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CHAPTER XI.

THE PARTIES AND THE ISSUE OF THE STRUGGLE.

IN one respect the development of the whole of the early Christian community was from the first reactionary—that is to say, in its far more positive relation to the Jewish nation. The belief in its incapacity and rejection by God with which Jesus left the world gave way to renewed patriotic hopes and renewed loving efforts. For Jesus there was finally no further doubt as to the certain separation between the kingdom of God and Israel, but His disciples clung to the old connection with a desperate tenacity, nor could all the persecution they had to suffer at the hands of the Jews cool the ardour of this religious patriotism. Here on this ground, Paul, with his ardent love for his native land, with his readiness to be banished from God’s sight for His people’s sake, stands shoulder to shoulder with the twelve apostles and with James the brother of the Lord, of whom Hegesippus relates that he was once found on his knees in the temple praying for the forgiveness of the sins of his people. Even at the beginning of the Jewish war, when the apocalyptic leaflet (contained 153in St Mark xiii.) was circulated amongst the Christians, they did not believe in the destruction of the temple, but only that it would be sore oppressed by Antichrist. It was only the catastrophe of the year 70 that opened the eyes of the Christians and led to a new judgment as to the Jewish people. Before the Jewish war this relation of the Christians to the Jews had no where been felt as a cause of the formation of parties.

Parties had, however, arisen through the relation to the law—though not at first. Both for Himself and His disciples Jesus had to the very last clung to the faith that they had the law on their side against the Pharisees. Nor was this faith in anywise diminished at first in spite of the self-deception on which it rested. They disputed with the Jews about questions of Christology, not about the law.

Amongst the brethren the word of Jesus was the ultimate authority—hence a free and natural life such as Jesus had brought into the world. There was no return to the ideal of the Pharisees, or to the asceticism of John the Baptist. All the emphasis was laid upon conscientiousness, love, the longing for God and trust in Him; but it was in these very points that they believed they were but faithful to the law. God’s will as it was written in the law was declared in the words of Jesus. As soon as God’s will was grasped in its inner meaning, becoming the deepest motive of the heart instead of an external ordinance, every contradiction seemed to be removed. This oldest Jewish Christianity is therefore to be conceived as entirely anti-Pharisaic, nay, more, as at bottom not Jewish at all—for how could it otherwise have bequeathed to us the picture of 154Jesus such as we have it? Yet at the same time it was a Christianity filled with the deepest reverence for the authority of the law.

Here was an inherent contradiction, for the same law was also the authority for the Pharisaic Scribes. Now, as soon as it was recognized, the contradiction was bound to lead to the formation of parties according to the answer which men gave to the question: Should Jesus’ word and the law remain connected or not?

The first missionary journey to the Gentiles afforded the occasion. Nowhere could any other feeling than that of joy prevail at the thought that Gentiles were to be admitted into the Church. But what was to be the condition of this admission? Was it to be Jesus’ word or the ceremonial law? For the Jewish Christians, circumcision, the Sabbath, the regulations as to food, etc., were such old customs that they were scarcely any longer felt as burdens, but all the more unendurable were they for the Gentiles.

Barnabas and Paul simply set aside the law altogether for the Gentiles who sought admission—the sole condition then demanded having faith in Jesus. News of the great invitation only reached Jerusalem when it had already become an accomplished fact. It came through a hostile channel, being reported by narrow-hearted brethren who were Pharisees in all but the name. What was now to be done?

Thus early in the history of the young community do we come to the parting of the ways. True, at first the leaders, James, Peter, and John, united with 155Paul and Barnabas and declared the Gentiles to be free. But it was only now that the difficult question arose: What was to be the consequence for the Jewish Christians? They themselves were to remain faithful to the law. Such was the decision given at Jerusalem. But was mutual intercourse henceforward possible? Could a Jewish Christianity that remained true to the law, and a Gentile Christianity that was free from the law, continue side by side in a brotherly relationship?

The extremes quickly fell asunder. Paul placed Christianity in opposition to the law, and proclaimed the freedom of the Jewish Christians in Gentile countries. James and his party completely identified Christ and the law, and claimed the right to force the Gentiles to observe the law. In between these two extremes, the apostles remained in the old position of doubt and uncertainty which they had taken up at Jerusalem, without any definite principles, buffeted about by every storm and tempest, ill-fitted for leadership.

Such was the origin of Judaistic Christianity, a reversion to the Judaistic type in the very heart of the early Christians, occasioned by the progressive measures taken by St. Paul. It was an altogether reactionary movement. The law was set above Christ, the Jewish idea maintained in its fanatical narrowness and intolerance. The majority of these people were sincere enough, to be sure. One does not make a burden of one’s life in mere superficial lightheartedness. But for them Jesus had come into the world in vain.

This tendency falsified the picture of Jesus by the insertion of many foreign Judaistic features. To 156say the very least, it wrongly exalted the utterances of a moment into the position of universally binding principles. It was this party which set on foot the mission in opposition to St. Paul which sometimes questioned his authority for taking up this work at all. In Galatia its emissaries tried to win over the superstition of the heathen to the side of Jewish ceremonies, guided by the right instinct that the two were closely related and common foes of the Gospel. At Corinth they exploited a temporary wave of ill-feeling on the part of the congregation against their apostle, and attempted, first of all by mean denunciations, to rob him of the confidence that was felt in him, and so to have free play for their proselytizing efforts. The pious zeal of the narrow-minded, the passions of partizans and the malice of the wicked, here made common cause and did not shrink from employing even the worst means. But all this counter-mission ended in an utter want of success, and that for this reason, without going any further—the immense majority of the Gentile Christians did not want to become Jews. Even in St. Paul’s lifetime the Church, in so far as it spoke Greek, could boast of a freedom that was securely assured.

It was only in Palestine and the neighbouring districts, where there had always been a strong Jewish element at the foundation, that this Jewish Christianity tenaciously maintained itself, but it was without any importance whatsoever for the fate of the Church at large. It retained its sectarian character all the more readily as it had itself split up into numerous subordinate sects. To these two main currents of thought in the apostolic age—157Judaism (the law for all Christians) and apostolic Christianity (the law for the Jews)—numerous gnostic variations akin to Essenism must soon be added. It is only in connection with the evolution of Islam that they are of any importance in the history of the world. It was just out of such a Jewish Christian sect that the faith of Mahomet developed into a world religion. Neither the political occurrences in the two Jewish wars nor Hadrian’s edict against circumcision inflicted so heavy a blow upon Jewish Christianity as the circumstance that both Jews and Christians alike rejected this compromise the former with curse and excommunication, the latter with the charge of heresy. So it was just put on one side—a proof to the world that compromises are to be saved by no sacred tradition, that there is indeed no such thing in history as standing still, but only progress or regression.

Such was the end of Jewish Christianity. The enthusiasm of the early days was succeeded by stagnation, decay, and finally dissolution.

Its enthusiasm, as well as all its living fruitful germs, St. Paul took over into his Gentile Church. By his progressive tendencies he drove the Church at Jerusalem into reactionary courses, and so sealed its decay and ultimate ruin. He was the disturbing, the exciting element in the earliest form of Christianity. He pulled down as much as he built up. He destroyed the peace, the vagueness, the compromises of this first age, and in so doing he understood the mind of his Master and the new mode of government of his Master’s God.

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