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Liturgy and the Origin of Dogma.

The reader has perhaps wondered why I have made so little reference to Liturgy in my description of the origin of dogma. For according to the most modern ideas about the history of religion and the origin of theology, the development of both may be traced in the ritual. Without any desire to criticise these notions, I think I am justified in asserting that this is another instance of the exceptional nature of Christianity. For a considerable period it possessed no ritual at all, and the process of development in this direction had been going on, or been completed, a long time before ritual came to furnish material for dogmatic discussion.

The worship in Christian Churches grew out of that in the synagogues, whereas there is no trace of its being influenced by the Jewish Temple service (Duchesne, Origines du Culte Chrétien, p. 45 ff.). Its oldest constituents are accordingly prayer, reading of the scriptures, application of scripture texts, and sacred song. In addition to these we have, as specifically Christian elements, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the utterances of persons inspired by the Spirit. The latter manifestations, however, ceased in the course of the second century, and to some extent as early as its first half. The religious services in which a ritual became developed were prayer, the Lord’s Supper and sacred song. The Didache had already prescribed stated formulæ for prayer. The ritual of the Lord’s Supper was determined in its main features by the memory of its institution. The sphere of sacred song remained the most unfettered, though here also, even at an early period—no later in fact than the end of the first and beginning of 333the second century—a fixed and a variable element were distinguished; for responsory hymns, as is testified by the Epistle of Pliny and the still earlier Book of Revelation, require to follow a definite arrangement. But the whole, though perhaps already fixed during the course of the second century, still bore the stamp of spirituality and freedom. It was really worship in spirit and in truth, and this and no other was the light in which the Apologists, for instance, regarded it. Ritualism did not begin to be a power in the Church till the end of the second century; though it had been cultivated by the “Gnostics” long before, and traces of it are found at an earlier period in some of the older Fathers, such as Ignatius.

Among the liturgical fragments still preserved to us from the first three centuries two strata may de distinguished. Apart from the responsory hymns in the Book of Revelation, which can hardly represent fixed liturgical pieces, the only portions of the older stratum in our possession are the Lord’s Prayer, originating with Jesus himself and used as a liturgy, together with the sacramental prayers of the Didache. These prayers exhibit a style unlike any of the liturgical formulæ of later times; the prayer is exclusively addressed to God, it returns thanks for knowledge and life; it speaks of Jesus the παῖς θεοῦ (Son of God) as the mediator; the intercession refers exclusively to the Church, and the supplication is for the gathering together of the Church, the hastening of the coming of the kingdom and the destruction of the world. No direct mention is made of the death and resurrection of Christ. These prayers are the peculiar property of the Christian Church. It cannot, however, be said that they exercised any important influence on the history of dogma. The thoughts contained in them perished in their specific shape; the measure of permanent importance they attained in a more general form, was not preserved to them through these prayers.

The second stratum of liturgical pieces dates back to the great prayer with which the first Epistle of Clement ends, for in many respects this prayer, though some expressions in it remind us of the older type διά τοῦ ἡγαπημένου παιδός σου Ἰησοῦν Χριστοῦ, “through thy beloved son Jesus Christ”), already 334exhibits the characteristics of the later liturgy, as is shewn, for example, by a comparison of the liturgical prayer in the Constitutions of the Apostles (see Lightfoot’s edition and my own). But this piece shews at the same time that the liturgical prayers, and consequently the liturgy also, sprang from those in the synagogue, for the similarity is striking. Here we find a connection resembling that which exists between the Jewish “Two Ways” and the Christian instruction of catechumens. If this observation is correct, it clearly explains the cautious use of historical and dogmatic material in the oldest liturgies—a precaution not to their disadvantage. As in the prayers of the synagogue, so also in Christian Churches, all sorts of matters were not submitted to God or laid bare before Him, but the prayers serve as a religious ceremony, that is, as adoration, petition and intercession. Σὺ εἶ ὁ θεὸς μόνος καὶ Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ὁ παῖς σου καὶ ἡμεῖς λαός σου καὶ πρόβατα τῆς νομῆς σου, (thou art God alone and Jesus Christ is thy son, and we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture). In this confession, and expressive Christian modification of that of the synagogue, the whole liturgical ceremony is epitomised. So far as we can assume and conjecture from the scanty remains of Ante-Nicene liturgy, the character of the ceremony was not essentially altered in this respect. Nothing containing a specific dogma or theological speculation was admitted. The number of sacred ceremonies, already considerable in the second century, (how did they arise?) was still further increased in the third; but the accompanying words, so far as we know, expressed nothing but adoration, gratitude, supplication and intercession. The relations expressed in the liturgy became more comprehensive, copious and detailed; but its fundamental character was not changed. The history of dogma in the first three centuries is not reflected in their liturgy.

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