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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter X


How did the Church succeed in expelling from her territory this flood of multiform heresies which threatened to dissolve her unity in an endless ebullition of short-lived sects? This is the question we have now to answer. A summary answer lies in the fact that it was precisely this threat which determined the Church to fix her constitution and lay down the limits beyond which no Church membership could be. She concentrated her forces, built fortifications, based herself on the past, interpreting and defining her past against the turmoil of new theologies. Thus it came to pass that those who had caused her most disquiet, and Marcion before all others, at the same time incited her to define her doctrine, to regulate her organization and to put forth the energy which broke their efforts.


We have already called attention to the important fact that the intense life of the first communities, their enthusiasm, and the popular appeal of the Christian movement had long sustained the new religion without the support of any literature having the authority of Scripture other than the Jewish Bible freely interpreted by catechesis to the exaltation of Jesus. Into this catechesis, in which the moral element was at first predominant, speculation soon began to infiltrate, but mainly at tile beginning in the form of individual prophesyings, of which we have seen examples in the gnoses contained in Paul's Epistles, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, or, better, in the discourses of the Johannine Christ. These early gnoses tended to complete rather than to reform or supplant the common teaching. A check upon excessive audacity in prophetic outpourings was found in the control which these prophet-teachers could exercise on each other. First Corinthians, the Didache and Hermas all give instructions on this head, which were soon found inadequate, but were not without temporary effect.


An elementary criterion for distinguishing permissible from impermissible inspiration in a prophet is indicated in what Paul is made to say about spiritual gifts (charismata) in i Corinthians xii, 3:

Also I declare to you 
that no man, speaking by spirit of God,
says: "Cursed be Jesus!"
And that no man can say:
"Lord Jesus!"
except by holy spirit.

Any prophet, then, who in the course of his ecstasy utters a denial of Jesus, is inspired by the demon: conversely, he who gives Jesus his rightful place by proclaiming him "Lord" can only be inspired by God. In another passage (xiv, 29-31) the regulation of the outpouring is entrusted to the prophets themselves:

As to the prophets, let two or three be the speakers,
And let the rest pass judgment;
But if revelation comes to another who is seated,
let the first be silent;
For you can all prophesy one after another,
so that all may learn,
and all be exhorted.

In the Didache, after the prayers to be used in common at the Supper, we find the following direction (x, 7): "Let the prophets make a thanksgiving at such length as they will." Thus the prophets, after Communion, have the right to improvise their thanksgiving without limit of time. But immediately afterwards the Didache forbids the reception of any preacher who teaches a doctrine contrary to the catechesis just developed in the book (xi, 1-2) which, be it remembered, is almost entirely moral and ritual, like the Christianity described in Pliny's letter to Trajan. The Didache knows moreover of travelling apostles and of prophets who remain at home in one place. Travelling apostles who stay more than two days, in order to get more board and lodging, or ask for money, are to be reckoned false (xi, 3-6), and this, not so much on account of their heresies, but on the moral ground that they are exploiting their hosts, though possibly heretical as well as rapacious. As to the sedentary prophets,


their inspired outpourings are not to be lightly criticized, but conduct is to be the test for distinguishing the true prophet from the false. He alone is a true prophet who lives according to the Lord; who would not count him a false prophet who orders a sumptuous meal or demands money (xi, 7-12)? The prophets of old had certain eccentricities, and a few such, analogous to theirs, and "in harmony with the cosmic mystery of the Church," may be tolerated in Christian prophets, provided they do not require others to imitate them (xi, n). A highly enigmatic concession, at least for us, and sufficiently disturbing in itself; it cannot have been maintained for long. (The ancient prophets are brought in only by way of a mitigating comparison.) The reference is to some symbolic proceedings representing "the mystery," which is, one can hardly doubt, the mystic union of the Christ and "the Church." According to Irenaeus the innocent "conjunctions" (syzygies) of Valentinus seem to have been mixed up by his disciple Marcus with certain rites of symbolic magic in which mysticism had degenerated into eroticism. What the Didache had in mind must have been something less abominable, perhaps a symbolic marriage between an inspired couple, which may have been real, or an affair of continency on both sides. But we can see that the author of the Didache, while not daring to prohibit these eccentricities, is not quite at ease in the matter.


"True prophets" and "true doctors" who regularly contribute to the edification of the community must be adequately supported, and to this end the Didache lays down a sort of tithe-system (xiii) which obviously calls for a measure of administration. Accordingly we find that, besides the prophets and the doctors (teachers) with their charismatic endowments, the book knows also of functionaries elected by and for the community overseers (bishops), ministers (deacons) charged with the general work of organization and the right ordering of the Sunday meetings. [1] The daily conduct of these functionaries must also be worthy of the Lord; they must be honest men, disinterested, sincere and well attested; and let the congregation remember that they, too, serve it in the ministry of prophecy and teaching (xv) an


injunction probably due to an early tendency to regard them as paid employees. But it-was precisely to these elected administrators, who were also in charge of the arrangements for the Eucharist, that the future belonged. We shall meet them again. At the beginning of the second century, the recognized professors of prophecy, of inspired teaching, are still in the forefront of the Christian movement and pointing the way; but already it can be dimly foreseen that if ever Christian union should be disturbed these inspired doctors are likely to be the cause of disturbance and, equally, that if union is to be maintained the work of maintaining it will be done by the elected administrators.

In this connexion the Shepherd of Hermas is most instructive. Hermas, too, is a prophet of the congregation like those to whom the citations from First Corinthians and the Didache have already introduced us. Moreover he is if one may use the expression a highly conservative prophet. A contemporary 6f Valentinus and Marcion, with whom he doubtless came into contact at meetings of the Roman Christians, our Hermas is no purveyor of novelties and hazardous speculations; he is a doctor of the old school, altogether in the style of the Didache, a good man living "according to the Lord," the teacher of a morality framed on the pattern of the primitive Christian catechesis in a word, the least gnostic of prophets. But his relation to what we have called the administration of the Church is no longer that in which we find the prophets of the Didache. In his Third Vision the Church makes him sit down on her left, with the presbyters behind him, the right being reserved for the martyrs (Vision, iii, i, 8-9). He himself seems to have thought, and with good reason, that the presbyter administrators might well have been seated in front of him. But the hierarchy as he conceived it, in the order of martyrs, prophets, presbyters, was not the order destined to prevail. In fact the presbyter-bishops are already in the front rank and are not going to let even the martyrs precede them. From now on, when Hermas, in his capacity of prophet, addresses his exhortations to the community, he can have them read in public only by consent of the presbyters who preside over the Church; so he has two copies made, one for Clement (doubtless a leading presbyter) and the other for the deaconess Grapte; Clement will undertake to send the book to


outlying congregations and so the prophet gets publicity, but under supervision while Grapte will use it for the instruction of widows and orphans who are unable to attend the great meetings and belong to the department of charitable help. [2] It is clear, then, that while the Church in heaven still gives the prophet Hermas precedence over the presbyters, things are differently ordered in the Church on earth. Here the presbyters have direct control over the prophet, insomuch that without their authority and mediate action the revelations of Hermas could not have seen the light either among the Christians of Rome or elsewhere. Be it noted, these presbyters are the same men as those who examined Marcion's doctrine and stamped it with their disapproval. The next step to be taken, which we shall soon see, will be that those who preside over administration and worship will reserve to themselves the right to have their voices heard in the assemblies, especially when prophecy is raising a scandal.

