|« Prev||Chapter VIII. Greek Philosophy.||Next »|
THE Apostle Paul would have nothing to do with philosophy. He was still an apologist of the layman’s religion. Human wisdom and divine revelation were entirely opposed to each other in his view. Long before his time, however, an alliance had been concluded between these two opposites in Alexandria and even in Palestine. As Clement of Alexandria so beautifully expresses it, the divine reason did not merely educate for Christianity the Jews through the law but the Greeks through philosophy. Philosophical and religious monotheism, philosophical and religious ethics, had met and had discovered, to their astonishment, that they were near relations. Had it not been for this alliance, Christianity had not conquered the world.
The first meeting-point was in the criticism of the old polytheistic faith. Greek philosophers had written text-books in which all the weaknesses and failings of mythology had been collected and 141 criticized. They had then proceeded to put forth various theories to explain the great deception, amongst others, the theory of Euhemerus. In his controversy with Apion, all that Josephus need do is simply to refer to the majority of the philosophers, especially Plato. There is no doubt that Aristides copied Greek patterns in his criticism. It is true that he says that he has the philosophers against him. It was, however, but one section of them, after all, which maintained that all the different gods proceeded in the end from one nature. In his Apologies Justin Martyr quotes the philosophers at every step as his authorities. By thus uniting with Greek philosophy in the removal of ignorant superstition, Christianity was able to boast at a very early date that it was a civilizing power.
The positive point of contact in monotheism was of still greater importance. Originally, it is true, Jews and Greeks attached a very different signification to the same name, for the Greeks started from the laws of nature and the Jews from the miracles of their historical past. As a matter of fact, therefore, their agreement in the use of the same formula meant the immediate and wide acceptance of the philosophical view of the world, both by Judaism and by Christianity. The process begins in the Jewish writings, even in the Old Testament itself, in the 9th chapter of the Proverbs. So, too, Philo’s idea of the world as an everlasting order fulfilled by the forces of Deity is entirely Greek.
Turning to the New Testament, we find the first traces of this Greek view, though naturally still intermingled with Jewish conceptions, in the two little 142apologetic speeches in the Book of the Acts (xiv. and xvii.). In the speech at Lystra, God is first introduced as the creator, and that with the current Jewish expressions. Characteristically Jewish, too, is the assertion that in the first place God occupied Himself only with Israel, and treated the heathen according to the principle of laissez aller, laissez faire. The whole order of nature, however, is regarded as showing forth God’s lovingkindness towards the heathen, and is in so far produced as a proof (‘testimony’). Here we have Greek popular philosophy in its simplest form; we can recognize it, too, by the emphasis laid on the goodness of God. The speech at Athens begins in the same way with a whole string of Jewish ideas—God the creator, criticism of the heathen religion, especially of idol worship, and then, finally, the eschatological menace. But in between these is a great deal borrowed from the Greeks. As in later Apologies, God is shown to be placed above all want. All the blessings of Nature, that we live and breathe, are His gifts. The heathen, too, have received their seasons and their boundaries from God, that they may seek God and find Him. Hereupon there follows the thoroughly Greek pantheistic formula, “In Him we live and move and have our being,” and this is supported by the quotation from Aratus, that all men are of God’s family. Even the word “the divine,” the abstract term instead of the person, is a sign that Hellenism has already gained considerable ground.
Our next document, St Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, is entirely impregnated with Greek popular philosophy (see especially chaps. xix., xxi., 143 xxiv. seq., and lx.). The Godhead there appears as Father and Creator of the whole world—a faith in God the Father which differs greatly from that of the early Christian—or as the great Demiurge and Lord of the universe. The constant and invariable order of Nature as God’s work is there described at great length. The heavens stand fast through God’s government (dioikesis); day and night succeed each other without let or injury. Sun and moon and stars continue in their appointed course. The earth knows its seasons and the sea its bounds. Summer and winter, spring and autumn, all follow in due course. The winds and rivers are alike governed by fixed laws, and laws likewise govern the instincts and impulses of the animal world. All this has been ordered by the Lord of the whole world, that peace and harmony may prevail, and all that He does is good. At first sight, it is true, this description of Nature resembles that of the Psalms. In both cases everything is referred back to God’s own command. And yet the point of view is more Greek than Jewish. The independence of Nature is greater. Between it and God stands His unchangeable ‘dioikesis.’
