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RELIGIOUS CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MISSION-PREACHING
“Missionary Preaching” is a term which may be taken in a double sense. Its broader meaning covers all the forces of influence, attraction, and persuasion which the gospel had at its command, all the materials that it collected and endowed with life and power as it developed into a syncretistic religion during the first three centuries. The narrower sense of the term embraces simply the crucial message of faith and the ethical requirements of the gospel. Taking it in the latter sense, we shall devote the present chapter to a description of the fundamental principles of the missionary preaching. The broader conception has a wide range. The Old Testament and the new literature of Christianity, healing and redemption, gnosis and apologetic, myth and sacrament, the conquest of demons, forms of social organization and charity—all these played their part in the mission-preaching and helped to render it impressive and convincing. Even in the narrower sense of the term, our description of the mission-preaching must be kept within bounds, for the conception of the crucial message of faith and its ethical requirements is bound up naturally with the development of dogma, and the latter (as I have already remarked) cannot be exhibited without over-stepping the precincts of the present volume. At the same time, these limitations are not very serious, since, to the best of our knowledge, mission-preaching (in the narrower sense of the term) was fairly extinct after the close of the second century. Its place was taken by the instruction of catechumens, by the training of the household in and for the Christian faith, and by the worship of the church. Finally, we must eschew the error of imagining that everyone who came over to Christianity was won by a missionary propaganda of dogmatic completeness. So far as our sources throw light on this point, they reveal a very different state of things, and this applies even to the entire period preceding Constantine. In countless instances, it was but one ray of light that wrought the change. One person would be brought over by means of the Old Testament, another by the exorcising of demons, a third by the purity of Christian life; others, again, by the monotheism of Christianity, above all by the prospect of complete expiation, or by the prospect which it held out of immortality, or by the profundity of its speculations, or by the social standing which it conferred. In the great majority of cases, so long as Christianity did not yet propagate itself naturally, one believer may well have produced another, just as one prophet anointed his successor; example (not confined to the case of the martyrs) and the personal manifestation of the Christian life led to imitation. A complete knowledge of Christian doctrine, which was still a plant of very tender growth in the second century, was certainly the attainment of a small minority. “Idiotae, quorum semper maior pars est,” says Tertullian (“The uneducated are always in a majority with us”). Hippolytus bewails the ignorance even of a Roman bishop. Even the knowledge of the Scriptures, though they were read in private, remained of necessity the privilege of an individual here and there, owing to their extensiveness and the difficulty of understanding them.143143Bishops and theologians, in the West especially, are always bewailing the defective knowledge of the Bible among the laity, and even among the clergy. Cp. also Clement of Alexandrinus.
The earliest mission-preaching to Jews ran thus: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent.”144144The earliest mission-preaching (Matt. x. 7 f.) with which the disciples of Jesus were charged, ran: κηρύσσετε λέγοντες ὅτι ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. Although repentance is not actually mentioned, it is to be supplied from other passages. The prospect of power to do works of healing is also held out to them (ἀσθενοῦντας θεραπεύετε, νεκροὺς ἐγείρετε, λεπροὺς καθαρίζετε, δαιμόνια ἐκβάλλετε). The Jews thought they knew what was the meaning of the kingdom of heaven and of its advent; but they had to be told the meaning of the repentance that secured the higher righteousness, so that “God's kingdom” also acquired a new meaning.
The second stage in the mission-preaching to Jews was determined by this tenet: “The risen145145Cp. the confession of the resurrection common to primitive Christianity, in 1 Cor. xv. 4 f. Jesus is the Messiah [cp. Matt. x. 32], and will return from heaven to establish his kingdom.”
