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THE JEWISH CHURCH AND ITS INSTITUTIONS.
JESUS had prophesied the destruction of the Jewish Church. The external rupture between the Christians and that Church had been brought about by St Paul, since whose day the Christians had stood outside of any ecclesiastical communion with the Jews. But it was none other than St Paul who had done more than all others to found and consolidate the new Christian Church; and this in two ways. First, he laid down the theory that the way to salvation led through the ecclesia of Jesus Christ alone, and that all were lost who remained as unbelievers outside of the Church. Only the believer will be saved, “extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” But at the same time he established a connection between the new Church and the Israel of old, by means of his gnosis, through the theory: “The Christians are the Israel of God, the spiritual Israel; all pious Jews of pre-Christian times were Christians before Christ.”81
The immediate consequence of these great theories of St Paul was that, generally speaking, the Jewish ecclesiastical idea struck deep root in Christianity and grew apace. Hence the further result that customs and institutions of the Jewish Church were taken over into the Christian.
The most remarkable feature was the assurance with which the Christians, who, after all, were mainly recruited from among the heathen, proclaimed themselves as the true Israel of God. There is scarcely a single Christian who knows anything of a new Church, or says that Jesus founded the Church. The Christian Church is of immemorial antiquity, and the Christians are simply the Old Testament people of God. The emphasis which is placed upon the antiquity of the Church is often due, as in the Acts, to apologetic considerations. The reproach of schism and of unauthorized innovation is thus guarded against. The same consciousness is, however, shared by purely devotional writings, which have no connection whatever with apologetics. The decisive factor was the supremacy of the Old Testament in all Christian communities. One could only read and love the Old Testament, if one found therein the history of the ‘fathers’ of one’s own people. As soon as the Christians began to reflect upon the matter from a theoretical point of view, they had to confess that the Jews were the primitive stock and the heathen Christians the proselytes. The authors of the Apocalypse, of the Acts and of the Fourth Gospel, say so quite plainly. But the very candour of their statements proves the entire insignificance of the distinction. There is no idea of the proselytes being 82 in a position of inferiority. All Christians are on a level in faith in Christ, and that is all that really matters. It is quite in accordance with the opinion of the majority of all Christians, when the book of the Acts represents the passage of Christianity from the Jews to the heathen simply as a progress ordained and devised by God, or even merely as a case of geographical expansion. All rifts and chasms were carefully concealed. All that men saw was the continuity of the history of the chosen people, its progressive evolution from the days of the patriarchs, kings, and prophets down to Christ, and thence to the apostles and the Gentile Church. The only dark passage in all this long history was the unbelief of their own contemporaries, the Jews; but then an explanation was sought and found for that in their obstinacy. Apart from this riddle all was clear, simple and satisfactory.
Whether the Christians called themselves ‘people of God,’ or ‘Church,’ was really a matter of in difference to them, for the Old Testament provided them with both expressions. The word ‘people’ or ‘peoples of God,’ seems, however, to have been the more popular. A man like the author of the Apocalypse knows but the one contrast: the people of God and the Gentiles. There are, besides, “those who call themselves Jews but are not,” i.e., the name of Jew belongs solely to the Christian people of God. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews lives especially in the idea of the Old Testament congregation with its divine institutions; but he finds, too, in the Old Testament the great company of heroes, the fathers of the faith, who light the Christians 83 on their onward path. It never occurs to him that the righteous men of the Old Testament never confessed the Christian faith. They are all Christians in his eyes. Strangest of all, however, is the view of the Old Testament held by the author of the Lucan writings. He does not merely live in the distant past of the saints of old as though it were in that preliminary chapter of Christian history which he so dearly loves to narrate again in his long speeches (the reformer Stephen dwells at greatest length upon the patriarchs). No; he transfers his love to great portions of the Judaism of the time of Christ and His apostles. No Christian author has written with greater pathos and enthusiasm of Jerusalem and the Temple than he. Take the pictures of Simeon and of Hannah, take the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, or the description of the pious worship of the early Christians in the Temple. The attempt has been made in all these instances to trace a Judaistic mode of thought dating from early times. Nothing could be more perverted. Our author’s thoughts are simply catholic. Because the Christians are to him nothing but the Old Testament people of God, he is glad to record their attachment to the sacred institutions and customs of the Old Testament. His successors, the authors of the apocryphal histories of the birth of Jesus, followed in his steps. There we find nothing but enthusiasm for the Temple and the priests, and vows and sacrifices, and yet of Judaism no trace at all. That is the difference between the old time and the new. The old time was a time of strife. The new time has so completely forgotten the strife that it is able to 84 interest itself in its former opponent and to love him in so far as he denotes the necessary preliminary to its own existence. Finally, the proud feeling of the Christians that they are the divine people of the Old Testament appears in a classical form in the First Epistle of St Peter. It is to Gentiles that the author writes: “You are a chosen race, a royal priest hood, a consecrated nation, God’s own people.” This passage from the book of Exodus had already been quoted in the beginning of the Apocalypse, where we read: “Christ made us to be a kingdom and priests unto God.” In both instances the text is quoted in writings intended at once to minister comfort and to sound the battle-cry. In the days of persecution, the Christians were especially fond of recalling the distinction between the chosen people and the Gentiles.
