History of Dogma, Volume 2 (of 7)
by Adolph Harnack
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CHAPTER I.—Historical Survey

The Old and New Elements in the formation of the Catholic Church; The fixing of that which is Apostolic (Rule of Faith, Collection of Writings, Organization, Cultus); The Stages in the Genesis of the Catholic Rule of Faith, the Apologists; Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus; Clement and Origen; Obscurities in reference to the origin of the most important Institutions; Difficulties in determining the importance of individual Personalities; Differences of development in the Churches of different countries.


CHAPTER II.—The setting up of the Apostolic Standards for Ecclesiastical Christianity. The Catholic Church

A. The transformation of the Baptismal Confession into the Apostolic Rule of Faith

Necessities for setting up the Apostolic Rule of Faith; The Rule of Faith is the Baptismal Confession definitely interpreted; Estimate of this transformation; Irenaeus; Tertullian; Results of the transformation; Slower development in Alexandria: Clement and Origen.

B. The designation of selected writings read in the Churches as New Testament Scriptures or, in other words, as a collection of Apostolic Writings

Plausible arguments against the statement that up to the year 150 there was no New Testament in the Church; Sudden emergence of the New Testament in the Muratorian Fragment, in (Melito) Irenaeus and Tertullian; Conditions under which the New Testament originated; Relation of the New Testament to the earlier writings that were read in the Churches; Causes and motives for the formation of the Canon, manner of using and results of the New Testament; The Apostolic collection of writings can be proved at first only in those Churches in which we find the Apostolic Rule of Faith; probably there was no New Testament in Antioch about the year 200, nor in Alexandria (Clement); Probable history of the genesis of the New Testament in Alexandria up to the time of Origen; ADDENDUM. The results which the creation of the New Testament produced in the following period.

C. The transformation of the Episcopal Office in the Church into an Apostolic Office. The History of the remodelling of the conception of the Church

The legitimising of the Rule of Faith by the Communities which were founded by the Apostles; By the "Elders"; By the Bishops of Apostolic Churches (disciples of Apostles); By the Bishops as such, who have received the Apostolic Charisma veritatis; Excursus on the conceptions of the Alexandrians; The Bishops as successors of the Apostles; Original idea of the Church as the Holy Community that comes from Heaven and is destined for it; The Church as the empiric Catholic Communion resting on the Law of Faith; Obscurities in the idea of the Church as held by Irenaeus and Tertullian; By Clement and Origen; Transition to the Hierarchical idea of the Church; The Hierarchical idea of the Church: Calixtus and Cyprian; Appendix I. Cyprian's idea of the Church and the actual circumstances; Appendix II. Church and Heresy; Appendix III. Uncertainties regarding the consequences of the new idea of the Church.

CHAPTER III.—Continuation.—The Old Christianity and the New Church

Introduction; The Original Montanism; The later Montanism as the dregs of the movement and as the product of a compromise; The opposition to the demands of the Montanists by the Catholic Bishops: importance of the victory for the Church; History of penance: the old practice; The laxer practice in the days of Tertullian and Hippolytus; The abolition of the old practice in the days of Cyprian; Significance of the new kind of penance for the idea of the Church; the Church no longer a Communion of Salvation and of Saints, but a condition of Salvation and a Holy Institution and thereby a corpus permixtum; After effect of the old idea of the Church in Cyprian; Origen's idea of the Church; Novatian's idea of the Church and of penance, the Church of the Catharists; Conclusion: the Catholic Church as capable of being a support to society and the state; Addenda I. The Priesthood; Addenda II. Sacrifice; Addenda III. Means of Grace. Baptism and the Eucharist; Excursus to Chapters II. and III.—Catholic and Roman.


CHAPTER IV.—Ecclesiastical Christianity and Philosophy; The Apologists

1. Introduction

The historical position of the Apologists; Apologists and Gnostics; Nature and importance of the Apologists' theology.

2. Christianity as Philosophy and as Revelation

Aristides; Justin; Athenagoras; Miltiades, Melito; Tatian; Pseudo-Justin, Orat. ad Gr.; Theophilus; Pseudo-Justin, de Resurr.; Tertullian and Minucius; Pseudo-Justin, de Monarch.; Results.

3. The doctrines of Christianity as the revealed and rational religion

Arrangement; The Monotheistic Cosmology; Theology; Doctrine of the Logos; Doctrine of the World and of Man; Doctrine of Freedom and Morality; Doctrine of Revelation (Proofs from Prophecy); Significance of the History of Jesus; Christology of Justin; Interpretation and Criticism, especially of Justin's doctrines.

CHAPTER V.—The Beginnings of an Ecclesiastico-theological interpretation and revision of the Rule of Faith in opposition to Gnosticism, on the basis of the New Testament and the Christian Philosophy of the Apologists, Melito, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Novatian

1. The theological position of Irenaeus and of the later contemporary Church teachers

Characteristics of the theology of the Old Catholic Fathers, their wavering between Reason and Tradition; Loose structure of their Dogmas; Irenaeus' attempt to construct a systematic theology and his fundamental theological convictions; Gnostic and anti-Gnostic features of his theology; Christianity conceived as a real redemption by Christ (recapitulatio); His conception of a history of salvation; His historical significance: conserving of tradition and gradual hellenising of the Rule of Faith.

2. The Old Catholic Fathers' doctrine of the Church

The Antithesis to Gnosticism; The "Scripture theology" as a sign of the dependence on "Gnosticism" and as a means of conserving tradition; The Doctrine of God; The Logos Doctrine of Tertullian and Hippolytus; (Conceptions regarding the Holy Spirit); Irenaeus' doctrine of the Logos; (Conceptions regarding the Holy Spirit); The views of Irenaeus regarding the destination of man, the original state, the fall and the doom of death (the disparate series of ideas in Irenaeus; rudiments of the doctrine of original sin in Tertullian); The doctrine of Jesus Christ as the incarnate son of God; Assertion of the complete mixture and unity of the divine and human elements; Significance of Mary; Tertullian's doctrine of the two natures and its origin; Rudiments of this doctrine in Irenaeus; The Gnostic character of this doctrine; Christology of Hippolytus; Views as to Christ's work; Redemption, Perfection; Reconciliation; Categories for the fruit of Christ's work; Things peculiar to Tertullian; Satisfacere Deo; The Soul as the Bride of Christ; The Eschatology; Its archaic nature, its incompatibility with speculation and the advantage of connection with that; Conflict with Chiliasm in the East; The doctrine of the two Testaments; The influence of Gnosticism on the estimate of the two Testaments, the complexus oppositorum; the Old Testament a uniform Christian Book as in the Apologists; The Old Testament a preliminary stage of the New Testament and a compound Book; The stages in the history of salvation; The law of freedom the climax of the revelation in Christ.

3. Results to Ecclesiastical Christianity, chiefly in the West, (Cyprian, Novation)

CHAPTER VI.—The Transformation of the Ecclesiastical Tradition into a Philosophy of Religion, or the Origin of the Scientific Theology and Dogmatic of the Church: Clement and Origen

(1) The Alexandrian Catechetical School and Clement of Alexandria

Schools and Teachers in the Church at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century; scientific efforts (Alogi in Asia Minor, Cappadocian Scholars, Bardesanes of Edessa, Julius Africanus, Scholars in Palestine, Rome and Carthage); The Alexandrian Catechetical School. Clement; The temper of Clement and his importance in the History of Dogma; his relation to Irenaeus, to the Gnostics and to primitive Christianity; his philosophy of Religion; Clement and Origen

(2) The system of Origen

Introductory: The personality and importance of Origen; The Elements of Origen's theology; its Gnostic features; The relative view of Origen; His temper and final aim: relation to Greek Philosophy; Theology as a Philosophy of Revelation, and a cosmological speculation; Porphyry on Origen; The neutralising of History, esoteric and exoteric Christianity; Fundamental ideas and arrangement of his system; Sources of truth, doctrine of Scripture.

I. The Doctrine of God and its unfolding

Doctrine of God; Doctrine of the Logos; Clement's doctrine of the Logos; Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; Doctrine of Spirits.

II. Doctrine of the Fall and its consequences

Doctrine of Man

III. Doctrine of Redemption and Restoration

The notions necessary to the Psychical; The Christology; The Appropriation of Salvation; The Eschatology; Concluding Remarks: The importance of this system to the following period.






