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In the midst of circumstances so difficult in appearance, the organisation of the Church was completed with a surprising rapidity. At the point at which we have arrived, the Church of Jesus is something solid and substantial. The great danger of Gnosticism, which was to divide Christianity into sects without number, is exorcised. The word Catholic Church flashes from all quarters like the name of that great body, which will henceforth pass through the ages without breaking to pieces. And we can see well already what is the character of this Catholicity. The Montanists are looked upon as sectaries, the Marcionists are conquered by straining the Apostolic teaching, the different Gnostic schools are being more and more repelled from the bosom of the general Church. There is then something which is neither Montanism nor Marcionism, nor Gnosticism, which is unsectarian Christianity; the Christianity of the majority of the bishops resisting heresies and using them all, not having, if it be desired, anything except negative characters, but preserved by those negative characters from pietistic aberrations and from the rationalistic solvent. Christianity, like all who wished to live, puts itself under discipline and retrenches its own excess. It joins to mystic enthusiasm a fund of good sense and moderation which shall kill Millenarianism, the charismas, the speaking with tongues and all spiritual primitive phenomena. A handful of enthusiasts, like the Montanists, rushing to martyrdom, discouraging penitence, 237condemning marriage, is not the Church. The just mean triumphs; it shall not be given to radicals of any sort to destroy the work of Jesus. The Church is always of average opinion, she is the affair of all the world, not the privilege of an aristocracy. The pietistic aristocracy of the Phrygian sects and the speculative aristocracy of the Gnostics are equally dismissed with their claims. There are in the Church the perfect and the imperfect, all can have part in it. Martyrdom, fasting, and celibacy are excellent things, but one can without heroism be a Christian and a good Christian.

It was the Episcopate without any intervention of the civil power, without any support from police or tribunals, which established order above liberty in a society founded at first upon individual inspiration. That is why the Ebonites of Syria, who had no Episcopacy, had not the idea of Catholicity either. At the first glance the work of Jesus was not born viable; it was a chaos. Founded upon a belief in the end of the world, which the years rolling by ought to convince of error, the Galilean assembly appeared only to be capable of breaking up into anarchy. Free prophecy, the charismas, the speaking with tongues and individual inspiration; this was more than was necessary for all to be confined within the proportions of an ephemeral chapel, as one sees so much of in America and England. Individual inspiration created, but destroyed at once what it had created. After liberty, rule was necessary. The work of Jesus might be considered saved on the day in which it was admitted that the Church had a direct power—a power of presenting that of Jesus. The Church from that moment dominated the individual, and chased him if need were from his own. Soon the Church, a body unstable and changing, was personified in the Elders; the powers of the Church became 238the powers of a clergy, the dispensatory of all the graces, the intermediary between God and the believer. Inspiration passes from the individual to the community. The Church has become everything in Christianity; one step more and the bishop becomes everything in the Church. Obedience to the Church, then to the bishop, is set forth as the first of duties, innovation is the mask of the false, schism shall henceforth be for the Christian the worst of crimes.

Thus the Primitive Church had at the same time order and excessive liberty. The pedantry of scholasticism was as yet unknown. The Catholic Church quickly accepted the fertile ideas which took birth among the heretics, keeping back what they contain of sectarianism. The spontaneity of theology surpassed everything which has been seen later. Without speaking of the Gnostics who pushed fancy to the utmost limits, St. Justin, the author of the Confessions, Pseudo-Hermas, Marcion, and those innumerable masters appeared from all parts, cutting out the full dress, if one may express it so; each one made a Christology according to his own fancy. But in the midst of the enormous variety of opinions which filled the first Christian age, there was constituted a fixed point, the opinion of Catholicism. To convince the heretic it is not necessary to reason with him. It is sufficient to show him that he is not in communion with the Catholic Church, with the great churches which can reckon the succession of their bishops up to the apostles. Quod semper, quod ubique became the absolute rule of truth. The argument of prescription, to which Tertullian shall give such an eloquent form, sums up all the Catholic controversy. To prove to any one that he is an innovator, one lately come into theology, is to prove that he is in the wrong. An insufficient rule, since by a singular irony of 239fate the very doctor who developed this method of refutation in a style so imperious died a heretic!

