Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

to His miracles (and that not only in the Fourth Gospel), and sees in them the beginning of the kingdom of God. Hence we can readily understand that the miracle of the Resurrection must needs serve as the foundation of the Christian faith. Whereas, amongst the Jews, miracles were intended as proof of doctrine; amongst the Gentiles they bear witness to the manifestation of a God (Renan); and just as it twice happened in St Paul's journeys, that he was on the point of receiving divine honours because of his miracles-once when he healed the lame man, and again when the viper's bite did him no harm—so Jesus was actually regarded by the Gentile Christians as God, because of the miracles that were related of Him. The theology of miracles occupies a higher position in the New Testament than one is usually inclined to accord to it, and the Divinity of Christ is bound up with this theology.

Nowhere is the difference between modern and early Christian modes of thought seen in so clear a light as in the fact that the stories of the miracles of the New Testament, which were once one of the chief proofs of the truths of our religion, are themselves to-day the object of long apologetic writings.

Like nature without, so the human mind within is a mystery to the early Christians.

Here, too, they have no idea of a fixed sequence of events, but everything happens independently and arbitrarily. It is true that Jesus, and after Him the theologians Paul and John, just touched upon the thought of an inner necessity, but it was only by the way, and led to no further consequences.

The belief in the freedom of man under all circumstances and

at all times is for all that presupposed by the New Testament authors without an exception. Jesus confirmed this belief by the great demand that He made upon man, and it is the very life of Christian missionary work. But this belief is simply a special instance of belief in the miraculous.

But the true domain of mystery lies in the real inner life of the soul, in the unconscious with its enigmatic utterances. The miraculous itself is contained in every human being, and can manifest itself suddenly in ecstatic conditions. Unchecked by any Philistine spirit of rationalism, the early Christians bestowed upon all manifestations of the mysterious inner life of the soul a far more serious and more impartial attention than we moderns, who are often inclined to be somewhat too precipitate in determining the limits of that which is possible. In those days men were at once more childlike and more dogmatic in their explanation of mental processes. Even though they built up no system, the conception prevailed amongst them that these phenomena were the manifestations of some external agent. It was not we ourselves, but a demon, an angel, or a spirit that was the efficient cause; sometimes this agent is conceived of as intimately connected with our soul, but at others he is an entirely extraneous being that has forced his way into our body from without through one of its many pores, and now dwells within it and rules over it. Here we have the origin of the conception, not only of demoniacal possession, but of that of the Holy Spirit, whose operations, save that they work the will of a beneficent Deity, are pictured as analogous to those of the demons. Speaking with tongues and prophesying, the seeing of visions and the state of entrancement, the working of miracles, are above all else the manifestations of this one and the same spirit, as they are presented to us in chaps. xii. and xiv. of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, our principal New Testament authority on this subject. The conception of the double appears rudely materialized in St Peter's conversation with Rhoda, and then in a lovely form in Jesus' words concerning the little children's angels, and especially spiritualized in that passage in St Paul where God's Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are the children of God. We trace these naïve conceptions in theological trains of thought: the whole dogma of the Atonement, as well as, on the other hand, that of Inspiration, stand and fall in their ecclesiastical shape with this childlike psychology of the ancient world. Where stand face to face with the phenomena of the unconscious in man and marvel, and yet even here at least suspect natural causation, the early Christians at once presupposed the supernatural agency of a good or of an evil spirit.

We may here mention in passing that in like manner the anthropology of the early Christian laity -possibly not that of the theologian St Paul-maintains its close connection with the popular beliefs of the ancient world, when it still conceives of matter and spirit as in some manner merged in each other. The soul, the spirit itself, is something corporeal, though far more sublimated than our flesh and blood. The rich man in Hades sees, hears, suffers thirst and torments in the flames, although his body already

we

rests in the grave.

At the foundation of the rite of Baptism lies the conception, though possibly no longer consciously, that the water cleanses the soul together with the body.

How strange at bottom do the words of Jesus sound to our modern modes of thought ! “ Be not over-anxious for the soul what ye shall eat and drink, nor for the body wherewith ye shall be clothed.” The appearances, too, of the risen Master, with their hybrid character of visionary and grossly material features, can be more readily understood from the point of view of this anthropology, which is as yet not strictly dualistic. It is true that St Paul, as a clear thinker, endeavoured to arrive at a distinct separation of body and soul, but after all his efforts he only reaches the conception of the spiritual body, which still betrays his original starting-point.

After external nature and the mystery of the soul, we come finally to the third great wonderland, the domain of the Spirit. That which has become for us moderns a dead formula, or else the play of the freest fancy, was the deepest of all realities that regulated life for the age of early Christianity. Jews and Persians did, it is true, divide spirits according to an ethical standard into angels and demons, but as Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, the operations of the two groups are often surprisingly similar; and finally, the original contrast of harmful and helpful spirits can be plainly traced even in the New Testament itself. The spirits fill the whole of the upper world, the realm of the air, and yet they live at the same time upon earth and among men.

All kinds of diseases-even fevers or

of men.

dumbness, but in the highest degree, of course, mental diseases—are caused by them. A spirit can enter into a man with seven others or even with a whole legion. The expulsion of these inmates is itself the effect of a spiritual process, the means employed being fasting and disenchantment. The helpful spirits, on the other hand, are welcome saviours in every kind of distress, and mediators between men and the highest God. Now, no one lived in the midst of these conceptions regarding the world of spirits with a more childlike simplicity of belief than Jesus Himself. He fights with Satan, and with the hosts of Beelzebub in the solitude of the wilderness, and in the midst of the habitations

He is under the painful necessity of seeing His most trusted follower become the emissary of Satan. St Paul is ever being parted from God by dominions, principalities and powers, and it is in defiance of them that he clings so fast to God's love. In one of his last letters he tells us of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh even now in the children of disobedience, and he thus summons the Christian to the last struggle of all, not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The weapons which he there recommends are the grand Christian substitutes for the ancient spells and charms. It was only by assuming the existence of demons that the early Christian Church could explain the might of Rome and the power of the heathen world. And everywhere the clear distinction between good and bad spirits rests

« PreviousContinue »