An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
Part 2, Chapter 8: Application of the Third Note of a True Development
APPLICATION OF THE THIRD NOTE OF A TRUE DEVELOPMENT.
Since religious systems, true and false, have one and the same great and comprehensive subject-matter, they necessarily interfere with one another as rivals, both in those points in which they agree together, and in those in which they differ. That Christianity on its rise was in these circumstances of competition and controversy, is sufficiently evident even from a foregoing Chapter: it was surrounded by rites, sects, and philosophies, which contemplated the same questions, sometimes advocated the same truths, and in no slight degree wore the same external appearance. It could not stand still, it could not take its own way, and let them take theirs: they came across its path, and a conflict was inevitable. The very nature of a true philosophy relatively to other systems is to be polemical, eclectic, unitive: Christianity was polemical; it could not but be eclectic; but was it also unitive? Had it the power, while keeping its own identity, of absorbing its antagonists, as Aaron's rod, according to St. Jerome's illustration, devoured the rods of the sorcerers of Egypt? Did it incorporate them into itself, or was it dissolved into them? Did it assimilate them into its own substance, or, keeping its name, was it simply infected by them? In a word, were its developments faithful or corrupt? Nor is this a question merely of the early centuries. When we consider the deep interest of the controversies which Christianity raises, the various characters of mind it has swayed, the range of subjects which it embraces, the many countries it has entered, the deep philosophies it has encountered, the vicissitudes it has undergone, and the length of time through which it has lasted, it requires some assignable explanation, why we should not consider it substantially modified and changed, that is, corrupted, from the first, by the numberless influences to which it has been exposed.
Now there was this cardinal distinction between Christianity and the religions and philosophies by which it was surrounded, nay even the Judaism of the day, that it referred all truth and revelation to one source, and that the Supreme and Only God. Pagan rites which honoured one or other out of ten thousand deities; philosophies which scarcely taught any source of revelation at all; Gnostic heresies which were based on Dualism, adored angels, or ascribed the two Testaments to distinct authors, could not regard truth as one, unalterable, consistent, imperative, and saving. But Christianity started with the principle that there was but "one God and one Mediator," and that He, "who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, had in these last days spoken unto us by His Son." He had never left Himself without witness, and now He had come, not to undo the past, but to fulfil and perfect it. His Apostles, and they alone, possessed, venerated, and protected a Divine Message, as both sacred and sanctifying; and, in the collision and conflict of opinions, in ancient times or modern, it was that Message, and not any vague or antagonist teaching, that was to succeed in purifying, assimilating, transmuting, and taking into itself the many-coloured beliefs, forms of worship, codes of duty, schools of thought, through which it was ever moving. It was Grace, and it was Truth.
§ 1. _The Assimilating Power of Dogmatic Truth._
That there is a truth then; that there is one truth; that religious error is in itself of an immoral nature; that its maintainers, unless involuntarily such, are guilty in maintaining it; that it is to be dreaded; that the search for truth is not the gratification of curiosity; that its attainment has nothing of the excitement of a discovery; that the mind is below truth, not above it, and is bound, not to descant upon it, but to venerate it; that truth and falsehood are set before us for the trial of our hearts; that our choice is an awful giving forth of lots on which salvation or rejection is inscribed; that "before all things it is necessary to hold the Catholic faith;" that "he that would be saved must thus think," and not otherwise; that, "if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding, if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God,"--this is the dogmatical principle, which has strength.
That truth and falsehood in religion are but matter of opinion; that one doctrine is as good as another; that the Governor of the world does not intend that we should gain the truth; that there is no truth; that we are not more acceptable to God by believing this than by believing that; that no one is answerable for his opinions; that they are a matter of necessity or accident; that it is enough if we sincerely hold what we profess; that our merit lies in seeking, not in possessing; that it is a duty to follow what seems to us true, without a fear lest it should not be true; that it may be a gain to succeed, and can be no harm to fail; that we may take up and lay down opinions at pleasure; that belief belongs to the mere intellect, not to the heart also; that we may safely trust to ourselves in matters of Faith, and need no other guide,--this is the principle of philosophies and heresies, which is very weakness.
Two opinions encounter; each may be abstractedly true; or again, each may be a subtle, comprehensive doctrine, vigorous, elastic, expansive, various; one is held as a matter of indifference, the other as a matter of life and death; one is held by the intellect only, the other also by the heart: it is plain which of the two must succumb to the other. Such was the conflict of Christianity with the old established Paganism, which was almost dead before Christianity appeared; with the Oriental Mysteries, flitting wildly to and fro like spectres; with the Gnostics, who made Knowledge all in all, despised the many, and called Catholics mere children in the Truth; with the Neo-platonists, men of literature, pedants, visionaries, or courtiers; with the Manichees, who professed to seek Truth by Reason, not by Faith; with the fluctuating teachers of the school of Antioch, the time-serving Eusebians, and the reckless versatile Arians; with the fanatic Montanists and harsh Novatians, who shrank from the Catholic doctrine, without power to propagate their own. These sects had no stay or consistence, yet they contained elements of truth amid their error, and had Christianity been as they, it might have resolved into them; but it had that hold of the truth which gave its teaching a gravity, a directness, a consistency, a sternness, and a force, to which its rivals for the most part were strangers. It could not call evil good, or good evil, because it discerned the difference between them; it could not make light of what was so solemn, or desert what was so solid. Hence, in the collision, it broke in pieces its antagonists, and divided the spoils.