The correspondence between the churches became soon a habit. The circular letters from the chiefs of the great churches, read on Sunday to the assembly of the faithful, were a continuation of the apostolic literature. The Church, like the synagogue and the mosque, is a thing essentially city-like. Christianity (we might almost say as much of Judaism and Islamism) shall be a religion of towns, not a religion of rustics. The countryman, the paganus, shall be the last resistance which Christianity shall encounter. The Christian rustics, not very numerous, went to church at the nearest town.

The Roman town thus became the cradle of the Church, as the country districts and the little towns received the Gospel from the great towns. They received also their clergy from them, always subject to the bishop of th e large town. Among the towns the civitas alone had a real church, with an Episcopos; the little town was in ecclesiastical dependence upon the large town. This primacy of the great towns was a principal fact. The great town once converted, the little town and the country followed the movement. The diocese was thus the original unity of the Christian conglomerate.

As to the ecclesiastical province, implying the precedence of the great churches over the small, it corresponds in general to the Roman province. The founder of the limits of Christianity was Augustus, the divisions of the worship of Rome and of Augustus were the secret law which ruled everything. The towns, which had a flamen or archiereus, were those which later on were an arch-bishopric; the flamen civitatis became the bishopric. At the beginning of the third century the flamen duumvir occupies in the city the rank which a hundred or a hundred and fifty years after was that 240of the bishop in the diocese. Julian tried later on to oppose these flamens to the Christian bishops and the curés to the augustates.

It is thus that the ecclesiastical geography of a country is very nearly the same in almost everything as the geography of the same country at the Roman epoch. The picture of the bishoprics and archbishoprics is that of the ancient civitates according to their bonds of subordination. The empire was like the mould where the new religion coagulated. The interior framework, the hierarchical divisions, were those of the empire. The ancient positions in the Roman administration, and the registers of the Church in the middle ages and even in our days, scarcely differ.

Rome was the point where this great idea of Catholicism elaborated itself. Its Church had an undisputed primacy. It owed that partly to its holiness and its excellent reputation. Everybody recognised now that this Church had been founded by the apostles Peter and Paul; that these two apostles had suffered martyrdom at Rome, that John even had there been plunged into boiling oil. They showed the places sanctified by these apostolic acts, partly true and partly false. All this surrounded the Church of Rome with an unequalled halo. Doubtful questions were brought to Rome to receive arbitration, if not solution. They led this argument, that, since Christ had made of Cephas the corner-stone of his Church, this privilege should be extended to his successors. The bishop of Rome became the bishop of bishops, he who admonished the others. Pope Victor (189-199) pushed this claim to an excess which the wise Irenaeus restrained. But the blow was struck, Rome had proclaimed her right (dangerous right!) to excommunicate those who did not move in everything with her. The poor Artemonites (a sort of anticipative Arians) had complained 241much of the injustice of the lot which made heretics of them, while up to Victor’s time all the Church of Rome thought with him. The Church of Rome put itself from that time above history. The spirit which, in 1870, shall proclaim the infallibility of the Pope may be recognised already from the end of the second century by certain signs. The work, of which the fragment known under the name of Canon de Muratori, written at Rome about 180, shows us already Rome ruling the Canon of the churches, giving for a basis to Catholicism the Passion of Peter, repelling alike Montanism and Gnosticism. The attempts at symbols of the faith also commenced, in the Roman Church, about this time. Irenæus refuted all the heresies by the faith of this Church, “the greatest, the most ancient, the most illustrious; which possesses, by a continued succession, the true tradition of the apostles Peter and Paul; to which, by reason of its primacy, the rest of the Church should defer.” Every Church reputed to have been founded by an apostle had a privilege; what should be said of the Church which was believed to have been founded by the two greatest apostles at once?

