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THE first encounter between the Church and the Gnostic tendencies occurred while St Paul was still alive. Heretical teachers appeared at Colossae, who had already been engulfed in the great whirlpool of religions. They boasted of their Jewish circumcision and of their Greek philosophy, recommended angelolatry and ascetic practices. Paul combated them from the standpoint of his gnosis, and opposed practical Christian principles to their asceticism. We know nothing as to the further history of this Colossian sect. It was the advance guard of the invading army which attacked the Church on all sides in the last two decades of the first century, and is noticed in almost every contemporary ecclesiastical writing. The Pastoral and Johannine epistles (about 100 A.D.) are the earliest documents to give us a clear conception of their opponent’s position. It is very instructive how quickly, after all, the consciousness of the difference between what was206 Christian and what was Gnostic was acquired. We see how the Pauline theology impelled even ecclesiastical teachers such as John, e.g., to travel very far in the direction of Gnosticism. Speculation was very highly esteemed. God and the world, the spirit and the flesh, were discussed in a dualistic fashion. In certain additions made to the Gospels a very near approach indeed was made to Docetism. But these very same representatives of the ecclesiastical Gnosis instinctively rejected anything that was Gnostic theology properly so-called. There is only one explanation of this. Their feeling for that which was and that which was not Christian, was on the whole too strong to be endangered by any speculations of a Gnostic tendency. This was fortunate for the Church, and honourable for these men. Their theology was a very incomplete reproduction of Christianity. The real Jesus fitted neither to the Jewish nor to the Greek formulae which they employed. But they had that personal Christianity which is patient of every kind of speculation—up to the point when it is itself threatened. When once this point is reached it is stirred into activity, and silences the theologian in the midst of his speculations. So it was now. The Church theologians themselves entered the lists against the Gnostics, and opposed their antithesis to every thesis brought forward by the latter. We can now clearly recognize which side preserves the true line of Christian succession in every point.

1. The debate as to the first capital point, the principle of authority, was the most unfortunate The Gnostics proclaimed the supremacy of the Spirit. 207 This implied the right of license and the victory of the non-Christian element over the Gospel. Had Christianity developed along the lines indicated by this theory, it would have disappeared altogether in the chaos of peoples. The Church’s teachers, however, declared that the Spirit of Christ alone—i.e., the Christian tradition—was decisive. Nothing could be more sensible. Unfortunately ecclesiastical law was exclusively substituted for the Spirit in the process of the determination and limitation of the tradition. We shall have occasion to recur to this point when we discuss the forcible measures employed by the Church. But this is the place to mention another matter. The divinity of the Old Testament, even of the law, is maintained against the criticism of the Gnostics. It was the Old Testament to which the Gnostic spirit could least of all adapt itself. It was held in very low esteem, made out to be the work of a lower order of spirits, of the demiurge or even of Satan himself; and to establish their position they made use of apocryphal writings both old and new. It was felt, however, by the Church that the destruction of the Old Testament cut the ground from under the feet of the Christians and exposed them to every storm. There were additional weighty motives of a practical character. The proof from prophecy was needed for apologetic purposes, and for this the Old Testament writings were indispensable. And the defence of Christianity as of the old and lawful religion, was invalidated by the abandonment of the Old Testament. It was a difficult matter to defend the Old Testament as a Christian book at once against the Gnostics and the Jews. But this 208 position was maintained. The author of the Pastoral epistles warns the bishops not to suffer the Old Testament to escape them through the perversions of the Gnostics. “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for doctrine, for instruction, for reproof, for correction, for discipline which is in righteousness.” He presupposes the Jewish doctrine of the inspiration of the Old Testament, and merely fights for the ecclesiastical utility of the book. But what is to be counted as belonging to the Old Testament? No very clear decision was reached as to this point. On the one hand, we find a disposition to submit to the judgment of the Jewish Rabbis at Jabne, whose canon of the Hebrew Old Testament exactly corresponds with our own. Hence certain Christian teachers began to reject the Apocrypha at a very early date. The author of the Second Epistle of St Peter, who copies the whole of the letter of St Jude, carefully omits or obliterates the quotations from the book of Enoch and the Ascension of Moses. Jerome’s later statement, that many Christians rejected the letter of St Jude because of its quotations from the book of Enoch, agrees with this. People, however, like the author of the Second Epistle of St Peter were the exceptions in this first age. The great majority of the Christians possessed the Septuagint, and the canon set up by the Rabbis of Jabne did not apply here. Apocryphal Jewish writings must have been very extensively employed in the Church up to the time of Origen. There was the same absence of decision with regard to exegesis. In spite of Gnostic abuses of the practice, the right of allegorical interpretation was maintained. There was no 209 saving the Old Testament without allegory. The best illustration of the lengths to which some went in this direction are to be found in the Epistle of St Barnabas, where he applies the red heifer to Christ, and the Gematry of Elieser, Abraham’s three hundred and eighteen servants, to Jesus the crucified. The chief point was, however, gained: the Old Testament remained intact as a divine book and as the canon for the Church. In spite of all disastrous consequences, that was a fortunate event for the future history of mankind.

2. The Gnostics separated the creator of the world from the redeemer. The Church maintained their unity. The creator is no inferior God, but the true and highest God, the redeemer. The author of the Pastoral epistles combats the Gnostic theory of the divinity by insisting on the unity of God and opposing asceticism. “Every creature of God is good. God has created meat and drink for the Christians, to be received by them with thanksgiving.” It was clearly recognized in the Church that it was no mere matter of speculation. Had the Christian any right to believe in Providence? That was the issue at stake. Is God or the devil supreme in this world? Is the believer indebted for his life, his health, his natural powers, to the God that redeems him, or to an enemy of God? About the middle of the second century the old expressions “the devil, the prince of this world,” etc., almost vanish from Christian writings. By a bold exegesis Irenaeus makes out that Paul never called Satan God of this world. And on the other hand, God appears in the creeds as creator of heaven and earth. At 210 all costs the negative attitude to the world is to be avoided.