The other expression ‘Church’ meets us rather more rarely in the sub-apostolic literature; but (and this is significant) more especially in the writings which are in closest touch with Judaism. The evangelist Matthew, himself a born Jew, as he knows how to read the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and even follows the order of the books, is one of those who appropriate the Jewish term ‘Church.’ By ‘the Church’ he understands not only the single congregation which in its local organization is sharply distinguished from the Gentile world, but also the Church Catholic, that great juridical body corporate, the government of which Jesus is said to have handed over to Peter as His successor and vicar. All that Peter determines as legislator in the Church shall be valid for the kingdom of God. For by the power of 85 the keys, the right of binding and of losing, is signified ecclesiastical legislation. Unfortunately we know neither when nor where the celebrated passage was written. In all probability the Roman Petrine tradition and the consciousness of Roman power here find utterance for the first time. For the first time, too, and surely not merely by chance, the Church and the kingdom are almost identified in this important ecclesiastical document. In a passage peculiar to St Matthew, Jesus says to the Jews: “The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” What is the kingdom of God which the Jews have possessed? It is not, as in other passages, the future Messianic kingdom, but the theocracy, the divine rule. The evangelist might just as well have said, “Ye shall no longer be the Church.” In other places St Matthew distinguishes between the kingdom of Christ, the present Church, and the kingdom of God, the ideal Church. It is quite natural that a man who had the interests of the present Church so much at heart should identify it in thought with the coming king dom. But by so doing he has taken a great step forward in the direction of Roman Catholicism.
It is a remarkable coincidence that the other old writing, the “Shepherd” of Hermas, which speaks most about the Church, certainly dates from Rome, and was written by a Christian who was perfectly familiar with Judaism. In the third vision and the ninth parable he has made use of a Jewish document which describes the building of the tower of the Jewish Church with the stones of the depths, i.e. the fathers before Jacob, with the stones of the twelve mountains, 86 the twelve tribes of Israel, and with the stones of the plain, the proselytes. This Jewish parable he interprets as signifying the Jewish Church, but makes it refer at the same time to the kingdom of God, which is once again an instance of the close connection between these two conceptions at Rome. Again, in a thoroughly Jewish fashion the Church is described as being exceedingly old, for it was created first of all things, and the world was made for its sake. There is an exact parallel in the Apocalypse of Ezra: God created the world for the sake of His people. Several other passages about the Church, partly of a speculative nature, which are contained in the “Shepherd” of Hermas and in the Second Epistle of St Clement, which likewise dates from Rome, can only be explained as imperfectly understood plagiarisms from Jewish sources. The Church is, e.g., declared to have been created before all else, before the sun and the moon, because the Spirit which animates the Church is, according to Gen. i., older than the world; but turn the page and we read that God created His Church only on the sixth day of creation, and blessed it when He created man and woman, because the embryonic Jewish Church began with the first pair of human beings. Those are, to be sure, harmless speculations enough. The important point is this, it was first of all at Rome that the Christians felt themselves to be a Church and the beginning of the kingdom of God.
