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NO one can compare the internal state of Christendom at the beginning of the third century with the state in which it found itself a hundred and twenty years earlier without being moved by conflicting views and sentiments. Admiration for the vigorous achievement presented in the creation of the Catholic Church, and for the energy with which it extended its activity in all directions, is balanced by concern at the absence of those many elements of freedom and directness, united, however, by an inward bond, which the primitive age possessed. Although we are compelled gratefully to acknowledge that this Church repelled all attempts to let the Christian religion simply dissolve into contemporary thought, and protected itself against the acute phase of Hellenisation, still we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that it had to pay a high price for maintaining its position. Let us determine a little more precisely what the alteration was which was effected in it, and on which we have already touched.

The first and most prominent change is the way in which freedom and independence in matters of 226religion are endangered. No one is to feel and count himself a Christian, that is to say, a child of God, who has not previously subjected his religious knowledge and experience to the controlling influence of the Church’s creed. The “Spirit” is confined within the narrowest limits, and forbidden to work where and as it will. Nay, more; not only is the individual, except in special cases, to begin by being a minor and by obeying the Church; he is never to become of full age, that is to say, he is never to lose his dependence on doctrine, on the priest, on public worship, and on the “book.” It was then that what we still specifically call the Catholic form of godliness, in contrast with Evangelicalism, originated. A blow was dealt to the direct and immediate element in religion; and for any individual to restore it afresh for himself became a matter of extraordinary difficulty.

Secondly, although the acute phase of Hellenisation was avoided, Christendom became more and more penetrated by the Greek and philosophical idea that true religion is first and foremost “doctrine,” and doctrine, too, that is coextensive with the whole range of knowledge. That this faith of “slaves and old women” attracted to itself the entire philosophy of God and the world which the Greeks had formed, and undertook to recast that philosophy as though teaching it were part of its 227own substance and unite it with the teaching of Jesus Christ, was certainly a proof of the inner power of the Christian religion; but the process involved, as a necessary consequence, a displacement of the fundamental religious interest, and the addition of an enormous burden. The question, “What must I do to be saved?” which in Jesus Christ’s and the apostles’ day could still receive a very brief answer, now evoked a most diffuse one; and even though in view of the laymen shorter replies might still be provided, the laymen were in so far regarded as imperfect, and expected to observe a submissive attitude towards the learned. The Christian religion had already received that tendency to Intellectualism which has clung to it ever since. But when thus presented as a huge and complex fabric, as a vast and difficult system of doctrine, not only is it encumbered, but its earnest character threatens to disappear. This character depends upon the emotional and gladdening element in it being kept directly accessible. The Christian religion is assuredly informed with the desire to come to terms with all knowledge and with intellectual life as a whole; but when achievements in this field—even presuming that they always accord with truth and reality—are held to be equally binding with the evangelical message, or even to be a necessary preliminary to it, mischief is done to 228the cause of religion. This mischief is already unmistakably present at the beginning of the third century.

Thirdly, the Church obtained a special, independent value as an institution; it became a religious power. Originally only a developed form of that community of brothers which furnished place and manner for God’s common worship and a mysterious shadow of the heavenly Church, it now became, as an institution, an indispensable factor in religion. People were taught that in this institution Christ’s Spirit had deposited everything that the individual man can need; that he is wholly bound to it, therefore, not only in love but also in faith; that it is there only that the Spirit works, and therefore there only that all its gifts of grace are to be found. That the individual Christian who did not subordinate himself to the ecclesiastical institution relapsed, as a rule, into heathenism, and fell into false and evil doctrines or an immoral life, was, indeed, an actual fact. The effect of this, combined with the struggle against the Gnostics, was that the institution, together with all its forms and arrangements, became more and more identified with the “bride of Christ,” “the true Jerusalem,” and so on, and accordingly was even itself proclaimed as the inviolable creation of God, and the fixed and unalterable abode of the Holy Ghost. Consistently 229with this, it began to announce that all its ordinances were equally sacred. How greatly religious liberty was thus encumbered I need not show.