3. The defence of “the resurrection of the flesh” against the purely spiritualistic eschatology of the Gnostics was a natural consequence of the belief in God the creator. The heresy that the Resurrection had already taken place is first met with in the Pastoral epistles, and both Polycarp and Justin make further mention of it. We may reasonably assume that the practical significance of this dogma—which was of Jewish origin—had been already realized, as it certainly was later by Irenaeus and Tertullian. The body belongs to the whole man such as he was created by God. Whoever denies the resurrection of the flesh thereby attacks the God of creation. An additional reason was the unwillingness to give up the Jewish eschatology. But the really decisive argument was the first. Much difficulty indeed was occasioned by St Paul’s statement, that flesh and blood should not inherit the kingdom of God. Irenaeus tells us that it was the main support of the Gnostics; and even before this, Justin attempted to adapt the phrase to the creed of the Church in a book which has been lost. But the stories of the risen Lord appeared more important than words of St Paul. Here the theory of the resurrection of the flesh was actually realized. There is something truly magnificent in the way in which the martyrs go forth to death with the certainty that the God who created their body can likewise restore it.

4. From eschatology we turn to Christology. Here the most valuable tenet, the humanity of Jesus, was protected against the Gnostics and their 211Docetic dissolvent. This Docetism appeared at a very early date as a natural consequence of the ‘divinity’ of Christ; nor was it confined in all probability to the Gnostic schools. It was opposed first of all by the author of the Pastoral epistles, who maintains the true humanity of Jesus, “One mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus.” The author of the Johannine epistles has to do with opponents who deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, and who dissolve, as Cerinthus did, the nature of Jesus, i.e., distinguish between the heavenly Christ and the earthly Jesus. They also deny the blood, i.e., the death of Jesus. In opposition to these views John dwells upon the human body of Christ, upon His real death, and upon the unity in the nature of Jesus Christ the Redeemer. A little later we find the characteristic expressions of Docetism in use among the heretics, the adversaries of Ignatius: it was, the body in which Christ suffered was only a phantom. Everything human that is told us of Jesus, His Davidic Sonship, His birth, His eating and drinking, His death and resurrection, all His actions, were only in appearance. In opposition to this Ignatius takes his stand upon the statements of the creed, and to each he adds his ‘verily.’ Here again it is a practical interest for which the Church is struggling; is the personal assurance of salvation to rest upon a phantom or a reality? “Why,” asks Ignatius, significantly, “why should I suffer myself to be cast to the lions for a faith which rests upon an illusion?” And here at least the Church had a very powerful ally in St Paul. His whole system fell to pieces, if its core and centre, the cross, was 212only a phantom. The reconciliation of the divinity of Christ with His humanity, that was so stoutly defended, causes no anxiety for the present. It is none other than Ignatius who speaks of Jesus by preference as God. The fact itself was all that was of importance. The way in which it was brought about was a question left for future generations to solve. We may at any rate thankfully acknowledge our debt of gratitude to these men. Had it not been for them, the historic Christ would have been entirely explained away.

5. The physical soteriology of the Gnostics now has to make way for the moral and ecclesiastical doctrine of salvation. The Gnostics appealed to St Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit. However one-sided and arbitrary the fashion in which they interpreted this, they were right in the main thought: the Christian is redeemed by the power of God coming over him. How important the Spirit was to them we may infer indirectly from the fact that salvation by the Spirit is completely thrust into the background both in the Pastoral letters and in that of St John. Through the latter we get to know a number of expressions current among the Gnostics: “I have known God; I am in the light; I dwell in God; I am born in God and God’s seed dwells in me; I have passed from death unto life; I love God; the love of God is completed in me; we do not sin, neither have we sinned.” Knowledge always occupies the first place; the second is assigned to mysticism as the fruit of knowledge, to the flight of the soul above all the world to God, and the indwelling of God in the soul. This ideal of piety was in nowise necessarily 213 followed by licentious excess. Even in the case of noble and elevated souls it was, however, usually attended by the neglect and depreciation of simple morality, of love, and social duties. Ignatius excellently characterizes these religious epicures: “They care nothing for love, nothing for widows, nothing for orphans, nothing for the sick, nothing for prisoners or freed captives, nothing for them that hunger and thirst. They neglect the holy eucharist and the prayers of the Church.” The temptation to indulge in this mystic and contemplative piety, appealing as it did so confidently to the words of the Apostle Paul, was very great, and that the Church resisted it with a like confidence, is a proof of its sober sanity. The authors of the Pastoral epistles and of the Johannine writings stand shoulder to shoulder in their zeal for the practical and ethical interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus, in their rejection of all speculations of mysticism and asceticism. Faith and love, says the pseudo-Paul, are the greatest things. Here we have the sound doctrine. All depends upon righteousness, faith, love and unity with one’s brother Christians in the Church. Christians are to do good works, that is, praiseworthy and profitable to men. No Christian is to spend a fruitless life. Better a piety that is useful in many ways than an asceticism which profits but little. The First Epistle of St John contains the same thoughts, only they are expressed in the author’s far more impressive and characteristic phraseology—How is a Christian to be recognized? If he keeps the commandments, if he does righteousness, if he loves the brethren. This is all that really matters. 214 Knowledge and mysticism are empty phrases as soon as simple morality and love are wanting. But where love is, there is also knowledge and communion with God. As God cannot be the direct object of our love, we ought to show the love of God to the brethren. In both groups of letters the doctrine of salvation by the Spirit is thrust into the background; in the Pastoral epistles it is actually given up altogether, because it seriously threatened morality. The Church and the Sacraments take the place of the Spirit; in them the saving grace of God draws near to men. But, then, the Christian is himself to work and to labour, that the new life may be formed in him. A natural consequence of the emphasis thus laid upon morality was the defence of the freedom of the will which first Justin and then Irenaeus undertook. Henceforth nature and man’s will were the watchwords. This antithesis corresponded to actually existing contrasts. The very existence of Christianity as the highest ethical religion was at stake.

