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The Early Church, from Ignatius to Augustine by  George Hodges
Table of Contents


 

 

THE DEFENCE OF THE FAITH

I. AGAINST PREJUDICE

[63]

T
HE first antagonist of the Christian faith was prejudice.

This was partly in consequence of the astonishing novelty of the Christian ideas and ways, and partly in consequence of the secrecy under the cover of which the Christian movement proceeded. The early service, which assembled the Christians before sunrise, was made necessary by the fact that every day was a working-day,—unless it was a pagan festival,—but still more by the need of seclusion from intruding enemies. It is easy to see how the enmity and the seclusion acted and reacted, one upon the other; how fear, on the one side, led the Christians to keep themselves apart from their neighbors; and how zeal, on the other side, inclined the honest, pious and scandalized neighbors to believe regarding the Christians, the current tales and rumors in which imagination supplied the lack of knowledge.

The Christians were accused of atheism, because they denied all the gods which other men revered, and had no images to represent any deity [64] of their own. They were accused of sedition, because nobody knew what they might be planning in their secret meetings, in the dark. What did they mean by the social democracy with they called brotherhood in Christ? What was the general revolution for which they were waiting and praying, which was to begin with a destruction of all civilization in a conflagration of the world, and was to result in the kingdom of heaven? They were further accused of immorality, an accusation which they themselves afterwards brought into their own fraternal disputes as one of the counters of controversy, but to which color was given by the secrecy of their meetings and by misunderstanding of their sacrament.

This position of general prejudice against Christian religion was honestly held by excellent and intelligent persons. To Tacitus, for example, at the beginning of the second century, Christianity was beneath contempt; it was the degraded superstition of ignorant and vulgar people. To the judges who in the middle of the third century pronounced their sentence upon Cyprian, a Christian bishop was living a life of sacrilege, and was upholder of a great crime.

Marcus Aurelius, imperial philosopher and moralist, saw nothing in Christianity to attract him. In the single sentence of the "Meditations" [65] in which he mentions the Christians he despises the obstinacy with which they maintain their opinions even to the pain of death. This was partly temperamental. Marcus Aurelius was a hesitant and indecisive person, a type of a perplexed generation, believing and disbelieving. He offered splendid sacrifices to the gods, whose existence he was inclined to doubt. He disliked the savage games in the Colosseum, which, nevertheless, he attended, taking with him, however, a book which diligently read in the midst of the excitement of the audience. "Hope not," he said, "for Plato's Republic; but be content if the smallest thing advance,"—a wise counsel for a poor man tempted to dream what he would do if he were king, but a foolish counsel for a king to give to his own soul, who being king is bound not only to hope for Plato's Republic, or whatever better ideal commonwealth he knows about, but to strive to realize it in his own kingdom. This temperamental individualism of Marcus Aurelius kept him from understanding what seemed to him the obstinacy with which Christians gave their lives for the brotherhood, in the hope of the kingdom of heaven.

But the blindness of the emperor was shared by all the eminent men of the day. The most important movement in the history of man, which was [66] speedily to take possession of the Roman Empire and to build a new Rome by the Bosphorus, and thereafter to determine the progress of civilization, and to save out of the wreck of barbarian overthrow the books of the very men who were writing at the moment in utter ignorance of the meaning of this struggling and despised religion—this movement began and continued with no attention from the wise and the great. They either overlooked it, or regarded the Christians as an insignificant Oriental sect.

Lucian, in the second century, mentioned the Christians in a satire. His favorite literary form was the dialogue. He wrote imaginary conversations, into which he introduced the heroes, the philosophers, even the gods. They talked very freely together, in the inspiration of the agreeable hospitality of Lucian, and one who is admitted into their informal society gets glimpses of the mind of the century. Lucian stands in no great awe of the gods. There are now so many of them, and from such strange lands, and with such extraordinary manners that Zeus, in one of the dialogues, proposes to appoint a membership committee of seven gods to pass on all new applicants for admission to Olympus. In another dialogue, old Charon comes up from the Styx to see why it is that so many of the passengers on his ferry- [67] boat are sad and reluctant, and prefer life to death; he comes up to see what there is in life which makes it so attractive,—and returns more perplexed than before.

Proteus Peregrinus, a character in one of Lucian's dialogues, is a wandering impostor who pretends to be a Christian. He finds the Christians simple and credulous persons, who take him at his own valuation, making no inquiries. Being put in prison for the Christian name, he finds that they spare no pains to minister to him. From earliest dawn widows and little children are waiting for the opening of the prison doors to bring him food. Men of rank visit him, and read to him from their sacred scriptures. Even from neighboring towns people came to comfort him, and to labor for his release. "Why," says Lucian, "these poor wretches have persuaded themselves that they are going to be every whit immortal, and live forever; wherefore they both despise death and voluntarily devote themselves to it, most of them. Moreover, their first law-giver persuaded them that they are all brothers on of another, when once they come out and reject the gods of the Greeks and worship that crucified Sophist, and live according to his requirements."

Lucian was a mocking spirit, but Celsus was a serious philosopher, a conservative person, who [68] resented the dissent of Christianity from the standing order. All that remains of the writings of Celsus is contained in quotations which Origen made for the purpose of refuting him. These fragments show that he was offended by the social position of the Christians. He disliked them for their poverty and ignorance. They seemed to him presumptuous and impertinent people who undertook to be teachers, having never learned. He was disgusted with their insistence upon confession of sin, and the pride which they seemed to him to take in having no health in them; they spoke like worms in the mud. He objected in much the same spirit to the doctrine of incarnation, which degraded the idea of God. He attacked the miraculous element in the Christian records, declaring it to be unhistorical and impossible. As a philosopher, intent on the pursuit of truth, he resented the doctrine of faith, which was offered, he thought, as an easy way to attain that which the student gains with labor and difficulty; it puts the ignorant on an equality with the educated; it lead only to illusion.

"Let no man come to us who is learned or wise or prudent; but whoso is stupid or ignorant or babyish, he may come with confidence. The only converts we care to have (or indeed can get) are the silly, the ignoble, and the senseless, the slaves, the women and the children." Thus Celsus, in [69] the "True Word," expressed what he understood to be the position of the Christian Church. "Do not examine; only believe"; this, he said, was the Christian principle, to be abhorred of all philosophers.

Against the common prejudice and misunderstanding, a defence was made by the Apologists. Most of the early Christian writers were apologists, justifying the position of Christianity and attaching heathenism. That was their imperative business. Even at the end of the period of the Early Church, at the beginning of the fifth century, Augustine must devote half of his great work, the "City of God," to a refutation of pagan error. The name, however, applies more strictly to a few men who addressed their writings to the Roman emperors,—to Hadrian, to Antoninus Pius, to Marcus Aurelius. Chief among these was Justin Martyr.

Justin was born in Palestine, at Sychem, where Christ talked with the Samaritan woman by the well. His parents were pagans; his original and continuing interest was in philosophy. He desired to know the truth, and especially the truth concerning God, and the relation between God and the world. Thus he went, he says, to the Stoics, but found that they had nothing to tell him about God; then to the Peripatetics, who offended him [70] by their anxiety regarding their fees; then to the Pythagoreans, who required him to pass an entrance examination in music, astronomy and geometry—how, they said, could he understand divine truth if he had not, by such studies weaned his soul from his senses? Finally, he found some satisfaction among the Platonists, who held out to him the hope of attaining to the sight of God.

But one day, as he wandered in meditation along the shore of the sea, he met an old man of venerable appearance who referred him to the apostles and prophets. These, he said, were not guessing at the truth, neither were they demonstrating divine things by reason, but were witnesses to the truth which they had themselves experienced. To them Justin went, and became a Christian. Thenceforth he devoted himself to the work of teaching what he had learned. He did not seek to be ordained, but as a layman, wearing his philosopher's cloak, he became a wandering lecturer, making his way from Ephesus to Rome, where he died by martyrdom.

Justin addressed two apologies—or, as we would say, defences of the faith—to Marcus Aurelius. They give us some idea of Christian life and faith in the middle of the second century.

There is not as yet any system of theology. [71] There is no creed. The Christians are studying the New Testament, and drawing inferences form it, sometimes wisely, sometimes unwisely. Justin is a firm believer in the evidential value of Old Testament prophecy. He has much to say about devils, whom he is inclined to identify with the pagan gods. He expects a literal millennium. "I," he says, "and whoever are in all points right-minded Christians know that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare."

There is not as yet any system of church government or worship. There are congregations whose chief officer is called the president, having deacons to assist him. There is an informal service of Bible-reading, preaching and praying, with a distribution of bread and wine. "On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, are read so long as time permits. Then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise and offer prayers. And, as we have said before, when we have finished the prayer, bread and wine and water are brought, [72] and the president offers prayers and thanksgivings according to this ability, and the people assent, saying Amen. And then there is a distribution to each and a participation in the eucharistic elements, and portions are sent to those who are not present, by the deacons."

The emphasis of Justin is on the righteousness of the Christians, against the slanders of the pagans. The heart of Christianity is right conduct. Justin exemplifies in his own manner of writing that brotherly spirit which he says is characteristic of Christianity. He has no anathemas for his pagan neighbors. He believes that the divine influence of Jesus Christ touches all men everywhere; the Word is sown in all hearts; the Light lighteneth every man. All good living and good thinking are essentially Christian.

II. AGAINST HERESY

The second antagonist of the Christian faith was heresy.

Heresy is partial truth. All profound truth, especially when it deals with that which is divine and eternal, has two sides. It has a nearer side which the mind may apprehend, and concerning which it is possible to make clear and definite statements. It has also a farther side, beyond all human apprehension, extending into infinity. The [73] heretic is the man who, having attained certain definite ideas of truth, cries, "Now I know it all." Standing on the shore of the ocean, and looking out over the illimitable deep, he thinks he sees the other coast. He does see land, but the sight means that he is looking not over the ocean, but over some little bay or inlet of it. The heretic has a complete system of theology. This also is the refutation of heresy. There can be no complete solution of any equation which contains the factor of infinity.

The most eminent heretics of the second and third centuries were the Gnostics. The name signifies their claim of complete knowledge. Gnosticism arose from and honest desire to make Christianity a consistent intellectual system, to provide for it a theology which should appeal to men of learning and reflection. Such men were beginning to come into the church, bringing their intellectual habits with them. They were somewhat dismayed at the informality of the current Christina thinking, and undertook to introduce into it the element of order.

In the endeavor to state the Christian religion in such a way as to appeal to the cultivated mind, these men found two difficulties. There was a difficulty in the reconciling of the Old Testament with the New; partly in the matter of morals, where [74] the New Testament was evidently on a higher plane; and partly in that contrast upon which St. Paul had insisted between the gospel and the law. There was also a difficulty in reconciling the condition of the world with the idea of God—the bad world with the good God; involving the everlasting problem of the origin and significance of evil.

Studying these difficulties in the light of contemporary philosophy, the Gnostics worked out certain cardinal positions. They maintained (1) that matter and spirit are essentially antagonistic, even as light and darkness, and as good and evil; matter being wholly evil. They held (2) that there are two worlds, a lower and a higher; a lower world in which spirit is imprisoned in matter and is striving to get free; and a higher world inhabited by divine beings, whom they called Šons, emanations from God, some of them very near to God in His infinite distance, other nearer to the world. They said (3) that one of these Šons, whom they named the Demiurge, made the lower world, and him they identified with the God of the Old Testament; and that another Šon, whom they named the Christ, came to redeem men from the lower world, to liberate them from their bondage to matter into the freedom of the spirit. They taught (4) that the Old Testament, which describes the administration of the Demiurge may be treated with [75] great freedom; there is no need to believe or to obey the teachings. As for the Christ, the supreme and saving Šon, (5) He had no real body; the essential evil of matter made that impossible; the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, were only in appearance. They held (6) that Christ saves men not by any sacrificial atonement, but by illumination, by shining in their souls. This illumination shines effectively in the souls of the receptive, whom they called Gnostics, as possessing knowledge, while ordinary, dull and unreceptive of Christian had nothing but faith. The Gnostics had immediate access to God, all other being distant from Him. They were in a Covenant of Works.

There were fanatical Gnostics, such as the Carpocratians, who finding the law to be the work of the Demiurge despised it, and disobeyed it on principle; or the Ophites, who, perceiving that the serpent in Eden was an enemy of the Demiurge, applauded the serpent and brought in serpent worship out of immoral pagan cults; or the Cainites, who for a similar reason canonized Cain and all the other Old Testament antagonists of God—the martyrs of the flood, the martyrs of the Tower of Babel, Saint Korah, Saint Dathan and Saint Abiram. These men brought scandal upon the [76] Christian name, and seemed to verify the worst rumors of pagan enmity.

But most of the Gnostics were honest and earnest men. They believed themselves to be upholding the spirit against the letter, the gospel against the law, spiritual religion against material religion. They felt they were fighting over again the splendid battles which St. Paul fought. Such Gnostics were Valentinus and Marcion.

Valentinus concerned himself with the problem of the relation between the good God and the bad world. This he solved by the doctrine of a series of Šons; first a group of eight, the Ogdoad, beginning with the Unutterable and the Silent, from whom proceeded Mind, Truth, Word, Life, Man, Church; then a group of ten, the Decad; then the Dodecad. Wisdom, last-born of the Dodecad, aspired to know the Unutterable. In the midst of her vain struggles to attain this forbidden knowledge she gave birth to another Šon, called the Desire of Wisdom, who was immediately expelled from Heaven. The Desire of Wisdom became the mother of the Demiurge who made the world. Some men he made spiritual, having in them a spark of the celestial fire which the Desire of Wisdom brought from above. Some men he made material. The material men are incapable of salvation; the spiritual men, called Gnostics, are [77] certain of it. Between the two, the Demiurge made ordinary men, psychic men, who may be save by help from on high. To save these men came new Šons, Christ and the Spirit of Jesus. Men's salvation depends upon their receptivity to these divine influences, a receptivity which is assisted by the practice of asceticism.

This Valentinian scheme, fantastic in form, is in reality a statement of theology in terms, not of ideas but of persons. It is a kind of philosophical poetry.

Marcion concerned himself with the problem of the relation between the New Testament and the Old. In his sober and prosaic Gnosticism, the Valentinian angels and archangels had no place. Marcion applied to the current Christianity what he believed to be the principle of St. Paul. Finding Paul and the other apostles at variance, he threw out what the apostles, in error, had maintained; first, the whole Old Testament, as a book of the law which Paul had rejected; then those parts of the New Testament which seemed to him unpauline. He retained a single Gospel, mainly that of St. Luke, and ten of St. Paul's epistles, somewhat expurgated. Upholding, as he believed, a spiritual religion in opposition to religion debased and materialized, he held that the humanity of Christ was only in appearance. Christ [78] could not have taken our material flesh, which is essentially evil. We ourselves, being unhappily combined with flesh, must release ourselves from it by ascetic practices.

Gnosticism, thus variously presented by Valentinus and by Marcion, offered to it Christian disciples a new statement of religious truth and a new kind of religious life. The Gnostics were gathered into fraternities, over against the orthodox. Not only the theology but the unity of the church was menaced. The agreement of the new teaching with the doctrines of the remoteness of God and of the evil of matter, which the West was eagerly receiving from the East, gave it popularity. It seemed to meet the objections brought by Lucian and by Celsus. Out of the common crowd of ignorant Christians it selected an exclusive company of cultivated persons who despised the flesh and devoted themselves to the study of philosophy. It claimed a superior knowledge, by virtue of which it interpreted the Christian religion to suit its own ideas.

A notable reply to Gnosticism was made by IrenŠus. He wrote a book with the large title "Against Heresies." In it he described the opinions of Valentinus and Marcion and a host of lesser Gnsotics, as if a plain description of their foolish notions must be of itself a sufficient refuta- [79] tion ; and over against their errors he set the true doctrines of the Christian religion. It was impossible, however, to evade the fact that the Gnostics had raised a new question which demanded a reply. They had made it necessary for theologians to consider the test of truth. How shall we know the truth? The Gnostics claimed to be the only true teachers of Christianity. They claimed that their societies were the only true Christian churches. To the natural answer of the orthodox that the Scriptures were against them, they replied by a criticism of the accepted Scriptures which enabled them to reject whatever was out of accord with their beliefs.

Under these circumstances, IrenŠus brought forward the argument from tradition. He said that the test of Christian truth is its agreement with the teachings of the Lord and His apostles, and that the question of such agreement is to be referred in every case to the churches to whom those teachings were committed. Such a reference made it necessary to identify the apostolic churches; especially, so far as possible, to name the men who in order, from the apostolic days, had held the episcopal office in them. Thus the rise of heresy and the endeavor to meet it by tradition set a new emphasis upon the organization of religion. It showed that the bishop was a [80] person whose value was not only administrative but evidential; and that the evidential value of the bishop depended greatly upon the care with which his direct and orderly succession from the apostles was secured.

IrenŠus said to the Gnostics, If you would know whether your teaching is Christian teaching or not, ask the nearest bishop, who received that teaching from his predecessor, and whose predecessor received it from the apostles. Such an argument came naturally from IrenŠus who had himself been taught by Polycarp, who had been instructed by the apostle John.

The effect was to emphasize the idea of the church; and so much the more because Marcion's fraternities were claiming to the true churches. The claim was refuted by the same reference to history. You are not true churches unless you can show that your ministers are successors of the apostles. Whatever looseness of organization had preceded the appearance of Gnosticism was now amended. It was necessary for the defence of the faith that the church as the guardian of the sacred tradition should be a definite society.

It was also necessary that the heretic, being thus referred to the church that he might compare his new doctrine with the old tradition, should find the tradition definite. There must be [81] a creed. Potentially the creed, like the church, had existed from the beginning. Not only were the materials of it present in the Scriptures, but some brief formula had long been provided for use by those who came to be baptized. Little attention, however, had been given to the matter. The formulation of truth in a creed was as tentative and local as the organization of life in a church. The errors of the Gnostics hastened the making of a creed. Accordingly, in IrenŠus and in other writers of the time, there appear endeavors to state in compact form the chief doctrines of Christianity. "The Church," says IrenŠus, "though dispersed through all the world to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their principles belief in one God and the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and the seas and all that is in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became man for our salvation; and in the Holy Ghost who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension in the flesh into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and His return from the heavens in the glory of the Father to sum up all things, and to raise all flesh of the whole human race."

The doctrines selected for statement in this [82] work are as such as contradicted Gnosticism. God the Father is the maker of the world; Jesus Christ was truly man, even in His ascension bearing the flesh of humanity.

The defence of the faith by emphasizing the witness of the churches apostolically or anciently founded, and by referring to definite statements of Christian belief commonly held, was further strengthened by the testimony of the Christian Scriptures.

The Gnostic heresy which made important the more careful organization of Christian life in the Church, and the more careful formulation of Christian truth in the Creed, led also to the determination of the Canon. Over against the list of authoritative writings drawn up by Marcion, the fathers set the books which they agreed to include in the New Testament. The earliest list of canonical scriptures is the "Muratorian Fragment," belonging probably to the latter part of the second century. IrenŠus names the four Gospels. About the same time Tatian (170) was combining the four Gospels for continuous reading in his "Diatessaron." The process of discussion resulted in a list made by Athanasius which is identical with the New Testament as we have it. The acceptance of the Athanasian Canon accompanied the acceptance of Nicene Christianity.

III. AGAINST RIVALRY

[83] The third antagonist of the Christian faith was rivalry.

The old religion of the Roman world was losing its mastery over human life because of its failure to meet certain imperative needs. It took little account of sin, except such ritual offenses as prevented the proper offering of the sacrifices. It was therefore unconcerned as to salvation. And it dealt in a very vague and uncertain way with the life to come. It was as prosaic, as practical, and as secular as politics; with which, indeed, it was so connected that political position carried religious duty with it, and whoever became a magistrate became a priest at the same time, during his term of office.

But the Roman world was dissatisfied with a religion which lacked the element of redemption. It was a part of the initial advantage of Christianity that it came as a religion of salvation from sin, and brought a definite promise of eternal life. This advantage, however, it shared with two other religions which vigorously competed with it. One of these was Mithraism, a revival of paganism; the other was Neoplatonism, a revival of philosophy.

Mithraism was already ancient in the East [84] before it appeared in the West. Mithra, in the Vedas, was the god of light, both in the sky and in the soul, the enemy of darkness and of error. In the Avesta, he was between the good god Ormazd and the bad god Ahriman. His function was to destroy evil; he was the god of the harvest, and of victory in battle, and of the triumph of the life of man over the death of the body. All the Persians worshipped him. About the second century before Christ the Greeks of Asia Minor identified him with the Sun, and a Pergamene artist made the bas-relief which ever after served as the altar-piece of all the Mithraic shrines. Mithra, represented as a youth with Phrygian cap, and cloak blown by the wind, is slaying a sacred bull. On one side a figure with torch inverted symbolizes night, or winter, or death; on the other side a figure with torch uplifted symbolizes dawn, or spring, or life. The blood of the bull fertilizes the earth, out of which flowers and wheat are rising. Lesser reliefs along the frame show Mithra born among the rocks and adored by shepherds, and after his conquest with the bull feasting with the Sun.

The religion of Mithra admitted the worshipper to the salvation which the god had wrought. There was a baptism in the blood of a bull (taurobolium)  which effected a new birth, concerning which was [85] used the phrase in Šternum renatus. There was a stated gradation of spiritual progress, an attaining of now this rank and then that, with accompanying ceremonies. For those who gained the higher privileges there was a sacrament of bread and mingled wine and water. Before the mystic bas-relief, in which the laying of the bull took the place which was occupied in Christian churches by the death upon the cross, was an altar with many lights, before which vested priests sang litanies to the sound of music. The coincidences scandalized and dismayed the Christians.

This religion, entering the Roman world in the first century with the Cilician pirates who were captured by Pompey, was carried by foreign merchants along all the lines of trade, and by foreign soldiers who served in the Roman legions along all the military roads. It appealed to traders because Mithra was a god of prosperity, and to soldiers because Mithra was a god of victory; but it appealed also to thousands of plain citizens because, in the midst of a wicked world, it was a religion of righteousness, hating falsehood and iniquity, and in the midst of sorrow it promised a blessed life to come. Mithra was to descend from heaven and take with him all the faithful into joy everlasting. It made a further appeal to thoughtful and conservative people, because it proposed to include [86] under Mithra, god of the Sun, all the other gods with all their ancient rituals.

It was this hospitality which brought about the eventual failure of Mithraism. The religion grew till it seemed about to conquer its Christian rival. The emperors liked it because with its central deity it lent itself to centralized government. But it was perceived at last that all the old religions, outworn and immoral, were returning in its train. It had had from the beginning two defects which must finally destroy it: it was a man's religion, having no place in it for women; and it was founded on faith in a god who never actually existed, but was a poetic symbol of the power of nature. Thus it waned, and disappeared late in the fourth century, leaving as a heritage to Christianity the name of Sunday for the day of the week which it agreed with the Christians in keeping holy, and the twenty-fifth of December, which it had celebrated as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

Neoplatonism was an endeavor to combine the philosophies as Mithraism endeavored to combine the religions. But it was a religion rather than a philosophy because it subordinates knowledge and discredited all intellectual processes, putting its faith in revelation. The current philosophies had long taught men to despise the world of the [87] senses,—except the philosophy of Epicurus, which the Neoplatonists hated. Neoplatonism taught men to despise the world of reason. It offered to uplift its disciples into a new world, a world of revelation, wherein, all things material and even intellectual left behind, they came by trance and ecstasy into the presence of God.

Plotinus wrote the Scriptures of Neoplatonism in his six books called the "Enneads," that is, the Nines. Plato he knew; Aristotle he knew; Oriental religions he may have known, for he lived in Alexandria where the West and the East met. He said that at the heart of the universe is the One, and with the One is thought, and with Thought is the Soul—the world-soul, and the individual soul. The soul lives in the material world. It ought to be the master of the world; but there is matter, source of all evil, in which the soul is imprisoned. How shall it escape? This is the supreme question, beside which all the occupations of the mind of man are insignificant and foolish. Plotinus answered it by saying that the escape of the soul is effected in part by virtuous living, and in part by ascetic practices. Thus living, putting the evil and material world away, meditating in silence upon things divine, the soul enters into communion with God. Porphyry, the chief disciple of Plotinus, said that during the six years of their [88] intimate friendship the master entered four times into this beatific state.

Porphyry, who wrote a book "Against the Christians," hurt his cause by trying, like Mithraism, to save the old religions. The revelation of God, he truly held, is made in all the world; but especially, he added, in the ancient cults with their immemorial liturgies. But the essential weakness of Neoplatonism was in the narrow range of its appeal. It addressed itself to cultivated people, and, among them, to such as had the temperament of the mystic. It was right in its insistence upon a supreme good, beyond sense, beyond reason, beyond reality, but when it endeavored to explain what that supreme good is, the plain man could not understand it.

The emperor Julian tried to substitute Neoplatonism for Christianity, but in vain. The emperor Justinian closed the doors of the Academy of Athens, and the seven philosophers, who alone represented the Neoplatonic faith, took their books and sought the hospitality of the East. Just at that time, however, and anonymous writer bearing the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, whom Paul converted at Athens, appeared at Constantinople and gained immediate acceptance. It was Neoplatonism from beginning to end. It summoned men to renounce the world, to put [89] away from them all hindering conditions, to devote themselves to silence and meditation and solitary absorption in God. It exalted the cloistered life, and for a thousand years determined the monastic mood. It set the note of the mysticism of the saints. Thus Neoplatonism, defeated in its competition with Christianity for the allegiance of the Roman world, nevertheless profoundly affected Christianity itself.

Against Mithraism and Neoplatonism the Christian fathers defended the faith, not so much by controversy as by discriminating sympathy. They hated polytheism and idolatry and all their attendant superstitions and immoralities, and thus far they were the enemies of each of these attempts to save the gods of paganism. But the inclusive purpose of both Mithraism and Neoplatonism found in them a fraternal response. They believed in the Light which lighteth every man, and found gleams of it in all human endeavor after God. Clement and Origen were widely read in Greek literature and philosophy. Clement was a Neoplatonist. Origen was a fellow student with Plotinus in the school of Ammonius Saccas. The perception of God in all honest thought was, indeed, confined mainlyh to the Greek fathers. The Latins were of another mind. Terullian, contemporary with Clement and Origen, [90] hated all philosophy and poetry. This was in part by reason of his temperament, but also, in equal part, by reason of his ignorance. The Latin fathers were unable to read Greek. To Clement and Origen, brought up in Alexandria, the Greek mind and the Greek spirit were gifts of God. They themselves possessed them, being Greeks. And the aspiration after the unseen and ineffable, the endeavor by prayer, and pure living, and continued eager meditation, to ascend to God, was one in which they shared.

The three books which remain of the writings of Clement represent the stages through which the disciple passed in the religion of Mithra, in the religion of the Neoplatonists, in the Eleusinian mysteries—purification, initiation, revelation. Through these stages he was accustomed to lead his pupils in the Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement's "Address to the Greeks" deals with the error and absurdity of the classic pagan religion, and shows how the greatest of the Greeks had visions of the one God, whom we see truly in the face of Jesus Christ. His "Pedagogue" is a handbook of Christina manners, describing in great detail how a Christian ought to order his life, how he should eat and drink, and furnish his house, and associate with his neighbors. His "Miscellanies" (stromateis  = bags for bedclothes) [91] justify the name, discussing all manner of themes without order or sequence; but the general purpose is to show the character of the true Christian, whom Clement does not hesitate to call the true Gnostic. The progress which Clement endeavored to assist in the life of the individual, he perceived in the religious history of the race. Moses prepared the Jews for Christianity; Plato prepared the Greeks. In all religions, in all good books, by all knowledge, Christ brings men to himself.

The most eminent pupil of Clement, having the same liberal spirit together with greater learning, was his successor, Origen. Origen not only exceeded the fame of his master, but attained a place in the history of theology which is equaled only by Athanasius and Augustine. He had some trouble with ecclesiastical authority, and did not get on well with the bishop, Demetrius of Alexandria. The records do not show that he was seriously at fault. He was so subjected, however, to episcopal interruption of his studies that he removed from Alexandria to CŠsarea , where he suffered martyrdom in the Decian persecution. After his death various vigorous controversies arose as to certain of his teachings. In the course of his voluminous writings he had given his opinion upon almost every possible doctrine, and it was easy to differ from him in detail. There were those [92] who disliked what he said about the preŰxistence of souls, or the plurality of worlds, or the resurrection of the flesh. He supplied the theologians for several hundred years with subjects for acrimonious debate. These circumstances hindered and prevented his ecclesiastical recognition. Neither Clement nor Origen was given the honorary degree which is denoted by the title "saint."

Nevertheless, Origen served Christianity in two remarkable and valuable ways: he was the founder of the science of Biblical criticism; he was also the founder of the science of systematic theology.

Origen was the first Christian commentator. He addressed himself through years of laborious study to the perfecting of the text of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, comparing manuscripts, setting down the Hebrew and the various Greek versions in parallel columns, to make his great work the "Hexapla." And the Bible which he thus studied textually he also studied exegetically. He commented upon it, chapter by chapter. His method here was unfortunate, and delayed for a thousand years the invertigation of the actual meaning of the Bible writers. He made everything into allegory. Thus he occupied himself not in ascertaining what the Bible says, but in reading into it his own ideas. And in this reversal of the true method of study he was followed by genera- [93] tions of devout readers, who instead of listening to the Bible men, prophets and apostles, insisted upon telling the apostles and prophets what they ought to mean.

Origen was at the same time the first Christian theologian. In his book "Against Celsus," he met as best he could the anti-Christian arguments of that keen antagonist, but in his "First Principles" he made the initial attempt to state in order, with due accompaniment of proof from Scripture and from reason, the doctrine of the Christian faith. From the Gnostics and the Neoplatonists he brought over into the church the idea of a theological system, a synthesis of right belief. He treated of God, one and immutable, revealing himself in the Word, begotten of the substance of the Father, co-eternal and co-substantial, yet inferior, being created. The Word, he said, came to redeem man whose soul is contending with his body. The Word, having first sent the prophets, came at last himself, taking human form. Ordinary men He redeems by the sacrifice of the cross, freeing them from bondage to the devil, and thus making it possible for them to work out their salvation from the flesh. Wise men, spiritual men, those whom like Clement he called Gnostics, He redeems by the illumination of their souls.


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