They called him “Paul”
THIS STATEMENT DOES NOT MEAN THAT
THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE IS UNIMPORTANT;
ON THE CONTRARY, ITS STUDY IS OF
VERY GREAT IMPORTANCE.
After such an introduction, there is some temerity in attempting any positive account of the historical Jesus. The reader, especially if he suffers from modern ignorance of the Bible , will do well to read, in a modernized version if he likes, at least the two Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, and form some opinion of his own.
This writer inclines, by weight of many influences subconscious and unconscious as well as conscious , to the view that the historical Jesus was what the Germans call a Schwarmer , a religious enthusiast, a gentle but determined soul, a paradoxically this-worldly mystic not at all contemptuous of sensuous delights, but anxious that their enjoyment be free of jealousies, indeed free of competition, a man of great attraction for bewildered and unhappy people, and with a great gift (which makes our earlier Lincoln instance seem not unnatural) for making himself understood by ordinary people. Jesus was probably a much more masculine figure than later religious art made him out to be. And he seems clearly to have been able to attain the bitter exaltation of the prophets.
Again, the tradition of naturalistic-historical study of Christianity insists that there is a great deal in developed Christianity that is in no sense the work of Jesus. Here too the hostile critics go very far, some maintaining that in most important respects organized Christianity is the opposite of what Jesus stood for—ascetic instead of joyous, persecuting instead of tolerant, militant instead of pacific. Even allowing that these arc overstatements, there is clearly in organized Christianity much that is not exl)licit in our fragmentary historical knowledge of Jesus. There is at least by the second century a complete and very subtle theology, a code of ethics, a very disciplined mass of believers, a consecrated group of leaders, in short, a major religion. Christianity had gone beyond Christ—at least beyond the Christ who gathered together the fishermen of Galilee:
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying,
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And
Jesus called a little child unto him and set her in the
midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except
ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall
not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever there-
fore shall humble himself as this little child, the same
is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The man who seems to have done the most to change Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect to a universal religion was Saul of Tarsus, in Christianity St. Paul, a Hellenized Jew and a Roman citizen.
* * * * * * * *
We have, by the usual standards of historical source material, more accurate direct knowledge of Paul than of Jesus. Scholars are generally agreed that the most famous of the Epistles of the New Testament that bear his name are in fact his work, and that the account of the labors of Paul and his co-workers in the Book of Acts is in its main outline accurate. Of course, we do not have for Paul the many intimate biographical details we have for many moderns of less importance than he—Napoleon, for instance. - - - - - - -
BUT WE DO HAVE AT LEAST ENOUGH SO THAT NO ONE HAS YET DOUBTED HIS HISTORICAL EXISTENCE.
About Paul, his work and his ideas, the spectrum of modern opinion is quite as wide as for Jesus. There is a certain polarity discernible, well brought out in the title of a work by the English nineteenth-century radical Bentham: Not Paul But Jesus. Broadly speaking, one extreme of interpretation holds that the humanitarian aims of the kindly Jesus were perverted by the power-seeking, harshly puritanical Paul into just another organized tyranny. This is a frequent position among sentimental radicals outside the Christian Church, like Bentham himself. The polar opposite view is that Jesus was an ineffective but somehow dangerous Communist agitator, and Paul the wise administrator and realistic disciplinarian who curbed the excesses of Jesus’ disciples and made the Christian Church a very sound, sensible means of keeping the masses in their place. This view also can hardly be held by good Christians, though it approximates that of such would-be Machiavellians as the Action françaisce group in the Third French Republic.
Christians have usually held, as Paul himself did, that the work of the apostle was a fulfillment of that of the Master, a widening but by no means a corruption of his mission. PAUL HIMSELF NEVER KNEW JESUS. Indeed, as an orthodox Jew Saul (if Tarsus had at one time helped in the persecution of the little group of Jewish Christians after the crucifixion. The biblical account of his conversion to Christ while he was on the road to Damascus has become the classic instance of the sudden, apparently miraculous change of heart. From the fact that from this very account Paul seems to have been in some sort of trance, and from odds and ends of information scattered through our sources, some have concluded that Paul was an epileptic. Of course, this kind of distant medical diagnosis is quite impossible for us to make scientifically. Paul was clearly no dull, conventional, unimaginative person, but a genius. One of the characteristics of our modern age is the recurrent cropping up of the notion that great men are pathological specimens. That view can teach us more about certain implications of modern democratic notions—especially the belief that the average is an ethical and aesthetic norm—than it can about great men.