This precedence of the Church of Rome did nothing but increase to the third century. The bishops of Rome showed a rare ability, avoiding theological questions, but always in the first rank in the questions of organisation and administration. Pope Cornelius conducted everything in the matter of Novatianism: we can see this especially in removing the bishops of Italy and giving them successors. Rome was thus the central authority of the churches of Africa. Aurelian, in 272, judges that the real bishop of Antioch is he who is in correspondence with the bishop of Rome. When is this superiority of the Church of Rome to suffer an eclipse? When Rome ceases to be really the 242unique capital of the empire, at the end of the third century: when the centre of great affairs is transported to Nicæa, to Nicomedia, and especially when the Emperor Constantine creates a new Rome on the Bosphorus. The Church of Rome, from Constantine to Charlemagne, had really fallen from what it was in the second and third century. It rose more powerful than ever when, by its alliance with the Carlovingian house, it became for eight centuries the centre of all the great affairs of the West.

We may say that the organisation of the churches has known five degrees of advancement, of which four have been traversed in the period embraced by this work. First, the primitive ecclesia, where all the members are equally inspired by the Spirit. Then the elders presbyteri taking in the ecclesia a right of considerable power and absorbing the ecclesia. Then the president of the elders, the episcopos, absorbs in a little nearly all the powers of the elders, and consequently those of the ecclesia. Then the episcopi of the different churches, corresponding to them, form the Catholic Church. Between the episcopi there was one, that of Rome, which was evidently destined to a great future. The Pope, the Church of Jesus transformed in monarchy with Rome for its capital, may be perceived in a distant obscurity; but the principle of this last transformation is still weak to the end of the second century. Let us add that this transformation has not had, like others, the universal character. The Latin Church alone is favoured by it, and even, in the bosom of this Church, the tentative of the papacy ended by bringing in revolt and protestation.

Thus the grand organisms which still form such an essential part of the moral and political life of the European peoples have all been created by these artless and sincere men, whose faith has 243become inseparable from the moral culture of humanity.

At the end of the second century the episcopate is thoroughly ripe, the papacy exists in germ. The œcumenical councils were impossible; the Christian could alone permit of those great assemblies: but the provincial synod was used in the Montanist and Easter affairs: the presidence of the bishop of the provincial capital was admitted without contest. An active epistolary correspondence was, in the apostolic age, the soul and condition of the whole movement. In the case of Novatianism, about 252, the different provincial assemblies, communicating with each other, constitute a true council by correspondence, having the Pope Cornelius as president. In the process against Privatus, bishop of Lambesa, and in the question of the baptism of heretics, things passed in the same way.

A writing which shows well the rapid progress of this internal movement of the churches towards the constitution, let us rather say towards the exaggeration of the hierarchical authority, is the supposed correspondence of Ignatius, of which the reasonable letter of Polycarp is perhaps an appendix. One can suppose that these writings appear about the time at which we have arrived. Who better than these two great bishop martyrs, whose memory was everywhere revered, could counsel the faithful to submit to order?

“Obey the bishop as Jesus Christ obeys the Father, and the presbyterial body like the apostles; revere the deacons like the very commandment of God. Let nothing which concerns the Church be done without the bishop. As to the act of the Eucharist, that ought to be held as good which is administered by the bishop or by him to whom he has entrusted the duty.

“Then where the bishop is visible, let the people 244be; even as where Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted to baptize nor to make the agape without the bishop; the episcopal approbation is the mark of what pleases God, the firm and sure rule to follow in practice.

“It is seemly therefore that you should support the bishop, as also you do. For your venerable presbyterial body, worthy of God, is with the bishop in the same harmonious sympathy as the chords to the harp. It is by the effect of your union and your affectionate concord that Jesus Christ is praised. Let each one of you be then as in a chorus, so that, in full accord and unanimous, receiving the chromatique from God in perfect unity, you sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, so that he hears you and recognises you, by your good actions, as members of his Son.”

