Slike stranica



JULY, 1905.*



Reden und Aufsätze. Von ADOLF HARNACK. Two volumes, pp. 728. Gieszen: T. Ricker'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung. 1904.


HE idea of the reunion of Christendom has a not unnatural attraction for many minds. The narrowness of modern sects contrasts unfavourably with the spaciousness of mediæval Christianity; and the particularism of national Churches, at best a compromise between the two, shares the common fate of compromises. Compromise is the creature of circumstance: when circumstances change, and it has served its purpose, it falls into disrepute. Reunion, however, in the shape in which it presents itself to enthusiasts, belongs rather to the realm of vision than to that of reality: the reduction of the various elements which compose the Christianity of to-day to one external polity is neither to be expected nor desired. We can scarcely conceive the Churches rallying either to the Book of Common Prayer or to the Westminster Confession: while the Papacy, which, under favourable circumstances, might have served as a centre, has isolated itself. Imposing as is its historical bulk, and numerous as are its adherents, its growth is arrested; it has lost touch with life. The times have changed, and not the world only but the Church has changed with them; the unity of Christendom must be conceived under a new form. Undivided, by which is meant medieval, Christianity stood in essential relation to mediæval society; the Holy Roman Empire was the condition and complement of the Holy Roman Church. The disappearance of the former brought about, if * All rights reserved.



not the disappearance, certainly the transformation of the latter: it became one among many Churches; it was no longer the One Church. And, this apart, the modern State and, in general, modern society are more highly organised than ancient or mediæval; and the balance between the several forces that constitute them is correspondingly more delicate. Religion is one, but only one, of these forces: nor must it be forgotten that, admirable as they may be on their religious side, the aims of religious corporations are seldom purely religious. An international religious organisation would too easily gain an undue preponderance, and become a menace to the harmony and developement of society as a whole.

But if corporate reunion is a dream, it is one which it is good, if not to dream, at least to have dreamed: like the Messias hope in Jewish history, the idea which it represents has a lasting value and may be realised outside the limitations of its form. It is not only that there is a soul of the Church, an interior unity among good men however externally separated, but that a basis of positive fact is being arrived at with regard to which experts are at one, and on which the superstructure of theological opinion, take what shape it will, must be built. Hence two permanent gains: the establishment of a common foundation, and the limitation of possible divergence; history is a canon to which variations must conform and by reference to which they must be tested. It is obvious, for example, that the recognition of the part played in early Christianity by the belief in the Parousia affects the Catholic doctrine of the Church, and a historic appreciation of Paulinism the Protestant conception of sin and justification. It is impossible to draw a hard and fast line between history and dogma: either the facts must be manipulated to meet the theory, or the theory stretched to cover the facts. As history becomes better known, the former alternative becomes impossible; and theologians are reluctantly driven back on the latter. It is difficult to foresee how far it will take them-further, perhaps, than they suspect; but, for the time, it is in the ascendant. What has been the result? Not a fusion of the Churches. Catholics continue Catholics and Protestants Protestants; nor is it likely that these historical distinctions will be effaced. But we are coming to see that they lie on the surface of things, and are to a great extent matter of time, place, and temperament; that the real lines of division lie deeper, and are based on other considerations than these.

That this is so is due mainly to criticism, and in particular to the historical criticism of the last thirty years. The critic has a doubtful reputation in orthodox circles: criticism is-to borrow an expressive phrase from theologians— 'offensive to pious ears.' It destroys, it is thought, for destruction's sake; riding roughshod over tradition however venerable and sentiment however legitimate; substituting prose for romance, indifference for enthusiasm, taking the bloom from religion and the flavour from life. Well, critics are many, and it might be rash to assert that none have laid themselves open to charges of this kind. The detection of falsehood may become an end in itself-wrongly; for it is only in so far as we can replace it by truth that its detection is profitable; failing this, we do but substitute falsehood for falsehood: a new for the old wrong. Wer keine Ueberzeugung hat, lügt immer, er mag sagen was er will.'* Again there is a good as well as a bad opportunism. 'There are

' religious opinions, absurd in themselves, which cannot be 'surrendered without danger; because they have elicited 'conscientiousness, humility, and devotion; or because these 'virtues cling to them as the vine to the trellis.'†

Critics, however, are one thing; criticism is another: independent of the former, the latter pursues its path, elaborates its methods, and advances towards its end. The question of origins is, vital. What was Primitive Christianity? What was the soil in which it took root? What were the conditions under which it developed? The first step to an answer was to sift the material-to discriminate, to interpret, to digest. Before this work was taken in hand it lay unsorted-a confused mass of history and legend, text and commentary, representing the literature, the religion, the science, the folklore of the ancient world. It is a mistake to think only of the Middle Ages in this connection: the culture of antiquity was indeed in its decadence when Christianity became a power; but, such as it was, it passed over bodily into the Catholic Church. Hence her power over human nature: she represents not one past epoch, but the past as a whole. It was natural that the first results of this criticism should be wanting in finality. The yoke of tradition is so heavy that a certain limitation of view is inevitable in the generation that escapes from it; it is a later age that sees the past in its true colours, and appreciates it at its real worth. Those who have felt its † Ibid., 379.

