« Prev Chapter IV. Presuppositions and Conceptions… Next »




§ 1. The Doctrine of God. Its Method.

The main features of the doctrine of God were those familiar from the theology of the Apologists, as they were partly fixed and partly supplemented by the fight with Gnosticism. Speculations on the Deity as a Trinity (τριάς) modified but little the general doctrine of God (yet see attempts in Augustine, De trinitate); for the unity, simplicity, indivisibility, and unchangeableness of God were at the same time maintained most definitely: in other words, the Father alone was almost always. regarded as ‘root of the Deity” (ῥίζα τῆς θεότητος), where the Deity, in its essential being, was described in comparison with the world. The ultimate reason of this was that theology counted on a general intelligence for its general doctrine of God, and therefore had recourse to natural religion and theology, i.e., to the results of Greek philosophy. It was, indeed admitted by many Fathers (see esp. Athanasius, De incarn.) that men could know the Deity from creation only dimly, if at all; and that therefore the manifestation of God in Christ alone made it possible to recognise the nature of God as the undivided, spiritual and good Lord of the World. But, in fact, it was only a question of more or less as regards the natural knowledge of the spiritual and good God, the Creator. Other Fathers, especially those influenced by Aristotle, declared the knowledge of God in its whole extent to be innate (see Arnobius), or, a knowledge to be constantly tested by the 242observation of nature. No difference is here caused by the fact that some Fathers have described the existence of God and his distinctive nature as capable of proof, others, as incapable; for the latter only rejected the proof in so far as God could not be discovered by means of deduction from a prius. The psychological, cosmological,495495The influence of Aristotle is first conspicuous in Diodore of Tarsus, who reproduced independently the cosmological proof of Aristotle (see Photius, Biblioth. 223). From the sixth century it is evident in the majority of the Fathers, and especially John of Damascus. See De fide orthod. I. 3 (12): Everything perceptible by the senses, as also the higher world of spirits, is subject to change; therefore it must have had a beginning, and been created. There must accordingly exist a being who created it, and that is God. Two other proofs are found in John of Dam. and natural theological proofs were not despised by them in meeting Atheism, Polytheism, Manichæism, etc. We already find in Augustine suggestions of an ontological proof.496496Augustine’s line of argument was first to demonstrate rules of human thought, which accordingly transcended it. These rules—logical and ethical—he stated to be truths, their sum being the truth. This truth was a living power, accordingly it existed. Thus the way to the existence of God was given; see esp. De lib. arbitr. II. 3-15, but the thought is also suggested elsewhere in his writings, e.g., the Confessions. All these evidences were, indeed, given subject to the proviso, that all knowledge of God must be traced back to God himself, that it became indistinct in proportion to man’s alienation from God, and that the revelation of Scripture first rendered everything clear and certain.