Paul’s major contribution to the spread of Christianity was to smooth the way from Jewish sectarianism to universalism; and the first stage to universalism at that time and place was, of course, through the Greek. Paul \wrote and spoke the Greek of Hellenistic universalism, and he was familiar with Greek religious and philosophical ideas. He seems early in his life as a Christian to have taken a stand against the Judaizing wing of the new religion, and his work as an organizer has given him the title of “Apostle to the Gentiles.” The great stumbling block for Gentiles who found the Christian way of life attractive was the Law of the Jews, the complex set of ritual ways that a born Jew learned as part of growing up. Somewhat over simply the problem could be put: Can an uncircumcised man be a Christian? It was asking a lot of. poor human nature to expect an adult Gentile to go through with what must then have been a dreaded operation. Paul answered clearly: The Greek, Egyptian, or Roman who accepted Christ need not be circumcised, need not abstain from pork, need not worry about the letter of the law. “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
DO NOT LET THIS FAMOUS TEXT MISLEAD YOU. Paul was no anarchist, and this was not an invitation to newly converted Christians to do what they liked. The spirit, according to Paul’s life and works, was indeed an exacting, if comforting, spirit, and the life of the spirit as definite, prescribed way of life. To an outsider, Paul seems in fact to have substituted a Christian Law for a Jewish Law. Indeed, to the rationalist he seems to have been willing to play a bit on words: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
For we meet here one of the great, recurring human intellectual and emotional difficulties. The man who wants men to follow new ways must turn thcm from old ways. He must tell them they are, and ought to be,. free. to go new ways, that the Law, the prescriptions, the habits they were brought up to follow do not really bind them. The reformer is inevitably a rebel in the name of freedom. But he does not really want men to do the astonishing variety of things they would do were they free to follow their natural impulses and desires, free from conscience, laws, priests. He wants them to do the right things. It is true—and he really be1ieves it—that “the spirit giveth life.” But, as one of Paul’s co-workers said, “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The reformer, too, finds he must appeal to law. Men are free, but free only to do right. The result can only be put in a paradox, like Rousseau’s famous “forcing a man to be free.” Jesus himself put it better : “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: anti xvhosoever \vill lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
Paul as an administrator, as one of the great figures in a long line..of.. leaders. who helped. make the. Christian. Church. the extraordinarily effective organization it became, clearly belongs on the authoritarian side. His letters show him skillfully keeping a tight rein on the struggling little groups scattered throughout the Greek world and already established in Italy. Not that Paul was a harsh, tyrannical, or —worse——systematic authoritarian . He relied on his very great eloquence, on what must have been a very great personal appeal, on the human knowledge of one born to the cure of souls. But as a practical man Paul was in no sense soft, in no sense what we modern Americans think of as liberal or humanitarian.
Yet Paul was more than an administrator. He was also a theologian who, as we have seen, lent his full strength to the process of universalizing the new Church, of making its message attractive to the Gentiles. He has remained among the Fathers of the Church, the great authority for the doctrine known as “justification by faith,” to which we shall recur. At this point, we may focus rather on the practical Christianity of Paul, the kind of life he wanted Christians to lead.
But first it must be noted that almost certainly Paul, like most of his generation, did not believe Christians would live very long anyway on this earth. Christ himself had said, according to the First Gospel, “There he some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” The very first Christians believed that Christ would return any day and bring an end to this world of sense experience. There would be a final judgment, and then bliss or damnation forever in another world. Naturally men who believed this were not concerned with long plans, with measurement of trends and tendencies, with the slow work of common sense. Paul might conceivably have compromised more with human nature had he believed human beings were to exist for at least the next two thousand years.
For much of Paul’s teaching is puritanical in the generally current modern American sense of that word. Paul’s views on sex relations, for instance, have shocked many even before our Freudian generation . The famous seventh chapter of I Corinthians, with its flat statement “it is better to marry than to burn,” is actually rather ambiguous. Paul would apparently like to have the whole human race abstain from sexual intercourse. But the practical and experienced man of action in him knew this to be impossible, even with the end of the world at hand. So he counseled Christian marriage, and has some interesting and by no means intolerant advice on mixed marriages between Christians and pagans.