The second century of the existence of Gentile-Christian communities was characterised by the victorious conflict with Gnosticism and the Marcionite Church, by the gradual development of an ecclesiastical doctrine, and by the decay of the early Christian enthusiasm. The general result was the establishment of a great ecclesiastical association, which, forming at one and the same time a political commonwealth, school and union for worship, was based on the firm foundation of an "apostolic" law of faith, a collection of "apostolic" writings, and finally, an "apostolic" organisation. This institution was the Catholic Church.[1] In opposition to Gnosticism and Marcionitism, the main articles forming the estate and possession of orthodox Christianity were raised to the rank of apostolic regulations and laws, and thereby placed beyond all discussion and assault. At first the innovations introduced by this were not of a material, but of a formal, character. Hence they were not noticed by any of those who had never, or only in a vague fashion, been elevated to the feeling and idea of freedom and independence in religion. How great the innovations actually were, however, may be measured by the fact that they signified a scholastic tutelage of the faith of the individual Christian, and restricted the immediateness of religious feelings and ideas to the narrowest limits. But the conflict with the so-called Montanism showed that there were still a considerable number of Christians who valued that immediateness and freedom; these were, however, defeated. The fixing of the tradition under the title of apostolic necessarily led to the assumption that whoever held the apostolic doctrine was also essentially a Christian in the apostolic sense. This assumption, quite apart from the innovations which were legitimised by tracing them to the Apostles, meant the separation of doctrine and conduct, the preference of the former to the latter, and the transformation of a fellowship of faith, hope, and discipline into a communion "eiusdem sacramenti," that is, into a union which, like the philosophical schools, rested on a doctrinal law, and which was subject to a legal code of divine institution.[2]

The movement which resulted in the Catholic Church owes its right to a place in the history of Christianity to the victory over Gnosticism and to the preservation of an important part of early Christian tradition. If Gnosticism in all its phases was the violent attempt to drag Christianity down to the level of the Greek world, and to rob it of its dearest possession, belief in the Almighty God of creation and redemption, then Catholicism, inasmuch as it secured this belief for the Greeks, preserved the Old Testament, and supplemented it with early Christian writings, thereby saving—as far as documents, at least, were concerned—and proclaiming the authority of an important part of primitive Christianity, must in one respect be acknowledged as a conservative force born from the vigour of Christianity. If we put aside abstract considerations and merely look at the facts of the given situation, we cannot but admire a creation which first broke up the various outside forces assailing Christianity, and in which the highest blessings of this faith have always continued to be accessible. If the founder of the Christian religion had deemed belief in the Gospel and a life in accordance with it to be compatible with membership of the Synagogue and observance of the Jewish law, there could at least be no impossibility of adhering to the Gospel within the Catholic Church.

Still, that is only one side of the case. The older Catholicism never clearly put the question, "What is Christian?" Instead of answering that question it rather laid down rules, the recognition of which was to be the guarantee of Christianism. This solution of the problem seems to be on the one hand too narrow and on the other too broad. Too narrow, because it bound Christianity to rules under which it necessarily languished; too broad, because it did not in any way exclude the introduction of new and foreign conceptions. In throwing a protective covering round the Gospel, Catholicism also obscured it. It preserved Christianity from being hellenised to the most extreme extent, but, as time went on, it was forced to admit into this religion an ever greater measure of secularisation. In the interests of its world-wide mission it did not indeed directly disguise the terrible seriousness of religion, but, by tolerating a less strict ideal of life, it made it possible for those less in earnest to be considered Christians, and to regard themselves as such. It permitted the genesis of a Church, which was no longer a communion of faith, hope, and discipline, but a political commonwealth in which the Gospel merely had a place beside other things.[3] In ever increasing measure it invested all the forms which this secular commonwealth required with apostolic, that is, indirectly, with divine authority. This course disfigured Christianity and made a knowledge of what is Christian an obscure and difficult matter. But, in Catholicism, religion for the first time obtained a formal dogmatic system. Catholic Christianity discovered the formula which reconciled faith and knowledge. This formula satisfied humanity for centuries, and the blessed effects which it accomplished continued to operate even after it had itself already become a fetter.

Catholic Christianity grew out of two converging series of developments. In the one were set up fixed outer standards for determining what is Christian, and these standards were proclaimed to be apostolic institutions. The baptismal confession was exalted to an apostolic rule of faith, that is, to an apostolic law of faith. A collection of apostolic writings was formed from those read in the Churches, and this compilation was placed on an equal footing with the Old Testament. The episcopal and monarchical constitution was declared to be apostolic, and the attribute of successor of the Apostles was conferred on the bishop. Finally, the religious ceremonial developed into a celebration of mysteries, which was in like manner traced back to the Apostles. The result of these institutions was a strictly exclusive Church in the form of a communion of doctrine, ceremonial, and law, a confederation which more and more gathered the various communities within its pale, and brought about the decline of all nonconforming sects. The confederation was primarily based on a common confession, which, however, was not only conceived as "law," but was also very soon supplemented by new standards. One of the most important problems to be investigated in the history of dogma, and one which unfortunately cannot be completely solved, is to show what necessities led to the setting up of a new canon of Scripture, what circumstances required the appearance of living authorities in the communities, and what relation was established between the apostolic rule of faith, the apostolic canon of Scripture, and the apostolic office. The development ended with the formation of a clerical class, at whose head stood the bishop, who united in himself all conceivable powers, as teacher, priest, and judge. He disposed of the powers of Christianity, guaranteed its purity, and therefore in every respect held the Christian laity in tutelage.

But even apart from the content which Christianity here received, this process in itself represents a progressive secularising of the Church, This would be self-evident enough, even if it were not confirmed by noting the fact that the process had already been to some extent anticipated in the so-called Gnosticism (See vol. I. p. 253 and Tertullian, de praescr. 35). But the element which the latter lacked, namely, a firmly welded, suitably regulated constitution, must by no means be regarded as one originally belonging and essential to Christianity. The depotentiation to which Christianity was here subjected appears still more plainly in the facts, that the Christian hopes were deadened, that the secularising of the Christian life was tolerated and even legitimised, and that the manifestations of an unconditional devotion to the heavenly excited suspicion or were compelled to confine themselves to very narrow limits.

But these considerations are scarcely needed as soon as we turn our attention to the second series of developments that make up the history of this period. The Church did not merely set up dykes and walls against Gnosticism in order to ward it off externally, nor was she satisfied with defending against it the facts which were the objects of her belief and hope; but, taking the creed for granted, she began to follow this heresy into its own special territory and to combat it with a scientific theology. That was a necessity which did not first spring from Christianity's own internal struggles. It was already involved in the fact that the Christian Church had been joined by cultured Greeks, who felt the need of justifying their Christianity to themselves and the world, and of presenting it as the desired and certain answer to all the pressing questions which then occupied men's minds.

The beginning of a development which a century later reached its provisional completion in the theology of Origen, that is, in the transformation of the Gospel into a scientific system of ecclesiastical doctrine, appears in the Christian Apologetic, as we already find it before the middle of the second century. As regards its content, this system of doctrine meant the legitimising of Greek philosophy within the sphere of the rule of faith. The theology of Origen bears the same relation to the New Testament as that of Philo does to the Old. What is here presented as Christianity is in fact the idealistic religious philosophy of the age, attested by divine revelation, made accessible to all by the incarnation of the Logos, and purified from any connection with Greek mythology and gross polytheism.[4] A motley multitude of primitive Christian ideas and hopes, derived from both Testaments, and too brittle to be completely recast, as yet enclosed the kernel. But the majority of these were successfully manipulated by theological art, and the traditional rule of faith was transformed into a system of doctrine, in which, to some extent, the old articles found only a nominal place.[5]

This hellenising of ecclesiastical Christianity, by which we do not mean the Gospel, was not a gradual process; for the truth rather is that it was already accomplished the moment that the reflective Greek confronted the new religion which he had accepted. The Christianity of men like Justin, Athenagoras, and Minucius is not a whit less Hellenistic than that of Origen. But yet an important distinction obtains here. It is twofold. In the first place, those Apologists did not yet find themselves face to face with a fixed collection of writings having a title to be reverenced as Christian; they have to do with the Old Testament and the "Teachings of Christ" ([Greek: didagmata Christou]). In the second place, they do not yet regard the scientific presentation of Christianity as the main task and as one which this religion itself demands. As they really never enquired what was meant by "Christian," or at least never put the question clearly to themselves, they never claimed that their scientific presentation of Christianity was the first proper expression of it that had been given. Justin and his contemporaries make it perfectly clear that they consider the traditional faith existing in the churches to be complete and pure and in itself requiring no scientific revision. In a word, the gulf which existed between the religious thought of philosophers and the sum of Christian tradition is still altogether unperceived, because that tradition was not yet fixed in rigid forms, because no religious utterance testifying to monotheism, virtue, and reward was as yet threatened by any control, and finally, because the speech of philosophy was only understood by a small minority in the Church, though its interests and aims were not unknown to most. Christian thinkers were therefore still free to divest of their direct religious value all realistic and historical elements of the tradition, while still retaining them as parts of a huge apparatus of proof, which accomplished what was really the only thing that many sought in Christianity, viz., the assurance that the theory of the world obtained from other sources was the truth. The danger which here threatened Christianity as a religion was scarcely less serious than that which had been caused to it by the Gnostics. These remodelled tradition, the Apologists made it to some extent inoperative without attacking it. The latter were not disowned, but rather laid the foundation of Church theology, and determined the circle of interests within which it was to move in the future.[6]