This was but another form of the spirit that made martyrs. Dogmatism was in teaching, what confession was in act. Each was the same strong principle of life in a different aspect, distinguishing the faith which was displayed in it from the world's philosophies on the one side, and the world's religions on the other. The heathen sects and the heresies of Christian history were dissolved by the breath of opinion which made them; paganism shuddered and died at the very sight of the sword of persecution, which it had itself unsheathed. Intellect and force were applied as tests both upon the divine and upon the human work; they prevailed with the human, they did but become instruments of the Divine. "No one," says St. Justin, "has so believed Socrates as to die for the doctrine which he taught." "No one was ever found undergoing death for faith in the sun."[359:1] Thus Christianity grew in its proportions, gaining aliment and medicine from all that it came near, yet preserving its original type, from its perception and its love of what had been revealed once for all and was no private imagination.
There are writers who refer to the first centuries of the Church as a time when opinion was free, and the conscience exempt from the obligation or temptation to take on trust what it had not proved; and that, apparently on the mere ground that the series of great theological decisions did not commence till the fourth. This seems to be M. Guizot's meaning when he says that Christianity "in the early ages was a belief, a sentiment, an individual conviction;"[360:1] that "the Christian society appears as a pure association of men animated by the same sentiments and professing the same creed. The first Christians," he continues, "assembled to enjoy together the same emotions, the same religious convictions. We do not find any doctrinal system established, any form of discipline or of laws, or any body of magistrates."[360:2] What can be meant by saying that Christianity had no magistrates in the earliest ages?--but, any how, in statements such as these the distinction is not properly recognized between a principle and its exhibitions and instances, even if the fact were as is represented. The principle indeed of Dogmatism developes into Councils in the course of time; but it was active, nay sovereign from the first, in every part of Christendom. A conviction that truth was one; that it was a gift from without, a sacred trust, an inestimable blessing; that it was to be reverenced, guarded, defended, transmitted; that its absence was a grievous want, and its loss an unutterable calamity; and again, the stern words and acts of St. John, of Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenæus, Clement, Tertullian, and Origen;--all this is quite consistent with perplexity or mistake as to what was truth in particular cases, in what way doubtful questions were to be decided, or what were the limits of the Revelation. Councils and Popes are the guardians and instruments of the dogmatic principle: they are not that principle themselves; they presuppose the principle; they are summoned into action at the call of the principle, and the principle might act even before they had their legitimate place, and exercised a recognized power, in the movements of the Christian body.
The instance of Conscience, which has already served us in illustration, may assist us here. What Conscience is in the history of an individual mind, such was the dogmatic principle in the history of Christianity. Both in the one case and the other, there is the gradual formation of a directing power out of a principle. The natural voice of Conscience is far more imperative in testifying and enforcing a rule of duty, than successful in determining that duty in particular cases. It acts as a messenger from above, and says that there is a right and a wrong, and that the right must be followed; but it is variously, and therefore erroneously, trained in the instance of various persons. It mistakes error for truth; and yet we believe that on the whole, and even in those cases where it is ill-instructed, if its voice be diligently obeyed, it will gradually be cleared, simplified, and perfected, so that minds, starting differently will, if honest, in course of time converge to one and the same truth. I do not hereby imply that there is indistinctness so great as this in the theology of the first centuries; but so far is plain, that the early Church and Fathers exercised far more a ruler's than a doctor's office: it was the age of Martyrs, of acting not of thinking. Doctors succeeded Martyrs, as light and peace of conscience follow upon obedience to it; yet, even before the Church had grown into the full measure of its doctrines, it was rooted in its principles.
So far, however, may be granted to M. Guizot, that even principles were not so well understood and so carefully handled at first, as they were afterwards. In the early period, we see traces of a conflict, as well as of a variety, in theological elements, which were in course of combination, but which required adjustment and management before they could be used with precision as one. In a thousand instances of a minor character, the statements of the early Fathers are but tokens of the multiplicity of openings which the mind of the Church was making into the treasure-house of Truth; real openings, but incomplete or irregular. Nay, the doctrines even of the heretical bodies are indices and anticipations of the mind of the Church. As the first step in settling a question of doctrine is to raise and debate it, so heresies in every age may be taken as the measure of the existing state of thought in the Church, and of the movement of her theology; they determine in what way the current is setting, and the rate at which it flows.
