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Antiqua mater : a study of Christian origins online

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historic necessity.

It remains to this day a problem whether what ^-^^ ^ x .
Tertullian calls 'my Gospel,' 'my Christ,' *my Jesus,' cw^^^t^-^**^
or the Gospel according to the Marcionites, which
denied the prophetic foreshadowing of their Jesus, was
the earlier conception in the world. The subject
seems hopelessly obscure ; and perhaps no other con-
clusion can be reached, save the general one, that
ecclesiastical Christianity from the time of Tertullian
took the form of a compromise between the impassioned
ideal of Gnostic innovation, which met the yearnings
of Hellenic and Eoman mystics,, and the positive
intuitions of the Jewish spirit The possession of the

1 For the arithmetical symbolism in 'Iijo-oCs, and W^^ * the Lord who
contains heaven and earth.* — Iren. i. 14. 4, 2. 24. I f.

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Old Testament Scriptures Was to the majority too
precious a thing to be surrendered in favour of the
overstrained ascetic and fascinating, but fatiguing
dreams of the innovators. Moreover, the sense that
the religious life of humanity is continuous, that the
relatively new is still to be traced in the old, that it is
still by ' law ' as well as by * grace ' that men must
live, makes itself felt with the development of new
communities, after the first excitement of change has
passed away. Without admitting the sharp opposi-
tion between the new Ideal and the old, men con-
tented themselves with transfiguring the Scriptures of
the Old Testament by making it a repository of types
of Jesus. The question will again and again recur,
whether men who busied themselves with such phanta-
sies, had any grasp of an actual life once lived among
men at all ? Jesus is more real to imagination now
than He was at the end of the new century.

On looking back, we see that the movement called
Gnosticism was probably the first impetus of the great
revolution. Taking our stand with Justin of Neapolis
and Irenseus, we revert to Home in the time of
Claudius'^ and see dimly the figure of Simon Magus
through an exaggerating and distorting mist of fancy,
as the first teacher of the redemption of the soul from
its worldly bondage. Later comes the kindred ascetic
teaching of Seneca ; * later still that of Hellenic mis-
sionaries, if we may so call them, men imbued with
the spirit of Plato and of Heracleitus, called to shed

^ If there is no reason for disputing this date (cf. Renan, L*Ante^
cKrist\ then the Samaritan was the earUut known teacher of the new

' The passage on the soul straggling against the weight of the flesh
towards its native heights, ad Marc, 22, strongly resembles Gnostic

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the glamour of the world of poetic contemplation,
joined with ascetic renunciation, upon weary spirits.
Jewish proselytising ardour was at this time chilled ;
it had done its work for the world. A neW kindling
of the imagination was needed ; and this was supplied
by the Gnostics. Men were intoxicated with a new
found liberty and redemption. Again the wave rolled
back; and Christianity reverted to those ways of
mediation and compromise in the world of thought
which it always holds in the Ecclesia, until some new
flight of imagination in the region of Gnosis, or Specu-
lation as we call it, disturbs the prevailing dulness,
and rouses polemists from their dogmatic slumbers.
The history of the second century shows that what
rests upon the basis of imagination, may be rudely
shaken and threatened with overthrow by a new and
more vigorous effort of imagination. The poetic gift
is necessary and at the same time dangerous to all
established institutions, which owe their permanence
to the need of repose, and must look for their reform
to the need of activity in the human mind.

With reluctance we pass from Marcion and his
compeers. The loss of _their writings is strange and ^*^^'
irreparable. Knowing them only through their anta-
gonists, whose thought they enriched, we are impressed
by their energy as social and moral revolutionists, and
by consequence as theological liberators. It was they
who seized upon the idea of Eedemption by revelation
in a distincter and more absolute sense than any of
their contemporaries; it was they who gave to the
world the idea of celestial saviours, and of the Saviour.
They carried forward. the teaching of the old Mysteries
of which Isocrates said that they imparted ' good hopes
for all time,' and of which Cicero said that men learned

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thereby to live well and to die happily. Their esoteric
doctrine must have aimed at the purification of the soul
to which their ascetic, doubtless pushed to an extreme,
corresponded. They could not believe in a resurrec-
tion of the body, from which as from a prison the soul
yearned to be free ;^ nor in the continuance of the rule
of the Demiurge, the Author of a world so full of
evil, and Himself of so mixed a character as He was
reflected in the Old Testament pages. Their anti-
pathy to the Law and the Prophets probably had a
deeper root in national antipathy, which perhaps finds
its explanation in their connection with Samaria ^ and
Galilee, the one the home of Simon, the other the
region where it was believed that the Saviour had de-
scended in the reign of Tiberius. Whether a historic
ifact lay behind this ideal descent, or whether it was
the historic ' substruction ' of a system, supported by
astrological calculation, must remain perhaps un-

We who consider the problem of Christian origins
to be the ascertainment of the men who guided and
gave shape to a great popular innovation (as Celsus
says the movement was), see in the preachers of the
Gnosis the most powerful spirits among those who
passed as Christiani or as Galilaei in the second cen-
tury. Before the time of Irenseus and TertuUian we
know not where else to look for such men. Justin of

^ Iren. I. 23. 5 : the disciples of Menander, baptized into Him, die
no more. For comparison with the Mysteries of Eleusis, Tert. adv,
Valent, i. They too are a Hseresis of Attic superstition !

2 For the study of Samaritan Synkretism, Hamack, u. s. ; Freudenthal,
Hellenist. Stud., 1875, 2. I. 2 ; Hilgenfeld, Ketzergesch. 1884, 149 flF. ;
Kessler, art. Manichdismus, ReaL Encyc. f. Prot, Theoi., 2d ed. Cf.
Deutsch art. Samaria in Smith's Bible Dictionary. The refinements
of the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dove symbol, are points to be noted.
Cf. also Lucian, De Dea Syr,, and Selden's treatise.

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Keapolis admits that the followers of Simon Magus
and of Marcion are Christiani, while he denounces
them and boastingly seeks to arrogate the name with
the system of belief built on the anti-Gnostic premises
of the infallible truth of ' the Prophets/ to himself and
his fellows. In a fragment ascribed to him by Irenseus,
he says he would not believe * the Lord Himself ' if He
declared another God beside the Demiurge ; and he
complains in the Trypho of 'blasphemies against the God
of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'
Justin himself has been weaned from Hellenic wisdom
by the study of the prophets. When we consider the
near coincidence in point of time between Justin's
address to the Eomans and the stated arrival of Cerdo
the Syrian at Kome, and the excommunication of
Marcion (c. 140) it will appear that we here touch
an epoch in the revolution. The loftier influence of
the Gnostic and his spiritual kinsman Seneca is com-'
ing to an end in the great metropolis and spiritual
workshop of the world; and popular Hebraism is to
resume its power in a new form. Hebraism, accord-
ing to an ingenious writer of our time, is * the ten-
dency and powers that carry us toward doing,' Hellen-
ism * the tendency and powers that carry us towards
perceiving and knowing,' (Gfnosis)} If so, Hebraism
iand Hellenism remain from this epoch blended, now
in mechanical combination, now in chemic union.
The writings of the New Testament bear witness to
tliis phenomenon. And it is still a question whether
' Paul,' that figure which suddenly starts up in Gnostic
company at the middle of the second century more

* hebraises,' or more ^ hellenises,' or whether so-called

* Paulinism ' be not a heterogeneous mixture of con-

^ M. Arnold, Culture and Anarchy 143, St, Paul xzxiii.

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servatism and innovation; whether the current portraits
of this latest * apostle ' do not present variations irre-
concilable with the hypothesis of a historic individual.

Eavet thus sums up the results of his able
work : * From the earliest years of our era, there were
Jews established at many points of the empire. They
formed an association which penetrated everywhere,
and everywhere exerted their influence on the Eoman
world, at the same time remaining strange to it and
independent of it Around them were Judaisers, who
shared their belief. In particular, they expected an
Anointed or Christ, who was to descend from heaven
to open the kingdom of God of the Jews, in place of
the Romans.

* About the beginning of the principate of Claudius,^
the rumour spread that this Christ was come, that it
was Jesus, crucified under Tiberius ; that He had risen,
and was about in turn to raise all the just departed^ to
reunite them in an eternal life to those who were still
living, and to cause sinners to disappear. It was diflB-
cult to believe, but it flattered all the passions of a
sufiering and irritated multitude. At first the "good
news " was murmured in the ear, then was repeated
aloud.^ Some believed at once ; others perhaps only
half believed. But, as they were all united in the
same wishes, they were delighted to profess the same
hopes, the very expression of which waa a rallying
signal, and a menace or at least defiance addressed to
their masters. With faith in the Christ and the resur-
rection, the worship of one God and aversion from idols
was adopted, the idols which had already gained so
many proselytes to Judaism. On the other hand, in

^ Cf. vol. 4. 225. Havet has neglected the Gnostic moTement
s See the opening of the Clem. BecognUivnt,

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the name of Christ they rid themselves of all that was
vexatious in Judaism, beginning with circumcision.
The new faith thus gained upon non- Judaising Gentiles ;
and this refined Judaism was refined more and more, as
it spread among them and became penetrated by the
Hellenic philosophy. The two movements became in
time confounded. The Christians, who had at first
found place within the bounds of Jewish associations,
enlarged these bounds according to their usage, and
themselves constituted a more extended association.
The Church, by title of spiritual power, organised itself
in the very bosom of the empire, and substituted itself
for the old order, at once insensibly and surely. This
work once begun, it was pursued without interruption,
with an ever-increasing energy. All the forces which
concurred to destroy the Eoman empire (and from
Caesar's time it was felt to be menaced) concurred also
to aggrandise Christianism. There was the obstacle of
persecution; but tardy, intermittent, irresolute, and
impotent, persecution only harassed the movement that
it fought, sufficiently to render it irresistible.' ^

It remains for consideration whether the Jesus thus
connected with Christ was not an ideal of Gnostic
origin in that time of Claudius to which the arch-
Gnostic Simon is referred. The Clementine romance
seems to preserve very faithfully the features of the
conflict between the new Jewish Messianism, the belief
in the ideal Prophet, the simple moral preaching of
* the Truth ' by Barnabas in Eome, amidst the laughing
and captious Greeks.^ And when the scene is trans-
ferred to Caesarea, and Peter is represented in full
polemic with the wizard Simon, we find the reflection

^ Le Chrtstianisme^ 4. 485 ; cf. Hamack, Thed, Lit, Zeitunj. 18S5.
« Clem. Becog, i. 6 ff.

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of long-existing sentiments, by which the older Messianic
conception in its ethical form of * the Prophet ' raised
up to instruct mankind in righteousness and the way
of life is opposed to the usurpation of the new and
greater God. It is commonly taken for granted, on the
ground of coincidences, not to be mistaken, that Paul is
aimed at under the mask of the wizard. Nothing is
more illusive than such coincidences in this imaginative
world. Another explanation suggests itself more in
accordance with the facts. We cannot find Paul in
Justin, unless we determine beforehand that he must
be there. But we do find Marcion, with whom Paul is
connected later by Tertullian in a way that arrests
attention. Distinguishing what Tertullian say$ (and he
will say anything) from what he Ictwws^ it is clear that
lie knows certain epistles ascribed to Paul, which he
ventures not to reject, and which give colour to the
Marcionite views. As to these epistles being in Mar-^
cion's * Canon,' this seems to be a mere fancy of modem
Canon-worshippers, quite anachronistia The proba-
bility is that Paulus, the Eoman-named 'little one,' is
a modification of the extravagant ideal of the wizard,
and that if the author of the * Homilies ' names not
Paul, it is because he does not know of him. The
' Homilies ' admit that * Simon ' came to the Gentiles
first,^ and that his influence had been great


It is clear that Tertullian has no liking for Paul.
* About that third heaven,' he says, * we will see, should
we come further to the discussion of your apostle.'^
He hints that Paul's censure of Peter and the other

1 2. 17, 1 8. * Adv, M, I. 15 ; cf. Prcucr, II. 24.

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apostles for their Judaistic leanings was inconsistent
with his own after-practice — ' all things to all men/
He calls him the * hseretics' apostle.'

Tertullian preferred the account of Paul in the ^ Acts
of the Apostles/ which, however, was generally repu-
diated by his contemporaries, as it seems.^ The account
in the Epistle to the Galatians was received as authen-
tic, and Tertullian is constrained to deal with it. He
makes upon us the impression that he would have
gladly set aside * Galatians/ and retained the doubtful
.' Acts/ if this had not been too daring a defiance of
current opinion. He is glad to use 'Galatians' to
support the credit of * Acts : ' the former speaks of a
conversion of a persecutor to an apostle ; so does the
latter.^ But the glaring contradiction of the two
narratives must have been infinitely more embarrass-
ing to Tertullian than at any subsequent time when
reverence for * the Canon ' numbed men's perceptions
of the discrepancies of different writings included
under it.

He goes as far as he dares in suggesting doubts
about Paul and his apostleship. To those who reject

* Acts ' he says, * Who is that Paul of yours ' (the sup-
posed author of * Galatians ') ? What was he before he
was an apostle, and how did he become one ? '^ Every-
thing has a beginning except God. He desiderates the
origin of the apostle from Marcion.* In general a
believer for believing's sake, as Tertullian is, here he
protests against rashness ; he assumes the air of a bold
sceptia A man is affirmed to be an apostle who is not
to be found in the album of the apostles in the Gospel.

* And then I hear that he was chosen by the Lord

^ Praacr. H. 22, 23. * ^^^ ^ ^^ 2.

» Pressor , iT. 23. * Adv. iHf. 5. I,

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already resting in the heavens. It seems to me a
want of forethought, as it were, that Christ did not
know beforehand that he was necessary to Him, but
that when the office of the apostolate had been already
ordained, and they had been dismissed to their labours,
He thought Paul must be added, * and this by an inrush,
not by foresight — by necessity, so to say, not by free-
wilL* Tertullian, who tramples down the 'hseretics,*
i.e., the dissenters of the tune, vies with them in
freedom when his apostolic-ecclesiastic theory seems
endangered. He goes on, in his witty way, to chal-
lenge the * Pontic shipmaster* (Marcion), — whether he
has never taken smuggled or illicit goods on board his
small craft ; whether he has never thrown overboard
or tampered with a freight. If he is too cautious and
faithful in God's affairs for that, will he inform us
under what bill of lading he took up the Apostle Paul —
who stamped him with his title, who forwarded him to
Marcion, who handed him on board, so that he may
be landed in confidence, and not be proved the pro-
perty of one who has brought forward ' all the instru-
ments of his apostleship.' The arrogant temper of
Tertullian takes particular offence at the pretensions of
the writer of ' Galatians ' to be an apostle * not from meu
nor by man, but by Jesus Christ.* * Anybody may make
a self-profession, but the authority of a second person
is required to confirm it; one scribes, BJiothev subscribes ;^
one seals, another enters the record. A man cannot
both profess and witness to himself. Besides, we read
that many would come and say, I am Christ ; and if a
liar could say this, how much more might not a liar
declare himself to be an apostle of Christ I ' Excel-
lent critical principles : only the application of them
to the question of the origin of the Apostolate in

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general would have disconcerted the assurance of

However, he is willing to accept Paul, as approved.
On what grounds of authentication? Where is his
voucher ? Will our readers believe it ! The proofs of
Paul, as of Christ, are *from the instrument of the
Creator,' i.e, the Old Testament. Paul was promised
to Tertullian from of yore in the Book of Genesis,
according to the Seventy ! ^ Jacob says, * Benjamin, a
ravening wolf, in the morning, shall devour hitherto,
and at evening shall give food' (Gen. 49. 27). Here
Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, in early life the perse-
cutor, in declining years the pastor of Christ's sheep
and teacher of nations, is foreseen. King Saul, in his
relations to David, is another type of Paul, as David
himself of Jesus. Such are the * sacraments of figures '
combined with the ^ Acts ' (which Marcion * must not
deny ') that convince Tertullian.

He denies Paul, then ? No, he defends him and
' expels Marcion from the defence of him.' In other
words, he fights with Marcion for the true portrait of
Paul, who must in some way be found to belong to
the Creator and His Instrument, the Old Testament^
and the prophetic spirit, — a TertuUianic Paul, in short,
and not a Marcionite Paul, the apostle of * the other
Christ,' the teacher of a strange and new God. It
does not lie within our scope to examine the genuine-
ness of the Epistle to the Galatians and the other three
Epistles which have been assented to almost unani-
mously as works of Paul until our day, — as it seems

^ Neither the authenticity of ' Galatians ' nor its early date can be
proved from Irenseus, Clement Alex., and Tertullian ; and if not from
them, not at all. See Bp. Lightfoot, Oalat, p. 56 ff.

^ Jacob as the * younger son ' addresses his youngest. AU this is apt
for the youngest apostle.

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from sheer inertia and weariness of questions. But
this inertia must be shaken oflf.^ The Jewish scholar,
Joel, had remarked, without questioning the current
view about Paul, that we do not hear of him until the
time of Marcion. Professor A. D. Loman shortly
after published his Qucestiones Paulinoe^ in which, with
admirable temper, he has re-opened inquiry into the
origin of 'Paulus canonicus* and connected matters.
The same critic has honourably made amends to the
late Bruno Bauer for the injurious treatment he has
received at the hands of some theologians. The latter
writer has swept the horizons of early Christianity with
a piercing and comprehensive glance ; and while he
pehaps too much depreciates the Hebrew factor in the
new religion, has given only a due place to the influence
of the Koman Stoics and of the Hellenic philosophy,
which through Plato, Heracleitus, through PhUo, and
again through the Gnostics, streamed in upon the edu-
cated mind of the self-renewing world. In the Fla-
vian period was cemented the alliance between the
Hellenic philosophy and the Law and Prophets. At
the close of the reign of Trajan, the Antinomian and
Antitempelian movement breaks out, and continues
under the teaching of the historical Gnostics from
Cerinthus down to Marcion and his followers through
the whole of the second century. Of this movement
Paul is the last ideal expression. We can find no
proof of his historic reality. The * Acts of Paul and
Thecla,' which contain a sketch of his personal appear-
ance, are declared by Tertullian to be the work of an
Asian presbyter and a fiction. Tertullian himself,
while expressing the most audacious doubts as to
Paul, turns the writings ascribed to him to the account

1 BlicTce, &c. > Thed Tijdsqhr.t 1883, 1886.

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of Catholicism, and endeavour to force the Paul of
the ^ Acts of the Apostles' upon his contempordries.
In the absence of historical evidence, that from the
ideal world is strong : Paul is the ideal Benjamin or
the Saul of the latter times, the converted persecutor
of the fold. Tertullian be our witness !

Alternately Peter and Paul act as foils to each
other. The impressive prominence given to the * lord
Peter ' in the Clementines, and his antagonism to the
arch-Gnostic, the picture of Barnabas as first mis-
sionary to Eome, surrounded by jesting Greeks, can be
traced to the creative activity of Ebionite feeling and
motive. The * Preaching of Peter ' has for its burden
* the Prophet,' who has come to teach his brethren not
the abrogation of the Law, but the Law in a new and
simpler form ; and he vehemently resists the Gnostic
innovation, in alliance with James. We have nothing
but learned guesswork to help us to the date and ori-
ginal form of this romance. But one thing remains
clear. If the writer had heard of Paulus apostolus he
disdained to own him, and deliberately identified him
with Simon Magus. If he had not heard of Paulus,
then we must conclude that this name was of quite
late origin.

But the Catholics made both figures ' their own,' as
Tertullian would say. After the Gnostic innovation
had spent its force, the two great figures remained to
represent two opposite tende;ncies in the religious life
and the harmony of them.-^ Peter stands for the
positive, the legal, the institutional, Paul for the ori-
ginal and the free, the inward and innovating spirit
in religion. So long as men's minds are swayed

^ B. Bauer, Chriatus^ 384.

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between these extremes; and the conditions of the
second century repeat themselves anew, the quarrel
and the reconciliation of the apostolic Pair will
always be felt to be in the symbolical sense, historical
and moral.

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243 )



And now we hasten to our close, believing that an
answer to the question proposed to us at the outset has
already been answered, in a general sense, in the mind
of every thoughtful reader who has gone with us. But
to gain a distincter view of the object of inquiry, let
us now contemplate it in the light of contemporary
criticism and defence. We have already referred to the
general silence observed by the Greek and Eoman
writers on the Christiani To Trajan and Hadrian's
time belongs possibly Plutarch's old age : he is silent.
So is Florus, the historian in Hadrian's reign. So is
Epictetus, the Stoic, with the exception of a passing
allusion to the habitual recklessness of the interests of
this world shown by the * Galilsei,'^ who cannot certainly
be identified with Christians. But if the earlier home of
the Superstitio or innovating cultus was Bithynia and
Pontus and other parts of Asia Minor, if Tacitus him-
self betrays no knowledge of it until after the original
letter of his friend Pliny from Asia Minor, the general
ignorance or indifference of the educated world may be

We pass to the reign of Marcus Aurelius ( 1 6 1- 1 80),^

^ Arriani Comm, Epict.^ 4. 7. 2.

^ We need only refer in passing to the emperor's Meditations. They

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