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IT was very fortunate for the new religion that through Jesus’ words, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” all revolutionary and zelotic projects of the Christians were nipped in the bud. As a Christian Pharisee St Paul had inculcated obedience to the powers that be as the will of God, and had held up the State to the Christians as God’s ministry. This was before the beginning of the persecutions. After a short panic in Nero’s reign the Christians had to endure the undisguised hostility of the State from the year 90 A.D. onwards. The persecution began in Asia Minor, the birthplace of the Apocalypse, and the place to which St Peter’s first letter is addressed. The Apocalypse dates from the early years of the persecution. God’s minister has been transformed into the minister of the dragon. Wild songs of triumph are now chanted by the Christians over the 105 imminent fall of Rome, the great whore. To refuse to worship the emperor comes to be the sign of a Christian. Yet no word is uttered of revolution: the patient endurance of the saints, that is the watch word. And with that the author preserves his Christianity.

The Christians now have to choose between one of two feelings: hatred of the State as the power of the devil—that is what the Apocalypse preaches—or resignation to God’s will. He rules even through the emperor. Which is going to be the stronger?

We must draw a clear distinction between the official position of the Christian writers and the feeling of many groups of laymen whose favourite book was the Apocalypse, and who shared the author’s hatred against Rome. From time to time there is an altogether unpremeditated outburst of wrath against the tyrants, as in the case of Lucius, the Christian whose story Justin Martyr tells us. When he saw how Ptolemaus the teacher was condemned to death for no other crime than that of being a Christian, he broke out into reproaches against the prefect Urbicus who had passed the sentence, rebuking him for his unjust and unworthy behaviour. Being thereupon at once himself condemned to death, he cried out that he was very thankful to Urbicus. He knew that he was now quit of these bad masters of his, and was going to the Father and Lord of heaven. So, too, the Christian’s longing for the end of the world—let grace begin, let the world perish—is to be interpreted as a heartfelt cry for delivery from the tyranny of the State. All the millenary expectations of the old Christians likewise presuppose hostility against the 106 State. They look forward with eager expectation to the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth in place of Rome. Meanwhile the Christian knows that his fatherland is in heaven. He is a stranger and a sojourner upon earth. The beginning of the first parable of Hermas is worth noting: “Ye know that ye live in a foreign land, ye servants of God, for your true city is far distant from this city.” To hold opinions such as these in the midst of persecution was at least honest.

The official attitude of many of the Christian authors is an entirely different one. From first to last it is obsequious. Christianity is to be a religio licita, like Judaism and in the place of Judaism, and that at any cost. Hence it makes advances to the State, and even assigns a fixed place to it in the liturgies borrowed from Judaism. The author of the First Epistle of St Peter is anxious to adapt St Paul’s words as to the powers that be to the changed circumstances of his own time. In so doing he abandons the position that the State is the minister of God, as the State which persecutes the Christians cannot possibly be so called any longer. For the Lord’s sake, however, it is to be obeyed. The fear of God and the honour due to the king are not mutually exclusive; only let each keep to its own place. As yet, faith in the calling of the State and the right to exercise protection is as strong as ever, and St Paul’s words on the subject find ready credence. Besides, obedience to the governor is a duty incumbent on the Christians because of the malignant slanders that are current. They have got to prove that they are no anarchists. And yet this letter, in 107 spite of its perfectly correct attitude to those in authority, claims to have been written in Babylon. Rome is Babylon, that is the author’s secret meaning. And just like him, the author of the Pastoral epistles reminds his readers of the Pauline words, and explains them in the sense that they are to lead a tranquil and a quiet life, reviling no man, but kindly to all. The Lucan writings and the Johannine Gospel defend the Christians against the accusation of enmity to the State in the course of the narrative. The conceptions of Messiah and kingdom of God are explained in a nonpolitical sense. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world, as is proved by the pacific nature of the Christians. The kingdom of Jesus consists entirely in His testimony to the truth. And a proof of this is that when on one occasion the Jews wanted to crown Him king, He escaped from them by flight. Care is taken also to remove the reproach that the Christians refuse to pay taxes. It is proved that the Christians are the true Jews, and that the Jews lie with all their instigations. The trial of Jesus and the trial of St Paul are henceforward important subjects from an apologetic point of view. Pilate, Felix, and Festus have to appear as witnesses to the innocence of the accused. Above all, the whole plan of the book of the Acts furnishes the desired proof of the antiquity of Christianity. Christianity is nothing else than the old Jewish religion which is now spreading over Gentile countries.

The First Epistle of St Clement is the first document to afford us an insight into the political element of the old Christian liturgies. Its great concluding prayer contains the first petition known to us for 108“all that are in authority upon earth; may God grant them health and wealth, and peace and concord.” Again and again the statement is repeated that rulers derive their power from God. Even though it be older than the age of persecution—for presumably it is derived from Judaism—it was nevertheless commonly used in this age and so again forbade the Christians every kind of revolution. The author of the Pastoral epistles, and after him Polycarp, asks all the Christians to use this or a similar prayer. They are to pray for all men, for kings and all persons in authority, because it is only if peace and order be established in the State that the Christians will be able to practise their religion in tranquillity and quietness. As both of these authors write in a time of persecution, we may infer that it is the official attitude to the heathen world—one that is by no means a matter of course—that is here prescribed.

