|« Prev||Chapter I. Historical Situation.||Next »|
HISTORICAL SITUATION.318318Walch, Entw. einer vollst. Historie der Ketzereien, 1762 ff. Hefele, Konciliengesch., 2 Bd. I.–IV. Histories of the Roman Empire by Tillemont, Gibbon, Richter und Ranke (Weltgesch., Bd. IV. und V.). Réville, Die Religion z. Rom unter den Severern (German translation by Krüger, 1888). V. Schultze, Gesch. des Untergangs des griechisch-römischen Heidenthums, 2 Bde., 1887 f. Boissier, La fin du paganisme, 2 Bde. 1891. Dorner, Entw.-Gesch. d. L. v. d. Person Christi, II., 1853. H. Schultz, Die L. v. d. Gottheit Christi, 1881. Gass, Symbolik d. griech. Kirche, 1872. Kattenbusch, Lehrbuch d. vergleichenden Konfessionskunde. 1 Bd., 1890. Denzinger, Ritus Orientalium, 2 Bde. 1863 f.
The first main division of the history of dogma closed with the adoption of the Logos doctrine as the central dogma of the Church, and with the accompanying revision in the East of the old formulas of the faith under the influence of philosophical theology. The testament of primitive Christianity — the Holy Scriptures — and the testament of Antiquity — Neoplatonic speculation — were intimately and, as it seemed, inseparably connected in the great Churches of the East. The system of doctrine established by the Church in the third century corresponded to the Church whose structure appeared complete in the same period. As the political powers of the Roman Empire were conserved in the Catholic Church, so also were the spiritual forces of Antiquity in its faith. Both required to be invested with divine lustre in order to live through storms and amid universal ruin.319319Tiele, Kompendium der Relig. Gesch. (German transl.), p. 283: “the Catholic Church is the secular Roman rule, modified and consecrated by Christian ideas.” But Christianity was by no means completely Hellenised in Catholicism; that is proved, if we needed proof, by the attacks of Porphyry and Julian. Undoubtedly all the institutions and ideas felt to be necessary were included in the “Apostolic tradition” to an increasing extent. But since a place had been given in that tradition to the O. T. and the written memorials of primitive Christianity, these really furnished aids to the comprehension of the Gospel, which had certainly been obscured in the “Gnosis” as well as in the “New Law”. The theology of Origen, in spite of some very earnest attacks upon it, was held in the East to be the pattern and the inexhaustible source of the theology of the Church, so far as a scientific system was desired. Even its opponents, like Methodius, could not escape its influence. From its rich store of formulas were more fully elaborated, in opposition to what was called Ebionitism and Sabellianism, those confessions which were employed in the cultus and instruction of the Church, and which, thus enriched, were then invested with some sort of Apostolic authority.320320See above, p. 47 ff., 113 ff. The West did not go. so far; yet it was perfectly defenceless against the “advances” made by the Church in the Eastern half of the Empire; for certain theological and Christological conceptions to which it also clung, made any counter-movement impossible, though many teachers, preachers, and apologists went ways of their own, and in their doctrines of Christ and salvation mixed up obsolete Christian traditions with the popular philosophy of the West. Looking to theological metaphysics as wrapped up in the official formulas of the Church, the difference was finally only one of degree. It showed itself among those less interested and scholarly, who were therefore conservative in their instincts and looked with distrust on the theology of Origen; they thought with perfect simplicity that their own formulas: “Father, Son, and Spirit; one God”, “Christ, the Logos, wisdom, and power of God”, “duæ substantiæ, una persona”, “Jesus Christ, God and man”, constituted the “faith” which needed no explanation. The element of speculative philosophy was as a rule weak in the system of religion of the West. In place of it, the West of Tertullian possessed a series of juristic “plans” which were destined to have a great future.
In spite of many far-reaching differences in their practical and theoretical interests, in spite of the development in ecclesiastical affairs, Christians in East and West felt that they belonged to one united Church. The Novatian and Samosatian controversies ultimately resulted in strengthening the consciousness of unity,321321See on this the correspondence between the oriental Bishops and Julius of Rome; Socr., H. E., II. 15; Ep. Julii ap Athan., Apolog. c. Arian, ch. 21 sq. even though a not altogether insignificant part of Christendom cast itself adrift. These controversies showed plainly that the Western and Eastern communities held substantially the same position in the world, and that both required to use the same means to maintain it. Communities everywhere adopted the character of the Church of the world. Their union preserved all the features of a political society, and, at the same time, of a disciplinary institution, equipped with sacred sanctions and dreadful punishments, in which individual independence was lost.322322See Vol. II., p. 122 f. Of course, in proportion as this confederacy of Christians adapted itself to civic, national, and political relationships, in order to maintain and strengthen itself, the integrity of the Church was most gravely imperilled, when these very relationships lost their last shreds of unity in the collapse of the Empire. Above all, the great cleavage between the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire could not fail to be prejudicial to the Church. But about the close of the third century the latter, in spite of discontent in its midst, held more firmly together than the Empire, and its unity was still maintained after the fourth century by great Emperors and influential theologians.323323Reuter, Augustinische Studien, in the Zeitschr. f. K.-Gesch. V., p. 349 ff., VI., p. 155 ff., 190.
In addition to the episcopal constitution, uniformly and strictly carried out, the common basis of the Churches was due to the recognition of the same authorities and designs, the uniform appreciation of sacramental rites, and the strong tendency to asceticism for the sake of a future life. It was, at first, too stable for the different forces which threatened to shatter the Empire, and also, in consequence, beat upon the Imperial Church. But this basis was nevertheless insufficient. It can be easily shown that the elements composing it were as incapable of guaranteeing the unity, as of protecting the Christianity, of the Church, through a prolonged period.
Among the authorities the two Testaments, combined by the evidence of prophecy and allegorical explanation, took the first, indeed, strictly speaking, a unique place. But not only was their extent not absolutely decided, but their interpretation was wholly uncertain. In addition to this, the scope to be left to the “Apostolic tradition”, i.e., the illusion of “antiquity”, and to the decision of episcopal synods, was by no means defined; for the sufficiency of Holy Scripture was placed, theoretically, beyond doubt. But where elementary wants, felt by the great majority, were to be satisfied, where a reassuring sanction was required for the advancing secularisation, men did not rack their brains, if no inconvenient monitors were in the way, to find precedents in Holy Scripture for what was novel. They went right back to the Apostles, and deduced from secret traditions what no tradition ever possessed. Huge spheres of ecclesiastical activity embracing new and extensive institutions — the reception of national customs and of the practices of heathen sects — were in this way placed under “Apostolic” sanction, without any controversy starting worth mention. This is true, e.g., of the ritual of worship and ecclesiastical discipline, “The sacred canons” or “the apostolic canons” constituted from the close of the third century, a court of appeal, which practically held the same rank as the sacred writings, and which, especially in the East, cast its protection to an increasing extent over national customs and traditional morals in the face of attacks of every kind. It is obvious that authorities so obtained were likely, in the end, to divide the Churches of the different nations.
The crudest superstition was thus consecrated by “apostolic” decrees, or legitimised, after the event, from the O. T.,324324See my Edition of the Διδαχή, Prolegg. pp. 222 ff., 239 ff. and from the middle of the third century it ascended from the lower strata of Christians to the upper, which had lost all spiritual stability. And now in the fourth century, when Church and State were fused into one, everything was assigned to the former which had ever, or anywhere been regarded as venerable or holy. As it had submitted to the Church, it demanded indulgent treatment. The religion of pure reason and of the strictest morality, the Christianity which the ancient apologists had once portrayed, had long changed into a religion of the most powerful rites, of mysterious means, and an external sanctity. The historical tradition of Christ and the founding of Christianity was turned into a romance, and this historical romance, which was interwoven with the religion, constantly received new chapters. The stream of the history of salvation ended in a waste swamp of countless and confused sacred tales, and in its course took in heathen fictions and the stories of gods and heroes. Every traditional holy rite became the centre of new sacred ceremonies, and every falling off in morality was covered by increasing the religious apparatus. The idea of forgiveness of sins was to many a cloak for frivolity and wickedness. Up to the middle of the third century, every Catholic Christian was, in all probability, a genuine monotheist. That can no longer be said of the generations who afterwards pressed into the Church. Polytheism had lost its name, indeed, but not its influence in the Church of the fourth century. Great masses preserved, in spite of their baptism, the piety to which they had been accustomed. Christian priests had to respect and adjust superstition, in order to keep the leadership in their hands, and theologians had no difficulty in finding, in the O. T. and in many views and usages of Christian antiquity, means of justifying what was most novel, alien, and absurd. Miracles were of everyday occurrence, and they were barbarous and detestable miracles, directed to meet the meanest instincts, and offensive to even moderately clear heads.325325Compare the criticism by Julian and his friends of the Christian religion and the worship paid to saints and relics, or read the writings in which Sulpicius Severus attempts to recommend Christianity to the refined society of Aquitania. We can study in the works of the historians Socrates and Sozomen the attitude of cultured Catholic Christians, after the complete triumph of the Church over paganism. Even Sozomen cannot be regarded as having reached the stage of the “dry tree,” and yet into what a superstition the Christian faith is transformed in his pages! We see how paganism thrust itself into worship, in — to quote a well-known instance — August. Confess. VI. 2 ff. Let us, above all, remember that from the beginning of the fourth century special chapels and churches were built to the different saints. The saints took the place of the local deities; their festivals of the old provincial services of the gods. We have just begun to investigate the transformation of heathen tales of gods and heroes into legends of the saints, and ancient light literature has contributed its quota in works of travel and adventure by land and sea. These researches promise, if instituted critically and soberly, to give interesting results; yet I doubt if the state of our materials will admit of confident conclusions. Besides the worship of the saints, the cultus of the Emperor threatened in the fourth century to intrude itself into the Church. Philostorgius relates (H. E. II. 17) that Christians presented offerings to the picture of Constantine, and honoured it with lanterns and incense; they also seem to have offered vota to him that they might be protected from calamities. The Christian religion threatened to become a new paganism;326326Besides the worship of saints, martyrs, and relics, we have to notice the new forms of faith in demons. It would be impossible to believe more sincerely in demons than Christians did in the second century. But that age was yet ignorant of the fantastic tricks with them, which almost turned Christendom into a society of deceived deceivers. (The expression was first applied to Christians by Plotinus: see Vita Plot. by Porphyrius 16: ἐξηπάτων καὶ αὐτοὶ ἠπατημένοι). When we reflect that the Vita Antonii was written by an Athanasius, nothing can again surprise us. Spiritualism with all its absurdity, which we are once more conversant with in the nineteenth century, had long been familiar in heathen circles, and then, as now, it was connected with religious ideas on the one hand, and physical experiments and speculations on the other. It forced its way into the Church, in spite of all protests, from the third, still more, however, from the fourth century, after it had long been wide-spread in “Gnostic circles.” As a religious phenomenon it signified a renaissance of the lowest forms of religion. But even the most enlightened minds could not keep clear of it. Augustine proves this. while, at the same time, making shipwreck of its own unity and common character. For even if priests and theologians were always to be in a position to keep the reins in their hands, dissolution threatened the one undivided Church which girt the Empire, if the local rites, customs, usages of men were consecrated as Christian in every province, and might establish themselves without any decided counterpoise.