Further, it was expressly contended that God, as the infinite one, was, strictly speaking, incapable of being known, because his nature could not be described by any predicate. But this inscrutability, so far as represented in the avowal “whatever the creature is, that God is not,” was held—and with this the Neoplatonists were agreed—to be the valuable and true knowledge (Athan. ad monach. 2: “even if it is not possible to comprehend what God is, it is possible to say what he is not:” καὶ εἰ μὴ δυνατὸν καταλαβέσθαι τί ἐστι Θεός, ἀλλὰ δυνατὸν εἰπεῖν, τί οὔκ ἐστιν.497497In this the great majority of the Fathers were agreed. Augustine describes (De doctr. I. 6) the impossibility of declaring God, in a way that coincides word for word with the tenets of the Basilidians (Hippol., Philos. VII. 20). Augustine writes: “Diximusne aliquid et sonuimus aliquid dignum deo? Immo vero nihil me aliud quam dicere voluisse sentio; si autem dixi, non hoc est quod dicere volui. Hoc unde scio, pisi quia deus ineffabilis est, quod autem a me dictum est, si ineffabile esset, dictum non esset? Ac per hoc ne ineffabilis quidem dicendus est deus, quia et hoc cum dicitur, aliquid dicitur. Et fit nescio quæ pugna verborum, quoniam si illud est ineffabile, quod dici non potest, non est ineffabile, quod vel ineffabile dici potest.” Basilides: Ἔστι γὰρ, φησίν, ἐκεῖνο οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἄρρητον, ὃ ὀνομάζεται· ἄρρητον γοῦν αὐτὸ καλοῦμεν, ἐκεῖνο δὲ οὐδὲ ἄρρητον· καὶ γὰρ τὸ οὐδ᾽ ἄρρητον οὐκ ἄρρητον ὀνομάζεται, ἀλλὰ ἔστι, φησίν, ὐπεράνω παντὸς ὀνόματος ὀνομαζομένου.. Men were therefore at the point already reached by Basilides’ followers in the second century. Even Catechumens were taught this; see Cyril, Cat. VI., ch. 2: οὐ τὸ τί ἐστι Θεὸς ἐξηγούμεθα . . . ἐν τοῖς περὶ Θεοῦ μεγάλη γνῶσις το τὴν ἀγνωσίαν ὁμολογεῖν. Similar teaching is very frequent in Plotinus. In the Vita Plot. of Porphyry, ch. 23, the supreme God is thus defined: ὁ Θεὸς ὁ μήτε μορφὴν μήτε τινὰ ἰδέαν ἔχων, ὑπὲρ δὲ νοῦν καὶ πᾶν τὸ νοητὸν ἱδρύμενος. The revelation through the Logos only 243went beyond this in that it established this knowledge regarding the infinite Spirit and his inexpressible nature, and made it possible to perceive him in his likeness.498498The Dogmatics of John of Damascus begin with John I. 18, Matt. XI. 17, and 1 Cor. II. 11. The Fathers influenced by Neoplatonism, however, assumed further that the contemplative ascetic, who was on the way to deification, could gain a direct vision of God in all his splendour, a conception which the Areopagite has combined with a scholastic theory of the knowableness of God by negation, eminence, causality.499499The striking contention of some disciples of Lucian (according to Philostorgius), and the most extreme Arians, Eunomius and Aëtius, but not Arius himself, that men could know the nature of God as well as God himself did, and as well as they knew themselves, is most closely connected with their Christology and their Aristotelianism. When the orthodox Fathers argued that the indescribable God could only be perceived in the Logos and through his work, and that God therefore would have been unknowable had not the Logos been his image, possessed of a like nature, those Arians had to meet the objection by emphasising even in the course of the christological controversy, the possibility of knowing God directly. In taking up this position they had of course to leave the nature of God out of the question, and to confine themselves to his will, as it had been clearly manifested in creation, and the preaching of the truth by the Logos. But this to them was no limitation; for they only attached importance in the first place to the knowledge of the divine will, and secondly to the renewed submission of men to the sovereignty of the divine will: (not to participation in the divine nature. unless in so far as that was already involved in the original equipment of man; see Socrates IV. 7; Epiph. H. LXXVI. 4, and the counter-observations of the Cappadocians). Their expositions are exceded by the Areopagite’s completely Neoplatonic theology, from which, meanwhile, Augustine in one of his lines of thought was not far removed. The Areopagite already adopted the position that ruled for more than a thousand years, in which the contention that God—by reason of his splendour—was absolutely unknowable, was balanced by the mystical assumption of a sensuous, suprasensuous knowableness in virtue of the fusion of the mind of God with the mind of man. To him also we trace back the theology of affirmation and negation (kataphatic and apophatic)—the thing had, indeed, been very long in existence—i.e., the method of making statements about God via eminentiæ and via negationis; see his Letters, the work, De divinis nominibus, and the beginning of the tractate, De mystica theologia. The importance of John of Damascus consists for posterity in his having united the Neoplatonic and Aristotelian elements in his doctrine of God; see De fide orthod. I. 1-4.


§ 2. The Doctrine of God’s Nature and Attributes.