It was only when it became evident that neither the Church’s prayers for the emperor and the governor nor the Church’s literature exercised any influence whatever upon the persecutors, that the Christian apologetic literature, properly so-called, took its rise. The prophet Quadratus was the first apologist. He dedicated his apology to the Emperor Hadrian. Next came the philosophers Aristides and Justin under Antoninus Pius. The only innovation consisted in the instrument that was now employed. The frankly apologetic attitude of the Church was not new, but several decades older. Many glaring inconsistencies were, however, the result of this policy. The liturgies were especially rich in contradictory passages. Prayers are prescribed for the health and wealth of those in 109 authority, and at the same time, following the old Christian custom, for the end of the whole existing order of things. In his devotional treatise on prayer, Tertullian utters sentiments which are almost the exact contrary of what he says in his great Apology, which is addressed to the public in general. Justin protests the unpolitical character of the kingdom of God in his Apology, whereas in his Dialogue with Trypho, where the common Christian element is rather more evident, he longs for the establishment of the kingdom upon earth. Even John the evangelist, who as apologist eliminated as far as he could every eschatological element, eagerly looks forward in his first letter to the end of the world, when the State, whose servant Pilate was, shall disappear in the destruction of all things. At bottom there is a note of insincerity in the professions of friendship for the State on the part of all these apologists. It was their last resource. Open war prevailed between Church and State, and apologists like Justin died the death of heroes in this war. Their position is sufficient excuse for the contradiction in which they involved themselves. Their greatness lies in this, that when the decisive moment came they abjured the State and died like Polycarp with the confession, “Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor,” upon their lips.

The Heathen Religion.

Its Jewish parentage in itself determined the position of Christianity towards all the popular religion of the Gentiles. Heathendom was all lies, darkness, and the service of the devil. Whilst the philosophical monotheism of the Greeks was combined 110 as a rule with a certain feeling of reverence for the ancient gods who were conceived of as subordinate powers of the world spirit, Jewish monotheism was from the first characterized by exclusiveness and intolerance. In the long run, however, this proved to be fortunate for the new religion, which was thus preserved from dissolution in the universal fusion of religions. Unfortunately, our authorities for the impact of Christianity upon Paganism are extremely deficient. The Acts resting upon the theory that St Paul always began by preaching to the Jews, avoid almost every mention of the struggle in its early stages. But for all that, some of the episodes which it recounts are exceedingly instructive. We there become acquainted with the Christian missionaries as the workers of miracles, faith-healers, and exorcists, creating great excitement which ends, according to circumstances, either in apotheosis or in outbursts of rage. In Cyprus they have to contend with a magician, at Lystra they are taken for Zeus and Hermes because of the healing of a lame man. The priest is on the point of offering sacrifice to them when the matter is cleared up. At Philippi they cure a certain prophetess of her idle superstition, and thus depriving her masters of this source of income, are ill treated and imprisoned as a punishment. All these anecdotes are valuable as types. Only, instead of Paul and Barnabas and Silas, we must also from time to time picture to ourselves missionaries of an inferior type of character, men, in fact, who were little better than magicians or exorcists. But of direct public attacks upon the heathen religion we hear but little. Occasionally the Christian revivalist holds a public 111 meeting in the open air. His object is to arouse the curiosity of his audience, he interlards his sermon with copious quotations from poets and philosophers, and in return for all his pains he will very probably be ridiculed by some passing philosopher, as Paul was at Athens. The most vivid picture of all is that given us of the riot of the silversmiths at Ephesus under Demetrius. The silversmiths have begun to notice that the sale of the little shrines of Artemis is decreasing, because the preaching of the Christian missionary robs them of their sanctity. So they flock together and cause no little commotion throughout the whole city of Ephesus by their cry, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Here at last we have one clear point, where Christianity attacks the social system of the ancient heathen world. It was at Ephesus, too, where the Christians burnt all their books of magic, the charms called “Ephesian letters,” on a great pile, and boasted that the value of these idolatrous objects amounted to 50,000 drachmas—an act which might likewise easily give rise to serious collisions. But when we have enumerated these few instances we have exhausted all the material that is of any value in the book of the Acts. The apocryphal stories of the apostles elaborate these themes, but in a grotesque and tasteless fashion corresponding to the taste of the later age from which they date. It is only with Tertullian, at the end of the second century, that we obtain a very complete insight into the countless problems and conflicts produced by the collision of the hostile religions.

On the other hand, we have a mass of Christian apologetic literature in which the attempt was made 112to enter into the feelings of the Greeks and to adapt the new faith as far as possible to meet their needs. The earliest evangelist, Mark, wrote his Gospel for converts from heathendom, and with this object in view, very largely effaced the Jewish colouring of his tradition. Next follow in succession the Lucan writings, the Fourth Gospel, the preaching of St Peter, and finally the whole of the official apologetic literature. From these writings we derive a fairly good picture, not only of the struggle against the heathen religions, but also of the preaching of Christianity itself. But at the same time we see that Christianity does not only give but likewise receives, and that the defence of the Church is one of the strongest impulses that make for the process of Hellenization.

The attack upon the old gods keeps entirely to the lines laid down by the Jews and the Greeks themselves. Nowhere do we find any trace of original thoughts. We are here concerned with three theories of religion.

1. Under the influence of Judaism the Christians apply a coarsely materialistic theory to the Greek religion. The Jew only believes what he sees. The pictures are made by hands, the sacred animals are just animals, the sacred trees, wood, the sacred stones, stones and nothing else. But surely it is the height of folly to worship mere natural objects or the works of human art. This pitiful theory, by which it is just the religious element which is hidden away out of sight—i.e., the divinity that was supposed to reside in the objects—was the one that prevailed amongst Christian laymen. It can be traced back to St Paul and thence to its Jewish source, the wisdom of 113 Solomon. St Peter’s preaching knows no other. Even Aristides, who had been taught better things by the philosophers, follows it, at least when he is examining barbarian religions. Where this theory prevails we may safely assume Jewish culture.

