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THE apostolic age now lies behind us. We have seen that in the course of it the Gospel was detached from the mother soil of Judaism and placed upon the broad field of the Graeco-Roman Empire. The apostle Paul was the chief agent in accomplishing this work, and in thereby giving Christianity its place in the history of the world. The new connexion which it thus received did not in itself denote any restricted activity; on the contrary, the Christian religion was intended to be realised in mankind, and mankind at that time meant the orbis Romanus. But the new connexion involved the development of new forms, and new forms also meant limitation and encumbrance. We shall see more closely how this was effected if we consider


The Gospel did not come into the world as a statutory religion, and therefore none of the forms in which it assumed intellectual and social expression205—not even the earliest can be regarded as possessing a classical and permanent character. The historian must always keep this guiding idea before him when he undertakes to trace the course of the Christian religion through the centuries from the apostolic age downwards. As Christianity rises above all antitheses of the Here and the Beyond, life and death, work and the shunning of the world, reason and ecstasy, Hebraism and Hellenism, it can also exist under the most diverse conditions; just as it was originally amid the wreck of the Jewish religion that it developed its power. Not only can it so exist—it must do so, if it is to be the religion of the living and is itself to live. As a Gospel it has only one aim—the finding of the living God, the finding of Him by every individual as his God, and as the source of strength and joy and peace. How this aim is progressively realised through the centuries—whether with the coefficients of Hebraism or Hellenism, of the shunning of the world or of civilisation, of Gnosticism or of Agnosticism, of ecclesiastical institution or of perfectly free union, or by whatever other kinds of bark the core may be protected, the sap allowed to rise—is a matter that is of secondary moment, that is exposed to change, that belongs to the centuries, that comes with them and with them perishes.

Now the greatest transformation which the new 206religion ever experienced—almost greater even than that which gave rise to the Gentile Church and thrust the Palestinian communities into the background—falls in the second century of our era, and therefore in the period which we shall consider in the present lecture.

If we place ourselves at about the year 200, about a hundred or a hundred and twenty years after the apostolic age, not more than three or four generations had gone by since that age came to an end,—what kind of spectacle does the Christian religion offer?

We see a great ecclesiastical and political community, and side by side with it numerous “sects” calling themselves Christian, but denied the name and bitterly opposed. That great ecclesiastical and political community presents itself as a league of individual communities spanning the empire from end to end. Although independent they are all constituted essentially alike, and interconnected by one and the same law of doctrine, and by fixed rules for the purposes of intercommunion. The law of doctrine seems at first sight to be of small scope, but all its tenets are of the widest significance; and together they embrace a profusion of metaphysical, cosmological, and historical problems, give them definite answers, and supply particulars of mankind’s development from the creation up to its future form 207of existence. Jesus’ injunctions for the conduct of life are not included in this law of doctrine; as the “rule of discipline” they were sharply distinguished from the “rule of faith.” Each Church, however, also presents itself as an institution for public worship, where God is honoured in conformity with a solemn ritual. The distinction between priests and laymen is already a well-marked characteristic of this institution; certain acts of divine worship can be performed only by the priest; his mediation is an absolute necessity. It is only by mediation that a man can approach God at all, by the mediation of right doctrine, right ordinance, and a sacred book. The living faith seems to be transformed into a creed to be believed; devotion to Christ, into Christology; the ardent hope for the coming of “the kingdom,” into a doctrine of immortality and deification; prophecy, into technical exegesis and theological learning; the ministers of the Spirit, into clerics; the brothers, into laymen in a state of tutelage; miracles and miraculous cures disappear altogether, or else are priestly devices; fervent prayers become solemn hymns and litanies; the “Spirit” becomes law and compulsion. At the same time individual Christians are in full touch with the life of the world, and the burning question is, “In how much of this life may I take part without losing my position as a Christian?” This 208enormous transformation took place within a hundred and twenty years. The first thing which we have to determine is, How did that happen? next, Did the Gospel succeed in holding its own amid this change, and how did it do so?

Before, however, we try to answer these two questions, we must call to mind a piece of advice which no historian ought ever to neglect. Anyone who wants to determine the real value and significance of any great phenomenon or mighty product of history must first and foremost inquire into the work which it accomplished, or, as the case may be, into the problem which it solved. As every individual has a right to be judged, not by this or that virtue or defect, not by his talents or by his frailties, but by what he has done, so the great edifices of history, the states and the churches, must be estimated, first and foremost, we may perhaps say exclusively, by what they have achieved. It is the work done that forms the decisive test. With any other test we are involved in judgments of the vaguest kind, now optimistic, now pessimistic and mere historical twaddle. So here, too, in considering the Church as developed into Catholicism, we must first of all ask, In what did its work consist? What problem did it solve? What did it achieve? I will answer the last question first. 209It achieved two things: it waged war with nature-worship, polytheism, and political religion, and beat them back with great energy; and it exploded the dualistic philosophy of religion. Had the Church at the beginning of the third century been asked in tones of reproach, “How could you recede so far from where you began? To what have you come?” it might have answered: “Yes, it is to this that I have come: I have been obliged to discard much and admit much; I have had to fight—my body is full of scars, and my clothes are covered with dust; but I have won my battles and built my house; I have beaten back polytheism; I have disabled and almost annihilated that monstrous abortion, political religion; I have resisted the enticements of a subtle religious philosophy, and victoriously encountered it with God, the almighty Creator of all things; lastly, I have reared a great building, a fortress with towers and bulwarks, where I guard my treasure and protect the weak.” This is the answer which the Church might have given, and truthfully given. But, someone may object, it was no great achievement to wage war with nature-worship and polytheism, and to beat them back; they had already rotted and decayed, and had little strength left. The objection does not hold. Many of the forms in which that species of religion had taken shape were, no doubt, 210antiquated and approaching extinction, but the religion itself, the religion of nature, was a mighty foe. It even still avails to beguile our souls and touch our heart-strings with effect, when an inspired prophet voices its message; how much more so then! The hymn to the Sun, giving life to all that lives, produced a profound and lifelong religious impression even upon a Goethe, and made him into a Sun-worshipper. But how overpowering it was in the days before science had banished the gods from nature! Christianity exploded the religion of nature,—exploded it not for this or that individual; that was already done,—but exploded it in the sense that there was now a large and compact community refuting nature-worship and polytheism by its impressive doctrines, and affording the deeper religious temper stay and support. And then political religion! Behind the imperial cult there was the whole power of the state, and to come to terms with it looked so safe and easy—yet the Church did not yield a single inch; it abolished the imperial system of state-idols. It was to place an irremovable landmark between religion and politics, between God and Caesar, that the martyrs shed their blood. Lastly, in an age that was deeply moved by questions of religious philosophy, the Church maintained a firm front against all the speculative ideas of dualism; and, although these ideas often 211seemed to approximate closely to its own position, it passionately met them with the monotheistic view. The struggle here, however, was rendered all the harder by the fact that many Christians—and just the very prominent and gifted ones too—made common cause with the enemy, and themselves embraced the dualistic theory. The Church stood firm. If we recollect that, in spite of these counter-movements against the Graeco-Roman spirit, it also managed to attach this very spirit to itself—otherwise than Judaism, of whose dealings with the Greek world the saying holds, “You had power to draw but not to keep me”; if we recollect, further, that it was in the second century that the foundations of the whole of the ecclesiastical system prevailing up to the present day were laid, we can only be astonished at the greatness of the work which was then achieved.

We now return to the two questions which we raised: How was this great transformation accomplished? and, Did the Gospel hold its own amid this change, or, if so, how?

There were, if I am not mistaken, three leading forces engaged in bringing about this great revolution, and effecting the organisation of new forms. The first of these forces tallies with the universal law in the history of religion, for in every religious 212development we find it at work. When the second and third generations after the founding of a new religion have passed away; when hundreds, nay, thousands, have become its adherents, no longer through conversion but by the influences of tradition and of birth, despite Tertullian’s saying: fiunt, non nascuntur Christiani; when those who have laid hold upon the faith as great spoil are joined by crowds of others who wrap it round them like an outer garment, a revolution always occurs. The religion of strong feeling and of the heart passes into the religion of custom and therefore of form and of law. A new religion may be instituted with the greatest vigour, the utmost enthusiasm, and a tremendous amount of inner emotion; it may at the same time lay ever so much stress on spiritual freedom—where was all this ever more powerfully expressed than in Paul’s teaching?—and yet, even though believers be forced to be celibates and only adults be received, the process of solidifying and codifying the religion is bound to follow. Its forms then at once stiffen; in the very process of stiffening they receive for the first time a real significance, and new forms are added. Not only do they acquire the value of laws and regulations, but they come to be insensibly regarded as though they contained within them the very substance of religion; nay, as though they were themselves that substance. This is the way in which 213people who do not feel religion to be a reality are compelled to regard it, for otherwise they would have nothing at all; and this is the way in which those who continue really to live in it are compelled to handle it, or else they would be unable to exercise any influence upon others. The former are not by any means necessarily hypocrites. Real religion, of course, is a closed book to them; its most important element has evaporated. But there are various points of view from which a man may still be able to appreciate religion without living in it. He may appreciate it as discharging the functions of morality, or of police; above all he may appreciate it on aesthetic grounds. When the Romanticists re-introduced Catholicism into Germany and France at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Chateaubriand, more especially, was never tired of singing its praises and fancied that he had all the feelings of a Catholic. But an acute critic remarked that Monsieur Chateaubriand was mistaken in his feelings; he thought that he was a true Catholic, while as a matter of fact he was only standing before the ancient ruin of the Church and exclaiming: “How beautiful!” That is one of the ways in which a man can appreciate a religion without being an inward adherent of it; but there are many others, and, amongst them, some in which a nearer approach is made to its true substance. All of 214them, however, have this much in common, that any actual experience of religion is no longer felt, or felt only in an uncertain and intermittent way. Conversely, a high regard is paid to the outward shows and influences connected with it, and they are carefully maintained. Whatever finds expression in doctrines, regulations, ordinances, and forms of public worship comes to be treated as the thing itself. This, then, is the first force at work in the transformation: the original enthusiasm, in the large sense of the word, evaporates, and the religion of law and form at once arises.

But not only did an original element evaporate in the course of the second century: another was introduced. Even had this youthful religion not severed the tie which bound it to Judaism, it would have been inevitably affected by the spirit and the civilisation of that Graeco-Roman world on whose soil it was permanently settled. But to how much greater an extent was it exposed to the influence of this spirit after being sharply severed from the Jewish religion and the Jewish nation. It hovered bodiless over the earth like a being of the air; bodiless and seeking a body. The spirit, no doubt, makes to itself its own body, but it does so by assimilating what is around it. The influx of Hellenism, of the Greek spirit, and the union of the Gospel with it, form the greatest fact in the history 215of the Church in the second century, and when the fact was once established as a foundation it continued through the following centuries. In the influence of Hellenism on the Christian religion three stages may be distinguished, and a preliminary stage as well. We have already mentioned the preliminary stage in a previous lecture. It is to be found in the circumstances in which the Gospel arose, and it formed a very condition of its appearance. Not until Alexander the Great had created an entirely new position of affairs, and the barriers separating the nations of the East from one another and from Hellenism had been destroyed, could Judaism free itself from its limitations and start upon its development into a religion for the world. The time was ripe when a man in the East could also breathe the air of Greece and see his spiritual horizon stretch beyond the limits of his own nation. Yet we cannot say that the earliest Christian writings, let alone the Gospel, show, to any considerable extent, the presence of a Greek element. If we are to look for it anywhere—apart from certain well-marked traces of it in Paul, Luke, and John—it must be in the possibility of the new religion appearing at all. We cannot enter further upon this question here. The first stage of any real influx of definitely Greek thought and Greek life is to be fixed at about the year 130. It was then that the 216religious philosophy of Greece began to effect an entrance, and it went straight to the centre of the new religion. It sought to get into inner touch with Christianity, and, conversely, Christianity itself held out a hand to this ally. We are speaking of Greek philosophy; as yet, there is no trace of mythology, Greek worship, and so on; all that was taken up into the Church, cautiously and under proper guarantees, was the great capital which philosophy had amassed since the days of Socrates. A century or so later, about the year 220 or 230, the second stage begins: Greek mysteries, and Greek civilisation in the whole range of its development, exercise their influence on the Church, but not mythology and polytheism; these were still to come. Another century, however, had in its turn to elapse before Hellenism as a whole and in every phase of its development was established in the Church. Guarantees, of course, are not lacking here either, but for the most part they consist only in a change of label; the thing itself is taken over without alteration, and in the worship of the saints we see a regular Christian religion of a lower order arising. We are here concerned, however, not with the second and third stages, but only with that influx of the Greek spirit which was marked by the absorption of Greek philosophy and, particularly, of Platonism. Who can deny that elements here 217came together which stood in elective affinity? So much depth and delicacy of feeling, so much earnestness and dignity, and—above all—so strong a monotheistic piety were displayed in the religious ethics of the Greeks, acquired as it had been by hard toil on a basis of inner experience and metaphysical speculation, that the Christian religion could not pass this treasure by with indifference. There was much in it, indeed, which was defective and repellent; there was no personality visibly embodying its ethics as a living power; it still kept up a strange connexion with “demon-worship” and polytheism; but both as a whole and in its individual parts it was felt to contain a kindred element, and it was absorbed.

But besides the Greek ethics there was also a cosmological conception which the Church took over at this time, and which was destined in a few decades to attain a commanding position in its doctrinal system—the Logos. Starting from an examination of the world and the life within, Greek thought had arrived at the conception of an active central idea—by what stages we need not here mention. This central idea represented the unity of the supreme principle of the world, of thought, and of ethics; but it also represented, at the same time, the divinity itself as a creative and active, as distinguished from a quiescent, power. The most important step 218that was ever taken in the domain of Christian doc trine was when the Christian apologists at the beginning of the second century drew the equation: the Logos = Jesus Christ. Ancient teachers before them had also called Christ “the Logos” among the many predicates which they ascribed to him; nay, one of them, John, had already formulated the proposition: “The Logos is Jesus Christ.” But with John this proposition had not become the basis of every speculative idea about Christ; with him, too, “the Logos” was only a predicate. But now teachers came forward who previous to their conversion had been adherents of the platonico-stoical philosophy, and with whom the conception “Logos” formed an inalienable part of a general philosophy of the world. They proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the Logos incarnate, which had hitherto been revealed only in the great effects which it exercised. In the place of the entirely unintelligible conception “Messiah,” an intelligible one was acquired at a stroke; Christology, tottering under the exuberance of its own affirmations, received a stable basis; Christ’s significance for the world was established; his mysterious relation to God was explained; the cosmos, reason, and ethics were comprehended as one. It was, indeed, a marvellous formula; and was not the way prepared for it, nay, hastened, by the speculative ideas about the 219Messiah propounded by Paul and other ancient teachers? The knowledge that the divine in Christ must be conceived as the Logos opened up a number of problems, and at the same time set them definite limits and gave them definite directives. Christ’s unique character as opposed to all rivals appeared to be established in the simplest fashion, and yet the conception provided thought with so much liberty and free play that Christ could be regarded, as the need might arise, on the one side as operative deity itself, and on the other as still the first-born among many brethren and as the first created of God.

What a proof it is of the impression which Christ’s teaching created that Greek philosophers managed to identify him with the Logos! For the assertion that the incarnation of the Logos had taken place in an historical personage there had been no preparation. No philosophising Jew had ever thought of identifying the Messiah with the Logos; no Philo, for instance, ever entertained the idea of such an equation! It gave a metaphysical significance to an historical fact; it drew into the domain of cosmology and religious philosophy a person who had appeared in time and space; but by so distinguishing one person it raised all history to the plane of the cosmical movement.

The identification of the Logos with Christ was 220the determining factor in the fusion of Greek philosophy with the apostolic inheritance and led the more thoughtful Greeks to adopt the latter. Most of us regard this identification as inadmissible, because the way in which we conceive the world and ethics does not point to the existence of any Logos at all. But a man must be blind not to see that for that age the appropriate formula for uniting the Christian religion with Greek thought was the Logos. Nor is it difficult even to-day to attach a valid meaning to the conception. An unmixed blessing it has not been. To a much larger extent than the earlier speculative ideas about Christ it absorbed men’s interest; it withdrew their minds from the simplicity of the Gospel, and increasingly transformed it into a philosophy of religion. The proposition that the Logos had appeared among men had an intoxicating effect, but the enthusiasm and transport which it produced in the soul did not lead with any certainty to the God whom Jesus Christ proclaimed.

The loss of an original element and the gain of a fresh one, namely, the Greek, are insufficient to explain the great change which the Christian religion experienced in the second century. We must bear in mind, thirdly, the great struggle which that religion was then carrying on within its own domain. Parallel with the slow influx of the element of 221Greek philosophy, experiments were being made all along the line in the direction of what may be briefly called “acute Hellenisation.” While they offer us a most magnificent historical spectacle, in the period itself they were a terrible danger. More than any before it, the second century is the century of religious fusion, of “Theocrasia.” The problem was to include Christianity in this religious fusion, as one element among others, although the chief. The “Hellenism” which made this endeavour had already attracted to itself all the mysteries, all the philosophy of Eastern worship, elements the most sublime and the most absurd, and by the never-failing aid of philosophical, that is to say, of allegorical interpretation, had spun them all into a glittering web. It now fell upon—I cannot help so expressing it—the Christian religion. It was impressed by the sublime character of this religion; it did reverence to Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world; it offered to give up everything that it possessed—all the treasures of its civilisation and its wisdom—to this message, if only the message would suffer them to stand. As though endowed with the right to rule, the message was to make its entry into a ready-made theory of the world and religion, and into mysteries already prepared for it. What a proof of the impression which this message made, and what a temptation! This “Gnosticism,”—such 222is the name which the movement has received,—strong and active in the plenitude of its religious experiments, established itself under Christ’s name, developed a vigorous and abiding feeling for many Christian ideas, sought to give shape to what was still shapeless, to settle accounts with what was externally incomplete, and to bring the whole stream of the Christian movement into its own channel. The majority of the faithful, led by their bishops, so far from yielding to these enticements, took up the struggle with them in the conviction that they masked a demonic temptation. But struggle in this case meant definition, that is to say, drawing a sharp line of demarcation around what was Christian and declaring everything heathen that would not keep within it. The struggle with Gnosticism compelled the Church to put its teaching, its worship, and its discipline into fixed forms and ordinances, and to exclude everyone who would not yield them obedience. In the conviction that it was everywhere only conserving and honouring what had been handed down, it never for a moment doubted that the obedience which it demanded was anything more than subjection to the divine will itself, and that in the doctrines with which it encountered the enemy it was exhibiting the impress of religion itself.

If by “Catholic” we mean the church of doctrine and of law, then the Catholic Church had its 223origin in the struggle with Gnosticism. It had to pay a heavy price for the victory which kept that tendency at bay; we may almost say that the vanquished imposed their terms upon the victor: Victi victoribus legem dederunt. It kept Dualism and the acute phase of Hellenism at bay; but by becoming a community with a fully worked-out scheme of doctrine, and a definite form of public worship, it was of necessity compelled to take on forms analogous to those which it combated in the Gnostics. To encounter our enemy’s theses by setting up others one by one is to change over to his ground. How much of its original freedom the Church sacrificed! It was now forced to say: You are no Christian, you cannot come into any relation with God at all, unless you have first of all acknowledged these doctrines, yielded obedience to these ordinances, and followed out definite forms of mediation. Nor was anyone to think a religious experience legitimate that had not been sanctioned by sound doctrine and approved by the priests. The Church found no other way and no other means of maintaining itself against Gnosticism, and what was set up as a protection against enemies from without became the palladium, nay, the very foundation, within. This entire development, it is true, would probably have taken place apart from the struggle in question,—the two elements which we first discussed would 224have produced it; but that it took place so rapidly and assumed so positive, nay, so Draconian, a shape, was due to the fact that the struggle was one in which the very existence of the traditional religion was at stake. The superficial view that the personal ambition of certain individuals was at the bottom of the whole system of established ordinance and priesthood is absolutely untenable. The loss of the original, living element is by itself sufficient to explain the phenomena. La médiocrité fonde l’autorité. It is the man who knows religion only as usage and obedience that creates the priest, for the purpose of ridding himself of an essential part of the obligations which he feels by loading him with them. He also makes ordinances, for the semi-religious prefer an ordinance to a Gospel.

We have endeavoured to indicate the tendencies by which the great change was effected. It remains to answer the second question: Did the Gospel hold its own amid the change, and, if so, how? That it entered upon an entirely new set of circumstances is already obvious; but we shall have to study them more closely.

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