The Being of God was immortal substance and was primarily defined—as already results from the method of knowing God—by affirming that he was without beginning or end, that he was a spirit and the supreme First Cause, all which predicates were proved in connection with the proofs of his existence. The deity is the pneumatic Ὄν which, because it is not the world, is supramundane, simply governing the world, the one, indivisible, imperishable, unchangeable, supremely good and impassive being, to which, in the strict sense, a real existence alone belongs: the Fathers influenced by Aristotelianism emphasised especially the spiritual power which determined its own aims and the causality of the deity. God is the intelligible reality and infinite reason. So far as it is maintained of this being (secundum hominem) that he is good, the predicate affirms nothing but that he is perfect, i.e., is completely self-sufficient and possesses blessedness in himself and therefore is not envious—see esp. Athanasius adv. pagan., also the Catechisms of Cyril. But the goodness of the Deity was also established from the fact of the revelation of God, first from creation, and here meant that God, since he is the gracious one, willed that creatures should participate in his blessedness, and carried out his intention under all circumstances.

Augustine broke through this natural conception of the goodness of God; for he understands by the Deity as summum bonum the power of love which takes hold of man, and leads him from worldliness and selfishness to peace and felicity. But even in Augustine this idea is intimately connected with the natural view.

As regards the divine attributes, the Fathers sought, while speaking of such, to keep clear of the idea of a plurality in 245God, or conceptions of anything accidental. It is only for human thought that the absolute, perfect, homogeneous Being has attributes assigned to him, as varied representations of him in relation to the finite. The elevation above time and space presented itself as eternity and omnipresence; the latter attribute at the same time was the root of omniscience and omnipotence. Omnipotence was limited by the Fathers by two thoughts: it was circumscribed by the good will of God, and it left scope for human liberty.500500Along with all fatalism and astrology the Greek Fathers also unanimously rejected the idea that God’s prescience acted as fate and was the first cause of human actions, or that prophecy controlled the course of events. It was rather taught that prescience was consequent to the event perceived beforehand. But Augustine was not perfectly satisfied with this idea. He deepened it through the thought that the sum of all that happened was before God in an eternal now. Origen’s thesis of the limitation of omniscience found no supporters in later times.