2. The Christians borrowed another, a rationalistic, theory of religion from the philosophers. It is known as Euhemerism. A very cursory examination is sufficient to show, of course, that the pictures and God are not the same, that the picture has been consecrated to God. But the gods appear, and this, especially in the Homeric poems, as over-men, of whose birth, suffering, and death we are often told. The objects of this worship were therefore the mighty men of old. This theory we meet with first of all in Aristides. He came across it in some Greek text-book.

3. The most important theory practically was that of the demons, in which both Jews and Greeks agreed, the only difference being that the Greeks conceived the demons to be demi-gods of a neutral character, while the Jews looked upon them as evil spirits. The Jewish theory of demons recognizes the reality of the heathen religion and its outward effects, but explains them as a great temptation to lead men away from God. The starting-point is always the fact of prophecy and of miracles. Hence the whole world is looked upon as a great kingdom of demons, while the heathen ritual is merely one favourite province thereof. This was the only theory that practically governed men in their every-day relations. St Paul was already acquainted with it. It was based upon the Greek Bible The hall-mark of 114 Christianity was the knowledge that only demons, and not true gods, were the creators of Paganism, and that Christ has freed us from them. He freed us when He was upon earth by repeatedly casting out devils. He still frees us by means of exorcisms. That is why the name of Jesus is uttered over the convert at baptism, in order that He may cast the devils out of us.

The question now was how to set up the new Christian God in the place of the fallen heathen divinities. In their establishment of monotheism, the Christians, from the very first, simply followed in the lines laid down by the philosophers as soon as they attempted to produce any arguments beyond those furnished by the Old Testament. This subject rather belongs, therefore, to our next chapter, in which we are to consider the general influence of philosophy upon the Christians. The defence of Jesus, on the other hand, entirely enters into the conceptions of the popular religion. Jesus Christ is opposed to the old gods as the new and stronger God. That is the meaning of the “Divinity of Christ.” The idea arose amongst the heathen, and must be conceived of in antithesis to the heathen gods.

One thing we must grasp clearly. The notion is as little Jewish as it possibly can be. The Jews simply have no room for a second being called God in the strict sense of the word. “The alone true God,” “The only God,” as John and Clement call Him, that is Jewish. The Messiah is a man chosen or sent by God hence in any case a created being. Therefore the strict Jewish Christianity, and Mohammedanism, 115 which is based upon it, have always entirely excluded this thought. It is true that the Jew, Paul, goes a long way beyond the humanity of Jesus when he discovers Him from time to time in the Lord of the Old Testament, and says that the fulness of the God head dwells in Him. But, firstly, he never calls Him God himself, and he shows us in his chief eschatological chapter how strongly he clings to monotheism. Secondly, he is anything rather than a Jew in his Christological exegesis of the Old Testament. Here he leaves all Jewish tradition on one side and gives free vent to his mythological vein: whence he derives it would be hard to tell. No road leads up to the doctrine of the divinity of Christ from the Old Testament and from Rabbinism.

But amongst the heathen, apotheosis was exceedingly common. The number of their deities is not limited, and they range by the most varied series of degrees imaginable down to the hero who is deified. The characteristic signs of a god are always considered to be great power, miracles, and prophecy. For the Jews a miracle proves the truth of a doctrine, for the Gentiles it denotes the presence of a god on earth. Hence St Paul was twice taken to be a god, at Lystra and at Malta, because of the miracles that he performed. So, too, the Roman centurion exclaims beneath the Cross, “This was a Son of God!” because of the miracles which accompanied the death of Jesus. The Jewish word “Son of God” has, by itself, the sound of hero or demi-god in Greek ears.

And so as soon as it came to the Greeks, accompanying the pictures of the great worker of miracles, 116 over whom death had no dominion, faith in the divinity of Christ arose at once. It is the original faith of the Gentile Christians. Christological dogma did not grow by slow additions, but, on the contrary, by the Jewish and antagonistic subtraction from this popular belief. The Gentile Christian immediately gives Jesus a place in his worship. He sings his “carmen Christo quasi deo.” The apocryphal Acts of the Apostles are the clearest authority that we possess for this popular belief! Throughout these writings the new God Christ is contrasted with the heathen gods. It matters not whether He is called God or Son of God.

Partly consciously, and partly unconsciously, the Christian apologetic accommodated itself to this faith from a very early date. The first condition for this was the transformation of the picture contained in the Gospels in a universalistic sense. Paul had already ascribed to Jesus’ death an atoning power for the whole world. And now the whole world must be described as the object of the affections of the living Jesus of the Gospels. This was effected first of all by simply supplementing the national Jewish activity of Jesus by the command to go and preach to all people, which was ascribed to the risen Lord. That is the procedure adopted by our three Synoptists, in all of whom a certain hiatus is noticeable between the real history and the theory. Next, John paints his picture without any concern for the actual history. It begins with the Logos, the mediator both for creation and revelation to the whole world, and throughout proclaims Jesus to be the Saviour of the world, while it reaches its height 117 in the scene when the Greeks come to Jesus and Jesus declares how He, being lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Himself. This proclamation of universalism was necessary in order that the Greeks might be able to say “The new God did not come for the Jews in a little corner of Syria, but for the world, and for us.”

In the next place, Jesus had to be proved a stronger God than the demons. St Mark’s Gospel undertakes this proof by presenting Jesus to all the world as the Son of God, the worker of miracles, the conqueror of the demons, and the prophet. Hence the important position here assigned to miracles, and amongst the miracles, especially to the victory over the demons. The empire of Satan is at an end. Legions of demons fall into the sea. Jesus is Lord over nature. He stills the storm. He makes the sea to be firm land. His power knows no limits, Mark naturally did not picture all this to himself after the same heathen fashion in which it must have worked upon his readers.