But the problem which the Apologists solved almost offhand, namely, the task of showing that Christianity was the perfect and certain philosophy, because it rested on revelation, and that it was the highest scientific knowledge of God and the world, was to be rendered more difficult. To these difficulties all that primitive Christianity has up to the present transmitted to the Church of succeeding times contributes its share. The conflict with Gnosticism made it necessary to find some sort of solution to the question, "What is Christian?" and to fix this answer. But indeed the Fathers were not able to answer the question confidently and definitely. They therefore made a selection from tradition and contented themselves with making it binding on Christians. Whatever was to lay claim to authority in the Church had henceforth to be in harmony with the rule of faith and the canon of New Testament Scriptures. That created an entirely new situation for Christian thinkers, that is, for those trying to solve the problem of subordinating Christianity to the Hellenic spirit. That spirit never became quite master of the situation; it was obliged to accommodate itself to it.[7] The work first began with the scientific treatment of individual articles contained in the rule of faith, partly with the view of disproving Gnostic conceptions, partly for the purpose of satisfying the Church's own needs. The framework in which these articles were placed virtually continued to be the apologetic theology, for this maintained a doctrine of God and the world, which seemed to correspond to the earliest tradition as much as it ran counter to the Gnostic theses. (Melito), Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, aided more or less by tradition on the one hand and by philosophy on the other, opposed to the Gnostic dogmas about Christianity the articles of the baptismal confession interpreted as a rule of faith, these articles being developed into doctrines. Here they undoubtedly learned very much from the Gnostics and Marcion. If we define ecclesiastical dogmas as propositions handed down in the creed of the Church, shown to exist in the Holy Scriptures of both Testaments, and rationally reproduced and formulated, then the men we have just mentioned were the first to set up dogmas[8]—dogmas but no system of dogmatics. As yet the difficulty of the problem was by no means perceived by these men either. Their peculiar capacity for sympathising with and understanding the traditional and the old still left them in a happy blindness. So far as they had a theology they supposed it to be nothing more than the explanation of the faith of the Christian multitude (yet Tertullian already noted the difference in one point, certainly a very characteristic one, viz., the Logos doctrine). They still lived in the belief that the Christianity which filled their minds required no scientific remodelling in order to be an expression of the highest knowledge, and that it was in all respects identical with the Christianity which even the most uncultivated could grasp. That this was an illusion is proved by many considerations, but most convincingly by the fact that Tertullian and Hippolytus had the main share in introducing into the doctrine of faith a philosophically formulated dogma, viz., that the Son of God is the Logos, and in having it made the articulus constitutivus ecclesiae. The effects of this undertaking can never be too highly estimated, for the Logos doctrine is Greek philosophy in nuce, though primitive Christian views may have been subsequently incorporated with it. Its introduction into the creed of Christendom, which was, strictly speaking, the setting up of the first dogma in the Church, meant the future conversion of the rule of faith into a philosophic system. But in yet another respect Irenaeus and Hippolytus denote an immense advance beyond the Apologists, which, paradoxically enough, results both from the progress of Christian Hellenism and from a deeper study of the Pauline theology, that is, emanates from the controversy with Gnosticism. In them a religious and realistic idea takes the place of the moralism of the Apologists, namely, the deifying of the human race through the incarnation of the Son of God. The apotheosis of mortal man through his acquisition of immortality (divine life) is the idea of salvation which was taught in the ancient mysteries. It is here adopted as a Christian one, supported by the Pauline theology (especially as contained in the Epistle to the Ephesians), and brought into the closest connection with the historical Christ, the Son of God and Son of man (filius dei et filius hominis). What the heathen faintly hoped for as a possibility was here announced as certain, and indeed as having already taken place. What a message! This conception was to become the central Christian idea of the future. A long time, however, elapsed before it made its way into the dogmatic system of the Church.[9]

But meanwhile the huge gulf which existed between both Testaments and the rule of faith on the one hand, and the current ideas of the time on the other, had been recognized in Alexandria. It was not indeed felt as a gulf, for then either the one or the other would have had to be given up, but as a problem. If the Church tradition contained the assurance, not to be obtained elsewhere, of all that Greek culture knew, hoped for, and prized, and if for that very reason it was regarded as in every respect inviolable, then the absolutely indissoluble union of Christian tradition with the Greek philosophy of religion was placed beyond all doubt. But an immense number of problems were at the same time raised, especially when, as in the case of the Alexandrians, heathen syncretism in the entire breadth of its development was united with the doctrine of the Church. The task, which had been begun by Philo and carried on by Valentinus and his school, was now undertaken in the Church. Clement led the way in attempting a solution of the problem, but the huge task proved too much for him. Origen took it up under more difficult circumstances, and in a certain fashion brought it to a conclusion. He, the rival of the Neoplatonic philosophers, the Christian Philo, wrote the first Christian dogmatic, which competed with the philosophic systems of the time, and which, founded on the Scriptures of both Testaments, presents a peculiar union of the apologetic theology of a Justin and the Gnostic theology of a Valentinus, while keeping steadily in view a simple and highly practical aim. In this dogmatic the rule of faith is recast and that quite consciously. Origen did not conceal his conviction that Christianity finds its correct expression only in scientific knowledge, and that every form of Christianity that lacks theology is but a meagre kind with no clear consciousness of its own content. This conviction plainly shows that Origen was dealing with a different kind of Christianity, though his view that a mere relative distinction existed here may have its justification in the fact, that the untheological Christianity of the age with which he compared his own was already permeated by Hellenic elements and in a very great measure secularised.[10] But Origen, as well as Clement before him, had really a right to the conviction that the true essence of Christianity, or, in other words, the Gospel, is only arrived at by the aid of critical speculation; for was not the Gospel veiled and hidden in the canon of both Testaments, was it not displaced by the rule of faith, was it not crushed down, depotentiated, and disfigured in the Church which identified itself with the people of Christ? Clement and Origen found freedom and independence in what they recognized to be the essence of the matter and what they contrived with masterly skill to determine as its proper aim, after an examination of the huge apparatus of tradition. But was not that the ideal of Greek sages and philosophers? This question can by no means be flatly answered in the negative, and still less decidedly in the affirmative, for a new significance was here given to the ideal by representing it as assured beyond all doubt, already realised in the person of Christ and incompatible with polytheism. If, as is manifestly the case, they found joy and peace in their faith and in the theory of the universe connected with it, if they prepared themselves for an eternal life and expected it with certainty, if they felt themselves to be perfect only through dependence on God, then, in spite of their Hellenism, they unquestionably came nearer to the Gospel than Irenaeus with his slavish dependence on authority.

The setting up of a scientific system of Christian dogmatics, which was still something different from the rule of faith, interpreted in an Antignostic sense, philosophically wrought out, and in some parts proved from the Bible, was a private undertaking of Origen, and at first only approved in limited circles. As yet, not only were certain bold changes of interpretation disputed in the Church, but the undertaking itself, as a whole, was disapproved.[11] The circumstances of the several provincial churches in the first half of the third century were still very diverse. Many communities had yet to adopt the basis that made them into Catholic ones; and in most, if not in all, the education of the clergy—not to speak of the laity—was not high enough to enable them to appreciate systematic theology. But the schools in which Origen taught carried on his work, similar ones were established, and these produced a number of the bishops and presbyters of the East in the last half of the third century. They had in their hands the means of culture afforded by the age, and this was all the more a guarantee of victory because the laity no longer took any part in deciding the form of religion. Wherever the Logos Christology had been adopted the future of Christian Hellenism was certain. At the beginning of the fourth century there was no community in Christendom which, apart from the Logos doctrine, possessed a purely philosophical theory that was regarded as an ecclesiastical dogma, to say nothing of an official scientific theology. But the system of Origen was a prophecy of the future. The Logos doctrine started the crystallising process which resulted in further deposits. Symbols of faith were already drawn up which contained a peculiar mixture of Origen's theology with the inflexible Antignostic regula fidei. One celebrated theologian, Methodius, endeavoured to unite the theology of Irenaeus and Origen, ecclesiastical realism and philosophic spiritualism, under the badge of monastic mysticism. The developments of the following period therefore no longer appear surprising in any respect.