6. The last antithesis was the truest. Sect or Catholic Church—the gathering together of the spiritual, or the call to go forth and make disciples of all men. The Gnostics had withdrawn arrogantly from the Church. They had refused to take part in the life of the fellowship. We may infer from St John’s First Epistle that they hated the brethren, i.e., the ordinary Christians; that they criticised and despised them, and gave themselves up exclusively to their mystic love of God. Ignatius says still more plainly: “Love is of no importance to them. They care nothing for widows or orphans, 215 for the sick, or for them that are in bonds, for those set free, for them that hunger and thirst—they withdraw from the Eucharist and the prayer of the Church.”

As against such conduct the watchword is proclaimed: hold fast by the unity of the Church and follow zealously after love in the Church. St Paul himself gave out this watchword in his last letters, for a special congregation in the Epistle to the Philippians, and for the Church as a whole in the so-called letter to the Ephesians. “Forbear with one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” But this thought of unity receives its most impressive expression in the high priestly prayer in the Gospel of St John. The unity of the Church amidst the Gnostic storms is the aim of the whole of this prayer, the last testament of Jesus to His disciples. Four times Jesus repeats the petition, “That they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one.” But not the prayer alone: the last discourses of Jesus taken as a whole, with the magnificent parable of the vine and the branches which forms their centre, with the new commandment of the love of the brethren and the promise of the spirit of truth—all aim at this duty of ecclesiastical unity. The mere setting forth of the ideal without any direct polemic imparts their wonderful impressiveness to these admonitions. Hence we can understand why 216 the love of the brethren receives such prominence in the First Epistle of St John, in the Pastoral epistles, and in Ignatius. It is not merely zeal for practical Christianity in accordance with the teaching of Jesus which is manifested therein—it is also zeal for ecclesiastical unity and ecclesiastical fellowship which is displayed in all the works of love enumerated by Ignatius. But however ardently this Church may close up its ranks and set forth unity as its aim, it excels the Gnostic sects in its wideheartedness and its universal democratic tendencies. Whilst the Gnostics limited salvation to the spiritual and claimed Christ for themselves, their ecclesiastical opponents, the authors of the Pastoral and Johannine epistles, are the advocates of universal salvation, of the equality of all men before God; God would have all men to be saved. Jesus is the redeemer of all men, the atonement for the whole world. So, too, they reject all the extra sacraments and the superior knowledge of the sectarians, and proclaim the equality of all Christians in knowledge and ripeness. For John, all such as believe are also such as have knowledge. “Ye have the unction of saints, and ye all know. Ye need not that anyone should teach you.” And such, too, is the opinion of the author of the Pastoral letters. Faith is the knowledge of the truth. There is nothing higher than faith. Ignatius warns the Ephesians against the so-called sacrament of unction. “Why do we not then all become men of understanding, seeing we have received the knowledge of God, namely, Jesus Christ?” So the democratic character of Christianity is to be preserved; upon the broad basis of the faith no differences are 217 recognized save those of advance or retrogression in the walk in righteousness.

It was no insignificant or worthless portion of Christianity that the Church determined to defend at all costs against the Gnostics. Of course all that it defended was not of equal value. Christianity clings firmly to its foundation in the Old Testament. It carefully preserves the three articles in its creed which it took over from Judaism: the belief in God the creator, the central position of morality, the hope for the future. The struggle in which it likewise engaged for the sensuous Jewish eschatology and the rabbinical doctrine of inspiration was due to the special circumstances of the time, and did not do very much harm.

In like manner the Church retained the best elements in the Gospel of Jesus: His promise and His claims, the fundamental democratic trait in His character, with His search for the light. On no single point is the Gospel of Jesus on the side of the Gnostics. And thus far the reproach of having fallen away from the Church was fully justified.

The relation of the two contending parties to St Paul was, however, somewhat different. Both seized hold of a portion of his teaching; the Paul whom the Church finally retained was not the whole Paul, but one cut after an ecclesiastical pattern. It cannot be denied that the Gnostics understood many thoughts of St Paul better than the Church his pessimism, his eschatology, his thoughts of the spirit and of redemption. The complete understanding of the Pauline soteriology ceases in the Church after the Gnostic controversy. 218 In opposition to the Gnostics far greater importance is attached to free will, to good works, and the body than was done by St Paul. Man’s natural power and the force of character are estimated more highly, whilst the operations of the divine grace and of the Spirit are exclusively attached to the sacraments. With great tact, however, the Church discovered just what was of use to herself; it was at the same time that which was pre-eminently Christian—Faith, Love, the emphasis laid on works, the connection with the Old Testament. Nor can there be any doubt as to the side on which St Paul would have ranged himself. Can you fancy St Paul abandoning his Church in favour of any conventicling fanatics, however great their sanctity or superior knowledge? The Paul of the Pastoral letters resembles the real Paul—however far he is inferior to him in intellectual power—a hundred times more nearly than the Paul whom the Gnostics imagined for themselves.

The ecclesiastical teachers who remained faithful to the Old Testament, to the Gospel of Jesus, and of the apostle St Paul—that is, the St Paul of the Church—saved Christianity from the greatest danger, the subtlest temptation, with which it was ever threatened. Gnosticism was an attempt on the part of the chaos of peoples to absorb the Gospel of Jesus—an attempt which was doubly dangerous, because it assumed the appearance of a reaction and professed to have attained to a truer estimate and a clearer understanding of Christ and His power. The chaos of peoples declared its readiness to assign to Jesus the very highest position in the Gnostic religion of redemption if He were prepared to become the leader 219 of this its product, consisting of superstition and philosophy, of the superior wisdom, of the mysteries, of the ascetic ideal, of mysticism and of longing. It was the veritable Satan who said to Jesus: “All religions of the world are thine, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” But the ecclesiastical teachers who fought the cause of Jesus withstood the temptation. Rather a poor, human, crucified Jesus with His serious morality than this king and god in the realm of superstition. There was honest reverence for reality, and honest indignation against shams in this their answer. There was something straightforward, too, a note of democratic defiance, of limited but thoroughly healthy Philistinism, a decided “No “to every kind of esoteric or aristocratic religion or religious epicurism. Indubitably we have here a reaction of the historic Jesus against the fantastic figment of human invention.

