« ÎnapoiContinuați »
presence of the spiritual conquests of Buddha and Mahomed, there are no reasonable grounds on which we can accept the work of Paul as anything more than the achievements of human genius, acting in absolute freedom from the controlling influence of the miraculous
an assumption which receives full confirmation through his failure to establish a permanent form of Christianity, and the almost immediate corruption of his teaching through the progressive Gnosticism of his successors in Gentile churches.
THE EVOLUTION OF DIVINITY.
An impenetrable cloud rests on the first century of Christianity, and modern Orthodoxy holds no authentic record of that mysterious blank in ecclesiastical history.
When the curtain rises on the evangelical drama of the second century, we recognise the work of the Galilean Apostles in the simple faith of the Ebionites of Pella, the scattered remnant of the Nazarene Church of Jerusalem, who, as faithful disciples of Jesus, combined the ritualism of Moses with the precepts of the Gospel, and were unconscious of any other saving creed than implicit trust in the speedy return of Jesus to confound their enemies and reward their devotion. They possessed a Hebrew Gospel which probably consisted of the original Logia of Matthew, in which the mythology of the first chapter in our version found no place. To them their Lord and Master was merely a man (Yılòs åvo pwmos) divinely inspired to fulfil, in life and death, the will of his Father in heaven, and predestined to reappear in the clouds as the triumphant Messiah of the prophets. Some of them were perhaps already drifting into the heresy of a supernatural birth, but the novel doctrines of a divine Logos and a triune Deity, then in various stages of incipient development among
communities, were quite external to the primitive theology of the Ebionites.
What, therefore, was the faith of Gentile Christianity? Hegesippus, a Hebrew Christian, who visited several churches when travelling to Rome, about the middle of the second century, wrote a history of Christianity in continuation of the Apostolic age, which has disappeared through accident or design, with the exception of a few imperfect fragments preserved in the works of the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius; according to whom, Hegesippus states that · he received the same doctrine from all the bishops with whom he conversed on his journey to Rome; and that in every episcopal see and city, the prevailing doctrines were in accordance with the declarations of the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord.'1
Hegesippus then enumerates the principal heresies extant in his generation, including those of the Marcionites, Valentinians, and Basilidians, and adds : From these sprung the false Christs, false prophets, and false apostles, who destroyed the unity of the Church by introducing corrupt doctrines against God and against his Christ.' Now, as this Christian Jew had thus become familiar with the doctrines of Nazarene and Gentile churches, with the result of attributing unity of faith to all, it inevitably follows that Gentile orthodoxy, about the middle of the second century, was identical with Ebionite faith in the unity of God and the humanity of Jesus, whilst the only recognised heretics were believers in false Christs and false conceptions of divinity.
The catholicity which had impressed Hegesippus during his tour of inspection throughout the Christian churches was, however, merely superficial. The eminent prelates, with whom he conversed at Corinth and at Rome, had, doubtless, placed under lock and key the ecclesiastical skeleton then rattling its bones in episcopal cupboards; theological speculation had not yet assumed sufficiently definite forms to cause an open rupture between Hebrew and Hellenistic Christianity, but beneath the seemingly unruffled surface of Christian unity were drifting divergent currents yet destined to overflow, with cumulative force and volume, the boundaries of primitive orthodoxy, and rush onwards in independent channels, until diverted by new forces into the great Dead Sea of Roman despotism.
1 Eusebius, His. Book IV. chap. xxii.
Let us briefly trace the origin of this impending revolution,
Paul supplies us with a graphic sketch of primitive association among the Christians of Corinth—a motley crowd of men and women, assembled in convivial commemoration of the social feast at which Jesus bid farewell to his Galilean companions in the work of the Kingdom-all eager for distinction as psalmists, doctrinaires, prophets, polyglots, and interpreters, divinely enlightened by supernatural dreams and miraculous visions. This spiritual confusion was most distasteful to Paul, who told the Corinthians that “if anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace;' but who could determine whether the second speaker had not silenced an inspired brother ; was he sole judge of his own inspiration ; and, if interrupted by yet another prophet, was he also to give place to a third revelation?
1 1 Cor. xiv.
But later on, all this perplexing confusion was changed among the Gentile Christians by the magic of Roman organisation. Notwithstanding the spiritual resources at their command, primitive Christian communities borrowed the system common to Roman guilds or clubs, incorporated for trading, social, dramatic, or literary purposes, with administrative committees of Presbyteri or Episcopi, and a chairman or president who, in the case of Christian associations, gradually drifted into permanent primacy and eventual supremacy, as the Episcopus or Bishop, invested, in the further process of ecclesiastical evolution, with supernatural authority over the reason and conscience of his flock, and accepted by modern piety as a divinely appointed pontiff
, miraculously inspired through episcopal manipulation.
If presbyters and bishops succeeded in imposing reverential silence on the crowd, its members, however, retained the right to freedom of thought; and episcopal rulers enjoyed the privilege of independent teaching, long before the central power of Metropolitan, Pope, or Council had claimed the right to define the creed of orthodoxy, and pronounce the doom of heretics. And thus, philosophical Christians, both lay and clerical, worked in freedom at the hopeless task of reconciling Judaism and Christianity with the mythology and philosophy of India, Persia, and Greece, with results which supplied future generations with abundant materials for constructing the colossal fabric of mediæyal Christianity.
The Mosaic dispensation had been, for centuries, a theosophic mystery, carefully withdrawn by the chosen