The third stage was marked by the interpretation of the Old Testament as a whole (i.e., the law and the prophets) from the standpoint of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, along with the accompanying need of securing and formulating that inwardness of disposition and moral principle which members of the Messianic church, who were called and kept by the Holy Spirit, knew to be their duty.146146To “imitate” or “be like” Christ did not occupy the place one would expect among the ethical counsels of the age. Jesus had spoken of imitating God and bidden men follow himself, whilst the relationship of pupil and teacher readily suggested the formula of imitation. But whenever he was recognized as Messiah, as the Son of God, as Saviour, and as Judge, the ideas of imitation and likeness had to give way, although the apostles still continued to urge both in their epistles, and to hold up the mind, the labors, and the sufferings of Jesus as an example. In the early church the imitation of Christ never became a formal principle of ethics (to use a modern phrase) except for the virtuoso in religion, the ecclesiastic, the teacher, the ascetic, or the martyr; it played quite a subordinate role in the ethical teaching of the church. Even the injunction to be like Christ, in the strict sense of the term, occurs comparatively seldom. Still, it is interesting to collect and examine the passages relative to this point; they show that whilst a parallel was fully drawn between the life of Christ and the career and conduct of distinguished Christians such as the confessors, the early church did not go the length of drawing up general injunctions with regard to the imitation of Christ. For one thing, the Christology stood in the way, involving not imitation but obedience; for another thing, the literal details of imitation seemed too severe. Those who made the attempt were always classed as Christians of a higher order (though even at this early period they were warned against presumption), so that the Catholic theory of “evangelic counsels” has quite a primitive root. This must have made them realize that the observance of the law, which had hitherto prevailed, was inadequate either to cancel sin or to gain righteousness; also that Jesus the Messiah had died that sins might be forgiven (γνωστὸν ἔστω ὑμῖν, ὅτι διὰ τούτου ὑμῖν ἄφεσις ἁμαρτιῶν καταγγέλλεται ἀπὸ πάντων ὧν οὐκ ἠδυνήθητε ἐν νόμῳ Μωϋσέως δικαιωθῆναι).147147Acts xiii. 38; up to this point, I think, the Jewish Christian view is clearly stated in the address of Paul at Antioch, but the further development of the idea (ἐν τούτῳ πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων δικαιοῦται (“by whom everyone who believes is justified”) is specifically Pauline. Taken as a whole, however, the speech affords a fine example of missionary preaching to the Jews. From 1 Cor. xv. 3 it follows that the tenet, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,” was not simply Pauline, but common to Christianity in general. Weizsäcker (op. cit., pp. 60 f.; Eng. trans., i. 74 f.) rightly lays great stress on the fact that previous to Paul and alongside of him, even within Jewish Christian circles (as in the case of Peter), the view must have prevailed that the law and its observance were not perfectly adequate to justification before God, and that a sotereological significance attached to Jesus the Messiah or to his death.
“You know that when you were pagans you were led away to dumb idols” (1 Cor. xii. 2). “You turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. i. 9-10). Here we have the mission-preaching to pagans in a nutshell. The “living and true God” is the first and final thing; the second is Jesus, the Son of God, the judge, who secures us against the wrath to come, and who is therefore “Jesus the Lord.” To the living God, now preached to all men, we owe faith and devoted service; to God's Son as Lord, our due is faith and hope.148148When questioned upon the “dogma” of Christians, Justin answered: ὅπερ εὐσεβοῦμεν εἰς τὸν τῶν Χριστιανῶν θεόν, ὃν ἡγούμεθα ἕνα τούτων ἐξ ἀρχῆς ποιητὴν καὶ δημιουργὸν τῆς πάσης κτίσεως, ὁρατῆς τε καὶ ἀοράτου, καὶ κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν παῖδα θεοῦ, ὃς καὶ προκεκήρυκται ὑπὸ τῶν προφητῶν μέλλων παραγίνεσθαι τῷ γένει τῶν ἀνθρώπων σωτηρίας κῆρυξ καὶ διδάσκαλος καλῶν μαθητῶν (Acta Just. i.) (“It is that whereby we worship the God of the Christians, whom we consider to be One from the beginning, the maker and fashioner of the whole creation, visible and invisible, and also the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom the prophets foretold would come to the race of men, a herald of salvation and a teacher of good disciples”).