Already the name of Paul and his relations with Titus and Timothy had been used to give to the Church a kind of little canonical code upon the duties of the faithful and the clergy. They did the same under the name of Ignatius. A piety quite ecclesiastical took the place of the ardour which, during more than a hundred years, kept up the memory of Jesus. Orthodoxy is now the sovereign good; docility is what saves; the old man must bow before the bishop as well as the young. The bishop ought to occupy himself with everything, and know the names of all his subordinates. Thus, by force of pushing to their extreme the principles of Paul, they arrived at some ideas which would have revolted Paul. He who would not that he should be saved by his works, would he have admitted that he could be saved by simple submission to his superiors On other points, pseudo-Ignatius is a very genuine disciple of the great apostle. At an equal distance from Judaism and Gnosticism, he is one of those 245who speaks in the most exalted manner of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Christianism is for him, as for the author of the Epistle Diognetes, a religion entirely separate from Mosaism. All the primitive distinctions have, besides, disappeared before the dominant tendency which drew the most opposed parties towards unity. Pseudo-Ignatius gives the hand to the Judeo-Christian pseudo-Clement, to preach obedience and respect for authority.

A very striking example of this abdication of differences which had filled the Church of Christ for more than a hundred years was that given by Hegesippus. Having left Ebionism, but fully received by the orthodox Church, this respectable old man completed at Rome his five books of “Memoirs,” the first basis of ecclesiastical history. The work commenced with the death of Jesus Christ. It is doubtful, however, whether it is written in chronological order. In many points of view, it was a polemical book against heresies, and the apocryphal revelations written by the Gnostics and Marcionites. Hegesippus showed that many of these apocryphas were composed quite recently.

The memoirs of Hegesippus would have been priceless to us, and their loss is not less regrettable than those of the writings of Papias. It was the whole treasury of the Ebionite traditions, rendered acceptable to the Catholics, and presented in a spirit of lively opposition to the Gnosis. What concerns the Jewish sects and the family of Jesus was much developed, evidently according to some special information. Hegesippus, whose mother-tongue was Hebrew, and who did not receive a Hellenic education, had the credulity of a Talmudist. He is repelled by no bizarrerie. His style appeared to the Greeks simple and dull, doubtless because he had borrowed from the Hebrew, like 246him of the Acts of the Apostles. We have had a curious specimen of it in this story of the death of James, a piece of such a singular tone that one is tempted to believe that it has been borrowed from an Ebionite work written in rhymed Hebrew.

No one was less like a sectary than the pious Hegesippus. The idea of Catholicism held a place in his mind such as with the author of the pseudo-Ignatian epistles. His object is to prove to the heretics the truth of the Christian doctrine, by showing them that it has been taught uniformly in all the churches, and that it had always been taught in the same manner since the apostles. Heresy, starting from that of Thebuthis (?), arises from pride or ambition. The Roman Church, in particular, has replaced for authority the old Jewish discipline, and created in the West a centre of unity like that which constituted at the very first in the East the episcopate of the parents of Jesus, issued like him from the race of David.

We see that the old Ebion was much sweetened. After Hegesippus we do not see this variety of Christianity, unless it be in the heart of Syria. There Julius Africanus, about 215, found still some primitive Nazarenes, and received from them traditions very analogous to those among which Hegesippus lived. The latter underwent some progress, or rather some narrowing of orthodoxy. They read him little and they copied him less. Origen and St. Hippolytus did not know of his existence. Only the curious in history, like Eusebius, would know him, and from these precious pages those have been saved which the more modern chonographers have inserted in their pages.

Another sign of maturity is the epistle addressed to a certain Diognetus, a fictitious personage, no doubt, by an eloquent and fairly good anonymous writer, who recalls sometimes Celsus and Lucian. 247The author supposes his Diognetus to be animated by a desire to know “the new religion.” The Christians, replied the apologists, are at an equal distance both from Greek idolatry and from superstition, a disquieted spirit, and from the vanity of the Jews. All the work of the Greek philosophy is but a mass of absurdities and charlatan tricks. The Jews, on the other side, had the habit of honouring the one God in the same manner as the polytheists adored their gods; that is to say, by sacrifices, as if that could be agreeable to him. Their over-scrupulous precautions as to food, their superstition as to the Sabbath, their boasting in regard to circumcision, their paltry preoccupation as to fasts and new moons, were ridiculous. It is not permitted that one should distinguish between the things which God has created, to consider the one pure, and to reject the others as useless and superfluous. To pretend that God forbids to do on the Sabbath day an action which has nothing dishonourable, what could be more impious? To present the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, and to imagine that, for that, God would love him, what could be more grotesque?