But where was such a counterpoise to be found? In the constitution? That was indeed a firm structure, binding Christendom strongly together; but even it presented sides on which the centrifugal forces, destructive of unity, found entrance. Love of rule and ambition were encouraged by the episcopal chair. And when the danger of dismemberment into independent bishoprics was met by a rigid metropolitan leadership, the way was opened up to that lofty ambition which desired the first place and the highest influence in the province, and which sought to domineer over the civil powers and to master neighbouring provinces. The Patriarchs and Metropolitans who — to use an expression of Socrates — played at being “hereditary lords” (Dynastai) no longer protected, but undermined the unity of the Church. The great Bishops of Rome and Alexandria, who sought to rule over the Church in order to preserve its unity and independence, entangled themselves in an ambitious policy, and produced division. The Emperors were really patrons of unity, and the supreme means at their disposal, the Œcumenical Synod, was their contrivance; in all cases it was a political institution, invented by the greatest of politicians, a two-edged sword which protected the endangered unity of the Church at the price of its independence.
But was not the bond of unity, the common ground, to be found in the common ideal, in the certain hope of a future life, and in asceticism? This bond was assuredly a strong one. The Church would hardly have succeeded in following out the free path opened up to it by Constantine had it not had in its midst, besides its transcendent promises, a power to which all, Greek and barbarian, polytheist and monotheist, learned and unlearned required ultimately, if reluctantly, to bow. And that power was the asceticism which culminated in monachism. The ancient world had arrived, by all the routes of its complicated development, at the bitterest criticism of and disgust at its own existence; but in no other faith was religion itself as effectively combined with asceticism, in none did the latter come so powerfully to the front, yet in none did it submit itself so pliably to Church government, as in Catholicism. A religion comprehended in a mere sacramental communion could not have gained the allegiance of the more clear-sighted and earnest. One that imposed on all, as an inalienable duty, the perfect fulfilment of the positive moral law, could not have held its ground. One that commanded all alike to renounce the world would have closed the world against it. But a religion which graded its members as priests, monks, and laity, embraced a threefold piety of initiated, perfect, and novices, and succeeded in the hardest task of all, that of reconciling priest with monk,327327The order of the monks had to pass through crises and conflicts before it was able to establish itself side by side with, and to influence a secularised priesthood; we possess the key to this struggle in the East in the writings of the forger who composed the Apostolic constitutions and the longer recension of the Ignatian Epistles; in the West in the works, written from the opposite standpoint, of Sulpicius, as also in those of Jerome, Augustine, and the Gallican authors of the fifth century. Compare Hauck, K.-Gesch. Deutschlands, I., p. 49 ff. The order of the monks was imported into the West. It was not till about the middle of the fifth century that its opponents, inside and outside the ranks of the clergy, were silenced. For a time — at the end of the fourth century — it was in danger of being included in the condemnation of the Ascetics who held dualistic views. and of admitting the layman to a share in the blessings of both, was superior to all others, and possessed in its organisation, generally established, a strong bond of association.
Protestants at the present day can hardly form a conception of the hold which asceticism possessed over the mind in the fourth and fifth centuries, or of the manner in which it influenced imagination, thought, and the whole of life. At bottom only a single point was dealt with, abstinence from sexual relationships; everything else was secondary; for he who had renounced these, found nothing hard. Renunciation of the servile yoke of sin (servile peccati iugum discutere) was the watchword of Christians, and an extraordinary unanimity prevailed as to the meaning of this watchword, whether we turn to the Coptic porter or the learned Greek teacher, to the Bishop of Hippo, or Jerome, the Roman presbyter, or the biographer of Saint Martin. Virginity was the specifically Christian virtue, and the essence of all virtues: in this conviction the meaning of the evangelical law was summed up.328328The Fathers of the fourth century could not proceed so consistently as Hieracas (see Vol. III., p. 98, n. 5) since they had to sanction the “lower” morality in the Church. The Eustathians who condemned marriage — see the decrees of the Synod of Gangra in Hefele, Concil. Gesch., I. 2, p. 777 ff. — were therefore opposed. But the numerous tractates “De virginitate” show how near the great Fathers of the Church came to the Eustathian view. We can hardly point to one who did not write on the subject. And the same thing is, above all, proved by Jerome’s polemic against Jovinian, in spite of its limitation, in the Ep. (48) ad Pammachium. For the rest, Augustine did not differ from Jerome. His Confessions are pervaded by the thought that he alone can enjoy peace with God who renounces all sexual intercourse. Like Hieracas, Ambrose celebrated virginity as the real novelty in Christian morality; see De virginibus, I. 3 sq.: “Since the Lord wrapped himself in a bodily form, and consummated the marriage of deity with humanity, without the shadow of a stain, he has infused poor frail men with heavenly life over the whole globe. That is the race which the angels symbolised when they came to serve the Lord in the wilderness . . . That is the heavenly host which on that holy Christmas the exulting choirs of angels promised to the earth. We have the testimony of antiquity therefore from the beginning of time, but complete submission only since the word became flesh. This virtue is, in fact, our exclusive possession. The heathens had it not; it is not practised by the still uncivilised barbarians; there are no other living creatures among whom it is to be found. We breathe the same air as they do, we share in all the conditions of an earthly life, we are not distinguished from them in birth, and so we only escape from the miseries of a nature otherwise similar to theirs through the virgin chastity, which, apparently extolled by the heathens, is yet, even if placed under the patronage of religion, outraged by them, which is persecuted by the barbarians, and is known to no other creatures.” Compare with this Chrysostom’s tractate on the state of virginity. Much thought was given after the middle of the fourth century to the relation of priest and monk, especially by those who wished to be monks and had to be priests. The virgin state (of the monks) was held by the earnest to be the easier and safer, the priestly condition the more perilous and responsible; yet in many respects it was regarded as also loftier, because the priest consummated the holy sacrifice and had to wield authority (Chrysostom de sacerdotio, esp. VI. 6-8 and III. 4-6, VI. 4). But the danger to which priests and bishops were subject of becoming worldly, was felt, not only by men like Gregory of Nasianzus and Chrysostom, but by countless earnest-minded Christians. A combination of the priestly (episcopal) office and professional asceticism was therefore early attempted and carried out. But not only did the evangelical law culminate in virginity, but to it also belonged all promises. Methodius’ teaching that it prepared the soul to be the bride of Christ, was from the fourth century repeated by everyone. Virginity lies at the root of the figure of bridegoom (Christ) and bride (the soul) which is constantly recurring in the greatest teachers of East and West, and it is the key to the corresponding exposition of the Song of Songs, in which often appear a surprising religious individualism and an impassioned love of Christ.329329See Vols. II., p. 294, III., p. 109. The allegory of the soul of the Gnostic as the bride received its first lofty treatment in the Valentinian school. Thence Origen got it. The sources drawn upon by later writers were Origen’s homilies and commentary on the Song of Songs (Lommatzsch. XIV., p. 233 sq.): the prologue of the latter in Rufinus begins with the words: “Epithalamium libellus hic, id est, nuptiale carmen, dramatis in modum mihi videtur a Salomone conscriptus, quem cecinit instar nubentis sponsæ, et erga sponsum suum, qui est sermo dei, cœlesti amore flagrantis. Adamavit enim eum, sive anima, quæ ad imaginem eius facta est, sive ecclesia.” Jerome, who has translated the book, says that Origen surpassed himself in it. Methodius’ writing “Convivium” in which the same thought often occurs, was also much read. The purest and most attractive form of the conception in the East appears in Gregory of Nyssa; see e.g., his homilies on the Song of Songs, and his description of the life of Macrina (Ed. Oehler, 1858, p. 172 sq.); we read p. 210 sq.: Διὰ τοῦτό μοι δοκεῖ τὸν θεῖον ἐκεῖνον καὶ καθαρὸν ἔρωτα τοῦ ἀοράτου νυμφίου. ὃν ἐγκεκρυμμένον εἶχεν ἐν τοῖς τῆς ψυχῆς ἀπορρήτοις τρεφόμενον, ἔνδηλον ποιεῖν τότε τοῖς παροῦσι καὶ δημοσιεύειν τὴν ἐν καρδίᾳ διάθεσιν, τὸ ἐπείγεσθαι πρὸς τὸν ποθούμενον, ὡς ἄν διὰ τάχους σὺν αὐτῷ γένοιτο τῶν δεσμῶν ἐκλυθεῖσα τοῦ σῶματος. Besides Gregory we have to mention Macarius with his “Spiritual Homilies” (Migne T. XXXIV.; see Floss, Macarii Aegypt. epp. etc., 1850, German translation by Jocham, Kempten, 1878); compare especially the 15th homily which contains already the figure, repeated a hundred times afterwards, of the soul as the poor maiden who possesses nothing but her own body and whom the heavenly bridegroom loves. If she worthily cherishes chastity and love for him, then she becomes mistress of all the treasures of her Lord, and her transfigured body itself shares in his divinity. Further, Hom. IV., ch. 6 sq., 14 sq. Compare also Ep. 2. “A soul which has cast aside the ignominy of its outward form, which is no longer ruled by shameful thoughts or violated by evil desires, has manifestly become a partner of the heavenly bridegroom; for henceforth it has only one requirement. Stung by love to him it demands and, to speak boldly, longs for the immediate fulfilment of a spiritual and mysterious union that it may enter the indissoluble embrace of communion in sanctification.” See Cyril Catech. III., ch. 16; καὶ γένοιτο πάντας ὑμᾶς ἀμώμως τῷ νοητῷ νυμφίῳ παραστάντας κ.τ.λ. Before this: ἡ γὰρ πρότερον δούλη ψυχὴ νῦν ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτὸν τὸν δεσπότην ἐπεγράψατο, ὃς τὴν ἀνυπόκριτον ἀποδεχόμενος προαίρεσιν ἐπιφωνήσει· Ἰδοὺ εἶ καλὴ ἡ πλησίον μου, ἰδοὺ εἶ καλή· ὀδόντες σου ὡς ἀγέλαι τῶν κεκαρμένων (Cantic. 4, 1) διὰ τὴν εὐσυνείδητον ὁμολογίαν. We can point to very few Greek Fathers in whom the figure does not occur. All the greater is the contrast presented by the depreciatory verdict of Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Song of Songs (Kihn, Theodor v. M. 1880, p. 69 f.). It may be expressly noticed, besides, that Clement of Alex. as well as Methodius and Macarius had already transferred the figure of the bride to the married woman. Indeed, Macarius was conscious that he was acting boldly in doing so. Western nuns and monks were distinguished by lavishing those sexual feelings which were forbidden them on Christ (and Mary). Ambrose especially taught the West the conception of the soul as the bride of Christ; while Augustine was, apart from a few passages, more reserved, and Jerome wanted strength in sentiment and language. Not only in Ambrose’s tractate “De Isaac et anima”, really a commentary on the Song of Songs, but in innumerable passages in his works — even when it is least expected, as in the consolatory discourse on Valentinian’s death (ch. 59 sq.) — the idea of a special tie between the virgin soul and Christ comes to the front. But Ambrose gave it a colouring of his own due to the deep sentiment of a great man, and his peculiar faculty of giving a warm expression to his personal love of Christ (see also Prudentius); compare passages like De pœnit. II. 8. We cannot appreciate too highly the important influence exerted on after times, and first on Augustine, by Ambrose’s expression of his personal religion. The light that dawned in Augustine’s confessions already shone from the works of Ambrose, and it was the latter, not the former, who conducted western piety to the specific love of Christ. On the mysticism of Macarius, who was in many respects allied to these western Christians, compare also the details in Förster (in the Jahrb. f. deutsche Theol. 1873, p. 439 f.). Bigg (the Christian Platonists of Alex., p. 188 f.) has very rightly seen that Origen’s homilies on the Song of Songs were at the root of Christian mysticism: “This book gave welcome expression to what after the triumph of Athanasius was the dominant feeling, and redeemed in some degree the name of its author, damaged by his supposed inclination to Arianism. And thus Origen, the first pioneer in so many fields of Christian thought, the father in one of his many aspects of the English Latitudinarians, became also the spiritual ancestor of Bernard, the Victorines, and the author of the De Imitatione, of Tauler, and Molinos and Mme. de Guyon.”
