LANDMARKS IN THE EARLY HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
At first sight the historian of religions appears to be faced by a number of clearly distinguished entities, to each of which he feels justified in giving the name of a separate religion; but on further consideration it becomes obvious that each one of these entities has been in a condition of flux throughout its history. Each began as a combination or synthesis of older forms of thought with comparatively little new in its composition; each ended by disintegrating into many elements, of which the worst disappeared, while the best were taken up into new life in some new religion. The movement was more marked at some times than at others, and the differentiation of the various religions depends chiefly on the recognition of these moments of more rapid change. But the process never really stopped; from beginning to end new elements were constantly absorbed and old elements dropped. For religion lives through the death of religions.
Nothing illustrates this so well as the history of Christianity, for no religion is so well known. The facts are plainly visible, and would be plainly seen by all, were it not for the general tendency of ecclesiastical scholarship to consult the records of the past only to find the reflection of its own features.
The general condition of religion in the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian era was one of far advanced disintegration and rapid synthesis. In every district there could be found the remains of old local religions, which retained the loyalty of the conservative, but no longer aroused any vital response in the emotions of the multitudes or in the interest of the educated. At that time, and for many generations afterward, the Roman landowners, to take one example, maintained the ceremonies and customs of an agricultural animism which for their ancestors had been a living religion, but for them had become aesthetic, conventional, and superstitious, an appendage to life, not its driving force. Those who wish can read a description of it, written with a sympathy possible only for one who felt the analogy of his own experience, in the pages of Marius the Epicurean, in which Walter Pater, by a wonderful tour de force, wove an exact and scholarly knowledge of the original documents into such a web of artistic English that the deep learning of the book cannot be appreciated except by those who have some small share in it themselves.
Over these local religions had been thrown throughout the Empire the covering fabric of Greek mythology. It had lost much of its power; it was no longer sincerely believed; it was in every respect decadent; but it still played its part in unifying, and to some extent civilising, the diverse races of the Empire. But more important than the Greek mythology was the Greek philosophy, which was indeed in many ways its antidote. If the mythology of Greece appeared to sanction an infinite number of gods and goddesses, her philosophers taught with equal persuasiveness that the divine reality is one, though its forms be many. A remarkable synthesis was thus gradually accomplished, though it will always be a question whether the stronger tendency was to philosophise mythology or to mythologise philosophy.
Yet another element was provided by the stream of
Oriental religions which were coming into the Empire. Though these religions had all of them at one time been national, quite as much as the religion of Greece or Rome, their adherents had been detached violently by the conquering hand of Rome from adherence to ancestral shrines or to political institutions. The Cappadocian or the Syrian, or even the Egyptian, who was traveling as a merchant or living as a slave in the western parts of the Empire, brought with him the worship of his own god; but the changed conditions of his life were reflected in his religion. As a political entity his country had disappeared; the institutions which were originally bound up with the name of his god had vanished, and had become an ever-fading memory. What these men without countries asked for was personal salvation, and this they believed that they could find in their mysterious worship. Each of these religions was rapidly developing in the first century into a sacramental cult which offered the blessing of partial protection in this world, and of a happy immortality after death to all who accepted and were accepted by its divine lord, and took part in its sacraments or mysteries.
Much is obscure in their history, even though hypothesis be given the widest range and a friendly hearing. The central problem, which still requires much further attention than it has as yet received, is how and when these religions became mystery cults. As we know them in the Roman Empire all have the same central feature of offering personal salvation to their adherents through sacraments. But did they have this characteristic in their original homes, where they were national religions? The evidence that they did so is not convincing, and perhaps cannot be, because of the absence of literary sources. For instance, one of the best known of these religions is the cult of Isis, for the nature of which in the second and third centuries there is admirable evidence in the writings of Plutarch and Apuleius. It was then clearly a sacra-
mental religion offering private salvation. It was also connected with a myth which was obviously a hindrance rather than a help to these educated Romans, and this myth can be traced back to the monuments of ancient Egypt. Are we justified in concluding that the interpretation in ancient Egypt was the same as in imperial Rome? It may be so; but it is possible that the sacramental nature, though not the element of private salvation came in, in Hellenistic or in Imperial times, to meet the necessity of Egyptians who had lost all sense of belonging to a living nation or having a national religion, and of Greeks who with decadent enthusiasm desired imported rites. In any case, a synthesis was rapidly established between these cults and the official Graeco-Roman religion. The names of the Oriental deities were Hellenised, and the barbaric crudities of the East were removed by allegory and symbolism; the philosophers felt that the myths only needed restatement to confirm their opinions, while the priests were confident that the elements of truth in philosophy were those revealed by the language and ritual of the cults.1 With considerable rapidity, therefore, Greek mythology, Greek philosophy, and Oriental cults were being accommodated to one another, and brought together in a new and highly complex religious system. For political purposes the introduction into this system of the worship of the emperors, living or dead, was of great importance. It tended to unify the whole mass, and the imperial authorities adopted the position, with some reservations, that, provided a man accepted the cult of Caesar and Rome, he could in addition be a member of any other religion which pleased his fancy or soothed his soul.
