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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter VIII


IT is obvious that the theory of the Christian mystery supported the system of its sacraments, the Christian faith which these reflect being widely different from the Jewish hope, conditioned, as it was, by the national restoration of Judaism. Much that is written in the New Testament books represents the efforts that were made, one after the other and from different angles, to equip the new religion with a balanced doctrine both in regard to the central object of the religion, the person and work of its founder, and to the form of its practice in the society of believers. To this process we now turn.


The mystical gnosis developed in the Epistle to the Romans did not enter entire into the general current of Christian tradition, at least before Augustine, and even the influence of the Doctor of Hippo prevailed only within the Latin Church. This gnosis, however, with the additions and modifications given it in other Epistles attributed to Paul, constitutes the most complete, if not the oldest, known attempt made by Christian speculation to transform messianic faith into a theory of redemption, more or less analogous to the doctrine of pagan mysticism, but without abandoning the ground of Biblical revelation and of the Gospel message of the Kingdom of God.

In an apparently authentic part of the Epistle (iii, 27 - iv, 24) Paul has proved that Gentiles were entitled to enter the Kingdom of God on condition of faith in Jesus, who became Christ by his resurrection. Abraham, he says, was justified solely by faith in the divine promise at a time when he was still uncircumcised; whence it follows that uncircumcised pagans can be saved in the same manner and on exactly the same terms as the Jews, the circumcised descendants of Abraham. Thus Gentile believers took their place, so to say, in the general scheme of Israel's hope, which was


to come to fruition in the conversion of Israel itself after the Gospel has been preached to all the pagans. [1] Thus it stands in the passage before us. But the problem of salvation is resumed from quite a different point of view in the chapters which deal with the scheme of redemption. Here there is no longer question of the promises made to Abraham for his posterity, but of a plan of salvation intended by Divine Providence, from the beginning of the world, to embrace the whole of mankind, the revelation to the Jews being no more than an interlude connected with the fall of man, not the real basis of his restoration.

God, we are told, has proved his love for men in that Christ died for the redemption of the sinful human race. Here are the providential conditions under which this came about:

As by one sole man sin entered the world,
and death by sin.
And thus death passed to all men,
because all have sinned ...
As from one sole transgression
there followed condemnation for all,
So from one sole deed of justice
there followed justification for life.
For, as by the disobedience of one sole man
the rest were all made sinners,
So by the obedience of one sole man
the rest are made righteous. [2]

Nothing could less resemble an improvised letter than these studied declarations of which even the form is carefully balanced. But their importance lies in their matter. Two images, two men, two Adams dominate the whole of human history. The first Adam, "image of him who was to come," has by his sole transgression involved all humanity in sin and death. (A tragic interpretation of the old story of the first man being driven out of God's garden, where the Tree of Life was, for having disobeyed his Creator!) [3] The second Adam, Jesus Christ, by an act of justice, of perfect virtue, which was also an act of obedience, to wit his voluntary submission to death the death due to all men as sinners like their father Adam, but not due to the Christ, a heavenly being by origin and nature and not descended from the first Adam this second Adam has, by the aforesaid act of justice rendered men


irreproachable before God. This, virtually, he has done for all mankind but, actually, for those who believe in him and who, through baptism, are mystically identified with him in his death and so participate in his resurrection.

The fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians is yet more explicit about the two Adams:

Thus is it written:
There was made the first man, Adam,
living soul
The last Adam
lifegiving Spirit.
But the spiritual is not first,
the first is the living,
then the spiritual.
The first man, being of earth, is earthy,
the second man is of heaven.
As is the one earthy
so are the many;
As is the one heavenly
so are the many,
And as we have borne the likeness of the earthy,
we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly ...
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God
and corruption will not inherit incorruption.

By an exegesis of extreme subtlety the two Adams are here deduced from Genesis, which is not to be wholly credited either with the Adam of perdition or with the Adam of salvation, very emphatically not with the latter. They are myth figures here adapted to Genesis and to the Gospel. The terrestrial Adam and his heavenly counterpart are the primordial Adam divided into two, the ideal prototype and its historical realization. This is the myth of Man, whence is derived the Son of Man of the Gospels, who is the pre-existing type of humanity and the destined agent in effecting his salvation. Philo [4] knew the two "men" in question, but gave priority to the celestial. Fundamentally our author has the same idea; but, taking his point of view at the historical manifestation, he puts the terrestrial man first, reducing primordial man to primacy in sin, misery and death and reserving the Celestial Man for the end of the ages.

Strange things are told us in Romans about the Law (v, 13,20,21):


Until the Law
Sin was in the world;
But was not counted as sin,
there being no law ...
The Law came in
that transgression might abound;
But where sin abounded
grace abounded more,
To the end that, as sin reigned in death,
so grace may reign by justice to eternal life,
by Jesus Christ our Lord.

The author's idea of the Mosaic Law, and indeed of law in general, could hardly have occurred save to one born outside the Jewish fold, who, weighing the Law as an outsider, judged it impracticable. His view is, moreover, that man, being inclined to sin by the natural appetites of the flesh, the Law, by bringing to his notice the opportunities for sinning, would, so to say, incite him to commit the very sins it forbids. A strange mode, truly, of understanding social obligation and the reasons underlying legislation in general! Where, then, are we to look for a regulating principle and a criterion of good? Our prophet is embarrassed by no such trifles. According to him, sin, death and law are inseparably one and constitute, as it were, the Trilogy of damnation; grace, righteousness, eternal life are the Trilogy of salvation; immortality issues from righteousness, and righteousness from grace grace granted to every man who, having faith in Jesus dead and risen from death, participates in his death and resurrection; such a believer dies to sin, lives to God, enters without effort into the way of righteousness, all under the impulse of a new spirit. All virtues are born of the spirit of grace. The logical consequence of the system would be that the believer is incapable of sin. But a formal admission of this is here avoided though it is hinted at in Romans vi, 14, and expressed in plain terms in i John iii, 6.

Dealing throughout with abstractions, our author believes he is dealing with realities. His conceptions are terribly ponderous, not to say mechanical, and yet not far removed from a primitive mentality. In the presence of death he is like a child seeking the key to a non-existent problem. Death, in reality, is the natural ending of every form of life on earth, and the miracle would be if man had escaped it. Death reigned before there was any sin to


generate it. And what is our author's idea of sin? A fearful and monstrous abstraction, behind which, most assuredly, there is a fact only too real, but a simple fact quite otherwise explicable than by the innate corruption of the flesh and the pretended provocation of it by the law; a fact to be simply explained by human weakness in presence of the ideal born in social life, the weakness resulting from the limitations of reason, from the kind of constraint which our natural appetites impose on the reflecting will. The idea of grace is not less ponderous, nor that of redemption less artificial. Sin, the capital evil of humanity, innate in the flesh though we are not told how is suddenly annihilated because the Christ, having taken flesh, takes sin upon him also, but without being defiled by it, and then, by the destruction of his own flesh effects the destruction of sin in humanity at large. The idea at the back of this is not expiation, but elimination, as in most of the ancient sacrifices classed as expiatory, and notably in the scapegoat, mystically loaded with the sins of Israel, which he carries away with him into the desert. Thus the sin of the guilty human race is done away with in the body of the Man-Christ, who was himself untouched by it. Childish dreams worked up into a theological nightmare and adapted, by hook or crook, to a lofty moral conception!

To this strange system some corrections are applied by the Epistle itself (vii, 14-17):

We know that the Law is spiritual;
but, as for me, I am carnal,
sold to sin. [5]
For what I do, I understand it not:
'tis not what I would that I do,
'tis what I abhor that I do.
Now, if what I would not is what I do
I acknowledge that the Law is good;
But it is no more I who do it,
'tis sin abiding in me.

Here are subtleties enough, but not without psychological meaning and moral insight. The Law, we are told, being spiritual, is so far good; but the flesh is turned towards evil, even when reason perceives the good and assents to the Law. Man now appears to be torn asunder between two tendencies, both per


manent, in so much that, contrary to the system we have just examined, justification would not seem to be acquired once and for all, but to result only from a victory constantly renewed by the help of the spirit in a struggle that goes on till life ends (vii, 18-23). The conception is here more sober, more philosophic, being partly borrowed from the philosophers, and bearing marks of serious reasoning and genuine psychological experience. But we should completely deceive ourselves if we thought we could find in these theoretical views the profound and purely personal experience by which Paul was led to his faith in the Christ.