In chaps. xxiv. and xxv. we have the first attempt to find a rational basis for the belief in the resurrection by analogies from Nature. There is a resurrection throughout Nature, there is the change of night and day, of seed-time and of harvest. This is a proof of the greatness of God’s providence. The view is further supported by the great miracle of the resurrection of the phoenix, and finally there is a sufficient, if somewhat meagre, scriptural proof from the Old Testament.144
The concluding prayer is again addressed to the Demiurge of the universe, who has revealed the everlasting cosmical order by His manifestations. The prayer for princes (see page 108, supra) who stand under this government, is based upon this general belief in Providence.
The influence of the Greek cosmology and its optimism is especially striking at the beginning of Aristides’ apology. “Through God’s providence, O king, I came into the world, and as I regarded the heavens and the earth and the sea and the sun and the moon, I was amazed at the order (dioikesis) of these things. But when I perceived that the world and all that therein is, moves according to a fixed law, then I understood that He that moves it and rules over it is none other than God. For He that moves is mightier than that which is moved, and He that rules is stronger than those that are governed: Him therefore I call God. It is He that directs all things.” A principle of Aristotle is here directly taken over in a popular form. The enthusiastic admiration of the beauty of the cosmos is also thoroughly Greek.
God and the universe are bound more closely together in this Greek popular philosophy than in the Jewish faith. The belief in Providence was based upon natural religion. Lactantius could declare that it was the common property of all religions, and was firmly established before all revelation. Christianity is built up upon a rationalistic cosmology. This, however, was one of the tendencies which affected the new religion.
God and the world are rent asunder—this process goes on simultaneously with the former—the conception 145 of God is emptied of everything that is concrete and subtilized into something purely transcendental, into the negation of the world. One can only say of God what He is not. Thereby religion is forced to take refuge in flight from the world and mysticism, if it will still retain God.
Here, too, the Jews had shown the way. Philo, and after him Josephus, had drawn up long catalogues of the negative predicates of God—unbegotten, unchangeable, needing nothing, unknown in His essence, incomprehensible, without qualities. Josephus declares expressly that the Jewish conception of God is none other than the philosophical, such as was taught by Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, the Stoics, and nearly all the philosophers. Here, as everywhere, the Christians had merely to follow in the path which had been marked out for them by the Jews.
We find the first traces of this negative conception of God even in New Testament writings, in the Pastoral epistles, and in St John. There God is called “the King of the ages, the incorruptible, the invisible, the only true God,” or “the blessed and only potentate, who only hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable, whom no man hath seen or can see.” “God no man hath seen.” How widely removed are these Greek thoughts from the earlier Jewish realistic faith in God, the faith of men whose greatest delight was in the theophanies!
Even Hermas has taken up into his short commandment of faith in God the formula, “Who comprehends all, but is Himself not comprehended.” An apologetic tract dating from the beginning of 146 the second century, the sermon of St Peter, gives us the earliest Christian catalogue with the negative predicates of God. The God of the Christians, we here read, is a God who was at the beginning before all things and has power over the end. He is the invisible, who seeth everything; the incomprehensible, who comprehends everything; who needeth nothing, whom all need: the inconceivable, the eternal, the imperishable, the uncreated, who created all by His word of power.
Aristides, who is acquainted with the sermon of Peter, describes God as Him that is without beginning, the invisible, the immortal, who needeth nothing, who is exalted high above all passions and defects, such as wrath and sorrow and ignorance. Through Him all things coexist. He needeth neither sacrifices nor offerings, nor anything that is visible, but all need Him. Later apologists simply follow Aristides with shorter or longer catalogues.
Such was the origin of a contradiction which crept into the Christian faith in God. For the stoical theory of immanence, to which the doctrine of the dioikesis corresponds, and the Platonic theory of transcendence, which finds its expression in the negative predicates, are irreconcilable. Immanence implies the complete unity of God with the cosmos. Transcendence implies the conception of God as the entire negation of the world. This contradiction very frequently escaped notice. God was thrust out of sight far behind the world, and yet the belief in a constant divine providence is not abandoned. Where the inconsistency, however, was noticed, there the 147 doctrine of intermediary beings arose, which furnished a proof of the divine power in the world of phenomena without locating the eternal in the finite.
Angels and demons were the connecting link between the remote God and the visible world for the popular belief. Philosophy substituted the ‘Logoi’ or the ‘Logos’ and the Holy Spirit for the angels.
Here Philo had paved the way for the Christians. He himself was a Platonist, feeling himself a stranger in this phenomenal world while his true home was in the world of ideas. He did not introduce the conception of Logos into Jewish thought. Stoic and Aristotelian philosophers had done that before him. But just as he appropriated the work of his Jewish predecessors to a very large extent, even where they followed other Greek philosophers, so he took up the conception of the Logos from this tradition, and adapted it to Platonic modes of thought by defining it more sharply, and by individualizing it both as regards God and as regards the world. Even in Philo we find the Logos called the “second God,” and the Old Testament was interpreted with reference to him.