But the ascetic ideal did not succeed in establishing itself, especially in the West, without severe conflicts, and it concealed within it dangers to the Church. Asceticism threatened to become an end in itself, and to depart from the historical foundation of the Christian religion. When the Church authorised the Christianity of ‘the perfect’, it really declared the great mass of its divine and apostolic institutions to be mere apparatus, meaningless to him who had resolved to renounce the world, and to prepare for eternity. Those settlers in Egypt, who sought to obtain redemption by torturing themselves, in the end imperilled religion not less than the great crowds who simply submitted to certain sacramental observances, and with the approval of the priests dragged into Christianity whatever pleased them. It was possible, and in fact the danger was imminent, for the ascetic ideal to lose any assured connection with Jesus Christ. Asceticism had also been proclaimed indeed by Greek science. But in that case the common character of religion disappeared; for a merely negative ideal of life, which at the same time was without a close dependence on history, could not form a lasting bond of connection among men.
Our information is exceptionally bad, and not from accident, as to the internal state of the Church, at the time when Constantine chose it to be the support of the Empire. But what we know is enough to establish the fact that the internal solidity by no means corresponded to the external. We may with greater propriety affirm that the Churches of the East were in danger of relapsing into worldliness, and that not only in the form of worldly modes of action.330330Church history has at this point in its investigations to collect the numerous data which prove how deeply members of the Church had become involved in heathen polytheistic morals, usages, customs, and conceptions, how strong reliance on sacred witchcraft, amulets, and sacramental vehicles had grown, and how far stability and peace of heart and mind had been lost. For the latter we can especially compare Eusebius (H. E. VIII. 1), (further the epitaph of Damasus on Euseb. the Roman Bishop, in Duchesne, Le liber Pontificalis, Tom. I., 1885, p. 167); of a later date, Cyril, Catech. 15, ch. 7. As regards syncretism, see the work on the Egyptian mysteries (ed. Parthey). The peril went deeper. Theology, the power which, as matters then were, could alone give an energetic protection to the distinctive character of religion, was at the point of dissolving it and abandoning it to the world.
We have already described in this volume the state of Eastern theology at the beginning of the fourth century. Conceptions of the faith which began and ended with the historical personality of Jesus Christ were equally condemned with the attempts, whether unstudied or philosophical, to identify the Person of Jesus with the Deity.331331See the short disclaimers in the fourth Catechism of Cyril of Jerusalem, (ch. 7. 8): Οὐχ, ὥς τινες ἐνόμισαν, ὁ υἱὸς μετὰ τὸ πάθος στεφανωθεὶς ὥσπερ ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ διὰ τὴν ὑπομονὴν ἔλαβε τὸν ἐν δεξιᾷ θρόνον, ἀλλ᾽ ἀφ᾽ οὗπέρ ἐστιν ἔχει τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀξίωμα . . . Μήτε ἀπαλλοτριώσης τοῦ πατρὸς τὸν υἱόν, μήτε συναλοιφὴν ἐργασάμενος υἱοπατρίαν πιστεύσῃς.. Further, the 11th Catechism. So also Athanasius steadily disavows the heresy of the Adoptians as well as of the Sabellians. The realistic and eclectic theology of Irenaæus had probably very few defenders in the West. The theology of the Apologists had triumphed, and all thinkers stood under the influence of Origen. But the genius of this great man was too powerful for the Epigoni. The importance of his system lay in a threefold direction: first, in the sharp distinction between Pistis and Gnosis, which he kept apart, and connected only by unity of aim; secondly, in the abundant material in his speculations, the conservatism that he showed in inweaving all that was valuable, and the balance which he knew how to preserve between the different factors of his system, relating them all to one’ uniform aim; thirdly, in the Biblical impress which he gave his theology by strict adherence to the text of Holy Scripture. In all these respects the Epigoni introduced changes. The most important in its consequences was the mingling of Pistis and Gnosis, of faith and theology. Origen had not published his system, in which the faith of the Church was reconciled with science, as Church doctrine. To him the distinction between the faith of the Church and the science of faith remained fixed. But in the next period — following the precedent of Methodius332332See Vol. III, p. 103. and opposing Basil’s principle — it was thought necessary to identify them. Reactionary and progressive tendencies met in these efforts. The Pistis (faith) was supplied with the formulas of Origen’s theology, and Gnosis was to stop short at certain tenets of tradition, and to receive them without revision. The point was to find a new medium which should be at once tradition and speculation, Pistis and Gnosis. This endeavour was undoubtedly justified by an actual change accomplished before this and promoted by Origen himself, viz., the incorporation of the doctrine of the Logos in the faith of “the simple.” These simple Christians already possessed a dogma which was shaped by exegesis and speculation, and confronted them as an external authority, a law of faith. This creation had forced its way from the circumference of the ecclesiastical system into its centre. Besides, the sharp distinction between a traditional doctrine of the Church and a science of religion contradicted the whole ecclesiastical tradition as established in the fight with Gnosticism. But the intermingling at first produced a kind of stagnation. It threat. ened to make faith lose its certainty, speculation its reasoning power, and the Church the unity of its confession. If we review the new religious formulas, which were brought into circulation about the year 300, and if we compare the theologies of the period — which unfortunately we only know in part — the theologies, namely, of the Alexandrian teachers, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Lucian, Methodius, Hieracas etc., we see a wealth of forms which, if blood-relations, are extremely different. How could the unity of the Church continue under their sway? and if it continued, was it Christianity after all that furnished the common element?
And this has brought us to the second point Origen had recognised the full significance of the historical Christ for the stage of Pistis; while he directed the Gnostic to the eternal Logos. Now uncertainties arose here also. The historical Christ threatened to fall entirely into the background. We can observe this in the works of two of the Epigoni, which have no affinity to each other. Gregory Thaumaturgus has in his famous Symbol dealt only with the Logos “apart from the flesh” (λόγος ἄσαρκος),333333See Vol. III., p. 1157 the words run: εἷς κύριος, μόνος ἐκ μόνου, Θεὸς ἐκ Θεοῦ, χαρακτὴρ καὶ εἰκὼν τῆς θεότητος, λόγος ἐνεργός, σοφία τῆς τῶν ὅλων συστάσεως περιεκτικὴ καὶ δύναμις τῆς ὅλης κτίσεως ποιητική, υἱὸς ἀληθινὸς ἀληθινοῦ πατρός, ἀόρατος ἀοράτου καὶ ἄφθαρτος ἀφθάρτου καὶ ἀθάνατος ἀθανάτου καὶ ἀΐδιος ἀϊδίου.. and Methodius intended to declare the loftiest truth when he demanded that Christ should be born in every man ‘consciously’ (νοητῶς), and that each must become a Christ by participation in Christ.334334See Vol. III., p. 110. Further, in Origen the cosmological and soteriological interests balanced each other. We recognise this in his formulas which relate to the Logos. But here also a displacement was introduced, one that favoured cosmology. The word Ὁμοούσιος (consubstantial) was, indeed, retained by some, perhaps by many theologians; but as it was in itself ambiguous, so also it was no evidence of an interest in soteriology. The crowd of rhetorical and philosophical predicates heaped upon the Logos, did not serve to illustrate and establish the significance of the Logos as the principal factor in redemption; it was rather a term for the reason and order reigning in the universe, and for the spiritual forces with which humanity had been gifted. Men indeed held firmly, on all hands, to the incarnation; nay, it was regarded, as is proved by the great work of Theognostus, as being, next to the doctrine of the creation of matter, the feature that distinguished the speculation of the Church from that of the Neo-platonists. But the whole stress was laid on the question, what idea was to be formed of the constitution of the subject of which incarnation was predicated. A great school, that of Lucian of Antioch, distinguished, in the manner of Paul of Samosata, between wisdom proper, eternal, existent in God, and a created wisdom or Logos; and identified the latter alone with the incarnate Son — ‘wisdom arose through wisdom according to the will of the wise God’. But in drawing this line, not only was the incarnation of the Deity rendered impossible, but every form of His personal activity on earth. The theological interest in Christ threatened to resolve itself entirely into cosmology and morality, or, as in Methodius, to be deprived of its meaning by a mystical alloy.
