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ON account of the great differences among those who, in the first century, reckoned themselves in the Church of God, and called themselves by the name of Christ,154154See, as to this, Celsus in Orig. III. 10 ff. and V. 59 ff. it seems at first sight scarcely possible to set up marks which would hold good for all, or even for nearly all, the groups. Yet the great majority had one thing in common, as is proved, among other things, by the gradual expulsion of Gnosticism. The conviction that they knew the supreme God, the consciousness of being responsible to him (Heaven and Hell), reliance on Jesus Christ, the hope of an eternal life, the vigorous elevation above the world—these are the elements that formed the fundamental mood. The author of the Acts of Thecla expresses the general view when he (c. 5.7) co-ordinates τὸν τοῦ χριστοῦ λόγον, with λόγος θεοῦ περὶ ἐγκατείας, καὶ ἀναστάσεως. The following particulars may here be specified.155155The marks adduced in the text do not certainly hold good for some comparatively unimportant Gnostic groups, but they do apply to the great majority of them, and in the main to Marcion also.

I. The Gospel, because it rests on revelation, is the sure manifestation of the supreme God, and its believing acceptance guarantees salvation (σωτερία).

II. The essential content of this manifestation (besides the revelation and the verification of the oneness and spirituality of God),156156Most of the Gnostic schools know only one God, and put all emphasis on he knowledge of the oneness, supramundaneness, and spirituality of this God. The Æons, the Demiurgus, the God of matter, do not come near this God though they are called Gods. See the testimony of Hippolytus c. Noet. II; καὶ γὰρ πάντες ἀπεκλείσθησαν εἰς τοῦτο ἄκοντες εἰπεῖν, ὅτι τὸ πᾶν εἰς ἕνα ἀνατρέχει. εἰ οὖν τὰ πάντα εἰς ἕνα ἀνατρέχει καὶ κατὰ θύαλεντῖνον καὶ κατὰ Μαρκίωνα. Κήρίνθόν τὲ καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν ἐκείνων φλυαρίαν, καὶ ἄκοντες εἰς τοῦτο περιέπεσαν, ἵνα τὸν ἕνα ὅμολογήσωσιν αἴτιον τῶν πάντων οὕτως οὖν συντρέχουσιν καὶ αὐτοὶ μὴ θέλοντες τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἕνα θεὸν λέγειν ποιήσαντα ὡς ἠθέλσεν. is, first of all, the message of the resurrection and eternal life (ἀνάστασις, ζωὴ ἀιώνιος), then the preaching of moral purity and continence (ἐγκράτεια), on the basis of repentance 146toward God (μετάνοια), and of an expiation once assured by baptism, with eye ever fixed on the requital of good and evil.157157Continence was regarded as the condition laid down by God for the resurrection and eternal life. The sure hope of this was for many, if not for the majority, the whole sum of religion, in connection with the idea of the requital of good and evil which was now firmly established. See the testimony of the heathen Lucian, in Peregrinus Proteus.

III. This manifestation is mediated by Jesus Christ, who is the Saviour (σωτήρ) sent by God “in these last days,” and who stands with God himself in a union special and unique, (cf. the ambiguous παῖς θεοῦ, which was much used in the earliest period). He has brought the true and full knowledge of God, as well as the gift of immortality (γνώσις καὶ ζωἡ, or γνώσις τῆς ζωῆς, as an expression for the sum of the Gospel. See the supper prayer in the Didache, c. IX. and X.; εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν ὑπερ τῆς ζωῆς καὶ γνώσεως ἧς ἐγνώρισας ἡμῖν διὰ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ παιδός σου), and is for that very reason the redeemer (σώτηρ and victor over the demons) on whom we are to place believing trust. But he is, further, in word and walk the highest example of all moral virtue, and therefore in his own person the law for the perfect life, and at the same time the God-appointed lawgiver and judge.158158Even where the judicial attributes were separated from God (Christ) as not suitable, Christ was still comprehended as the critical appearance by which every man is placed in the condition which belongs to him. The Apocalypse of Peter expects that God himself will come as Judge. See the Messianic expectations of Judaism, in which it was always uncertain whether God or the Messiah would hold the judgment.

IV. Virtue, as continence, embraces as its highest task, renunciation of temporal goods and separation from the common world; for the Christian is not a citizen, but a stranger on the earth, and expects its approaching destruction.159159Celsus (Orig. c. Celsum, V. 59) after referring to the many Christian parties mutually provoking and fighting with each other, remarks (V. 64) that though they differ much from each other, and quarrel with each other, you can yet hear from them all the protestation, “The world is crucified to me and I to the world.” In the earliest Gentile Christian communities brotherly love for reflective thought falls into the background behind ascetic exercises of virtue, in unquestionable deviation from the sayings of Christ, but in fact it was powerful. See the testimony of Pliny and Lucian, Aristides, Apol. 15, Tertull. Apol. 39.