“As to the mystery of the Christian religion, no one may hope to understand it. The Christians indeed are not distinguished from other men either by country, by tongue, or by manners; they do not dwell in towns of their own, nor do they use a separate dialect; their life is not marked by any particular asceticism; they do not lightly adopt the fancies and dreams of disturbed minds; they do not attach themselves, as so many others, to sects bearing this or that name; but dwelling in the Greek and barbarian towns, just as fortune places them, conform themselves to the local customs in the habits, government, and other things of life, astonishing everybody by the truly admirable 248organisation of their republic. They dwell in some special countries, but in the manner of people who are only on a visit; they share in the duties of the citizens, and they support the charges of strangers. Every foreign land is to them a native country, and every country is to them a foreign land. They marry, as all others do, and have children; but they never abandon their new-born babes. They eat in common, but their table is not common for all that. They are in the flesh, yet do not live according to the flesh. They remain on the earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the established laws, and by their principles of life they are raised above the laws. They love everybody, and they are persecuted by everybody, misunderstood, and condemned. They meet death, and through that are assured of life. They are poor and they enrich others; they want everything and yet abound. They are crushed down with insults, and by the insults they arrive at glory. They are calumniated and the moment after they proclaim their justice; injured, they bless; they reply to insult by respect; doing nothing but good, they are punished as malefactors; punished, they rejoice as if they had been gratified with life. The Jews make war on them as on the Gentiles; they are persecuted by the Greeks, and those who hate them cannot say why.

“In short, that which the soul is in the body the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused among all the members of the body, and the Christians are diffused among all the towns in the world. The soul lives in the body, and yet it is not of the body; in the same way the Christians dwell in the world without being of the world. The invisible soul is held prisoner in the visible body; besides, the presence of the Christians in the world is of public notoriety: but their worship is invisible. The flesh hates the soul and fights with it, without 249doing it any other harm than to keep it from enjoyment. The world also hates the Christians, although the Christians do no harm except make opposition to pleasure. The soul loves the flesh which hates it; in the same way the Christians love those who detest them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, and yet it is the bond which preserves the body. In like manner the Christians are held in the prison of the world, and yet they are those who maintain the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal body; thus the Christians are provisionally domiciled in corruptible habitations, waiting for the incorruptibility of heaven. The soul is softened by the sufferings of hunger and thirst; the Christians, punished every day, multiply more and more. God has assigned to them a post which he will not permit them to desert.”

The spiritual apologist puts his own finger on the explanation of the phenomenon which he would represent as supernatural. Christianity and the empire are looked on as two animals which would devour each other without giving an account of the causes of their hostility. When a society of men takes up such an attitude in the bosom of a great society, when it becomes in the State a separate republic, supposing it were composed of angels, it is a pest. It is not without reason that they were detested, these men in appearance so gentle and well-doing. They really demolished the Roman empire; they absorbed its energy; they laid hold of its functions, in the army especially, as its choicest subjects. It does not serve to say that the Christian was a good citizen because he paid his contributions, and that he was generous in alms, and steady, when he is really a citizen of heaven, and when he considers the terrestrial fatherland only as a prison in which he is chained side by side with wretches. The 250fatherland is an earthly thing; he who would become an angel is always a poor patriot. Religious enthusiasm is bad for the State. The martyr may maintain that he does not rebel, that he is the most submissive of subjects; the fact of anticipating penalties, of putting the State to the alternative of persecuting him or subjecting the law to the theocracy, is more prejudicial to the State than the worst of revolts. It is never without reason that he is the object of every one’s hatred; nations have, in that matter, an instinct which never deceives. The Roman empire felt, at bottom, that this secret republic was killing it. Let us hasten to add that, by persecuting it violently, it permitted itself to act on the worst policy, and that it accelerated the result while wishing to prevent it.

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