Page images
PDF
EPUB

it becomes a principle that outside of the brotherhood there is no safety, and that all good works—even the best—done by those without are worthless, or at most form a step towards the righteousness which can be reached by the faithful alone.

Enthusiasm and legality would appear to be contradictories, and yet the whole history of sects presents them as existing side by side. Often enthusiasm is but the sign that something new, something exuberant, would fain free itself from the confinement of narrow forms. Amongst the brethren the Gospel very soon became a new law. As soon as the living person Jesus was no longer in their midst, and yet at the very same time His authority was immensely increased through the resurrection, necessarily His every word, even His mode of life, came to be an authoritative standard. So the rules for the missionaries were gradually laid down after the pattern of Jesus' life, and often they proved to be fetters for the new circumstances. So, again, the new law was now formed for the early Christian community out of the most important of Jesus' sayings, and thereby words of temporary application often received a typical meaning for all generations. The Lord's Supper was celebrated with a scrupulous frequency, and finally exalted into a Sacrament founded by Jesus Himself. Perhaps, too, the example of Jesus legalized the idea of the reception into the Church by baptism. In the same way faith in the Messiah comes to be claimed as a dogma which must be believed.

It is no longer self-understood. In the long run, faith in an absent person can only be maintained by legal forms. Thus, then, this development of the sect implies at the same time a diminution of the first freshness, freedom, and originality, a gradual increase of that mere mechanical copying which belongs to the essence of a Church. The whole frame of mind altered. Mourning their Master, they began to fast again like the Pharisees and the disciples of John.

And yet this sect, sharply defined against the world, and with the Gospel for law, was the necessary vessel for the eternal treasure of redemption in Jesus. This was the first body which the soul of Jesus took unto itself in order thence to begin the long journey out from these narrow borders into the wide world. All reverence to the Divine in this brotherhood. Here within this small compass lies hidden the life that is destined to give the world comfort and to inspire it with strength. These rude but strong characters, at enmity with the world, their expectant gaze turned towards the eternal mansions, are called to be the conquerors of the world.

THE EARLY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.

CHAPTER X.

THE OLDEST THEOLOGY.

THE “Spirit' did not merely move men to talk with tongues in the early Church. He did not only kindle the glad ardour of sacrifice, and inflame the courage of the martyrs—he was likewise the creator of the oldest theology. New thoughts and pictures, and peculiar frames of mind, come into being amongst the brethren in contrast with the unbelieving world. They are felt to be new, and yet they make their way with an irresistible compulsion; they obtain authority as inspirations of the Spirit. They originate partly from enthusiastic laymen who by sudden illumination solve some dark mystery, partly from learned students of the Old Testament to whom deep insight into passages hitherto obscure is vouchsafed by the spirit that prevails in the community. If the formation of the new thoughts is thus guided by the Spirit, we can still more clearly recognize the Spirit as their ultimate source by the opposition of the world which lacks the gift of the same Spirit. Or, to express the same thing in the language of to-day, only he who shares to some extent in the enthusiasm of the disciples for Jesus can understand their thoughts about Him.

Now, as the Christian brotherhood was from the very first a lay brotherhood, their theology was bound to partake very largely of the lay character. A theology arises in which unbridled fancy and enthusiastic feelings have a greater share than the clear conceptions of the understanding, which is founded, not upon learning, at least not in the first place, which is ready to accept at once moods of the heart and mysterious echoes from the unconscious as divine revelations, and above all, takes the miraculous into account at every turn. These laymen often accept the contrast to the Scribes as their guiding line. Whenever any very artificial theory is advanced in the Gospels, which does not appeal to the heart, it is prefaced by the words “ The Scribes. say unto Him."

They themselves would by preference be reckoned among the babes and the foolish to whom God has revealed that which has remained hidden from the prudent and the wise. This contrast, however, soon ceases to be as complete as it was at first. In its teachers the brotherhood acquired a learned element which differed from the rabbis only by its readiness to enter into the spirit of the sect.

The special service which these teachers rendered to the community was the unsealing of the treasures of the whole of the Old Testament, which had otherwise remained a closed book for the laity, even were it only by reason of the difficulties presented by the language in which it was written. But they were also the first to borrow from the Jewish professional

[ocr errors]

theologians, and introduced from thence into the lay theology anticipating St Paul herein all manner of speculations and mystic doctrines as well as the whole apparatus of legal conceptions. Between these two elements—the lay and the theologicalthere were, of course, many transitional stages, and for this reason alone it would be impossible to arrive at any certain differentiation.

There were really two different motives at work leading to the formation of this earliest theology. On the one hand, the personality of Jesus Himself challenged reflection in the highest degree, almost more on account of that which lay hidden in the future, than on account of that which men already knew concerning it. They could not but feel impelled to examine in every direction and to attempt to understand His Messiahship, His death and His resurrection, and above all the mystery of His miraculous personality.

To this inner motive, the impression made by the personality of Jesus, there was at once added another

-the apologetic interest, the determination of the relation to Judaism. The object was to win Jews for Jesus, to defend Him against them. In both cases, whether it were attack or defence, the employment of Jewish words and conceptions, common to friend and foe alike, was obviously necessary. All the oldest Christian theology is therefore Jewish in the means which it employs.

The whole of the great impression made by Jesus culminates in the confession “Jesus is the Messiah.” This was likewise the chief point of contention with the Jews. If the Jews said, “He is not the Messiah

« PreviousContinue »