The liberty which theology enjoyed in the East up to the beginning of the fourth century, and the influence which it exerted on the Church in the same period, could not but produce complete confusion and loss of meaning. All the elements united by Origen in his vast system sought to establish them. selves independently. Even tritheistic tendencies were not wanting; but, above all, the idea of a subordinate God and semidivine beings began to be familiar. The idea of the subordinate God is indeed as old as the theology of the Christian Church; even the Apologists shared it, and Origen, with all caution, adopted and justified it in working out his doctrine of the Son. But in the earlier period the simplices et rudes (the simple and uncultured) were still startled at the suggestion; theologians provided the idea with strong safe-guards, and Origen himself, who in many points bordered on Polytheism, on the other hand restored the Logos to the being of God, and united Father and Son as closely as possible. But opposition to ‘Sabellianism’ evidently rendered a later age much more careless. And it is indubitable that the idea of the created God, the God who came into being, coalesced with ancient polytheistic inclinations. The claims of Monotheism were considered to be satisfied by the effort to protect the supreme Deity, as against Modalism,. from change and plurality; and the Logos and other beings entitled to worship were suffered calmly to spring up side by side with God; they could not, it was presumed, endanger Monotheism, because they belonged to the domain of the created. Add that theologians dealt in their speculations with a plethora of philosophical categories destitute of a fixed impress, or fixed value;335335See Vol. III, p. 102. further, that this terminology, unsifted and uncontrolled, everywhere forced its way into the faith of the community, and we can form a conception of the danger which hovered over the Church. We find a Monotheism which did not exclude polytheism, a Logos-Christ, who, as a cosmological quantity, was of shifting nature and origin, ideas of the incarnation and redemption as designed to “enlighten” the human race, and to effect an incarnation of God in every individual soul. All this, too, was clothed in a rank growth of artificial philosophical expressions, identical with that used in contemporary science. And we may well ask whether such a theology was in a condition to protect even the scanty remains of the evangelic tradition, above all, at the moment when the partition between State and Church was torn down and the Church was brought face to face with its greatest task. A deism — if the term may be allowed — was at hand, surrounded by the shifting forms of a speculation which had neither a settled boundary nor an assured object. It almost seemed as if the special characteristics of the Christian religion were to be reduced to the evidence of antiquity and prophecy, what Porphyry called ‘foreign fables’. Yet even Scriptural proof was no longer everywhere called for and given with the zeal so noticeable in Origen; although it was just the school of Lucian which neglected it least. But what could Scripture avail against the method? If a Bishop so capable and learned, and so well versed in tradition as Eusebius of Caesarea was satisfied in his Christology with the formulas we read there, if he could praise the religious edicts and manifestoes of his Emperor, though they substantially celebrated “God in nature”, as brilliant specimens of his Christian conviction, we must conclude that the Logos doctrine settled in the Church was the strongest means of completely effacing the figure of the historical Christ, and of resolving everything into mist.336336On Eusebius’ Christology see Dorner, Lehre v. d. Person Christi, I. (1845) p. 792 ff. Lee, on the Theophan. 1843, Preliminary Dissert. The Christology of Euseb. is that of the ancient apologists, approximating in its terms to Neoplatonic speculations and richer in its phases on account of the many antitheses. In spite of his dependence on Origen, Euseb. was chary of receiving all the ideas and predicates which the former applied to the Son and to which orthodoxy afterwards appealed. That is of consequence. Euseb. was more convinced than Origen that the idea of deity was completely exhausted in that of the strictly one and unchangeable ὄν the πρώτη οὐσία; he separated the δεύτερος Θεός much further from God than the Apologists; see Zahn, Marcell., p. 37 f. Even the rationalist, who in his study of the history of religions always follows with sympathy the progress to ‘natural’ religion, would require to restrain his sympathy here. For the pure religion of humanity could not have resulted from this development, but one that was wholly indefinite, and therefore capable of being influenced from any quarter, one in whose centre was throned that hollow and helpless figment of thought, the ὄν, the πρώτη οὐσία (being-primal being). And men would have gone on proclaiming this religion to be Christianity, simply because they possessed in Holy Scripture the means of proving it, and of dating it back to the beginning of the world as the universal religion. And they would have adopted sacred media, charms, and intermediary powers more and more boldly, because they were incapable of understanding and applying either to God or to Jesus Christ the tradition that God redeemed men through Jesus Christ.
The Bishops and theologians in the East about A.D. 320, whose
views were similar to those of Eusebius, had on their side the strongest power to
be found in an ecclesiastical communion — tradition: they were the conservatives.
Conservative theology, the theology that took its stand on Origen, limited the idea
of Deity to the primal being (πρώτη οὐσία), inoperative and really incapable of
being revealed, i.e., to the Father. It accordingly ignored the Logos and Christ
in determining the conception of God. Further, it deduced, like the Neoplatonists,
a second or third Ousia (being) from the first, and adorned the Logos created by
the will of the Father with the loftiest, yet vacillating, predicates. It taught
the incarnation of the Logos, and celebrated its result, yet once more in indefinite,
in high-sounding and meaningless, Biblical phrases. Finally, it subordinated everything
spiritual and moral to the thought of free-will and human independence. Any attempt
at precision could not fail, on this domain, to be regarded as an innovation. Anything
might establish itself as long as it did not claim to be exclusive.337337Gwatkin says very justly in
Studies of Arianism (1882), p. 52: “In fact Christendom as a whole was neither
Arian nor Nicene. If the East was not Nicene, neither was it Arian, but
conservative: and if the West was not Arian, neither was it Nicene, but
conservative also. Conservatism, however, had different meanings in East and West.” In the East it was considered
conservative to uphold the formulas of Origen strengthened against Sabellianism.
On the doctrine of the Logos and Christ in Origen Bigg says very truly (The Christian
Platonists of Alex., p. 182): “What struck later ages as the novelty and audacity
of Origen’s doctrine was in truth its archaism and conservatism.” There never did exist
in the Church a general tendency to form new dogmas — the terms ‘new’ and ‘dogma’
are mutually exclusive; least of all did it exist in the East; there was either
indifference to philosophical speculation, or a desire that it should have liberty,
or it was regarded with suspicion. For the
rest, men reverenced in the cultus the mystery, i.e., the complex
of formulas whose origin had already become obscure.338338 When theology is engaged in forming dogmas, it has never, as is really self-evident,
enjoyed the sympathy of any large section in the Church. There is nothing to support
the contention that the Christian Church passed through a period — from Origen up
to the Synod of Chalcedon or A.D. 431 — during which there prevailed universally,
or even to a great extent, a supreme interest in the abstract form of the contents
of Religion, and an effort, with all the means at hand, to expound it as exactly
as possible. The great mass of Bishops, monks, and laity, were then wholly occupied
in satisfying themselves with what had been given. This was the highest demand of
the Catholic religion itself, which presupposed the “Apostolic” as its foundation,
which called everything else “heresy” (νεωτερισμός), and as an institution for
worship) did not permit changes. Undoubtedly, the period from Origen, or say, from
Athanasius up to the Ephesian Council, appears unique in the history of the Church.
But that was an episode enacted in opposition to the great body of Christians, and
the theological leaders themselves, in proportion to their piety, conceived their
task to be compulsory, dangerous, and ensnaring them in guilt. To prove the former
read Socrates’ Church History (see my discussion in Herzog R. E., Vol. XIV. p. 408
ff.). This man was, on the one hand, orthodox at every point, on the other, an enthusiastic
partisan of Ἑλληνικὴ παιδεία, full of veneration for the great Origen and his
science, which he held was to be fostered continually. But the production of dogma
by scientific theology was repugnant to him in every sense, i.e., he accused and
execrated dogmatic controversies as much in the interest of a dogma fixed once for
all as in that of science. The Nicene Symbol belonged sufficiently to the past to
be accepted by him as holy and apostolical; but beyond this every new formula seemed
to Socrates, pernicious, the controversies sometimes fights in the dark (nyktomachies),
sometimes an outflow of deceptive sophistry and ambitious rivalry: σιωπῇ
τὸ ἄρρητον, i.e., the mystery of the trinity. Had Socrates lived 100 years earlier,
he would not have been a Nicene, but a Eusebian Christian. He therefore passes very
liberal judgments on, and can make excuses for, the latest “heretics”, i.e., theologians
who have been recently refuted by the Church. In this he stood by no means alone.
Others, even at a later date, went still further. Compare Evagrius (H. E. I. 11)
whose argument recalls Orig. c. Cels. III. 12.
Dogma has been created by the small number of theologians who sought for precise notions, in the endeavour to make clear the characteristic meaning of the Christian religion (Athanasius, Apollinaris, Cyril). That these notions, separated from their underlying thought, fell into the hands of ambitious ecclesiastical politicians, that the latter excited the fanaticism of the ignorant in their support, and that the final decision was often due to motives which had nothing to do with the case, is admittedly undeniable. But the theologians are not therefore to blame, who opposed in the Church a lazy contentment with mystery, or an unlimited pursuit of scientific speculation. Their effort to make clear the essence of Christianity, as they understood it, and at the same time to provide a λογικὴ λατρεία, was rather, next to the zealous order of monks with whom they were intimately connected, the sole great feature in the epoch. They set themselves to stem the vis inertiæ of the pious, and with the highest success. When indolence in the end held the field, an important result had at any rate been attained. The period from Athanasius till about the middle of the fifth century was in many respects the brilliant epoch of theology in the Church. Not even the age of Scholasticism can compare with it. That the work of the theologians became faith according to the Church — a thing Origen never thought of — involved its strength and weakness alike. The fanaticism of the masses for dogmatic and philosophical catch-words — see the amusing narrative of Gregory of Nyssa, Opp. ed. Paris, 1638, T. III. p. 466 — affords no information as to the measure of their comprehension; for the dogmatic catch-word is merely a fetish in wide circles.
Nevertheless, there probably never was a time in the East when a reaction did not exist against the development of the Logos doctrine towards complete separation of the Son from the Father.339339Origen’s doctrine of subordination was felt in the West simply to constitute ditheism; see Vol. III., p. 89 ff. It sprang not only from Modalists, but also from disciples of Origen, and it celebrated at Nicæa an amazingly rapid triumph. In opposition to a school which had ventured too far forward, and had embroidered the doctrines of Paul of Samosata with questionable tenets of Origen, the term Ὁμοούσιος, once banned at Antioch, was successfully elevated to the dignity of the watchword of faith.
The importance of this rapid triumph for the history of dogma cannot be rated too highly. But procured as it was by the Emperor, the victory would have been resultless, had it not been for the man whose biography coincides with the history of dogma of the fourth century — Athanasius.
The second division of the history of dogma, the account of its development, opens with Athanasius, but his conception of the faith also dominated following centuries. Augustine alone surpassed him in importance; for Augustine was an Origen and Athanasius in one — and he was still more.340340See Ranke, Weltgeschichte Vol. IV. 1, p. 307: “Augustine’s system is, if I mistake not, the second that arose in the Church; it set aside the peculiar characteristics of the first, that of Origen, and then made good its position.” We can only admit that it held its ground in a modified sense. In fact we see here a parallel of the highest significance in the history of the world. The Church has produced two fundamental systems, Origen’s and Augustine’s. But the history of theology in the East is the history of the setting aside of Origen’s system, and the same is to be said of the Augustinian in the Catholic West. Only the procedure in the East was more thorough-going and open than in the West. In the former Origen was condemned, in the latter Augustine was constantly celebrated as the greatest Doctor ecclesiæ. In both cases, however, the rejection of the theological system caused the loss of a coherent and uniform Christian conception of the world. However, the future course of history has yet to decide whether Athanasius’ thought will not in the end live longer than the conceptions of Augustine. At the present day at least Augustine is given up sooner than Athanasius in the Churches.
But it is really not permissible to compare these great men. Augustine was a loftier genius, a man of inexhaustible wealth of ideas and sentiment; Athanasius’ greatness consisted in reduction, in the energy with which, from a multitude of divergent speculations claiming to rest on tradition, he gave exclusive validity to those in which the strength of religion then lay. Augustine opened up a new view of the highest blessings and of human nature in the Church, he scattered a thousand germs for the future; Athanasius, like every reformer, reduced, he first secured a sphere of its own to the Christian religion on the soil, already won, of Greek speculation, and he referred everything to the thought of redemption. Augustine invented a new speculation, and the fascinating language of the deepest religious feeling, beyond which changed times and manners seem unable to go; Athanasius was unable to put forward either gifts of speculation or of eloquence on behalf of the thought in which he lived. His strength arose out of his conviction and his office.