Soon after this (by analogy with other myths of the gods) the parentage of the Son of God is ascribed to God and a mortal woman. Such is the account in the opening chapters of the First and Third Gospels. The myth sprang up amongst Gentile Christians. A great proportion of the old Jewish Christians rejected it, and rightly, for it did away with the descent from David, which was a matter of such importance to them. The Christian spirit has, to be sure, been at work at this myth, and has removed from it every trace of sensuality and anthropomorphism. It is not God Himself but God’s Holy Spirit 118 who begets Jesus. But even as early as Justin the analogy had been discovered: “When we say that He was born of a virgin, you may consider that as something which He shares with Perseus.” Celsus, the adversary of the Christians, finds still further analogies in Amphion, Aeacus and Minos, which examples he puts into the mouth of the Jew who appears as the opponent of the Christians. It is not for nothing that the story of the miraculous conception became so popular among the Gentile Christians: God’s Son is He whose Father is God and no man.

The Christology of the Fourth Gospel has, it is true, borrowed the idea of the Logos from philosophy. Besides this, consideration for the feelings of the Jews leads the author to emphasize the subordination of Christ to God. But concealed beneath the philosophy and the anti-Jewish apologetic, the popular belief in the new God that has appeared upon earth can be discovered in all its power. The miracles of Jesus—all of them the miracles of an omnipotent deity—are conceived of as a proof of the Messiahship for the Jews, and for the Greeks as a revelation of the Godhead. When Thomas sees the crucified Saviour with the stigmata risen from the dead, he cries out, as any Gentile might, “My Lord and my God!” And the evangelist would like to bring all people to make this same confession. All men should honour the Son as they honour the Father, i.e., just as God, and such is the will of the Father Himself. Then there is the mantic art, second sight and prophecy, which, next to the miracles, are a proof of the divinity. Like a God, Jesus looks into the hearts of all men, so that no man needed to tell 119 Him what there was in man. He knows all the past history of the Samaritan woman with whom He talks, and knows from the very first that Judas is destined to betray Him. If He asks it is only to test those whom He questions. No god has a clearer insight. Neither need He eat or drink. His food is obedience to the Divine Will. If He asks for water to drink, then the want is but apparent, and the request is really made to introduce the conversation. Even if He prays it is but for the sake of those that hear and not for Himself. He has conquered death. Heaven is His home: thence He came; thither He shall go. Throughout His sayings it is the God that has descended from heaven that we hear speaking. Hence, too, He is at once introduced as a God in the prologue to the Gospel. Thus it is that the evangelist writes for the Greeks. His successor herein is the author of the apocryphal Acts of St John, where the hints of the author of the Fourth Gospel are exaggerated in an absurd and fantastic manner. So, for instance, he says that often when one followed after Jesus as He walked along He left no footprints behind Him. As one felt His body it would be at one time quite impalpable, so that one’s hand simply passed through it, and at another hard. It is not merely because of a higher canon of taste that the evangelist omits features such as these, which entirely destroy the humanity of Jesus. He himself, as opponent of the Gnostic Docetae, is thoroughly in earnest in his belief in the incarnation of the Logos. And yet, is his Jesus much else than a phantom? He needs neither to eat nor to pray, nor to ask for information, nor to die. Even in his 120 own case the popular docetic belief and the anti-docetic theory are balanced against each other.

Prophecy and miracles together formed the proof of the divinity of Christ. For John is just as far removed from an ethical conception of the divinity of Christ as the whole of the rest of Christian antiquity after him. The doing of God’s will, to whatever degree of perfection one may attain, is still something human. It is man’s duty. It is at most important for St John in so far as a sinful man can not be God’s instrument. Indeed, the ethical conception of Christ’s divinity only came to be entertained when men began to find miracles a stumbling-block, and were yet loth to abandon the title of God. For St John God is the highest hyperphysical force. Consequently a human being upon earth can only prove himself to be divine by manifestations of this force. It was not because he felt the impression of Christ’s moral splendour, but because he marvelled at the conquest of death by life, that St Thomas uttered the exclamation, “My God!” It is not because of His moral supremacy that all men are to honour the Son as God, but because He does His Father’s work, because He raises the dead and comes to judge the world. So, too, the Son’s unity with the Father is not merely the unity of a loving will, but the unity of power. No demon can take those that are His out of His hand, for otherwise he would have to be more powerful than God Himself, who is Lord of all. He that hath seen the Son seeth the Father, because the Son does the Father’s mighty works. This same divine, miraculous power is to do still greater works through the disciples, but not in order that they too 121 may appear as bearers of the Divinity, but in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son, in honour of the divinity of Christ, in whose name these wonderful works are done by the disciples. In appealing, therefore, to the miracles, and the miracles alone, as the proof of Christ’s divinity, all later apologists faithfully follow the example of St John.

The greatest obstacle to belief in Jesus’ divinity was His death, just as it seemed impossible to harmonize it with His claim to the Messiahship. Hence the frequent recurrence to this subject in the anti-Jewish apologetic. Justin did, it is true, find analogies for the death, too, in Greek mythology. There was Asclepius struck by lightning, Dionysus dismembered, Heracles burnt on the funeral pyre, and all these were worshipped as gods or the sons of God. This clever discovery had, however, not been made by the earlier apologists. They strained every nerve to harmonize the death of Jesus with His divinity. They succeeded in doing so by adopting the same method as in the anti-Jewish apologetic, by a brilliant description of the Resurrection, by multiplying the miracles and the instances of fulfilled prophecies in the story of the Passion, by emphasizing the voluntariness of the death. Many Gentile Christians would have preferred to have denied the death of Jesus altogether. His death was only outwardly apparent. According to the Acts of St John it is only for the populace that He is crucified, while at the same time He appears to His disciples in glory. But this consequence of the “divinity of Christ” was at once indignantly rejected as a Gnostic error. We may 122account for the moderate position adopted by the Christian apologists with reference to the death of Jesus as a reaction against this extreme exaggeration.