Would that the victory had been complete and the deliverance less imperfect! But in not a few places the chaos of heathen religions left a deep mark on ecclesiastical Christianity; the Church did not succeed in entirely repulsing the foreign elements. The Gnostic speculations were rejected, and the ecclesiastical thereby the more securely established. But are the latter a great deal better or more intelligent? The divinity of Christ and the Logos-Christ are heathen fabrications just as much as the Gnostic Soter, only it is a great deal more difficult to harmonize them with the human Jesus than was the case with the Gnostic Christology.

The defeat of the Gnostic mysteries was effected in like manner. They were reduced in number. 220Instead of the many initiatory and other rites, the Church retained for the moment but two Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But a portion of the physical and ceremonial theology of redemption remained in the very centre of Christianity. This one portion was sufficient to hand over the Christian religion—for centuries and throughout whole countries—to the dominion of superstition. However great an emphasis was laid upon morality, it was impossible entirely to avert the danger which was conjured up by the sacraments.

Lastly, the ascetic ideal had to give way to the ethical of the Gospels. How loudly the author of the Pastoral epistles thunders against those who would hinder marriage. Yet the same author declares people who contracted a second marriage to be unfit for the office of bishop or deacon. This is a result of the ascetic view of marriage. The opinion that marriage is a stain and that virginity is consequently to be esteemed more highly as a more holy state, is still upheld by the Church. Here we have the source of the later monasticism. In spite, therefore, of many striking contrasts the Church and Gnosticism continue to share more than enough in common—intellectualism and dogma, the sacramental religion, the ascetic view of the sexual relation. It is exceedingly significant that these three factors find no support whatever in the teaching of Jesus, while they are upheld by several passages in the writings of St Paul. And indeed many words of the apostle are already accounted as highly as those of their master.

We must not, it is true, forget that the dangerous 221attempt to break up the Christian Church into a number of little conventicles of fanatical saints was brilliantly defeated. The one Catholic Church comes forth from the struggle with the Gnostics mightier and more imposing than ever before, without having lost anything of its public, universal, and democratic character. Separatism appears to be entirely banished from it. There is only one kind of Christianity, that of faith, of love, of good works. And this was entirely in harmony with the teaching of Jesus, who did, it is true, recognize the difference between the leaders and the disciples, but suffered no class distinctions among the latter. Though the intention was excellent, the Church’s protest was all in vain, however. The deep lines of cleavage existed as a matter of fact. There was, first of all, the difference between the philosophers and the laymen, the ‘simple Christians’; and next there were the saints and the average worldly Christians. The first distinction was the result of the Hellenization of Christianity at the very time when it was materialized by the influx of international superstition. The latter came in the train of the ascetic and ecstatic tendencies noticeable since the days of St Paul. The Christianity founded by Jesus was a layman’s religion, because in accordance with His teaching, all that really matters in God’s sight are the fruits of righteousness, of purity of heart, of brotherly love, of trust in God. And that is why it accords neither theologian nor monk any preference. But even in the apostolic age, speculative, mystic and ascetic tendencies began to develop by the side of these great essentials. Hence, even at this early date, the existence of a twofold kind of Christianity, 222 which fact the Gnostics turned to the best account, and the ecclesiastical teachers could not suppress with the best will in the world.

And yet, after all deductions, the Church’s victory was the victory of the Gospel within the limits that were alone possible at that time. The Church’s teachers, the opponents of the Gnostics, were the representatives of the old Christianity, such as they had received it, such as they understood it. No blame, therefore, can attach to them. Their merit is to have recognized the attainable and to have attained it. In so doing, they secured a fresh lease of life for Christianity.

The forcible measures employed by the Church.

The conflict between the Catholic and Gnostic teachers was not carried on to the end with merely spiritual weapons. Yes, however bitter it may be to have to make the confession, the spiritual weapons of the Church would not have sufficed to gain the victory. The struggle began when the Church’s institutions were exceedingly primitive, the products of enthusiasm. The men of the Spirit—apostles, prophets, and teachers—were as yet the only authorities besides the words of Jesus, and the canon of the Old Testament. Complete freedom of teaching prevailed, and great freedom in public worship, with a broad-hearted extension of the name of Christian to all who called Jesus Lord. This state of things endangered the existence of the congregations and threatened them with dissolution, while it rendered the clear distinction of the opposing forces exceedingly difficult. The employment of forcible 223measures by the Church becomes intelligible, and partly, at least, excusable, when we take this desperate position into account.

Three measures were taken by the Church to put an end to the prevailing license. 1. The teachers were placed under Church authority. 2. Public worship was centralized and the government of the congregations entrusted to the bishops. 3. Heretics were excluded and condemned. The birth of the Catholic Church dates from the employment of these measures.

1. The only means of setting some limit to the chaos of conflicting opinions appeared to be to place the teachers under Church authority. What was the use of refuting erroneous opinions as long as each teacher could appeal to the Spirit? The question had to be put: Is any and every person to be allowed to bring forward his new doctrines on the authority of the Spirit? The question needed but to be put to be answered in the negative.

The authors of the Pastoral letters and of the letters of St John, and Ignatius, are united in their efforts to put an end to the freedom of teaching. But they use two different means.

There was first of all the theory that the bishop as such possessed the Spirit. The object of this theory was to create fitting instruments for the office of teaching. The spirit of knowledge is in the possession of few, the apostles and their successors, the bishops. They alone preserve the divine tradition (gift—depositum). The spirit of truth is handed on in succession from one to another by the laying on of hands. The Pastoral letters, which were the first to 224set up this juridical theory, wanted the presbyters themselves to exercise the teachers office. But this expectation was doomed to be disappointed. The officials had too much to do, and there were teachers besides. Nevertheless, the kernel of this theory won the day, that is, the doctrine of the ‘depositum’ in the hands of the bishops. We find it later in Irenaeus and on a more secure foundation, connected, namely, with the Roman theory of apostolic succession. It was now no longer necessary that the bishop should likewise be a teacher. Merely as bishop, the purity of the teaching was guaranteed in his case. So Ignatius conceived of his position. He was acquainted with bishops to whom the gift of spiritual speech had not been vouchsafed. They were better able to keep silent. It mattered not! In spite of all, the bishop is the representative of God. He who does not keep to the bishop—even in teaching—is far from God.