Thus, St. Clement may be called the representative of the eclectic element, and Tertullian of the dogmatic, neither element as yet being fully understood by Catholics; and Clement perhaps went too far in his accommodation to philosophy, and Tertullian asserted with exaggeration the immutability of the Creed. Nay, the two antagonist principles of dogmatism and assimilation are found in Tertullian alone, though with some deficiency of amalgamation, and with a greater leaning towards the dogmatic. Though the Montanists professed to pass over the subject of doctrine, it is chiefly in Tertullian's Montanistic works that his strong statements occur of the unalterableness of the Creed; and extravagance on the subject is not only in keeping with the stern and vehement temper of that Father, but with the general severity and harshness of his sect. On the other hand the very foundation of Montanism is development, though not of doctrine, yet of discipline and conduct. It is said that its founder professed himself the promised Comforter, through whom the Church was to be perfected; he provided prophets as organs of the new revelation, and called Catholics Psychici or animal. Tertullian distinctly recognizes even the process of development in one of his Montanistic works. After speaking of an innovation upon usage, which his newly revealed truth required, he proceeds, "Therefore hath the Lord sent the Paraclete, that, since human infirmity could not take all things in at once, discipline might be gradually directed, regulated and brought to perfection by the Lord's Vicar, the Holy Ghost. 'I have yet many things to say to you,' He saith, &c. What is this dispensation of the Paraclete but this, that discipline is directed, Scriptures opened, intellect reformed, improvements effected? Nothing can take place without age, and all things wait their time. In short, the Preacher says 'There is a time for all things.' Behold the creature itself gradually advancing to fruit. At first there is a seed, and a stalk springs out of the seed, and from the stalk bursts out a shrub, and then its branches and foliage grow vigorous, and all that we mean by a tree is unfolded; then there is the swelling of the bud, and the bud is resolved into a blossom, and the blossom is opened into a fruit, and is for a while rudimental and unformed, till, by degrees following out its life, it is matured into mellowness of flavour. So too righteousness, (for there is the same God both of righteousness and of the creation,) was at first in its rudiments, a nature fearing God; thence, by means of Law and Prophets, it advanced into infancy; thence, by the gospel, it burst forth into its youth; and now by the Paraclete, it is fashioned into maturity."[363:1]
Not in one principle or doctrine only, but in its whole system, Montanism is a remarkable anticipation or presage of developments which soon began to show themselves in the Church, though they were not perfected for centuries after. Its rigid maintenance of the original Creed, yet its admission of a development, at least in the ritual, has just been instanced in the person of Tertullian. Equally Catholic in their principle, whether in fact or anticipation, were most of the other peculiarities of Montanism: its rigorous fasts, its visions, its commendation of celibacy and martyrdom, its contempt of temporal goods, its penitential discipline, and its maintenance of a centre of unity. The doctrinal determinations and the ecclesiastical usages of the middle ages are the true fulfilment of its self-willed and abortive attempts at precipitating the growth of the Church. The favour shown to it for a while by Pope Victor is an evidence of its external resemblance to orthodoxy; and the celebrated Martyrs and Saints in Africa, in the beginning of the third century, Perpetua and Felicitas, or at least their Acts, betoken that same peculiar temper of religion, which, when cut off from the Church a few years afterwards, quickly degenerated into a heresy. A parallel instance occurs in the case of the Donatists. They held a doctrine on the subject of Baptism similar to that of St. Cyprian: "Vincentius Lirinensis," says Gibbon, referring to Tillemont's remarks on that resemblance, "has explained why the Donatists are eternally burning with the devil, while St. Cyprian reigns in heaven with Jesus Christ."[364:1] And his reason is intelligible: it is, says Tillemont, "as St. Augustine often says, because the Donatists had broken the bond of peace and charity with the other Churches, which St. Cyprian had preserved so carefully."[364:2]
These are specimens of the raw material, as it may be called, which, whether as found in individual Fathers within the pale of the Church, or in heretics external to it, she had the power, by means of the continuity and firmness of her principles, to convert to her own uses. She alone has succeeded in thus rejecting evil without sacrificing the good, and in holding together in one things which in all other schools are incompatible. Gnostic or Platonic words are found in the inspired theology of St. John; to the Platonists Unitarian writers trace the doctrine of our Lord's divinity; Gibbon the idea of the Incarnation to the Gnostics. The Gnostics too seem first to have systematically thrown the intellect upon matters of faith; and the very term "Gnostic" has been taken by Clement to express his perfect Christian. And, though ascetics existed from the beginning, the notion of a religion higher than the Christianity of the many, was first prominently brought forward by the Gnostics, Montanists, Novatians, and Manichees. And while the prophets of the Montanists prefigure the Church's Doctors, and their professed inspiration her infallibility, and their revelations her developments, and the heresiarch himself is the unsightly anticipation of St. Francis, in Novatian again we discern the aspiration of nature after such creations of grace as St. Benedict or St. Bruno. And so the effort of Sabellius to complete the enunciation of the mystery of the Ever-blessed Trinity failed: it became a heresy; grace would not be constrained; the course of thought could not be forced;--at length it was realized in the true Unitarianism of St. Augustine.