Whilst the other apologists were satisfied with proving the physical superiority of Jesus over the old gods, the Fourth Gospel alone attempted to give a clear answer to the question what gifts God had brought men down from heaven. His answer was shaped to meet the needs of the Greek world. Chiefest of all the gifts was that of truth or knowledge, light, illumination. Such conceptions were current even amongst the Jewish proselytes. This, too, is when we find mention of the opposites, light and darkness, truth and lies, knowledge and ignorance. With these conceptions John as well as the Jews would describe monotheism—the worship of the only true God—and the knowledge of the lies of the demons. The only thing which is both novel and great is the way in which these privileges are here conceived of as gifts of God through Christ. Whilst in many other apologists monotheism and faith in Christ lie side by side without any apparent connection, the Fourth Gospel laid a great Christo-centric foundation for the whole faith in God, and strongly emphasized St Paul’s statement that the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the alone true God.

The next great gift which Christ brought the Greeks from heaven was everlasting life, i.e., immortality, or rather the present assurance of the certain possession of the same. That, too, was a great source of comfort for the Greeks, facing the future as they did with such hesitation, scepticism, and fear. The tangible proof was furnished by the 123resurrection of Jesus and by the preceding raising of Lazarus from the dead.

It was only amongst the Gnostics that the pure doctrine of the divinity of Christ was maintained. In the Church it was counted as a heresy just because of the Gnostics and with deference to the accusations of the Jews. This popular belief, however, in the appearance of the new god constitutes the kernel of the new Christology. A striking proof of this assertion is furnished by Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. The virginity of Mary and her birth and the death of the Lord remained concealed from the Prince of this world. They were three mysteries which spoke aloud in the stillness of God. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star appeared in the heavens brighter than all other stars, and the light thereof was inexpressibly great, and its strangeness spread consternation. But all the other stars, together with the sun and the moon, formed a circle round this star, yet its light exceeded the light of all the others. And the hearts of men failed them, for they could not tell whence this strange star appeared unto them. Henceforth all magic was at an end and all the bonds of wickedness were snapped asunder. Ignorance was dethroned, the old reign was no more, now that God Incarnate had come to give men the newness of everlasting life. Nowhere, even in the New Testament, is the significance of Christ for the downfall of Paganism formulated as clearly as here.

The question now presents itself, How was Christianity related to the religion of the mysteries? 124 There were likely to be several points of agreement. Both tended to fix the attention on the world to come, to attach importance to holy rites and moral purity, and to seek happiness in the common life. Did not this imply so close an inner relationship that the outer forms were bound to be exchanged mutually?

From the very first the Gospel courted publicity and claimed to be a message intended for the light of common day. A city set upon a hill cannot be hid. The candle is not intended to be placed under the bushel but on the candlestick. Even though we begin with whispering in the ear and speaking in the chamber, yet the end clearly aimed at is to preach on the roof and in the public streets. And just as the Gospel courts publicity, so its scope is universal. Why, it is the exact opposite of everything that is exclusive. It abolishes the privileges of the learned and throws its doors wide open to the simple layman. There is nothing esoteric in the preaching of Jesus from first to last. It is one of the great and comforting features in His character that the love of mystery and aristocratic self-sufficiency are alike alien to Him. Hence Christianity and the mysteries are mutually exclusive.

So, too, the aim of the disciples of Jesus and of St Paul was not to found a sect, but to gather together and to increase the people of God. By their choice of the Old Testament as their sacred book they declared their intention of remaining faithful to the public religion. Their adoption of the name ‘Church’ points in the same direction. For the Church is something public, something which embraces 125 all men alike in opposition to every private society. The enthusiastic manner in which the earliest Christian apologists defended this public character of Christianity in opposition to all secret sectarianism is very admirable. The author of the Acts never wearies in his attempt to prove that the Christians are merely the true people of Israel. That is why he insists on the fact that the original apostles and St Paul never abandoned the old sanctuary, the Temple, but assembled there in the sight of all men and praised God. So Paul can declare when he is brought to trial, “These things have not been done in a corner.” The author of the Fourth Gospel emphasizes the public character of Christianity still more strongly. The founder is the Logos, the light of the world. When a Jewish Rabbi once visited Him secretly at night He concluded His conversation with him by the saying as to the light. That is why He appears so frequently in Jerusalem and in the Temple, that all the world may see. “I have spoken openly to all the world; in secret have I said nothing.” When brought to trial He appeals to this; and as the Lord’s Supper was commonly calumniated amongst the Gentiles as a secret rite defiled by horrible orgies, immorality, and cannibalism, by analogy of much that was ascribed to many mysteries, Jesus is described by the evangelist as delivering a spiritual exposition of the Sacrament in public at Capernaum, and thus he refutes the slanderous accusations. St John is followed by Justin in the two Apologies. His method is to set forth all the Christian doctrines and customs without the slightest reserve, and so he takes the sting out of the heathen 126 attack: “Study our religion; then you will convince yourselves how little reason we have for shunning the light.” It may evidently be inferred from this method of Church defence that in the eyes of the Christian teachers themselves their religion was perfectly separate and distinct from the mysteries.