Next we have the theory of the Rule of Faith. The aim of this theory is itself to create the pure doctrine. It is significant that we come across it in the Johannine epistles. The author of these epistles is no ecclesiastic, nor is the building up of ecclesiastical office his object. His aim is rather to set up a principle which would make a judge of every Christian and not merely of the bishop. We are to try the spirits, i.e., the prophets and the teachers, whether their spirit is of God or not. Knowledge of their teaching is sufficient for this examination. He whose teaching is Docetic is not of God. “Jesus Christ come in the flesh”: such is here the regula fidei. Thereby John attains the same end as the Pastoral 225 epistles, only by a shorter road, without strengthening the position of the bishops.

But the setting up of the Rule of Faith is older than John. The author of the Pastoral epistles is in reality acquainted with both of these ecclesiastical measures. There was an old “preaching of Christ,” a short summary of all that was essential in Christology. St Paul had taught his congregations such an epitome: died, buried, raised again on the third day. Additions were gradually made to this short confession, and first of all without any reference to Gnostic opponents, the object being merely to instruct new converts. The author of the Pastoral letters is acquainted with the following new clauses: Of the house of David; under Pontius Pilate; who shall come to judge the quick and the dead. The omission of all mention of the Virgin Birth, as well as the older view of the descent from David, are sufficient proof that at this time the story of the miraculous birth had not as yet received official sanction. It is only when we come to Ignatius that we find this further addition to the summary, though the Davidic descent is as yet by no means suppressed. His statement is either: of the house of David, of Mary; or, of the seed of David, of the Holy Ghost. Soon after this the Davidic descent was either removed from the creed altogether—so in the old Roman form: of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary—or ascribed to Mary. This is what Justin does: Of Mary the Virgin, who is of the house of David. These additions and changes, however, are not to be ascribed to any anti-gnostic tendency, but to the necessity of harmonizing the catechetical teaching with the widened 226 Faith. We are even told that Gnostics managed to interpret this teaching of Christ docetically. And yet the creed was of use in the conflict with the Gnostics. It furnished a concise formulary of the principal articles of the Faith. On this the Christians could take their stand, and to this they could retreat when they were hard pressed at any point. Ignatius needs but to add his ‘verily’ to the ‘born, died,’ etc., and he has already driven the Gnostics from the field. The congregations were instructed to interpret the creed in a strictly anti-gnostic sense, and to use it as a defensive weapon. At the beginning of the second century it was used here and there in connection with the baptismal confession of belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From this combination arose the Apostles Creed. Where it was used first of all we do not know.

Two conditions were now clearly laid down for the teachers:—

1. Whenever a teacher wishes to exercise his vocation he has to be approved by the bishop and be licensed by him.

2. Every teacher is strictly bound by the regula fidei.

Important alterations followed hence. The withdrawal of the free permission to teach implied negatively the cessation of free theological production, positively the exaltation of the ecclesiastical tradition, i.e., of the apostles and their writings, into the place of the sacred canon.

One characteristic of the sub-apostolic age is the immense increase in the esteem with which the first apostles were regarded. All the Gospels, the Acts, 227 the First Epistle of St Clement, Ignatius, the Epistle of St Jude, the Didache, all go to prove this point. The men of the earlier age—St Paul above all others—had thought in the Spirit. The men of this age seek their inspiration in the thoughts of the apostles instead of depending directly upon the Spirit. The apostles are the Spirit. The farewell discourses in St John are especially instructive in this connection. Here we find the last trace of the old theory of the Spirit, but only in favour of the apostolic traditions. The apostles are led by the Spirit into all truth. In the apostles the character of Jesus receives its full illumination; i.e., it is understood in all its depth and breadth, and yet so that nothing really new is added, but we merely have a reminiscence of that which Jesus taught before. The mark of a Christian, according to St John, is the abiding in, i.e., the clinging to, Tradition, contrasted with the progressive tendencies of the Gnostics. It is now, by means of this theory of the special gift of the Spirit to the apostles, that the opinion is gradually developed that the apostles have once for all authentically and exhaustively described the person and the work of Christ, and that the task of later theology is practically the tradition of the apostolic interpretation. As early a writing as the Book of the Acts corroborates this opinion by its canonization of the apostles and glorification of the golden apostolic age, compared with which the author’s own age appears a time of decadence. To the prevalence of this opinion must be ascribed, too, the composition of numerous pseudonymic apostolic writings—above all, of the Catholic epistles. Had there not been 228 a very strong feeling of decadence abroad, men would never have gone to such lengths.

As a rule these writings are of a perfectly harmless character, and at least they do not threaten the stability of the Rule of Faith by any originality. We may safely conclude, e.g., from the occurrence of the idea of Christ’s descent into Hades in the First Epistle of St Peter, that it had already found acceptance in a considerable portion of the Church. Later, to be sure, it found its way even into the Creed.