Doctrine too is percolated, as it were, through different minds, beginning with writers of inferior authority in the Church, and issuing at length in the enunciation of her Doctors. Origen, Tertullian, nay Eusebius and the Antiochenes, supply the materials, from which the Fathers have wrought out comments or treatises. St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil digested into form the theological principles of Origen; St. Hilary and St. Ambrose are both indebted to the same great writer in their interpretations of Scripture; St. Ambrose again has taken his comment on St. Luke from Eusebius, and certain of his Tracts from Philo; St. Cyprian called Tertullian his Master; and traces of Tertullian, in his almost heretical treatises, may be detected in the most finished sentences of St. Leo. The school of Antioch, in spite of the heretical taint of various of its Masters, formed the genius of St. Chrysostom. And the Apocryphal gospels have contributed many things for the devotion and edification of Catholic believers.[366:1]
The deep meditation which seems to have been exercised by the Fathers on points of doctrine, the disputes and turbulence yet lucid determination which characterize the Councils, the indecision of Popes, are all in different ways, at least when viewed together, portions and indications of the same process. The theology of the Church is no random combination of various opinions, but a diligent, patient working out of one doctrine from many materials. The conduct of Popes, Councils, Fathers, betokens the slow, painful, anxious taking up of new truths into an existing body of belief. St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Leo are conspicuous for the repetition _in terminis_ of their own theological statements; on the contrary, it has been observed of the heterodox Tertullian, that his works "indicate no ordinary fertility of mind in that he so little repeats himself or recurs to favourite thoughts, as is frequently the case even with the great St. Augustine."[366:2]
Here we see the difference between originality of mind and the gift and calling of a Doctor in the Church; the holy Fathers just mentioned were intently fixing their minds on what they taught, grasping it more and more closely, viewing it on various sides, trying its consistency, weighing their own separate expressions. And thus if in some cases they were even left in ignorance, the next generation of teachers completed their work, for the same unwearied anxious process of thought went on. St. Gregory Nyssen finishes the investigations of St. Athanasius; St. Leo guards the polemical statements of St. Cyril. Clement may hold a purgatory, yet tend to consider all punishment purgatorial; St. Cyprian may hold the unsanctified state of heretics, but include in his doctrine a denial of their baptism; St. Hippolytus may believe in the personal existence of the Word from eternity, yet speak confusedly on the eternity of His Sonship; the Council of Antioch might put aside the Homoüsion, and the Council of Nicæa impose it; St. Hilary may believe in a purgatory, yet confine it to the day of judgment; St. Athanasius and other Fathers may treat with almost supernatural exactness the doctrine of our Lord's incarnation, yet imply, as far as words go, that He was ignorant viewed in His human nature; the Athanasian Creed may admit the illustration of soul and body, and later Fathers may discountenance it; St. Augustine might first be opposed to the employment of force in religion, and then acquiesce in it. Prayers for the faithful departed may be found in the early liturgies, yet with an indistinctness which included the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs in the same rank with the imperfect Christian whose sins were as yet unexpiated; and succeeding times might keep what was exact, and supply what was deficient. Aristotle might be reprobated by certain early Fathers, yet furnish the phraseology for theological definitions afterwards. And in a different subject-matter, St. Isidore and others might be suspicious of the decoration of Churches; St. Paulinus and St. Helena advance it. And thus we are brought on to dwell upon the office of grace, as well as of truth, in enabling the Church's creed to develope and to absorb without the risk of corruption.
§ 2. _The Assimilating Power of Sacramental Grace._
There is in truth a certain virtue or grace in the Gospel which changes the quality of doctrines, opinions, usages, actions, and personal characters when incorporated with it, and makes them right and acceptable to its Divine Author, whereas before they were either infected with evil, or at best but shadows of the truth. This is the principle, above spoken of, which I have called the Sacramental. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness," is an enunciation of the principle;--or, the declaration of the Apostle of the Gentiles, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." Thus it is that outward rites, which are but worthless in themselves, lose their earthly character and become Sacraments under the Gospel; circumcision, as St. Paul says, is carnal and has come to an end, yet Baptism is a perpetual ordinance, as being grafted upon a system which is grace and truth. Elsewhere, he parallels, while he contrasts, "the cup of the Lord" and "the cup of devils," in this respect, that to partake of either is to hold communion with the source from which it comes; and he adds presently, that "we have been all made to drink into one spirit." So again he says, no one is justified by the works of the old Law; while both he implies, and St. James declares, that Christians are justified by works of the New Law. Again he contrasts the exercises of the intellect as exhibited by heathen and Christian. "Howbeit," he says, after condemning heathen wisdom, "we speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world;" and it is plain that nowhere need we look for more glowing eloquence, more distinct profession of reasoning, more careful assertion of doctrine, than is to be found in the Apostle's writings.