From the goodness (perfection) of God501501But of this the saying of Gregory of Nyssa is true (περὶ ψυχ. κ. ἀναστασ· Oehler, p. 92): Παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ ἐπέκεινα ἡ θεία φύσις, τὸ δὲ ἀγαθὸν ἀγαθῷ φίλον πάντως, διὰ τοῦτο ἑαυτὴν βλέπουσα καὶ ὃ ἔχει θέλει καὶ ὃ θέλει ἔχει οὐδὲν τῶν ἔξωθεν εἰς ἑαυτὸν δεχομένη. Ἔξω δὲ αὐτῆς οὐδέν, ὅτι μὴ ἡ κακία μόνη, ἥτις, κἂν παράδοξον ᾖ, ἐν τῷ μὴ εἶναι τὸ εἶναι ἔχει. οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη τίς ἐστι κακίας γένεσις, εἰ μὴ ἡ τοῦ ὄντος στέρησις. Τὸ δὲ κυρίως ὂν ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ φύσις ἐστίν· ὃ οὖν ἐν τῷ ὅντι οὐκ ἔστιν, ἐν τῷ μὴ εἶναι πάντως ἐστίν. all conceivable ethical qualities were deduced. But they did not obtain their due significance, because the abstract idea that God was the requiter, i.e., rewarded the good and punished the wicked, formed, in spite of all Neoplatonic philosophy, the foundation of the whole conceptions of God, in so far as ethics were taken into account at all. This view, however, which was considered the “natural” one, readily became indifferent to the thought that men as God’s creatures are dependent on him, that they are meant to form an inner unity, and that their life is conducted to a definite goal; in other words, it endangered the religious view of Christianity. It gave man complete independence in presence of God, and broke mankind up into a group of disconnected individuals. It descended from Judaism and the ancient world—the gods are just, because they reward and punish, the two facts being conceived in coördination. This view, further, was entitled to its place within the narrow 246horizon of the citizens of ancient communities,502502See Leopold Schmidt, Die Ethik der alten Griechen, 2 Vols., 1882; further, Ritschl in the Th. L. Z. 1883, Col. 6 f. but while it could not be omitted from Christianity, it required to be subordinated to a higher thought. Accordingly, significant tendencies to correct the prevalent system of thought were not wanting on the part of the Fathers. Origen had already tried to regard the righteousness of God as a form of his loving discipline; the conception that suffering is always bound up with penal justice, had undoubtedly something to do with this attempt. The continued fight with dualism—Manichæism—constantly made it necessary to demonstrate that power, goodness, wisdom, and justice were combined in the Deity.503503These four attributes Gregory of Nyssa has particularised and sought to harmonise in his great Catechism. But in almost all the Fathers the attributes of goodness and justice stood asunder. We can see the reason of this in the fact that up to Augustine no serious effort was made to understand the goodness of God as moral holiness, and this failure was in turn due to the characteristic method of obtaining a knowledge of God, the attempt to rise to the Deity from the notion of the finite by means of sublimations.504504This method, however, was by no means despised by Augustine himself. The theory of God was beset at this most important point with uncertainties, nay, inconsistencies. He was at once the impassive Being (Ὄν) and the judge who requited actions505505The doctrine of God came in this form to the theologians of the middle ages. The nuances and inconsistencies of scholastic theology were caused by the necessity of alternating between the two ideas of God as the intelligible Ὄν and the Requiter. Some emphasised the one, others the other, more strongly. In certain doctrines only the former, in others only the latter conception, could be used.—the latter conception, further, not only including the coördination of goodness and justice, but also the superiority of the former to the latter. The Alexandrians had grasped at the expedient, following Philo,506506See Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alex. (1886), p. 12 f. of representing God as absolutely benevolent, but the Logos as the Just; this, however, was to confess despair of solving the problem, showing once more very clearly that men could not think without compunction (affectiones humanæ) of the (penal) justice 247of which at most the Logos was capable; and it is interesting as a counterpart to the opposite idea adopted in later times.507507In this view—in the Middle Ages—God appears rather as the strictly Just, Christ as the “good”; but the idea of goodness had changed. But we see even here, why the doctrine of redemption could not become one of atonement in the ancient Church. If the distinctive form in which redemption was accomplished was to be justified, and its intrinsic necessity to be proved, then there must not only exist, but speculation must be founded on, the conviction that God’s saving purpose transcended the thought of requital, and that he was morally holy. But that is out of the question where the Fathers are concerned.508508In the lower ranks of the communities, and among a few Oriental sects (Audians), anthropomorphic conceptions of God, the belief that he had a human shape, a body etc., held their ground. But they were retained also in some circles of monks (e.g., those of the Scetian Desert), and even by a few Bishops. From the close of the fourth century, with the hostility to Origen’s spiritualism was combined active resistance to this opposite view (Sozom. VIII. 11). The Stoic notion of God’s corporeality had scarcely a defender after Tertullian; for Lactantius’ view of the “figura” and “affectus” of God is not Stoic, but belongs to popular realism. In general, much that was anthropomorphic was retained in Western theology along with the realistic eschatology, and that by theologians who cherished a colourless eclectic moralism. Very instructive is Augustine’s confession (Confess. V. fin.; VI. 3) that it was the sermons of Ambrose that first delivered him from the prejudice that the Catholic Church taught that the Deity was fashioned like man. If we reflect how much Augustine had mingled with Catholic Christians before his conversion, and how much he had heard of the Church, we cannot suppose he was the only one guilty of this prejudice. We need only recall the “apocryphal” writings of the Byzantine age, which were read to an extraordinary extent, to see how strong were anthropomorphism and the conceptions of a magic God.

§ 3. The Cosmology.