Nor was Philo the only forerunner in this direction.
In the Wisdom of Solomon the spirit of wisdom is described, in accordance with the Stoic doctrine, as an infinitely subtilized, universal reason that pervades everything and is yet distinct from God Himself.
Of Christian writers, St Paul was the first to look upon Christ as such an intermediary being, higher than all the angels, yet lower than God Himself, nor was the term Logos as yet applied to Him. It was 148 no philosophical problem that had moved St Paul to take this view. He wished to find Christ in the whole of the Old Testament. This was only possible by depriving God and the angels of a great portion of the sphere of their activity. Jesus, however, thereby comes to be the God that actively works in the world.
Then the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews developed his Pauline theology by means of conceptions taken directly from Alexandrine sources. The world was created through the Son of God. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the impress of His substance, upholding all things by the word of His power. In the 45th Psalm He is called God—of course as Son, i.e., as God in a secondary sense. The very word ‘reflection’ is used as an attribute of wisdom in the Wisdom of Solomon. But this disciple of Philo did not venture as yet to apply the word ‘Logos’ to Jesus.
In the prologue of the Fourth Gospel, however, this name appears clearly and unmistakably. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was a God.” Dependence on Philo’s writings is possible, yet it is not even absolutely necessary to presuppose it. The cosmological character of the opening sentences clearly points to a philosophical source. Between God and the world stands the Logos. On the one hand He is with God, on the other everything is created by Him. He is called ‘a’ God, but not ‘the’ God; in exactly the same way Philo distinguished between God with and God without the article, and supported this distinction by Old Testament proofs. The most 149 suitable name is Son of God, or rather the only Son, in distinction from the ‘children’ of God, who only become children by His mediation. He is not only the creator of the world but its supporter, as in Him is all life.
Now the fact is of great importance that the man who introduced the Logos into the Gospel was not himself a philosopher, nor did the problem of the mediation between God and the world cause him any anxiety or difficulty. It is for apologetic and not philosophical ends that he makes use of the theory of the Logos. If, therefore, he ascribes a cosmological signification to the Logos, notwithstanding all this, then he must have been determined to do so by a firmly established tradition. It was an accepted theory—derived either from Philo or elsewhere—that the Logos had created and supported the world. The evangelist accepts this view in order to make it the basis for the transition to the apologetic, which is the sole aim of the whole of his prologue.
He lived at a time when the Gnostics had already begun to interpolate their endless genealogies of aeons between the purely negative first cause of all things and the existing world. The belief in the existence of intermediary beings between God and ourselves had naturally been strengthened in consequence. The evangelist himself reduces the number of these intermediary beings to one—to that one who was most intelligible to the Greeks. The fact that he does this in a Gospel constitutes the boldness of his act.
It was the celebrated passage in the Gospel of St 150 John which established the supremacy of the theory of the Logos in the Church. We find a reference to it as early as in Justin Martyr. We read, he says, in one of the memoirs of the apostles of Jesus: “He was the only Son of the Father of all, begotten of Him in a unique manner as Logos and Power.”
The position that Justin occupies with regard to the Logos theory is at bottom that of his great teacher. He uses it for apologetic purposes. He has no interest whatever in its cosmological aspect. It is a traditional doctrine, and no new thesis of Justin’s, that God created and ordered the world by the Logos. It is only in one point that we recognize that we are no longer dealing with the earliest age. The manner in which the Logos proceeds from God has come to be the subject of reflection, and no wonder, when we remember the interminable speculations of the Gnostics as to the procession of the aeons from the First Cause. Justin finds the closest analogy in fire. Just as from one fire a second is kindled without any diminution of the former, so the Logos proceeds from God as a second divine being, and yet God Himself does not suffer any loss thereby. He decidedly rejects the comparison of the Logos to a sunbeam, which the sun sends forth as it rises and again draws back as it sets, because it destroys the personal individuality of the Logos.
It was inevitable, if God disappeared behind the world so completely that all His government was effected by intermediary beings, that matter should all the more appear to have an independent existence, and its origin become a problem for Christian teachers.
Once again it was the Jews who had framed the 151 theories with the help of Greek conceptions, and the Christians had taken them over. It would seem that they developed the doctrine of the creation as a bringing into being of the previously non-existent in the interest of monotheism.
The earliest statement of this theory is to be found in the second book of the Maccabees: “Look up to heaven and on the earth, and when thou hast seen all things therein, know thou that God created them out of the things that were not (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων}, and that thus the race of men arose.” This is to be the basis of the faith in a life after death.