Athanasius was a reformer, though not in the highest sense of the word. Behind and beside him existed a speculation which led on a shoreless sea, and the ship was in danger of losing its helm.341341It might seem as if we ought to grant the same credit to Arius of having reduced and given fixity to vacillating and divergent speculations. But apart from the contents and value of his doctrine, Arius was always disposed to make concessions, and as semi-opponents defended him, so he unhesitatingly accepted half friends for complete allies. This very fact proves, however, that he would never have succeeded in clearing up the position. He grasped the rudder. We may compare the situation with that in which Luther found himself when confronting the mediæval Church and Scholasticism. It was not for a word, or a formula,342342Athanasius always made a sparing use of the catch-word Ὁμοούσιος in his works. The formula was not sacred to him, but only the cause which he apprehended and established under cover of the formula. His conduct at the Synod of Alexandria shows that he laid no stress on words. For his theology he needed no Creed. The existence of one in the Nicene was valuable to him, but he was far from worshipping Symbols. While many of his friends sought support in the authority of the formula, he sought and found it solely in the cause. that he was concerned, but a crucial thought of his faith, the redemption and raising of humanity to divine life through the God-man. It was only from the certainty that the divinity manifest in Jesus Christ possessed the nature of the Deity (unity of being) and was for this reason alone in a position to raise us to divine life, that faith was to receive its strength, life its law, and theology its direction. But Athanasius in thus giving the chief place to faith in the God-man who alone delivers from death and sin, furnished practical piety, then almost exclusively to be found in monkish asceticism, with its loftiest motive. To speak briefly, this combined as closely as possible the Ὁμοούσιος (consubstantial), which guaranteed the deification of human nature, with monkish asceticism, and raised the latter from its still under-ground or, at least, insecure realm to the public life of the Church. While fighting against the phrase the created Logos (λόγος-κτίσμα) as heathen and as a denial of the power of the Christian religion, he at the same time as strenuously opposed worldly pursuits. He subordinated Scripture, tradition, and theology to the thought that the Redeemer was God by nature, but he also strove to work out the Christian life which received its motive from close communion with the God-Christ,343343Bigg (l. c., p. 188) has very rightly called attention to the high value attached by orthodox Fathers after Athanasius’ triumph to the Song of Songs in Origen’s exposition. and the prospect of being invested both the divine nature. If we would do justice to Athanasius, both these facts must be kept in mind. He became the father of Catholic orthodoxy and the patron of ecclesiastical monachism, and that he never would have been, had he not also set the practical ideal of the piety of the time ‘on the candlestick’.344344See the Vita Anton. of Athanasius and Gregory of Naz., Orat. 21. It is noteworthy that Paul of Samosata and the Eusebians were worldly Christians. On the other hand, the puritanism of Arius is, of course, famous.
There is here nothing new in the common sense of the word; Athanasius had really on his side, the best part of the tradition of the Church, to which he also appealed. Irenæus had already given the central place to the object, nature, and accomplishment of redemption in the categories: Logos, incarnation, Godman, deification, and sons of God. Athanasius could refer to a series of ideas in Origen and other Alexandrian catechists in support of his distinctive treatment of the Logos doctrine. New alone was the fact, the energy and exclusiveness of his view and action at a time when everything threatened to undergo dissolution.
Athanasius was no scientific theologian in the strict sense of the term; from theology he descended to piety, and found the exact word required. A man of authority, and attached to the tradition of his school, he was not in a position to disentangle the problem from the context in which the Apologists and Origen had set it. He was a disciple of Origen, but his attitude first to Marcellus, and then to the recent defenders of Ὁμοούσιος, the Cappadocians, proves that he was as destitute of scientific interest in a philosophical theory of life, as of the obstinacy of theologians. He had to deal with that which transcended theology. He was the first to raise to honour in the Church in all its force the old maxim that we must think of Christ as God (ὡς περὶ θεοῦ), and therefore he paved the way for the new principle, that we must think of God as in Christ (ὡς ἐν Χριστῷ).
In this he stood aloof from the rational thought of his time. While admitting its premises, he added an element, which neutral speculation was incapable of assimilating completely. Nothing certainly was more unintelligible to it, than the assumption of an essential unity of the quiescent and the active Deity. Athanasius fixed a gulf between the Logos of the philosophers, and the Logos whose redeeming work he proclaimed. What he said of the latter, declaring the mystery strongly and simply, and by no means committing himself to new distinctions, could not but appear to the Greeks ‘an offence and folly’. But he did not shrink from reproach; with firm hand, though in awkward lines, he marked off a sphere of its own for the Christian faith.345345The Cappadocians, theologians who reconciled the faith of Athanasius with the current philosophy, and apprehended it abstractly, did not retain his teaching pure and simple. This is especially shown by their doubtful contention that the Christian idea of God was the true mean between the Jewish and Greek. They boldly characterised the plurality of Hypostases, e.g., as a phase of truth preserved in Greek polytheism. Athanasius, therefore, did not take unmixed pleasure in their work. Cf. the λόγος κατηχητικός of Gregory of Nyssa (ch. 4, ed. Oehler): “Jewish dogma is refuted by adoption of the Word, and by faith in the Spirit, but the illusion of the Greeks (Ελληνίζοντες) in worshipping a multiplicity of Gods is dispelled by the (doctrine of the) unity of nature which destroys the extravagant opinion of a (divine) plurality. We must, in turn, retain the unity of being from the Jewish type of faith, and only the distinction of personal (divine) existences. from the Greek; and by this means godless conceptions are met on the left and right in correspondingly salutary ways. For the trinity is a corrective for those who err as to unity, just as the doctrine of the unity (of God) is for those who have made shipwreck by belief in plurality.”
And this man respected science and its free development. We can observe this in his criticisms of Origen and the Alexandrian catechists. Undoubtedly it must have been important to him to obtain reliable witnesses (testes veritatis) for his doctrine, and the effort to do this explains frequently his practice of making the best of everything. But it does not entirely explain his conduct. Christian faith was in his view exhausted in faith in the God-man, the incarnation, and the redemption which constituted a divine nature; for this reason he permitted liberty in everything else. It would seem that he had no desire to abolish Origen’s distinction between the Christian science of the perfect and the faith of the imperfect. He did not sit as a judge of heretics on Origen’s doubtful tenets and correct them by the regula fidei, nor did he follow the course first taken by Bishop Peter, one of his predecessors, in Alexandria.346346See Vol. III., p. 99 ff. This is all the more remarkable, as for his own part he could hardly find a single point in the Gnostic heterodoxies of Origen with which he could agree.
Athanasius did not see beyond the horizon of his own time. He attributed the highest efficacy to the mysteries of the cultus. He regarded them as the personal legacy of Christ, immediate emanations of his life as God-man, and as containing the means of applying salvation. If in succeeding centuries the religious interest attached itself more and more closely to ritual, that did not imply any contradiction of the conception of the great Alexandrian. He also laboured on behalf of the dogma which was to obtain its practical and effective presentation in the monks on the one hand, and in ritual on the other, until the transitory was exalted into the permanent.
Athanasius’ importance to posterity consisted in this, that he defined Christian faith exclusively as faith in redemption through the God-man who was identical in nature with God, and that thereby he restored to it fixed boundaries and specific contents.347347In the cleverly written introduction to his description of “Western Church architecture “ (Stuttgart, 1884), Dehio works out the idea that the classical period of ancient Christian architecture, the fourth century, was distinguished not by the multiplicity of ideas and forms of construction, but rather by the simplification or reduction of the forms. The Church, confronted by the number of models in ancient architecture, laid hold of one of them, the Basilica, and transmitted it alone to the Middle Ages. That, however, meant not a loss, but an advance. “The genius of Christianity contributed nothing new to the architectural creations of Rome and Alexandria. The great revolution it evoked lay in another direction. It consisted in the reduction of the multiplicity of styles to one dominant and sole form, not so much by a metamorphosis of artistic feeling, as by making religion once more the central motive of life. It thus assigned to the future architecture of the Middle Ages conditions analogous to those which governed the beginnings of Greek art; and thus the birth of Gothic art was possible at the climax of the Middle Ages — for the second time in history, a true organic style, like that of the Greek temple.” This observation is extremely instructive to the historian of dogma. The thought of Athanasius corresponds in theology to the meaning of the Basilica in the history of architecture in the fourth century. Both were happy simplifications from a wealth of ideas — reductions which concealed full and varied contents. Eastern Christendom has been able to add nothing up to the present day. Even in theory it has hit on no change, merely overloading the idea of Athanasius; but the Western Church also preserved this faith as fundamental. Following on the theology of the Apologists and Origen, it was the efficient means of preventing the complete Hellenising and secularisation of Christianity.
The history of dogma in the East after the Nicene Council reveals two interlacing lines of development. First, the idea of the God-man from the point of view of the redemption and elevation of the human race to divine life, in other words, the faith of Athanasius, was elaborated on all sides. In this the history of dogma, in the strict sense of the term, exhausted itself, for dogma was faith in the God-man. But with this a second development was closely connected, one which dealt with the relations of dogma and theology. Here also one man can be named: it was the science that Origen had cultivated which formed the centre of interest. However, since his days the problem had become more complicated, for theological principles that penetrated deeply had been received into faith itself, and the great development up to the Council of Chalcedon, and still later, consisted in the incorporation of theological results and formulas in the general belief of the Church. The question, accordingly, was not merely whether a freer and more independent theology, like Origen’s in spirit and method, could receive an acknowledged position and latitude in the Church; whether, in general, the phases of criticism and idealistic spiritualism, included in Origen’s science, were to be tolerated. It was a much harder problem that arose, though one that from its nature was always half concealed. If the theological dogma, at the moment when it became a creed of the Church, received the value of an apostolic doctrine which had never been wanting in the Church, how were the theologians to be regarded who had really created it, and how were the most venerated men of the past to be looked upon who had either been wholly ignorant of the dogma, or had incidentally, or avowedly, contradicted it? The conclusion is clear. The former were to receive special honour as witnesses to, but not as creators of, the truth. The latter it was necessary to abandon, however real and constructive their labours may once have been, or their works were to be coloured, corrected, or even amended by the insertion of glosses. But how long will a theology receive room to work on dogma, if the work is again and again to be disguised and how long will theologians be found to continue the dangerous business? “Theology is the most thankless of sciences. It crushes its builders with the very stones which they have helped to erect.” The relation of theology to dogma recalls the myth of Chronos. But here it is not the father who swallows his children, it is the creature that devours its creators up to the third and fourth generations. As, moreover, the age from the fourth to the sixth centuries is the classic period of all dogma, so in no other period does it so clearly exhibit to the historian its characteristic of demanding living sacrifices.