The chief author of this system had in his mind an idea of the whole world as subject, against its will, to corruption, and as sharing with believers in the Christ in the expectation of deliverance. Everything suffers violence in this lower sphere, still reigned over by evil spirits, "the princes of this world"; they it was who, according to First Corinthians (ii, 8), [6] without knowing him, "crucified the Lord of Glory." The final redemption of the suffering universe will be effected in the metamorphosis awaiting the elect. "The creation, impatiently waiting, longs for the manifestation of the Sons of God" in their glory as they will appear in this new world; "for to vanity" doubtless to the subordinate powers which govern it so ill "has the whole creation been made subject, not of its own will" having never desired such servitude "but by the doing of Him who so subjected it" doubtless God who appointed the evil powers to rule the visible world "in hope that the creation also" sharing the resurrection of humanity "will be delivered from the bondage of corruption" which the evil powers impose on the world chiefly through the pagan cults "that it may attain the liberty of the glory of the children of God." And the author even speaks of the creation as "travailing" and "groaning" in company with mankind. [7]

Evidently the triumph of the elect is no longer conceived as the reign of the Christ on this earth in a Jerusalem made glorious; for the lower, material world will disappear to make room for the expansion and manifestation of the spiritual world. Nevertheless the spiritual world is not purely ideal; even the elect who will possess it are to have bodies, spiritual bodies of an ethereal substance, light, subtle and luminous (i Corinthians xv, 35-44). As to the nature of this substance, the clearest information the


writer can give us is that it will not be gross, like the matter of which the present world is composed.

So pessimistic a view of the material world might well suggest that foreign influence is here at work. It brings to mind the Persian doctrine of the world as created by the wicked Ahriman whom one day the good Ormuzd will destroy. But here the world is not the creation of a wicked god and, even if Persian influence can be detected in the idea of the world as badly governed from the beginning, that influence goes further back. The idea of "powers" which have abused the authority which God has given them over the world, and abused it both against the world and against God himself, is to be met with in Jewish apocalyptic literature of a period earlier than Christianity. But the idea appears in our texts under a stronger accent. Furthermore, the strangest of all the applications to which the idea has been put, that which presents the crucifixion of Jesus as due to the "princes of this world," is given support as sketched in the Old Testament (Zechariah xi-xiii, 8); to which the fourth Gospel gives precision by attributing the death of the Christ to one only of the princes, "the prince of this world," that is, to the grand master of the lower powers. The human agents who take part in the condemnation and execution are regarded as his tools, and as hardly responsible for what they do.

Here, then, is a profound and dauntless faith translated into the language of mythology. The author of the gnosis, of which we have just ventured an analysis, has experienced persecution, nor does he expect that persecution will soon come to an end. But, taking comfort from his belief that the elect will overcome all the difficulties and torments awaiting them, he now breaks forth into this fine outpouring of his mystical faith (Rom. viii, 28-30, 31,35,37-39):

We know that, for those who love God,
everything converges to good,
for those called according to plan
Because, those whom he foresaw,
them he predestined to be conformed to the
pattern of his Son,
that he might be the first-born of many brothers.
Now, whom he predestined,
them also he called;


Whom he called;
them also he justified
Whom he justified,
them also he glorified.
If God is for us,
Who will be against us?
Who will separate us from the love of the Christ?
Tribulation, distress, persecution,
hunger, nakedness, peril, sword? ...
But over all that we triumph
by him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature
Will avail to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This powerful summary of faith can hardly have been produced before the end of the first century, or elsewhere than in a circle faithful to the memory of Paul. We are tempted to say that the author of it takes his stand on the Scriptures only as on a platform from which to take his night above them, for his Christ is placed under the Law only that he may deliver those in bondage to the Law (Gal. iv, 4-5). Was he also born of a woman and descended from David according to the flesh? (Rom. i, 3). The Epistles answer in the affirmative, and by the fact that he was woman-born in the lineage of David he would be identified with the Jewish Messiah. But the whole system is consistent only with a real epiphany conceived as historical and incarnate in a body of flesh which, wearing the semblance of sin, must have been real also. What is said on this subject gives no ground for understanding it in the sense of Docetism, the thought of our author being everywhere entirely matter-of-fact and of the kind that could never base the redemption of mankind on a phantom show. It remains to add that the Christ he presents was, by his origin, a "power" in the same category as those who crucified him in the flesh, but, unlike them, faithful to God from the beginning.


The Epistle to the Hebrews, which there is reason to think was not originally attributed to Paul, contains another synthesis, probably of somewhat later date than the foregoing, which


constructs the scheme of salvation after a widely different pattern. This gnosis is developed methodically and at considerable length, and elaborately fortified with biblical quotations, [8] though in reality the gnosis is not derived from the Scriptures, but rather attached to them by a subtle exegesis. The preamble announces the general theme of the Epistle (i, 1-4):

Many times and in many ways
God, having formerly spoken
to the fathers by the prophets,
In these last of the days
has spoken to us by the Son,
Whom he appointed heir to all things,
by whom also he made the worlds, [9]
Who, being the reflection of his glory,
and expression of his substance,
Upholding all things
by his word of power,
Having effected purification from sins
sat down on the right of Majesty on high,
Becoming so much superior to the angels
that he received for his share a name more excellent than they.

The intention of the author is to prove first that the Son, in virtue of his origin and nature as Son and reflected image of God who, by him, has built the universe, is superior to the angels that is, to the "powers" made familiar to us in the Epistle of Paul, who are merely agents of the divine will but not mediators of salvation (i, 5-14). It is true that the Son, in his earthly manifestation, has been only for a time the Man spoken of in the eighth Psalm whose place is below that of the angels. (The Psalm is speaking of man in general and of his eminence in the creation as only a little lower than the divine condition.) [10] The Son's place is "below the angels," that is, below that of the heavenly race, in the sense that he took flesh and blood in order that, by dying in the flesh, he might break the power of the devil, who is the lord of death and imposes it on all men. Thus the Son became man that he might deliver men from their bondage to death and lead them forth into immortality (ii, 5-18).

Greater than the angels, the Son is next shown to be greater than Moses, who was merely a servant in God's house, while the


Son is builder and head of the house. This headship belongs to the Son and here we come to the central point of the mystery as expounded in the theory before us because he became, by means of his death, the unique High Priest of whom Melchisedec had been the prototype. A complete gnosis is now fitted on to the name Melchisedec, a more or less mythical figure which got attached at a late date to the legend of Abraham. The hundred-and-tenth Psalm shows that quite early, perhaps long before the birth of Christianity, speculation had been active about this Melchisedec. Our theologian has his own way of exploiting the statements in Genesis (xiv, 18-20), and draws conclusions from what they do not say no less than from what they say. Melchisedec is type of the Christ by his appearance as a unique figure in history: his name means King of Righteousness, and he is called "King of Salem," that is, "King of Peace"; [11] "neither father, nor mother, nor genealogy is assigned to him; neither beginning nor end of his days is indicated; as priest of the Most High he is shown to be priest for ever; which tallies with the eternity of the Son of God. [12] A deduction more remarkable for courage and ingenuity than for logic. The same must be said about our author's inference that Levi, as descended from Abraham, paid tithes to Melchisedec as Abraham had done, "for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him." But what we have especially to note is the idea which the strange comparison of the Christ with Melchisedec is intended to make good, namely, that whereas in the gnosis of the Epistle to the Romans the role of the dying Jesus is that of victim only, that role, while still retained, is here subordinated to that of the sacrificing priest, eternal priest of humanity for ever performing his office in the presence of God. "He rose up from Judah [13] as a star might rise, but is not said to be descended from Judah's tribe, for the Christ appeared in history like Melchisedec without father or mother and without human ancestry. As applied to the eternal Son of God this would have no sense, for the Son in his eternity is not without father. The Christ, then, appeared historically in the flesh, but without being born of human parentage an idea more natural for the earthly manifestation of a being conceived as pre-existent than would be his incarnation in an embryo subject to all the changing forms of human growth.


The expiations prescribed by the Law, he continues, were only a figure; incessantly repeated as symbols, they left sin uneffaced. But Jesus has, by his death, made expiation, at one stroke and for ever, for the totality of sin. By his death he entered at once into his glory, and laid his own blood on the altar of heaven, effecting by that unique oblation an eternal redemption for sinners, the new covenant, the real covenant, by which the covenant of Sinai was set aside (ix-x, 18). By the sacrifice of the Christ, accomplished once and for ever, the sacrifices prescribed by the Law are all rendered superfluous. Simultaneously, it is by his death that Jesus attains his priesthood and his inheritance in the glory of God. "In the days of his flesh," we are told, in the days, that is, of his appearance on the earth, he had "prayed, with great outcry and weeping to Him who was able to save him from death" to save him, that is, not by dispensing him from death, but by raising him from it alive; then, his prayer now answered, he learnt "in his passion" what obedience is; finally "having been made perfect" that is, fully initiated into his priestly office, and fully endowed with insight into the mystery on entering his celestial dwelling place "he became, for all who believe in him, the author of eternal salvation and a true priest after the manner of Melchisedec" (v, 7-10). There, our author declares, is the great mystery.