This theory found early acceptance with the Christians. St Paul calls God Him who summons into being that which was not (τὰ μὴ ὄντα). He is thinking of the awakening of the dead, but the same remark applies to the creation. The Epistle to the Hebrews formulates the belief in creation in accordance with this theory: By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath been made out of things which do not appear (μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων). Hermas, too, enunciates the same theory in the First Commandment: “It is God who created all things, and perfected them, and made all things out of that which was not so that it was.” Although Hebrew in origin, this theory is Greek in form. We are reminded that Plato calls matter the non-existent (μὴ ὄν).
A second theory supposed matter to be eternal but in a chaotic condition, and caused the cosmos to arise through God’s creation from chaos. This, theory might be based on Gen. i., “The earth was, 152 waste and void.” We find it amongst the Jews in the Wisdom of Solomon, where we read of wisdom, “He created the world out of shapeless matter.” Justin is the first Christian author, as far as we know, to accept it: “In the beginning God, of His goodness, created all things out of shapeless matter. By transforming shapeless matter, God created the world.”
The two theories, creation out of nothing, creation out of the chaos, are not in reality very dissimilar. Philo, e.g., uses words of the first theory, and thinks according to the second. If only the thought of the creation is strictly preserved the rest is a matter of indifference.
The early Christians did not really elaborate any cosmologies. The story of Genesis was quite sufficient for them. The need had not as yet arisen. The world was God’s. This was the unshaken faith of the Church. It was only the Gnostics, who separated the redemption from the creation, who were obliged to ransack Greek philosophy, and hunt after cosmological questions.
Greeks, Jews, and Christians thus finding a common meeting ground in their monotheistic faith, the horizon of the early Christians was immensely enlarged. They suddenly became aware of the fact that the Gentile world was by no means the God-forsaken, devil-deluded mass of corruption which it had before been held to be. In its monotheistic philosophy it possessed much that was closely akin to the truth. The same conclusion was reached by an even superficial examination of Greek ethics. Jewish laws and Stoic 153 ethics had long ago met and concluded an alliance at Alexandria. The four Greek cardinal virtues are praised in the Wisdom of Solomon, in the fourth book of the Maccabees, and by Philo. Even St Paul had adopted ethical conceptions from the popular philosophy, such as reason, nature, and conscience, nor had the idea of the law written on the heart of man, which was so widely prevalent amongst both Greeks and Jews, repelled him. He and his successors discovered that however Christian life might differ from heathen, there was a very far-reaching theoretical agreement in the fundamental moral conceptions, in what was to be called good and evil.
Now the more firmly this knowledge of a certain relationship between Christianity and all that was good and sound in Hellenism was established amongst Christian teachers, the more eagerly were apologetics bound to attempt to profit by the relationship. But one more bold step was needed and the divine element would be recognized even in non-Christian religions. Hence arose a twofold task for apologetics. The foundation of the relationship between the Christian and non-Christian must be proved, and at the same time care must be taken that the superiority of Christianity should no longer be questioned. The absolute claims advanced by the Church must be reconciled with the relative rights of so-called natural religion.
One great obstacle stood in the way. There was the old theory set up by St Paul of the Spirit as the exclusive possession of the Church. Did not the Christians feel themselves from the very first in direct opposition to the world around them? Their 154 thoughts, feelings and experiences appeared to them to be something altogether peculiar, which at first only occasioned contradiction and revealed itself in this contradiction as something which had its origin beyond this world. Based upon this conviction, which was commonly held by all Christians, St Paul set up the theory that the natural man neither understands nor can understand the things of the Spirit. In spite of the vigorous exclusiveness which this theory assumes in its ecclesiastical dress, it reveals that feeling of possessing something peculiar and all-powerful without which Christianity would never have made its way through the world. But the whole edifice began to totter when apologetics suddenly appealed to the direct opposite, to the relationship with that which was outside the Church. All that was characteristic of Christianity threatened to be held by an exceedingly precarious tenure.
As was to be expected, the new thoughts were at first firmly established side by side with the old ones, without expelling them or even weakening them. We possess a very wonderful document which sets us in the very midst of this transition, revealing as it does the old exclusive spirit and the new assimilating tendencies. It is the Gospel of St John.