We meet with the same close connection between Church and kingdom of God in the so-called eucharistic prayers of the Didache. “As this bread was scattered upon the hillside and being gathered 87 together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the world into Thy kingdom.” “Be mindful, good Lord, of Thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love, and sanctify Thy people and gather them together from the four winds into Thy kingdom that Thou hast prepared for them.” These were not really Christian eucharistic prayers at all. They were prayers in use among the Jews of the dispersion, and were recited at the meals of the assembly. Our Christian author adapted them for the service of the Church. The hope in the reunion of the scattered children of Israel and their future return to the land of Palestine is a part of the unchanging framework of Jewish prophecy. Through these prayers it passed over into Christianity and there confirmed the feeling of ecclesiastical unity.
The necessary consequence of the acceptation of the Jewish idea of the Church was the acceptation of all the narrowness and the intolerance which this idea implied amongst the Jews. It is, of course, possible that the Christian congregations would have been impelled to make these extravagant and intolerant claims quite of themselves, urged thereto by the sense of their superiority to their surroundings, and by their consciousness of power. But this abstract possibility may safely be disregarded, since the influence of the Jewish Church, which is the only other adequate cause, is so patent at every step. “Extra ecclesiam salus nulla,” comes to be the motto of the Christian religion. It is only the symbol that has changed. It is not the ceremonies, the Jewish blood, that are efficacious, but the Christian faith. But the high 88 claim, the exclusiveness, the compassionate contempt of the Gentiles, are transmitted to the new people of God. True, faith was a spiritual possession, and yet one is bound to ask oneself whether a Church which demands faith in the ecclesiastical Trinity stands very much higher than one which forbids diverse kinds of food. That which constitutes Jesus’ wonderful greatness, His open eye for righteousness and goodness wherever it was to be found, amongst publicans, Samaritans, or Gentiles, can no longer be fitted in with either conception of the Church.
The limitation of salvation to the Church is, it is true, very seldom expressed in so many words. The apologetic writings which preach the idea most zealously, the Acts and the Fourth Gospel, do not once mention the Church. They only speak of Christ and Faith, but then that is the Church. At all times zeal for Christology has been zeal for ecclesiasticism. The highest titles are assigned to Christ. Blessedness is centred in Him alone, and thus the demand is made for entrance into the Church. St Paul had led the way by setting up the theory, “Only he that believes can be saved.” The author of the Acts follows: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou and thy house shall be saved,” i.e., become a Christian. “In none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men whereby we should be saved.” The author of the Fourth Gospel takes the last step by transforming these thoughts of St Paul and St Luke into actual words of Jesus. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no one cometh unto the Father but by Me.” “Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he 89 cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The two propositions are identical. Only by entrance into the Church is blessedness to be acquired. No sentences in the whole of the New Testament bear a more catholic meaning than these theses of the two Christian apologies. John is perhaps the narrowest and most uncompromising theologian of the New Testament. In the entire degradation of John the Baptist, in the proclamation of the hard-heartedness of the Jews and of their descent from the devil, in the verse, “All that have come before me are thieves and robbers,” he reveals a skill which is almost awful in pulling down and thrusting into hell all that stands outside of the Christian Church. And his procedure appears to be all the more violent, because he forces Jesus Himself into his service in order to legitimize it. But what was to happen to the pious Jews who died before Jesus came upon earth without having learnt the Christian faith? Most Christian teachers did not recognize any difficulty whatever in the question, since they simply regarded all pious Jews as virtually Christians. That is why St John speaks of the Logos as present in the world, and in communion with His own long before His incarnation. It is because he is convinced that all patriarchs and prophets were Christians, children of God who believed in His name. Hermas is the first for whom the question as to the salvation of the Jews of the Old Testament presents any difficulty. He starts from the proposition that only he that bears the name of the Son of God, i.e., only the Christian, can enter into the kingdom of heaven. Now as the pious Jews were not baptized, and consequently not Christians, he assumes 90 that the righteous men of the Old Testament were baptized in Hades, after having previously listened to the preaching of Christ by the apostles and teachers who had descended into Hades. That was no bad solution of the problem. He who seriously believed in the strict limitation of salvation to the Church had to satisfy his narrow mind by means of absurd shifts such as these.