As Catholicism, from every point of view, is the result of the blending of Christianity with the ideas of antiquity,[12] so the Catholic dogmatic, as it was developed after the second or third century on the basis of the Logos doctrine, is Christianity conceived and formulated from the standpoint of the Greek philosophy of religion.[13] This Christianity conquered the old world, and became the foundation of a new phase of history in the Middle Ages. The union of the Christian religion with a definite historical phase of human knowledge and culture may be lamented in the interest of the Christian religion, which was thereby secularised, and in the interest of the development of culture which was thereby retarded(?). But lamentations become here ill-founded assumptions, as absolutely everything that we have and value is due to the alliance that Christianity and antiquity concluded in such a way that neither was able to prevail over the other. Our inward and spiritual life, which owes the least part of its content to the empiric knowledge which we have acquired, is based up to the present moment on the discords resulting from that union.

These hints are meant among other things to explain and justify[14] the arrangement chosen for the following presentation, which embraces the fundamental section of the history of Christian dogma.[15] A few more remarks are, however, necessary.

1. One special difficulty in ascertaining the genesis of the Catholic rules is that the churches, though on terms of close connection and mutual intercourse, had no real forum publicum, though indeed, in a certain sense, each bishop was in foro publico. As a rule, therefore, we can only see the advance in the establishment of fixed forms in the shape of results, without being able to state precisely the ways and means which led to them. We do indeed know the factors, and can therefore theoretically construct the development; but the real course of things is frequently hidden from us. The genesis of a harmonious Church, firmly welded together in doctrine and constitution, can no more have been the natural unpremeditated product of the conditions of the time than were the genesis and adoption of the New Testament canon of Scripture. But we have no direct evidence as to what communities had a special share in the development, although we know that the Roman Church played a leading part. Moreover, we can only conjecture that conferences, common measures, and synodical decisions were not wanting. It is certain that, beginning with the last quarter of the second century, there were held in the different provinces, mostly in the East, but later also in the West, Synods in which an understanding was arrived at on all questions of importance to Christianity, including, e.g., the extent of the canon.[16]

2. The degree of influence exercised by particular ecclesiastics on the development of the Church and its doctrines is also obscure and difficult to determine. As they were compelled to claim the sanction of tradition for every innovation they introduced, and did in fact do so, and as every fresh step they took appeared to themselves necessary only as an explanation, it is in many cases quite impossible to distinguish between what they received from tradition and what they added to it of their own. Yet an investigation from the point of view of the historian of literature shows that Tertullian and Hippolytus were to a great extent dependent on Irenaeus. What amount of innovation these men independently contributed can therefore still be ascertained. Both are men of the second generation. Tertullian is related to Irenaeus pretty much as Calvin to Luther. This parallel holds good in more than one respect. First, Tertullian drew up a series of plain dogmatic formulae which are not found in Irenaeus and which proved of the greatest importance in succeeding times. Secondly, he did not attain the power, vividness, and unity of religious intuition which distinguish Irenaeus. The truth rather is that, just because of his forms, he partly destroyed the unity of the matter and partly led it into a false path of development. Thirdly, he everywhere endeavoured to give a conception of Christianity which represented it as the divine law, whereas in Irenaeus this idea is overshadowed by the conception of the Gospel as real redemption. The main problem therefore resolves itself into the question as to the position of Irenaeus in the history of the Church. To what extent were his expositions new, to what extent were the standards he formulated already employed in the Churches, and in which of them? We cannot form to ourselves a sufficiently vivid picture of the interchange of Christian writings in the Church after the last quarter of the second century.[17] Every important work speedily found its way into the churches of the chief cities in the Empire. The diffusion was not merely from East to West, though this was the general rule. At the beginning of the fourth century there was in Caesarea a Greek translation of Tertullian's Apology and a collection of Cyprian's epistles.[18] The influence of the Roman Church extended over the greater part of Christendom. Up till about the year 260 the Churches in East and West had still in some degree a common history.

3. The developments in the history of dogma within the period extending from about 150 to about 300 were by no means brought about in the different communities at the same time and in a completely analogous fashion. This fact is in great measure concealed from us, because our authorities are almost completely derived from those leading Churches that were connected with each other by constant intercourse. Yet the difference can still be clearly proved by the ratio of development in Rome, Lyons, and Carthage on the one hand, and in Alexandria on the other. Besides, we have several valuable accounts showing that in more remote provinces and communities the development was slower, and a primitive and freer condition of things much longer preserved.[19]

4. From the time that the clergy acquired complete sway over the Churches, that is, from the beginning of the second third of the third century, the development of the history of dogma practically took place within the ranks of that class, and was carried on by its learned men. Every mystery they set up therefore became doubly mysterious to the laity, for these did not even understand the terms, and hence it formed another new fetter.


[Footnote 1: Aube (Histoire des Persecutions de l'Eglise, Vol. II. 1878, pp. 1-68) has given a survey of the genesis of ecclesiastical dogma. The disquisitions of Renan in the last volumes of his great historical work are excellent, though not seldom exaggerated in particular points. See especially the concluding observations in Vol. VII. cc. 28-34. Since the appearance of Ritschl's monograph on the genesis of the old Catholic Church, a treatise which, however, forms too narrow a conception of the problem, German science can point to no work of equal rank with the French. Cf. Sohm's Kirchenrecht, Vol. I. which, however, in a very one-sided manner, makes the adoption of the legal and constitutional arrangements responsible for all the evil in the Church.]

[Footnote 2: Sohm (p. 160) declares: "The foundation of Catholicism is the divine Church law to which it lays claim." In many other passages he even seems to express the opinion that the Church law of itself, even when not represented as divine, is the hereditary enemy of the true Church and at the same time denotes the essence of Catholicism. See, e.g., p. 2: "The whole essence of Catholicism consists in its declaring legal institutions to be necessary to the Church." Page 700: "The essence of Church law is incompatible with the essence of the Church." This thesis really characterises Catholicism well and contains a great truth, if expressed in more careful terms, somewhat as follows: "The assertion that there is a divine Church law (emanating from Christ, or, in other words, from the Apostles), which is necessary to the spiritual character of the Church and which in fact is a token of this very attribute, is incompatible with the essence of the Gospel and is the mark of a pseudo-Catholicism." But the thesis contains too narrow a view of the case. For the divine Church law is only one feature of the essence of the Catholic Church, though a very important element, which Sohm, as a jurist, was peculiarly capable of recognising. The whole essence of Catholicism, however, consists in the deification of tradition generally. The declaration that the empirical institutions of the Church, created for and necessary to this purpose, are apostolic, a declaration which amalgamates them with the essence and content of the Gospel and places them beyond all criticism, is the peculiarly "Catholic" feature. Now, as a great part of these institutions cannot be inwardly appropriated and cannot really amalgamate with faith and piety, it is self-evident that such portions become continued: legal ordinances, to which obedience must be rendered. For no other relation to these ordinances can be conceived. Hence the legal regulations and the corresponding slavish devotion come to have such immense scope in Catholicism, and well-nigh express its essence. But behind this is found the more general conviction that the empirical Church, as it actually exists, is the authentic, pure, and infallible creation: its doctrine, its regulations, its religious ceremonial are apostolic. Whoever doubts that renounces Christ. Now, if, as in the case of the Reformers, this conception be recognised as erroneous and unevangelical, the result must certainly be a strong detestation of "the divine Church law." Indeed, the inclination to sweep away all Church law is quite intelligible, for when you give the devil your little finger he takes the whole hand. But, on the other hand, it cannot be imagined how communities are to exist on earth, propagate themselves, and train men without regulations; and how regulations are to exist without resulting in the formation of a code of laws. In truth, such regulations have at no time been wanting in Christian communities, and have always possessed the character of a legal code. Sohm's distinction, that in the oldest period there was no "law," but only a "regulation," is artificial, though possessed of a certain degree of truth; for the regulation has one aspect in a circle of like-minded enthusiasts, and a different one in a community where all stages of moral and religious culture are represented, and which has therefore to train its members. Or should it not do so? And, on the other hand, had the oldest Churches not the Old Testament and the [Greek: diataxeis] of the Apostles? Were these no code of laws? Sohm's proposition: "The essence of Church law is incompatible with the essence of the Church," does not rise to evangelical clearness and freedom, but has been formed under the shadow and ban of Catholicism. I am inclined to call it an Anabaptist thesis. The Anabaptists were also in the shadow and ban of Catholicism; hence their only course was either the attempt to wreck the Church and Church history and found a new empire, or a return to Catholicism. Hermann Bockelson or the Pope! But the Gospel is above the question of Jew or Greek, and therefore also above the question of a legal code. It is reconcilable with everything that is not sin, even with the philosophy of the Greeks. Why should it not be also compatible with the monarchical bishop, with the legal code of the Romans, and even with the Pope, provided these are not made part of the Gospel.]

[Footnote 3: In the formation of the Marcionite Church we have, on the other hand, the attempt to create a rigid oecumenical community, held together solely by religion. The Marcionite Church therefore had a founder, the Catholic has none.]