V. Christ has committed to chosen men, the Apostles (or to one Apostle), the proclamation of the message he received from God; consequently, their preaching represents that of Christ himself. But, besides, the Spirit of God rules in Christians, “the Saints.” He bestows upon them special gifts, and, above all, continually raises up among them Prophets and spiritual Teachers who receive revelations and communications for the edification of others, and whose injunctions are to be obeyed.

VI. Christian Worship is a service of God in spirit and in truth (a spiritual sacrifice), and therefore has no legal ceremonial and statutory rules. The value of the sacred acts and consecrations which are connected with the cultus, consists in the communication of spiritual blessings. (Didache X., ἡμιν δὲ ἐχαρίσω, δέσποτα, πνευματικὴν τροφήν καὶ ποτὸν καὶ ζωὴν αἰώνιον διὰ τοῦ παιδός σου).

VII. Everything that Jesus Christ brought with him, may be summed up in γνώσις καὶ ζωή, or in the knowledge of immortal life.160160The word “life” comes into consideration in a double sense, viz., as soundness of the soul and as immortality. Neither, of course, is to be separated from the other. But I have attempted to shew in my essay, “Medicinisches aus der ältesten Kirchengesch.” (1892), the extent to which the Gospel in the earliest Christendom was preached as medicine and Jesus as a Physician, and how the Christian Message was really comprehended by the Gentiles as a medicinal religion. Even the Stoic philosophy gave itself out as a soul therapeutic, and Æsculapius was worshipped as a Saviour-God; but Christianity alone was a religion of healing. To possess the perfect knowledge was, in wide circles, an expression for the sum total of the Gospel.161161Heinrici, in his commentary on the epistles to the Corinthians, has dealt very clearly with this matter; see especially (Bd. II. p. 557 ff.) the description of the Christianity of the Corinthians: “On what did the community base its Christian character? It believed in one God who had revealed himself to it through Christ, without denying the reality of the hosts of gods in the heathen world (I. VIII. 6). It hoped in immortality without being clear as to the nature of the Christian belief in the resurrection (I. XV.) It had no doubt as to the requital of good and evil (I. IV. 5: 2 V. so: XI. 15: Rom. II. 4), without understanding the value of self-denial, claiming no merit, for the sake of important ends. It was striving to make use of the Gospel as a new doctrine of wisdom about earthly and super-earthly things, which led to the perfect and best established knowledge (1 I. 21: VIII. 1). It boasted of special operations of the Divine Spirit, which in themselves remained obscure and non-transparent, and therefore unfruitful (1. XIV), while it was prompt to put aside as obscure, the word of the Cross as preached by Paul (2. IV. 1 f.). The hope of the near Parousia, however, and the completion of all things, evinced no power to effect a moral transformation of society. We herewith obtain the outline of a conviction that was spread over the widest circles of the Roman Empire.” Naturam si expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.


VIII. Christians, as such, no longer take into account the distinctions of race, age, rank, nationality and worldly culture, but the Christian community must be conceived as a communion resting on a divine election. Opinions were divided about the ground of that election.

IX. As Christianity is the only true religion, and as it is no national religion, but somehow concerns the whole of humanity, or its best part, it follows that it can have nothing in common with the Jewish nation and its contemporary cultus. The Jewish nation in which Jesus Christ appeared, has, for the time at least, no special relation to the God whom Jesus revealed. Whether it had such a relation at an earlier period is doubtful (cf. here, e.g., the attitude of Marcion, Ptolemæus the disciple of Valentinus, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, Aristides and Justin); but certain it is that God has now cast it off, and that all revelations of God, so far as they took place at all before Christ, (the majority assumed that there had been such revelations and considered the Old Testament as a holy record), must have aimed solely at the call of the “new people”, and in some way prepared for the revelation of God through his Son.162162Nearly all Gentile Christian groups that we know, are at one in the detachment of Christianity from empiric Judaism; the “Gnostics,” however, included the Old Testament in Judaism, while the greater part of Christians did not. That detachment seemed to be demanded by the claims of Christianity to be the one, true, absolute and therefore oldest religion, foreseen from the beginning. The different estimates of the Old Testament in Gnostic circles have their exact parallels in the different estimates of Judaism among the other Christians; cf. for example, in this respect, the conception stated in the Epistle of Barnabas with the views of Marcion, and Justin with Valentinus. The particulars about the detachment of the Gentile Christians from the Synagogue, which was prepared for by the inner development of Judaism itself, and was required by the fundamental fact that the Messiah, crucified and rejected by his own people, was recognised as Saviour by those who were not Jews, cannot be given in the frame-work of a history of dogma; though, see Chaps. III. IV. VI. On the other hand, the turning away from Judaism is also the result of the mass of things which were held in common with it, even in Gnostic circles. Christianity made its appearance in the Empire in the Jewish propaganda. By the preaching of Jesus Christ who brought the gift of eternal life, mediated the full knowledge of God, and assembled round him in these last days a community, the imperfect and hybrid creations of the Jewish propaganda in the empire were converted into independent formations. These formations were far superior to the synagogue in power of attraction, and from the nature of the case would very soon be directed with the utmost vigour against the synagogue.

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