Here, then, in Rome we find a body of presbyters who, almost at the same time, authorize the prophecy of the Pastor and expel Valentinus and Marcion from the community, men whom our prophet would perhaps have treated with less severity. What did Hermas think about this body, and what was it in reality? According to what seems a trustworthy tradition Hermas was own brother to the bishop Pius. But Hermas speaks only of presbyters in general and never mentions the bishop, his brother. In speaking of presbyters in general he betrays no enthusiasm and seems to make no distinction between them and the bishops whom he places side by side with the deacons. [3] The same individuals are described indifferently as "presbyters" and "heads of the church," or as "presbyters presiding over the Church." [4] But however considerable these dignitaries may be, Hermas does not hesitate to address them in pretty plain terms. It is true that the Church is here speaking as the Pastor or Angel of Penitence:

" 'Tis to you I speak, ye heads of the Church and occupants of the high places. Be not like the poisoners: poisoners carry their poison in bottles: you carry your poison and your venom in your hearts ... Be careful, my children, or these divisions will be the end of you. How can you form the Lord's elect while you


yourselves are unformed? Then set about forming one another so that I, joyously presenting you to the Father, may be able to account for you to the Lord." [5]

From all this the fact emerges that the presbyters, so sharply taken to task by the Church, have already assumed the disciplinary control of the community. The Church and Hermas agree, not without reason, that they would be more worthy of their headship, if they were less covetous of power.

It is clear that this presbyterial body already possessed considerable authority, and highly probable that it had a presiding bishop, [6] whose authority was not exercised independently of his colleagues. Bishops and priests, who allowed Hermas to speak the truth about them, are not likely to have been more exacting than he in the matter of pure theology. For the good Hermas is far from being a dogmatist in that department, and looks upon heresy more in pity than in anger. He is ready to die for the Lord Christ; but his Christology is strangely indecisive; unshakably firm on the unity of God, he is totally ignorant of any Christological definition. The figurative language used in his book causes him to avoid mentioning Jesus and Christ by name. But clearly he has not the faintest idea of the Logos and its incarnation. His Son of God is far superior to the archangels, but is inconsistently presented as their leader and the first of them (Parable, ix, 4); elsewhere the Son seems to be identified with the Spirit (v, 2, 5, 6). In the fifth Parable, where the wanderings of his Christology are represented in a Parable of the Vine, imitated from the Gospel, [7] there appears a servant named "Flesh," in whom the Son-Spirit has his abode, and whose work on the Vine has been so marvellous that the Father, agreeing with the wishes of the Son and the angels, appoints him the Son's co-heir (v, 6). But let us not jump to the conclusion that Hermas here presents his Trinity composed of Eternal Father, Son-Spirit and a God-man; for the parable is so complicated and obscure that the "servant" pre-exists in the humanity of the Son, who is also active in the Vine (v, 2, 6); from which it will be seen that the Christology of Hermas is simply amorphous and incoherent. The Roman presbyters, who were not scandalized by it, cannot have been any stricter in the definition of their own. There was however one point of doctrine on which they would allow no


compromise. They expelled Marcion for attacking it. This was the unity of God.

Hermas speaks of heretics, as he speaks of the presbyters, with freedom, but without a trace of passion (ix, 22). We can see clearly that the gnostics have not led him astray. He knows them well enough and could not fail to know many of them. He finds their doctors somewhat unintelligible, presumptuous, too pleased with themselves and priding themselves on being omniscient; the higher knowledge they claim seems to him mere nonsense; on the whole he judges them more fools than knaves. Many ought to be dismissed outright which shows that the case of Marcion was not solitary, although outstanding and the best known to us. Some have repented of their follies and been taken back into the fold; those who stick to their nonsense will be destroyed by it. This seems to have been the attitude of the presbyters themselves in the excommunications of which Hermas speaks, and it would be thus that they judged Marcion and his like; gnosis was of no account and meant nothing to them, but in doctrine they held firm by the baptismal catachism, understood in the sense of the Didache, as Hermas also understood it. There can be no doubt that what shocked them in Marcion was his attack on the unity of God, which they would counterattack by simply asserting against the innovator the traditional apostolic teaching of the one only God, creator of the world, and the one only Christ, Jesus the Son of God, sent by the Father to save men from their sins and to instruct them in the way of righteousness. That this tradition was an existing force is beyond question. The gnostic teachers compelled the administrators of Church discipline to exert that force with resolution against their new theologies.

It is a noteworthy fact that, except in regard to the Logos, Justin's Christology is hardly less fluid than that of Hermas.

The two draw near together in the curious profession of faith in which the apologist declares that Christians believe in one only God who created the world [8] and with him worship the Son who left his Father's presence to teach true doctrine to men, having with him "the host of other good angels who resemble him, and the Spirit of Prophecy" (with which may be compared i Timothy v, 21, "I adjure thee before God, Jesus Christ and


the elect angels"). The Roman presbyters found Justin orthodox and after their condemnation of Marcion, Justin pronounced his, denouncing the idea of a god superior to the creator of the world as an invention of demons. In accusing Marcion of polytheism Justin speaks as a defender of Old Testament and Gospel tradition.


The watchword of the Church leaders in the campaign against gnostic heresy is found in the pastoral Epistles

(i Timothy vi, 20, 21; 2 Timothy i, 14):
O Timothy, guard the deposit,
shunning impious word-play
and the antitheses of so-called gnosis,
Professed by some,
who err concerning the faith.

This couplet, the closing note of the First to Timothy, is aimed directly at Marcion and must have been written under the immediate impression of his breach with the Church or, more probably, of his attempt to change the basis of Christian teaching. "Paul," and the very Paul whom Marcion exalted to so great a height, is now heard beseeching the congregations of the faithful to "guard the deposit" against Marcion. Against Marcion also the following profession of faith (ii, 5-6) is perhaps directed:

God is one,
one also the mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,
Who gave himself a ransom for all,
as witnessed in his time.

The following hymn or prophetic oracle belongs to the same class (i Timothy iii, 16):

He was manifested in flesh,
he was justified in spirit,
he was seen of angels,
He was preached among the Gentiles,
he was believed in the world,
he was taken up into glory.


Finally Marcion is probably included among the "lying spirits" (i Timothy iv, 2-3):

Who forbid to marry,
prescribe abstinence from foods
which God has made to be taken with thanksgiving
by believers and those who know the truth. [9]

Marcion's asceticism is perhaps in the writer's mind when he advises Timothy to drink a little wine for the good of his stomach. But there is another passage (i, 4-6) where the target is not Marcion alone, but gnostics in general, with Valentinus as chief offender. Here are the instructions (i Timothy i, 4):

To keep clear of fables, and endless genealogies,
which produce wranglings,
rather than divine order in faith.
But the goal of preaching is charity,
coming out of pure heart, good conscience and true faith:
Wherefrom some cut themselves off
in their love of empty talk,
Setting up as doctors of law,
without knowing what they talk about,
nor what they vouch for. [10]

These were also the views of Hermas, Polycarp and Justin. True doctrine, according to them, is a simpler affair than what these windy word-mongers have to offer; what matters above all else is life according to God.

In resisting the gnostic invasion, the defenders of the faith made continual appeal to apostolic tradition, not hesitating to represent their own denunciations of the new doctors as spoken by Paul, the "Paul," that is, of the First to Timothy (vi, 13-14):

I charge you, before God,
who gives life to all,
And before Christ Jesus,
who witnessed under Pontius Pilate
the good confession,
To keep intact and spotless the commandment
until the epiphany of Lord Jesus Christ.