[Footnote 4: The historian who wishes to determine the advance made by Graeco-Roman humanity in the third and fourth centuries, under the influence of Catholicism and its theology, must above all keep in view the fact that gross polytheism and immoral mythology were swept away, spiritual monotheism brought near to all, and the ideal of a divine life and the hope of an eternal one made certain. Philosophy also aimed at that, but it was not able to establish a community of men on these foundations.]

[Footnote 5: Luther, as is well known, had a very profound impression of the distinction between Biblical Christianity and the theology of the Fathers, who followed the theories of Origen. See, for example, Werke, Vol. LXII. p. 49, quoting Proles: "When the word of God comes to the Fathers, me thinks it is as if milk were filtered through a coal sack, where the milk must become black and spoiled."]

[Footnote 6: They were not the first to determine this circle of interests. So far as we can demonstrate traces of independent religious knowledge among the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the post-apostolic age, they are in thorough harmony with the theories of the Apologists, which are merely expressed with precision and divested of Old Testament language.]

[Footnote 7: It was only after the apostolic tradition, fixed in the form of a comprehensive collection, seemed to guarantee the admissibility of every form of Christianity that reverenced that collection, that the hellenising of Christianity within the Church began in serious fashion. The fixing of tradition had had a twofold result. On the one hand, it opened the way more than ever before for a free and unhesitating introduction of foreign ideas into Christianity, and, on the other hand, so far as it really also included the documents and convictions of primitive Christianity, it preserved this religion to the future and led to a return to it, either from scientific or religious considerations. That we know anything at all of original Christianity is entirely due to the fixing of the tradition, as found at the basis of Catholicism. On the supposition—which is indeed an academic consideration—that this fixing had not taken place because of the non-appearance of the Gnosticism which occasioned it, and on the further supposition that the original enthusiasm had continued, we would in all probability know next to nothing of original Christianity today. How much we would have known may be seen from the Shepherd of Hermas.]

[Footnote 8: So far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the idea of dogmas, as individual theorems characteristic of Christianity, and capable of being scholastically proved, originated with the Apologists. Even as early as Justin we find tendencies to amalgamate historical material and natural theology.]

[Footnote 9: It is almost completely wanting in Tertullian. That is explained by the fact that this remarkable man was in his inmost soul an old-fashioned Christian, to whom the Gospel was conscientia religionis, disciplina vitae and spes fidei, and who found no sort of edification in Neoplatonic notions, but rather dwelt on the ideas "command," "performance," "error," "forgiveness." In Irenaeus also, moreover, the ancient idea of salvation, supplemented by elements derived from the Pauline theology, is united with the primitive Christian eschatology.]

[Footnote 10: On the significance of Clement and Origen see Overbeck, "Ueber die Anfaenge der patristischen Litteratur" in d. Hist. Ztschr, N. F., Vol, XII. p. 417 ff.]

[Footnote 11: Information on this point may be got not only from the writings of Origen (see especially his work against Celsus), but also and above all from his history. The controversy between Dionysius of Alexandria and the Chiliasts is also instructive on the matter.]

[Footnote 12: The three or (reckoning Methodius) four steps of the development of church doctrine (Apologists, Old Catholic Fathers, Alexandrians) correspond to the progressive religious and philosophical development of heathendom at that period: philosophic moralism, ideas of salvation (theology and practice of mysteries), Neoplatonic philosophy, and complete syncretism.]

[Footnote 13: "Virtus omnis ex his causam accipit, a quibus provocatur" (Tertull., de bapt. 2.)]

[Footnote 14: The plan of placing the apologetic theology before everything else would have much to recommend it, but I adhere to the arrangement here chosen, because the advantage of being able to represent and survey the outer ecclesiastical development and the inner theological one, each being viewed as a unity, seems to me to be very great. We must then of course understand the two developments as proceeding on parallel lines. But the placing of the former parallel before the latter in my presentation is justified by the fact that what was gained in the former passed over much more directly and swiftly into the general life of the Church, than what was reached in the latter. Decades elapsed, for instance, before the apologetic theology came to be generally known and accepted in the Church, as is shown by the long continued conflict against Monarchianism.]

[Footnote 15: The origin of Catholicism can only be very imperfectly described within the framework of the history of dogma, for the political situation of the Christian communities in the Roman Empire had quite as important an influence on the development of the Catholic Church as its internal conflicts. But inasmuch as that situation and these struggles are ultimately connected in the closest way, the history of dogma cannot even furnish a complete picture of this development within definite limits.]

[Footnote 16: See Tertullian, de pudic. 10: "Sed cederem tibi, si scriptura Pastoris, quae sola moechos amat, divino instrumento meruisset incidi, si non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum etiam vestrarum inter aprocrypha et falsa iudicaretur;" de ieiun. 13: "Aguntur praesterea per Graecias illa certis in locis concilia ex universis ecclesiis, per quae et altiora quaeque in commune tractantur, et ipsa repraesentatio totius nominis Christiani magna veneratione celebratur." We must also take into account here the intercourse by letter, in which connection I may specially remind the reader of the correspondence between Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, Euseb., H. E. IV. 23, and journeys such as those of Polycarp and Abercius to Rome. Cf. generally Zahn, Weltverkehr und Kirche waehreud der drei ersten Jahrhunderte, 1877.]

[Footnote 17: See my studies respecting the tradition of the Greek Apologists of the second century in the early Church in the Texte und Unters. z. Gesch. der alt christl. Litteratur, Vol. I. Part I. 2.]

[Footnote 18: See Euseb., H. E. II. 2; VI. 43.]

[Footnote 19: See the accounts of Christianity in Edessa and the far East generally. The Acta Archelai and the Homilies of Aphraates should also be specially examined. Cf. further Euseb., H. E. VI. 12, and finally the remains of the Latin-Christian literature of the third century—apart from Tertullian, Cyprian and Novatian—as found partly under the name of Cyprian, partly under other titles. Commodian, Arnobius, and Lactantius are also instructive here. This literature has been but little utilised with respect to the history of dogma and of the Church.]




We may take as preface to this chapter three celebrated passages from Tertullian's "de praescriptione haereticorum." In chap. 21 we find: "It is plain that all teaching that agrees with those apostolic Churches which are the wombs and origins of the faith must be set down as truth, it being certain that such doctrine contains that which the Church received from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God." In chap. 36 we read: "Let us see what it (the Roman Church) has learned, what it has taught, and what fellowship it has likewise had with the African Churches. It acknowledges one God the Lord, the creator of the universe, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God the creator, born of the Virgin Mary, as well as the resurrection of the flesh. It unites the Law and the Prophets with the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles. From these it draws its faith, and by their authority it seals this faith with water, clothes it with the Holy Spirit, feeds it with the eucharist, and encourages martyrdom. Hence it receives no one who rejects this institution." In chap. 32 the following challenge is addressed to the heretics: "Let them unfold a series of their bishops proceeding by succession from the beginning in such a way that this first bishop of theirs had as his authority and predecessor some one of the Apostles or one of the apostolic men, who, however, associated with the Apostles."[21] From the consideration of these three passages it directly follows that three standards are to be kept in view, viz., the apostolic doctrine, the apostolic canon of Scripture, and the guarantee of apostolic authority, afforded by the organisation of the Church, that is, by the episcopate, and traced back to apostolic institution. It will be seen that the Church always adopted these three standards together, that is simultaneously.[22] As a matter of fact they originated in Rome and gradually made their way in the other Churches. That Asia Minor had a share in this is probable, though the question is involved in obscurity. The three Catholic standards had their preparatory stages, (1) in short kerygmatic creeds; (2) in the authority of the Lord and the formless apostolic tradition as well as in the writings read in the Churches; (3) in the veneration paid to apostles, prophets, and teachers, or the "elders" and leaders of the individual communities.

A. The Transformation of the Baptismal Confession into the Apostolic Rule of Faith.

It has been explained (vol. I. p. 157) that the idea of the complete identity of what the Churches possessed as Christian communities with the doctrine or regulations of the twelve Apostles can already be shown in the earliest Gentile-Christian literature. In the widest sense the expression, [Greek: kanon tes paradoseos] (canon of tradition), originally included all that was traced back to Christ himself through the medium of the Apostles and was of value for the faith and life of the Church, together with everything that was or seemed her inalienable possession, as, for instance, the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament. In the narrower sense that canon consisted of the history and words of Jesus. In so far as they formed the content of faith they were the faith itself, that is, the Christian truth; in so far as this faith was to determine the essence of everything Christian, it might be termed [Greek: kanon tes pisteos, kanon tes aletheias] (canon of the faith, canon of the truth).[23] But the very fact that the extent of what was regarded as tradition of the Apostles was quite undetermined ensured the possibility of the highest degree of freedom; it was also still allowable to give expression to Christian inspiration and to the intuition of enthusiasm without any regard to tradition.