But for all that there was an inner resemblance between the two. In the first place, the persecution of the national Jewish Church and afterwards of the Roman Government actually forced the Christians to live, so to speak, underground in the dark and in mystery. Even the Fourth Gospel speaks of a meeting with closed doors for fear of the Jews. By positively refusing to acknowledge the public character of the Christian religion, the State itself made of Christianity a sect that shunned the light. Besides this external reason, however, there was a second, due to the essential character of the original society. Christianity was at first organized as an exclusive community. Hence its strength. It was only within these narrow limits that the teaching of Jesus could be realized. But as such a community it only possessed a limited public character. The sacrament of baptism formed a sharp dividing line between members and non-members. It was itself a sectarian form borrowed from the sect of the disciples of the Baptist. The Lord’s Supper was only intended for the brethren, and the same remark applies to several other rites and customs, e.g., the public confession, the kiss of brotherhood, etc. Now as Christianity spread under the form of this organization and thus became known to the Greeks and Romans, it could only appear to them to be a sect, and they then 127 judged it like many other sects which shunned the light, and that with good reason.

As a matter of fact a contradiction existed between the claim of Christianity to be the world religion and its sectarian form, its rites and ceremonies adapted only to a small society. We are conscious of this contradiction even at the present day as soon as we ask ourselves what place the sacraments really occupy in our national and established Churches.

As a result of the confusion caused by the rise of Gnosticism, numberless small sects appear by the side of the one sect, which still upheld its claim to be the Church. Prolonging, as nearly all of them did, a precarious existence in almost greater obscurity than the Church, they were the first to fall irrevocably under the influence of the mysteries, because from the very beginning they cultivated an exclusive aristocratic spirit and an esoteric doctrine. In opposition to this tendency the belief in the universal scope of Christ’s message and its public character was the more firmly rooted, and once again this was exceedingly fortunate for the Church.

Ecclesiastical Christianity won the victory over Gnosticism, but not without submitting to the influence of the mysteries. Without themselves being conscious of it, the Christian teachers adapted themselves in many points to the opinions of their opponents in the course of their controversies and defence of the Church. It is in the development of the idea of the sacraments that we have the strongest evidence of the influence of the mysteries.

The essential characteristic of the mysteries was, of course, inherent in the sacraments from the very 128 first. Simple human actions are invested with mysterious attributes. They can exorcise evil spirits, become the channels of divine power, bring men into communion with the Lord on high. These opinions cannot be derived from the teaching of Jesus; they show us how Christianity in its infancy was drawn into the chaos of Oriental religions. Paul, apostle though he was of the spirit and the word, nevertheless found a place in his great theological system for the sacred rites of the first Christian community as means of salvation. For him, too, they are the definite points where Christ or His Spirit impart themselves to the community and to the individual, in order to lift them up to themselves. Baptism is incorporation into the body of Christ, the Lord’s Supper the continued support from the supply of His strength. This conception, however mysterious, still retained the Christian thought that our present salvation depends upon the person of Christ. And besides this, it was effectively balanced by the preponderant ethical note in the apostle’s teaching and character, which enabled him to draw moral imperatives even from the sacraments.

In the sub-apostolic age, belief in sacramental efficacy grows in proportion to the rapidity with which Christianity takes root in heathen soil. There, among the Greeks and in contact with the thoughts disseminated by the mysteries, the unseen world comes to dominate everywhere as the only true reality, filling the whole foreground of life, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper are subordinated to it as mysterious initiatory rites, while at the same time the sacramental apparatus becomes evermore 129 and more complicated through competition with other sacraments.

The original simplicity of baptism, washing in running water and utterance of the name of Jesus, no longer sufficed. The laying on of hands was added. This addition alone, so the author of the Acts tells us, afforded a channel for the descent of the Holy Ghost. It was the prerogative of the apostles—later, of the bishops. Somewhat later appeared the anointing with consecrated oil. If the First Epistle of St John knows the name we may conclude that the thing, too, existed either among Catholic Christians or Gnostics. Possibly the name Christ, the anointed, facilitated the reception of this rite. Ignatius refers to the anointing of Christ in Bethany, and thence derives the custom. It was, at all events, long before the time of Tertullian (to whom we owe our first treatise on baptism), possibly a century earlier, that the sacrament consisted of three separate ceremonial parts—immersion, unction, imposition of hands. We really have three sacraments united in one, or rather there are four, since the utterance of the name of Jesus has itself the efficacy of a sacrament. At the beginning of the second century baptism into the name of Jesus began to give way to baptism into the name of the Trinity, the latter practice being founded on the passage in St Matthew’s Gospel which traced the formula back to Jesus Himself. But it was an innovation, for we see from the Acts that the apostles and St Paul only baptized into the name of Jesus. How and where the phrase arose we cannot tell, but we are acquainted with a transition stage. 130 The author of the Apocalypse knows of such as have the name of the Lamb and of the Father written on their forehead. To others he promises that they shall be pillars in the temple of God, and upon them shall be written the name of God and the name of the new Jerusalem and the name of mankind. We may here learn something of the motives which led to the growth and final victory of the Trinitarian formula. It was produced by no doctrinal theory, but by the need that men felt to be quite on the safe side through the employment of yet more powerful names. From the very first, forgiveness of previous sins and the pouring forth of God’s Spirit were regarded as the gifts obtained by means of baptism. Hence it was called “birth of regeneration,” “renewing of the Holy Spirit,” “birth from above by water and the Spirit.” New designations, ‘illumination’ and ‘seal,’ came to be added to these, the oldest, Christian names. Both were probably derived from the phraseology of the mysteries. Through wonderful illumination the convert steps forth from the kingdom of darkness and ignorance into the kingdom of light and of knowledge. Without actually naming baptism, Clement describes this solemn moment. Through Christ the eyes of our heart were opened. Through Him our ignorant and darkened understanding climbed the steep ascent into His wonderful light. Through Him the Lord wanted us to taste of the knowledge that perisheth not. Hence Justin speaks of a birth of repentance and of knowledge. We are breathing the air of the Greek mysteries. The expression ‘seal’ implies protection against the demons and initiation into the world to come. Long 131 before this Paul speaks of Christians as anointed, sealed, having the earnest of the Spirit. In the Apocalypse the one hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites are sealed in order that they may come safely through all temptations and plagues and reach the kingdom of heaven. We cannot be quite sure what the author meant by this sealing. Most probably, however, he pictured to himself that the name of God or of Jesus which exorcised the evil spirits was engraved upon the foreheads of the faithful. And now baptism itself was regarded as such a protective measure—the holy name being pronounced as well. Its efficacy can, of course, be completely destroyed or impaired; denial of the faith in time of persecution, grievous sins of the flesh, stain it; but wherever it is kept untainted it is a mighty protection against all demons and a guarantee of everlasting life. When Hermas declares that even those who died before Christ came and are now in Hades must receive the seal—the seal, he adds, is the water—since without this none can enter into the kingdom of heaven, he is looking upon baptism as the rite of initiation which alone confers upon men the blessedness of the world to come. Faith alone no longer suffices. The magic power of the sacrament is needed besides. In like manner, too, the Lord’s Supper comes to be looked upon as food and drink for this life. “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed.” Such are the words which the evangelist John puts into the mouth of Jesus, and he can only mean that the 132 elements received in the Lord’s Supper create the spiritual, the resurrection body of the Christian. His successor Ignatius says, with perfect outspokenness, the Lord’s Supper is the magic rite whereby we obtain immortality: it is the medicine which prevents our death and secures our perpetual life in Jesus Christ. Then there follows in Justin the first attempt at explaining this change of the body and blood of Christ into our own body, and the apologist reminds us at the same time of the analogy presented by the mysteries of Mithras, where, in like manner, bread and a cup of water are presented and certain invocations used when anyone is to be initiated. Naturally it is only the initiated who can fully participate in this mysterious food. “Let him that is holy draw near, and if anyone be not holy then let him repent.” The saying of Jesus, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs,” is applied in the Didache to the Lord’s Supper.