The increased reverence paid to the apostles and their work resulted in the formation of the canon of the New Testament. At first we have, of course, just a collection of the apostolic writings. The process was, however, a very rapid one. The first letter of St Clement, written from Rome to Corinth towards the end of the first century, assumes its readers acquaintance with a number of the letters of St Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Synoptic Gospels, the Acts. Two decades later we find in Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, mention of all four Gospels, the letters of St Paul, including the Pastoral epistles, and the Apocalypse; shortly afterwards in Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, the Acts, and the First of St Peter and the First of St John in addition. The Epistle of Polycarp is especially instructive for the rapid growth of the canon. The writer is a widely respected bishop, who is said to have had personal intercourse with the apostles, or, at least, with the disciples of Jesus. And yet he gives us scarcely anything but quotations from the later writings of the New Testament, scarcely any thing of his own. In so doing he presupposes the 229possession of copies of the apostolic writings by the larger congregations in their archives. Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis and contemporary of Polycarp, shows us what great interest was still taken in the oral tradition of the apostles. He travelled about everywhere inquiring for sayings of the apostles, and based upon these inquiries he published a collection of apocryphal sayings and legends in his “Exposition of Oracles of the Lord.” But the presupposition of his whole work is that everyone is acquainted with the main features of the gospel story as contained in the written Gospels. The commencement of the formation of the canon really dates from very soon after the turn of the first century. It is marked by two characteristics, the collection of the apostolic writings and the consciousness of living in a decadent age. Everything else—the investment of the book with its sacred character, its elevation to the level of the Old Testament—flows from these without breach of continuity or sense of innovation.

The formation of the canon marks the end of the first age of Christianity under certain aspects. The old Christianity projects itself, as it were, into the canon, and sets up its own past as an object of veneration. Now, too, the chief motive power of the first great age, hero-worship, may be said to be no longer operative.

Instead of the heroes themselves, their writings are accessible as a written law. Here, half a century before Montanism, we have the death-knell of prophecy and of the ever-progressive spirit. The Church of tradition has been formed. Its teachers, Justin and Irenaeus, are right in maintaining that 230 they are merely conservative, that they hand on unchanged to their successors the old and sacred deposit which they have themselves received.

2. Nor was the second measure, the centralization of public worship and Church government in the hands of the bishop—who was almost everywhere in an independent position of supremacy—less decisive.

In the old time it was the itinerant preachers who exercised all the authority and were counted as the divine instruments for the whole Church. As often as they came to a congregation they took the precedence over all the church officers. It was supposed, e.g., that a prophet could pray more effectively than a bishop. Here we have the key to the power which the Gnostics managed to acquire. Owing to these peculiar circumstances they were able to gain adherents in every congregation, and to form branches of their schools and sects in every locality. We have therefore to picture to ourselves congregations in which Catholic and Gnostic societies existed happily side by side, just as did the various family churches which Rom. xvi. presupposes. Indeed the progress of Gnosticism was in a great measure due to the fascination which preachers coming from outside always exercise in a congregation.

If, therefore, Gnosticism was to be extirpated, the freedom of public worship and of ecclesiastical action must be limited. This had not as yet happened at the time of the Pastoral letters. And yet things were pointing that way. We read, for instance: He that “consenteth not to sound words and to the doctrine which is according to godliness (which surely includes the services of the Church), is 231 puffed up.” Definite measures of centralization, however, are still wanting; nor can we be surprised at this as long as the bishop is merely the president of the college of presbyters. Public worship can only be effectively centralized when episcopacy has become monarchical.

The Johannine letters, too, which probably date but a few years later than the Pastoral epistles, furnish us with proofs that public worship had not been completely centralized by the time of their composition. In the Third Epistle we still find the old itinerant preachers wandering about and trying to gain a hearing, while the head of one particular congregation—presumably the bishop—refuses to give them a reception. Here we have both tendencies actively at work—that to the monarchical episcopate (Diotrephes, who very much wishes to be the first); and that to the centralization of public worship—the exclusion of the itinerant preachers.

Both tendencies reach their culminating point in Ignatius. The monarchical episcopate must now be presupposed, at least for Asia Minor and Syria. There is no longer any need to struggle for that. But the struggle still continues for the centralization of public worship and church government in the hands of the bishop and the college of elders. That is the only weapon wherewith to ward off the danger of heresy. And it is something relatively new, for the greatest emphasis is laid upon it. So entirely does it engross the thoughts of Ignatius, that he speaks of it even in an ecstatic condition. Once at Philadelphia, he cried out in the midst of an assembly in a loud voice, the voice of God: “Keep to the bishop and 232the presbytery and the deacons.” Afterwards he assures the men of Philadelphia that he had had no previous knowledge of divisions in the congregation: his utterance had been inspired by the Spirit. And no wonder, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. On the lips of Ignatius the word bishop occurs about as frequently as the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ did on those of the previous generations of Christians.

Never did any man use more extravagant language about the ecclesiastical importance of the bishop than Ignatius. To the people he says: “Where the shepherd is, there do ye follow as sheep”; “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the multitude be; just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Church Catholic.” Apart from bishop, presbyters, and deacons there is no Church. “As many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are with the bishop.” The practical consequence of this exaltation of the episcopate is the one command which runs through all the letters alike: “Let no man do anything without the bishop”; “He that doeth anything without the knowledge of the bishop serveth the devil.” That Eucharist is alone to be held lawful which is celebrated by the bishop or by his duly appointed deputy. “It is not allowable either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop, but whatsoever he may approve, this also is well-pleasing to God.” Those who marry are likewise to obtain the bishop’s consent to their union. “One body of Christ, one cup, one altar, just as there is one bishop together with his presbyters and deacons.” So speaks the first sacerdotalist.


Ignatius attained his aim. The centralization of public worship set up an effective barrier against the heretics. There was nothing left for them to do but to become schismatics, and to establish rival congregations of their own. Rarely, however, did they attain to any efficient form of organization. Tertullian speaks of this as their weakest point. And this is what we should expect, for where the Spirit rules there can be no strict ecclesiastical order.

The Church won the day, but at the cost of uniformity and rigidity. The old freedom vanished, and with it the rich and varied life of the first age.

3. The prohibition of the freedom of teaching and of worship involved the exclusion of all those who would not conform to the new regulations. This last measure is the most to be regretted, because it exalted fanaticism into a place of permanent power in the Church.

The Church had indeed been narrow and even fanatical since the days of St Paul, but only with regard to those that were without, to the unbelievers. Every unbelieving Jew or heathen was, it is true, counted capable of redemption; as yet, however, he was a child of wrath, in the toils of the devil and on the road to damnation. For this, however, there was compensation in the earlier age of which we are speaking. There was great liberality towards all that were within the Church. Every one who called Jesus his Lord was accounted a member of the congregation. It mattered not under what category his Gnosis fell. Hence the rich variety of views built up upon the same faith.