The Cosmological and allied anthropological problems were treated by the Fathers—who formally used Gen. I.-III. as their text—with the whole apparatus of contemporary philosophy, in this way satisfying their scientific craving for a rational conception of the world. The systems are therefore very different in details; but on the whole they existed peaceably side by side, showing that the differences presupposed a measure of agreement, sufficient for the solidarity of the doctrinal structure.


These differences were slightest in the Cosmology proper. The task set the theologians of the fourth century was to bring Origen’s cosmology more into harmony with the demands of the rule of faith, to adapt it more closely to the account given in Gen. I., and to defeat the Manichæan Cosmology. After the last decades of the fourth century, the slow course of development was hastened by violent opposition to Origen’s cosmology, and the view of the Church, held before Origen, was substantially restored, though now as a scientific theory.509509See Justinian’s edict against Origen, and the fifth Synod of Constantinople, Hefele, Concil. Gesch. II. 21 p. 780-797; at an earlier date, the attacks of Theophilus and Jerome on Origen. Yet the conception of an upper world of spirits, related to the present world as its ideal and type, continued to exist, and ever threw its shadow on the latter.510510Origen held that the present world was only a place of punishment and purification. This view, which approximated very closely to the old Gnostic idea, was rejected; but the conception remained of an upper world of spirits, of which our world was the materialised copy. Where this conception was potent, a considerable part of the feeling which possessed Origen (after Plato) as he looked at our world must have endured. It was never wanting among the orthodox Fathers, and the Greeks of to-day have not lost it. “The world is a whole, but divided into two spheres of which the higher is the necessary prius and type of the lower”: that is still the Greek view (see Gass, Symbolik, p. 143 f.). “God first and by his mere thought evoked out of non-existence all heavenly powers to exhibit his glory, and this intelligible world (κόσμος νοερός) is the expression of undisturbed harmony and obedient service.” Man belongs to both worlds. The conception, as expounded by the Areopagite and established by John of Damascus (De fide orthod. II 2-12), that the world was created in successive stages, has not the importance of a dogma, but it has that of a wide-spread theologoumenon. It is Neoplatonic and Gnostic, and its publication and recognition show that the dissatisfaction felt by Origen with the account of the creation in Gen. I. was constantly shared by others. Men felt a living interest, not in the way plants, fishes, and birds came into being, but in the emanation of the spiritual from the Deity at the head of creation down to man. Therefore we have the κόσμος νοερός, the intelligible world, whose most characteristic feature consisted in its (3) gradations (διακοσμήσεις), which again fell into (three) orders, down to archangels and angels. (See Dionys. De divina hierarch. 6 sq., and John of Damascus, l.c., ch. III: πᾶσα ἡ θεολογία τὰς οὐρανίους οὐσίας ἐννέα κέκληκε. ταύτας ὁ Θεῖος ἱεροτελέστης εἰς τρεῖς ἀφορίζει τριαδικὰς διακοσμήσεις, Seraphim, Cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, forces, principalities, archangels, and angels. We find a step in this direction as early as the App. Constit. VII. 35). In the creation, the system of spiritual powers was built from above downwards; while in sanctification by the mysteries, it was necessary to ascend the same series. The significant point was the union of the conception of creation with the system of the cultus, or, better, the scheme which embodied the idea of creation in accordance with the line of progress laid down for asceticism and sanctification. This was retained by Greek theology in spite of all its disavowal of Origen, Neoplatonism, and Gnosticism. But even in the region of the material, incomparably greater interest was taken in warmth, cold, moisture, drought, in fire, air, earth, and water, in the four vital humours, than in the childish elements which the O. T. narrative of creation takes into account. Yet the whole was included under the title of the ‘work of the six days’, and the allegories of Origen were, in theory, rejected. The exegesis of Gen. I. became the doctoral problem proper among the Greek Fathers. The most important wrote works on the Hexaëmeron; among them that of Johannes Philoponus is scientific. ally the most advanced (περὶ κοσμοποιίας); it is dependent, not on Platonism, but on Aristotle, though it also opposes the latter. On the other hand, the Trinitarian 249conflicts led to a precise distinction being drawn between creating, making, begetting, and emanating, and thus the notion of creation out of nothing now first received its strict impress. But Neoplatonic ideas of the origin of the world lasted till after the beginning of the fifth century, even in the case of some Bishops, and side by side with it the Manichæan conception of the world spread secretly and found adherents among the clergy themselves up to the middle of it. The following proposition may be regarded as containing the quintessence of the orthodox Fathers from the fifth century, and at the same time as the presupposition that gave scope to all their further speculations. It can be stated thus: God from eternity bore in his own mind the idea of the world. In free self-determination he, in order to prove his goodness, created by the Logos, who embraces all ideas, this world, which has had a beginning and will have an end, in six days out of nothing, in accordance with the pattern of an upper world created by him.