Accordingly we observe two phenomena in these centuries. First, we have a continuous fight against the free theology of Origen, against the heterodoxies which it embraced, its critical phase, and its idealistic speculation. At any rate, more than two centuries elapsed before it was finally refused all right of citizenship in the Church, and at the same time Ἑλληνικὴ παιδεία Greek culture) was deprived of any greater influence on dogma, than what the latter required for its correct exposition and justification.348348The prestige of Origen in the Church was still in the first half of the fifth century almost absolute and incomparable in wide circles. As we have above remarked, the Church history of Socrates is in this respect particularly instructive. The belittlers and enemies of this man were vain and ambitious obscurantists, hero-levelling fellows; against them — Methodius, Eustathius, Apollinaris, and Theophilus — he appealed to the testimony of Athanasius on behalf of Origen’s orthodoxy (VI. 13). Even the view that Origen’s works and utterances required to be sifted, appeared to him folly (VI. 17). He defended everything that the master wrote. It was incomprehensible to him how the Arians could study and value Origen, without becoming orthodox (VII. 6) — to the Arians the opposite was incomprehensible — and he declares with absolute conviction that Porphyry and Julian would not have written what they did if they had read the great teacher (III. 23). Further, Origen was once more quoted in the Monophysite controversies. Apart from special uses of it, his name represented a great cause, namely, no less than the right of science, Ἑλληνικὴ παιδεία, in the Church, a right contested by traditionalism in conjunction with the monks. But, in the second place, a traditionalism arose which looked distrustfully on theology taking any share in the work of the Church at the time, which substituted authority for science, while it either exalted ancient teachers to heaven as saints, or hurled them down to hell as heretics. It was due to the secret logic of events that such a tendency gained strength and finally triumphed; for if even the most capable and independent theologians were compelled to live under the delusion that what was new in their teaching could never be true, or that the true could not possibly be new, it necessarily followed that fewer and fewer would be found to undertake their dangerous work.349349It was pointed out above, p. 138, note I, that even orthodox theological leaders were not comfortable in their (dogmatic work, so that the position from the middle of the sixth century, the sovereign rule of traditionalism, was really the goal desired from the beginning. The works of all prominent theologians testify to this. Some deplored the fact that the mystery could not be worshipped in silence, that they were compelled to speak; and the rest say explicitly, that the truth of their propositions lay in their negations alone. Hilary expresses himself perhaps most strongly (De trinit. II. 2): “Compellimur hæreticorum et blasphemantium vitiis illicita agere, ardua scandere, ineffabilia eloqui, inconcessa præsumere. Et cum sola fide explorari, quæ præcepta sunt, oporteret, adorare scilicet patrem et venerari cum eo filium, sancto spiritu abundare, cogimur sermonis nostri humilitatem ad ea, quæ inenarrabilia sunt extendere et in vitium vitio coarctamur alieno, ut, quæ contineri religione mentium oportuisset, nunc in periculum humani eloquii proferantur.” Accordingly, after dogma had developed to a certain extent, held a certain number of conceptions capable of employing the intelligence, and was adapted to scholastic treatment, it became so sensitive that it ceased to tolerate a theology that would carry it further, even under all possible safe-guards. The theology that did independent work, that at no time professed to produce dogma, and therefore really had not existed, now came actually to an end. The date coincides with that at which Origen was condemned (the sixth century). The history of this process ran its course very gradually. On the other hand, there was no want of important actions in the history of the ejection of Origen’s doctrine. We have here to mention the ‘Origenist controversies’, though we must not limit them, as has been customary, to a few decades. Along with them the opposition to the school of Antioch and its condemnation come before us. But we must not look at the victory of the creed of the Church over theological liberties merely from the point of view of a decline of science in the Church. We have rather to consider what a more liberal speculative and critical science had to offer at the time to the Church. In view of the way in which the pursuit of theology and the exposition of the faith were intertwined, there were gifts which the Church had to decline in order to maintain its tradition, i.e., the standard left to it of its Christianity. But the heterodoxies of the theologians presented neither an incentive to nor the means for a revision of the whole doctrine in its possession. Besides, the entire process of expelling the freer theology was carried out without crises worth mentioning, as if spontaneously. That is the strongest evidence of the weakness of the speculations and critical views which sought to hold their ground alongside the doctrine of the Church. The condition of affairs at the close, when we have (1) dogma (2) a theology of scholastic mysticism, and (3) antiquarian and formal science not confused with religion, was in many respects an improvement, and the value of the product received its strongest attestation in the duration of the system. Leaving out of account a few oscillations, that had been actually attained, which the ‘conservatives’, i.e., the great majority in all phases of violent dogmatic conflicts, had longed for, and had therefore always contemplated. A mysterious dogma had been arrived at, one elevated above the schools, which gave theologians liberty to be antiquarians, philologists, or philosophers; for what independent work was left in the pursuit of dogma was subject to the jurisdiction of these specialists, so far as it did not come under the review of the experts in mysteries and liturgies. But the great loss consisted in the fact that men no longer possessed a theological system complete in itself. Origen’s was the only one that the Greek Church had produced. After its rejection there existed, besides dogma, a vast sum of incongruous fragments, bound artificially together by quotations from Scripture and tradition and from Aristotelian scholasticism. The great dogmatic work of John of Damascus only appears to be a logically connected system; it is in reality far from that.
As regards the periods, the dividing lines are formed by the Œcumenical Synods, namely, the so-called 2nd, then the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. But we can also use the names of Theodosius I., Pope Leo I., Justinian, and Pope Agatho. The unification of the Churches was rendered possible by the fact that they obtained a forum publicum (a public tribunal) in the universal Synods.350350But for Constantine the Nicene Council would not have been carried through, and but for the Emperor’s uniform creeds would not been arrived at. They were Athanasius’ best coadjutors. Nay, even the Emperors hostile to him helped him; for they used every effort to unite the Church on the basis of a fixed confession. It is therefore absurd to abuse the State Church, and yet to regard the establishment of the orthodox creed as a gain. For the Creeds of the provincial Churches, which agreed only in the main points, and not even in all these, the Councils substituted a dogmatic confession whose proclamation, enactment, and extension excited the most violent conflicts. At the same time the confederation of the Churches became a reality through the imperial policy, which sought to come into touch with the strongest dogmatic currents, though not infrequently it supported trivialities. The last traces of independence possessed by individual communities were destroyed; along with unity, uniformity in doctrine, discipline, and worship was almost re-established, and the constitution of the Church, even in the higher ranks, was gradually so adapted to that of the empire that the hierarchical organisation and administration of the Church corresponded to the order of the State. But this re-arrangement required, in part, to be carried out by force (τυραννίς of the Emperors and a few great Bishops), and speaking strictly, was a reality for only a few decades. It excited counter-movements; in opposition to it nationalistic feeling first really gained strength, especially in the East, and the great schisms of the national Churches there were also a consequence of the absolutist attempts at unification.351351See Hatch, The Councils and the Unity of the Church, in his Social Constitution of the Christian Churches, p. 172 ff.; he has given an excellent account of the share of the State in this unity and its limitations; compare also my Analekten, p. 253 ff. In the process by which Christendom was united externally and ecclesiastically, we can distinguish in the East three, and in the West four, epochs. The first three were common to the Churches of both East and West. The first was characterised by the recognition of the apostolic rule of faith in opposition to the erroneous creeds of heretical associations, after a common ideal and a common hope had united Christians up to the middle of the second century. The κανὼν τῆς πίστεως became the basis of ἀδελφότης. The second epoch, in which organisation became already of supreme importance, was represented in the theory of the episcopal office, and in the creation of the metropolitan constitution. While this was struggling to establish itself amid violent crises, the State of Constantine brought about the third epoch, in which the Church, by becoming completely political, was united, and thus arrived at an external and uniform unity, so that in it the essential nature of the Empire was continued. The Church became the most solid organisation in the Empire, because it rested on the imperial order of the ancient kingdom. It got no further than this organisation in the East; indeed, several great provincial Churches soon separated from it; for the creation of Constantine concealed germs of dissolution; see Zahn, Konstantin d. Gr. 1876, p. 31 f. In the West, on the contrary, the Roman Bishop began to engage in those enterprises which, favoured by circumstances, succeeded in the course of centuries in substituting a new and distinctively ecclesiastical unity for that created by the state. In the West the State collapsed under the storms of the tribal migration at the moment when, in the. East, the dismemberment of the imperial Church into national Churches began. The attempts of the East Roman emperors to recover the Western half of the realm, or at least parts of it, more than once thwarted the oriental policy imperatively required of them, and are also, from the complications to which they led, of great importance for the history of dogma. While the Emperors of Byzantium were involved in a double task, which constituted an insoluble dilemma, the Roman Bishops served themselves heirs to the West Roman kingdom. In the revolution in political and social affairs, Christians and Latins were compelled to postpone their separate interests and to attach themselves closely to the most powerful defender of the old institutions. The Germans, who apparently broke up the Empire, brought about the internal unity of all that was Catholic and Latin, and strengthened the position of ecclesiastical Rome. The East, on the contrary, which had been less endangered actually did break up. In the Western Catholic Church the ancient Roman Empire was preserved after a fashion with its order and culture. This Church had no longer beside it a state similar in character and closely related to itself and thus its Bishop could train the new peoples to his service, and soon undertook an independent policy against the Western schemes of the East Roman Emperors. The internal separation between East and West was complete, when neither understood the language of the other. Yet the West still took an active interest in the controversy of the ‘Three Chapters’, and at the same time obtained, in the translation of the Antiochene and Persian Instituta regularia divinæ legis, and in the great works translated at the instigation of Cassiodorus, valuable gifts from the East which stand comparison with those made by Hilary, Ambrose, Rufinus, and Jerome. Even in the seventh century Rome and the East were for a time engaged in a lively correspondence. But the rule of Byzantium over Rome was felt to be that of the foreigner, and conversely the Roman spirit was alien to the Orientals. Their relations were forced. Augustine hardly left a trace in the Eastern Church. That was its greatest calamity. Of course it was less disposed by its past to understand him than the Western Church, and it was at no time really inclined to accept instruction from its rival.
The first period of the History of Dogma closes with the Synods of Constantinople (381-383). At them faith in the complete divinity of the Redeemer was finally settled as the creed of the Catholic Church, and his complete humanity was also expressly acknowledged. Next to Athanasius the chief part in the decision was taken by the Cappadocians on the one hand, and by the Roman Bishop and Ambrose on the other. It would not have been arrived at, however, so early, if it had not been carried through in Constantinople by a powerful ruler who came from the West. The theologians, so far as any took part in it, were men who were equipped with the full culture of the period, and were also devoted to the ideals of monastic piety. The Cappadocians were still relatively independent theologians, worthy disciples and admirers of Origen, using new forms to make the faith of Athanasius intelligible to contemporary thought, and thus establishing them, though with modifications, on a secure basis. Beside them stood Apollinaris of Laodicea, a man who anticipated the problems of the future, who was their equal in scholarship, and surpassed them in many respects in theology. But Arianism revealed its weakness by nothing more than its rapid decline after it ceased to possess the imperial favour. The impression made by it on the German nations, and its. prolonged popularity with them, must be described as an ‘accident’ in history. Catholicism was first made a reality by Theodosius I. — ‘the idea of a communion which should unite East and West in the same confession, beyond which no other form of confession was recognised.’ But Ranke remarks rightly352352Weltgeschichte IV. 1, p. 305 f. that the Christian idea (of Nicene orthodoxy) gained the upper hand over Hellenistic and heretical systems, not from the doctrine alone, but from the course of events. The victory of the Nicene Council was also decided at the Tigris by the defeat of Julian, and at Adrianople by the death of Valens. In this first period the Christian Church was still in constant touch with Hellenism, and adopted from it whatever it could use. But the history of dogma can only give a very meagre view of these relations. Its boundaries gradually become altogether more restricted. In the first three centuries it can hardly be separated from the universal history of the Church; in those following the general life of the Church is less and less clearly reflected in it. He who desires to become acquainted with that life, must study the monachism, worship, ethics, and especially the theological science of the age. There is nothing in the history of dogma to require us to portray a figure like that of Synesius, and, if we define our task strictly, we can make little use of the rich epistolary literature of the time.
The second period extends to the Council of Chalcedon (451). Its first and longer half covers the time in which the imperial Church, resting on the Nicene basis and directed by emperor, priest, and monk, established itself. But after a time of comparative peace,353353On these decades, which are to be described as in many respects the most prosperous period of the Byzantine Church, see Herzog R. E., Vol. XIV., p. 403 ff. Heathenism was then first completely overthrown, and the heretics, even finally the Novatians, were hard pressed. The regime of Chrysostom seems to have been especially signalised by the suppression of heretics in the patriarchate of Constantinople; see the account of Socrates. We know of other Bishops who were active in extirpating heresy in the first half of the fifth century, a work in which Theodoret took part. The reigns of Gratian and Theodosius, on the one hand, the indefatigable labours of Epiphanius on the other, laid the foundation. Their programme was carried out from the end of the fourth century. But from about the middle of the fifth century, when the last traces of the ancient Gnostics, Novatians and Manichæans were substantially removed, great schisms began to take place on the basis of the Chalcedonian decree. the question again emerged as to the relation of the divine and human in the person of the Redeemer. The opposition between the school of Antioch and the new Alexandrian theology, which felt itself to be the sole teaching of the Church, culminated in this question, and the Alexandrian Bishop succeeded in making it the centre of ecclesiastical interest. The theologians of the school of Antioch still wrought in freedom; nay, even among their opponents there were to be found men who defined the faith by its aim, and were not overawed by traditionalism. Yet traditionalism grew more and more powerful. Under the leadership of Epiphanius the great reaction against Origen began,354354See before this Demetrius, Peter, Methodius, Eustathius, Marcellus, and Apollinaris. and not only the Alexandrian Bishop, but the greatest scholar of the age took part in it.355355“Babylon is fallen, fallen,” — with these words of triumph did Jerome accompany the overthrow of Chrysostom in the Origenist controversy (Ep. 88). To this was added another fact. The constitution of the Patriarchate began to reveal its effect in threatening the unity of the Church. The Cappadocian Churches of Asia Minor receded into the background simply because they possessed no patriarch of their own, dogmatics began to constitute an instrument of provincial ecclesiastical policy, and the dogmatic formula to be a mark of the diocese and nationality. In proportion as this took place, the state was compelled to intervene. Dogmatic questions became vital to it, and the appointment in the capital to the Patriarchate, which it had fostered, was now a political problem of the first rank; for the occupant of the chair stood at the head of the spiritual affairs of the empire. The great controversy was not settled at the two Synods of Ephesus (431, 449), but it was, ostensibly, at the Synod of Chalcedon (451) by means of a long formula. This formula was proposed and dictated by the West in the person of Bishop Leo and was approved by the Emperor; it was regarded in the West as the simple and unchanged creed of the Fathers, in the East as a compromise which was felt by some not to be sufficiently orthodox, and by others to require interpretation. Meanwhile the East hardly possessed as yet the rudiments of a theology capable of interpreting it. Therefore the formula of Chalcedon has not unjustifiably been called a ‘national misfortune’ for the Byzantine Empire. But even as regards the Church its advantages no more than balanced its disadvantages. During this period the monks obtained the mastery over the Church. Although their relations with the hierarchy were not infrequently strained, they added very greatly to its strength. The clergy would have been completely eclipsed in the world and the state, if they had not obtained a new support from the ‘religiosi’ and ‘religiosity’. But while monachism became an important element in the Church, the prestige of the state declined in the minds of men; nothing was left to the Emperors but to adopt certain monkish fashions for themselves, and along with the state the life of social morality was depreciated in favour of ‘religiosity’ and a magical cultus. For monachism merely promotes itself and next to that a religion of idol-worship; it quits the field where a vigorous morality arises. On the other hand, however, the State was delivered at the close of this period from its most powerful opponent, the Bishop of Alexandria, though at much too high a cost.
The third period extends up to the fifth Œcumenical Council (Constantinople
A.D. 553). The disadvantages of the Chalcedonian formula made themselves felt in
the first half of this century. Great ecclesiastical provinces were in revolt, and
threatened to secede from the membership of the universal Church. Greek piety everywhere
showed itself to have been unsettled by the decree of Chalcedon. Theology could
not follow it; nay, it appeared to be stifled by the decision, while in Monophysitism
life and movement prevailed. The perplexed Emperors were at their wits’ end, and
tried provisionally to recall, or at any rate to tone down, the formula, but in
doing so they prejudiced the union with the West. This was changed under Justin
I., but above all under Justinian I. As the reign of the latter was signalised politically
by the restoration of the Byzantine supremacy, and the codification of its laws,
it was ecclesiastically distinguished by the restoration and establishment of the
constitution and dogmatics of the Church. The creed of Rome was recognised so far
as its wording was concerned, but Rome itself was humbled; the Chalcedonian formula
remained in force, but it was interpreted in terms of Cyril’s teaching, and its
future position was assured by the condemnation of the writings of the Antiochene
schools on the one hand, and of Origen on the other. Thus was the theology of the
past judged: ‘solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant’. The Justinian Church condemned
the glorious Fathers, and the fifth Œcumenical Council blotted out the freer theological
science. However, this measure was only possible because an orthodox Church theology
had developed in the first half of the sixth century.356356See Loofs, Leontius von Byzanz
in the “Texten und Unters. z. alt-christl. Literaturgesch.,” Vol. III., parts 1
and 2, p. 37 ff., 303 ff. It presupposed the Chalcedonian
formula, which had become more venerable by age, and explained it by means of the
philosophy of Aristotle, which had then come once more
to the front, in order to reconcile it with the spirit of Cyril’s
theology, and to make it in some measure comprehensible. Here we have the rise of
ecclesiastical scholasticism which now took its place beside the mystical Neo-platonic
theology that had been most comprehensively stated by the Pseudo-areopagite, and
which corrected and defined it, uniting with and balancing it. The effect of this
development was extremely significant. Men now began for the first time to feel
themselves at home on the ground of the Chalcedonian formula; piety also was reconciled
to it. Productive dogmatic work ceased entirely; its place was taken by the mystical
theology of scholasticism based on the inheritance from antiquity and the enumeration
of authorities. Justinian in reality closed not only the school of Athens, but also
that of Origen, the schools, i.e., of productive theological science and criticism.357357The closing of the school of Athens
has been disputed. It was certainly not a great, formal action; see Krummacher,
Gesch. d. Byzant. Litt., p. 4. Henceforth theology
only existed as a servant to the tradition of Justinian and Chalcedon. It was served
in turn by the dialectic of Aristotle on the one hand, and the Neo-platonic mysticism
of the Areopagite on the other. It did important work in the way of elaboration
and adaptation; we are not warranted in passing a sweeping verdict of stultification
and sleep;358358See the works of Gass and Gelzer,
especially the latter’s interesting lecture: “Die politische und kirchliche Stellung
von Byzanz. but it made no further
change in the creed of the Church and was bound hand and foot.359359 Noteworthy, but not surprising,
is the parallel capable of being drawn between the history of theology and that
of (heathen) philosophy during the whole period from Origen to Justinian. The history
of Greek philosophy finds its limits in the middle of the fifth century, and again
in the age of Justinian; the same is true of the science of the Church. In the general
history of science Plato comes to be supplanted by Aristotle from the close of the
fifth century; in dogmatics the influence of the Stagirite makes itself felt to
an increased extent from the same date. Justinian’s epoch-making measures, the codification
of the law, the closing of the school of Athens, and the restoration of the Byzantine
Church and Empire, point to an inner connection. This has not escaped Ranke. On
account of the importance of the matter I give here his excellent discussion (Vol.
IV. 2, p. 20 ff.): “Justinian closed the school of Athens . . . An event of importance
for the whole continued development of the human race; any further development in
a direct line on the basis laid in classical antiquity was rendered impossible to
the Greek spirit, while to Roman genius such an advance was left open and was only now rendered
truly possible for after ages by means of the law-books. The philosophical spirit
perished in the contentions of religious parties; the legal found a mode of expression
which, as it were, concentrated it. The close of Greek philosophy recalls its beginning;
nearly a thousand years had elapsed during which the greatest transformations in
the history of the world had taken place. May I be permitted to add a general reflection,
as to which I merely desire that it may not be rejected by the general feeling of
The Christian religion had risen upon earth in the conflict of religious opinions waged by nations, and had then in opposition to these developed into a Church. Christian theology which set itself to appropriate the mysterious and to come to terms with the intellect had grown up in constant contact, sometimes of a friendly, more often of a hostile kind, with Greek philosophy. That was the business of those centuries. Then appeared the great Christian theologians from Origen onwards; as we said in passing, they passed through, without exception, Greek or closely related Latin schools, and framed their doctrines accordingly. Greek philosophy had produced nothing comparable to them; it had, as regards public life, been thrust into the background and now it had perished. But it is striking that the great Christian theologians also came to an end. Never again do we find in later times men like Athanasius, the Gregories of Cappadocia, Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine. I mean that along with Greek philosophy the original development of Christian theology also came to a stand-still. The energy of the Church doctors, or the importance of the Church assemblies in these centuries cannot be parallelled by analogous phenomena belonging to later times. Different as they are in themselves we find a certain resemblance in the state of Roman law and of Christian theology. The old Roman jurisprudence now appeared as universally valid law in a redaction which while historical was yet swayed by the conditions of the day. At the same time, limits were set by the triumph of orthodoxy, especially of the dogmas declared in the Chalcedonian resolutions, to all the internal divisions of theology in which the divergent opinions were also defended with ability and thoroughness . . . Justinian who reinstated orthodoxy, and gave the force of law to juridical conceptions, takes a high place in the rivalry of the centuries. Yet, while he raised his government to such a pinnacle of authority, he felt the ground shake momentarily under his feet.” Greek science and the monkish view of the world, leagued as they were, dominated the spiritual life of the Church before as well as after the Justinian age; they were at bottom indeed far from being opposed, but possessed a common root. But how differently it was possible to combine them, what variations they were capable of! If we compare, e.g., Gregory of Nyssa with John of Damascus it is easy to see that the former still really thinks independently, while the latter confines himself to editing what is given. It is above all clear that the critical elements of theology had been lost. They only held their ground in the vagaries of mystical speculation; in all ages they are most readily tolerated there.
As regards the history of dogma the fourth period possesses no real independence. The dogmatic activity which characterised it was exclusively political; but since it created a new formula, we may here assume a special period. It ends with the sixth Œcumenical Council (A.D. 680). ‘Justinian’s policy of conquest was in the highest degree unstable, and went far beyond the resources of the Empire’. Whether his dogmatic policy was correct, which maintained union with the West at the cost of losing a large section of the Oriental Churches, is a question which may be debated. But whether an open and consistently monophysite policy was then still possible in Constantinople is very doubtful. Egypt, Syria, and Armenia were lost, not only to the state, but also to Greek language and culture. In order to keep them, or win them back from the Persians and Arabians, an energetic Emperor resolved to publish a monophysite rallying cry without prejudicing the wording of the Chalcedonian Creed. Monothelitism on the basis of the doctrine of the two natures is in itself no artificial creation; it is founded on the old consideration rising out of the doctrine of redemption; but at that time it had its origin in policy. Yet this still-born child of politics set the Eastern Church in an uproar for more than two generations. To prevent the loss not only of the East but of Italy also, the Emperor required the help of the Roman Bishop. Justinian’s success in curbing the latter’s authority had only continued for a little under his successors. The pontificate of Gregory I. still exerted an influence, and, at the sixth Council, Agatho, repairing the fault of one of his predecessors, dictated the formula, as Leo had done at Chalcedon. This bore the impress of the West, and did not correspond perfectly to the eastern conception. It further became manifest at the Council that, when it was a question of defining dogma, theology had been completely transformed into a rehearsal of authorities. Next to the older synodal decisions, the decisive precedent was formed by the immense, and frequently forged, collection of the dicta patrum.