Fortunately, however, the genuineness of the picture of Jesus as we find it in the Synoptic Gospels has not been impaired by all the later ecclesiastical additions, and the fanatical narrowness of the faith of His adherents is thereby repeatedly condemned. The great examples of a breadth of view which were entirely non-ecclesiastical, were not to be rooted out. All those sayings of Jesus remained unimpaired, that the moral element alone—the fruit—is decisive in God’s sight, and everything else worthless: that it is righteousness, love, and justice that God requires, and that these qualities please Him all the world over wherever they are found. How do the ecclesiastical authorities manage, then, to make the Jesus of the Gospels suit their theories? They attach ecclesiastical conclusions to the Gospels. The evangelist Matthew closed his work with the command of the risen Lord to evangelize and baptize, which confines salvation to the Church. The Gospel of St Mark received the concluding verses which are recognized as not genuine, and which contain the proclamation: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned,” and this was put into Jesus' mouth! The author of the Lucan writings likewise makes the risen Lord utter the ecclesiastical 91 command, repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations; and shows besides this in the Acts where salvation is alone to be found. Then came the Fourth Gospel and declared that all that was contained in the previous three must be understood in accordance with the teaching of the Church, and after an orthodox fashion. Thus the evangelist harmonized Jesus and the idea of the Church.
But for this later time the principle of salvation limited to the Church set up by St Paul had to be taken in the catholic sense that the Church did indeed afford the necessary presupposition for salvation, but by no means guaranteed it. St Paul had still hoped that his congregations would all enter into the kingdom as the elect of God’s mercy. The sub-apostolic age was obliged to relinquish this optimistic faith entirely. It was by no means merely the Gnostic division which impelled men to take a more sober view of the Church. The fact that “average Christianity” was perpetually on the increase in all the congregations was too evident to be ignored, and that especially in seasons of persecution when the chaff is winnowed from the wheat. So we find the author of the Apocalypse plainly telling his fellow-Christians that whole congregations (Thyatira, Sardis, Laodicea) are in danger of being lost, or at any rate of enduring the day of judgment in very small minorities. Away, then, with all comfortable assurance of salvation! Only he that endureth in the last great tribulation shall obtain the crown of everlasting life. The author of the Pastoral letters and the first evangelist put forth their theories, which 92 closely resemble each other, about the same time. The former compares the Church to a great house in which besides the gold and silver vessels there are also vessels of wood and vessels of earth, and some are to honour and the others to dishonour. How very differently had St Paul spoken before this of the temple of God full of the Holy Spirit. Then the vessels of dishonour, the vessels of wrath, had been the unbelieving Jews who were without. Even the sober, prosaic language of the pseudo-Paul reminds us of the great change which the lapse of time has brought about. St Matthew, too, has the same idea of the Church. He compares it to the field in which the tares grow up beside the wheat, or to the drag-net in which all manner of fish are caught. “Many are called but few are chosen.” Then again, the Church is like a wedding feast, and some of the guests have no wedding dress. When the Lord appears they are cast out. In fact, there is only one comparison that we miss, that with Noah’s ark. At any rate the later idea of the corpus mixtum is fairly started on its way by the writings of these two men. The evangelist John also gives expression to it when he sets forth the difference between the true and the false disciples in the last discourses of our Lord. There are branches on the vine which bear no fruit. These, men gather together and throw them into the fire and burn them. They alone are true Christians, who besides faith have love and keep the commandments. Soon after the Fourth Gospel there appeared at Rome the “Shepherd” of Hermas, a book whose main purpose was to shatter the false security in which many 93 churchpeople were lulled to sleep. Let them beware: on the day of judgment whole masses of Christians were doomed to be lost. It is not enough to be called a Christian. That does not lead one into the kingdom of God. Only he who is strong in the strength of the Son of God and wears the robe of the Christian virtues dare hope for blessedness. And then he makes a list of all the nominal and worldly Christians, and passes judgment upon them. Here again we have true evangelistic thoughts. As often as they meet us we feel “here is the Spirit of Jesus,” though, it is true, Hermas has no longer quite enough uncompromising moral earnestness to carry them to their logical conclusion. On one occasion he speaks of such as will not reach the Tower (the kingdom of God) because of their sins, but will only get as far as a much lower place, and that only when they have been tormented and have fulfilled the days of their sins. And this grace is accorded to them because they have a lot and share in the word ‘righteous.’ Here we have the germs of a doctrine, not, indeed, identically the same as, but at least very like, the later doctrine of purgatory. That doctrine is a compromise between the stern dualism of Jesus (either kingdom of God or hell) and the idea of the Church, which tries to bridge over this dualism for its members. We have not, of course, got as far as this in Hermas. He still up holds the sentence of condemnation; sinners, even though they be Christians, shall be burnt with fire just as the heathen. The only strange thing is that those Christians who had so sharp an eye for the defects of the Church never venture to draw the 94 inference that the good prospers even outside of the Church and there wins God’s favour. The Church shuts in their thoughts like a high wall. We must be content if within this high confining wall they are in earnest about the Gospel as far as they can consistently with the idea of the Church.