The contents of this brief message—objective and subjective, positive and negative—are inexhaustible. Yet the message itself is thoroughly compact and complete. It is objective and positive as the message which tells of the only God, who is spiritual, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the creator of heaven and earth, the Lord and Father of men, and the great disposer of human history;149149In this respect the speech put by Luke (Acts xvii. 22-30) into the mouth of Paul at the Areopagus is typical and particularly instructive. It exhibits, at the same time, an alliance with the purest conceptions of Hellenism. We must combine this speech with First Thessalonians, in order to understand how the fundamentals of mission-preaching were laid before pagans, and also in order to get rid of the notion that Galatians and Romans are a model of Paul's preaching to pagan audiences.—The characteristic principles of the mission-preaching (both negative and positive) are also preserved, with particular lucidity, in the fragmentary Kerugma Petri, an early composition which, as the very title indicates, was plainly meant to be a compendium of doctrine for missionary purposes. furthermore, it is the message which tells of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came from heaven, made known the Father, died for sins, rose, sent the Spirit hither, and from his seat at God's right hand will return for the judgment;150150Thaddaeus announces to Abgar a missionary address for the next day, and gives the following preliminary outline of its contents (Eus. H.E. i. 13): κηρύξω καὶ σπερῶ τὸν λόγον τῆς ζωῆς, περί τε τῆς ἐλεύσεως τοῦ Ἰησοῦ καθὼς ἐγένετο, καὶ περὶ τῆς ἀποστολῆς αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἕνεκα τίνος ἀπεστάλη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός, καὶ περὶ τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ καὶ μυστηρίων ὧν ἐλάλησεν ἐν κόσμῳ, καὶ ποίᾳ δυνάμει ταῦτα ἐποίει, καὶ περὶ τῆς καινῆς αὐτοῦ κηρύξεως, καὶ περὶ τῆς μικρότητος καὶ περὶ τῆς ταπεινώσεως, καὶ πῶς ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀπέθετο καὶ ἐσμίκρυνεν αὐτοῦ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ἐσταυρώθη, καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὸν ῎Αιδην, καὶ διέσχισε φραγμὸν τὸν ἐξ αἰῶνος μὴ σχισθέντα, καὶ ἀνήγειρεν νεκροὺς καὶ κατέβη μόνος, ἀνέβη δὲ μετὰ πολλοῦ ὄχλου πρὸς τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ (“I will preach and sow the word of God, concerning the advent of Jesus, even the manner of his birth: concerning his mission, even the purpose for which the Father sent him: concerning the power of his works and the mysteries he uttered in the world, even the nature of this power: concerning his new preaching and his abasement and humiliation, even how he humbled himself and died and debased his divinity and was crucified and went down to Hades and burst asunder the bars which had not been severed from all eternity, and raised the dead, descending alone but rising with many to his Father”). finally, it is the message of salvation brought by Jesus the Saviour, that is, freedom from the tyranny of demons, sin, and death, together with the gift of life eternal.
Then it is objective and negative, since it announces the vanity of all other gods, and forms a protest against idols of gold and silver and wood, as well as against blind fate and atheism.
Finally, it is subjective, as it declares the uselessness of all sacrifice, all temples, and all worship of man's devising, and opposes to these the worship of God in spirit and in truth, assurance of faith, holiness and self-control, love and brotherliness, and lastly the solid certainty of the resurrection and of life eternal, implying the futility of the present life, which lies exposed to future judgment.
This new kind of preaching excited extraordinary fears and hopes: fears of the imminent end of the world and of the great reckoning, at which even the just could hardly pass muster; hopes of a glorious reign on earth, after the dénouement, and of a paradise which was to be filled with precious delights and overflowing with comfort and bliss. Probably no religion had ever proclaimed openly to men such terrors and such happiness.