The good life according to Paul is, then, ascetic as to sense pleasures, whether those of the bed or those of the table . (“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we cat not, are we the worse.”) It is a simple life, free from the intellectual vanities the Greeks, especially, call wisdom. (“Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world ?”) It is a life free from the back-biting, pettiness, quarrels, jealousies of daily life in this vulgar world, as well as— even more than——a life free from the more heroic sins. For again, Paul was used to working with ordinary men and women, and it is to them that he constantly addresses himself. He wants them to puli themselves out of their selfish little individual courses, into the great eddyless stream that is the life of the spirit.
For Paul, like so many other striking figures in the history of Christianity, combined the practical man with the mystic. He wants men free from entanglements with this dirty world of the senses so that they may live in the clean world of the spirit. But Paul’s other world of the spirit is not the world of the lone individual who has attained nirvana for himself, or who has followed Plotinus into solitary philosophic ecstasy. Paul’s other world remains a human world, a world of common ellort, of sharing, of faith, hope, au d charity. And Paul’s best-known words are those of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunt-
eth not itself, is not pulled up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh
not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiccth not in
iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, lBelieveth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but
whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there he tongues,
they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For
we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is
perfect is come, then that which is in part shall he done away. When
I was a child, I spakc as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a
child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now
we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in
part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth
faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
And, finally, salvation. Even in this passage with its emphasis on love (which some think a better translation of the Greek than “charity”) Paul brings in the great promise of Christianity: “now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” This world (“now”) , even this world as Christians try to make it, is but a testing around for life in the next world (“then”). Those who are saved will enjoy in that world eternal bliss; those who arc not saved will suffer there eternal torture. All true Christians will he saved.
What is the test of a true Christian?
Paul, to an outsider, seems to impose a dual test, which, however, he clearly regards not as two~fold but as one. First, the true Christian must belong to an organized Christian group (Church) and have carried out, and continue carrying out, certain ritual acts, such as baptism and communion; second, he must be Christian inside, in his soul must have attained that state the mystic never quite succeeds in putting in words, though he call it “grace” or “faith” or something else.
The contrast between works and faith, ritual performance and inner light, runs all through the history of Christianity. To the orthodox, one is impossible without the other. A Christian not right inside himself can obviously not behave right outside. But, we can all see his outside, and only God can see inside him. That is why, though religious innovators almost always start by an appeal to the doctrine of justification by faith (“the spirit”), they end, if they succeed in gathering a flock of their own, by returning to some external test, some justification by works (“the letter”). We shall come back to this problem again with Luther.
The other great name in the earliest Christian thought is John, to whom are attributed the Fourth Gospel, three brief pastoral letters, and that extraordinary final book of our New Testament, Revelation. Now this John, the youthful beardless apostle of Christian painting and sculpture . who stands among the bearded rest. must have been prodigiously old when he wrote the Fourth Gospel, if the scholars are right about the date of its composition . In fact, so much scholarly doubt exists about the historical reality of John that even very orthodox and very sincere Christian learned men write habitually of “the author or authors of the Fourth Gospel,” and “the author of Revelation.”
Revelation is an apocalyptic book full of the most cryptic prophecies. It has served for two thousand years as an arsenal for the kind of person the rationalist, and even the sober, conventional Christian has to consider a crank. Revelation is a book before which the non-believer, and even the ordinary pedestrian believer, is simply helpless. The searcher for hidden things can find almost anything in it. Almost everything that has happened in the last millennia has been found in Revelation.
The Fourth Gospel is, however, one of the most important Christian writings It’s author is a shadowy person compared to Paul. knowing so little about him, we are tempted to see him in his work. The author of the Fourth Gospel docs not seem to have been an administrator, a practical man charged with cure of souls. On the other hand, it is probably erroneous to sce in him the metaphysician, the theologian, the man withdrawn from the world. The author of the Fourth Gospel obviously wrote under an acute moral tension: In his opinion so-called Christians, men who had never known Christ, were missing the great point of Christianity, that Christ is the impossible union of God and man, the othcr world and this world, the infinite and the finite. What earlier mystics had striven in vain to achieve Christ achieved by the mere fact of his being Christ. But this union of God and man was in constant danger of being misinterpreted by ordinary human beings, constantly tempted to make understanding easier for themselves by thinking of Christ either as all-man or as all-god.
The term the author of the Fourth Gospel uses to express this miraculous union of God and man is Logos, “the Word”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word was made
flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the
glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace
Thousands of pages have been written about this Word, and the related theological concept of the Holy Ghost, by which orthodox Christianity has ever since sought to provide for the faithful an intelligible link between the divided worlds of God and man. The whole Fourth Gospe l focuses around this miracle of the man-god; but it is not, save for the famous introductory sentences, an abstract theological treatise. It is a life of Christ, but a life always centered on Christ as the Word made flesh:
If I do not the works of my Father, believe
me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me,
believe the works: that ye may know, and believe,
that the Father is in me, and I in him.
The ideas and ideals of early Christianity are only part of its story, even for the intellectual historian. The ideas of Paul, John, and hundreds of less well-known laborers in the vineyard were made real to the faithful in a ritual, in a series of communal ceremonies; and the faithful were disciplined, held together, always strengthened by what, in a lay society, we frankly call government. Both of these subjects—ritual or liturgy, and church organization—are of enormous importance. We can here but indicate their importance for the Christian way of life.
The central ritual act of Christianity is the Eucharist. The central source for the Eucharist is the account, roughly the same in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of Christ’s last supper with his disciples. Matthew tells it as follows:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it,
and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take,
eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks,
and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my
blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the
remission of sins.
Now this is an excellent example of what seems to some naturalistic historians a tampering with the facts, or at least a later addition. There is too much theology here, especially in the words “remission of sins.” Such historians suppose that Christ himself may well have had a last sorrowful meal with his disciples and may even have asked them to remember him. They suppose that the very first Christians, practicing the communism of goods as we know they did, marked out certain of their common meals, their agapes or love feasts, in memo ry of Christ. Finally, they suppose that fairly soon this ceremony came to be in fact a sacrament, a constantly renewed miraculous sharing of the life of Christ the God, a sharing, even a theophagy such as we have noted already in the Greek mystery religions. Then, and only then, were the Gospels as we know drawn up, and Christ made to say: this is my body.
Whatever the historical process involved, the Church clearly did very early develop the sacrament. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, involved first definite acts (ritual) and second a goal achieved —a spiritual goal, of course—by such acts. At the central point of the Eucharist, the believer ate a small piece of bread and sipped a bit of wine from a stock that the miraculous power of God, transmitted in an unbroken line through Christ to his disciples and thence to all priests, had altered to a divine substance, respectively the body and blood of Christ. By this act, if his whole behavior and state of mind at the time was truly Christian—that is, if he was in a state of grace —his earlier sins were forgiven, canceled out, and his membership in the band of the elect, those who would be saved and granted eternal life in blessedness, was ratified before man and God. An ever recurring miracle once more challenged this daily and evil life.
Now it ought to be evident even from this brief paragraph that the doctrine of the Eucharist, if seen as a free intellectual problem, invites many interpretations. The simple word altered as used above would offend many theologians. They would insist that the bread and wine are not “altered” in the vulgar sense of the word, not “altered chemically. Then there are problems about the role of the priest. Suppose he is an unworthy priest himself a sinner? Is the sacrament he gives valid? The Catholic Church later answered yes to this question, when challenged by an active heresy, the Donatist, which answered no. There are problems about the communicant, the one who takes the sacrament. Just what is a state of grace? How can the believer be sure he is in a state of grace? Ought he to he sure? There are problems about the very form of the sacrament, such as the one that later divided Catholics and Protestants: Shall the communicant take communion in both kinds (both bread and wine) or in one kind only?
Important though these intellectual problems arc in the early history of Christianity, they must not be taken as all-important. Christianity owes much to its organization as well as to its theology. Now the central fact about the organization of early Christianity is the growth of a differentiation between laymen and clergy. Christianity, in contrast to Greek and Roman paganism, came to have a priestly caste very markedly set apart from the lay believers. Again, many critics believe that Jesus planned no such church, but again no proof is possible. Certainly the beginnings of the differentiation between lay and clerical come almost as early as organized Christianity, certainly by the beginning of the second century.
Here once more we may pause to emphasize the interrelation of ideas and the rest of human life. A pure intellectualist might say that because Christianity made so sharp, indeed so absolute a distinction between God and man, this world and the other world, it had to work out a sharply clergy to mediate between God and man, just as the author of the Fourth Gospel had to have his Logos.
A pure anti-intellectualist might say that because Christianity got started among a power—hungry group of “natural” priests, a theology justifying the priests, together with a set of sacraments calling for priests with a monopoly on the necessary miraculotis powers, had to be devised. Both intellectualist and anti—intellectualist would be quite wrong. Christians starts in a cosmopolitan world of wars, slavery, all sorts of widespread human misery, and its basic appeal is the appeal of salvation, of mental, spiritual wholeness in a divided world. Its theology, its ethics, its very government are all mutually determining factors in its growth. Each influences the others, and is influenced by them.
The remarkable thing about early Christian organization is the effectiveness of the network of individual cells, or churches. The Christians held together—held together in the earliest years against the excessive enthusiasms, the holy rolling, of some of the brothers and sisters, held together in later years against severe if very sporadic persecutions by Roman officials who regarded Christian refusal to sacrifice to the God-Emperor as evidence of treason to the state, held together even against the internal theological bickerings, the wave of heresies that accompanied the great successes of the new religion.
The form of organization taken on by the Church is closely parallel to the civil organization of the Roman Empire. Indeed, one of the key units of Christian organization. The dioceses, was under the same name an administrative area of the Empire . The clergy, early differentiated from the laymen, were organized in a chain of authority much as in an army; they formed a hierarchy from altar boys and other lesser ministrants through priest to bishop to archbishop to pope. In these first Christian centuries the critical office is that of the bishop, a name deriving from the Greek word episcopos, “overseer.” The bishop, like a good regimental officer, worked directly with the priests and important laymen in his jurisdiction. Above the bishops, the metropolitans (archbishops), patriarchs, and the pope himself tended, like staff officers, to be concerned with the higher strategy and tactics of the movement, and to lose touch with rank and file.
In the very earliest Christian communities there was probably no distinction between laymen and clergy. And the first clergy were probably self-elected, but confirmed in their functions by the good will of their brethren among the faithful. Ordination, the formal sacrament that qualified a man for the miraculous office of priest, grew up not only because of doctrines like the Eucharist, which required it but also because the wild enthusiasms of the brothers and sisters so readily went to excesses. Indeed, you can find the problems and the answers of the organizers clear enough even in the writings of Paul. Yet from these democratic origins there remained, especially for the office of bishop, some sense that these chosen officials were chosen by the vice of the community, by what we call election. Early bishops were chosen by vote of clergy and certain active laymen, and even in the Middle Ages the bishops of the Catholic Church were canonically (legally) elected by the clergy organized in the chapter of the cathedral. Actually, however, the hierarchy of the organized church was fairly early established as an appointive one. The bishop was certainly, if not king, at least colonel in his diocese. Bishops assembled in councils were the active, organized, and organizing groups that gave final direction to growing Christianity.
For during the first three or four centuries with which we are here concerned, the Church had no single head on earth. The final establishment of the complete hierarchy, with the pope at the apex, had to await the separation between the East and the West of the Empire, between what became the Greek Orthodox Church and what became the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that very early the Bishop of Rome set up special claims to predominance among bishops. The skeptically inclined outside the Church believe that as early as thc third or fourth generation after Christ interested Romanists inserted in the New Testament the passages that gave scriptural basis for the Petrine tradition, according to which Jesus himself planned the Roman papacy. Matthew has Jesus say to his disciple : “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There is here what in undignified matters is called a pun, since the Greek words for stone are the very same petros. Very early tradition had Peter go to Rome itself, found the Church there, and die a martyr.
What was planned and what accidental in this chain no man can now tell. At any rate, by the Petrine tradition the Bishop of Rome is marked as head of the Church. The prestige of Rome, the place of Rome in the by then age-old scheme of things, the later abandonment of Rome by the emperors in favor of Constantinople—all this made the headship of the Bishop of Rome what we like to call inevitable. In these first centuries, however, each of the Patriarchs—an Eastern title—of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria had firm notions of his own importance, if not supremacy, and in the great debates over the heresies the Roman see was by no means always in a dominating position. Indeed, as we have noted, the Eastern and Western churches finally separated. Some efforts were made to bring them back together, for it seemed scandalous that there should be two competing ways to heaven, but by the eleventh century the separation was final.
The great wave of heresies, at its height in the third century, marks the coming of the age of Christianity. Men and women of the now powerful faith debated about almost everything debatable. We cannot in a book of this sort attempt an account even of the major heresies. They range through a wide spectrum of what we have called noncumulative knowledge. They represent what to an outsider seems the normal reaction of a large number of educated and partly educated persons confronted with an opportunity to discuss quite freely these great questions of right and wrong, of salvation and damnation, of the ways of God to man. What makes them heresies instead of mere differences of opinion (as in a debating club) is that such differences of opinion in troubled times get translated into action, social and common action . But continued subdivision into competing groups ruins the unity of action with which the movement sets out, and to which it tries hard to adhere.
The main group of Christians, the group that won its way through persecutions and heresies as the Roman Catholic Church , preserved and strengthened its unity, as it seems to an outsider, precisely because it had to struggle against, and make compromises with, the heretics. For the prevalence of heresies—that is, of many disagreements over value-judgments—is in the youth of a movement probably a sign of strength rather than of weakness. Too much division over ideas can probably kill a movement; but a certain amount strengthens it. Apparently the Catholic Church was strengthened by the heresies it overcame.
These heresies ranged over most of human conduct and belief. Some were centered on the sacraments, such as that over the validity of a sacrament administered by a sinful priest; others on actual liturgy, such for instance as the quarrel over the way to determine the date for Easter; others on matters of conduct, such as priestly abstention from sexual intercourse, others on very high matters of theology (philosophy) indeed. One whole group of heresies, labeled Gnostic from the Greek word for knowledge, forms a fascinating study in the chesslike complexities the human mind can build in words and emotions. The Gnostics were mostly intellectuals of the Graeco-Roman world in search of magic—sophisticated magic. They knew about most of the other competing cults of the Graeco-Roman world, and about its philosophies, especially Neop]atonic philosophy. They tended, in spite of their bewildering variety, to have one thing in common, a belief that this sense world is evil, or nonexistent, or more simply, that the everyday world is an evil illusion . The figure of Jesus they found appealing, but it was Jesus the miracle -worker, Jesus the God. His human nature, his sharing in this world, they could not for a moment admit.
We may, however, take the final controversy over the relation between Jesus and the One God—God the Father—as typical of the whole period of the heresies. Here much more thaii Gnosticism was involved. Ofllcial Christianity finally accepted in 325 at the Council of Nicaea near Constantinople, the trinitarian, or Athanasian, position. According to this the persons of the Trinity, God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are real persons, three in number. and yet they are also one . Christianity remained a monotheism, its Trinity well above mathematics . The opposing doctrine of Anus, if not exactly Unitarianism as we know it in twentieth-century America, was at least on the Unitarian side in many ways, tending to subordinate Jesus to God, to make him later in time, an emanation of God, or—theology is a subtle thing—in some other way less than God the Father. The critical phrases of the struggle were the Athanasian homoousion (of one Fsamel essence with the Father) and the Arian hornoiousion (of like [similari essence to the Father). Popular wit, always alert for this sort of thing, lighted on the letter i (the Greek iota, by later Latin transliteration made jota) as the whole difference between these parties of dignified churchmen . Hence, by fairly direct inheritance, our still-used expression “not a jot”—not a tiny hit.
This early example of semantic skepticism need not persuade us that there was no real difference between Athanasians and Arians, and hence that the Council of Nicaea might just as well have chosen for Anus as for Athanasius. We have already noted in connection with the Fourth Gospel how real, how crucial for Christianity is its fruitful tension between this world and the other world. Christianity cannot afford the logic required to make a choice between these two logically incompatible beliefs. Gnosticism accepted would have led it into a jungle of magic, swooning, and denial of this world. Arianism accepted might have led it into a mere scientific or common-sense acceptance of this world. Catholicism—traditional Christianity—has kept a foot, a solidly planted foot, in each world.
The Council of Nicaea was called by an emperor, Constantine, himself politically at least a Christian. By 325 the once obscure Jewish heresy had come to dominate the Graeco-Roman world. Remnants of pagan groups were to exist for several more centuries, and the triumphant Church was to adopt as local saints, as local uses and superstitions, many pagan beliefs and habits. Still, the victory was amazingly complete. Christianity by the fourth century had become the religion of the Western world.
IDEAS and MEN
* The STORY of WESTERN THOUGHT
by: Crane Brinton
Copyright 1950. (Pgs. 139-154)
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