The justification of divine providence and the production of Theodicies were called for by Manichæism and fatalism on the one hand, and the great political catastrophes and calamities on the other. It was taught that God constantly remained close to his creation, preserving and governing it. With this, rational beings were looked upon in their numerical sum total as the peculiar objects of divine providence. Providence was also defended in opposition to the loose and unstable form in which earlier and contemporary monotheistic philosophers had avowed it; it was recognised in principle to be a power protecting 250also the individual creature. Yet here Christian theologians themselves did not arrive at complete certainty. It was admitted that providence was above human freedom in so far as it was maintained that neither that freedom nor the evil proceeding from it could hinder the divine intentions. But the belief in providence was not definitely connected with redemption by Christ or with the Church, for it was considered a selfevident presupposition of redemption and a piece of Natural Theology. Therefore it was also destitute of any strict object. The uncertainty of the ancient world as to the extent and method of providence had left its influence,511511For this reason a startling casuistry is to be noticed here and there, and exceptions are laid down. and empirical reflections on the objectlessness of certain institutions, or phenomena in the world—e.g., of vermin—could not be defeated by a view which had itself a naturalistic basis. Yet in proportion as the sure and real knowledge of God was only derived from the Christian religion, it was also recognised that faith in providence was first made certain through Christ, and that Christians were under the particular providence of God.512512Degrees of providence were generally distinguished. The problem of the theodicy was solved (1) by proving that the freedom of the creature was something appropriate and good, the possibility of wickedness and evil, however, being necessarily combined with it; (2) by denying to wickedness any reality in the higher sense of the term, since wickedness as it was separated from God, the principle of all being, was held to be not—being;513513After Origen this Platonic proposition enjoyed the widest circulation: see esp. Athanasius and the Cappadocians; but the Antiochians held no other view. Augustine made use of it in a peculiar and characteristic way. (3) by defending the mala pœnæ or evil’s fitting means of purification; and finally, (4) by representing temporal sufferings as indifferent to the soul. Some older Fathers, e.g., Lactantius, emphasised, besides, even the necessity of wickedness in the interest of moralism: without it virtue would be impossible.514514Lactant. Instit. div. II., ch. 8, 12; V., ch. 7. But such opinions died out in the fight with Manichæism.515515See Vol. V ., for the extent and form in which Augustine held such views.