We now know that before the violent conflict with Gnosticism short formulated summaries of the faith had already grown out of the missionary practice of the Church (catechising). The shortest formula was that which defined the Christian faith as belief in the Father, Son, and Spirit.[24] It appears to have been universally current in Christendom about the year 150. In the solemn transactions of the Church, therefore especially in baptism, in the great prayer of the Lord's Supper, as well as in the exorcism of demons,[25] fixed formulae were used. They embraced also such articles as contained the most important facts in the history of Jesus.[26] We know definitely that not later than about the middle of the second century (about 140 A.D.) the Roman Church possessed a fixed creed, which every candidate for baptism had to profess;[27] and something similar must also have existed in Smyrna and other Churches of Asia Minor about the year 150, in some cases, even rather earlier. We may suppose that formulae of similar plan and extent were also found in other provincial Churches about this time.[28] Still it is neither probable that all the then existing communities possessed such creeds, nor that those who used them had formulated them in such a rigid way as the Roman Church had done. The proclamation of the history of Christ predicted in the Old Testament, the [Greek: kerygma tes aletheias], also accompanied the short baptismal formula without being expressed in set terms.[29]

Words of Jesus and, in general, directions for the Christian life were not, as a rule, admitted into the short formulated creed. In the recently discovered "Teaching of the Apostles" ([Greek: Didache ton apostolon]) we have no doubt a notable attempt to fix the rules of Christian life as traced back to Jesus through the medium of the Apostles, and to elevate them into the foundation of the confederation of Christian Churches; but this undertaking, which could not but have led the development of Christianity into other paths, did not succeed. That the formulated creeds did not express the principles of conduct, but the facts on which Christians based their faith, was an unavoidable necessity. Besides, the universal agreement of all earnest and thoughtful minds on the question of Christian morals was practically assured.[30] Objection was not taken to the principles of morality—at least this was not a primary consideration—for there were many Greeks to whom they did not seem foolishness, but to the adoration of Christ as he was represented in tradition and to the Church's worship of a God, who, as creator of the world and as a speaking and visible being, appeared to the Greeks, with their ideas of a purely spiritual deity, to be interwoven with the world, and who, as the God worshipped by the Jews also, seemed clearly distinct from the Supreme Being. This gave rise to the mockery of the heathen, the theological art of the Gnostics, and the radical reconstruction of tradition as attempted by Marcion. With the freedom that still prevailed Christianity was in danger of being resolved into a motley mass of philosophic speculations or of being completely detached from its original conditions. "It was admitted on all sides that Christianity had its starting-point in certain facts and sayings; but if any and every interpretation of those facts and sayings was possible, if any system of philosophy might be taught into which the words that expressed them might be woven, it is clear that there could be but little cohesion between the members of the Christian communities. The problem arose and pressed for an answer: What should be the basis of Christian union? But the problem was for a time insoluble. For there was no standard and no court of appeal." From the very beginning, when the differences in the various Churches began to threaten their unity, appeal was probably made to the Apostles' doctrine, the words of the Lord, tradition, "sound doctrine", definite facts, such as the reality of the human nature (flesh) of Christ, and the reality of his death and resurrection.[31] In instruction, in exhortations, and above all in opposing erroneous doctrines and moral aberrations, this precept was inculcated from the beginning: [Greek: apolipomen tas kenas kai mataias phrontidas, kai elthomen epi ton euklee kai semnon tes paradoseos hemon kanona] ("Let us leave off vain and foolish thoughts and betake ourselves to the glorious and august canon of our tradition"). But the very question was: What is sound doctrine? What is the content of tradition? Was the flesh of Christ a reality? etc. There is no doubt that Justin, in opposition to those whom he viewed as pseudo-Christians, insisted on the absolute necessity of acknowledging certain definite traditional facts and made this recognition the standard of orthodoxy. To all appearance it was he who began the great literary struggle for the expulsion of heterodoxy (see his [Greek: syntagma kata pason ton gegenemenon haireseon]); but, judging from those writings of his that have been preserved to us, it seems very unlikely that he was already successful in finding a fixed standard for determining orthodox Christianity.[32]

The permanence of the communities, however, depended on the discovery of such a standard. They were no longer held together by the conscientia religionis, the unitas disciplinae, and the foedus spei. The Gnostics were not solely to blame for that. They rather show us merely the excess of a continuous transformation which no community could escape. The gnosis which subjected religion to a critical examination awoke in proportion as religious life from generation to generation lost its warmth and spontaneity. There was a time when the majority of Christians knew themselves to be such, (1) because they had the "Spirit" and found in that an indestructible guarantee of their Christian position, (2) because they observed all the commandments of Jesus ([Greek: entolai Iesou]). But when these guarantees died away, and when at the same time the most diverse doctrines that were threatening to break up the Church were preached in the name of Christianity, the fixing of tradition necessarily became the supreme task. Here, as in every other case, the tradition was not fixed till after it had been to some extent departed from. It was just the Gnostics themselves who took the lead in a fixing process, a plain proof that the setting up of dogmatic formulae has always been the support of new formations. But the example set by the Gnostics was the very thing that rendered the problem difficult. Where was a beginning to be made? "There is a kind of unconscious logic in the minds of masses of men when great questions are abroad, which some one thinker throws into suitable form."[33] There could be no doubt that the needful thing was to fix what was "apostolic," for the one certain thing was that Christianity was based on a divine revelation which had been transmitted through the medium of the Apostles to the Churches of the whole earth. It certainly was not a single individual who hit on the expedient of affirming the fixed forms employed by the Churches in their solemn transactions to be apostolic in the strict sense. It must have come about by a natural process. But the confession of the Father, Son, and Spirit and the kerygma of Jesus Christ had the most prominent place among these forms. The special emphasising of these articles, in opposition to the Gnostic and Marcionite undertakings, may also be viewed as the result of the "common sense" of all those who clung to the belief that the Father of Jesus Christ was the creator of the world, and that the Son of God really appeared in the flesh. But that was not everywhere sufficient, for, even admitting that about the period between 150 and 180 A.D. all the Churches had a fixed creed which they regarded as apostolic in the strict sense—and this cannot be proved,—the most dangerous of all Gnostic schools, viz., those of Valentinus, could recognise this creed, since they already possessed the art of explaining a given text in whatever way they chose. What was needed was an apostolic creed definitely interpreted; for it was only by the aid of a definite interpretation that the creed could be used to repel the Gnostic speculations and the Marcionite conception of Christianity.

In this state of matters the Church of Rome, the proceedings of which are known to us through Irenaeus and Tertullian, took, with regard to the fixed Roman baptismal confession ascribed to the Apostles, the following step: The Antignostic interpretation required by the necessities of the times was proclaimed as its self-evident content; the confession, thus explained, was designated as the "Catholic faith" ("fides catholica"), that is the rule of truth for the faith; and its acceptance was made the test of adherence to the Roman Church as well as to the general confederation of Christendom. Irenaeus was not the author of this proceeding. How far Rome acted with the cooeperation or under the influence of the Church of Asia Minor is a matter that is still obscure,[34] and will probably never be determined with certainty. What the Roman community accomplished practically was theoretically established by Irenaeus[35] and Tertullian. The former proclaimed the baptismal confession, definitely interpreted and expressed in an Antignostic form, to be the apostolic rule of truth (regula veritatis), and tried to prove it so. He based his demonstration on the theory that this series of doctrines embodied the faith of the churches founded by the Apostles, and that these communities had always preserved the apostolic teaching unchanged (see under C).

Viewed historically, this thesis, which preserved Christianity from complete dissolution, is based on two unproved assumptions and on a confusion of ideas. It is not demonstrated that any creed emanated from the Apostles, nor that the Churches they founded always preserved their teaching in its original form; the creed itself, moreover, is confused with its interpretation. Finally, the existence of a fides catholica, in the strict sense of the word, cannot be justly inferred from the essential agreement found in the doctrine of a series of communities.[36] But, on the other hand, the course taken by Irenaeus was the only one capable of saving what yet remained of primitive Christianity, and that is its historical justification. A fides apostolica had to be set up and declared identical with the already existing fides catholica. It had to be made the standard for judging all particular doctrinal opinions, that it might be determined whether they were admissible or not.

