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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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CHAPTER IV.

STATE OF THE CHURCH DURING THIS PERIOD. FIRST SYMPTOMS OF HERESY.

THE picture we have given of the opposition encountered by Paul, from enemies and detractors, has already shown us that this epoch was pregnant with stormy controversy in the Churches. They had to pass through a sharp, but salutary, crisis.

The conferences at Jerusalem had dissipated all misunderstanding among the Apostles, but it was not possible that they should have quieted and reassured all minds in the same degree. The fanaticism of the Judaizing party in the Church was not to be so promptly disarmed by the conciliatory measures adopted in the first Council. It had lost its cause when tried before the highest representative assembly of the Church; it must make its next appeal to the tribunal of popular passions. It began, therefore, to scatter every-where seeds of dissension, and sought to destroy, both by craft and violence, the credit and authority of St. Paul. While this fanatical party succeeded in stirring up the pride of the Jews against the comprehensiveness of the Christian doctrine, it also found means to reach the Gentile converts, whose faith was yet in its infancy. We shall see chiefly in Asia Minor how Jewish prejudices made common cause with oriental dualism, and fostered dangerous errors in the Church under the name of Christianity. Thus, in the very first century, originated the two great heresies which, whether in opposition or in combination, or transfusing their spirit into the doctrine and ecclesiastical organization of the Church, were destined to play a very important part in the history of primitive Christianity. Ebionitism and Gnosticism have their germ in the apostolic age. It is of consequence to note their first appearance, while carefully guarding against confounding the date of their commencement with that of their full development. We must not attribute to them, from the first, the systematic character they afterward assumed; but we must not, on the other hand, fail to mark the earliest indications of these powerful heresies, which, had they gained the ascendency, would have stifled Christianity in its cradle.

They did not originally declare themselves as constituted and organized heresies, altogether distinct from the Church. In the first century they rather sought to undermine it from within than to attack it from without; but it will not be difficult to show that such attempts were frustrated, and that the Church repudiated their dogmas as foreign and dangerous elements.

This important fact will appear very clearly in the rapid sketch we are about to give of the state of the Churches during this period. We shall not adhere strictly to the chronological order of their formation, already sufficiently indicated in our account of the missions of the Apostles, but shall follow the development of the Judaizing tendency through its various phases before describing the inroads of oriental theosophy.

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