In reference to the heavenly spirits which belonged to, and indeed formed, the upper world, the recognised Fathers were convinced of the following points. (1) They were created by God (see the Symb. Nic.). (2) They were endowed with freedom, but had no material bodies (ἐγγύτατα τοῦ ἀσωμάτου). (3) They had passed through a crisis after which a section had remained true to the good, while another had revolted. (4) The good spirits were instruments of the divine government of the world, their activity being useful and beneficial to men, even entering into the sacramental system by which grace was imparted. (5) The reality of wickedness in the world was to be attributed to the bad spirits, and especially to their head, the devil; they exercised an almost unbounded power on earth, not being able indeed to compel man, but only to induce him, to sin; they could also be scared away without fail by the name of Christ, the sign of the cross, and the Sacraments.516516No doubt existed of the necessity of believing in heavenly spiritual beings. Origen counted this belief a doctrine of the Church (De princip. præf. 10). The points numbered in the text may be regarded as the quintessence of what obtained generally. But such an agreement only made its appearance in the sixth century. Until then this point was a centre of contention between a form of Biblical “realism,” and the Origenistic, i.e., the Greek philosophical, view as to the world of spirits. The treatment of the question by the Areopagite, and its approval by the Church, constituted a triumph of Neoplatonic mysticism over Biblicism. But that tendencies which went still farther in this direction had not been wholly destroyed, was shown by the Hesychastic controversy of the fourteenth century, or the assumption of an uncreated divine light, which was not the nature of God, but a specific energy, different from himself, and which could be seen. (See Engelhardt in Illgen’s Ztschr., 1838, Part I., p. 68 ff.; Gass, Die Mystik des Nik. Kabasilas, 1849, p. 1. ff., and in Herzog’s R.-E., 2nd Ed.). The Logos, accordingly, no longer satisfied, or rather, as Scholasticism had placed the Logos under an embargo, piety sought for a new mediator. He was to accomplish what the Logos no longer did: he was to be a visible revelation of God, himself and yet not himself; for God himself was simply quiescent being; accordingly he himself was conceived and realised in the form of an energy that could be traced. The theory of the Areopagite was, however, not satisfactory in this respect; for while the spirits might doctrinally be regarded as created beings, they were perceived as divine forces, emanations, rays of the perfect light, conceivable by degrees by man, and bridging him nearer to the deity. We have here a great difference from the western conception; in the East the Platonic and Gnostic doctrine of Æons had never been entirely abolished. In the West, while the gradation of angelic powers had been accepted, the pious impulse from which it originated had not. As regards the relation of the good angels to men, their superiority to men—in the 252present condition of the latter—was emphasised, but it was also taught on the other hand, that man after he was made perfect would be at least equal to them. The former position gave rise to a sort of angel-worship, which nevertheless in earlier times was no proper part of religion. The Synod of Laodicea, about A.D. 360, declared it in its thirty-fifth Canon to be idolatry.517517There undoubtedly existed, even in the earliest time, a view which conjoined the angels with God, and thus made them also objects of worship, or, included them in the fides, quœ creditur. We may here perhaps recall even 1 Tim. V. 21: διαμαρτύρομαι ἐνώπιον τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ Ιησοῦ καὶ τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν ἀγγέλων. We can at any rate refer to Justin., Apol I. 6: (We worship God) καὶ τὸν παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ υἱὸν . . . καὶ τὸν τῶν ἄλλων ἑπομένων καὶ ἐξομοιουμένων ἁγαθῶν ἀγγέλων στρατόν. Athenag. Suppl. 10, 24. And it was kept in check by the idea that Christ’s work possessed also a mysterious significance for the upper world. But the polytheistic cravings of man constantly influenced religious ideas, and as the Deity was farther and farther removed from ordinary Christian people by speculation, there gradually arose, along with the thought of the intercession of the angels,518518This thought is undoubtedly extremely ancient, but at the earlier date it only existed in the outer circle of the faith. a worshipping of them, which was indeed only settled ecclesiastically at the seventh Œcumenical Synod (A.D. 787). There it was defined as adoration (προσκύνησις) in distinction from service (λατρεία).519519It had long—as early as the fourth century—been on the way; see the miraculous oratories of St. Michael; Sozom. II. 3, Theodoret on Coloss. T. III., p. 355 ff. Even Gregory I. had assigned the service of angels to the pre-christian stage of religion. The points of doctrine which we have above grouped together became the bases of a great number of very different conceptions, which grew up in opposition to Origen’s doctrine, or under its influence, or in dependence on exegesis (esp. of Gen. VI.), or, lastly, as a result of reminiscences of Greek folk-lore and philosophy. Men speculated on the date of the creation of angels, and the method by which they were created, on their spirituality or higher corporeality, their functions—as guardian angels and genii, the manner in which the wicked angels fell,520520On the devil, “the prince of the ranks encircling the earth,” see the exposition by John of Dam., De fide orthod. II. 4. The devil and the demons of their own free will turned away unnaturally from God. the orders and 253divisions of angels, and much else. Here also the doctrine of Origen, which culminated in the restoration of the revolted spirits, was in the end expressly disowned. On the other hand, the Neoplatonic conception of spirits and their orders, or the Gnostic idea of the Æons as interpreters of the divine, was more and more legitimised in the Church doctrine of angels, and was combined by the Areopagite with the mystic system of the illumination of the world, and the communication of the divine to the creaturely. It was a very old idea—see Hebrews and First Clement—that Christ was in Heaven the High Priest and head (προστάτης) of believers in the presence of God. Clement of Alex. had already worked out this conception, following Philo’s model, to the effect that Christ, in conjunction with the angelic powers subject to him, conveyed to men the energies of the heavenly sphere; that he ever offered himself for men to the Father as a sacrifice without fire (θῦμα ἄπυρον); that the Holy Spirit along with the angels kept the heavenly and the earthly Church in constant contact. In short, the thought of a graded hierarchy in heaven, with heavenly sacrifices, intercessions, etc., as it also occurs among the Valentinians, lay on the confines of the Alexandrian’s speculation. These thoughts are more fully matured in Origen: the sacrifice of Christ applied also to the celestials, and the upper world, brought into harmony, contributed to the redemption of the lower. They were confirmed by the Neoplatonic philosophy of religion. On the other hand, Ignatius conceived the governing body of the Church on earth as a hierarchy which represented the heavenly order, and put it in operation. The two ideas—the Son, the Holy Ghost and the angelic hosts on the one hand, and the earthly priesthood, on the other—only needed to be combined, and a new stage of ecclesiastical theosophy was reached. The Pseudo-areopagite was the first to gain it—after, indeed, it had been already suggested clearly enough by Clement of Alex.; see Strom. VI. 13, 107, and other passages. Clement makes three dwellings in heaven correspond on one side to the divisions of angels, and, again, to the threefold hierarchy on earth. On the spread of this form of theosophy among the Syrian Monophysite monks, see Frothingham, Stephen bar Sudaili, 1886.