The persuasive power with which Irenaeus set up the principle of the apostolic "rule of truth," or of "tradition" or simply of "faith," was undoubtedly, as far as he himself was concerned, based on the facts that he had already a rigidly formulated creed before him and that he had no doubt as to its interpretation.[37] The rule of truth (also [Greek: he hypo tes ekklesias keryssomene aletheia] "the truth proclaimed by the Church;" and [Greek: to tes aletheias somation], "the body of the truth") is the old baptismal confession well known to the communities for which he immediately writes. (See I. 9. 4; [Greek: houto de kai ho ton kanona tes aletheias akline en heauto katechon hon dia tou baptismatos eilephe], "in like manner he also who retains immovably in his heart the rule of truth which he received through baptism"); because it is this, it is apostolic, firm and immovable.[38]

By the fixing of the rule of truth, the formulation of which in the case of Irenaeus (I. 10. 1, 2) naturally follows the arrangement of the (Roman) baptismal confession, the most important Gnostic theses were at once set aside and their antitheses established as apostolic. In his apostolic rule of truth Irenaeus himself already gave prominence to the following doctrines:[39] the unity of God, the identity of the supreme God with the Creator; the identity of the supreme God with the God of the Old Testament; the unity of Jesus Christ as the Son of the God who created the world; the essential divinity of Christ; the incarnation of the Son of God; the prediction of the entire history of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament; the reality of that history; the bodily reception ([Greek: ensarkos analepsis]) of Christ into heaven; the visible return of Christ; the resurrection of all flesh ([Greek: anastasis pases sarkos, pases anthropotetos]), the universal judgment. These dogmas, the antitheses of the Gnostic regulae,[40] were consequently, as apostolic and therefore also as Catholic, removed beyond all discussion.

Tertullian followed Irenaeus in every particular. He also interpreted the (Romish) baptismal confession, represented it, thus explained, as the regula fidei,[41] and transferred to the latter the attributes of the confession, viz., its apostolic origin (or origin from Christ), as well as its fixedness and completeness.[42] Like Irenaeus, though still more stringently, he also endeavoured to prove that the formula had descended from Christ, that is, from the Apostles, and was incorrupt. He based his demonstration on the alleged incontestable facts that it contained the faith of those Churches founded by the Apostles, that in these communities a corruption of doctrine was inconceivable, because in them, as could be proved, the Apostles had always had successors, and that the other Churches were in communion with them (see under C). In a more definite way than Irenaeus, Tertullian conceives the rule of faith as a rule for the faith,[43] as the law given to faith,[44] also as a "regula doctrinae" or "doctrina regulae" (here the creed itself is quite plainly the regula), and even simply as "doctrina" or "institutio."[45] As to the content of the regula, it was set forth by Tertullian in three passages.[46] It is essentially the same as in Irenaeus. But Tertullian already gives prominence within the regula to the creation of the universe out of nothing,[47] the creative instrumentality of the Logos,[48] his origin before all creatures,[49] a definite theory of the Incarnation,[50] the preaching by Christ of a nova lex and a nova promissio regni coelorum,[51] and finally also the Trinitarian economy of God.[52] Materially, therefore, the advance beyond Irenaeus is already very significant. Tertullian's regula is in point of fact a doctrina. In attempting to bind the communities to this he represents them as schools.[53] The apostolic "lex et doctrina" is to be regarded as inviolable by every Christian. Assent to it decides the Christian character of the individual. Thus the Christian disposition and life come to be a matter which is separate from this and subject to particular conditions. In this way the essence of religion was split up—the most fatal turning-point in the history of Christianity.

But we are not of course to suppose that at the beginning of the third century the actual bond of union between all the Churches was a fixed confession developed into a doctrine, that is, definitely interpreted. This much was gained, as is clear from the treatise de praescriptione and from other evidence, that in the communities with which Tertullian was acquainted, mutual recognition and brotherly intercourse were made to depend on assent to formulae which virtually coincided with the Roman baptismal confession. Whoever assented to such a formula was regarded as a Christian brother, and was entitled to the salutation of peace, the name of brother, and hospitality.[54] In so far as Christians confined themselves to a doctrinal formula which they, however, strictly applied, the adoption of this practice betokened an advance. The scattered communities now possessed a "lex" to bind them together, quite as certainly as the philosophic schools possessed a bond of union of a real and practical character[55] in the shape of certain briefly formulated doctrines. In virtue of the common apostolic lex of Christians the Catholic Church became a reality, and was at the same time clearly marked off from the heretic sects. But more than this was gained, in so far as the Antignostic interpretation of the formula, and consequently a "doctrine," was indeed in some measure involved in the lex. The extent to which this was the case depended, of course, on the individual community or its leaders. All Gnostics could not be excluded by the wording of the confession; and, on the other hand, every formulated faith leads to a formulated doctrine, as soon as it is set up as a critical canon. What we observe in Irenaeus and Tertullian must have everywhere taken place in a greater or less degree; that is to say, the authority of the confessional formula must have been extended to statements not found in the formula itself.

We can still prove from the works of Clement of Alexandria that a confession claiming to be an apostolic law of faith,[56] ostensibly comprehending the whole essence of Christianity, was not set up in the different provincial Churches at one and the same time. From this it is clearly manifest that at this period the Alexandrian Church neither possessed a baptismal confession similar to that of Rome,[57] nor understood by "regula fidei" and synonymous expressions a collection of beliefs fixed in some fashion and derived from the apostles.[58] Clement of Alexandria in his Stromateis appeals to the holy (divine) Scriptures, to the teaching of the Lord,[59] and to the standard tradition which he designates by a great variety of names, though he never gives its content, because he regards the whole of Christianity in its present condition as needing to be reconstructed by gnosis, and therefore as coming under the head of tradition.[60] In one respect therefore, as compared with Irenaeus and Tertullian, he to some extent represents an earlier standpoint; he stands midway between them and Justin. From this author he is chiefly distinguished by the fact that he employs sacred Christian writings as well as the Old Testament, makes the true Gnostic quite as dependent on the former as on the latter and has lost that naive view of tradition, that is, the complete content of Christianity, which Irenaeus and Tertullian still had. As is to be expected, Clement too assigns the ultimate authorship of the tradition to the Apostles; but it is characteristic that he neither does this of such set purpose as Irenaeus and Tertullian, nor thinks it necessary to prove that the Church had presented the apostolic tradition intact. But as he did not extract from the tradition a fixed complex of fundamental propositions, so also he failed to recognise the importance of its publicity and catholicity, and rather placed an esoteric alongside of an exoteric tradition. Although, like Irenaeus and Tertullian, his attitude is throughout determined by opposition to the Gnostics and Marcion, he supposes it possible to refute them by giving to the Holy Scriptures a scientific exposition which must not oppose the [Greek: kanon tes ekklesias], that is, the Christian common sense, but receives from it only certain guiding rules. But this attitude of Clement would be simply inconceivable if the Alexandrian Church of his time had already employed the fixed standard applied in those of Rome, Carthage and Lyons.[61] Such a standard did not exist; but Clement made no distinction in the yet unsystematised tradition, even between faith and discipline, because as a theologian he was not able to identify himself with any single article of it without hesitation, and because he ascribed to the true Gnostic the ability to fix and guarantee the truth of Christian doctrine.

Origen, although he also attempted to refute the heretics chiefly by a scientific exegesis of the Holy Scriptures, exhibits an attitude which is already more akin to that of Irenaeus and Tertullian than to that of Clement. In the preface to his great work, "De principiis," he prefixed the Church doctrine as a detailed apostolic rule of faith, and in other instances also he appealed to the apostolic teaching.[62] It may be assumed that in the time of Caracalla and Heliogabalus the Alexandrian Christians had also begun to adopt the principles acted upon in Rome and other communities.[63] The Syrian Churches, or at least a part of them, followed still later.[64] There can be no doubt that, from the last decades of the third century onward, one and the same confession, identical not in its wording, but in its main features, prevailed in the great confederation of Churches extending from Spain to the Euphrates and from Egypt to beyond the Alps.[65] It was the basis of the confederation, and therefore also a passport, mark of recognition, etc., for the orthodox Christians. The interpretation of this confession was fixed in certain ground features, that is, in an Antignostic sense. But a definite theological interpretation was also more and more enforced. By the end of the third century there can no longer have been any considerable number of outlying communities where the doctrines of the pre-existence of Christ and the identity of this pre-existent One with the divine Logos were not recognised as the orthodox belief.[66] They may have first become an "apostolic confession of faith" through the Nicene Creed. But even this creed was not adopted all at once.

B. The designation of selected writings read in the churches as New Testament Scriptures or, in other words, as a collection of apostolic writings.[67]

Every word and every writing which testified of the [Greek: kurios] (Lord) was originally regarded as emanating from him, that is, from his spirit: [Greek: Hothen he kuriotes laleitai ekei Kurios estin]. (Didache IV. 1; see also 1 Cor. XII. 3). Hence the contents were holy.[68] In this sense the New Testament is a "residuary product," just as the idea of its inspiration is a remnant of a much broader view. But on the other hand, the New Testament is a new creation of the Church,[69] inasmuch as it takes its place alongside of the Old—which through it has become a complicated book for Christendom,—as a Catholic and apostolic collection of Scriptures containing and attesting the truth.

