to regard the writers of the New Testament only as the first of theologians. They moved in a sphere superior to theology; they possessed, as no other generation of Christians has done, the Spirit of God. Nor did they arrange their views in systematic form. "St. Paul," it has been very justly observed, "does not decide questions by metaphysical principles, and does not pride himself on scientific exactness."236236Ritschl., "Alt. Cath. Kirche," p. 67. So true is this, that it is impossible to reduce into complete unity the various elements of his teaching. Systems, properly so called, 240 were not formed till a later period. Taken as a whole, the apostolic doctrine, which, while passing through various phases from James to John still remained the same in substance, may be regarded as the highest and fullest expression of truth. It is the rule and the standard of Christian theology, which has not to seek out new elements, but to gather up and classify those which are supplied, with all the inexhaustible abundance of a well of living waters, in the canonical books of the New Testament. But it is important to trace in the sacred writings the admirable progression of truth, to observe the unity underlying their variety, and to give to each its own place and rank, if we wish to have a living and spiritual conception of inspiration instead of a mere mechanical notion.
Three types of doctrine are presented to us in this second period of the apostolic age. Each of these is characterized by the solution it gives to the question of the relation of the two covenants. The old covenant was based upon two great institutions, the law and prophecy. James regards the new covenant as the expansion of the law; Peter sees in it, primarily, the fulfillment of prophecy. As prophecy was a sort of anticipation of Christianity, Peter is by his view brought into closer sympathy with Paul, whose influence upon him is also very evident. Paul is much less concerned with showing the relations of the two covenants, than with bringing out their differences. The new covenant is to him essentially a new fact, the proclamation of pardon, the sovereign manifestation of grace—in one word, the Gospel.237237Schmid, "Biblische Theologie," ii, 90. 241He is not in opposition either to James or Peter. He accepts the fundamental idea of James, but disengages it from all restrictions. The law, which seemed to abolish by grace, receives from that very grace a new sanction; it comes forth from the Gospel as from a crucible, purified and spiritualized. Peter's view is also just and true. Judaism is truly fulfilled by Christianity, and Paul sets forth with much philosophy its preparatory value. If, then, the Apostle of the Gentiles was constrained more than once to oppose primitive Judæo-Christianity, he nevertheless gave it all legitimate satisfaction in the full synthesis of his doctrine. He in this way deprived it of any ground for holding itself as a school apart. He abolished by comprehending it. It could not henceforward live again except as heresy, external to the Church. The reconciliation was brought about in the most natural manner in the apostolic age by the harmonizing of two elements of truth, designed thus to combine and complete each other.
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