But with the commencement of the struggle 234 against Gnosticism all this was altered. The conceptions of heresy and of orthodoxy are now formed. The word ‘heresy’ was at first used in no bad sense; it meant any particular tendency and was applied at first especially to particular doctrines, and then also to the party which gathered round about them. So Josephus and St Luke speak of the ‘heresy’ of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, of the Essenes; the Christians, too, were called “the heresy of the Nazarenes”—this, of course, rather by their Jewish opponents. In St Paul, on the other hand, the word already signifies divisions which do indeed appear of necessity in the congregation, but originate in the flesh and are contrary to the divine will. But there is nothing to show that he had dogmatic divisions in view. It was only the age of the Gnostic struggle that produced this ecclesiastical use of the word. The Epistle to Titus is the earliest document in which ‘heretics’ are mentioned. The heretic is to be admonished once, twice; if he does not yield he is to be rejected, for such a man is perverted and stands self-condemned. Here we have the new conception of heresy. Heresy is deviation from the teaching of the Church, and as such involves exclusion and condemnation. Opposed to it is assent to the pure doctrine of the Church, orthodoxy. We first meet with —this expression—almost verbally in Justin Martyr.

The Pastoral epistles are also our oldest document for all the virulence of ecclesiastical fanaticism. Their polemics against the Gnostics are characterized by ecclesiastical haughtiness, insinuations of immorality, and the condemnation of their opponents 235 as ‘devilish.’ Of the three the last is the most easily comprehensible in the case of theologians who imagined the whole kingdom of the air to be filled with devils, and who, moreover, had Paul for their master, who himself saw a temptation of the devil in every other gospel but his own. So we read that those that set themselves up in opposition are in the snares of Satan; they give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. Most objectionable of all, however, is the presupposition of immorality which the pseudo-Paul invites all his ecclesiastical followers to harbour in the case of all heretics. He is fond of discharging long catalogues of vices upon his opponents, in which, besides the faults which they really had, a number of such were likewise ascribed to them which are presupposed in the case of every godless individual. You may safely assume of every one who shows a tendency to Gnostic ideas that he is a morally bad man. “Some have thrust from them their good conscience, and so have made shipwreck concerning the faith.” It is only the lusts of the Christians, i.e., their moral corruption, which are the cause of the increase of the opponents. The heretical teachers are one and all “seared in their own conscience.” We shall soon see that this kind of polemics did not remain ineffective. To cast suspicion upon heretics was henceforth one of the characteristics of orthodoxy. If we turn to the practical measures that were employed, we shall find that the bishop was to make as short work as possible of the heretics. He is to shun disputations. He is not to make much ado. Let him admonish them once, twice. If that is of no avail he must 236 thrust them out. The Church must hand over her opponents to Satan, just as St Paul handed over the incestuous person. This throws a bright light on the difference between the two ages. Deviation from right doctrine is punished now, as was once a moral crime.

The Johannine epistles are worthy successors of the Pastoral, as their author, the so-called apostle of love, shows himself to be a past master in the art of judging and condemning. Just as he exhibited his narrow hatred in the Gospel against the unbelieving Jews, those children of the devil, those thieves and robbers, so here in the epistle he manifests the same hatred against all the brethren who do not think exactly as he does. The Gnostics are liars in whom the truth dwelleth not, and who walk in darkness. If you would understand them aright, you must see anti-Christ in them; their existence is only comprehensible as a temptation of the devil in the last hour. The second letter draws the practical conclusion: as all Docetists are deceivers and anti-Christs, and have not God, they are not to be received into the house, nor are they to be given greeting, for he that giveth them greeting partaketh in their evil works.

The anecdote which Irenaeus relates of St John agrees very well with this passage: When St John on one occasion learnt that Cerinthus was in the same public bathing establishment as himself, he rushed out of it, exclaiming, “Let us flee lest the house break down upon us, for Cerinthus is within, the enemy of the truth.” Should this anecdote be historically reliable, the Johannine Epistles have certainly faith fully reproduced the spirit of this John.

As Ignatius and Polycarp are acquainted with both 237Pastoral and Johannine epistles, they afford a proof of the eminent success attained by the practice of passing judgment upon heretics, common among the older teachers. Ignatius continues to assume the immorality of the Gnostics: “He that does anything without the bishop is not clean in his conscience. The adversaries have no good conscience, as they do not come to the principal assembly.” And there is the same reproach of having sprung from the devil. “Their worship is that of Satan, and their unction is from below. Let all men shun in them the snares and the wiles of the prince of this world. They are no plants which the heavenly Father hath planted, but tares which bring forth deadly fruit. Every teacher that is an heretic shall come into the unquenchable fire, and so likewise whosoever gives heed to him. Whosoever follows a schismatic cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The practical result of which was that the orthodox Christians were to treat their heretical brothers as not belonging to the Church—nay, as even worse than infidels. For he that followeth not the bishop, hath no part in the Church. “Every Docetist blasphemeth the Lord, and is an atheist, i.e., an unbeliever. It is only through their evil cunning that they bear the Christian name. Avoid them like wild beasts, for they are mad dogs; they lie in wait for you and bite you; they are brutes in human shape. Not merely are you not to receive them into your houses, you are not even to meet them; all that you may do is to pray for them that they be converted”—a hard matter, to be sure. Ignatius shrinks from uttering the names of the unbelievers, and even from thinking of them. He 238forbids all men to speak of the Gnostics either in public or in private. In all this hatred of his against the heretics, he has a trusty henchman in his friend Polycarp. “Every man that confesseth not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is an anti-Christ. And whosoever confesseth not the testimony of the cross is of the devil, and whosoever perverteth the words of the Lord according to his own lusts, and denieth either the resurrection or the judgment, he is the first-born of Satan.” Once when Polycarp, meeting Marcion, was asked by the latter whether he did not know him, he answered, “Yes, I know thee—the first born of Satan.” Such was the fruit of the seed sown by the authors of the Pastoral and Johannine epistles.