The "commandment" is the apostolic catechesis and the equivalent of the "deposit" of vi, 20. The mention of Pontius


Pilate is not made for the sake of historical precision; it is a formula taken from a hymn or rhythmical confession connected with the ritual recitation of the passion story.

In like strain speaks the "Paul" of the Epistle to Titus (i, 9).

Let the presbyter, he says,
Stand by the pure word according to the doctrine,
that he may be able to exhort in the genuine teaching,
and hurl back the rebels.

The context shows that the "rebels" against whom this was directed were not pagans, nor were they, strictly speaking, Jews.

They were heretical debaters, with the turn for contentiousness characteristic of amateurs in theology. The author says that such people were extremely numerous in his time (Titus i, 10-11).

The author of the First to Timothy will have it that the apostles foretold an outbreak of gnosis. The Epistle makes Paul speak as follows (iv, i):

But the Spirit says expressly
that in the last days many will desert the faith,
Taking up with lying spirits
and with doctrines of demons, etc. [11]

It was not solely on account of their heterodoxy that the gnostic systems are said to be the work of "demons," but also for their mythological character, which almost turned them into pantheons. Without making distinctions among them, these heretics were credited with almost every conceivable vice and crime see the list in 2 Timothy iii, 1-9. The accusation of immorality is the daily bread of this polemic, and hardly worth consideration, especially when formulated in general terms.

Reproducing the same diatribe against the gnostics, or commenting on it, the spurious Jude and the spurious Peter of the second Epistle recall, rather naively, that "the Lord's Apostles" foretold "for these last times" a crop of sectaries "who will make classifications" distinguishing two kinds of believers, the psychic and the spiritual, "psychics themselves without a trace of spirit"" apparently another shot at Valentinus (Jude 17-19). Spurious Peter drops a hint that a little caution will not be out of place in reading the letters of "our


dear brother Paul, in which there are certain knotty points which, to their own ruin, ignorant and unsteady souls take wrongly along with other Scriptures," namely the Old Testament and the Gospel. Who can these be but Marcion and his followers? (2 Peter iii, 15-16).

Almost contemporary with spurious Peter, we shall find Polycarp, [12] with an Epistle of John before him, attacking Marcion, as chief offender, in the following terms (Philippians 7):

"Whosoever confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is antichrist; whosoever confesses not the witness of the cross is of the devil; whosoever twists the oracles of the Lord to suit his own desire, and denies the resurrection and the judgment is Satan's eldest son. Leave we then the futilities of that crowd and let us return to the teaching that was given us."


It remains only to hear Irenaeus delivering his "exposition of apostolic preaching" [13] fully assured that he is in possession of the True Faith "as traditionally taught by the elders, disciples of the apostles." [14] Immediately after him comes the De. Praescriptione Haereticorum of Tertullian which opposes the heretics by the argument of "prescription." With that, the notion of tradition, as the Church would have it understood and as it has come down through the centuries, will be fully formed. The following passage in Chapter 19, marvellously true as a definition of Latin Christianity through the ages, gives the fundamental idea:

"Ergo non ad Scripturas provocandum est, nee in his constituendum certamen, in quibus aut nulla aut incerta victoria est, aut parum certa. Nam etsi non evaderet conlatio Scripturarum, ut utramque partem parem sisteret, ordo rerum desiderabat illud prius proponi, quod nunc solum disputandum est: quibus competat fides ipsa, cujus sint Scripturae, a quo et per quos et quando et quibus sit tradita disciplina qua fiunt Christian! Ubi enim apparuerit esse veritatem disciplinae et fidei christianae, illic et veritas Scripturarum et expositionum et omnium traditionum Christianorum."

What Tertullian says in this passage could not have been


said as it here stands in the year 150, nor even in 180. It implies an exclusive "possession" of Scriptures, tradition and ecclesiastical authority which the church had not made good before the end of the interval between the two dates. But Tertullian's genius saw clearly the barrenness of all these disputings: saw the disadvantage the Church would suffer if she met the innovators as equals and on their own ground; saw, also, the summary procedure that was needed to put a quick end to the whole futile discussion. The one thing Tertullian did not foresee was that the system he had so clearly laid down would be turned to his own hurt, and that he would die a heretic. But the notion of "tradition," as the Church would have it understood, and as it was destined to endure through the centuries, may be counted fully born with Tertullian's assertion of the Church's prescriptive right as exclusive possessor and only competent interpreter of the sources of the faith.

This notion of tradition corresponded to a fact: the unbroken continuity of monotheistic faith, of Jewish morality taken up into the Gospel and of the worship of the Christ Jesus in the very heart of every Christian community. But, at the same time, it was and could not fail to be a somewhat fictitious assumption, an artificial but timely device of special pleading forced upon the Church by a kind of moral necessity, and onesidedly formulated in her own interest as she reacted to the pressure of a movement towards a fusion of religions on an intellectualist or pagan basis. For the idea of an absolute and unchangeable orthodoxy is in flat contradiction to the nature and history of the human mind, of human knowledge and even of Christianity itself. That which was now canonized as "the apostolic faith" was far from being the simple faith of the first believers in Jesus, nor was it that of the first apostles to the Gentile world. When Irenaeus reasons as though, between himself and the first apostles of the Christ, there was but a single generation, represented by the elders, or disciples of the apostles, he is resting upon a fiction, by then accepted, but entirely fanciful: between the second third of the first century and the time of his writing in the last third of the second, several generations of Christian believers had passed away who had not confined the expression of their belief to a repetition of the apostolic catechism. The pretended


tradition which the Church would fix for all time, was largely created in the very process of defining it. At that point in time it was nothing else than a kind of rudimentary and unformed gnosis imperfectly coherent, in which the germ of endless disputes, nay, of heresy in many a form, lay hidden and awaiting its future development. It could not be, and never has been, anything else.


We know how Marcion, cast out by the Church, had set up his own biblical canon in her face, to be used in resisting her, as need should arise. This, according to him, contained the true and authentic Gospel, the Gospel as Jesus had really preached it, which Paul alone had preserved from Jewish contamination. That is to say it contained the revelation of the good God, the true God, whereas the Jewish bible was the revelation of the Jewish god, an imperfect deity of a lower order, who was, however, the creator of the visible world, a world on the same lower level as its creator and no less imperfect than he. The idea of such a collection would never have occurred to Marcion had he not found the Church already in possession of an authorized Bible, which was judged to contain the revelation of the true God and of Christ Jesus which he, for his part, could not find there. This was the Bible of the Alexandrian Jews, in which the Church was for ever taxing her wits to find the Gospel prefigured and foretold. Marcion's acquaintance with the Jewish manner of exegesis may possibly have led him to the conclusion that this interpretation of prophecy was on the whole absolutely groundless. With these ideas in mind the arch-heretic turned to the current literature of Christianity and picked out from it the documents which he Judged to give the truest account of the religion of Jesus, and then proceeded to collect them in an expurgated version in harmony with the end he had in view.