Fourthly and lastly, the Gospel was not proclaimed as the glad message with the same vigour in the second century as it had been in the first. The reasons for this are manifold: on the one hand personal experience of religion was not felt so strongly as Paul, or as the author of the fourth Gospel, felt it; on the other, the prevalent eschatological expectations, which those teachers had restrained by their more profound teaching, remained in full sway. Fear and hope are more prominent in the Christianity of the second century than they are with Paul, and it is only in appearance that the former stands near to Jesus’ sayings; for, as we saw, God’s Fatherhood is the main article in Jesus’ message. But, as Romans viii. proves, the knowledge of this truth is just what Paul embodied in his preaching of the faith. While the element of fear thus obtained a larger scope in the Christianity of the second century,—this scope increased in proportion as the original buoyancy died down and conformity to the world extended,—the ethical element became less free and more a matter of law and rigorism. In religion, rigorism always forms the obverse side of secularity. But as it appeared impossible to expect a rigoristic ethics of everyone, 230the distinction between a perfect and a sufficient morality already set in as an element in the growth of Catholicism. That the roots of this distinction go further back is a fact of which we need not here take account; it was only towards the end of the second century that the distinction became a fatal one. Born of necessity and erected into a virtue, it soon grew so important that the existence of Christianity as a Catholic Church came to depend upon it. The uniformity of the Christian ideal was thereby disturbed and a quantitative view of moral achievement suggested which is unknown to the Gospel. The Gospel does, no doubt, make a distinction between a strong and a weak faith, and greater and smaller moral achievements; but he that is least in the kingdom of God may be perfect in his kind.

These various tendencies together denote the essential changes which the Christian religion experienced up to the beginning of the third century, and by which it was modified. Did the Gospel hold its own in spite of them, and how may that be shown? Well, we can cite a whole series of documents, which, so far as written words can attest inner and genuinely Christian life, bear very clear and impressive testimony that such life existed. Martyrdoms like those of Perpetua and Felicitas, or letters passing between communities, like those 231from Lyons to Asia Minor, exhibit the Christian faith and the strength and delicacy of moral sentiment with a splendour only paralleled in the days when the faith was founded; while of all that had been done in the external development of the Church they make no mention whatever. The way to God is found with certainty, and the simplicity of the life within does not appear to be disturbed or encumbered. Again, let us take a writer like the Christian religious philosopher, Clement of Alexandria, who flourished about the year 200. We can still feel from his writings that this scholar, although he was absolutely steeped in speculative ideas, and as a thinker reduced the Christian religion to a boundless sea of “doctrines,”—a Greek in every fibre of his being,—won peace and joy from the Gospel, and he can also express what he won and testify of the power of the living God. It is as a new man that he appears, one who has pressed on through the whole range of philosophy, through authority and speculation, through all the externals of religion, to the glorious liberty of the children of God. His faith in Providence, his faith in Christ, his doctrine of freedom, his ethics—everything is expressed in language that betrays the Greek, and yet everything is new and genuinely Christian. Further, if we compare him with a Christian of quite another stamp, namely, his contemporary, 232Tertullian, it is easy to show that what they have in common in religion is what they have learned from the Gospel, nay, is the Gospel itself. And in reading Tertullian’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, and turning it over in our minds, we see that this hot-blooded African, this stern foe of heretics, this resolute champion of auctoritas and ratio, this dogmatic advocate, this man at once Churchman and enthusiast, nevertheless possessed a deep feeling for the main substance of the Gospel and a good knowledge of it as well. In this Old-Catholic Church the Gospel, truly, was not as yet stifled!

Further, this Church still kept up the all-important idea that the Christian community must present itself as a society of brothers active in work, and it gave expression to this idea in a way that puts subsequent generations to shame.

Lastly, there can be no doubt—and while so truth-loving a man as Origen confirms the fact for us, heathen writers like Lucian also attest it—that the hope of an eternal life, the full confidence in Christ, a readiness to make sacrifices, and a purity of morals were still, in spite of all frailties—here, too, not lacking,—the real characteristics of this society. Origen can challenge his heathen opponents to compare any community whatever with the Christian community, and to say where the greater moral excellence lies. This religion had, no doubt, already 233developed a husk and integument; to penetrate through to it and grasp the kernel had become more difficult; it had also lost much of its original life. But the gifts and the tasks which the Gospel offered still remained in force, and the fabric which the Church had erected around them also served many a man as the means by which he attained to the thing itself.

We now pass to the consideration of


I must invite you to descend several centuries with me and to look at the Greek Church as it is today, and as it has been preserved, essentially unaltered, for more than a thousand years. Between the third and the nineteenth century the history of the Church of the East nowhere presents any deep gulf. Hence we may take up our position in the present. Here, in turn, we ask the three following questions:

What did this Greek Catholicism achieve?

What are its characteristics?

What modifications did the Gospel here undergo, and how did it hold its own?