We cannot be surprised to find that when once the Jewish idea of the Church had been taken over by the Christians, many other things followed in its track. A whole mass of Jewish customs and institutions were either directly borrowed or were imitated, so that there should be something in a Christian dress to replace them.
The constitution of the Church was closely assimilated to the Jewish by the Old Testament foundation of the episcopal system. The first letter of St Clement, written at the end of the first century, sets up the sharp distinction between clergy and laity according to the standard of the Old Testament. Fortunately the parallel was incomplete, for the Christian priestly castes had no privileges derived from birth. But the sharp dividing line between the orders was to subsist and be respected under heavy penalties. The centralization, too, of the public worship in opposition to the many conventicles held by the Gnostics received Old Testament sanction. Clement writes: “Sacrifices are not offered everywhere, but only in Jerusalem, and there not in every place but in front of the temple on the altar, after that the sacrifice has been examined by the high priest and his ministers.” Ignatius draws this conclusion: One altar, one bishop, one congregation of 95 worshippers. Where the bishop appears there let the people be.
The practice of paying the officials of the Church is also supported by Old Testament prescriptions regarding the support of the priests. In the Didache these dues are still paid to the prophets, “for they are your high priests.” The revision of the Didache in the later apostolic constitutions substitutes ‘priests’ for ‘prophets,’ and this correction dates back to very early times.
Jewish models again are followed in the development of the tradition and office of teacher. The Pastoral letters are the principal source of our evidence, although that combination of the episcopacy with the teaching office which it was the aim of these letters to further fell through. Jewish doctrine had been handed down both in written Scriptures and by oral tradition. It is to the Scriptures and tradition that the Christian now likewise appeals. In the first place, the Old Testament canon is saved from destruction in the struggle against the Gnostics, and receives recognition as the Word of God. Compared with it all Christian evidence, whether written or oral, is counted as tradition in the first instance. We begin to hear the watchwords, “Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles,” “Teaching of the apostles most sacred faith,” “The faith handed over to the saints.” We shall see later how this faith was formulated. We are here concerned with the form. The pseudo-Paul speaks of the apostolic deposit (παρακαταθήκη). It has been given by God to the apostle, and is to remain intact until the last day. This apostolic tradition is, of course, to be discovered above all in the 96 old Christian writings, and is there secured most safely from corruption. St Clement (about 95 A.D. at Rome) is acquainted with letters of St Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Acts, the Synoptic Gospels; and Polycarp (about 120 A.D. at Smyrna) with the First Epistle of St John and the First of St Peter besides. The manner in which both writers, Polycarp as well as Clement, use other people’s words as though they were their own without marks of quotation, shows us how intimate an acquaintance with Scripture is everywhere presupposed, even at this early date. By the side of this, however, oral tradition is counted as altogether inexhaustible. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, made especial use of it in his explanation of the sayings of Jesus. But this written and oral tradition was not allowed to develop without stint or stay. The safe keeping of the tradition was entrusted amongst the Jews to the succession of Rabbis, and in the Christian Church to the succession of bishops. Their office is simply to preserve and hand on faithfully that which they have received. All development, all progress, is prohibited. But for all their boasting of the doctrine once for all delivered to the saints, a constant process of evolution was at work amongst the Christians, just as it had been previously amongst the Jews.