From one point of view this writing is as clear a piece of evidence as we possess of the narrow and sectarian spirit in early Christianity. The theory of the Spirit here assumes the most exclusive shape. Whilst other Christian teachers—the author of the First Epistle of St Peter and of the letter of St Clement—readily assume that the Christian spirit spoke from the Old Testament prophets, John 155 declares that the Spirit did not exist at all before Christ’s ascension. It is not possible to confine the Spirit more rigorously within the bounds of the Christian Church (and along with the Spirit the higher knowledge). Hence the unbridged chasm between church and world in John xiv.-xvi. It is only to the Church that Jesus sends the spirit of truth. “The world cannot receive Him, because it neither beholdeth Him nor knoweth Him. Ye know Him, for He abideth with you, and shall be in you.” This passage we may illustrate by the conversation between Jesus and the Jewish Rabbi Nicodemus, in which Christ and the Jew stand opposed to each other as spirit and flesh. Only he that is baptized and has received the Spirit is able to grasp the Christian mysteries. To one outside the Church they are all folly; he cannot even understand the Christian language, and stumbles along from one misunderstanding to another. To take the birth from above as implying above all a moral experience, is to interpret this conversation wrongly. The moral element is comparatively unimportant. A man may be moral even before he becomes a Christian. All the emphasis is laid upon knowledge, upon the understanding. Nicodemus is the type of a Jew who lacks the one thing needful in spite of all his wisdom—the open mind for the Christian faith. This mind is only to be acquired within the Church. These are thoughts similar to those of St Paul in First Corinthians. They exclude all apologetics if followed out consistently. It is the early Church which thus speaks.
But this narrow theory of the Spirit has its exact 156 counterpart in the Logos doctrine of the prologue. There we have apologetics, and with what grand liberty of thought. There is a divine revelation even outside the Christian Church. First of all, amongst the Jews, the people of the Logos’ “own possession,” where patriarchs and prophets both heard and saw some fragments of the Divine Revelation. But not only there. The Logos is the light of men. He lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world long before the appearance of Christ. All the Divine Revelation, all the truth that existed in the world and still exists, may be traced back to the same Logos whom the Christians honour. The tragic sum total of history is, it is true, clearly set forth by the prologue. The Divine Revelation met with resistance; the world did not recognize the Logos. The mere fact of the existence of the Gentile world taken as a whole sufficiently proves this. Israel’s history, too, is rather a record of resistance to revelation than of faithful acceptation. And yet there were children of God before the life of Jesus upon earth. Christianity is nothing new: it is as old as, nay, older than the world itself. All that is reasonable in the world is divine, and its source is revelation. But wherein, then, does the advantage of Christianity consist? In it alone the Logos became flesh, so that the full divine glory became visible to the eyes of men and was handled by their hands. The great prerogative which Christianity possesses above all other religions is the overpowering evidence of the divine in the person of Jesus. Therefore it is the completion, the conclusion, of the whole history of revelation.157
This method of apologetics was only rendered possible by a Greek conception, the Logos. The evangelist presupposes that his readers are familiar with the idea of the Logos. That is why he has hopes of being able to lead them to Christ. As one can only come to Christ within the Church, the object of the apologetics is clear. If you wish to attain to the complete possession of the Logos, and be altogether reasonable, then become Christians.
These thoughts of the prologue do not recur in the course of the narrative. The author shows his good taste in not putting his own theories into Christ’s mouth. But in other ways he remains true to his apologetic standpoint. He ascribes to non-Christian ethics a preparatory position: it is a school to lead to Christ. That also was a bold innovation. It is true that St Paul had once theoretically conceded the point that there might be heathen who fulfil the law. But his only object in making this concession was to abate the pretensions of the Jews to the exclusive possession of the law. Practically he condemns all heathen without exception as lost sinners, in whom dwells nothing good, who entirely depend upon the Spirit of Christ in their Church for the power to fulfil the divine will.
The majority of Christians assumed as a matter of course that all heathen were ‘unrighteous,’ ‘sinners,’ that only Christians could do that which was good. A consequence of this was that the heathen began to speak of the Christians as of a company of criminals that shunned the light and sought to escape punishment, and indeed it was easy to point to many abandoned outcasts who had 158 obtained admission in the Church. It would seem that the author of the Lucan writings was one of the first to call attention to the danger that there lay in the conception of Christianity as a religion for sinners only. Hence in his first speech to the Gentiles, St Peter declares: Everywhere he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him and can become a Christian. The fourth evangelist goes a good deal further when he describes Christianity simply as the religion of all that is good and healthy. Just as Logos and Spirit above, however, so now the recognition and the rejection of a non-Christian morality strive violently for the mastery. The farewell speeches of Jesus to the disciples put forward the old proposition: “as the branch apart from the vine cannot bring forth any fruit,” so the Christian without Jesus can do nothing, or apart from the ecclesiastical faith there can be no true morality. But many passages of the twelve first chapters intended for the non-Christian world speak a quite different language. The existence of good people outside of the Church is a necessary presupposition here. “Every one that doeth ill hateth the light and cometh not to the light lest his works should be reproved; but he that doeth the truth cometh to the light that his works may be made manifest, because they have been wrought in God.” Hence the absence of all emphasis on the forgiveness of sins in the sayings of Jesus. Mention is, of course, made of the fact, for that the world needs saving is still as true as ever. But yet Jesus is far from being the Saviour of sinners as He was in the Third Gospel. Plainly and unmistakably 159 the author appeals to all sound moral natures in the invitation: He that doeth God’s will shall recognize the divine nature of Christianity. It is just such pure and noble characters as Nathaniel that the Father draws to the Son, i.e., suffers to become Christians.