What did this Greek Catholicism achieve? Two facts may be cited on this point: firstly, in the great domain which it embraces, the countries of the eastern part of the Mediterranean and northwards to the Arctic Ocean, it made an end of heathenism and 234polytheism. The decisive victory was accomplished from the third to the sixth century, and so effectually accomplished that the gods of Greece really perished—perished unwept and unmourned. Not in any great battle did they die, but from sheer exhaustion, and without offering any resistance worth mention. I may just point out that before dying they transferred a considerable portion of their power to the Church’s saints. But, what is more important, with the death of the gods Neoplatonism, the last great product of Greek philosophy, was also vanquished. The religious philosophy of the Church proved the stronger. The victory over Hellenism is an achievement of the Eastern Church on which it still subsists. Secondly, this Church managed to effect such a fusion with the individual nations which it drew into its bosom that religion and church became to them national palladia, nay, palladia pure and simple. Go amongst Greeks, Russians, Armenians, etc., and you will everywhere find that religion and nationality are inseparable, and the one element exists only in and alongside of the other. Men of these nationalities will, if need be, suffer themselves to be cut in pieces for their religion. This is no mere consequence of the pressure exercised by the hostile power of Mohammedanism; the Russians are not subject to this pressure. Nor is it only—shall I say?—in the Moscow press that we 235can see what a firm and intimate connexion exists between Church and nation in these peoples, in spite of “sects,” which are not wanting here either; to convince ourselves of it we must read—to take an instance at random—Tolstoi’s Village Tales. They bring before the reader a really touching picture of the deep influence of the Church, with its message of the Eternal, of self-sacrifice, of sympathy and fraternity, on the national mind. That the clergy stand low in the social scale, and frequently encounter contempt, must not delude us into supposing that as the representatives of the Church they do not occupy an incomparably high station. In Eastern Europe the monastic ideal is deeply rooted in the national soul.

But the mention of these two points includes everything that can be said about the achievements of this Church. To add that it has disseminated a certain amount of culture would involve pitching our standard of culture very low. In comparison with Islam, too, it is no longer so successful in doing what it has done in the past and still does in regard to polytheism. The missions of the Russian Church are still overthrowing polytheism even today; but large territories have been lost to Islam, and the Church has not recovered them. Islam has extended its victories as far as the Adriatic and in the direction of Bosnia. It has won over numerous 236Albanian and Slav tribes which were once Christian. It shows itself to be at least a match for the Church, although we must not forget that in the heart of its dominions there are Christian nations who have maintained their creed.

Our second question was, What are the characteristics of this Church? The answer is not easy; for as it presents itself to the spectator this Church is a highly complex structure. The feelings, the superstitions, the learning, and the devotional philosophy of hundreds, nay, of thousands of years, are built into it. But, further; no one can look at this Church from outside, with its forms of worship, its solemn ritual, the number of its ceremonies, its relics, pictures, priests, monks, and the philosophy of its mysteries, and then compare it on the one hand with the Church of the first century, and on the other with the Hellenic cults in the age of Neoplatonism, without arriving at the conclusion that it belongs not to the former but to the latter. It takes the form, not of a Christian product in Greek dress, but of a Greek product in Christian dress. It would have done battle with the Christians of the first century just as it did battle with the worship of Magna Mater and Zeus Soter. There are innumerable features of this Church which are counted as sacred as the Gospel, and towards which not even a tendency existed in primitive Christianity. Of the 237whole performance of the chief religious service, nay, even of many of the dogmas, the same thing may, in the last resort, be said: if certain words, like “Christ,” etc., are omitted, there is nothing left to recall the original element. In its external form as a whole this Church is nothing more than a continuation of the history of Greek religion under the alien influence of Christianity, parallel to the many other alien influences which have affected it. We might also describe it as the natural product of the union between Hellenism, itself already in a state of oriental decay, and Christian teaching; it is the transformation which history effects in a religion by “natural” means, and, as was here the case, was bound to effect between the third and the sixth century. In this sense it is a natural religion. The conception admits of a double meaning. It is generally understood as an abstract term covering all the elementary feelings and processes traceable in every religion. Whether there are any such elements, or, on the other hand, whether they are sufficiently stable and articulate to be followed as a whole, admits, however, of a doubt. The conception “natural religion” may be better applied to the growth which a religion produces when the “natural” forces of history have ceased playing on it. At bottom these forces are everywhere the same, although differing in the way in which they 238are mounted. They mould religion until it answers their purpose; not by expelling what is sacred, venerable, and so on, but by assigning it the place and allowing it the scope which they consider right. They immerse everything in a uniform medium,—that medium which, like the air, is the first condition of their “natural” existence. In this sense, then, the Greek Church is a natural religion; no prophet, no reformer, no genius, has arisen in its history since the third century to disturb the ordinary process by which a religion becomes naturalised into common history. The process attained its completion in the sixth century and asserted itself victoriously against severe assaults in the eighth and ninth. The Church has since been at rest, and no further essential, nay, not even any unessential, change has taken place in the condition which it then reached. Since then, apparently, the nations belonging to this Church have undergone nothing to make it seem intolerable to them and to call for any reform in it. They still continue, then, in this “natural” religion of the sixth century.