The public worship of the Church was also looked upon as an imitation of the Jewish. A letter like that to the Hebrews was bound to impel men to try and find the Jewish originals almost for every detail. They wished to see the pattern which Moses had seen on the mount when he wrote the law. St Clement of Rome is the first writer acquainted 97 with the letter to the Hebrews, and he makes the application. The bishops are spoken of as “those who offer up the sacrifices”; the value of ceremonial observance and the heinousness of ceremonial offences is insisted upon. The metaphor of sacrifice must have been used from time immemorial in the Christian communities. First of all, they spoke of the sacrifice of Jesus, or the sacrifice of the heart. But soon prayers are offered up as sacrifices, and very soon, even in the Didache, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated as a sacrifice. The old conceptions of ceremonial purity and sanctity reappear forthwith. The Greek mysteries here exercised, it is true, almost as great an influence upon the Christian Church as the Jewish synagogue. But all that is consciously continued is the public worship of the Old Testament.
Sunday, the Lord’s day, takes the place of the Sabbath, first in the Apocalypse, then in the letter of Pliny, and in most writings of the second century. This celebration of Sunday by the Christians instead of the Sabbath, is for Ignatius an important sign of the new religion. Jewish liturgies are used for divine service with short Christian additions. Hence the regular confession of sins. This Jewish origin likewise accounts for the fact that the name of God the Father occurs so seldom in the prayers of the congregation. The First Epistle of Clement, the Pastoral epistles, and probably the Didache as well, contain instances of Jewish prayers adapted for Christian use. But an earlier document—the Apocalypse—is full of Jewish liturgies. Just as in the synagogue, the service of prayer is followed by the reading of Scripture, by the sermon, and by a concluding prayer; for plainly the 98 Acts, e.g., do not presuppose any other kind of service. The Lord’s Prayer is regarded as the chief prayer for individual use; as such it is to take the place of the Jewish “eighteen prayer”; hence the command to use it three times daily. The doxology, too, which is attached to it, is of Jewish origin. Together with the prayers, the practice of fasting is taken over from the synagogue, the only change being that of the days. Instead of Mondays and Thursdays the Christian is to fast Wednesdays and Fridays, “so as to be distinguished,” says the Didache, “from the hypocrites.” The whole meaning of this ecclesiastical fasting is derived from the synagogue; it does not only imply humiliation in God’s sight: it is also considered to be a means of obtaining special revelations.
In addition to this the Jewish institution of penance is very widely used in the case of particular faults of individuals. St Paul had been the first to introduce it. In his case this was absolutely necessary, for as he looked upon all sinful Christians as elect in spite of their sin, the possibility of repentance had to be left open for them. The evangelist Matthew shows us that amongst Jewish Christians a kind of penance was in use which he refers back to Jesus Himself. It rests upon a number of Jewish presuppositions. The Apocalypse proves a similar institution to have existed in Asia Minor, and according to Clement and Hermas we find it at Rome. Clement tries to derive it from Christian sources. Jesus’ blood is so precious in God’s sight that it obtained the grace of repentance for the whole world. But he immediately 99 reverts to Jewish thoughts. From one generation to another God gave the penitent room for repentance. Noah, Jonah, the prophets, all preached repentance. In the case of Hermas the Jewish conception of repentance follows almost of necessity from the sources which he used, for they attached an especial importance to right instruction as to repentance. Repentance is here regarded as a special divine favour. God grants it to one; He refuses it to another. The apostate and blasphemers of the Lord are alone excluded from it, as well as those that betray the servants of the Lord. For all other sinners there is a possibility of repentance, though with very varying chances of success. Repentance is essentially self-inflicted punishment. God does not at once pardon the penitent their sins. He that repents must inflict great torments upon himself and humiliate himself in all his ways, and pass through manifold tribulation. Abandonment of one’s sin is, of course, an essential part of penitence, but as that is a duty anyhow, it is not enough. Works of supererogation are necessary for the right kind of penance and self-humiliation. Such are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So the Second Epistle of St Clement enumerates them as instruments of penance of varying efficacy. The conclusion was probably formed by a public confession of sins, followed by the absolution of the Church.
There is no doubt that Jesus’ call to repentance was not without influence in the introduction of the practice of penance; but the Jewish influence was by far the more powerful. This was the source of the uncertainty which began to be felt by the Christians 100 as to the limits of repentance and forgiveness. There are deadly sins for which one dare not offer up a prayer for forgiveness. The First Epistle of St John emphasizes this point without mentioning the sins by name. Hermas enables us to obtain some idea of the conflicting opinions at Rome concerning repentance. The majority of the congregations appear to think that the possibility of repentance always remains open. On the other hand, Hermas heard some teachers profess the doctrine that there was no other repentance than that at baptism, the forgiveness consequent upon which related to previously committed sins alone. It is evident that Hermas subjected these two opinions to a careful examination, for what his vision reveals to him is practically a compromise between the two. It is first of all revealed to him that after a certain fixed day there is no more possibility of repentance for the righteous, but that the way is kept open for the Gentiles alone. Previously to this, however, a general indulgence is granted by God for all sins. Even those who denied the faith among the persecuted are pardoned. Later on Hermas converts this oracle, given to suit a certain definite time and place, into the general rule of the Church. Repentance is to take place once for all after baptism for every Christian. Hermas is guided in all this by the Jewish conception of penance, the needs of the Church, and inspiration, never by the teaching of Jesus.
As time went on fresh loans were continually being made. The conclusion to which our study of eschatology and of angelology led us, applies here 101 too. The influence of the Jewish Church increases the further we are removed from the time of Jesus. Jesus and His disciples, although born and bred Jews, are far less biassed by the Jewish ecclesiastical system than the later Christians, who only recognized the Jews as their declared enemies.
One great advantage the early Christians derived from their constant contact with the Jewish Church. Opposed as they were by a religion resting upon an entirely historical basis, they were preserved from the danger of allowing their religion to be subtilized into a philosophy. The defence of Jesus and the controversy about the Old Testament guarded them against this peril. Whatever form He might assume, the God of the Christians remained a God of works and no philosophical abstraction: He was identified with Righteousness, and Hope looked forward expectantly to His works in the future. It was just the battle with the Gnostics that taught the Christians to value their great debt to Judaism.
But setting aside this one advantage, the impression left by the anti-Jewish apologetic of the Christians is distinctly bad. It exhibits a finished skill in the explaining away of unpleasant facts or of perverting them, of inserting one’s own opinions into the text instead of simply explaining it. The sense of truth amongst the Christians in the sub-apostolic age must have been very small indeed. No certain answer is given to the central question: “Wherein does the superiority of Christianity over Judaism consist?” St Mark gives the best answer in his picture of Jesus as the Son of God exalted far above all parties 102 and authorities both in word and deed. But the true answer must surely contain more than this. It must show us that the Christians themselves and not only Jesus have been redeemed to a new and higher life. That was what St Paul had cried out in exultation for all the world to hear: “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature.” But since then we scarcely ever hear the answer in connection with apologetics; it is only in the parting discourses of Jesus to His disciples in the Fourth Gospel that we meet with any conception of the all-conquering power of the love of Christ. Everywhere else the tendency of apologetics with its false antitheses is to make St Paul’s answer downright impossible. If Christ revealed the whole of the Old Testament, what was the new element, then, which He brought? If Christianity is the new law, how is its freedom and inwardness to be recognized? If a new Church has merely been substituted for the old without losing any of its self-consciousness and fanaticism, what meaning can still be given to redemption from the Church? The attempt to crush the new religion into the categories of the old, lost all the ground that had been won by the destruction of these very categories by the new faith.
To these considerations we must add the by no means inconsiderable material influence of the Jewish Church, its piety, and ethics, and the invasion of Jewish literature and Jewish institutions. Politically Christianity becomes more opposed to the Jews than ever; the sequence—Paul, Luke, John and Barnabas—proves this. From a religious point of view, on the other hand, it makes advances to 103 Judaism and succumbs to the constant pressure of its influence. Catholicism, especially Roman Catholicism, is, from our point of view, the Judaizing of Christianity. It is not without reason that the Reformation means a reawakening of St Paul, the opponent of the Jews.104
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