True, even now, the door stood open for the Gnostics to return. Only they had to do penance. Gnostic views were counted to be exactly as bad as gross moral sins. One great advantage was, it must be admitted, gained by this hateful device. All doubt and ambiguity was at an end. Within the Church—the boast was justified—there was one faith, one confession.

But the Christians who remained faithful to this confession had lost qualities which their Lord and Master had esteemed most highly—love and humanity. The very prayer for the conversion of the Gnostics is more Pharisaic than Christian, and does not spring from simple human love.

The result of this division into the two camps of orthodoxy and heresy was that Christianity now entirely acquired a scholastic dogmatic character, and in a very serious degree lost its original peculiarity—that of being an essentially ethical religion.


Originally this scholastic dogmatic character was completely foreign to Christianity. Christianity was a layman’s personal religion under the guidance of a prophet. It was entirely undogmatic. The only article in its creed, Jesus is the Messiah, belonged to the sphere of religious hope, and was not therefore capable of proof.

Controversies with the Jews brought about the first symptoms of change. No documents, it is true, have come down to us from the very earliest age, but all that we can gather from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St John indicates that anti-Jewish apologetics soon degenerated into the squabbles of rival schools. The controversy ranged over every variety of subject, but the most important of all is left untouched. What the Christians wanted to do was to harmonize the picture of Jesus with the dogmas of the Messianic theology, and to prove that Jesus was after all the Messiah in accordance with Jewish dogma. As though the cause of Jesus had thereby been advanced in the very slightest degree! That a redemptive power went forth from Jesus, that through the simplification of His message He burst Judaism asunder—all this was disregarded as unimportant. And so in very deed Christianity became a heresy, a separate opinion, like that of the Pharisees, though, unlike theirs, not ecclesiastically tolerated; it was too revolutionary for that.

Under these circumstances it must be considered fortunate that Christianity was transferred to Greek soil. If it took root here at all, it must be as a new religion, for the squabbles of the Messianic theology were unintelligible to the Greeks. Numberless 240 dogmatic presuppositions are, it is true, at the basis of St Paul’s preaching, but what the apostle sets forth is above all a way of salvation in view of the day of judgment; he takes the Spirit and miracles into account, and postulates a new creature in Christ Jesus. The oldest Gentile Christian religion was the worship of the Divinity of Christ. Whosoever confessed this religion belonged to no school, but was one of the brethren. No Christian teacher of the earliest age compared or opposed Christian dogmas to the dogmas of the schools of the philosophers.

Gnosticism provoked the crisis which sooner or later must have been brought about through the influence of Greek philosophy. The Gnostics aim was to understand the revelation given to faith, and to adapt it to their own opinions, while they were all the while under the delusion that in so doing they were inspired of the Spirit. It was not long before differences of opinion and heresies manifested themselves. Just as the Jewish Rabbis variously interpreted the Oracles of the Old Testament, and then split up into different schools, so each Gnostic teacher cut the Christian faith after his own pattern, and a number of schools and a whole multitude of dogmas resulted thence. The dogmas were not the really important thing to the Gnostics themselves, but it was these that first engaged the attention of the Christian teachers, and became the object of their criticism and attack.

Now in controverting the Gnostics, the ecclesiastical teachers adapted themselves to their opponents’ scholastic view of Christianity. All that they did was to oppose ecclesiastical to Gnostic dogmas. The 241 development of the struggle for the Rule of Faith signifies the victory of scholastic Christianity: in other words, the greatest importance is attached to pure doctrine; on adhesion to this doctrine depends the right to bear the name of Christian; where the purity of the doctrine is in the slightest degree impaired, there is no Church, no Christianity. Christianity is identified with orthodoxy.

The religion of Christ thus underwent the greatest change of all. The practical and the personal no longer formed, as they did before, the core and centre of the faith. Originally the true marks of Christianity were the ardour of its hope, the strictness of the new life, inspiration for Jesus. Whosoever had suffered himself to be redeemed by Jesus so as to attain the freedom of a child of God, was accounted a Christian. No one had inquired as to the dogmas which he accepted. And so the oldest community was a fellowship united by the same enthusiasm and working for the same ends. This conception of Christianity was supplanted in the course of the struggle with Gnosticism by the scholastic, dogmatic view. The new confessional Christianity is scholastic.

The expression ‘Catholic Church’ first occurs in Ignatius in the course of the Gnostic controversy, and there signifies the Church universal, which embraces the whole of Christianity as contrasted with the particular congregations. It then expressed a geographical idea, and had not as yet become a battle-cry against the heretics. But, as a matter of fact, it is quite true to say that from this time 242onward Catholics and heretics stood opposed to each other. For indeed it is only since we have Gnostic theologies and Gnostic Churches that we have a Catholic theology and a Catholic Church. The whole of Catholicism arose as the reaction of the Church against the foreign influences of the chaos of heathen religions. In so far it was an innovation. The benefits which it conferred from the very first certainly outweigh any injury which it inflicted. It rallied all the sound, ethical and evangelical forces in the old Christianity, welded them together, and inspired them with strength for the victorious contest. It saved the Christian religion from being entirely engulfed in the maelstrom of peoples and religions, and secured for it a safe and quiet future and the victory over the world.

Gnosticism made of Jesus a divine phantom, Catholicism rescued the true Jesus. In any case we are here more in the line of the direct succession from primitive Christianity. The mischievous innovation which it introduced was the exaltation of orthodoxy and ecclesiasticism into leading marks of Christianity, in contrast to the freedom of teaching and the freedom from Church discipline that characterized the Gnostics. Henceforth assent to the pure doctrine and subjection to the bishop are a sine qua non in the case of every Christian. The old leading marks are secondary matters. In other words, hostility towards the unbelieving Christians outside of the Church comes to be a sign of true Christianity. And this state of things was not, alas, materially altered at the Reformation.

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