To wide circles this message of the one and almighty God no longer came as a surprise. It was the reverse of a surprise. What they had vaguely divined, seemed now to be firmly and gloriously realized. At the same time, as “Jesus and the Resurrection” were taken for new dæmons in Athens (according to Acts xvii. 18), and considered to be utterly strange, this doctrine must have been regarded at first as paradoxical wherever it was preached. This, however, is not a question into which we have here to enter. What is certain is, that “the one living God, as creator,” “Jesus the Saviour,”151151One of the distinctive ideas in Christianity was the paradox that the Saviour was also the Judge, an idea which gave it a special pre-eminence over other religions.—“Father and Son,” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”: the dual and the triple formula interchange, but the former is rather older, though both can be traced as far back as Paul. Personally I should doubt if it was he who stamped the latter formula. Like the “Church,” “the new People,” “the true Israel,” “apostles, prophets, and teachers,” “regeneration,” etc., it was probably created by the primitive circle of disciples.—The preaching of Jesus was combined with the confession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with the church, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body. The Roman symbol is our earliest witness to this combination, and it was probably the earliest actual witness; it hardly arose out of the work of missions, in the narrower sense of the term, but out of the earlier catechetical method. “the Resurrection” (ἡ ἀνάστασις), and ascetic “self-control” (ἡ ἐγκρατεία) formed the most conspicuous articles of the new propaganda. Along with this the story of Jesus must have been briefly communicated (in the statements of Christology), the resurrection was generally defined as the resurrection of the flesh, and self-control primarily identified with sexual purity, and then extended to include renunciation of the world and mortification of the flesh.152152Hermas, Mand. i: πρῶτον πάντων πίστευσον, ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός ὁ τὰ πάντα κτίσας καὶ καταρτίσας, κ.τ.λ. (“First of all, believe that God is one, even he who created and ordered all things,” etc.), is a particularly decisive passage as regards the first point (viz., the one living God); see Praedic. Petri in Clem., Strom. v. 6. 48, vi. 5. 39, vi. 6. 48 (the twelve disciples dispatched by Jesus with the charge to preach to all the inhabitants of the world, that they may know God is one; εὐαγγελίσασθαι τοὺς κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀνθρώπους, γινώσκειν, ὅτι εἷς θεός ἐστιν). In Chap. II. of his Apology, Aristides sets forth the preaching of Jesus Christ; but when he has to summarize Christianity, he is contented to say that “Christians are those who have found the one true God.” Cp., e.g., Chap. XV.: “Christians . . . . have found the truth. . . . . They know and trust in God, the creator of heaven and earth, through whom and from whom are all things, beside whom there is none other, and from whom they have received commandments which are written on their hearts and kept in the faith and expectation of the world to come.” (Cp. also the Apology of pseudo-Melito.) The other three points are laid down with especial clearness in the Acta Theclae, where Paul is said (i. 5) to have handed down πάντα τὰ λόγια κυρίου καὶ τῆς γεννήσεως καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ ἠγαπημένου (“all the sayings of the Lord and of the birth and resurrection of the Beloved”), and where the contents of his preaching are described as λόγος θεοῦ περὶ ἐγκρατείας καὶ ἀναστάσεως (“the word of God upon self-control and the resurrection”). The last-named pair of ideas are to be taken as mutually supplementary; the resurrection or eternal life is certain, but it is conditioned by ἐγκράτεια, which is therefore put first. Cp., for example, Vita Polycarpi 14: ἔλεγεν τὴν ἁγνείαν πρόδρομον εἶναι τῆς μελλούσης ἀφθάρτου βασιλείας (“he said that purity was the precursor of the incorruptible kingdom to come”).
The most overwhelming element in the new preaching was the resurrection of the flesh, the complete “restitutio in integrum,” and the kingdom of glory. Creation and resurrection were the beginning and the end of the new doctrine. The hope of resurrection which it aroused gave rise to a fresh estimate of the individual value, and at the same time to quite inferior and sensuous desires. Faith in the resurrection of the body and in the millennium soon appeared to pagans to be the distinguishing feature of this silly religion. And the pagans were right. It was the distinguishing feature of Christianity at this period. Justin explains that all orthodox Christians held this doctrine and this hope. “Fiducia christianorum resurrectio mortuorum, illa credentes sumus,” Tertullian writes (de Resurr. i.), adding (in ch. xxi.) that this must not be taken allegorically, as the heretics allege, since “verisimile non est, ut ea species sacramenti, in quam fides tota committitur, in quam disciplina tota conititur, ambigue annuntiata et obscura proposita videatur” (the gospel is too important to be stated ambiguously; see further what follows). The earliest essays of a technical character by the teachers of the Catholic church were upon the resurrection of the flesh. It was a hope, too, which gave vent to the ardent desires of the oppressed, the poor, the slaves, and the disappointed upon earth: “We want to serve no longer, our wish is to reign soon” (Tert., de Orat. 5). “Though the times of this hope have been determined by the sacred pen, lest it should be fixed previous, I think, to the return of Christ, yet our prayers pant for the close of this age, for the passing of this world to the great day of the Lord, for the day of wrath and retribution” (Cum et tempora totius spei fida sunt sacrosancto stilo, ne liceat eam ante constitui quam in adventum, opinor, Christi, vota nostra suspirant in saeculi huius occasum, in transitum mundi quoque ad diem domini magnum, diem irae et retributionis.—Tert., de Resurr. xxii.). “May grace come and this world pass away! The Lord comes!” is the prayer of Christians at the Lord's Supper (Did. x.). In many circles this mood lasted even after the beginning of the third century, but it reached its height during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.153153Origen (de Princ. II. xi. 2) has described in great detail the views of the chiliasts, whom he opposed as, even in his day, a retrograde party. His description proves that we cannot attribute too sensuous opinions to them. They actually reckoned upon “nuptiarum conventiones et filiorum procreationes.” Compare the words of Irenæus in the fifth book of his large work upon the millennium, where he follows “apostolic tradition” and attaches himself to Papias.