It was Marcion, then, with his belief in the unique value of the Gospel, who raised the evangelical and apostolic writings from the relative obscurity caused by the overshadowing of the ancient Scriptures, in which they had hitherto lain, more or less familiar, no doubt, to the congregation from public reading, but not yet Scripture on a footing with the books of Moses and


the prophets of Israel; he it was who brought out these writings into the full light of day and endowed them with the status of Scriptures. No one doubted that they were the work of the Spirit, but, quite naturally, the prestige of the ancient Bible had hitherto outshone them. Now, if there is one thing more evident than another at this momentous juncture, it is that the Church could not effectively counter the audacity of these new theologians were it to rely solely on the existing Scriptures of Old Testament books, since these, strictly interpreted, could only be made to plead the cause of Judaism. The attack had to be met on its own ground, and this could only be done by opposing a tradition earlier to that of the innovators and by means of documents traditionally evangelical and apostolic. Certainly Marcion was under no illusion in professing that this tradition was not trustworthy. Since Irenaeus and Tertullian he is bitterly abused for rejecting or changing the apostolic writings, but neither his denial of the apostolicity of the Gospels, nor the reasons he gave for it, have been seriously discussed. When Celsus reproaches the Christians with never ceasing to make alterations in their Gospels he is perhaps only repeating something that Marcion had said after direct experience of its truth. But the cause of the Church would have been lost by admitting suspicion as to the apostolic authenticity of her texts and by making it a matter for discussion; the idea of critically examining it could not enter her mind, and did not. She boldly entrenched herself in her catechetical tradition, of which the various Gospels and the apostolic writings, or those deemed such, were also the documents; then, taking a leaf out of Marcion's book, she decided, and it would seem promptly, to canonize those of the Gospel and apostolic writings which had the usage of the congregations to recommend them or seemed likely to serve her in a situation so distressing and unforeseen.

At the time when the Church was canonizing her collection of writings she energetically went to work in assigning them to writers whose names would confer authenticity on the selected books; an assignment rather retrospective, since the question of their authenticity had been, up to that moment, of little interest. The explanations given about the New Testament books by the Canon of Muratori and the statements of Irenaeus on the


origin of the Gospels are an apologia for the official collection as a whole; but already Justin had made a milder apologia for the Gospels by presenting them more discreetly under the general term "Memoirs of the Apostles," while Papias had pleaded for the ecclesiastical text of Mark and of Matthew. Both Marcion and his adversaries were eager to find assurance for texts about whose authenticity neither of them were very confident. And both sides made a virtue of necessity.

But the Church could not limit her canon as narrowly as Marcion had limited his, nor had she at the time any motive to do so. The Gospel writings to begin with were drawn up and circulated to meet the needs of the various communities, and those were selected for canonization which had been adopted for liturgical use by the most important of them. The first Gospel, as B. W. Bacon maintains, seems to have gained authority in the Syrian congregations; [15] the third held the field in Greece proper and in Rome, [16] where Mark also was in use; [17] the fourth had taken root in the congregations of Asia which were full of life at the time when the canon was made. Alexandria, at this period still a mystery to the historian, seems to have contributed nothing to the Gospel canon, although she had been fertile ground for literature of that type, but we know that she did not force the acceptance of her Gospel of the Egyptians on the canonizers and soon abandoned it herself. Perhaps she was not at first admitted to the concert of Churches, by which the Gospel canon was fixed, for Alexandria was reputed a hotbed of gnosticism, and her Gospel of the Egyptians contained more than a little of the offending article. It is possible, moreover, that the Christian groups in Alexandria were not unified early enough to speak with a single voice in the negotiations which fixed the combined canon of the Gospels and of the whole New Testament, and that this was made without consulting the Alexandrian Christians, who, however, finally accepted the decision taken by the others. It is worthy of note that when the Paschal controversy, about 180, was agitating every Christian community from Edessa to Lyons, Alexandria does not enter into direct relations with Pope Victor and sends her views on the affair, only after it was settled, to the communities in Palestine {Eusebius, v, 25, 23).

It is easy to explain how the three Pastoral Epistles came to be


annexed to the Ten Epistles previously known as Paul's. These three letters corresponded so exactly to the needs of the hour that the correspondence cannot have been the result of chance. If not written expressly to satisfy the needs of the Church in her campaign against Marcion, they were completed and turned to such good account against him that the whole collection of thirteen Epistles may be called anti-Marcionite. We can also understand how the fourth Gospel, once accepted, would bring in the first Johannine Epistle and the two others in its train. The main difficulty of the canonists must have been that of securing acceptance, outside of Asia, for the Gospel they called John's, and first of all at Rome. Asia was its fortress. This Gospel is in keeping with the Easter usage of the Quartodecimans, which forms the background to its arrangement of the passion stories; Polycrates, with good reason, refers to this in his letter to Pope Victor {Eusebius, v, 24, 3); Montanism had adopted it and the Asiatic congregations made its fortune when their influence compelled the other Churches to give it recognition. Agreement on the matter was reached under the pressure of a necessity equally felt on either side and, we may be sure, not without mutual concessions and interested, perhaps concerted, adaptations of the text. [18] In establishing the canon of the four Gospels in particular there can be no doubt that a time came when the resolution was taken by all parties to establish a united front against the gnostic irruption and especially against the projects of Marcion.

Apostolicity being the quality aimed at and the order of the day, nothing came more conveniently to hand than the Acts of the Apostles, a book which had hitherto been outshone in credit by its twin brother, the third Gospel. This book of Acts was doubly to the purpose, first in its picture of Christianity as a harmless religion, loyal to the Roman empire, and then by its hostility to gnostic innovators, whom it represents Paul as denouncing in advance at Ephesus (xx, 29, 30) just as it makes him inaugurate the philosophical defence of Christianity in his speech to the Areopagus, [19] which contains the germ of Justin's apologetics minus the Logos. But, notwithstanding the attractions it must have had for the canonists, the influence of this book on the evolution of Christian thought has never equalled that of the Fourth Gospel and of the Epistles attributed to Paul. Both Rome and Asia knew


the first of the two Epistles called Peter's and included it in the canon as apostolic. The Apocalypse of John, declared apostolic in Asia was received as such in Rome where, as yet, its millenarianism had raised no alarm. Justin knew and esteemed it, and the Canon of Muratori defends its reputation which had been compromised by the sudden outbreak of Montanism. But in the third century we find the catholic gnostics of Alexandria judging it unfavourably; only by the influence of the West was it saved from the discredit which overtook the Apocalypse of Peter even in Rome, where it was accepted towards the end of the second century. A strange case was that of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Although Alexandria had early attributed this Epistle to Paul; although it was read in Rome before Marcion was known there, for the Epistle of Clement puts it largely under contribution; [20] although it is cited by Tertullian as the work of Barnabas, and used by him to pour ridicule on Hermas, [21] we find nevertheless that it was not included in the canon as apostolic till the end of the fourth century. Perhaps the reason lay in the fact that Rome had begun its acquaintance with this document in full knowledge that it was not apostolic.

Whatever the truth may be about the inclusion of particular books, the fact is unquestionable that the main body of the New Testament was solidly constituted by the end of the second century. It then included the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter and the first Epistle of John. Needless to say this canonization of New Testament writings was not made in a day and there and then proclaimed by a council assembled ad hoc. But by the time of Irenaeus it appears to have been so far completed. The principle of "apostolicity" on which it was based must have been laid down at the very beginning by a kind of concert among the Churches chiefly concerned and by them made dominant. Looking closely into the matter we cannot but feel that, but for the ruling of this principle, the juxtaposition of the Fourth Gospel with the three Synoptics would not be natural in a collection intended to support the common teaching of the Church. In Rome the Fourth Gospel was long ignored and, even in the early part of the second century, Caius, a Roman presbyter, dared to launch a polemic against the Johannine writings, though this, it is true, was at a


time when Asia was in bad odour at Rome over the Easter controversy. But the testimony of Irenaeus makes it clear [22] that in certain quarters opposition to the Fourth Gospel was lively enough in his time and connected with the opposition to Montanism, a movement Asiatic in origin. But, so long as these adversaries of the Fourth Gospel accepted the first three, they were not charged with heresy.

It must have been, then, by a formal agreement, arrived at after full interchange of views between Rome and the Asiatic Churches, that the principle of the fourfold or "tetramorphic" Gospel was finally adopted. When and how cannot be stated with precision and certitude. It was done before Irenaeus who defends the principle with assiduity and ardour, and certainly did not invent it, for he was in no position to lay it down for the whole Christian Church. If a conjecture may be ventured on so nice a point, as good a conjecture as any would be that agreement was reached at Rome in conversations between the bishop Anicetus and Polycarp of Smyrna. Of the reasons for Polycarp's journey to Rome we know nothing and can only say that his great age and his functions rule out the likelihood that he made the journey for pleasure. Irenaeus mentions it incidentally in his letter to Victor about the Easter controversy {Eusebius, v, 24 and 16). Irenaeus, then Bishop of Lyons, who may well have known more about the matter than he tells, relates how "the blessed Polycarp being come to Rome under Anicetus," the two bishops "discussed between them certain questions on which they soon came to an understanding, but avoided quarrelling on the subject" of Easter, Polycarp being immovable in the observance he held to be apostolic and Anicetus equally so in that which "the presbyters before his time" had followed. Polycarp, then, did not come to Rome to negotiate about Easter, but to examine with Anicetus "the small differences that existed between them." The gnostic crisis being then at its height and the Marcionite movement in full swing, it seems probable that Polycarp came to Rome as representing the Asiatic Churches for the purpose of concerting common measures with Anicetus for stemming the mounting flood of heresy. Obviously the first measure demanded by the situation was to fix the sources from which the true evangelical and apostolic tradition was derived. Is it not likely that among the


decisions then taken one was the determination of the number of the Gospels and perhaps also the number of Paul's Epistles? The foundation of the New Testament canon would then have been built. The rest would be completed between 160 and 180, Acts obtaining official recognition by the side of the Epistles; then finally, the anti-montanist reaction, which threw suspicion on the Apocalypse of John, would be satisfied by excluding the Apocalypse of Peter, formerly accepted by some of the Churches, along with the Pastor of Hermas, which the Roman Church piously retained till then as an authorized prophecy. [23]


A barrier of writings declared apostolic was insufficient protection against the advancing tide of innovation. Just as Marcion was using the principles of his own doctrine to interpret the Gospel and the Apostolicon, on which he professed the principles were founded, so the Church interpreted her New Testament by the principles of her catechesis, defining them with greater amplitude and precision as she reacted against the new heresies, and especially against Marcion.


As we have seen above (pp. 332 ff.) the pastoral Epistles contain the rudiments, or the echoes, of this professedly apostolic creed. So, too. Clement when he writes (i Clement, 46, 6):

"Have we not one (and the same) God, one Christ, one Spirit of pardon poured out on us, one (and the same) vocation in Christ?" Justin, again, seems to be paraphrasing a formula of faith when he assures the emperors that the Christians are not atheists, but believers in the true God, venerating him with "the Son who comes from him" and with the spirit of prophecy. [24] But we have no means of knowing what the precise formula was to which the paraphrase corresponds. A little further on (1, 61) Justin explains how Christians are born anew in the baptismal immersion "in the name of God, father and lord of all things, of our saviour Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit." These three terms of the baptismal confession can hardly be later than the year 150. They are the main features of a formulary subsequently elaborated in opposition to gnosis and concentrate


what the Church was bent on regarding as the essence of "apostolic preaching."

What Irenaeus has to say (Heresies, i, 10) about the faith received by the Church from the apostles and their disciples affords a glimpse of the formulary in the process of shaping. It is, he says, faith in one only God, the Father almighty, who created heaven, earth, sea and all they contain; in one only Christ, Jesus, Son of God, made flesh for our salvation; and in the holy Spirit, who by the prophets announced the scheme of salvation, the coming, virgin birth, passion, resurrection from the dead of Christ, Jesus our Lord, his coming again in the glory of the Father, to gather all together and raise to life the whole of mankind before passing judgment on every individual.

It is to be remarked that Irenaeus in his profession of the catholic faith introduces the Gospel history of birth, passion, etc., not into his second article (faith in the Christ) but into his third (faith in the Holy Spirit) where he presents it as a prophesied history, precisely as Justin conceived it and as it is conceived in the Gospels themselves. It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of this feature. It shows that the modern scholar who discovers, and truly discovers, that the Gospels are histories, not of the historical Jesus, but of the accomplishment of prophecy in the Christ, is simply discovering a fact which Irenaeus seems to have known well enough. In other respects the unity of God and the unity of the Christ are affirmed against Marcion chiefly; the same is true of the incarnation, the bodily resurrection and the last judgment. Instead of giving sole prominence to the role of the Father in creating the world, as was done in the catechesis before Marcion challenged it, the doctrine of salvation is now brought to the front, no doubt in accord with the Epistles of Paul and with John, but also in accord with Marcion, who is here both followed and corrected.

The title of his other writing, The Exposition of the Apostolic Preaching, shows by its bare announcement the dominant thought of Irenaeus and the idea he had formed of the tradition as "apostolic preaching" a preaching whose content he himself, in his time, largely contributed to defining. In this Exposition


he recalls how "we have all received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, son of God, incarnate, dead and raised again, and in the holy Spirit of God" (Exposition, 3). A little further on (6) he explains that the whole structure of the faith and the scheme of salvation rests upon the following three articles:

God, Father, increate, invisible, creator of all things this is the first article of our faith.

And this is the second: the Word of God, Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to the prophets in the form of their prophecy and according to the power of the Father's disposition; by whom were all things created; he it was who, in the fullness of time, to accomplish all things and omit nothing, was made man among men, visible and tangible, to destroy death and reveal life, and to make effective the communion and union of God and man.

Third article: the holy Spirit by whose power the prophets prophesied, the fathers were instructed in the knowledge of God, the just guided in the way of righteousness; and who, in the last days, is shed forth in a new manner on the human race throughout the world, renewing mankind for God.

The article of the holy Spirit is also the article of the Church, but given a turn which avoids the condemnation of the Montanists. In his comments on the three articles, Irenaeus develops a veritable gnosis in which soteriology is adapted to cosmology and the Old Testament harmonized with the New. This gnosis, apparently derived from the Gospels and Epistles, but better balanced than the rough outlines of doctrine to be found in the canonical writings, was plainly conceived and formulated to counter the gnosis of Marcion.

We come now to the ancient Roman Creed, the date of which is still under discussion, but probably goes back to the period 150-160: [25]

 I believe in God, the Father Almighty;
And in Christ Jesus, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
who was born of the holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried;
the third day, he rose from the dead,
ascended to the heavens, sat down at God's right hand,
whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead;
And in the holy Spirit, the holy Church, the remission of sins and the resurrection of the flesh.


This, in substance, is the gnosis of Irenaeus, minus the Word and lacking his systematic balance, but with certain points made more precise for better correspondence with the Gospels, and always with the same emphasis on the one and only God, the creator, and on Jesus his only begotten Son, incarnate, dead and risen who will come again to judge the living and those raised from the dead. Aimed at less openly, Marcion and his gnosis are here aimed at none the less in reality.

A point on no account to be overlooked is that the term here translated "one and only," which appears in the Roman Creed, is not to be found in the old baptismal formula of Rome preserved by Hippolytus. As the second question in his profession of faith the candidate was asked: "Believest thou in Christ Jesus the Son of God begotten by Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary?" [26] In this formula the divine sonship is connected with the virgin conception, as Luke also connected it (i, 35) in the passage where the virgin conception is recorded. What the meaning of the baptismal formula really was is shown by the Liturgy of Hippolytus, [27] where a paraphrase of the Creed reappears in the Eucharistic prayers:

We thank thee, O God, by thy dear child Jesus Christ,
whom in the last days thou hast sent as saviour and redeemer, and angel of thy will;
who is thy Word, by whom thou hast made all things;
whom it pleased thee to send from heaven into a virgin's womb,
and who, when conceived, became flesh and was revealed thy Son,
born of holy Spirit and a virgin, etc. [28]

Needless to say the line in the above passage concerning the Word is an addition from the personal theology of Hippolytus, a resolute defender of the Logos and of the fourth Gospel, like his master Irenaeus. But the part of the formula which presents Jesus as Son of God in virtue of his being born of God, by the instrumentality of the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, corresponds to the baptismal formula cited immediately above which is earlier than the Roman Creed. Much older are the terms applied to Jesus, "child" of God, "angel of his will," which are nearly related to the Didache, while the second question


of the profession looks as if its original form was only: "Believest thou in Christ Jesus, the Son of God?" The addition of "only begotten" after Son, as it is placed in the Roman Symbol, has the effect of making the sonship an eternal relation existing before the incarnation by miraculous conception. For that reason some critics hesitate to place the use of the word as far back as the second century. In any case, however, it might well have been aimed at Valentinus.


At what date the miraculous conception became an article of the faith remains a matter for conjecture. Obviously this date depends on that assigned, not precisely to the composition of the first Gospel, but to its acceptance by the Church in Rome and to the addition of the verses about the virgin conception in Luke. Not long ago some excitement was caused by a Syriac manuscript (published by W. Wright in the Journal of Sacred Literature, October, 1866) in which there is an account of a Council said to have been held at Rome during the reign of Hadrian in the year 119, Xystus then being bishop. At this Council the questions of the star of the Magi and of Joseph's marriage are said to have been examined. Many critics have hesitated to take this information seriously as having anything to do with the reception of the first Gospel in the Roman Church. Quite recently, however, Streeter {The Four Gospels, 525) and Bacon (Studies in Matthew, 50-59), both considerable authorities, have pronounced in favour of a connexion between the two things. They maintain that a book which, like Matthew, gave the Gospel a "beginning" other than that of Mark (see Mark i, 1) would not have been accepted in the Roman Community without further examination and testimony; but such testimony was forthcoming, and acceptance effected without much difficulty, because Ignatius of Antioch [29] had recently addressed a warm plea to Rome in favour of Matthew, highly esteemed at Antioch and by him. The second argument holds good only on the double condition of the letters of Ignatius containing the plea being authentic, and the supposed date of his martyrdom being correct, if even then. This is tantamount to saying the argument


is not conclusive. The first argument, which needs very cautious handling, remains to be considered.

The authority of a witness as late as that of this Syriac manuscript (fifth century), and as isolated, is not indisputable, nor are the ancient sources on which it might possibly depend (discussed at length by Bacon) and of which, by some strange chance, it would be the only echo, anything more than a matter of more or less plausible conjecture. The discussion of its intrinsic probability would be endless. There is no proof that the canon of the New Testament was drawn up at Councils properly so called, and decided book by book, and that, as Bacon contends, the Pastor of Hermas was excluded in this way from the collection. [30] Moreover, in a case like that of Matthew, the question of its formal acceptance or rejection would have been impossible in the conditions under which a Roman Council could have taken place in the year 120. A Gospel already received in some communities, as Matthew was at Antioch, and coming to the knowledge of others, was not offered to their official examiners to be promptly accepted or rejected; it merely asked for the attention of the faithful and might be long tolerated and held in esteem without entering, to the same extent as others, into the actual usage of the congregations. It is improbable that Matthew brought anything new in the way of belief to the Eastern circles where it first appeared, its compiler merely giving Gospel form to beliefs which had already taken shape. In the same way when it arrived in Rome its contents would seem to fall in with what was already known and cannot have made the impression of bringing information hitherto unheard of. So received, its credit would increase as time went on.

It is nevertheless possible that the period indicated (119-120) corresponds to a moment of great importance in the history of the Church in Rome. When Irenaeus reminds Victor that his predecessors tolerated the Easter observance of the quartodecimans without practising it themselves, he goes back by Soter and Anicetus to Pius, Hyginus and Telesphorus, and stops at Xystus as though he has now reached the point from which the Roman tradition takes its departure. It is not impossible that the Roman observance of the Sunday Easter goes no further back; but Irenaeus may also have stopped there for lack of


further information. In like manner it is not impossible that our first Gospel arrived in Rome in the time of Xystus and was there received with respect but without supplanting Mark and Luke, then in use. Nor is it impossible that the growing credit of Matthew, with its birth story, soon had the effect of introducing into Luke the addition (i, 34-35) which records the virgin conception of the Christ. Finally it is not impossible that about 145-150 the miraculous conception of the Christ was introduced into the baptismal confession of faith, against Valentinus and especially against Marcion. But all these attempts to fix the date when the miraculous conception became matter of faith remain in the realm of conjecture.


The article of the remission of sins, in the ancient Roman Symbol, seems to have a special significance. Impressed by the call of Hermas and his Pastor the Roman Church may well have established the system of public penitence for Christian sinners, as a means of defending her discipline against the many continence-sects then active, and especially against the Marcionites. The express mention of "the holy Church" aims at canonizing the traditional Church, the Great Church, the Catholic Church; at establishing it in the presence, and at the expense, of the gnostic conventicles and suspected groupings, to which this true Church will henceforth refuse all claims to truth and to holiness. It is against the gnostics also, and once more against Marcion in particular, that she affirms "the resurrection of the flesh," notwithstanding the declaration of First Corinthians "that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (xv,50).


Impassioned love for the Church, and for the unity of the Church, goes back to the earliest organization of the Christian societies; beyond all question it is an inheritance from the Jewish spirit, in which the idea of a chosen people threw off its


national limitations and became humanized. From the very first the community of believers in Jesus claimed to be, and was determined to remain, a spiritual homeland for the elect people of God. Spite of all divisions and, we may add, of many fallings-away, the Christian groups were kept united in the bond of their faith, of their great hope and of the fraternal practice of a truly effective charity. We have already seen how their rudimentary institutions were very naturally copied from the Synagogue. But they could not fail to undergo profound transformations of inner ordering in the course of their independent growth to maturity.

It was inevitable, even at the earliest period, that certain members would be charged with the due ordering of the meetings, chiefly of the communion supper, and with the care of the poor. The Book of Acts represents the Apostles as the first administrators of the community but soon forced to delegate the service of its material wants to seven deacons (vi, 1-6). The story is fictitious, but corresponds to one reality that the Christian communities were organized brotherhoods from the very beginning. From the moment the groups were formed, the older men, assisted by auxiliary ministers, took the place of presidents; there were presbyters, deacons and even deaconesses. At the end of First Corinthians (xvi, 15-16) Paul mentions one Stephanas and those of his household, "first fruits of Achaia, who have taken on themselves the service of the saints," that is, the first to be converted who, ever since their conversion, have devoted themselves to the community; and he then goes on to plead that obedience should be rendered to them and to every helper who labours as they did for the common good. It would seem, then, that Stephanas and his fellow workers had already the duty of supervising as well as of serving, and were charged, as a kind of police, with the maintenance of discipline. At the end of Romans, Paul, in like manner, speaks of "the sister Phoebe," deaconess of the community at Cenchrea, who has the duty of carrying his letter, a person worthy of all respect "because she has been a help to many, including myself." With no titles or honorific badges to distinguish them from other believers, and though they had not received the indelible mark of sacramental ordination, these people were of no little con-


sequence in the community. It is, however, true that the ordination of elders, bishop-priests and deacons, by the laying-on of hands, is of earlier date than the editing of Acts and the pastoral Epistles, perhaps even earlier than the Didache.

At no period of their history did the communities allow these indispensable officers to drop out. The presence of apostles, prophets and doctors may have left them at first somewhat in the shade, but did not render them less necessary. In First Corinthians (xii, 4-5) "service" is placed below "spiritual gifts." The Didache gives these helpers greater honour, but still finds it necessary to urge consideration for them in the community which has elected them to office. This is no longer determined by circumstances or by their own wish to serve, as it was at the beginning.

"Choose you bishops and deacons [31] worthy of the Lord; let them be gentle men, disinterested, sincere, well-tried. For they also exercise among you the ministry of prophets and doctors; look not upon them as of low rank, for they are entitled to respect among you along with prophets and doctors." (Didache, 31.)

The status of elders, as Hermas describes it, is almost the same, except that they are now acquiring greater authority and are beginning to take precedence of the prophets and the doctors.

The "overseers," or bishops, were not distinguished from the elders, or priests. The elders are also the overseers; the "ministers," or deacons, are subordinate to them. In the Pastoral Epistles three orders of administrative officers are no longer recognized, but only two, the bishop-priests and the deacons. [32[ Thus each community, on becoming fairly numerous, would have a collegium of elders presiding over its social life, meetings for worship and works of charity; the deacons would form the executive. But though, at the outset, the elders had no teaching ministry by the side of the prophets and doctors, and though even the moral discipline of the congregation did not belong to them, the force of circumstances would, nevertheless, tend to give them a leading part, not only in discipline, but in the day to day instruction of catechumens and those already baptized. The importance of their administrative function would increase with the increase of the common resources to be managed and of the alms to be distributed, with the growing sacredness of


their duties in the conduct of worship and the concurrent decline and inadequacy of inspired prophecy and itinerant preaching. The Didache (n, 3-5) gives us a glimpse of the latter process; the wandering apostle was now becoming a burdensome charge on the localized congregations and ill-seen by the managers of their funds. [33] At Rome, in the time of Hermas, the prophetteacher was already under the control of the presbyters, who soon set him aside altogether and themselves assumed sole charge of the day to day instruction of the congregation. The author of the Ignatian Letters speaks as though his own office were that of bishop-prophet and not as though the prophets were a separate order at the side of the bishops, priests and deacons. When Marcion tried to revive the prophets it was too late.

We can now understand why the pastoral Epistles dwell on the qualities needed in the bishop-priest and in the deacon with an insistence that seems striving to find terms strong enough. For, in reality, it is to them, not to the prophets nor to the teachers (doctors), that the "Paul" of the pastorals, through the intermediary of Timothy and Titus, commits the whole care of the congregations now menaced by a swarm of heretical doctrinaires. To Titus he writes as follows (i, 5-9):

To this end I left thee in Crete,
that thou mightest complete what is unfinished,
And appoint presbyters in every town,
according to the order I gave thee.
Let each be a man above reproach,
the husband of one wife, [34]
With believing children,
not suspected as ne'er-do-wells or disobedient.
For the bishop must be irreproachable,
inasmuch as he is God's steward:
Not arrogant, not hasty tempered, not given to drink,
not a man of blows, not avaricious,
But a kindly host, a good man, having common sense,
just, pious, master of himself,
Holding fast the sure word which accords with the doctrine,
so that he can exhort in holy teaching,
and send opponents to the right-about.

From this it becomes clear that the bishop-priest is now charged with the paternal government of the community and


with the instruction of it according to "the doctrine" deemed apostolic. Obviously the office is not for new and untried hands, a point expressly made in the Epistles to Timothy (i, 3-4; v, 22; 2, ii, 2).

Let the deacons likewise be worthy men,
not using words in a double sense,
And not addicted to the wine cup,
not avaricious,
Having the mystery of the faith
in purity of conscience
But see to it also that they are first proved,
then let them serve, being without reproach;
For those who do good service
win for themselves a position of honour
And great assurance by faith in Christ Jesus.

When and how the bishop emerged from the general body of presbyters as sole president of the community, cannot be stated with precision. It is probable that from the very earliest time this body was not constituted without a head, that it had a president, but that his office did not exalt him very highly above his fellows and was not an appointment for life. It is noteworthy that Hermas, whose tradition makes him out to be the brother of the bishop Pius, predecessor of Anicetus, never mentions the bishop, and seems to have had dealings only with the presbyters in Rome. But a few years afterwards we find Anicetus sole bishop of the Roman community, just as his contemporary Polycarp was sole bishop in Smyrna. But Polycarp had then been bishop for a long time. It may well be that the monarchical type of episcopate existed in some regions earlier than in others. Polycarp himself, for example, writing to the Philippians makes no mention of any bishop at Philippi. [35] The community of Corinth, again, seems to have had no bishop at its head when the letter of Clement was addressed to it. This letter shows knowledge only of bishop-priests and of deacons, instituted by the apostles in the communities they had founded, and reappointed by election after the apostle's death. The letter does not speak of these functionaries as subject to recall at will or periodically, but as there for life. [36]

We may conclude, then, that the monarchical type of episco-


pate was at first instituted in certain communities, either because they were more prepared than the others for an autocratic regime, or through the pressure of personalities better endowed for leadership and ambitious to attain it. Have we not already heard the good Hermas rebuking the Roman presbyters for their love of place and power? On that road Asia may well have taken the lead of Greece proper, and especially of Rome, where perhaps there was some difficulty in centralizing the Christian groups under a single administration. It is likely enough that the gnostic peril brought this evolution to a sudden head; for while the unitary episcopate exists only in some places before the period 130-140, we find it existing everywhere after 150-160. Be it observed, moreover, that Marcion, who founded his communities on the pattern of the Great Church, recognized the distinction between episcopate, presbyterate and deaconate. These functions, however, were not perpetual in the Marcionite communities and did not form a true hierarchy. The tendency of the arch-heretic was, so to say, in the direction of democratizing church appointments, while the Church, on the other side, proceeded to fortify them more and more by an official conservation, which ended by separating the clergy from the lay believers. [37] In the Church, priests and deacons became united in one body, under the rule of the bishop, to guide the Christian flock in the path of apostolic doctrine. Bishops, priests, deacons, these three, while retaining their function as ministers of charity, are now to be acknowledged as masters of the truth and hierarchs of the cult.

Meanwhile the gap which divides the Church from the heresies grows deeper and more distinct. Celsus (c. 180) clearly distinguishes the one from the other. But, more profoundly than an outsider like Celsus could feel it, the difference between orthodox and heretical was realized within the Church, which its official representatives and apologists are now declaring to be the sole guardian of the truth. Justin, who attributes pagan idolatry to wicked demons, does not hesitate to make them the authors of all the heresies from Simon Magus to Marcion (i Apology, 26, 58). "There is not a doubt," Tertullian will soon be saying, "that the spirits of perversity, from whom come the heresies, were charged with the business by the devil, nor that heresies are the same as


idolatry, seeing that they come from the same author and are of the same workmanship. Either they invent another God to oppose the creator" this for Marcion "or, if they admit only one creator they make him out to be different from what he really is. Thus every lie they tell about God is some sort of service to idols" (De Praescriptione, 40).

We have already heard the author of the Ignatian Letters sounding his trumpet call to the faithful to rally round the bishop. Let us listen once more to this singer of Christian unity unity in bishops and by bishops. For he it is who may be truly said to have created the mystery of the episcopate, that mystery of which Cyprian, in the next century, was to be the worthy exponent, and which to-day would be condemned as heresy, being now replaced by the mystery of the Pope, of which our authors had not the faintest idea.

Since love permits me not to keep silence towards you, I am eager in exhorting you to walk in step with the thought of God. For Jesus Christ, the life we can never be parted from, is the thought of God, even as bishops, established in their seats to the end of the earth, are one with the thought of Jesus Christ. Fitting it is, then, that you walk in step with the thought of the bishop, as indeed you are doing. For your venerable presbyterium is adjusted to the bishop as cords are adjusted to the lyre. Wherefore Christ is praised by the harmony of your hearts and the symphony of your love. Join you, each one, his voice to that choir, so that, with one heart and one voice, taking up in unison the key-note of God, you may sing through Jesus Christ to the Father, who will then listen to your song and recognize by your works that you are members of His Son. Good is it for you that you keep in faultless unity, for thus will you ever be united to the very God. (Ephesians 3-4.)


At the moment when this admirable symphony was about to become complete, it had a narrow escape of being broken up by the discordant cries of the Christian prophets. Christian prophecy, as we have seen, was on the way to dying a natural death in the atmosphere created by the intellectualism of gnosis and the growth of the episcopate, which was fighting gnosis and growing stronger as it fought. But all of a sudden, between 160 and 170, [38] prophecy came to life again in a region which had long been


accustomed to outbreaks of mystical transport. Montanus, with his -women acolytes, Maximilla and Priscilla, exalted it seems by overstudy of the Johannine writings, were persuaded that a mission had been laid upon them to revive the golden days of Christian prophecy. Great was the emotional excitement in all the congregations of God, beginning from those in Asia Minor, when news spread that astounding manifestations of the Spirit were taking place in Phrygia; an excitement which became the more confused when it was learnt at the same time that the new prophets were encountering vigorous opposition, especially from the bishops, who were actively at work in refuting the prophets and were going to the length of having them exorcised as possessed of the devil.

As with other heresies, our information about Montanus and Montanism comes mainly from those who opposed them. But Montanus was not a real heretic; at least there was nothing of the gnostic about him. He and his adepts were illuminati who had been carried away by the Book of Revelation and expected to see the New Jerusalem descending at an exact spot, which their visions had revealed to them, between the small Phrygian towns of Pepuza and Tymon. Far from the scene of their excesses the Montanists were looked upon with favour in 177 at Lyons where Irenaeus the bishop showed them consistent goodwill. Rome hesitated long before taking sides. [39] It was while affairs were in this posture that certain Asiatics, by way of turning Montanus and his followers to mockery, rejected the whole of the Johannine books. For Montanism lasted on and was getting organized round Pepuza undeterred by the persistent delay of the heavenly Jerusalem in making its appearance. Rome, under Victor, and in the first years of Zephyrinus, took no pains to be on good terms with the Asiatic bishops, and this may explain why Caius (180-235) was able with impunity to join the Asiatic adversaries of the Paraclete, the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse. In this Caius was also attacking Montanism.

The violence of the agitation caused by this revival of Christian prophecy was not confined to Asia Minor. Though most of the Asiatic bishops were against the movement, it got a lasting hold in Phrygia, where the headquarters of its hopes were established. But its localization in that province did not hinder its missionaries


from going far into the West. Only in Africa was Montanism able to take root, and there it won over Tertullian, the greatest of the Church's apologists in that age. Great as was the effort made by Tertullian to rally the Church to Montanism, he succeeded no further than to bring about his own secession towards the year 201 [40] taking with him a small group of followers who never counted for much in African Christianity, though they managed to hold on till the time of Saint Augustine.

The historical significance of Montanism lies in the fact that here we have a rekindling of the inner fire whose light illuminated the first believers. The medium in which that fire sprang up again was doubtless favourable to such an outbreak, but the movement is best understood as a reaction of faith against gnosis, a reaction, that is, of the mystic sense against metaphysical subtleties pretending to be a philosophy of religion. It was also a movement of rigorist morality, a continence-movement proceeding from a principle different from Marcion's but not less exacting. Montanus condemned marriage by arguments which pushed to its last consequences the reasoning by which celibacy and virginity are commended to the faithful in First Corinthians (vii, 6-8, 25-34). Both in its revival of prophecy and in its rigorist morality Montanism ran counter to tendencies manifested in the Church during the second century towards a more flexible discipline, and a more solid organization, than the first age of Christianity would have found congenial. On the one hand, the Church was building herself into a fortress by submitting to the rule of a monarchical episcopate; on the other, she was adapting herself to the conditions of human society by allowing for the wants, even the weaknesses, of human nature, and by establishing a discipline of penitence for those whose courage might fail in professing their faith when threatened with death for profession, or who might commit any other sin incompatible with the principle of Christianity. Far from yielding to the Montanist movement, the episcopate was now strong enough to deprive prophecy of any part in the direction of the Christian conscience and to set up a relatively indulgent regime for the Christian sinner, but always on condition of his penitence.

The check thus given to Montanism marks the end of primitive Christianity. From that time onwards the Christian religion is the


Christian Church under the rule of bishops accounted successors of the apostles and trustees of the apostolic tradition. This Church has her Creed, of which the essential lines are now firmly drawn. She has her Scriptures, a collection of the New Testament, supported by the Old. Her worship has evolved into a Mystery of Salvation. Her whole institution is now defined sufficiently, not indeed to render future heresy impossible, but to ensure that henceforth, and century after century, the life of the Christian communities shall be ruled with sovereign right by the principle of tradition, or seem to be ruled, when the reins of government are in able hands.

So our story concludes. A religious agitation started in Palestinian Judaism by a Galilean preacher, whose aim was the Kingdom of God, and his end to be crucified as a rebel, comes to its fruit in less than two centuries as a mighty institution established throughout the Roman empire, condemned by the law, but assured of its future and equally sure of victory over the empire which persecuted it. In the whole course of this remarkable evolution nothing happened which cannot be explained by the laws that govern human life, and this may be said with confidence in spite of the obscurity resulting from the conditions under which the movement went on its way. None the less is it true that this triumph of faith, viewed in the light of religious and moral consciousness, if not a miracle, is a human marvel, in which new life was created and a work of human progress thereby accomplished. The diffusion of Judaism had prepared the ground for Christian success, but Christianity completed a victory which Judaism, though it won the first approaches, was powerless to follow up to its conclusion, and this because it had compressed an idea, broad as humanity, into the narrow form of a nationalism, in which only a few could participate. This idea Christianity held forth, under the thin covering of a religious creed, to the disinherited multitudes of the ancient world, to the multitudes without a homeland; and round it they rallied. This element of human sympathy, born in the first preaching of the Gospel and developed in primitive Christianity, this it was that carried the Catholic Church to the very forefront of history. How she has since comported herself at that eminence, in what measure she has fulfilled or not fulfilled her programme,


we know. But the history other proceedings from the end of the second century down to our time is abundantly documented. It is the pre-history of the Christian religion that we here bring to an end, a history which the cautious inquirer may reconstruct by inference, and more or less conjecturally, from testimony whose main content is, not the history, but the mystic legend of its institution.


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