After the sixth Council, orthodoxy and Monophysitism were definitively separated, though attempts were not wanting to harmonise them in the following centuries, in keeping with the monophysite tendencies, never wholly destroyed, of eastern orthodoxy. The mystery was firmly established, and obtained further definition; for the doctrine taught by John of Damascus of the enhypostasis of the human nature in the Logos) had been accepted, even in the age of Justinian, to be the correct interpretation of the doctrine of the two natures. The movement of thought in the Church passed accordingly to a new sphere; or, more correctly, the old absorbing interest of the Church in the mysteries of the cultus360360It is said of Polycarp in his Vita per Pionium (sæc. IV.): ἑρμηνεῦσαί τε ἱκανὸς μυστήρια, ἃ τοῖς πολλοῖς ἦν ἀπόκρυφα, οὕτω φανερῶς αὐτὰ ἐξετίθετο, ὥστε τοὺς ἀκούοντας μαρτυρεῖν, ὅτι οὐ μόνον ἀκούουσιν ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁρῶσιν αὐτά. That was accordingly the supreme thing; to be able also to see the mystery, the Christian possession of salvation. now came to light undisguised, because the pursuit of theology, converted as it was into scholasticism, had become the business of scholars and experts in the mysteries, and it was only temporarily that a controversy springing out of it agitated the Church. Dogma, designed by the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds to be looked at and treated formally, henceforth revealed this its character thoroughly. The philosophy appropriate to it was found, or invented — that compound of Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, with which no one could dispense who desired to unfold or comment on dogma orthodoxly.361361The fight between Platonism and Aristotelianism was accordingly acute among theologians in the following centuries; they often indeed made heretics of one another. Up till now we only know these disputes in part; they are important for the later conflicts in the West, but they do not belong to the history of dogma. He who passed over the philosophy of the Church stood in danger of becoming a heretic.362362Even to-day simple-minded Catholic historians of dogma exist who frankly admit that he becomes necessarily a heretic who does not, e.g., use the conceptions “nature” and “person” correctly; and they even derive heresy from this starting-point. Thus Bertram (Theodoreti, Ep. Cyrensis, doctrina christologica, 1883) writes of Theodore of Mopsuestia: “Manifesto declarat, simile vel idem esse perfectam naturam et perfectam personam . . . Naturæ vox designat, quid sit aliqua res, vel essentiam vel quidditatem; hypostasis vero modum metaphysicum existendi monstrat. Ex quo patet, ad notionem perfectæ naturæ modum illum perfectum existendi non requiri. Hac in re erravit Mopsuestenus, et hæresis perniciosa ex hoc errore nata est. What a quid pro quo! The ignorance of the terminology, which was yet first created ad hoc, in order to escape Scylla and Charybdis, is held to be the real ground of the origin of the heresy. Such a view of things, which is as old as scholasticism, undoubtedly needed mysticism as its counterpoise, in order not to perish wholly from the religious sphere. Atzberger (Die Logoslehre d. h. Athan., 1880) has expressed himself still more unsophisticatedly, and therefore more instructively, on the relation of philosophy and dogma (p. 8, 29). But see also Hagemann (Röm Kirche, p. 361): “The Patripassians arrived at their doctrines of God, his attributes, his creation, and incarnation, because they took their stand on Stoic logic and with it cherished the most extreme nominalism, and because they absolutely rejected the objective existence of ideas.” But dogmatics, undoubtedly the foundation, did not dominate the Church as a living power. The conception of the natures of Christ found its continuation in that of the sacraments and sacramental things by which men became participators in Christ. The perceived (αἰσθητόν) thereby obtained side by side with the conceived (νοητόν) an ever loftier, and independent significance. Symbolism was more and more expunged; the mystery became more and more sensuous. But, in proportion as the latter was made operative in the cultus, the cultus itself was regarded, in all its setting and performance, in the light of the divino-human.363363For the history of the development of the Greek liturgy after the fourth century. Swainson’s The Greek Liturgies, chiefly from original authorities (London 1884), is the standard work. For the doctrine of the mysteries cf. Steitz’ Abhandlungen in the Lehrbb. f. deutsche Theol. 1864 ff. All its sensuous side, which was presented for his benefit to the worshipper, was regarded as deified and as promoting deification. Now in so far as the believer derived his life entirely from this cultus, a ritual system, to which the character of the divino-human attached, took the place of the God-man, Christ. Piety threatened to be submerged in a contemplation of wonders, the spiritual in the sensuous, and theology, in so far as not identified with scholasticism and polemics, in a science of mysteries.364364If we collect the fourth-century evidence of crude sensuous superstition intimately combined with Christian piety, we might believe that it could go no further. And yet it did go further from century to century, as anyone can easily convince himself by reading the tales of saints and relics, among which those of the oriental monophysites are the worst. But apart from this increase, we have to call attention to the fact that this barbarous superstition ascended into higher and more influential circles and was systematically cultivated by the monks, while the corrective of a more rational theology grew ever weaker. Theology became more defenceless, because it had to adapt itself to sacred ceremony. The worst gift bequeathed by moribund antiquity to the Church was the ritual of magic and the monstrous number of great and little aids in need and means of atonement. It is not the case that this state of matters was produced by the inrush of barbarian peoples; on the contrary, the decomposition of ancient culture and religion takes the first place in the process, and even the Neo-platonic philosophers are not free from blame. In view of this circumstance it is natural to conclude that the reformation of Athanasius bore little fruit, that it only checked for a time the polytheistic under-current, and, in a word, that the Church could not have got into a worse state than, in spite of Athanasius, it did, as regards the worship of Mary, angels, saints, martyrs, images and relics, and the trickery practised with amulets. But even if we were to go further and suggest that the later development of dogma itself, as e.g., in the worship of Mary and images, directly promoted religious materialism, yet we cannot rate too highly the salutary importance of this dogma. For it kept the worship of saints, images and the rest at the stage of a christianity of the second order, invested with doubtful authority, and it prevented the monks from cutting themselves wholly adrift from the religio publica. Finally, it is to be pointed out that superstition has brought with it at all times ideas and conceptions extremely questionable from the point of view of dogmatics, ideas which seem to be affected by no amount of censure. Overbeck (Gött. Gel.-Auz. 1883, no. 28, p. 870) has rightly described it as a phenomenon requiring explanation that the gnat-straining centuries which followed Nicæa, could have swallowed such camels as, e.g., delighted the readers of the Acts of Thomas (even in the Catholic edition) or of the numerous Apocalypses (see the edition of the Apoc. Apocal. by Tischendorf and James, Apocrypha anecdota, 1893). From this point of view we can understand the worship of images and the reaction of iconoclasm which opened the fifth period. But this explanation is not complete; another factor coöperated. This was the relation of Church and State which was also involved in the controversy about images. There always were discords between them; but these became more and more acute when the priesthood fell completely under the sway of the monks. Even from the fifth century the practice had begun of transferring monks to episcopal chairs, and it had almost become the rule in the following centuries. But the monks both strove zealously to make the Church independent and claimed sovereignty among the people, and as a rule, though interested on behalf of the nations, they also cherished a strong hostility to the State: in other words they endangered the settlement of Church and State established in the fifth and sixth centuries. Their most powerful instrument was the sensuous cultus which had captivated the people, but which undoubtedly, barbarous and mechanical as it was with all its appliances and amulets, was yet connected with the ideal forces still to be credited to the age, with science, art, and especially piety. Here we have the miserable dilemma of the period, and of the Church; the worship of images was barbarous, but iconoclasm threatened to introduce an increased degree of barbarism. For the ‘enlightened’ (Aufklärung) were at the disposal of an iron military despotism, and despised science, art, and religion.
The Church of Byzantium was at that time engaged in a life and death struggle. Its existence was really at stake, and with it the existence of the old form of society and culture, in opposition to forces which as yet had no positive policy, but at first merely ruled by brute force. The priestly caste was arrayed against the military, the hosts of shaven monks against the standing army, which from the fourth century had played a great rôle, but now sought to be master in the state. These fearful fights ended in the restoration of the status quo ante, in so far as dogma and cultus were concerned, and the old order seemed all the more sacred after the attacks that had been made upon it. But on the political side, the state supported by the army carried off the victory — and this was not without consequences for the system and life of the Church. The monks were given a free hand in dogma, but their activity as ecclesiastical politicians was checked. The Emperor remained chief priest, in spite of some patriarchs who, until after the eleventh century, attempted to maintain an independent and equal position side by side with him. With the support of his army he resisted them. The independence of the Church was gone, in so far as it sought to rise above the level of an institution devoted to ritual and worship. Its activity was completely restricted to the mysteries and the preparation for death. It became an institution of the state, impressing it only by the unchangeableness of its doctrine and ceremonies. To the new peoples to whom this Church came, the Slavs, it was far more than to the Greeks an unchangeable, heavenly creation. A thousand years have passed away since the Slavs were hellenised; and they have not yet ventured, like the Germans, to think and feel freely and at their ease in the Church, although they recognise in it a main defence of their national characteristics against the West. From the West these ‘Greek Slavs’ were spiritually separated, after Augustine’s ideas were admitted there. The external cleavage, though only complete in the eleventh century, began immediately after the image controversy. The states in the territory of the Greek Church still really stand under a military dictatorship: where this has fallen, as in the kingdom of Greece, a final stage has not yet been reached. States like the former support an ecclesiastical department, but no Church.
The path into which Athanasius led the Church has not been abandoned; but the other forces of life completely restricted it. Orthodox dogma corresponds on the whole to the conception of Athanasius; but the balance which he held between the religious creed and the cultus has been disturbed to the disadvantage of the former. The creed still shows life when it is called in question, or when the nation it serves requires a flag. In other cases it lives in the science of scholastic mysticism, which has already become by degrees stereotyped and sacred, and in its presentation in public worship. Theology also is bound to the latter; it has thus received a standard of which Athanasius knew nothing.365365It is very characteristic as regards this, that while Cyril of Jerusalem described the Christian religion as μάθημα τῶν δογμάτων καὶ πράξεις ἀγαθαί, Photius defined it as μάθησις καὶ μυσταγωγία. From the fourth century interest was more and more transferred from the regulation of the whole life by religion, to its external consecration through the mysteries. The distinctions are indeed only gradual, but the descent was very significant. The Greek Church ultimately gave up the regulation of moral social life, and therewith renounced the power to determine private morality so far as the latter was not dominated by fear of death. The ultimate reason of this is to be sought in the order of the monks and the constitution of the Græco-Slavic states.
Our sources are the works of the Church Fathers and the Acts of Councils (Mansi). We still want a history of Greek ecclesiastical literature after Eusebius, capable of satisfying the most reasonable demands. Of more recent works on the subject that of Fessler is the best (Instit. Patrologiæ, 1850-52), Alzog’s is the most familiar, and Nirschl’s the newest.
|« Prev||Chapter I. Historical Situation.||Next »|