In like manner when the Jewish exorcists attempted to "call over them which had evil spirits the Name of the Lord Jesus," the evil spirit professed not to know them, and inflicted on them a bodily injury; on the other hand, the occasion of this attempt of theirs was a stupendous instance or type, in the person of St. Paul, of the very principle I am illustrating. "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." The grace given him was communicable, diffusive; an influence passing from him to others, and making what it touched spiritual, as enthusiasm may be or tastes or panics.
Parallel instances occur of the operation of this principle in the history of the Church, from the time that the Apostles were taken from it. St. Paul denounces distinctions in meat and drink, the observance of Sabbaths and holydays, and of ordinances, and the worship of Angels; yet Christians, from the first, were rigid in their stated fastings, venerated, as St. Justin tells us, the Angelic intelligences,[369:1] and established the observance of the Lord's day as soon as persecution ceased.
In like manner Celsus objects that Christians did not "endure the sight of temples, altars, and statues;" Porphyry, that "they blame the rites of worship, victims, and frankincense;" the heathen disputant in Minucius asks, "Why have Christians no altars, no temples, no conspicuous images?" and "no sacrifices;" and yet it is plain from Tertullian that Christians had altars of their own, and sacrifices and priests. And that they had churches is again and again proved by Eusebius who had seen "the houses of prayer levelled" in the Dioclesian persecution; from the history too of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, nay from Clement.[370:1] Again, St. Justin and Minucius speak of the form of the Cross in terms of reverence, quite inconsistent with the doctrine that external emblems of religion may not be venerated. Tertullian speaks of Christians signing themselves with it whatever they set about, whether they walk, eat, or lie down to sleep. In Eusebius's life of Constantine, the figure of the Cross holds a most conspicuous place; the Emperor sees it in the sky and is converted; he places it upon his standards; he inserts it into his own hand when he puts up his statue; wherever the Cross is displayed in his battles, he conquers; he appoints fifty men to carry it; he engraves it on his soldiers' arms; and Licinius dreads its power. Shortly after, Julian plainly accuses Christians of worshipping the wood of the Cross, though they refused to worship the _ancile_. In a later age the worship of images was introduced.[370:2]
The principle of the distinction, by which these observances were pious in Christianity and superstitious in paganism, is implied in such passages of Tertullian, Lactantius, and others, as speak of evil spirits lurking under the pagan statues. It is intimated also by Origen, who, after saying that Scripture so strongly "forbids temples, altars, and images," that Christians are "ready to go to death, if necessary, rather than pollute their notion of the God of all by any such transgression," assigns as a reason "that, as far as possible, they might not fall into the notion that images were gods." St. Augustine, in replying to Porphyry, is more express; "Those," he says, "who are acquainted with Old and New Testament do not blame in the pagan religion the erection of temples or institution of priesthoods, but that these are done to idols and devils. . . True religion blames in their superstitions, not so much their sacrificing, for the ancient saints sacrificed to the True God, as their sacrificing to false gods."[371:1] To Faustus the Manichee he answers, "We have some things in common with the gentiles, but our purpose is different."[371:2] And St. Jerome asks Vigilantius, who made objections to lights and oil, "Because we once worshipped idols, is that a reason why we should not worship God, for fear of seeming to address him with an honour like that which was paid to idols and then was detestable, whereas this is paid to Martyrs and therefore to be received?"[371:3]
Confiding then in the power of Christianity to resist the infection of evil, and to transmute the very instruments and appendages of demon-worship to an evangelical use, and feeling also that these usages had originally come from primitive revelations and from the instinct of nature, though they had been corrupted; and that they must invent what they needed, if they did not use what they found; and that they were moreover possessed of the very archetypes, of which paganism attempted the shadows; the rulers of the Church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class.
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus supplies the first instance on record of this economy. He was the Apostle of Pontus, and one of his methods for governing an untoward population is thus related by St. Gregory of Nyssa. "On returning," he says, "to the city, after revisiting the country round about, he increased the devotion of the people everywhere by instituting festive meetings in honour of those who had fought for the faith. The bodies of the Martyrs were distributed in different places, and the people assembled and made merry, as the year came round, holding festival in their honour. This indeed was a proof of his great wisdom . . . for, perceiving that the childish and untrained populace were retained in their idolatrous error by creature comforts, in order that what was of first importance should at any rate be secured to them, viz. that they should look to God in place of their vain rites, he allowed them to be merry, jovial, and gay at the monuments of the holy Martyrs, as if their behaviour would in time undergo a spontaneous change into greater seriousness and strictness, since faith would lead them to it; which has actually been the happy issue in that population, all carnal gratification having turned into a spiritual form of rejoicing."[372:1] There is no reason to suppose that the licence here spoken of passed the limits of harmless though rude festivity; for it is observable that the same reason, the need of holydays for the multitude, is assigned by Origen, St. Gregory's master, to explain the establishment of the Lord's Day also, and the Paschal and the Pentecostal festivals, which have never been viewed as unlawful compliances; and, moreover, the people were in fact eventually reclaimed from their gross habits by his indulgent policy, a successful issue which could not have followed an accommodation to what was sinful.