There was one exception to the ease with which the
1 The best example of this method of "restatement" is probably Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride, which discusses the Egyptian myth and the various explanations given of it in accommodation to philosophic truth. Heathenism did not long survive this kind of help; nor is it surprising that it did not.
Oriental cults accepted the situation. Still inspired by the instinct which nine hundred years before had made their prophets fight against syncretism, the Jews resolutely refused to come to terms with heathen religions. Some, indeed, accepted the Greek philosophy, as the writings of Philo and the Wisdom Literature show; but with the cults or with the mythology of the heathen no compromise was tolerated.
It would be interesting to know how far the imperial leaders perceived the process of synthesis, but consciously or unconsciously they helped it considerably by the policy which they adopted towards the local councils, or Synedria—Sanhedrims—as they were often called.1 They were willing to encourage their continuance, allowing them to control all local questions of religion, and indeed all local interests generally, on condition that they made themselves also responsible for the cult of Rome and of Caesar. In this way Caesar was introduced into the local religion, and, what was much more important, the local religion was absorbed into the unified system of the Empire. The policy was almost uniformly successful: the one exception was the Sanhedrim of the Jews, which obstinately refused the imperial cult and resisted Caligula's effort to introduce his statue with the same successful pertinacity as had repelled the efforts of Antiochus Epiphanes in the days of the Maccabees. The episode ended disastrously, for the spirit of nationalism and unreasoning hate to the government of Rome roused a rebellion which inevitably led to the fall of Jerusalem and the violent destruction of Jewish national life. Henceforward the official Jewish religion remained a foreign element in the life of the western world. It could not die, for in spite of rabbinical extravagances it possessed more ethical truth than heathenism, and was more sincere in its protest against superstition. But neither could it form a synthesis with the better elements of the Roman world; the process of accom-
1 See Prolegomena to Acts, i. 199-216.
modation to Greek philosophy was stopped for many centuries, and the Jew had neither part nor lot in the life of the empire in which necessity compelled him to live.
Nevertheless in the end the inevitable synthesis between Judaism and Greek thought was accomplished, though the official world was unable to bring it about. The small and at first despised sect of Christians was driven out of the Synagogue and forced into contact with the heathen world, at first probably against its will. There is nothing to show that Christiana originally desired to break away from Judaism or to approach the Greeks; yet they did both. When their fellow-countrymen refused to hear they turned to the Gentiles, and there ensued rapidly the abandonment of Jewish practice and the assimilation of Greek and Graeco-Oriental thought.
From that time on the history of Christianity might be written as a series of syntheses with the thought and practice of the Roman world, beginning with the circumference and moving to the centre. The first element which was absorbed was the least Roman, the Graeco-Oriental cults. Christianity had been originally the worship of God, as he was understood by the Jews, combined with the belief that Jesus was he whom God had appointed, or would appoint, as his representative at the day of judgement. To this were now joined the longings for private salvation of the less fortunate classes in the Roman Empire, and their belief that this salvation could come from sacraments instituted by a Lord who was either divine by nature or had attained apotheosis. It thus became, partly indeed, the recognition of the Jewish God as supreme, 'but chiefly the recognition of Jesus as the divine Lord who had instituted saving mysteries for those who accepted him.' Christianity became the Jewish contribution to the Oriental cults, offering, as the Synagogue never did, private salvation by supernatural means to all who were willing to accept it.
Such Christianity became, and such in some districts,
notably in Rome, it remained for one or two generations. But in Ephesus and possibly elsewhere a further synthesis was accomplished. This sacramentalised Christianity began to come to terms with Greek philosophy, as the other mystery religions tried to do. It asked what was the philosophic explanation of its Lord, and it hit on the device of identifying him with the Logos—a phrase common to several types of philosophy though used in quite different meanings.
The development of this second synthesis was comparatively slow. Probably some of the systems which are loosely described as gnostic were unsuccessful attempts at its accomplishment; but in the end the Alexandrian theologians Clement and Origen followed the lead given them by the Fourth Gospel and some of the apologists to the triumphant construction of a system which really reconciled in part and seemed to reconcile entirely the Christian cult and the later Platonic metaphysics.
Although the general fabric of the Christian philosophy which was thus built up was in the main Platonic, not a little was borrowed also from the system of the Stoics, especially on the border ground between metaphysics and ethics. This paved the way for a further synthesis, accomplished more easily, more thoroughly, and with less perceptible controversy than had attended either of the others.
Probably the culmination of this conquest of the Christian Church by the ethics of the Stoa was reached by Ambrose, who gave to the Christian world Cicero's popularisation of Panaetius and Posidonius in a series of sermons which extracted the ethics of Rome from the scriptures of the Christians. The ethics of the Stoics were almost wholly adopted by the leaders of Christian thought, especially in the West, and the teaching of Jesus as represented in the Gospels was interpreted in the interests of this achievement, which, like the other syntheses, was largely effective in proportion as it was unconscious.