Wherein, then, it may very naturally be asked, does the advantage of Christianity consist, if there are those that work righteousness even outside the Church, and yet the road to blessedness is through the Church alone? The author would probably answer that the vision of the kingdom, the gift of everlasting life, the resurrection of the dead, the close communion with God, do in any case continue to be divine gifts which the doing of the divine will neither gives by itself nor deserves. Obedience to God which manifests itself in the moral life is, it is true, a condition of blessedness, but is not blessedness itself. Such is the opinion of all the early Christians, the simple proof of which is their eschatology. Therefore for the sake of future blessedness, even those that are morally sound still have need to become Christians. And besides, we need but look at the First Epistle of St John to see how high an opinion the evangelist personally entertained as to the gift of forgiveness.
A Christian is a man who has received forgiveness. St John’s final opinion is surely this, then: that life without Christ is entirely sinful, if even life with Christ never roots out sin. The statements, therefore, about the naturally good who come to the light have to be limited as far as the principle itself is concerned. They have only an apologetic value. But for all that, this instance of an apology of Christianity 160 without any theory of sin, simply on the basis of the attractive power of the good, is very striking.
The peculiarity of the Johannine theology is just this, that Logos and Spirit are placed side by side in it and nowhere mediated. On the one hand, we have a perfectly open mind for the world and wide sympathies; on the other, extreme narrowness, and both are harboured by the same man. He stands at the turning-point of the ages. For him the old sectarian spirit in Christianity still resists any attempt at an approach towards the world. But at the same time his apologetic instincts and the desire to gain converts cause him to go out beyond all these narrow boundaries. In the same writing we have philosophy and its antinomy. And such is ever the way with those writers to whom it is vouchsafed to exercise a widespread influence over widely different natures.
Within a few years of the date of John a likewise unknown author writes the sermon of St Peter. He speaks of Jesus therein as ‘the law’ and ‘reason.’ This apologist can scarcely have been thinking of the Jewish law when he uses the word law. The fact that he couples law with reason prevents our making this assumption. It is the law which all men possess and know, the sum of moral knowledge which the then world presupposed in every man. When Jesus therefore was called Reason and Law, the author meant to speak of Him as the ideal of all religion and moral knowledge.
We find this view set forth at some length in Justin, the philosophical successor of St John. His apologetics deal with the conception of the Logos, the 161 Dialogue with Trypho rather with the idea of the law. By this time, however, the consequences were drawn from St John’s apology. The theory of the Spirit was dropped. This result followed necessarily from the altered position of Christianity in the world. The doctrine of the Spirit suited its earlier sectarian existence with its aversion to the world. It was abandoned when letters were addressed by the Church to the Roman emperors seeking their protection, for to them this appeal to the spirit of the Christians was bound to appear a childish mistake. The question now was how Christians could defend themselves against the world while using the world’s own weapons. But the old theory of the Spirit was likewise rendered untenable by the custom of disputation with Jewish Rabbis. He that appeals to the Spirit has no right to engage in disputation. He cannot do it. The necessary conditions for disputation—an intellectual form of duelling—were the employment of the same weapons, the knowledge of the Scriptures, a right exegesis, and the drawing of right conclusions. Of course, if we possessed devotional or even anti-gnostic writings of Justin’s, writings intended to be read within the Church, we should very probably infer that Christians still appealed, and that constantly, to the Spirit. But such appeal was found to disappear from the apologies and disputations.
Justin’s remarks about the Logos look like a learned exposition of the prologue of St John. For Justin, too, the Logos is the light of all men. Justin, however, consciously applies this statement to Greek philosophy, of which St John had not as yet thought. 162 Reason dwells in every man. All that happens reasonably is an effect of the Logos Christ. The Logos cannot be traced more clearly in the prophets than in the philosophers, Socrates, the Stoics, the poets. In the Second Apology Justin adopts the Stoic expression of the spermatic Logos. But as in the case of St John, the full revelation of the Logos is only to be found within the Church. Here alone the Logos became man and took to Himself a shape. Here alone He was revealed, revealed perfect and entire and no longer partially, and that so clearly that all misunderstanding is impossible. And, besides, Justin limits his bold statements concerning the universal revelation of the Logos by the assertion, which he has taken over from the Jewish apologetic, that, after all, the Greek philosophers borrowed or stole out of the Old Testament the truths which they declared.
There is a still further development when we pass from the few scattered indications of St John concerning the morality that exists outside of the Church to Justin’s clear theory. There is a natural moral law which existed in the hearts of men long before the Mosaic dispensation. The patriarchs lived in accordance therewith, and were therefore well pleasing to God. Nor were the Greek philosophers or poets without knowledge of it, for the Logos-seed taught them. This natural moral law, largely forgotten in course of time, obscured and disfigured as it had come to be, Christ restored again, and gave to it its simplest eternal expression.
These apologetics differ completely from St Paul’s. The difference lies in the far larger measure of 163 concession that is made to the Greek world. The Christians acquire the consciousness that their religion is just as closely related to Hellenism as it is to Judaism. They agree with Greek philosophers and poets in three main points—in the monotheistic faith, in the view of the moral law and of moral freedom, and in the hope of a future life. Apologetics now start from this fact, finding powerful aid in the two Greek conceptions of Reason and Law. These are interpreted as the gifts of Christ, and the man Jesus is regarded as their incarnation and perfection. Through reason and law all men are led right up to the door of the Church. But it is only entrance into the Church that guides them to absolute truth and certainty. Nothing could be broader or more tolerant than these apologetics at the beginning, but in the end they are confined within very narrow limits. The new theory is no whit less ecclesiastical than the Pauline. Measured by a religious standard, it is far the inferior. St Paul placed redemption in the centre, here we have revelation; on the one hand we have the new life, on the other the higher knowledge. We have the apologetics of rationalism, nor is the prominent position assigned to reason fortuitous. Such a system was bound to be favourably received by the Greeks. It threatened Christianity, however, with a great danger. The new religion ran the risk of being dragged down to the merely intellectual level, and deprived in a great measure of its regenerative moral force. But a new and hopeful vista likewise opened out to it. It was only now that Christianity completely entered into the great intellectual history of mankind, finding points of contact 164 with all good and great thoughts, and producing in interaction with them, both giving and receiving, a new and deeper conception of God and of reality.
The unmistakable tendency on the part of apologetics to incorporate philosophical conceptions is, however, only one side of the great though gradual transformation of Christianity into a philosophy like that of Philo’s. Several other phenomena point in the same direction.
Philo and Josephus had proclaimed the Jewish religion to be a philosophy long before this. But such an idea was entirely foreign to the first preachers of Christianity. For St Paul the word ‘philosophy’ denoted a bad, an ungodlike form of science, and such was the opinion of all Christians for a long time to come. Nearly a century passed before an ecclesiastical Christian, Justin, ventured to call Christianity the only certain and useful philosophy. But then we must remember that facts precede reflexion as a rule. Two writings that were accepted in the canon—the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Fourth Gospel—give rise to the question whether Christianity itself was not beginning to become philosophical.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is still entirely under the Jewish Alexandrine influence. The use it makes of the Old Testament, of definitions and of dogmas, its Platonic terminology, are all philosophical. Nowhere else in the New Testament do we find such a definition of Faith as that in Heb. xi. 1, nor such dogmas as to the creation of the world and the being of God as in Heb. xi. 3-6. The 165 Old Testament is regarded as a mysterious book of oracles which is to be interpreted according to Platonic presuppositions. A fundamental presupposition is the distinction between two worlds, the invisible world of ideas, the type, and this present world, which is the antitype. Yonder are the heavenly realities, the patterns; here the shadows, the copies, the figures. The definition of Faith rests upon this distinction. It is a conviction regarding the invisible, i.e., the certainty of the world of ideas. Only all this Platonism receives an unexpected Christian turn by the combination of the Platonic world of ideas with this eschatology. In future it is to become visible. It is through this turn that the element of hope enters into the definition of Faith. From a theoretical point of view, therefore, the Christianity of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Platonic philosophy plus Christian hope. At the same time it is perfectly clear which is the source of true life.
Now it is a question whether the Fourth Gospel also presupposes a like Greek philosophy even if it does not preach it. In favour of this view we have the fact that it became the favourite gospel of the Alexandrine philosophers.
It was by comparing St John with the Synoptists that Clement and Origen were impressed by the philosophical character of the Fourth Gospel. This we can readily understand. We need but fix our attention on two points—the facts that are no longer related of Christ, and in the next place the style of His discourses. They are for the most part of a parabolical character, such as no initiated hearer could understand; words are used in different senses; 166 there are definitions of God and of everlasting life. Next to His Divinity there is nothing in the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel which strikes one more prominently than the Teacher—that is, in other words, the philosopher. In the first gospels Jesus is not called the Redeemer at all, but He is described as such. In the Fourth Gospel He is not the Redeemer, but at most the teacher of the truth that He is the Redeemer. He is fond of pouring out a stream of mysteries in apparently simple language, much as did the Clement of the Stromateis a century later. Hence even the last discourses assume at times something of a cold and didactic tone. The stories of the miracles, too, resemble didactic parables. In them miracles are the outward signs of spiritual truths. The author appears to be less concerned with the wonder than with its deeper meaning. In this sense one may term the Fourth Gospel a philosophical work.
This conception, however, of the Fourth Gospel as a philosophical work to which the Alexandrines first gave currency, and which is still widely held to-day, is a radically wrong one. John’s main idea, the descent of the Son of Man to reveal the Father, is unphilosophical. It is not in philosophical speculation, but in myths, that we must seek for analogies to it. The only purpose which the author sets before himself in this work is the awakening of Faith in this Son of Man who has come from heaven. True, it bears a strongly didactic character, but the truths that it teaches are those of the Church’s apologetic—the dignity of Jesus, the office of Jesus, the rewards of the faithful, the punishment of the foes of the Church167—all this, and not truths of a universal philosophy. God is defined as Spirit in order to establish the superiority of Christian universalism over Jewish and Samaritan particularism. The saying as to everlasting life is anything rather than a real definition, and all the conclusions drawn therefrom as to St John’s intellectualism are certainly not drawn in accordance with his true nature. Again, a philosophical character has been ascribed to the words, “Blessed are they that do not see and yet believe.” Yet all that they say is that we must believe in the resurrection of Jesus without having been an eyewitness thereof. So, too, the Johannine miracles are never intended to be taken in a purely allegorical sense. The fact of their actual occurrence is the irrefragable proof of God’s appearance upon earth. Luther’s estimate is the right one when he speaks of the Fourth Gospel as the great gospel of the grace of God and of faith, and points to its harmony with St Paul.
On the whole, all that has been said about the influence of Hellenism upon Christianity in this epoch must be regarded as something preliminary, and therefore incomplete. It is only a beginning of the great Hellenizing of Christianity; the old piety existed side by side with it in full force, and Jewish influences are evenly balanced against Greek. And still more, Judaism, especially Hellenistic Judaism, still constantly forms the channel for Greek culture to enter into the Church itself. Yet this beginning is certainly not without importance. By the year 100 we are almost justified in saying that the germ had been formed of the complete transformation of 168 Christianity. To judge by externals indeed the Greeks are still called wicked heathen whose gods are demons. Whilst Christianity proclaims itself as the true Judaism it would only be regarded as the enemy of Paganism. And yet how much it borrows in the sphere of religion and philosophy alike! The Greek religion presented it with the new God Jesus, the mysteries, and the picture of hell, while Greek philosophy furnished a rational faith—a conception of the cosmos—an entirely new apologetic based upon the ideas of reason and law, the first beginnings of the treatment of Christianity as a philosophy. These accretions turned out to be both a blessing and a curse to Christendom. The new religion is dragged deep down into the depths of superstition and of magic till the living person of Jesus is almost lost in the complicated system of ecclesiastical rites and mysteries. And the evil excrescences of Greek intellectualism, sophistry, rhetorical extravagance, the love of argument, make their entry into the Churches. But at the same time the intellectual horizon of the Christians is widened, they begin to develop a view of the universe out of their faith, and to honour in the works of Greek philosophers the same divine power which spoke to them from the life of Jesus. And that rightly. For in that period of confusion, when religion and superstition were everywhere intermingled, it was Greek philosophy alone which rendered it possible for men to understand spiritual realities, such as the Gospel, in a spiritual fashion. Greek philosophy alone permanently preserved Christianity from degenerating into the lowest form of superstition into which multitudes 169 that thirsted for salvation and that needed redemption threatened to sink. For such multitudes any and every kind of service or mystery answered the purpose, provided it procured peace and comfort. One of the best results of the Fourth Gospel was that Christ and truth were indissolubly connected, and that thereby religion was directed beyond the wishes and needs of the individual heart to the everlasting spiritual realities, to attain to an even deeper and more living knowledge of which had been the great end of Greek, philosophy.170
|« Prev||Chapter VIII. Greek Philosophy.||Next »|