The example set by St. Gregory in an age of persecution was impetuously followed when a time of peace succeeded. In the course of the fourth century two movements or developments spread over the face of Christendom, with a rapidity characteristic of the Church; the one ascetic, the other ritual or ceremonial. We are told in various ways by Eusebius,[373:1] that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own. It is not necessary to go into a subject which the diligence of Protestant writers has made familiar to most of us. The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison,[373:2] are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.
The eighth book of Theodoret's work _Adversus Gentiles_, which is "On the Martyrs," treats so largely on the subject, that we must content ourselves with only a specimen of the illustrations which it affords, of the principle acted on by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. "Time, which makes all things decay," he says, speaking of the Martyrs, "has preserved their glory incorruptible. For as the noble souls of those conquerors traverse the heavens, and take part in the spiritual choirs, so their bodies are not consigned to separate tombs, but cities and towns divide them among them; and call them saviours of souls and bodies, and physicians, and honour them as the protectors and guardians of cities, and, using their intervention with the Lord of all, obtain through them divine gifts. And though each body be divided, the grace remains indivisible; and that small, that tiny particle is equal in power with the Martyr that hath never been dispersed about. For the grace which is ever blossoming distributes the gifts, measuring the bounty according to the faith of those who come for it.
"Yet not even this persuades you to celebrate their God, but ye laugh and mock at the honour which is paid them by all, and consider it a pollution to approach their tombs. But though all men made a jest of them, yet at least the Greeks could not decently complain, to whom belonged libations and expiations, and heroes and demi-gods and deified men. To Hercules, though a man . . . and compelled to serve Eurystheus, they built temples, and constructed altars, and offered sacrifices in honour, and allotted feasts; and that, not Spartans only and Athenians, but the whole of Greece and the greater part of Europe."
Then, after going through the history of many heathen deities, and referring to the doctrine of the philosophers about great men, and to the monuments of kings and emperors, all of which at once are witnesses and are inferior, to the greatness of the Martyrs, he continues: "To their shrines we come, not once or twice a year or five times, but often do we hold celebrations; often, nay daily, do we present hymns to their Lord. And the sound in health ask for its preservation, and those who struggle with any disease for a release from their sufferings; the childless for children, the barren to become mothers, and those who enjoy the blessing for its safe keeping. Those too who are setting out for a foreign land beg that the Martyrs may be their fellow-travellers and guides of the journey; those who have come safe back acknowledge the grace, not coming to them as to gods, but beseeching them as divine men, and asking their intercession. And that they obtain what they ask in faith, their dedications openly witness, in token of their cure. For some bring likenesses of eyes, others of feet, others of hands; some of gold, others of silver; and their Lord accepts even the small and cheap, measuring the gift by the offerer's ability. . . . . Philosophers and Orators are consigned to oblivion, and kings and captains are not known even by name to the many; but the names of the Martyrs are better known to all than the names of those dearest to them. And they make a point of giving them to their children, with a view of gaining for them thereby safety and protection. . . . Nay, of the so-called gods, so utterly have the sacred places been destroyed, that not even their outline remains, nor the shape of their altars is known to men of this generation, while their materials have been dedicated to the shrines of the Martyrs. For the Lord has introduced His own dead in place of your gods; of the one He hath made a riddance, on the other He hath conferred their honours. For the Pandian festival, the Diasia, and the Dionysia, and your other such, we have the feasts of Peter, of Paul, of Thomas, of Sergius, of Marcellus, of Leontius, of Panteleëmon, of Antony, of Maurice, and of the other Martyrs; and for that old-world procession, and indecency of work and word, are held modest festivities, without intemperance, or revel, or laughter, but with divine hymns, and attendance on holy discourses and prayers, adorned with laudable tears." This was the view of the "Evidences of Christianity" which a Bishop of the fifth century offered for the conversion of unbelievers.
The introduction of Images was still later, and met with more opposition in the West than in the East. It is grounded on the same great principle which I am illustrating; and as I have given extracts from Theodoret for the developments of the fourth and fifth centuries, so will I now cite St. John Damascene in defence of the further developments of the eighth.