I have, however, advisedly spoken of the Church in its external form. Its complex character is partly due to the fact that we cannot arrive at its inner condition by simple deduction from its outer. It is not sufficient to observe, although the observation is correct, that this Church is part of the history of 239Greek religion. It exercises influences which from this point of view are not easily intelligible. We cannot form a correct estimate of it unless we dwell more closely on the factors which lend it its character.

The first factor which we encounter is tradition, and the observance of it. The sacred and the divine do not exist in free action,—we shall see later to what reservations this statement is subject,—but are put, as it were, into a storehouse, in the form of an immense capital. The capital is to provide for all demands, and to be coined in the precise way in which the Fathers coined it. Here, it is true, we have an idea which can be traced to something already existing in the primitive age. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” But what became of this practice and this obligation? Firstly, everything was designated “apostolic” which was deposited in this Church in the course of the succeeding centuries; or, rather, what the Church considered necessary to possess in order to suit the historical position in which it was placed it called apostolic, because it fancied that otherwise it could not exist, and what is necessary for the Church’s existence must be simply apostolic. Secondly, it has been established as an irrefragable fact that the “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” 240applies, first and foremost, to the punctilious observance of every direction as to ritual: the sacred element is bound up with text and form. Both are conceived in a thoroughly antique way. That the divine is, so to speak, stored up as though it were an actual commodity, and that the supreme demand which the Deity makes is the punctilious observance of a ritual, were ideas that in antiquity were perfectly familiar and admitted of no doubt. Tradition and ceremony are the conditions under which the Holy alone existed and was accessible. Obedience, respect, reverence, were the most important religious feelings. Whilst they are doubtless inalienable features of religion, it is only as accompaniments of an active feeling quite different in its character that they possess any value, and that further presumes that the object to which they are directed is a worthy one. Traditionalism and the ritualism so closely connected with it are prominent characteristics of the Greek Church, but this is just what shows how far it has departed from the Gospel.

The second point that fixes the character of this Church is the value which it attaches to orthodoxy, to sound doctrine. It has stated and re-stated its doctrines with the greatest precision and often enough made them a terror to men of different creed. No one, it claims, can be saved who does not possess the correct doctrine; the man who does 241not possess it is to be expelled and must forfeit all his rights; if he be a fellow-countryman, he must be treated as a leper and lose all connexion with his nation. This fanaticism, which still flares up here and there in the Greek Church even to-day, and in principle has not been abandoned, is not Greek, although a certain inclination towards it was not lacking in the ancient Greeks; still less did it originate in Roman law; it is the result, rather, of an unfortunate combination of several factors. When the Roman Empire became Christian, the hard fight for existence which the Church had waged with the Gnostics was not yet forgotten; still less had the Church forgotten the last bloody persecutions which the State had inflicted upon it in a kind of despair. These two circumstances would in themselves be sufficient to explain how the Church came to feel that it had a right of reprisal, and was at the same time bound to suppress heretics. But, in addition, there had now appeared in the highest place, since the days of Diocletian and Constantine, the absolutist conception, derived from the East, of the unlimited right and the unlimited duty of the ruler in regard to his “subjects.” The unfortunate factor in the great change was that the Roman Emperor was at once, and almost in the same moment, a Christian emperor and an Oriental despot. The more conscientious he was, the more intolerant he 242was bound to be; for the Deity had committed to his care not only men’s bodies but their souls as well. Thus arose the aggressive and all-devouring orthodoxy of State and Church, or, rather, of the State-Church. Examples which were to hand from the Old Testament completed and sanctified the process.

Intolerance is a new growth in the land of the Greeks and cannot be roundly laid to their charge; but the way in which doctrine developed, namely, as a philosophy of God and the world, was due to their influence; and the fact that religion and doctrine were directly identified is also a product of the Greek spirit. No mere reference to the significance which doctrine already possessed in the apostolic age, and to the tendencies operating in the direction of bringing it into a speculative form, is sufficient to explain the change. These are matters, as I hope that I have shown in the previous lectures, which are rather to be understood in a different sense. It is in the second century, and with the apologists, that Intellectualism commences; and, supported by the struggle with the Gnostics and by the Alexandrian school of religious philosophers in the Church, it manages to prevail.

But it is not enough to assess the teaching of the Greek Church by its formal side alone, and ascertain in what way and to what extent it is exhibited, and 243what is the value to be placed upon it. We must also examine its substance; for it possesses two elements which are quite peculiar to it and separate it from the Greek philosophy of religion—the idea of the creation, and the doctrine of the God-Man nature of the Saviour. We shall treat of these two elements in our next lecture, and, further, of the two other elements which, side by side with tradition and doctrine, characterise the Greek Church, namely, the form of worship and the order of monk-hood.

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