We have traced the first steps of that fateful development which, under the influence of Greek and Oriental mysteries, made of Christianity a religion of superstition and of magic charms. True, there is no lack of Christian teachers in our period, just as little as there was in later periods, who, when they speak of the sacraments, immediately treat them as symbols and the means of inculcating moral truth, whose end and aim is the grace of God and spiritual communion with the Redeemer through these outer magical media. But in interpreting the sacraments after their own fashion, these teachers give the Christian people the right to do so after theirs—i.e., to look upon them as magic rites. The only really valid argument that can be advanced in favour of the sacraments is 133 surely this. No religious community could continue to exist—certainly not in the age of the mysteries—without some such outer signs intended to excite the feelings and to inflame the fancy. Had Christianity not possessed baptism and the Lord’s Supper from the very first, it would have derived its sacraments from some other source. In any case the purely ethical and personal religion was bound to degenerate. For here there is but one alternative. One thing is needful: either the condition of the heart or the reception of the sacred rite. When the very smallest importance is attached to the reception of the rite, there the Gospel, with its three great realities, the soul, the brethren, and God, is destroyed.

In eschatology, too, we can trace the beginnings of a further development destined to be of great consequence. Eschatology lost its abhorrence of the Greek idea of the future world and assimilated thence all that it possibly could. It is true that we have come to the time when the flood of the Jewish Apocalyptic conceptions swept over the young religion with their gigantic and fantastic imagery more than ever before. The eschatology of most of the Christian congregations has still more of a Jewish than a Greek appearance. The expectation of the kingdom of God upon earth and of the resurrection of the dead—i.e., the two thoughts which are least Greek in character—still stand in the centre of the Christian hope. Even so educated a Christian as Justin is a convinced millenarian. And yet the process of Hellenization set in about the end of the century, and it is this same Justin who is our witness for it.


The process really begins in the Third Gospel, where Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which is certainly genuine, is reproduced in Greek terminology. That is where we first hear of Hades, the Greek world of the departed. It seems to consist of two divisions, separated from each other by a great chasm: there is the place of rest, where Abraham and his children are comforted, and there is the place of torment, where sinners do everlasting penance in flames. If St Luke had given names, then he would have spoken of Gehenna and of Paradise. But since when are there two divisions of Hades? The evangelist has melted into one Gehenna and Tartarus, Paradise and Elysium, hence his wonderful topography. He was not the first to do this. We find Gehenna and Tartarus used indiscriminately in monumental inscriptions and in the Sibylline oracles. As soon as a Jew or a Christian living amongst Greeks began to reflect upon the fate of the soul after death, the well-known pictures of bliss and torment, which Greek prophets, poets, and philosophers—especially those of the Orphic school—had scattered broadcast among the people, filled his shadowy Sheol.

It was especially the Greek ideas of hell which found a very early entrance into Christian eschatology. The most celebrated instance of this is in the Apocalypse of St Peter. There we read of the dark place of torment, of the different classes of sinners, and of the punishments, each undergone in an appointed place, of the torturing angels, and so forth. All these fancies are of Orphic origin, and they can be paralleled by passages from Virgil, 135 Plutarch, and Lucian; but they have all come to us through a Jewish-Christian medium, and thence received their last expression, both from a linguistic as well as from a theological point of view. It is in any case a comfort to think that these very conceptions of hell for which Christianity has been condemned, severely enough, are of Greek origin. Justin, too, had been struck by the likeness between the Greek eschatology and that accepted by the Church in his time. He reminds us of the teaching of Empedocles, Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates, of the pit in Homer, and of the descent of Odysseus into the nether world, and of all who wrote on similar subjects. The only difference between the Christians and the Greeks was that in place of Minos and Rhadamanthus Christ judged the dead, and that not only the soul but also the body was punished, and that forever. The Greek names which Justin enumerates are the representatives of this Orphic eschatology, and Homer’s account of Hades is our earliest authority for the same. All of which furnishes us with an additional proof of the real connection between the two eschatologies.