From the outset “wisdom,” “intelligence,” “understanding,” and “intellect” had a very wide scope. Indeed, there was hardly mission propaganda of any volume which did not overflow into the “gnostic” spirit, i.e., the spirit of Greek philosophy. The play of imagination was at once unfettered and urged to its highest flights by the settled conviction (for we need not notice here the circles where a different view prevailed) that Jesus, the Saviour, had come down from heaven. It was, after all, jejune to be informed, “We are the offspring of God” (Acts xvii. 28); but to be told that God became man and was incarnate in order that men might be divine—this was the apex and climax of all knowledge. It was bound up with the speculative idea (i) that, as the incarnation was a cosmic and divine event, it must therefore involve a reviving and heightened significance for the whole creation; and (ii) that the soul of man, hitherto divided from its primal source in God by forces and barriers of various degrees, now found the way open for its return to God, while every one of those very forces which had formerly barred the path was also liberated and transformed into a step and intermediate stage on the way back. Speculations upon God, the world, and the soul were inevitable, and they extended to the nature of the church. Here, too, the earthly and historical was raised to the level of the cosmic and transcendental.
At first the contrast between a “sound” gnosis and a heretical only emerged by degrees in the propaganda, although from the very outset it was felt that certain speculations seemed to imperil the preaching of the gospel itself.154154One of the most remarkable and suggestive phenomena of the time is the fact that wherever a “dangerous” speculation sprang up, it was combated in such a way that part of it was taken over. For example, contrast Ephesians and Colossians with the “heresies” which had emerged in Phrygia (at Colosse); think of the “heresies” opposed by the Johannine writings, and then consider the Gnostic contents of the latter; compare the theology of Ignatius with the “heresies attacked in the Ignatian epistles”; think of the great gnostic systems of the second century, and then read their opponent Irenæus. “Vincendi vincentibus legem dederunt”! Such was the power of these Hellenistic, syncretistic ideas! It looks almost as if there had been a sort of disinfectant process, the “sound” doctrine being inoculated with a strong dilution of heresy, and thus made proof against virulent infection. The extravagances of the “gnosis” which penetrated all the syncretistic religion of the age, and issued in dualism and docetism, were corrected primarily by a “sound” gnosis, then by the doctrine of Christian freedom, by a sober, rational theology and ethics, by the realism of the saving facts in the history of Jesus, by the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, but ultimately and most effectively by the church prohibiting all “innovations” and fixing her tradition. From this standpoint Origen's definition of gospel preaching (Hom. in Joh. xxxii. 9) is extremely instructive. After quoting Hermas, Mand. i. (the one God, the Creator), he adds: “It is also necessary to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to believe all the truth concerning his deity and humanity, also to believe in the Holy Spirit, and that as free agents we are punished for our sins and rewarded for our good actions.”
By the second century Christianity was being preached in very different ways. The evangelists of the Catholic church preached in one way throughout the East, and in another throughout the West, though their fundamental position was identical; the Gnostics and Marcionites, again, preached in yet another way. Still Tertullian was probably not altogether wrong in saying that missions to the heathen were not actively promoted by the latter; the Gnostics and the Marcionites, as a rule, confined their operations to those who were already Christians. After the gnostic controversy, the anti-gnostic rule of faith gradually became the one basis of the church's preaching. The ethical and impetuous element retreated behind the dogmatic, although the emphasis upon self-control and asceticism never lost its vogue.