"As to the passages you adduce," he says to his opponents, "they abominate not the worship paid to our Images, but that of the Greeks, who made them gods. It needs not therefore, because of the absurd use of the Greeks, to abolish our use which is so pious. Enchanters and wizards use adjurations, so does the Church over its Catechumens; but they invoke devils, and she invokes God against devils. Greeks dedicate images to devils, and call them gods; but we to True God Incarnate, and to God's servants and friends, who drive away the troops of devils."[376:1] Again, "As the holy Fathers overthrew the temples and shrines of the devils, and raised in their places shrines in the names of Saints and we worship them, so also they overthrew the images of the devils, and in their stead raised images of Christ, and God's Mother, and the Saints. And under the Old Covenant, Israel neither raised temples in the name of men, nor was memory of man made a festival; for, as yet, man's nature was under a curse, and death was condemnation, and therefore was lamented, and a corpse was reckoned unclean and he who touched it; but now that the Godhead has been combined with our nature, as some life-giving and saving medicine, our nature has been glorified and is trans-elemented into incorruption. Wherefore the death of Saints is made a feast, and temples are raised to them, and Images are painted. . . For the Image is a triumph, and a manifestation, and a monument in memory of the victory of those who have done nobly and excelled, and of the shame of the devils defeated and overthrown." Once more, "If because of the Law thou dost forbid Images, you will soon have to sabbatize and be circumcised, for these ordinances the Law commands as indispensable; nay, to observe the whole law, and not to keep the festival of the Lord's Pascha out of Jerusalem: but know that if you keep the Law, Christ hath profited you nothing. . . . . But away with this, for whoever of you are justified in the Law have fallen from grace."[377:1]
It is quite consistent with the tenor of these remarks to observe, or to allow, that real superstitions have sometimes obtained in parts of Christendom from its intercourse with the heathen; or have even been admitted, or all but admitted, though commonly resisted strenuously, by authorities in the Church, in consequence of the resemblance which exists between the heathen rites and certain portions of her ritual. As philosophy has at times corrupted her divines, so has paganism corrupted her worshippers; and as the more intellectual have been involved in heresy, so have the ignorant been corrupted by superstition. Thus St. Chrysostom is vehement against the superstitious usages which Jews and Gentiles were introducing among Christians at Antioch and Constantinople. "What shall we say," he asks in one place, "about the amulets and bells which are hung upon the hands, and the scarlet woof, and other things full of such extreme folly; when they ought to invest the child with nothing else save the protection of the Cross? But now that is despised which hath converted the whole world, and given the sore wound to the devil, and overthrown all his power; while the thread, and the woof, and the other amulets of that kind, are entrusted with the child's safety." After mentioning further superstitions, he proceeds, "Now that among Greeks such things should be done, is no wonder; but among the worshippers of the Cross, and partakers in unspeakable mysteries, and professors of such morality, that such unseemliness should prevail, this is especially to be deplored again and again."[378:1]
And in like manner St. Augustine suppressed the feasts called Agapæ, which had been allowed the African Christians on their first conversion. "It is time," he says, "for men who dare not deny that they are Christians, to begin to live according to the will of Christ, and, now being Christians, to reject what was only allowed that they might become Christians." The people objected the example of the Vatican Church at Rome, where such feasts were observed every day; St. Augustine answered, "I have heard that it has been often prohibited, but the place is far off from the Bishop's abode (the Lateran), and in so large a city there is a multitude of carnal persons, especially of strangers who resort daily thither."[378:2] And in like manner it certainly is possible that the consciousness of the sanctifying power in Christianity may have acted as a temptation to sins, whether of deceit or of violence; as if the habit or state of grace destroyed the sinfulness of certain acts, or as if the end justified the means.
It is but enunciating in other words the principle we are tracing, to say that the Church has been entrusted with the dispensation of grace. For if she can convert heathen appointments into spiritual rites and usages, what is this but to be in possession of a treasure, and to exercise a discretionary power in its application? Hence there has been from the first much variety and change, in the Sacramental acts and instruments which she has used. While the Eastern and African Churches baptized heretics on their reconciliation, the Church of Rome, as the Catholic Church since, maintained that imposition of hands was sufficient, if their prior baptism had been formally correct. The ceremony of imposition of hands was used on various occasions with a distinct meaning; at the rite of Catechumens, on admitting heretics, in Confirmation, in Ordination, in Benediction. Baptism was sometimes administered by immersion, sometimes by infusion. Infant Baptism was not at first enforced as afterwards. Children or even infants were admitted to the Eucharist in the African Church and the rest of the West, as now in the Greek. Oil had various uses, as for healing the sick, or as in the rite of extreme unction. Indulgences in works or in periods of penance, had a different meaning, according to circumstances. In like manner the Sign of the Cross was one of the earliest means of grace; then holy seasons, and holy places, and pilgrimage to them; holy water; prescribed prayers, or other observances; garments, as the scapular, and sacred vestments; the rosary; the crucifix. And for some wise purpose doubtless, such as that of showing the power of the Church in the dispensation of divine grace, as well as the perfection and spirituality of the Eucharistic Presence, the Chalice is in the West withheld from all but the celebrant in the Holy Eucharist.