A considerable difference subsisted, it is true, between the two views as to the time when the sentence was to be passed. According to the Greeks it was at death, but according to the Jews it was postponed to the judgment of the world by God. This difficulty, however, could be explained away, either by the assumption of an increase in the torments of hell after the judgment, or by their entire postponement after the same. In any case the old Jewish eschatology was not threatened with 136 dissolution from that quarter. The Greek conception of heaven, on the other hand, was bound to become dangerous immediately. Even before the rise of Christianity many of the Jews at Alexandria had become familiarized with the Greek doctrine of the assumption of those who were especially blessed to the gods in heaven, and had applied it to the fate of the martyrs and of other men pre-eminent for their piety. Similar doctrines began to circulate amongst certain Christians at a very early date. Here, however, they were consistent, and drew the right conclusions that bliss in heaven was incompatible with earthly joy at some later period. There was, they said, no such thing as a resurrection of the dead, or rather it had already taken place for Christians at baptism. The Pastoral letters, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr, opposed this new-fashioned eschatology as a Gnostic heresy. But the “getting into heaven” finally won the day, for all that, over the Jewish hope of the kingdom of God.

The Gospel of St John would also appear to afford an instance of this Hellenization of the eschatology, although its author effectually conceals his true meaning. In the parting address to His disciples Jesus proclaims a hope of the future state which is entirely unlike that of the Jews. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know the way,” i.e., to the Father. This can scarcely mean anything else than that Jesus will fetch the Christians 137 to God in heaven, and will not Himself live upon earth. We cannot, however, be quite certain whether we have not here merely an apologetic disguise of the Jewish eschatology from which we ought to distinguish the author’s own belief. The kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead are the pillars of the Jewish eschatology, and they are likewise the sure foundation upon which the author of the Johannine writings builds up his system. In the story of the raising of Lazarus he shows us that through Christ’s word of power the dead shall one day come forth with their former bodies from the tomb. Whoever holds such an opinion is far removed from any tendency to dissolve or spiritualize the Jewish eschatology. Nor would he place the emphasis that he does upon the flesh of Christ upon earth, and even after the resurrection, if the opinion that he holds about the flesh did not differ very considerably from that of those who deny the resurrection. He is really a representative of the old eschatology from first to last; only as an apologist he tried to meet the Greeks in this point as in many others by endeavouring to adapt the Christian hope for the future to their own views. Fortunately Irenaeus furnishes us with a very old exegesis of the passage about the many mansions in the Father’s house. It dates, in fact, from certain presbyters who were pupils of the apostles. They explained that enigmatic saying with reference to the different abodes of the blessed. According to their degree of piety they were to live after the resurrection either in heaven or in paradise or in the holy land. Here, then, we have a combination of old and new 138 eschatologies which may well be ascribed to John, standing as he does upon the boundary line between two different worlds.

Even the “Shepherd” of Hermas furnishes us with an example how deep an impression Greek and Roman eschatology made upon the Christians, though he is usually entirely on the side of the Jewish eschatology. An old woman appeared to him in the neighbourhood of Cumae, and gave him revelations contained in the roll of a book. Being asked who the woman was, he answered, “The Sibyl.” “Thou art wrong,” was the reply; “it was the Church.” Here we have a typical instance of the way in which heathen ideas passed over into Christianity. Hermas knew from Virgil’s Æneid that the Sibyl of Cumae was endowed with the knowledge of the world to come, of heaven and of hell. She was accounted by him, as well as by many Christians, to be a true prophetess. Cumae, therefore, was the place where there were revelations. Churchman as he was, however, his imagination displaced the faith in the Sibyl. But then the Church had to appear in the guise of the Sibyl, and even occupy her dwelling. Paganism is Christianized and Christianity is Romanized.

Would it, then, have been so great a loss had the Greeks with their ideas of the future blessedness won the day over the Jewish eschatology of the Christians? Jesus Himself had striven to purify and simplify the old hope in the kingdom, and to elevate it into the domain of eternity. St Paul had continued this work of Jesus by his great theory of the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God. It would seem, then, to be a decided retrogression when 139 the Christians of the sub-apostolic age enthusiastically accept the whole mass of the Jewish apocalyptic and the wild fancies of the Greeks concerning hell, while the only doctrine which they regard as a heresy is that of the ascension of the soul to God, the highest and purest of the Greek hopes. And yet a true instinct guided the Church in this decision. That Greek doctrine was dangerous, because it meant the suppression of the social and moral elements in the ideal of the future state in favour of a merely selfish enjoyment of God by the individual soul. The future history of the Church proved over and over again how easily the selfish longing for heaven tended to make men forget their social duties here on earth. In the first age, the surrender of the old hope in the kingdom would have been tantamount to the abandonment of the faith in Providence and to the neglect of all work in the world. It was a time of conflict and of persecution. Who was to conquer, Christ or Rome? The centre of interest was in this earth. The persecutors had their portion in hell. The martyr’s reward was to rule in the kingdom. If Christ only kept heaven, and the dragon retained the earth, then it availed but little to be a Christian. Jesus and St Paul would probably have fought like wise on the side of the Chiliasts. They took up their stand firmly and boldly upon this earth of ours, and there they meant to stand. That, too, is an essential part of religion.

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