At the transition from the second to the third century, theology had extended widely, but the mission-preaching had then as ever to remain comparatively limited. For the “idiotæ” it was enough, and more than enough, to hold the four points which we have already mentioned. Scenes like those described in Acts (viii. 26-38) were constantly being repeated, mutatis mutandis, especially during the days of persecution, when individual Christians suffered martyrdom joyfully; and this, although an orthodox doctrine of considerable range was in existence, which (in theory, at any rate) was essential. For many the sum of knowledge amounted to nothing more than the confession of the one God, who created the world, of Jesus the Lord, of the judgment, and of the resurrection; on the other hand, some of the chief arguments in the proof from prophecy, which played so prominent a part in all preaching to Jews and pagans (see Chapter VIII.), were disseminated far and wide; and as the apologists are always pointing in triumph to the fact that “among us,” “tradesmen, slaves, and old women know how to give some account of God, and do not believe without evidence,”155155Together with the main articles in the proof from prophecy (i.e., a dozen passages or so from the Old Testament), the corresponding parts of the history of Jesus were best known and most familiar. An inevitable result of being viewed in this light and along this line was that the history of Jesus (apart from the crucifixion) represents almost entirely legendary materials (or ideal history) to a severely historical judgment. Probably no passage made so deep an impression as the birth-narratives in Matthew and especially in Luke. The fact that the story of the resurrection did not in its details prove a similar success, was due to a diversity of the narratives in the authoritative scriptures, which was so serious that the very exegetes of the period (and they were capable of almost anything!) failed to give any coherent or impressive account of what transpired. Hence the separate narratives in the gospels relating to the resurrection did not possess the same importance as the birth-narratives. “Raised on the third day from the dead, according to the scripture”: this brief confession was all that rivaled the popularity of Luke i.-ii. and the story of the wise men from the East.—The notion that the apostles themselves compiled a quintessence of Christian doctrine was widely current; but the greatest difference of opinion prevailed as to what the quintessence consisted of. The Didachê marks the beginning of a series of compositions which were supposed to have been written by the apostles collectively, or to contain an authoritative summary of their regulations. the principles of the Christian conception of God must have been familiar to a very large number of people.
These four points, then—the one living God, Jesus our Saviour and Judge, the resurrection of the flesh, and self-control—combined to form the new religion. It stood out in bold relief from the old religions, and above all from the Jewish; yet in spite of its hard struggle with polytheism, it was organically related to the process of evolution which was at work throughout all religion, upon the eastern and the central coasts of the Mediterranean. The atmosphere from which those four principles drew their vitality was the conception of recompense—i.e., the absolute supremacy of the moral element in life on the one hand, and the redeeming cross of Christ upon the other. No account of the principles underlying the mission-preaching of Christianity is accurate, if it does not view everything from the standpoint of this conception: the sovereignty of morality, and the assurance of redemption by the forgiveness of sins, based on the cross of Christ.156156Redemption by the forgiveness of sins was, strictly speaking, considered to take place once and for all. The effects of Christ's death were conferred on the individual at baptism, and all his previous sins were blotted out. Many teachers, like Paul, presented the cross of Christ as the content of Christianity. Thus Tertullian (de Carne v.), protesting against the docetism of Marcion, which impaired the death of Christ upon the cross, calls out, “O spare the one hope of the whole world” (parce unicæ spei totius orbis). The cross exerts a protective and defensive influence over the baptized (against demons), but it does not bestow any redeeming deliverance from sin. Speculations on the latter point do not arise till later. As a mystery, of course, it is inexhaustible, and therefore it is impossible to state its influence. Pseudo-Barnabas and Justin are already mystagogues of the cross; cp. Ep. Barn. xi.