It may be said in passing that the prayer, the suffering and the institution of Jesus as eternal High Priest are not, as commonly supposed, to be identified precisely with the prayer of Gethsemane, the passion and resurrection, as these are told in our Gospels. They are data borrowed from the Scriptures, in particular from Psalm xxii, all the descriptive imagery of which is transposed by our author into history, especially verses 2 and 3. On the other hand the Gospel stories of the passion are largely influenced, or rather supported, by the Psalms, in particular by the twenty-second from which our Epistle draws its inspiration. Thus our author stands, in regard to the Gospel tradition, on the same ground as the author of the salvation theory in the Pauline Epistles, who is almost indifferent to the real circumstances of the life and death of Jesus, and anterior at least in point of view, if not in reality, to the definite crystallization of the prophecies into an apparently historical tradition.


Our Epistle presents Jesus as a lofty example of human perfection both in his life and death. He patiently underwent all the trials possible to human nature without sinfully yielding to them literally "tempted in all manner of ways, according to resemblance, sin excepted" (iv, 15). [14] His death was a token of obedience to God. Moreover his death is not conceived as a doing-away of sin, but as a satisfactory oblation for it, his blood being laid by him on the altar of heaven just as the blood of the victims was brought into the sanctuary by the levitical High Priest on the day of the great expiation. This is soteriology at once moral and liturgical from which conclusions are drawn less fantastic than the theory of a righteousness that cannot be lost. Without discussing the matter, the author admits the possibility of a relapse into sin after baptism, going no further than to point out the terrible consequences of such an event. The blood of Jesus opens the door for the sinner into the sanctuary of heaven, and with such a High Priest given to men, it behoves them to keep their faith in him alive and their hope firm, to incite each other to faithfulness and good works, and not to forsake the assemblies, as some wrongly do. For, if we sin voluntarily after receiving knowledge of the truth we have nothing to expect save punishment by devouring fire, since there now remains for us no other sacrifice to expiate our sin beyond that of the Christ, the benefit of which we have already had. A formidable inference which the Church has not upheld. It suggests a date for our Epistle earlier than the Shepherd of Hermas.

Our Epistle, equally with that to the Romans insists upon faith, but understands if differently. The faith here in question is no longer an absolute trust in the mediation of Christ and in the efficacy of his sacrifice. It is the certainty of what is hoped for, the conviction of the reality of what is not seen. Its essential object is summed up in the formula: "God exists and rewards those who seek him" (xi, i, 6). It was by faith that all the righteous were saved and all the marvels performed of which the Old Testament, and the tradition founded on it, bear record. [15] Encouraged by this cloud of witnesses let Christians confidently run the course which is opened to them, their eyes fixed on Jesus who endured the cross before sitting down at the right


hand of God; let them bear with patience the trials God sends them for their good; let peace prevail between all and holiness be in every man. Jesus abides for ever, let no man be led astray by strange doctrines; the cult of the Law is out of date, our altar is in heaven, and there too is our abiding city; let us offer the sacrifice of prayer, by the Christ, to God. Let not the example of the great ones who died a glorious death be forgotten, and let obedience be paid to those who lead that they may have no cause for sorrow.

Here is morality, a morality strict and severe, but of peace and charity bound up with a gnosis of relative sobriety, and in such a way as to be a logical part of it. The gnosis, moreover, is profoundly spiritual. The author has no belief in the resurrection of the flesh; he even seems to know nothing of the imminent parousia and the reign of the elect on the earth. But, if he speaks of worship in spirit, he does not ignore baptism, the sacrament of "illumination" (vi, i, 2), nor the Eucharist. For it is not for nothing that he exalts Melchisedec, whose only priestly action recorded in Genesis is the offering of bread and wine. There is little risk in supposing that, in the author's thought, the mystic offering of the Supper was already conceived as presented to God on the heavenly altar whereon was laid the blood of the Christ, in order that it might become, for those who took part in it, the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. [16] All that is worked out with an eye to Judaism, but from outside and afar off, and as if those whom it concerned were separated, and because in reality they had long been separated, from that religion, now regarded as a rival.


A gnosis analogous to the foregoing is worked out in the Epistle to the Colossians, not more in opposition to Judaism but directed, as it would seem, against a gnosis with Judaizing tendencies. Here is what we read of the Christ (i, 15-20):

He is the image of the invisible God,
first-born of all creation,
Because in him all things were made,
in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible;


Whether thrones, whether dominations,
whether principalities, whether powers,
all was made by him and for him.
Himself is before all
and all subsists in him
And himself is the head of the body,
of the Church.
He is the beginning,
first-born among the dead,
That he may become in all things,
he, first.
Because in him all the pleroma judged good to dwell [17]
and by him to reconcile all things to Himself
Reconciling (by the blood of his cross)
by him, whatever is on earth,
whatever is in heaven.

Would that the author had himself commented on his text! Would that he had told us, in particular, what he understands by "pleroma," a gnostic term, taken by him as such in his adaptation of it to his monotheistic faith and to the saving role of Jesus Christ! Another passage in the Epistle (ii, 8-12), which presents the same doctrine in its contrast to a false mystery, throws some light on the last citation but not enough to resolve all our difficulties:

Beware that no man capture you
by philosophy and vain sophistry,
According to the tradition of men,
according to the Elements of the world, [18]
and not according to Christ.
Because in him there dwells
all the pleroma of Divinity as body, [19]
And you are made pleroma in him, [20]
who is the head of all principality and power,
In whom also you were circumcised
with circumcision not of hands,
Putting off the body of flesh
in the circumcision of the Christ,
Buried with him by baptism,
when you were also raised with him,
By faith in the power of God
who raised him from the dead.

It is evident that the pleroma ("plenitude"), of which the former passage told us that it had chosen Christ for its dwelling


place is the pleroma of the Godhead. But what are we to think of it when we are now told that it dwells in Christ after the manner of body. [21] First we are told that the body is the Church:

here we are told that baptized believers are, in Christ, made integral to the pleroma-body or, as we might say, pleromed. That leads to a highly comprehensive notion of the Church, but throws no light on what the pleroma consists in. Fullness of what? The question is further complicated by what is said in the first passage about a reconciliation (which an apparent gloss turns into redemption by the blood of the cross), bringing order back into both the terrestrial and celestial worlds. On this matter some light is thrown by the following (ii, 13-15):

And you who were dead in sins
and the foreskin of your flesh,
You has he made alive with himself,
forgiving you all your sins,
Cancelling the clauses of the account,
which was against us;
And he caused it to disappear
nailing it to the cross.
Having disarmed principalities and powers
he put them to shame
triumphing over them in that condition.

The Christ has here become "chief," or head, of the principalities and powers, because he is their conqueror, having overthrown them by dying on the cross. From this it is clear that an outbreak of rebellion is conceived as having taken place in the Pleroma, in the Whole, which the principalities and powers, as members subordinate to their head," form with the Christ; that the death of the Christ has reconciled men to God by effacing their sins and annulling the act which declared them sinners, doubtless the Law of Moses; that, furthermore, it has established peace in the upper world, and reconciled the principalities and powers to God by bringing them under the dominion of the Christ. The ransomed believers are made integral parts of this sublime incorporation, which is the divine Pleroma and, at the same time, the Church.

A redemption poem analogous to the foregoing is sketched in chapter xv of First Corinthians, but is there founded on


the myth of the Man and the distinction between the two Adams; the resurrection also is differently conceived. [22] This, in Colossians, does not appear as the change of the body into a finer substance. In principle, the resurrection of the believer becomes real in his baptism, although his immortality remains, for the time of his present life, "hidden with the Christ in God" (iii, 3). [23] From the following passage, moreover, the definition of this gnosis appears to be aimed in opposition to a mystery-cult, more closely related than itself to Judaism, at least in external form (ii, 16-23):

Let no man judge you about meat and drink
about feasts, new moons, sabbaths,
Which are shadows of things to come,
the reality [24] being of the Christ.
Let no one condemn you
under pretext of humility and the right cult of angels, [25]
Which he has seen in the initiation, [26]
vainly puffed up by his fleshly thought,
Unattached to the head
by which the whole body,
With joints and sinews provided and held up,
increases and grows by God.
If you are dead with Christ to the Elements [27] of the world,
why, as though living in the world, suffer the orders
"Take not, taste not, touch not"
All on things destined to corruption by usage,
a business of human laws and doctrines?
That comes to you under the name of wisdom,
as "right form of worship," "humility," [28]
"discipline of body"
but has no value, save for fleshly satisfaction.

The terms of precision in the above passage are borrowed from the terminology of a determinate cult with its own forms of initiation and a great array of minute observances, clearly Jewish, and a worship of angels, but in which the Christ had no place. This Judaizing cult of external forms impresses our author as a materialistic religion devoted to the "Elements," CTToi-^a stoiceia, of the world. Pretending to be a philosophic gnosis it is, in fact, grossly unspiritual, and Paul is here made to oppose it with the spiritual gnosis of the Epistle. But the Paul who speaks in the Epistle (i, 23) of a Gospel entrusted to him alone and "preached to every creature under heaven (i, 23)" [29] can


only have been some fervent follower of the long dead apostle, the whole Epistle being conceived, or rather adapted, some fifty years after his death, to fortify the Christians of Asia against the propaganda of a mystery-cult, possibly that of Zeus Sabazios, [30] then widely active in those regions.