Marcion had founded his conception of Christianity on a new canon of Scripture,[70] which seems to have enjoyed the same authority among his followers as was ascribed to the Old Testament in orthodox Christendom. In the Gnostic schools, which likewise rejected the Old Testament altogether or in part, Evangelic and Pauline writings were, by the middle of the second century, treated as sacred texts and made use of to confirm their theological speculations.[71] On the other hand, about the year 150 the main body of Christendom had still no collection of Gospels and Epistles possessing equal authority with the Old Testament, and, apart from Apocalypses, no new writings at all, which as such, that is, as sacred texts, were regarded as inspired and authoritative.[72] Here we leave out of consideration that their content is a testimony of the Spirit. From the works of Justin it is to be inferred that the ultimate authorities were the Old Testament, the words of the Lord, and the communications of Christian prophets.[73] The memoirs of the Apostles ([Greek: apomnemoneumata ton apostolon] = [Greek: ta euangelia]) owed their significance solely to the fact that they recorded the words and history of the Lord and bore witness to the fulfilment of Old Testament predictions. There is no mention whatever of apostolic epistles as holy writings of standard authority.[74] But we learn further from Justin that the Gospels as well as the Old Testament were read in public worship (Apol. I. 67) and that our first three Gospels were already in use. We can, moreover, gather from other sources that other Christian writings, early and late, were more or less regularly read in Christian meetings.[75] Such writings naturally possessed a high degree of authority. As the Holy Spirit and the Church are inseparable, everything that edifies the Church originates with the Holy Spirit,[76] which in this, as well as every other respect, is inexhaustibly rich. Here, however, two interests were predominant from the beginning, that of immediate spiritual edification and that of attesting and certifying the Christian Kerygma ([Greek: he asphaleia ton logon]). The ecclesiastical canon was the result of the latter interest, not indeed in consequence of a process of collection, for individual communities had already made a far larger compilation,[77] but, in the first instance, through selection, and afterwards, but not till then, through addition.

We must not think that the four Gospels now found in the canon had attained full canonical authority by the middle of the second century, for the fact—easily demonstrable—that the texts were still very freely dealt with about this period is in itself a proof of this.[78] Our first three Gospels contain passages and corrections that could hardly have been fixed before about the year 150. Moreover, Tatian's attempt to create a new Gospel from the four shews that the text of these was not yet fixed.[79] We may remark that he was the first in whom we find the Gospel of John[80] alongside of the Synoptists, and these four the only ones recognised. From the assault of the "Alogi" on the Johannine Gospel we learn that about 160 the whole of our four Gospels had not been definitely recognised even in Asia Minor. Finally, we must refer to the Gospel of the Egyptians, the use of which was not confined to circles outside the Church.[81]

From the middle of the second century the Encratites stood midway between the larger Christendom and the Marcionite Church as well as the Gnostic schools. We hear of some of these using the Gospels as canonical writings side by side with the Old Testament, though they would have nothing to do with the Epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles.[82] But Tatian, the prominent Apologist, who joined them, gave this sect a more complete canon, an important fact about which was its inclusion of Epistles of Paul. Even this period, however, still supplies us with no testimony as to the existence of a New Testament canon in orthodox Christendom, in fact the rise of the so-called "Montanism" and its extreme antithesis, the "Alogi," in Asia Minor soon after the middle of the second century proves that there was still no New Testament canon there; for, if such an authoritative compilation had existed, these movements could not have arisen. If we gather together all the indications and evidence bearing on the subject, we shall indeed be ready to expect the speedy appearance in the Church of a kind of Gospel canon comprising the four Gospels;[83] but we are prepared neither for this being formally placed on an equality with the Old Testament, nor for its containing apostolic writings, which as yet are only found in Marcion and the Gnostics. The canon emerges quite suddenly in an allusion of Melito of Sardis preserved by Eusebius,[84] the meaning of which is, however, still dubious; in the works of Irenaeus and Tertullian; and in the so-called Muratorian Fragment. There is no direct account of its origin and scarcely any indirect; yet it already appears as something to all intents and purposes finished and complete.[85] Moreover, it emerges in the same ecclesiastical district where we were first able to show the existence of the apostolic regula fidei. We hear nothing of any authority belonging to the compilers, because we learn nothing at all of such persons.[86] And yet the collection is regarded by Irenaeus and Tertullian as completed. A refusal on the part of the heretics to recognise this or that book is already made a severe reproach against them. Their Bibles are tested by the Church compilation as the older one, and the latter itself is already used exactly like the Old Testament. The assumption of the inspiration of the books; the harmonistic interpretation of them; the idea of their absolute sufficiency with regard to every question which can arise and every event which they record; the right of unlimited combination of passages; the assumption that nothing in the Scriptures is without importance; and, finally, the allegorical interpretation: are the immediately observable result of the creation of the canon.[87]

The probable conditions which brought about the formation of the New Testament canon in the Church, for in this case we are only dealing with probabilities, and the interests which led to and remained associated with it can only be briefly indicated here.[88]

The compilation and formation of a canon of Christian writings by a process of selection[89] was, so to speak, a kind of involuntary undertaking of the Church in her conflict with Marcion and the Gnostics, as is most plainly proved by the warnings of the Fathers not to dispute with the heretics about the Holy Scriptures,[90] although the New Testament was already in existence. That conflict necessitated the formation of a new Bible. The exclusion of particular persons on the strength of some apostolic standards, and by reference to the Old Testament, could not be justified by the Church in her own eyes and those of her opponents, so long as she herself recognised that there were apostolic writings, and so long as these heretics appealed to such. She was compelled to claim exclusive possession of everything that had a right to the name "apostolic," to deny it to the heretics, and to shew that she held it in the highest honour. Hitherto she had "contented" herself with proving her legal title from the Old Testament, and, passing over her actual origin, had dated herself back to the beginning of all things. Marcion and the Gnostics were the first who energetically pointed out that Christianity began with Christ, and that all Christianity was really to be tested by the apostolic preaching, that the assumed identity of Christian common sense with apostolic Christianity did not exist, and (so Marcion said) that the Apostles contradicted themselves. This opposition made it necessary to enter into the questions raised by their opponents. But, in point of content, the problem of proving the contested identity was simply insoluble, because it was endless and subject to question on every particular point. The "unconscious logic," that is the logic of self-preservation, could only prescribe an expedient. The Church had to collect everything apostolic and declare herself to be its only legal possessor. She was obliged, moreover, to amalgamate the apostolic with the canon of the Old Testament in such a way as to fix the exposition from the very first. But what writings were apostolic? From the middle of the second century great numbers of writings named after the Apostles had already been in circulation, and there were often different recensions of one and the same writing.[91] Versions which contained docetic elements and exhortations to the most pronounced asceticism had even made their way into the public worship of the Church. Above all, therefore, it was necessary to determine (1) what writings were really apostolic, (2) what form or recension should be regarded as apostolic. The selection was made by the Church, that is, primarily, by the churches of Rome and Asia Minor, which had still an unbroken history up to the days of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. In making this choice, the Church limited herself to the writings that were used in public worship, and only admitted what the tradition of the elders justified her in regarding as genuinely apostolic. The principle on which she proceeded was to reject as spurious all writings, bearing the names of Apostles, that contained anything contradictory to Christian common sense, that is, to the rule of faith—hence admission was refused to all books in which the God of the Old Testament, his creation, etc., appeared to be depreciated,—and to exclude all recensions of apostolic writings that seemed to endanger the Old Testament and the monarchy of God. She retained, therefore, only those writings which bore the names of Apostles, or anonymous writings to which she considered herself justified in attaching such names,[92] and whose contents were not at variance with the orthodox creed or attested it. This selection resulted in the awkward fact that besides the four Gospels there was almost nothing but Pauline epistles to dispose of, and therefore no writings or almost none which, as emanating from the twelve Apostles, could immediately confirm the truth of the ecclesiastical Kerygma. This perplexity was removed by the introduction of the Acts of the Apostles[93] and in some cases also the Epistles of Peter and John, though that of Peter was not recognised at Rome at first. As a collection this group is the most interesting in the new compilation. It gives it the stamp of Catholicity, unites the Gospels with the Apostle (Paul), and, by subordinating his Epistles to the "Acta omnium apostolorum," makes them witnesses to the particular tradition that was required and divests them of every thing suspicious and insufficient.[94] The Church, however, found the selection facilitated by the fact that the content of the early Christian writings was for the most part unintelligible to the Christendom of the time, whereas the late and spurious additions were betrayed not only by heretical theologoumena, but also and above all by their profane lucidity. Thus arose a collection of apostolic writings, which in extent may not have been strikingly distinguished from the list of writings that for more than a generation had formed

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