* 'Reden und Aufsätze,' ii. 376.

burden resent it too keenly to be impartial. The Encyclopædists, for example, underestimated the complexity of the phenomena, conceiving as clear and simple what was in fact obscure and intricate: the Tübingen school, fruitful and epoch-making as it was, relied overmuch on formulas, and thought to open all locks with one key.

More, perhaps, than any one man, Professor Harnack represents the reaction against the inadequate hypotheses and premature conclusions that were current half a century ago. The nature of this reaction has been misunderstood. It has been argued in certain quarters that the earlier criticism has been refuted by the later; and that the traditional position, if not rehabilitated, is well on the way to rehabilitation. It is difficult to take such assertions seriously. The traditional position is as dead as the Ptolemaic astronomy: the idea of its resuscitation belongs to the world of dreams. The later criticism is in two respects, and two only, a reaction against the former: it has disposed once for all of the Voltairian legend that Christianity was the invention of a fraudulent priesthood; and it has assigned an earlier date to the canonical books of the New Testament, and generally to ecclesiastical dogma and institutions. Catholicism-by which is meant not Roman Catholicism only, but dogmatic and institutional Christianity as a whole-was not indeed the original form of Christianity, but it was a very early and, under the circumstances, an almost inevitable modification of it. There was a time when it was not-to borrow the Arian formula: but it is difficult to arrest this time; we catch it fleeting and on the wing. The rapidity and completeness of its transformation supply Catholic theologians with a weapon which they have not been slow to use with effect. Is it not inconceivable, from a religious point of view, that the Gospel should have been brought into the world to perish in a generation? and, from an historical, that it should have passed over into something so diametrically opposed to itself? Like begets like; but here it has begotten unlike: the birth is not in the nature of things. The Protestant who attempts the struggle for life in the medium of ecclesiastical history will find himself, says Newman, in an element in which he cannot breathe.


much he must grant, that if such a system of doctrine as 'he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as by a deluge, suddenly, silently, ' and without memorial. Strange anti-type, indeed, to the


early fortunes of Israel!-then the enemy was drowned, " and "Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore." But ' now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood "out of "the serpent's mouth," and covered all the witnesses, so 'that not even their dead bodies "lay in the streets of the city." . . . He must allow that the alleged deluge has 'done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up in the earth, mercilessly as itself ' was merciless.'* But theories, however plausible-and this theory is excessively plausible-must yield to facts: and the facts are as fatal to the theory for which Newman was arguing as to that which he denounced. Primitive, by which he meant Patristic, Christianity, if it was not precisely Papal, was certainly not Protestant: there he proved his case up to the hilt. Just as certainly, however, Primitive Christianity, in its genuine form, was not Catholic it was the common root from which Catholicism and Protestantism, with their various sects and offshoots, came. Nor-observe the sophism-was the note of identity lost in that of difference: striking as are the manifestations of the latter, the former subsists, and is 'spiritually dis'cerned.' The Gospel did not perish: planted in the heart of mankind, it took on new forms as mankind developed. Look at the history of religion from without, and you may miss it; from within, and, varying as is its setting, it is there. The relation of form to content is not one of opposition so much as of contrast: they are different, indeed, but interdependent. An anti-Origenist writer, Marcellus of Ancyra, in a notable phrase taken by Harnack as the motto for his 'Dogmengeschichte,' draws attention to the human element inseparable from the notion of dogma. Τὸ δόγματος ὄνομα τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης ἔχεται βουλῆς τε καὶ Yvwμns. The thought is capable of, and demands, a wider application. As dogma has a human origin, the Gospel, subsisting as it does among men, has a human side. The search for an abstract, that is an unrelated, Gospel is predestined to failure; there is no such Gospel; there never was, there never will be. The union of the Divine and the human is the key not only to the Person of Christ but to Christianity. The Gospel can The Gospel can enter into com'bination with all that is not sin. It did so with Greek

* Newman, Historical Sketches,' i. 417. Cf. 'Development of Christian Doctrine,' 7.

+ Apud Eusebium c. Marc. i. 4.

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