-xii., and Justin's Apol. I. lv., where he triumphantly claims that “the wicked demons never imitated the crucifixion, not even in the case of any of the so-called sons of Zeus” (οὐδαμοῦ οὐδ᾽ ἐπί τινος τῶν λεγομένων υἱῶν τοῦ Διὸς τὸ σταυρωθῆναι ἐμιμήσαντο). Cp. further Minucius, Octav. xxix.; Tert., ad. Nat. I. xii., etc. “Grace,” i.e., forgiveness, did play a leading role, but grace never displaced recompense. From the very first, morality was inculcated within the Christian churches in two ways: by the Spirit of Christ and by the conception of judgment and of recompense. Yet both were marked by a decided bent to the future, for the Christ of both was “he who was to return.” To the mind of primitive Christianity the “present” and the “future” were sharply opposed to each other,157157Cp. 2 Clem., ad Cor. vi.: ἔστιν οὗτος ὁ αἰὼν καὶ ὁ μέλλων δύο ἐχθροί. οὗτος λέγει μοιχείαν καὶ φθορὰν καὶ φιλαργυρίαν καὶ ἀπάτην, ἐκεῖνος δὲ τούτοις ἀποτάσσεται. οὐ δυνάμεθα οὖν τῶν δύο φίλοι εἶναι. δεῖ δὲ ἡμᾶς τούτῳ ἀποταξαμένους ἐκείνῳ χρᾶσθαι. οἰόμεθα, ὅτι βέλτιόν ἐστιν τὰ ἐνθάδε μισῆσαι, ὅτι μικρὰ καὶ ὀλιγοχρόνια καὶ φθαρτά· ἐκεῖνα δὲ ἀγαπῆσαι, τὰ ἀγαθὰ τὰ ἄφθαρτα (“This age and the future age are two enemies. The one speaks of adultery, corruption, avarice, and deceit; the other bids farewell to these. We cannot, therefore, be friends of both; we must part with the one and embrace the other. We judge it better to hate the things which are here, because they are small and transient and corruptible, and to love the things that are yonder, for they are good and incorruptible”). and it was this opposition which furnished the principle of self-control with its most powerful motive. It became, indeed, with many people a sort of glowing passion. The church which prayed at every service, “May grace come and this world pass away: maranatha,” was the church which gave directions like those which we read in the opening parable of Hermas.158158Here is the passage; it will serve to represent a large class. “You know that you servants of God dwell in a foreign land, for your city is far from this city. If, then, you know the city where you are to dwell, why provide yourselves here with fields and expensive luxuries and buildings and chambers to no purpose? He who makes such provision for this city has no mind to return to his own city. Foolish, double-minded, wretched man! Seest thou not that all these things are foreign to thee and controlled by another? For the lord of this city shall say, ‘I will not have thee in my city; leave this city, for thou keepest not my laws.' Then, possessor of fields and dwellings and much property besides, what wilt thou do with field, and house, and all thine other gains, when thou art expelled by him? For the lord of this land has a right to tell thee, ‘Keep my laws, or leave my land.' What then shalt thou do, thou who hast already a law over thee in thine own city? For the sake of thy fields and other possessions wilt thou utterly repudiate thy law and follow the law of this city? Beware! It may be unwise for thee to repudiate thy law. For shouldst thou wish to return once more to thy city, thou shalt not be allowed in: thou shalt be shut out, because thou didst repudiate its law. So beware. Dwelling in a foreign land, provide thyself with nothing more than a suitable competency; and whenever the master of this city expels thee for opposing his law, be ready to leave his city and seek thine own, keeping thine own law cheerfully and unmolested. So beware, you that serve God and have him in your heart; perform his works, mindful of his commandments and of the promises he has made, in the faith that he will perform the latter if the former be observed. Instead of fields, then, buy souls in trouble, as each of you is able; visit widows and orphans, and neglect them not; expend on such fields and houses, which God has given to you [i.e., on the poor], your wealth and all your pains. The Master endowed you with riches that you might perform such ministries for him. Far better is it to buy fields, possessions, houses of this kind; thou wilt find them in thine own city when thou dost visit it. Such expenditure is noble and cheerful; it brings joy, not fear and sorrow. Practise not the expenditure of pagans, then: that ill becomes you, as God's servants. Practise your proper expenditure, in which you may rejoice. Do not stamp things falsely; never touch other people's property, nor lust after it, for it is evil to lust after what belongs to other people. Do thine own task and thou shalt be saved.” For all the rigor of his counsel, however, it never occurs to Hermas that the distinction of rich and poor should actually cease within the church. This is plain, if further proof be needed, from the next parable. The progress of thought upon this question in the church is indicated by the tractate of Clement of Alexandria entitled “Quis dives salvetur?” Moreover, the saying already put into the lips of Jesus in John xii. 8 (“the poor ye have always with you”), a saying which was hardly inserted without some purpose, shows that the abolition of the distinction between rich and poor was never contemplated in the church. “From the lips of all Christians this word is to be heard: The world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Celsus, cited by Origen, V. lxiv.).159159The pessimistic attitude of the primitive Christians towards the world cannot be too strongly emphasised. (Marcion called his fellow-confessors συνταλαίπωροι καὶ συμμισούμενοι, “partners in the suffering of wretchedness and of hatred.”—Tert., adv. Marc. iv. 9). This is confirmed by the evidence even of Tertullian, and of Origen himself. Let one instance suffice. In Hom. 8 ad. Levit., t. ix. pp. 316 f., Origen remarks that in the Scriptures only worldly men, like Pharaoh and Herod, celebrate their birthdays, whereas “the saints not only abstain from holding a feast on their birthdays, but, being filled with the Holy Spirit, curse that day” (Sancti non solum non agunt festivitatem in die natali suo, sed a spiritu sancto repleti exsecrantur hunc diem). The true birthday of Christians is the day of their death. Origen recalls Job, in this connection; but the form which his pessimism assumes is bound up, of course, with special speculative ideas of his own.
This resolute renunciation of the world was really the first thing which made the church competent and strong to tell upon the world. Then, if ever, was the saying true: “He who would do anything for the world must have nothing to do with it.” Primitive Christianity has been upbraided for being too un-worldly and ascetic. But revolutions are not effected with rosewater, and it was a veritable revolution to overthrow polytheism and establish the majesty of God and goodness in the world—for those who believed in them, and also for those who did not. This could never have happened, in the first instance, had not men asserted the vanity of the present world, and practically severed themselves from it. The rigor of this attitude, however, hardly checked the mission-preaching; on the contrary, it intensified it, since instead of being isolated it was set side by side with the message of the Saviour and of salvation, of love and charity. And we must add, that for all its trenchant forms and the strong bias it imparted to the minds of men towards the future, the idea of recompense was saved from harshness and inertia by its juxtaposition with a feeling of perfect confidence that God was present, and a conviction of his care and of his providence. No mode of thought was more alien to early Christianity than what we call deism. The early Christians knew the Father in heaven; they knew that God was near them and guiding them; the more thoughtful were conscious that he reigned in their life with a might of his own. This was the God they proclaimed. And thus, in their preaching, the future became already present; hard and fast recompense seemed to disappear entirely, for what further “recompense” was needed by people who were living in God's presence, conscious in every faculty of the soul, aye, and in every sense of the wisdom, power, and goodness of their God? Moods of assured possession and of yearning, experiences of grace and phases of impassioned hope, came and went in many a man besides the apostle Paul. He yearned for the prospect of release from the body, and thus felt a touching sympathy for everything in bondage, for the whole creation in its groans. But it was no harassing or uncertain hope that engrossed all his heart and being; it was hope fixed upon a strong and secure basis in his filial relationship to God and his possession of God's Spirit.160160It was only in rare cases that the image of Christ's person as a whole produced what may be termed a “Christ-emotion,” which moved people to give articulate expression to their experiences. Ignatius is really the only man we can name alongside of Paul and John. Yet in how many cases of which we know nothing, this image of Christ must have been the dominating power of human life! In some of the dying confessions of the martyrs, and in the learned homilies of Origen, it emerges in a very affecting way.
It is hardly necessary to point out that, by proclaiming repentance and strict morals on the one hand, and offering the removal of sins and redemption on the other hand, the Christian propaganda involved an inner cleavage which individual Christians must have realized in very different ways. If this removal of sins and redemption was bound up with the sacrament or specifically with the sacrament of baptism, then it came to this, that thousands were eager for this sacrament and nothing more, satisfied with belief in its immediate and magical efficacy, and devoid of any serious attention to the moral law. Upon the other hand, the moral demand could weigh so heavily on the conscience that redemption came to be no more than the reward and prize of a holy life. Between these two extremes a variety of standpoints was possible. The propaganda of the church made a sincere effort to assign equal weight to both elements of its message; but sacraments are generally more welcome than moral counsels, and that age was particularly afflicted with the sacramental mania. It added to the mysteries the requisite quality of naïvete, and at the same time the equally requisite note of subtlety.
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