In the Epistle to the Philippians a kind of theological enclosure within the text, unmistakably a hymn to the Christ, contains a gnosis of the same character (ii, 5-11):

Being in the form of God
he judged it no lawful prize
to be equal with God;
But stripped himself
taking slave-form
becoming human in figure;
And, found a man in appearance,
he abased himself,
becoming obedient even to death
(the death of the cross)
Wherefore God thus exalted him,
and gave him the name
above every name [31]
So that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow
of beings celestial, terrestrial, infernal,
And every tongue confess
that Jesus is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Pre-existing in form divine, the Christ restrains himself from usurping equality with God, as dared by the princes of this world, who cause the nations to worship them as gods. On the contrary, he threw off his celestial shape, took the form of a slave and accepted death in obedience. Here again the Christ forms part of the divine Pleroma which had been thrown into disorder by the attack certain "powers" had made on the prerogative of God, and restored to order by the Son's sacrifice of himself, all created beings, in their triple ranks of heaven, earth and hell, being subdued under him in consequence of that sacrifice. Jesus Christ is thereby proclaimed Lord, co-partner in


the name, the power and the glory of God. All this however is but a rough outline which leaves us asking how the author would have filled in the detail of his conception. Notwithstanding the doctrinal affinity he can hardly have been the same person as the author who developed the gnosis of Colossians. The passage we have quoted is detached from its context and seems to have existed at first, independently of the Epistle into which it is incorporated, as the oracle of some Christian prophet. Colossians i, 15-20 may have a similar origin.

On the theme of the "descent" of the Christ, in which the oldest mythology finds an echo, the first Epistle of Peter has more knowledge and more to say than the Epistle to the Philippians (iii, 18-19; iv, 6):

Christ also died once for sins,
that he might bring us to God,
Put to death in the flesh
but made alive in spirit.
In spirit also went he to preach
to the spirits who were in prison,
Those who had been untaught in time past,
when the long-suffering of God waited,
in Noah's day when the ark was built ...
For this cause was the Gospel preached to the dead:
that they may be judged humanly in flesh,
but live according to God in spirit.

A persistent desire to extend salvation to the dead, especially to those drowned in the Deluge, or, one might say, to humanity at the first stage, is a curious feature of gnostic speculation. The author of First Peter seems to have formed a purely spiritual idea of the resurrection: it is as a spirit that Jesus goes to preach to the dead; he can hardly be supposed to have preached in vain; the converted dead will have risen up with him from their infernal abode, and it was doubtless in the course of his ascent to heaven that he enforced "submission on angels, powers and virtues" (iii, 22). In the Gospel of Peter, Christ on rising from the tomb is said to have already fulfilled his preaching-mission to the dead. The fourth Gospel seems to make an explicit allusion to it (v, 25, 28), [32] and perhaps it is implied in other parts of the New Testament. [33] Justin, in his reference to the matter, mentions


an apocryphal text of Jeremiah which speaks of the Lord preaching to the dead. [34] Marcion has his own account of the Christ's descent into hell, but here it is with the object of liberating all those who had been damned under the Old Testament. [35]


The gnosis of the fourth Gospel is distinguished above all the others by the sublimity, balance and harmonious development of its doctrine, announced in discourses which are really hymns, and figuratively presented by means of stories constructed in symbolic language. Here is mysticism at once profound and luminous; a scheme of salvation purely spiritual and yet throbbing with life; a transcendent Christology penetrated through and through by human tenderness and a unique mode of speech which one might think had been created for the lofty use here made of it. Many have thought that the hymn to the Logos which serves as introduction to the Gospel was inserted as an afterthought; but nothing could be less certain. If there is no further question of the Logos in the body of the book, the reason is that regard for tradition restrained the writer from putting the express formula of the logos-philosophy into the mouth of the Christ. Nonetheless the preamble fits in exactly with the book as a whole and with its general doctrine, to which indeed it furnishes the key:

In the beginning was the Logos,
and the Logos was with God,
and the Logos was god. [36]

Reason and spoken Word of the Eternal, the Logos was before all things, and near to God, being of God and sharing His nature, but without being God himself.

He, at the beginning, he, was with God;
everything was made by him,
and without him was nothing made. [37]

The Logos, and he alone this, perhaps, pointed against some gnostic fancy about the process of the "aeons" is said to be near to God at the very beginning, because he is the


creative word of Genesis, without whose power and instrumentality no created thing has come into being:

Whatever was made alive, in him is the life of it, [38]
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shone into the darkness,
and the darkness quenched it not. [39]

Life and Light: that, precisely, is the Logos, and that, precisely, as the whole Gospel will tell, is the Christ, the Son of God. He was Life and Light in the world as it subsisted in him before his epiphany, that epiphany which was made real for the particular good of humanity, and of which the Gospel will now tell. But his influence met resistance and limitation from the darkness in which it worked. This "darkness" be it said without play on words is the dark point of the system. It would seem to be derived from Genesis, where the darkness is a negative element opposed to the organizing work of God. [40] Here the darkness is an influence permanently at work in the world; for the "prince of this world" is clearly also the prince of darkness, to wit, Satan. [41] At this point we encounter a dualism which the Gospel does not resolve; we are not told whence comes the devil, "the father of lies." [42] He seems to personify, so to say, the whole class of "powers," elsewhere described as mismanaging the world confided to their care. As the Gospel presents him, he is the greatest of the "powers," God's enemy, a moral personification of "the darkness," a kind of Ahriman-Antichrist, whose origin, like that of the darkness, is left unexplained. Possibly "darkness" is conceived as forming the stuff of the perishable world, though the statement is not expressly made.

That was the true light
that sheds light on every man
who came into the world.
In the world he was,
the world made by him
and the world knew him not.
To his home came he,
and his own welcomed him not;
But all who welcomed him,
to them gave he power to become God's children. [43]


These are general propositions concerning the activity of the Word-light which seemingly antedate the incarnation, unless they involve it by anticipation. It will be noted that the author of the hymn makes play with the words light, darkness, world, understanding them alternately in a material and in a spiritual sense. The "world" is the visible universe, but it stands also for humanity as reasonable and, again, for humanity as unteachable. The precise gift which the Word-light has to confer upon men is truth and life, the truth of the knowledge of God, and the life of immortality. By the gift of these they are made sons of God, as he is:

Born of blood or of fleshly will he was not,
nor of the will of man
but of God was he born. [44]
And the Logos became flesh,
and he dwelt among us,
full of grace and truth. [45]
Of his plenitude [46] it is that all we received
favour after favour
For the Law was given by Moses;
grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. [47]

Following the above comes an explanation fully in the spirit of the text: "No man has seen God at any time," not even Moses any more than the self-styled prophets of the false divinities: "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father" (i, 18), he it is who makes him known. The invisibility of God here asserted is a principle fundamental to the Johannine theology and to the mystical gnosis on which that theology depends. [48] The Law which Moses "gave" was taught him by intermediary angels. The Logos-Christ is the only Revealer, as he is the only Saviour; none but he imparts "grace and truth," because none but he knows God in himself and is able to tell of him and explain him to his faithful believers, to his initiates. He is the exegete of God, the Master of the mystery. The operating idea is that of the unknown God, inaccessible to common intelligence but revealed in mystical initiation by a divine mediator. And there is but one true mystery. It is the Christian.

How precisely the divine sonship of the Logos stands related to its incarnation is a question not easily answered. Nevertheless it is not without purpose that the divine sonship of the believer


is presented as of the same type as the sonship of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. The author had no intention, and felt no need, to explain the origin of the human form in which the Logos was made visible on the earth. He presents it as a real form, just as he presents as real the miracle-signs which he makes the Christ perform, while giving them a wholly spiritual signification. Meanwhile, if men of flesh and blood are born anew in spirit by a spiritual generation which has nothing to do with the union of the sexes, the fertilization of woman and the natural growth of the embryo, that is because the Word itself, by taking flesh, became the prototype of the children of God, the only begotten Son. [49] As only begotten Son of the Father, the Christ Jesus has no mother in this world, any more than he has an earthly father: the Marriage at Cana makes that clear enough. The sublime mysticism of our author, which ignores, if it does not disdain, the virgin conception, is not any more in agreement either with the idea of the incarnation of the Logos as taking place in the womb of a woman naturally fertilized or with the pre-existence of the man Jesus before the Logos-incarnation. The Logos appears in the flesh when it becomes active as the Christ. To regard such a conception as more improbable than the traditional dogma of the virgin birth would be childish from the historical point of view.

Truth to say, the Gospel itself, both discourse and narration, is in a sense another incarnation of the Logos as light and life. For it is expressly under these images of Light and Life that narrative and discourses reveal the work of the Logos-Christ. The Johannine Christ is the spiritual light of the world, and he comes to bring life eternal to men. The miracle of the man born blind confirms him in the first as principle of light; the miracle of Lazarus in the second as principle of life. Before healing the blind man Jesus declares (ix, 4-5):

Needs must I work
the works of Him who sent me
while there is day.
Comes the night
when none can work.
While I am in the world
light am I of the world.


In like manner before raising Lazarus (xi, 24-26):

I am the resurrection and the life;
whoso believes in me, though he die, shall live.
And whoso lives and believes in me
shall never die.

To deny the symbolic character of these miracles reveals a strange preoccupation of mind in those who make the denial. The miracles symbolize in action what Jesus expressly says in the words which introduce them.

But the Light which the Christ brings to men is no promise of access to the Kingdom of God by repentance of sin; and the Life that he gives them is not immortality on the earth at the general resurrection of the dead. Whoso believes in the Son sent from God and in his life-giving power participates at once and from then onwards in the Son's eternal life. He who believes is thereby and already among the elect; he who believes not is thereby and already damned. No Day of Judgment is needed to judge them hereafter; and the resurrection of their bodies is uncalled for (iii, 16-18; v, 24).

So God loved the world
that he gave his only begotten Son,
That whoso believes in him should not perish
but have life eternal.
For God sent not the Son to the world
to judge the world
but that the world might be saved by him.
Whoso believes in him is not judged;
whoso believes not is judged already ...
Verily, verily, I tell you
that whoso hears my word
and believes in Him who sent me
Has life eternal,
and to judgment is not exposed
but has passed from death to life. [50]

As we have already seen, the visible and material sacraments of the faith have a wholly spiritual meaning, that of an inner rebirth with participation in the eternal life of the Christ. But the Christ died, as he had lived, in the real flesh of humanity and in a state of obedience even to the death of the cross, in order that believers might live in spirit. If he appeared in flesh


without being born of flesh (i, 13; iii, 5-6), it was that he might accomplish his work in his own person, the work of preaching his mystery and making a gift to men of his mortal existence.

In the canonical edition of the Gospel this doctrine, in substance too fine for the faith of the multitude, is limited and made concrete by borrowing from the older Gospel tradition and from the sacramentalism of First Corinthians, which we have already found incorporated in the tradition of the synoptic Gospels. Certain additions to the original texts of the discourses join the resurrection of the dead with the parousia of the Lord (iii, 16-18; v, 24). The supplement added to the discourse on the bread of life introduces the symbol of flesh and blood into the eucharistic Supper, the symbol which betokens mystic participation in the life of the Christ by mystic commemoration of his death (vi, 51b-58). Without exaggeration it may be said, that sacramental symbolism was developed to a point where it covered the whole career of the Christ as told in the Gospels. One incident of the passion betrays it very clearly the issue of water and blood from the side of Jesus when pierced by the soldier's lance. On this there is a comment in the first Epistle of John (v, 6-8):

This is he who came by water and blood,
Jesus Christ,
Not in water only,
but in water and in blood.
And it is the spirit that bears witness,
because the spirit is the truth;
For three there are that bear witness,
spirit, water and blood,
and the three make one.

This is not the gibberish it might seem to be. On the contrary, it presents the quintessence of the Christian mystery conveyed in the language of gnosis. The Son of God was made manifest on earth by water, and in water, when he came to the baptism of John; he was made manifest by blood, and in blood, when he died on the cross. [51] In both cases the Spirit bore witness; at his baptism, by descending into the Christ (i, 29-34); at his death, when the Christ "gave up" the Spirit bestowed on him (xix, 30). For the breath yielded up, mystically understood; is the Holy


Spirit set free, [52] so to say, by the death of the Christ that it may be poured out at large on believers. The three make but one because, finally, it is the Spirit who bears witness to the Christ in water and in blood, in his baptism and in his passion.

But the meaning of our passage is not yet exhausted. It must not be overlooked that, according to the evangelist, water and blood issued, and issued together, from the side of the Crucified. By this the evangelist would signify the birth of the Church, in the manner of Eve's creation as issuing from the side of Adam; in this way he shows the fountain of eternal life flowing from the side of Jesus as the Christ had announced it would "out of his body streams of living water will flow" (vii, 38). The stream is canalized, as it were, in the sacraments of Christian initiation; the water representing baptism, sacrament of spiritual regeneration; the blood representing the eucharist, sacrament of eternal life in union with the Christ who died for men and rose from the dead. It is by means of these two sacraments that the witness, three in one, still goes on as a present fact, the Christ continuing to come by water and by blood, the Spirit continuing to bear witness to him in water and in blood. The Holy Spirit which formerly bore witness to the Christ during his earthy mission, in his baptism, and in his death, now bears witness to him continually through the medium of baptismal immersion and the eucharistic meal. Thus the Christian mystery is evenly balanced by the attachment of its two sacraments to the two extremities of the saving Christ's career, baptism and death mystically interpreted by their spiritual effects. And thus the fourth Gospel, in the correlation of its two parts, takes the form of a sublime and balanced catechism, but always, like the synoptics, a catechism of initiation into the Christian mystery.


Before entering upon our study of the mystery of the Church we must needs descend for a moment from the high regions we have been exploring to mark the upsurge of a lower mysticism, of a vulgar supernaturalism and mythology, which made its appearance in Christian tradition and became no less firmly anchored there, and no less amply developed, than the metaphy-


sical mysticism whose first forms have just been described. Ancient speculation did not confine itself to the question of the heavenly Saviour's pre-existence in eternity; it became active also, and perhaps at an earlier date, about the conditions of his birth upon the earth.

The earliest Christian generation knew that Jesus had brothers and parents, nor have the mythologues who would suppress the historical Jesus been able to get rid of these by mere conjecturing. The first groups of Jewish Christians were not nourished on transcendental speculations. Quite early, however, the idea arose that since Jesus was the Messiah, he must be son of David, and indeed was his son, since it was so written in Scripture. Doubtless those who asserted this were in no great haste to find out how it was possible; but the unbelieving Jews would not be slow to ply the believing brethren with malicious questions about the matter. It occurred to the believing party that the difficulty might be met by producing a genealogy. Two were produced, Matthew's and Luke's, which contradict and reciprocally cancel each other. Both agree in naming Joseph as the father of Jesus; but they assign different fathers to Joseph and take us back on different lines of ascent to David, one (Matthew) following the series of Kings to Jeconiah, and the other (Luke) adopting Nathan son of David, of whom the Scriptures give only the name (2 Samuel v, 14). Of such fictions the historian need take no account, except in so far as they prove the absence at the beginning of any genealogical tradition about the Davidic origin of Jesus, and reveal the general belief, in the first times, that Jesus was born, without miracle, of Joseph and Mary. For both genealogies are based on the name of Joseph as father of Jesus, and it was through Joseph that Jesus was at first thought to be of Davidic blood. [53] From this it is evident that the genealogies were invented in circles which as yet had no idea of the miraculous conception, and that the birth-legend inserted in the third Gospel was formed at first under the same conditions as the genealogies. It is true that Jesus, in this legend, is born amid miraculous circumstances, but as issue of the marriage of Joseph and Mary.

Where, when and how the idea arose of the virgin conception we can only guess. It was not in the first community of believers,


nor in the very earliest time, and not without influence, at least indirect, from surrounding paganisms. Both of the birth legends represent, as they have come down to us, a somewhat complex elaboration, to which the Gospel editors have given the last touches. Matthew's legend, notwithstanding the mythological influences traceable in it, has the form of a Jewish haggada (anecdote) or of an haggadic collection, minutely and artificially built up on biblical texts, with formal emphasis on the connexion with scripture. From this we may conclude that this version of the legend was born in a circle of Judaizing Christianity, but of a Judaism somewhat unorthodox, in which the divine filiation of the Messiah was admitted without scruple, and pharisaic rabbinism held in suspicion. Northern Syria, between Antioch and the Euphrates, has been suggested for the birthplace not only of the legend but of the whole Gospel of Matthew. [54] In those regions Judaizing Christians known as "Nazareans" were still to be found as late as the fourth century. They used an Aramean Gospel containing the birth stories of our Matthew. In Luke the stories are dominated by the spirit of traditional Judaism and conceived in connexion with a legend of John the Baptist and in dependence on it; they would seem to have originated among Jewish Christians living in northern Palestine or in southern Syria. [55] The fulfilment of prophecy is hardly less implied than in Matthew's version, but is here clothed in a garment of romantic fiction.

On both sides the culminating point of the mythical legend is the miraculous conception by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is Son of God because, physiologically speaking, God is the operating cause of his generation. This is not offered in the grossly primitive sense of the old mythologies, the Greek for example, which describes the amours of Zeus and other gods, with metamorphoses appropriate to the different circumstances. Even among the pagans of that time a few pious and enlightened men were taking the matter more seriously, Plutarch holding the opinion of the Egyptians to be plausible that a woman might conceive by the approach of the Spirit of God. But this idea was not reached at a single bound from the starting point. In the ancient literature of Christianity we catch glimpses of the successive stages or, one might well say, the gropings by which


the apotheosis of Jesus was realized in the faith of believers and in their catechisms.

We cannot remind ourselves too often that the point of departure for this apotheosis was the belief that Jesus had become Christ and made his entrance, so to say, into the sphere of divinity by his resurrection. This was the first apostolic Gospel, the Gospel of Paul and of Peter: the Son of God had been declared to be God's Son, and manifested as God's Son, by his resurrection (Romans i, 4). The Epiphany of the Christ, as first conceived, took place in the resurrection itself, and the evidence for it lay in apparitions or visions of him as risen from the dead. The earthly life of Jesus, in its relation to the post-mortem manifestation of him as the Christ, had been an indispensable preliminary but of secondary importance. His great revelations, his essential instructions were not attached to the earthly preliminary. Criticism has for some time suspected, for example, that the scene of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Synoptics had its origin in an apparition of the Risen One. We have it so presented in the Apocalypse of Peter where it is bound up with a revelation on the end of the age, the happiness of the elect and the punishment of reprobates. It will be noted that the same perspective, but more compressed, is maintained in the preamble to Acts (i, 3-11), [56] and that quite perceptible traces of it are retained in the closing passages of Matthew (xxviii, 16-20), [57] Luke (xxiv, 44-53), [58] John (xx, 21-26; xxi, 15-19) [59] and deutero-canonical Mark (xvi, 14-20). [60] In all these cases, essential teachings, and the command to preach the Gospel everywhere, are attached to manifestations of the Risen One.

This epiphany of the Christ in his divine character has been antedated by Mark and turned into a scene of transfiguration during his earthly life. The confession of Peter prepares the way for it. Six days after Peter has recognized Jesus as Christ, Jesus appears on the mountain in heavenly glory and the voice of the Father proclaims him Son of God. The result of this antedated apotheosis and indeed the object of it is to place the action of Jesus in going up to Jerusalem to die there, and to place the death itself, under the banner of the Son of God, so that the witness of the apostles may rest on a wider base, and an answer be given to those who decry their witness as a story


made up after the event to overcome the scandal of the cross. Note also that the same evangelist has similarly antedated the revelations of Jesus concerning the end of the world (Mark xiii), representing them as given before his death. We are entitled to say that antedating, or anticipation, has here been systematically practised. The antedating of the Transfiguration in particular, its transposition from a revelation of the Christ after his resurrection to an event in the earthly life of Jesus, once admitted as a fact, has an importance for the history of the Gospel tradition not recognized by those critics who allowed it only as a hypothesis.

A new step towards apotheosis, the more easily to be recognized because the Gospel tradition so-called seems to have held back from it for a long time, was taken by antedating the epiphany of the Son of God to the very beginning of the Galilean ministry in the baptism of Jesus by John. The Gospel of Mark is written within this framework, which dominates the tradition of all the written Gospels known to us. As the scene of the Baptism is constructed, it includes, as simultaneous, the Messianic consecration of Jesus by the Spirit, the heavenly voice which acclaims him Son of God, the institution of Christian baptism and the witness to its superiority over the baptism of the sect called after John. At those points the framework of Christian catechesis remained for a long time fixed, while keeping an open door to all the teachings given in the name of Jesus and represented as having been spoken by him before his death. The Marcan framework is easily recognized in Matthew and Luke, to which the birth chapters seem to have been added at a later date, and we have just seen that the fourth Gospel keeps within the frame of set purpose. The connexion with John the Baptist shows us the circumstances under which our frame was elaborated. It had reference to the propaganda of the sect which claimed to be derived from John, proving that Christianity was born independently of it and was pre-eminent in regard to it. Whence we may infer that the elaboration took place in a region and at a time when Christian propaganda came into competition with that of the Baptist sect. This would again bring us to the countries of Transjordania and Syria and to a time when the rivalry of the two sects was still a matter of concern to the leaders of the Christian movement.


The opening chapters of Matthew and Luke are evidence that in course of time the Marcan frame came to appear inadequate and that the attempt was made to throw back the Epiphany of the Christ to the first moment of his human existence. Always the Son of God, he had been God's Son on his assumption of humanity; the fact has been made evident in the miracle of his birth and in its accompaniment of other marvels in keeping with an event so tremendous. Such was the new theory. In the Jewish-Christian circles for which Matthew was elaborated, it seems that care was taken to give prominence to the Davidic filiation of Jesus (while giving it at the same time a symbolic turn) with the special object of barring the way to certain conclusions which might he inferred from Mark. On the one hand it might be argued that Jesus became Son of God by adoption at his baptism (this adoptionist doctrine was not ill looked on in Rome); on the other hand it might be said, with Mark as authority, that a higher power had governed Jesus from birth to death and then departed from him; or again, forcing the meaning of the epiphany, the existence of Jesus before his baptism might be suppressed altogether, as the original author of the fourth Gospel and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews seem to have suppressed it; or, again, various forms of Docetism might be fitted into the frame, as was done by some of the gnostics and, in his time, by Marcion. [61]

To give eminence to the new conception of the epiphany, the Gospel stories made use not only of Old Testament texts but of mythical themes then current, adapting them to the texts or choosing the texts to fit in with the myths. The theme drawn upon for exploitation in both versions was that of the divine child, born in a place of no repute, whose presence is miraculously announced to shepherds; [62] though the Lucan legend, working up the theme to make Bethlehem the birthplace, has not forgotten that David was a shepherd (ii, 8-20). Matthew's legend brings in its Magi and herald-star because it belongs to a region (Persia-Babylon) where the Magi and their astrology were well known; but the star is there to connect with the Star of which Balaam, the great soothsayer, had spoken long ago as destined to come out of Jacob (Numbers xxiv, 17). The time was not far distant when the same text was applied to the impostor Messiah Bar-


Cochba, "son of the Star." [63] The theme of the divine child, or child of destiny, menaced with death by hostile powers and miraculously escaping from a massacre, is similarly exploited in Matthew, but with an eye to Moses, as prototype, and to his flight from Egypt into Midian. The construction of a myth is of all things easiest to explain; it is also true that nothing is more arbitrary nor, at bottom, more incredible than the myth itself. But the Epiphany of the Son of God had to be magnified by one means or another. Even the fourth Gospel, with all its sublime symbolism, found no better way to give lustre to the Epiphany of the incarnate Logos than to bring Jesus to the marriage at Cana for the changing of water into wine, wherein the Christ "manifests his glory" by performing a miracle borrowed from the myth and ritual of Dionysus. [64]


In the last two stages of our advancing exposition we have seen, at each stage, how the Christ, on the way to apotheosis, was exalted at the expense of John the Baptist. At the stage before the last the movement came into contact with John and subordinated him to itself; and again, at the stage last reached "in its mythical evolution, we have seen how this same subordination was repeated, with John's legend now expanded and apparently in a manner favourable to Jesus. The same effort to subordinate John and make capital out of him is to be met with in almost every one of the passages in which our Gospels, the fourth included, have thought well to mention the Baptist. To the impartial critic the meaning of this is evident enough. It can only mean that the Christian sect, born later than the sect of John, and in some way an offshoot from it, found it also a rival in the first period; and, further, that Christianity, striving for its own pre-eminence, took pains to disguise in part the extent of its debt to the Baptist's sect, and at the same time to interpret the Baptist's role as a function contributing to the role of Jesus, making John out to be a forerunner of the Christ and conscious of himself as such an idea which never entered the mind of John nor that of his followers. And this notwithstanding that the founders of the two sects, Jesus and John, encountered


a similar fate and had the same fortune of glorious survival in the faith of their adherents. Both movements must have shared a basic belief in the imminence of the Kingdom of God, and it was evident that one essential rite of Christianity, namely baptism, was borrowed by it from the sect of John.

Some recent writers have maintained that the question of the relation between the two sects has been put on a completely new footing by the publication of the religious literatures of the Mandeans, [65] said to be survivors of John's sect, and by certain commentaries on this literature lately put out. [66] But, however interesting the greater part of the suggested comparisons may be, they do not seem to justify the conclusions the writers would draw from them, to the effect that early Christianity and the New Testament in general depend on Johannism to a much greater extent and more directly than careful criticism of New Testament books has hitherto been able to grant. It has not been proved that the religion of the Mandeans represents original Johannism more exactly than any Christian sect of our time, or all of them taken together, represent original Christianity. Mandean religion is certainly a great gnosis, but it is an historical growth which underwent diverse influence in the course of its development and was not a great gnosis at the beginning. And this beginning may well have been much later than the birth of Christianity. No proof has been given that any one of its writings is earlier than those of the New Testament. It is certain that the general compilation of the Mandean scriptures was made in Islamic times, not under the control of a homogeneous tradition, but by borrowing from different sects and with considerable incoherence in the total result. Nothing in it betrays the least knowledge of ancient Christianity, nor even, in regard to John the Baptist, the least souvenir which could be claimed as historical and independent of the Gospels. Mandean baptism, in its ritual economy, is, rather, dependent on the baptismal liturgy of the Nestorian Church. The gnosis was a belated growth whose original point of departure may, perhaps, be the same as that of the Christian gnoses, but it has no title to a place in the genealogy of traditional Christianity. Risky to use no stronger term as the pretention is which would explain the literature and evolution of Christianity before Irenaeus by reference to Marcion alone,


it is more risky, certainly not less, to offer the religion of the Mandeans as the true key to ancient Christianity and to the New Testament.

A position much more in need to be made good would be the following. Christianity did not make its entry into the world and into history as a great doctrine already denned in its essential parts, but as a Great Hope, flung at large over the Mediterranean world in the name of Jesus Christ and under the covering form of Jewish monotheism. Almost immediately and for more than a century, this Hope may be seen repeating itself in the diverse mentalities of those who now in this manner, now in that, gave it favourable reception, as light is broken up by a prism into a thousand colours. A boiling ferment of doctrines, a swarming of sects, a religious chaos was produced, which would soon have broken up into scattered fragments without future, had not certain steadying forces, due to its origin, been retained throughout. To these principles of stability, more and more resolutely affirmed in the last sixty years of the second century, the institution of the Catholic Church owes its existence. But the Church before becoming an institution was an idea. We make bold to say it was also a myth, for that reason a word must be said about the myth before we study the institution.


The mystic conception of the Church was born almost simultaneously with the birth of the Christian religion. There was no need to create it; no more was needed than to take it over from Judaism, detached completely from Jewish nationalism and enlarged by adaptation to the Christian mystery. Judaism, in spite of internal divisions, less felt among the Jews of the Dispersion, was a Church. It was made a Church by common faith and hope, by the bond of confraternity which united all the synagogues one with another and with their common centre at Jerusalem, a centre at once national and religious. Judaism in its own eyes was truly "the community of God" and was proud to be.

Of this mystic community, waiting for complete accomplishment in the Kingdom of God, Christianity professed at first


to be only the realization hoped for, or its beginning, or the means, the instrument by which it would be made perfect. It was thus that the new religion proclaimed itself to the Jews everywhere and to all the pagan converts to Judaism: and when Judaism finally refused to recognize the Christ, it was thus that it maintained the claim to be the true "community of God," the true Church. Christianity then declared itself "the community of God," and from that time onwards denied the claim of the Jews to the very attribute it had borrowed from them.

And so all the mystic pride of the Jews in the consciousness they had of being God's chosen people, the authentic Society of True Believers, passed over entire to the Christians. Firmly entrenched in this conviction they saw with regret, but without dismay, that they were cast out of the Jews. Paul reveals his mind on the subject quite clearly in the Epistle to the Romans: surely it was his "great sorrow and unceasing pain" to see himself separated from his brethren in Israel or, rather, to see their blindness in presence of the Gospel. But what could he do? They were blind to the fulfilment of prophecy in the Christ; the providential scheme of salvation by faith, open equally to Jews and Gentiles, interested them not. A sad affair! But it turns out that the teachableness of the Gentiles and the unbelief of the Jews were foretold by the prophets just as those qualities are now being shown (ix-x). Soon, under the indefinite delay of the Second Coming, the salvation of the Jews lost present interest and, the question becoming speculative, the idea occurred that the Jews had providentially fallen into temporary unbelief in order to give the pagans time to rally to the cause of the Christ; the turn of the Jews would come later (xi). Until that happened, and none the less for its postponement, the hellenist Christians were the true people of God.

Organization in the mystery had not proceeded far before hellenist Christianity began to conceive itself organized as the body of the Christ. In the characteristic prayers of the Didache we have already encountered the idea of the Church as assimilated to the bread of the Supper made out of grain at first scattered and now brought together; thus would the Church, at present dispersed over the earth as the Synagogue was soon be gathered up in the Kingdom of God, united in one body,


as the bread was (Didache, ix, 4). First Corinthians shows further how, from this point, advance was quickly made to the conception of the existing Church, no longer as a scattered society, but as one living body, the mystic body of Jesus raised from the dead. In the words "there being one only bread, one only body are we" (x, 17), we encounter the same symbolism as in the Didache which likens the bodies of the faithful to the Eucharistic bread; but the words which follow: "for we are all partakers of that one only bread" go beyond the Didache by making the one bread of which every Christian partakes, no longer the bread he eats, but the very Christ who is figured in the bread, in such way that the mystic union of all the faithful in Christ is also figured in the bread of the Supper. The rules laid down for the eucharistic meal are founded on the principle that, in order to be "the Lord's Supper" the meal must be one at which the material consumed is shared in common, and not one in which each participant eats and drinks what he will, so that the same bread may be Christ in all, and all one body in the Christ and by the Christ (xi, 20-21).

The theory of the mystic body is expounded at length in the instructions about spiritual gifts {charismata), a part of the document (xii, xiv) later than Paul but earlier than Marcion. [67] It may be taken as almost contemporary with the Didache, since it knows of missionaries still travelling under the name of apostles and of prophets who prophesy in meetings of the community (i Cor. xii, 28-29; xiv, 26-33). The instructions are intended to prevent the disorder which inevitably resulted when the spiritual gifts became competitive (xii, 4-6):

Differences of gifts there are,
but the Spirit is the same;
Differences of service there are,
but the Lord is the same,
Differences of working there are,
but God is the same,
who works all in all.

If the principle is one, the effects are many. But the Church, the community, as well as the principle, must also be one. Like the human body, the Church, as the body of Christ, has many members, all necessary; these must not be jealous of each other


but behave as mutually interdependent, which is what they really are. The mere enumeration of spiritual functions shows that the communities were suffering from an excess of riches, and it is clear enough that a lowering of their activities had become due apostles, doctors, wonder-workers, healers, helpers, administrators, speakers with tongues. So let every gift-bearer do his best not to annoy the others. But all this upsurge of enthusiasm was conceived as going on within the body of the Christ, and wits were taxed to prevent it upsetting the organic equilibrium.

Other formulas were used to express the mystic conception of the Church. In Second Corinthians the Corinthian community is described as "a chaste virgin" whom its apostle has espoused to the Christ (2 Cor. xi, 2). Since each community was, with the others, the Church of God, what is here said of Corinthian Christianity might be repeated of the whole. It is the application to the Christ and to the Church of an image familiar to the Hebrew prophets the marriage of Jehovah with Israel. The author of the Epistle to the Ephesians connects the mystic notion of the Church as the spouse of the Christ with the other mystic notion of it as the Christ's body (v, 23-24). "The husband," he says, "is head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church, he, the saviour of the body" meaning the body which is the Church itself. He then goes on, in his bad style (v, 23-24):

Husbands, love your wives
as Christ loved the Church
And gave himself up for her to make her holy,
purifying her in the bath of water with speech,
To offer the Church to himself in her glory,
having no spot, nor wrinkle, nor aught of that kind
but holy and spotless.

Finally he quotes the text from Genesis about the union of man and woman and notes that it contains "a great mystery" a profound secret of mystic theology "in regard to the Christ and to the Church" (v, 32). Here our author touches the fringe of certain pagan mysteries; not does he fall far short of making the Church a transcendent personification, an aeon, as it is in some of the gnostic systems.

The same reflection is forced upon us by the Pastor of Hermas.


Here however, the Church is not the eternal Jerusalem described by the seer of the Apocalypse as ready to descend upon earth, but the visible institution ready to get organized here below. [68] The Church herself is the teacher who, in the form of an aged woman, instructs Hermas in the first part of his book. She is at first shown to him seated on a great white throne and holding in her hand a book of prophecy containing threats against the pagans and a consoling promise for the righteous. A year later the same woman comes back to Hermas and this time leaves him a little book to copy in which, among other things, there is a promise of pardon, but for one occasion only, to all Christian sinners, even to apostates, who repent before the great tribulation that is, before the approaching persecution. Hermas then learns that this woman, whom he had believed to be the Sybil, is the Church. She is old because she was created before all things, and it was by her that the world was made.

This is not a solitary instance of fantastic speculation about the Church. The ancient homily, known as the second Epistle of Clement, has the teaching that he who does the will of the Father belongs to the primal Church, to the spiritual Church, created before the sun and the moon, which is the Church of Life. [69] Now the living Church is the body of the Christ. For Scripture declares that God made man male and female (Gen.i, 27); the male is the Christ; the female is the Church, spiritual as the Christ is. The Church was revealed for our salvation, at the end of the ages, in the flesh of the Christ, showing that whosoever keeps the Church unchanged in the flesh shall receive the Holy Spirit; for the flesh is the image of the spirit, and he who changes the copy shall have no part in the original, which is spirit, and spirit is the Christ. The flesh of such an one, when united to Christ, is made capable of receiving an incorruptible life from the Spirit, and no man can express or describe the good things which God keeps for his chosen ones.

This gnosis, nonsensical farrago as it may seem, is hardly more audacious in its mode of expression than that of the Epistle to the Romans, or to the Corinthians with the thesis of the two Adams, or than that of the Epistle to the Ephesians on the Christ and the Church as a transcendent husband and wife, to say nothing of the conception in the Apocalypse of the New


Jerusalem as "the bride of the Lamb." [70] Had this line of speculation been carried much further the homily would have joined company with gnosis in the most delirious of its expressions. But our author checked himself and reduces his gnosis to a moral lesson: the Church being in our flesh, as it is in the flesh of the Christ, and we, in our very selves, being thus the flesh of the Christ, it behoves us to guard our flesh in purity, lest we dishonour the Church and the Christ.

In his third vision Hermas still has the Church before him, but this time accompanied by six young men about to construct a building; the woman sits on a bench of ivory covered with a white veil, and makes Hermas sit down on her left hand, because the seats to the right are kept for the martyrs; and the young men set about building a tower on the water with stones brought to them by thousands of workers. The woman explains that the tower is the Church, that is, herself; it is built on water, because the life of the believer is saved by water doubtless by baptism; the six young men are the first-created angels to whom the Lord has entrusted the government of all created beings; the countless workers are also angels, helpers to the six; the stones, squared and white, and fitting exactly, are the apostles, bishops, teachers and deacons with a record of good service; the other stones drawn up from the bottom of the water, are the martyrs etc. etc. At this point it becomes clear that the building of the Church is leading up to a consideration of the end of the world. So, when Hermas asks the woman if the end is at hand, she answers that the tower is not yet finished, but soon will be, and that the end will then come; meanwhile the important thing is to spread abroad the warnings that have been received and to give heed to them. This said, the woman addresses a severe admonition to the faithful and especially to their leaders whom she reprimands for their divisions (Vision, iii, 8-9).

In his ninth parable Hermas takes up the theme of the tower in new detail. We now learn that the master builder, together with the rock which serves him for a foundation and the entrance door of the building, is the Head of the six angels, in other words he is the Son of God, the Christ himself, who thus comes first and not seventh in the group of higher beings; "the other six form his retinue, on his right hand and on his left." Hermas


sees the Son of God in the fashion of "a man surrounded by glory and of colossal stature" just as the Christ, rising from his tomb, is represented in the Gospel of Peter. Getting somewhat entangled in these speculations, the good Hermas informs us in the preamble to the parable that the Holy Spirit, who is the Son of God, and who formerly spoke to him under the figure of the Church, has since spoken to him by the Shepherd, angel of penitence {Parable, ix). But the Shepherd is not a simple figure. Neither is the Church which was created before all things. "We may recall the feminine hypostasis of the Christ in the second Epistle of Clement, which the Church here resembles.


The letters attributed to Ignatius of Antioch seem to have been written when the flood of gnostic heresies was at its height, and may be described as a mystic canonization of the episcopate intended to secure the cohesion of the communities and to oppose the innovators by making the episcopate into the object of a veritable cult, in which the institution of bishops is no longer merely that of a corporate body, but is tending to become a sacred hierarchy. The author gives no place to the Church-myth of Hermas and must have written later than the date of his mythology. It is not enough that a man call himself a Christian, says the letter to the Magnesians, he must be a Christian, and he is no Christian when he holds to any kind of union in which the bishop has no part. "Let everything be done in the concord ordained by God, the bishop presiding in the place of God, the presbyters replacing the senate of the apostles, the deacons ... charged with the service of Jesus Christ, who was at God's right hand before the ages and was revealed at the end of them ... just as the Lord, united to the Father, did nothing without the Father, either by himself or by his apostles, so you, likewise, do nothing by yourselves without the bishop and the presbyters ... One only prayer, one only supplication, one only spirit, one hope in charity and innocent joy even that is Jesus Christ, above whom there is nothing." Obedience must be rendered to the bishop: "Be in submission to the bishop, and each to the others, as Jesus Christ, according to the flesh, was in submission


to the Father, and the apostles to the Father, to the Christ and to the Spirit." [71]

There is other evidence that the object of these admonitions is to avert the danger of heresy. In the letter to the Trallians (6-7) we read as follows: "I beseech you nourish yourselves on Christian food only, and abstain from every foreign plant, that is from heresy" the word has now acquired its traditional meaning. "Its professors, to make themselves respectable, mingle Jesus Christ with their doctrine, as if they were putting deadly poison into honeyed wine ... Protect yourselves from such people. This you will do by not getting puffed up and by keeping yourselves inseparable from Jesus Christ, from the bishop and from the precepts of the apostles. No man has a clear conscience who undertakes anything in separation from the bishop, the presbytery, and the deacons." But the practical interest evinced by this advice detracts nothing from its essentially mystic character. It serves to show how, under the menacing pressure of heresy, a vague sense of unity among Christians is now rising into a clear consciousness of that unity in which, as we know from Justin, God and the Christ are seen as present in those who have become the effectual ministers of the mystery, the chief depositories and agents of the Spirit by whom the Church has been animated from the beginning. In reality these functionaries were become the guardians of tradition, and it was a tradition of which they themselves were about to fix the form. Our author, meanwhile, proclaims them representatives of God, substitutes for the Christ, successors of the apostles; and insists far less on their doctrinal function than on their strictly pastoral and mystical role. He would have Christianity range itself behind the ministers of the Christian mystery, and a deaf ear turned to teachers who are working to break Christian unity by proclaiming dangerous novelties.

It is important to bear in mind that our Ignatius, who himself claims to be a bishop, and has the surname "God-possessed," is an ardent mystic, a seeker after martyrdom, of which he tells the Romans they have taught him the lesson {Romans, 3, 1) a probable allusion to the Pastor of Hermas. "I write to all the Churches and send word to all of you, that I shall willingly die for God, if you do nothing to hinder it... Food for wild beasts


let me be, that by them I may have access to God. God's wheat am I and the teeth of wild beasts will grind me, that I may be formed purest bread of the Christ. Give the beasts your caresses for becoming my tomb and let no fragment of my body remain that any man should have the trouble of burying it. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees nothing more of my body" (Romans, 4). Perhaps all this is a trifle overdone and a little finer than nature; perhaps our author himself, in a situation less imaginary, would have somewhat tempered his eloquence; but there can be no doubt that his enthusiasm is sincere and that his interpretation of the consciousness of the bishop-martyr, as a eucharistic oblation to God, is superbly done.

The thought of Ignatius is saturated in eucharistic mysticism:

"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the joys of this life: I would have the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, descended from David, and for drink I would have his blood, which is incorruptible love" (Romans, 7). This refers to the heavenly and wholly spiritual eucharist; but Ignatius speaks also of the Supper: "Deceive not yourselves ... whoso follows a schismatic shall have no part in the Kingdom of God: whoso rules himself by strange doctrines, shall not share the benefits of the passion. Have a care then to use the one only eucharist, for there is only the one flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for union in his blood, one only altar, as there is but one bishop, surrounded by the presbytery and the deacons. I go back to the Gospels as to the flesh of Jesus, and to the apostles as the presbytery of the Church. Love we also the prophets, for they announced the Gospel, they put their hope in it, they waited for it, they were saved by believing in it, being in the unity of Jesus Christ" {Philadelphians, 3-5).

Unity all comes back to that: Old Testament is Gospel; Gospel is Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ is God of the Christian mystery, living Spirit of the Church. But what is the Christian mystery? It is that which the bishop with his helpers the priests and the deacons administers in every Church. Two Scriptures there are not; nor two Christs; nor two eucharists; nay, rightly speaking, there are not two Scriptures. All these are one in the Christ. In practice they are all one in the bishop, representative


of the Christ in the Church. And outside of this mystery what is there? Naught but the fantasies of professors without authority, naught but the error which is all they have to offer. And God, the Christ, the Church, the truth of the Old Testament and Gospel, the mystery of salvation where are all these to be found? Nowhere else than in their one habitation the Christian communities closely ranked round their several bishops.

In gaining this mystic consciousness of itself, as it stood firm against the gnostic flood, common Christianity became, in very fact, the Catholic Church. Come whence they may, these impassioned letters of church-mysticism contain something quite other than the first whisperings of theological formulas destined, when their voice has grown louder, to establish or defend an abstract and subtle dogma. They speak with the full voice of vehement faith, of Christianity established in that faith, and meeting the gnostic invasion with a bold front.


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