Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

the ethics of civilisation. Relying less than Jesus on the comprehensive rule of mutual beneficence, Paul more specifically inculcates the social duties of truth, honesty, justice, kindness, forbearance, forgiveness; and the personal virtues of industry, moderation, purity, endurance, and fortitude. Love he depicts, with enthusiastic eloquence, as greater than the gift of prophecy, the working of miracles, or the knowledge of mysteries-love known to us as charity, through the Authorised Version, but more correctly defined as the modern virtue of humanity, which, in its highest form, irrespective of creed or clime, grants to the calamities of every race the voice of sympathy and the boon of help.

But Pauline ethics virtually rest on a foundation of sand. Experience tells us that the family circle is the school of virtue. Paul, however, considered that both men and women are hampered in the career of saints by domestic ties, and would have all the faithful ascetic celebates as himself. This Pauline fanaticism, in due time, filled caves with anchorites, and cells with monks and nuns flying from the spiritual danger of being men and women, and transferring the business of life to the profane multitude guilty of adherence to the old-old fashions of Humanity, but willing to contribute to the support of unproductive piety, in exchange for the prayers of saints and the benedictions of hermits.

Modern Christians, conscious of the contrast between Pauline and Mosaic ethics, attribute the apparently abrupt transition to a new revelation : but in the long interval between the last of the prophets and the first of the apostles, the contact of Judaism with Persian,

Grecian, and Roman civilisation had modified ancient IIebrew barbarism ; and the disciples of a Hillel or a Gamaliel were instructed in the borrowed wisdom of the Gentiles, under the patriotic illusion that they were listening to the traditional teaching of Moses.

Roman philosophy had passed, in the age of Paul, from speculation to practice; and his illustrious contemporary, Seneca, discoursed of religion and morality in terms which piety accepts from the lips of Paul as divine revelation. Seneca was not only hostile to Paganism, but depicted the Deity as the friend and father of mankind, inspiring them with good resolutions, never far off from the objects of his beneficent care, and worthy of the love and devotion of his children. In morals he taught the obligations of charity, kindness, and benevolence, through the comprehensive principle of the brotherhood of man. He maintained the rights of slaves, condemned the ravages of war, and denounced the wickedness of gladiatorial shows. He inculcated ascetic indifference to wealth, voluntary poverty, and unbroken fortitude in the presence of calamity, persecution, and death. It is true that Seneca did not practise what he preached ; but his faults are chronicled by hostile critics, whilst the character of Paul is written by himself or his admiring friends. If he, as Seneca, had been exposed to the temptations of an imperial court, and had his biography written in the malignant spirit of a Dio Cassius, we should then, doubtless, recognise the merely human elements of his moral greatness.

The teaching of Paul was, therefore, the product of the ages; and its coincidence with the philosophy of Seneca tells us nothing more than that each had given

expression to the highest forms of contemporary thought, evolved from antecedent systems of philosophy, interpreted through the practical sense of duty preached by Cicero before the birth of Paul. These conclusions being, however, irreconcilable with the theory of Pauline inspiration, primitive Christians met the difficulty with a forged correspondence between Paul and Seneca, through which the teaching of the latter was placed to the credit of Christianity. But there is no proof that Seneca had ever heard of Paul, or borrowed from his gospel. Christians he necessarily confounded with Jews, for whom he ever expressed the same contempt with which his brother, Junius Gallio, as proconsul of Achaia, refused to listen to the accusers of Paul.? The pious fiction of an evangelised Seneca having, therefore, perished in the light of modern criticism, we retain the conviction that Pauline ethics were naturally attainable by uninspired humanity.

Uncertainty as to the authorship of the Pauline epistles involves no doubt of the existence of a great Apostle, who accomplished a missionary work among the Gentiles, impossible to the simplicity of Galilee. There can be no question that an illustrious Jew, the disciple of Hebrew sages, exchanged the cherished convictions of his ancestral creed for his own ideal version of the Gospel of Jesus, joined the community of saints awaiting the second advent of the Messiah, founded a Pauline school of zealous disciples, and devoted all the resources of an inexhaustible enthusiasm to the propagation of the Faith among those Gentile communities which proved the germs of future Christian churches. But in the

1 Acts xviii. 12-16,

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.

317

CHAPTER IV.

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 (widos åv@pwntos) 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 Gentile

« ÎnapoiContinuați »