Since it has been represented as if the power of assimilation, spoken of in this Chapter, is in my meaning nothing more than a mere accretion of doctrines or rites from without, I am led to quote the following passage in further illustration of it from my "Essays," vol. ii. p. 231:--
"The phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:--That great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth is, in its rudiments or in its separate parts, to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connexion of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honours to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it,--'These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:' we, on the contrary, prefer to say, 'these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.' That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; 'sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;' claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world, and, in this sense, as in others, to 'suck the milk of the Gentiles and to suck the breast of kings.'
"How far in fact this process has gone, is a question of history; and we believe it has before now been grossly exaggerated and misrepresented by those who, like Mr. Milman, have thought that its existence told against Catholic doctrine; but so little antecedent difficulty have we in the matter, that we could readily grant, unless it were a question of fact not of theory, that Balaam was an Eastern sage, or a Sibyl was inspired, or Solomon learnt of the sons of Mahol, or Moses was a scholar of the Egyptian hierophants. We are not distressed to be told that the doctrine of the angelic host came from Babylon, while we know that they did sing at the Nativity; nor that the vision of a Mediator is in Philo, if in very deed He died for us on Calvary. Nor are we afraid to allow, that, even after His coming, the Church has been a treasure-house, giving forth things old and new, casting the gold of fresh tributaries into her refiner's fire, or stamping upon her own, as time required it, a deeper impress of her Master's image.
"The distinction between these two theories is broad and obvious. The advocates of the one imply that Revelation was a single, entire, solitary act, or nearly so, introducing a certain message; whereas we, who maintain the other, consider that Divine teaching has been in fact, what the analogy of nature would lead us to expect, 'at sundry times and in divers manners,' various, complex, progressive, and supplemental of itself. We consider the Christian doctrine, when analyzed, to appear, like the human frame, 'fearfully and wonderfully made;' but they think it some one tenet or certain principles given out at one time in their fulness, without gradual enlargement before Christ's coming or elucidation afterwards. They cast off all that they also find in Pharisee or heathen; we conceive that the Church, like Aaron's rod, devours the serpents of the magicians. They are ever hunting for a fabulous primitive simplicity; we repose in Catholic fulness. They seek what never has been found; we accept and use what even they acknowledge to be a substance. They are driven to maintain, on their part, that the Church's doctrine was never pure; we say that it can never be corrupt. We consider that a divine promise keeps the Church Catholic from doctrinal corruption; but on what promise, or on what encouragement, they are seeking for their visionary purity does not appear."
[359:1] Justin, Apol. ii. 10, Tryph. 121.
[360:1] Europ. Civ. p. 56, tr.
[360:2] p. 58.
[363:1] De Virg. Vol. 1.
[364:1] Hist. t. 3, p. 312.
[364:2] Mem. Eccl. t. 6, p. 83.
[366:1] Galland. t. 3, p. 673, note 3.
[366:2] Vid. Preface to Oxford Transl. of Tertullian, where the character of his mind is admirably drawn out.
[369:1] Infra, pp. 411-415, &c.
[370:1] Orig. c. Cels. vii. 63, viii. 17 (vid. not. Bened. in loc.), August. Ep. 102, 16; Minuc. F. 10, and 32; Tertull. de Orat. fin. ad Uxor. i. fin. Euseb. Hist. viii. 2; Clem. Strom. vii. 6, p. 846.
[370:2] Tertull. de Cor. 3; Just. Apol. i. 65; Minuc. F. 20; Julian ap. Cyr. vi. p. 194, Spanh.
[371:1] Epp. 102, 18.
[371:2] Contr. Faust. 20, 23.
[371:3] Lact. ii. 15, 16; Tertull. Spect. 12; Origen, c. Cels. vii. 64-66, August. Ep. 102, 18; Contr. Faust. xx. 23; Hieron. c. Vigil. 8.
[372:1] Vit. Thaum. p. 1006.
[373:1] V. Const. iii. 1, iv. 23, &c.
[373:2] According to Dr. E. D. Clarke, Travels, vol. i. p. 352.
[376:1] De Imag. i. 24.
[377:1] Ibid. ii. 11. 14.
[378:1] Hom. xii. in Cor. 1, Oxf. Tr.
[378:2] Fleury, Hist. xx. 11, Oxf. Tr.
Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 1: Doctrinal Developments Viewed in Themselves
Chapter 1: On the Development of Ideas
Chapter 2: On the Antecedent Argument in Behalf of Developments in Christian Doctrine
Chapter 3: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
Chapter 4: Instances in Illustration
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 2: Doctrinal Developments Viewed Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions
Chapter 5: Genuine Developments Contrasted with Corruptions
Chapter 6: Application of the Seven Notes to the Existing Developments of Christian Doctrine
Chapter 7: Application of the Second Note of a True Development
Chapter 8: Application of the Third Note of a True Development
Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
Chapter 10: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development
Chapter 11: Application of the Sixth Note of a True Development
Chapter 12: Application of the Seventh Note of a True Development
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