This whole conception was after all, indeed, nothing but a timid expression of the thought that the plan of creation itself, extending down from the deity to man, included the means of redemption, and that, as alienation from the deity was due to the existence of graduated creations, so, at the same time was the restoration to God. This conception, which contrasts abruptly with that of the Old Testament and Christianity, was compatible in principle neither with the idea of the creation, nor with the one historical redemption that took place once for all. It was Gnostic and Neoplatonic, i.e., pagan. This its character was simply disguised by the retention of the creation so far as words went, and by the substitution for the Æons of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and angelic powers with Biblical names; and, further, of sacraments, sacrifices, and priests, whose existence and operations were derived from the work of Christ.

The root of this whole conception is ultimately found in the notion that the Logos, who was identified with the Son of God, continued to be conceived as the abode and bearer of all the ideas from which the world was evolved. Even Athanasius was not in a position thoroughly to correct this view,—see Atzberger, Die Logoslehre des heiligen Athanasius, 1880, p. 138 ff. Consequently, even the most clear-sighted of the Fathers were helpless against speculations which deduced redemption from the Cosmology. And thus a new Church Theosophy arose. A fantastic pantheism was introduced which had been created by the barbarous theosophy of expiring antiquity. It harmonised excellently with the religious barbarism which satisfied itself in the crudest and most daring myths and legends; nay, it kindled into fresh life with it. The living God, apart from whom the Soul possesses nothing, and the fervour of the saint threatened meanwhile to disappear. And side by side, nay, in cordial agreement, with these fantastic speculations, there existed a prosaic worship of the letter.

Literature.—See Nitzsch account, here especially thorough, Dogmengesch. I. pp. 268-287, 328-347, and Schwane, Vol. II. pp. 15-108, 272-328.

« Prev Chapter IV. Presuppositions and Conceptions… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection