Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

introduce a peculiar and more developed system of doctrine. Later Christian teachers formulized the truths of sin and grace; he simply addresses himself to man's free-will, and assumes that man can, if he chooses, fulfil the law of God. According to the accounts of the first three Gospels, he does not present himself as a supernatural being. He but appropriates the national Messianic idea, feels and announces himself to be the Messiah, and as such accepts the inevitable conflict with the dominant party of the Pharisees. Only in this concrete form can the teachings of Jesus be said to have founded a new religion, a worldconquering church. In his hands the Messianic idea accomplished more than in others, only because it was embodied in a personality which by its moral greatness and purity, by the strength and depth of its religious life, exhibited as present and actual what his teaching demanded. Like Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth was a religious reformer because he was what he taught; he was fitted and called to establish in humanity, by his own personality, a new moral and religious life.

These facts were but gradually recognized by his adherents, and but imperfectly understood by his disciples. Deep and overpowering as must have been their impression of his personality, if their faith in him was to survive his death, and triumph after his resurrection, strong as was the hold upon them of what was new and peculiar in the teachings of Jesus, yet were they, as appears from the Pauline Epistles, none the less unconscious of the position they had assumed in respect to Judaism.

Their new faith seemed to them only the complement, not a virtual abandonment, of the old. They wished to abide in the Jewish communion, and to retain within its limits the Christians who were born in it, or were admitted to it by circumcision. They were hampered by the restrictions of the Mosaic law; they saw in Jesus only the Messiah of the Jews, not the founder of a new world-religion embracing alike both Jews and Gentiles, and effacing their distinctive peculiarities. The first step in the right direction was

taken by the Hellenist Stephen; and the final independence of Judaism on the part of Christianity was established by the great Apostle to the Gentiles. In him the Christian consciousness thoroughly and definitively broke with Judaism. The principle that Christianity, and not Judaism, alone can put man in the proper relation to God, occupied, after his conversion, the central position in his system ; and from this principle, as Baur attempts to show in detail, the entire Pauline doctrine develops itself.

The more fully Paul followed out this view, the more marked became his opposition, not only to the older believers and to his contemporaries, but also to the older apostles and the churches founded by them. Thus are explained the distrust with which he was met by the more moderate Judeo-Christians, and the intense hatred which he awakened in the more extreme. According to his own account, which is less conciliatory than that in the Acts, the apos . tolic council resulted only in a consent, forced from the Palestinian Christians by the facts in the case, to his independent administration of his own department. How little either party had abandoned its former position appears from the subsequent collision between Peter and Paul at Antioch. Each party still pursued its own path. Even in churches founded by Paul, attacks on his personal character and work were repeatedly made by his opponents, or by persons encouraged and recommended by them. Such attacks called forth the Epistle to the Galatians and one of the Epistles to the Corinthians. The Epistle to the Romans, containing the fullest exposition of Paul's views, and addressed to the church of the imperial city, founded by other than apostolic agency, and strongly tinged with Judaism, seeks to win their adherence, and to disarm their prejudices against Gentile Christianity, the successful rival of the Jewish faith and its theocratic prerogatives. It was for the reconciliation of the adverse parties that Paul urged on the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, and bore it, with such unhappy results to himself, to its destination. His conciliatory efforts, however, failed in their chief points.

In the age after his death the two parties still stood bitterly opposed to each other; and it was not until after the lapse of several generations that their gradual approximation and their final coalescence were effected.

The traces of these conflicts, and of this gradual reconciliation, Baur finds both within and without our books of the New Testament. The purest and weightiest document on the Pauline side, next to the epistles of the apostle, is, according to him, the Gospel according to Luke, which presents the evangelical history from the position of Pauline liberality, or freedom from Jewish exclusiveness. On the Judaizing side, the oldest work that we have is, in his opinion, the Apocalypse of John, probably written by the apostle whose name it bears, in the year before the destruction of Jerusalem. By a profound application of the facts of history, it expresses the anticipations of a religious party, respecting the immediate future, and endeavors to unite and to strengthen that party for the endurance of coming trials. The first Christians expected daily the end of the world, and the miraculous advent of the Messiah and the establishment of his kingdom. The apostolic and the postapostolic age -- the entire New Testament, its latest books only excepted — are full of such anticipations. The nearness of the Messiah's advent was the secret of the self-sacrificing surrender of the Christian church in its conflict with its pagan and its Jewish foes. When, in the Neronian persecution, the heathen kingdom of this world first showed its extreme hatred of the church; when, in the Jewish war, the destiny of the people who had rejected the Messiah seemed about to be accomplished, and when, after Nero's death, a bloody civil war raged around the imperial throne, the probationary period of the world seemed to the Christians drawing to a close. The idea then gained credence that Nero, either escaped from his murderers or raised from the dead, would return with a mighty host from the East to Rome, and wreak upon it a fearful vengeance. The Christians beheld in him the Antichrist who, with the aid of demons, would achieve his work, destroy all true

confessors of Christ, and then fall before the returning Messiah. In such circumstances, and under such influences, was the Apocalypse written. Under the guidance of the prevailing Jewish, Messianic anticipation, it aims to encourage the church to a steadfast profession and faithful maintenance of its belief, and to prepare it for a coming martyrdom, by painting, in the familiar form of prophecy, the issue of the approaching conflict, and the rich reward of the unfaltering combatants. For its own age it was, then, a work of the profoundest import, and it was tortured, doubted, and even rejected by the following age, because later centuries did not find themselves sustained by it in their views of the past, and in anticipations which had been long before shown to be groundless by the facts of history. Still more significant is the fact that this early book ascribes to the devil's doctrine of Balaam things which Paul had defended and permitted, — that one of the chief apostles of the Jewish party here admits the Gentile Christians to communion with Jewish Christians in the Messianic church only in a sort of plebeian relation; that among the twelve apostles whose names are graven on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, no place is found for that of the great apostle of the gentiles, and that the Ephesian church, in which he labored so long, is praised that she had tried and found false those who would make themselves apostles. These things, Baur thinks, indicate differences from whose reconciliation alone could spring the catholic church. But it was not in the nature of things that different portions of the church, united by a common faith, should long preserve these oppositions and enmities. The points in dispute gradually lost their sharpness; common views were more prominently brought forward; the mutually hostile parties, approaching each other, borrowed much from each other, and gradually reconciled their differences, so that at last there emerged a common doctrine and a common church. A decided step had been taken in this direction when the baptism of gentile Christians was substituted for their circumcision. A still further step was taken

when Christianity, opposed in its Pauline form, was received in a Petrine, when, as in the Clementine Epistles, Peter was set forth as the only apostle to the gentiles; and, with a still surviving opposition to the person and work of Paul, his fundamental principle of catholicity is fully recognized. The Epistle of James testifies to the influence which the Pauline conception of Christianity won over such as still, in principle, strove against it. On the other hand, the epistles proceeding from a Pauline point of view–Hebrews, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, as well as the Pastoral Epistles, aimed against the heretical Gnosis-indicate different forms and degrees of that reconciling purpose, which, in a more thoroughly conciliatory spirit, and by means of a freer enlargement and transformation of historical materials, accomplished its aim in the Acts of the Apostles. Similar confirmations of the fact of such differences and of their reconciliation are found outside of the New Testament, in the writings transmitted to us under the names of Barnabas, Ignatius, Clemens, Polycarp, and Hermas, and in the works of Justin Martyr. In the second half of the second century, the differences of opinion, which had so deeply moved the apostolic and the post-apostolic age, had disappeared; Peter and Paul appear as reconciled; and, as if to leave no doubt on this point, they are equally revered as the founders of the Church of Rome, where this fusion of ecclesiastical parties seems to have been first achieved; and in the imperial city, which it is probable that Peter never visited, the graves of the two apostles are shown as memorials of their common martyrdom. Both the Epistles of Peter, written, according to this school of critics, at Rome in the second century, reveal the same tendency.

The final step in this conciliatory movement appears in the fourth Gospel, written, as Baur thinks, in the middle of the second century, and not long afterwards universally recognized as a work of the Apostle John. From the position occupied by this Gospel, Judaism appears as a distant phenomenon of a former age; Christianity is established as the only and universal way of salvation; all

« AnteriorContinua »