Probably it was the early stages of this movement which had rendered possible the acceptance by one another of Christianity and the Empire. Certainly there is still much need of study, even if it produce only the statement of problems, as to the changed character of Christianity between the time of Tertullian and Eusebius.
The next few centuries, so far as they were not occupied in struggling against the eclipse of civilisation which began in the fifth century, were occupied in working out the implications of these syntheses. The results were codified in Catholic theology and in the civil and canon law of the early Middle Ages. But, one more step remained; after nearly a thousand years Aristotle was rediscovered, and the final achievement of Christian theology was the synthesis effected by St. Thomas Aquinas between the Christian theology and the philosophy of Aristotle.
It is a great record of great achievement, for no one who studies the history of religions with any degree of sympathetic insight can doubt but that each synthesis was a real step in progress towards that unification of aspiration with knowledge which it is the task of theologians to bring about, and to express as clearly as they may.
Many centuries have passed since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the element of tragedy in the study of the history of religions for the Christian theologian is that he is forced to admit that never again has there been a time when the unification of aspiration and knowledge has been so completely realised by organised Christianity. It was not long after this time that epoch-making changes were made, first in the domain of astronomy and afterwards in other sciences. They have revolutionised human knowledge. Nor have human aspirations stayed where they were. The ideal of justice which men see today is different and assuredly better than that of a thousand years ago. It extends beyond the sphere of the law-courts to every branch of human life. But the doc-
trines of the Church remain formulated according to the knowledge and aspirations of the past. The divergence between knowledge and theological statement has become more and more obvious every year. There has been no synthetic progress in theology since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas,1 for it is impossible for the student of history to feel that the Reformation can be regarded as a synthesis. Indeed it seems ominously like the first step in that disintegration which has always been the last stage in the story of each religion. It is absolutely certain that the world will once again some day achieve what it has often had and often lost—the closer approximation of knowledge and aspiration—so that its religious system may satisfy the soul of the saint without disgusting the intellect of the scholar. What is uncertain is whether this achievement will be made by any form of organised Christianity or is reserved for some movement which cannot at present be recognised.2 To trace the whole of these syntheses would be a reasonable programme for many volumes. These lectures are limited to the discussion of the evolution of the first and the beginning of the second—that is to say, the change of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a sacramental cult and the beginning of the movement which introduced Greek metaphysics into its theology.
At the beginning of the first century the control of the Jewish nation was in the hands partly of Rome, partly of the high-priests and their families. The latter, as was natural, held in the main a conservative attitude towards the laws and customs of their people. They were rich men—some of them probably could appreciate the culture
1 Ritschlianism is perhaps an exception: it did at least attempt a synthesis with science approached through Kantian philosophy. But was it successful?
2 No one has seen this more clearly, or expressed it more vividly, than the late George Tyrrell, especially in his A Much Abused Letter and Christianity at the Cross-roads.
if not the thought of Rome—and the class in modern Europe which most closely resembles them is that of the aristocratic Turka of Constantinople—orthodox but not enthusiastic adherents of the religion of their fathers. They doubtless regarded themselves as the leaders of the people: it was with them, naturally enough, that the Roman world had to deal, and the price of their failure to keep the peace between the populace and Rome was their political extinction and their personal ruin. The populace demanded that the leaders should secure national independence; Rome required that they should induce the people to cease from asking it. The task was an impossible one, but history does not accept impossibility as an excuse for failure.
Closely connected with them were the Herods, who at intervals assumed a more or less dominating influence in Jewish affairs. At the time of Christ one of the family was ruling over Galilee, and another was destined in a short time to inherit not only this dominion but also that of Judaea. But though for political purposes the Herods were capable of playing Jewish cards, they had become completely absorbed into the cosmopolitan society of the Empire. They were as little typical of anything really Jewish as an educated Indian prince frequenting London society is typical of Hinduism.
Ultimately more important than the high-priests or the Herods were two other classes which were destined respectively to ruin their nation and to save their church. The one was the party of the patriots, the other the Scribes and Pharisees.
After the death of Herod the Great the Romans made a census of his country, and a certain Judas of Galilee endeavoured to raise an active rebellion. The influence of the ruling classes in Jerusalem suppressed this movement for the time, but it remained, as Josephus1 terms it, the
1 Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 1. 1 and 6. See also Prolegomena to Acts, i. 421 ff.
fourth philosophy, or sect, among the Jews, maintaining that no pious Jew could recognise any ruler except God, and steadily insisting that active resistance to the power of Rome was justifiable and even necessary. The sect apparently remained anonymous until about A.D. 66, when one branch of those who accepted its tenets took to themselves the name of Zealots and were largely instrumental in bringing about those final disturbances which led to the fall of Jerusalem. We know very little of this party except from Josephus, and the reasons for which his book was written did not encourage him to give unnecessary information, but, judging by results, the fourth philosophy must have been in the first half of the first century a steadily growing menace to all organised government, willing to destroy but unable to build, concealing under the name of patriotism that pathological excitement which is the delirium of diseased nations.
It is possible, but not certain, that these Jews were influenced by and possibly helped to produce some parts of I that curious literature known as Apocalypses,1 which seems in the main to have been intended to comfort the discouraged and to inspire them with enthusiasm by giving them the assurance that a better time was at hand.
A very different type of Jew was represented by the Scribes and Pharisees. They believed implicitly that the law of Moses and the tradition of the elders had a divine sanction, and that to live in accordance with it, not to take part in political intrigue, was the way of Life. Their main object was to interpret the Law in such a way as to make it possible to follow, and to extend its explanation so as to cover every possible problem in practical life. They were opposed to Jesus during his life, and afterwards bitterly opposed to his followers. It is therefore
1 This literature is now available as a whole in R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.
natural that there is in the Christian Scriptures a large amount of polemic against the Pharisees,1 and there would be probably more against the Christians in the rabbinical writings had it not been for the activities of the mediaeval censors, so that statements in the Talmud which originally referred to the Christians are concealed (sometimes obviously but in other cases probably successfully) by being referred to the Sadducees or other extinct parties of Jews for whose reputation neither Synagogue nor Church cared.
Owing to the fact that generations of Christians have seen the early history of the Scribes and Pharisees almost wholly through glasses coloured by early controversy, it is hard to be fair to the Pharisees. Taken at their best they probably represent the highest form of a religion based on codified ethics which the world has ever seen. They did not feel that the Law was external, for it represented the will of the Father, which could not be alien to that of his children if they understood it aright. The "word" was not in heaven or across the sea, but very nigh unto them, in their mouth and in their heart that they might do it. That is to say, the Law was not something imposed entirely from without by a wholly external authority, but was rather the very perfect expression of what man would of himself choose to do if he had perfect knowledge. Thus the best of the Pharisees no doubt felt that obedience to the Law and to tradition was a labour of love, and the story which is told of the death of Akiba may be regarded as typical of the best both of his predecessors and successors. He was being put to death by torture when the hour came that every pious Jew repeats the
1 The suggestion has even been made that some of the polemic in the gospels, which is—as the text stands—directed against the Pharisees and Rabbis, was historically intended for the Sadducees. It was too important to be lost, and, as those who were originally attacked had ceased to be important, it was turned against the only Jewish party which still survived to oppose Christianity at the time when the gospels were written. See also p. 24.
Shema, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul." He recited as far as "with all thy heart," and then stopped and smiled. "How," said one of the bystanders, "can you smile when you are dying in agony?" "Every day," he replied, "have I repeated these words, and I could say without hesitation that I loved the Lord with all my heart, but to say that I loved him with all my soul, that is to say, with all my life, was hard, for how can a man say what he has done with his life before the day of his death? But now that the day of my death has come and the hour for repeating the Shema has returned, and I have loved the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my life, why should I not smile?"1
It is not surprising that it was the school of these men who saved the Jewish Church from extinction when the nation was destroyed; neither is it surprising, though it is sad, that there was deep hatred between them and the Christians; for in religion, as in other things, a really lively hatred requires some degree of relationship.
It was into this world of Jewish thought and practice that Jesus came preaching in Galilee. The content of his preaching is given by Mark as "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Therefore the two questions of primary importance are the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God, and of repentance.
The phrase "the Kingdom of Heaven" is common in the later Jewish literature and familiar in Christian ears. But it is not actually found before the Christian era, though similar expressions were customary, and the concept which it covers is often met with in the Old Testament. It means primarily the sovereignty of God in the
1 This is a free rendering, somewhat paraphrased to bring out the meaning, of the account of the martyrdom of Akiba under Tinnius (Turnus) Eufus in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakh, ix. 7). See Prolegomena to Acts, I. 62.
world, not a kingdom in the local sense, or even in the sense of an organisation. Though in the Old Testament God is frequently referred to as a king whose rule is universal even now, the dominion of a king is not complete or perfect unless he be recognised by his subjects, and the dominion of God is not yet thus recognised or submitted to throughout the world. The Jewish view seems to have been that men had fallen away from the rule of God in the days before Abraham, and that when Abraham recognised the Lord as his God, then for him—but not for others—the sovereignty of God was complete. Similarly, when Israel recognised the Lord as their God there was a nation which accepted the sovereignty of God. The time would come when all the world would make this same recognition, but the day was not yet present, and there was more than one opinion as to the probable course of events which would lead up to it.
In general the Jews believed that the universal recognition of the sovereignty of God would bring about, or would at least be coincident with, the coming of the Golden Age, so frequently spoken of by the prophets, and described with imaginative profusion in the apocalyptic writings. But it is by no means always clear whether the Golden Age was the condition or the result of the coming of the Kingdom. Would the heathen, who knew not God, be converted or be exterminated? It is not surprising if there was a tendency to confuse the recognition of the sovereignty of God with the phenomena attending it, and to speak of the Kingdom of God when the conditions of its attainment were really meant.
There were two special features in the Jewish expectation of the future recognition of the sovereignty of God which were especially liable to be confused with it in this manner. In the first place, some of the prophets had spoken of the coming of the Golden Age and the restoration of the national fortunes of Israel. Sometimes this restoration had been associated with the house of David,
sometimes with the dynasty of the high priest; but frequently no such association was present, and Christian scholarship has in general greatly exaggerated the amount of evidence, especially for a Davidic king. The reason for this exaggeration is partly verbal. The custom has arisen of speaking of this Golden Age as the "Messianic" Age, which can only mean the age in which the "Messiah" will appear. "Messiah" is itself a technical term, but "Messianic" can only be applied to a person appointed by God to some high office, and to a period of history only if such a person be central in it. The really most striking feature of most of the descriptions of the Golden Age in the Old Testament and in the apocalyptic books is that there is no mention of any Messiah at all. But the later literature emphasised the coming of King Messiah, and the Jews therefore refer to this period as "the days of the Messiah." There is no evidence that this phrase was used until after the Christian era. For this reason it is a great pity that scholars, who personally, of course, know better, constantly use so misleading a term as the Messianic Age. It would be far better if it were described as the "Golden Age" or the "good time."1
This whole conception of the coming Golden Age was in essence peculiarly Jewish, though parallels can be found in the religion of all nations. Cognate to it was another point of view which was not originally Jewish, but had probably been taken over by the Jews from Persian thought. This was the expectation of the Age to Come, which plays so large a part in the fourth book of Ezra2
1 Klausner's Die messianische Vorstellungen des jiidischen Volkea im Zeitolter der Tannoiten is probably the clearest statement of the facts.
2 The fourth book of Ezra is in many ways the finest of all Apocalypses, and the English authorised version (in which it is called 2 Esdras) is a magnificent piece of English, needing, however, occasional elucidation and correction by the critical editions of G. H. Box, The Ezra Apocalypse, and of B. Violet, in the edition of the Greek Christian writers of the first three centuries published by the Berlin Academy.
and in the later literature. An integral part of the Persian system was the belief that the world would come to an end and be consumed by fire which would purify it from evil, after which the righteous would be raised from the dead and take part in the glorious life of a new world. A supernatural figure known as the Shaoshyant would take part in this process, and especially in the Judgement which would decide whether men should or should not pass on into the life of the Age to Come.
From the time of Daniel, if not earlier, these ideas had been absorbed by the Jews, and though belief in a resurrection was not universal it had been accepted by the Pharisees, and was probably more popular than either the ancient Jewish belief in Sheol or the imported Greek belief in the immortality of the soul, of which traces can be found in the Wisdom Literature. All this is, however, different from the ancient Jewish tradition of a Golden Age in this world, and there are plain traces in Jewish literature of the attempt to reconcile the two systems.
It was obviously possible, by dint of a comparatively small confusion of thought, to identify the Golden Age with the Age to Come, and to suppose that all the unfulfilled features of the visions of the earlier prophets would be realised in the Age to Come. In this case the figure of the Davidic king, if he happened to be part of the picture, could easily be transplanted into the Age to Come, and whereas in the earlier presentation he had the special function of destroying in a holy war the enemies of Israel, he could now have the more universal responsibility of abolishing all evil, and of acting as judge to decide who should enter into the new world.
It is on general principles entirely probable that some such accommodation of thought was effected in some Jewish circles, as it was afterwards among the Christians. But there is comparatively little evidence that such was actually the case. Especially is there very little evidence that the anointed Son of David was transmuted in this
fashion. The most that can be said is that some of the many titles which were applied to the expected Davidic king were also applied to the expected supernatural judge. But identity of title does not always mean identity of person, and the general descriptions of the two figures are as a rule quite separate. It would appear that on the whole the better Jews in the time of Christ were looking for the End of the Age and the Resurrection, rather than for the restoration of the kingdom of David, but that there was a popular minority which still had hopes of the restoration of the monarchy.
The most thorough attempt to reconcile the two lines of thought is to be found in the fourth book of Ezra, which elaborates a complete combination of both systems with a clearness quite unusual in apocalyptic literature. According to this the time was approaching when the Messiah, by which is clearly meant the king of Israel, would appear, destroy all opposition, and reign for four hundred years. He and all mankind would then die. The world would come to an end and be restored to primaeval silence. Then would follow the Resurrection and Judgement, and the beginning of the Age to Come. All the features of both systems are thus combined, except that it appears that the Judgement is the act of God himself, rather than of an especially appointed representative.
The general result of reading the literature belonging to this period is to create the impression that recent scholarship has gone much further than is justifiable in the attempt to systematise Jewish thought on eschatology. It has succumbed too readily to the temptation to find system where there is none, to base a chronological development of thought on the discovery, and finally to emend the texts in its light, and sometimes in its aid. It seems extremely doubtful whether there was any "generally recognised" Jewish teaching on this subject. The belief that God would deliver his people, and that his sovereignty would be recognised throughout the world, was no doubt
part of the belief of every pious Jew, but the details were vague and there was no systematic teaching on them.
If we turn to the gospels we find that the Kingdom of God is sometimes looked for in the future, sometimes regarded as a present reality. Scholarship in the last fifteen years has passed through a period in which the presence of these two elements has been somewhat hotly debated. The beginning of the discussion was probably the publication of Johannes Weiss' monograph1 on the preaching of Jesus as to the Kingdom of God, in which he emphasised the future aspect of the Kingdom. The question was, however, presented with greater perspective as to its position in the history of criticism by A. Schweitzer in a book which he called Von Reimarus zu Wrede. This was translated into English,2 a fate denied to Weiss, with the result that in England and America the whole problem was associated with Schweitzer's name. The position adopted by these writers was that the teaching of Jesus was mainly eschatological, that is to say, it looked forward to the coming of the end of the world. In the enthusiasm of the rediscovery of this point of view—by no means unknown to our ancestors, and universal in the early Church—Schweitzer and others went rather further than the evidence permitted, and endeavoured to explain eschatologically passages not susceptible of that meaning, but that does not excuse the foolish acrimony with which the less learned, especially among liberal Protestants, assailed them, nor the attempt to cut out from the text of the gospels all eschatological reference.
At present the question has apparently reached equilibrium by the general recognition that it is impossible to excise or to explain away the passages in the gospels in which the Kingdom of Heaven is clearly regarded as future, and that it is equally impossible to ignore those
1 J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiohe Qottes. The first edition of this book is smaller and better than the second.
2 The Quest of the Historic Jesus.
in which it is regarded as a present reality. Probably, however, it has even now not been sufficiently perceived that the solution of the problem is not to be found in the literary criticism of the gospels, but in the history of the phrase, Kingdom of God. This rendered inevitable the double use of the phrase. Sometimes it was used strictly, and referred to a present reality within the grasp of all willing to reach out to it, and accept the conditions imposed on its attainment, of which Jesus was so frequently speaking. But at other times, by an entirely natural extension of its meaning, it was used of the period when the recognition of the sovereignty of God would be universal. In this sense it was still future. It was at hand, but not yet present, even though that generation would not entirely pass away before it was accomplished. There is no exegetical obstacle to accepting this view, for it is the plain and simple meaning of simple phrases; but there is the theological difficulty that it represents an expectation on the part of Jesus which was falsified by history.1 That generation has passed away, and many others after it, and the Kingdom of God has not yet come. Indeed, it is scarcely orthodox any longer to expect it in the manner in which the gospels represent Jesus to have foretold its coming.
But even when it is conceded that Jesus in some places in the gospels did undoubtedly contemplate the coming of the Kingdom in the future, it remains a problem, which has as yet attracted too little attention, whether he identified the eschatological phenomena attending its coming with the reign of the anointed scion of the house of David, or with the end of this age and the inauguration of the Age to Come. In general it seems to me far more likely that he looked for the Age to Come rather than for the reign of the Son of David, though the evidence is admittedly not very full or entirely satisfactory. It is, however, at
1 I have endeavoured to deal with this question in the Stewardship of Faith, pp. 36 ff.
least clear that in his answer to the young man who asked Jesus what he should do,1 eternal life is treated as synonymous with the Kingdom of God. The young man asked what was necessary to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus told him that he should observe the commandments, sell all that he had and give to the poor, he was grieved. Jesus then said, "How hardly will those that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God." Obviously eternal life and the Kingdom of God are here identical, and there is no doubt that the Jews expected eternal life in the Age to Come, not in the Days of the Messiah. Moreover, the continuation of the narrative—the implied question of Peter, "Lo, we have left all and followed thee"—introduces the statement of Jesus, "There is no one who has left home, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the good news, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the Age to Come life everlasting." The distinction here between "this time" and the Age to Come is entirely Jewish, and shows that in the previous paragraph the Kingdom of God and eternal life were associated in the mind of Jesus with the Age to Come.
But, it may be said, did not Jesus identify himself with the Davidic Messiah? Undoubtedly his disciples did so in the circles represented by Matthew and Luke, but it is doubtful whether the gospel of Mark represents this point of view, and the question of Jesus to the Pharisees, how David in the Scriptures could call the Messiah Lord if he were his son, is pointless, except on the assumption that Jesus did not regard himself as the Son of David.sup>2 On the other hand, the identification of Jesus with the Son of Man, whether by himself or by his disciples, can in no case affect the question, because the figure of the Son of Man in Jewish literature is an integral part of the inau-
1 Mark x. 17 ff.
2 Mark xii. 35.
guration of the Age to Come, not of the reign of the Davidic king.
Thus it seems probable that one part of the teaching of Jesus was the announcement that this age is coming to its end and that the Age to Come is rapidly approaching, when the Kingdom of God will be universally realised. Those who wish to pass on into the life of the New Age must prepare themselves by accepting already the sovereignty of God at whatever cost it may be. Nothing physicial or social must be allowed to stand in the way; relations, property, eyesight, hands or feet must all be sacrificed if they stand between man and his perfect acceptance of God's sovereignty;1 few men have lived up to this standard, and to reach it they must repent.
Repentance to a Jew in the first century meant primarily change of conduct, but it is a misunderstanding of the Jewish position to suppose that by this they excluded or indeed did not definitely intend a change of heart. A typical example of the meaning of repentance in Jewish literature is the story of Rabbi Eliezer ben Durdaiya,2 who was famous for his consistently immoral life, but was stung to the heart one day when one of his companions casually remarked that for him at least no repentance could avail. Then, continues the story, he went forth, and sat between the hills, and said, "Ye mountains and hills, seek mercy for me." But they said, "Before we seek mercy for you, we must seek it for ourselves, for it is said, The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed." Then he said, "Heaven and earth, ask mercy for me." But they said, "Before we ask mercy for you, we must ask it for ourselves, as it is said, The heavens shall vanish like smoke, and the earth shall wax old as a garment." Then he said, "Sun and moon, ask mercy for me." But they said, "Before we ask for you, we must ask
1 Mark ix. 43 ff.; cf. Matt. v. 29 ff.
2 Quoted by C. G. Montefiore in the Prolegomena to Acts, pp. 7l f.
for ourselves, as it is said, The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed." Then he said, "Planets and stars, ask mercy for me." But they said, "Before we ask for you, we must ask for ourselves, as it is said, All the hosts of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heaven shall be rolled up as a scroll." Then he said, "The matter depends wholly upon me." He sank his head between his knees, and cried and wept so long that his soul went forth from him. Then a heavenly voice was heard to say, "Rabbi Eliezer ben Durdaiya has been appointed to the life of the world to come." But Rabbi Jehudah I., the Patriarch, wept and said, "There are those who acquire the world to come in years upon years; there are those who acquire it in an hour." The story is an admirable parallel to that of the Prodigal Son and shows that the best rabbinical and the best Christian teaching on repentance were identical as to its nature and efficacy.
It is thus clear that there was not any essential difference between Jesus and his contemporaries as to either the meaning of the Kingdom of God or the necessity and power of repentance. The difference between them came in the kind of conduct which was necessary for membership in the Kingdom of God and prescribed for repentance. It was at this point that Jesus came into sharp conflict with the two parties previously described, the Fourth Philosophy and the Scribes and Pharisees.
The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was one of interpretation. Both he and they regarded the Law as the revelation of God's will, and Jesus himself was emphatic in declaring that it was binding and that he did not wish to destroy it. But the Pharisees endeavoured to make the Law cover every detail of human life by combining it with clever verbal interpretations which stretched its meaning in every direction. Jesus, on the other hand, appealed from the letter of the Law to its original purpose, which he held to be the benefit of
man.1 If, therefore, there was any contradiction between the letter of the Law and its original purpose, it was the purpose which was dominant. No one can doubt that in this respect Jesus followed a principle incontestably correct but extraordinarily difficult of application. It contains, moreover, implicit in it an appeal to conscience, for it was really by this rather than by historic knowledge that the ultimate purpose of the Law was revealed. The final test of formularies which appeal to the intellect is whether they are true and of codes defining conduct whether they are right, but the perception of truth and of right depends in the end on reason and on conscience,2 and the difficulty and obscurity which attend their application constantly frighten men into trying to substitute some easier way for that of Jesus: but here too the saying is true that "narrow is the way that leadeth unto life."
Far more deep-seated was the difference between Jesus and the Fourth Philosophy. It is only necessary to put oneself back in the position of a Jew of Galilee in the first century, inspired by the patriotic teaching of Judas of Galilee and his followers, to understand how extraordinarily unpopular the teaching of Jesus must have been in Galilee. Such a Jew believed that the continuance of the Roman rule was an intolerable injustice, that it ought not to be endured, that resistance to it was right and
1 See Mark ii. 27. For the meaning of Son of Man in this passage see p. 38.
2 Neither reason nor conscience is infallible: the tribunal of history condemns many actions which were undoubtedly dictated by conscience. Nevertheless we have no better guides in action, and both reason and conscience have the peculiarity that the more they are used the better do they become, and conversely that if they be neglected they cease to be available in time of need. Men who habitually use their powers in order to circumvent either conscience; or reason in the end find they are unable to use them at all. The distinction between right and wrong disappears when conscience dies, arid that between fact and fiction when reason is neglected. The one is the danger which besets clever politicians, the other the nemesis which waits on popular preachers.
proper and would be crowned with success by the intervention of God. If he heard Jesus say, "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you . . . as ye would that men should do to you do ye to them likewise; for if ye love them that love you what thank have you . . . love ye your enemies," what would such a man have thought? In the light of the experiences of our own time there is no reason for wonder that Jesus in the end found it impossible to live in Galilee. The marvel is that he escaped with his life.
The contrast between such teaching and that of the Fourth Philosophy is so obvious that it could never either escape attention or be denied if it were not for the absence of any definite mention of this party in the gospels. The probable explanation is that by the time that the gospels were written the Fourth Philosophy had ceased to exist, and that in Greek circles this party was never prominent. The result was that there was no reason to perpetuate any tradition as to controversy between Jesus and the Fourth Philosophy. The only dispute with the Jews in which the Christians of the generation that produced the gospels were interested was that with the rabbis, the lineal descendants of the Pharisees. Thus they preserved the story of arguments between Jesus and the Pharisees, but not between him and the representatives of other schools. This, however, did not mean that the teaching of Jesus called out by the Fourth Philosophy was not preserved. The teaching itself was given, but, just as in the Talmud the sayings of rabbis are often given without historic context, so also in Christian tradition the sayings of Jesus usually appear without the incidents which had called them out. In exactly the same way, except for the final scene in Jerusalem, the priests and Sadducees are not mentioned; they played no part in the life of the Christian generation which produced the gospels. There was, however, a special reason why the non-resistant teaching of Jesus should be preserved even when its historic back-
ground was lost. Though the Fourth Philosophy had ceased to have any contact with the Church, the persecution of Christians was an actual problem, and the practical difficulty of right conduct under its stress kept alive teaching which might otherwise have been forgotten.
The question is sometimes asked whether such teaching is really consistent with the violent cleansing of the Temple. The true answer is probably not to be found in any ingenious harmonisation, but rather in accentuating the fact that the "non-resistant" teaching in the Sermon on the Mount deals with the line of conduct to be observed towards foreign oppressors and violence from without. The sacerdotal money-changers and sellers of doves in the Temple were not the "oppressors of Israel." Israel was called on to suffer under Roman rule, and the righteous to endure violence at the hands of the wicked, for that was the will of God, who in his own good time would shorten the evil days. But the manipulation of the sacrificial system as a means of plundering the pious was a sin of Israel itself, against which protest and force were justified. What the heathen and the wicked do is their concern and God's, but the sins of Israel are Israel's own; against them the righteous in Israel may execute judgement.
It would be an affectation to suggest that this subject does not raise questions of the greatest practical importance for the present age; no one is justified in evading the issues presented. The teaching of Jesus represents a non-resistant attitude which has come to be described as "pacifist," and the world has just passed through a crisis which has proved that "pacifism" and "non-resistance" are impossible policies. What does this mean for those who profess and call themselves Christians? It cannot mean that they ought to adopt a non-resistant policy either in personal or in national affairs, for experience (which has, after all, some merit) seems to prove that the policy of not resisting evil leads, to its triumph rather
than its defeat. But this fact gives no justification for explaining away or watering down the plain and intelligible teaching of Jesus.1 It was his teaching; it may have been right and wise for his immediate hearers; but it is not wise or right as the general basis of conduct, whether personal or national. If Jesus intended to lay down a general principle of conduct we have to admit that he was wrong, or adopt the pacifist position. There is nothing in the context to suggest that he thought of a limited application of his words, nor in the days of persecution which followed did Christians so interpret him. If, therefore, he was wrong it is necessary to ask how we can explain the error.
The answer seems to lie in a comparison of the attitude adopted by the Jews of the first century on the one hand, and by ourselves on the other, as to the working of God in the world. The Jew believed not merely in an omnipotent God, but in a God who constantly used his power quite independently of the action of men. We, on the contrary, believe that the universe is so constituted that human action bears a fixed relation to the course of events. What men do or do not bears a definite relation to the events which will follow, and we no longer look for God to help those who are unwilling to help themselves. One of the means which we possess of helping ourselves is force, physical force. We have the power to use it for good or for evil. It is as culpable not to use force when occasion requires as it is to use it when occasion does not.
This is tolerably plain to us, but it was not tolerably plain to the Jew of the first century. The war has brought out the human limitations of the ethics of Jesus by the intellectual horizon of his own time as clearly as the application of literary criticism to the Old Testament brought out the defects of his knowledge of the authorship
1 The situation becomes pathetically impossible when men's theological conscience is shocked by the suggestion that Jesus was wrong, and their political conscience by the claim that he should be obeyed.
of the Jewish scriptures. Just as it was wrong and futile to pretend that when he said "David said" and quoted a psalm, he did not mean to ascribe it to David, it is futile to argue that when he said "resist not evil" and "love your enemies" he sanctioned the patriotic pursuit of war.
Return to the Table of Contents of Kirsopp Lake's Landmarks in the History of Early Christianity
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