The Beginnings

Translated by John E. Steely and John J. O'Rourke

Let us sketch once more the state of affairs that had developed at the beginning of the second century. Orthodoxy, so it appeared to us, represented the form of Christianity supported by the majority in Rome -- a Christianity which, to be sure, still had to contend strenuously with the heretics throughout the entire second century and even longer. Indeed, in the middle of the second century the controversy rose to the intensity of a life and death struggle, the outcome of which has been of decisive significance not only for Rome but for Christianity in general. Already around the year 100 the Roman church had extended its influence to Corinth. In the course of the following decades the majority came to agree with Rome in some of the churches in Asia Minor, and a minority in some others -- as also elsewhere, in Philippi and Antioch. However, east of Phrygian Hierapolis we could hardly discern any traces of orthodoxy. Christianity and heresy were essentially synonymous there (see above, 80 f., 171-173).

Rome, on the other hand, was from the very beginning the center and chief source of power for the "orthodox" movement within Christianity. At the beginning of the second century, Christianity as a whole still is called the "catholic church" by Ignatius (Smyr. 8.2; cf. Martyrdom of Polycarp inscription, 8.1, 19.2), but by the end of that century it has become divided, as far as the Roman or Roman influenced outlook is concerned, into two distinct parts, the catholic (Muratorian Canon, lines 66, 69, 61 f.) or "great" (see above, 216 n. 36) church on the one hand and the massa perditionis [condemned multitude] of the heretics on the other. As a matter of course, [[ET 230]] Rome possessed the most tightly knit, perhaps the only more or less reliable anti-heretical majority, because it [232] was farthest removed from the oriental danger zone and in addition was by nature and custom least inclined or able to yield to seemingly fantastic oriental ways of thinking and oriental emotions that becloud clear thought. The sober sense of the Roman was not the proper seed-bed for Syrian or Egyptian syncretism.1 To be sure, his church also had to undergo the experience that all ungodliness flows together at the center of the world. But the appreciation for rules and regulations, law and order, asserted itself all the more and gained the upper hand. This extremely powerful organism, although under great stress, knew how to rid itself even of the highly dangerous poison of Marcionism in the middle of the second century. In view of the actual circumstances, the Roman did not demand the impossible;2 he was by nature fitted to be an organizer, and this gave him a sharp weapon for the battle against heresy. This weapon would prove to be all the more effective since, as we already know, from very early times Rome did not lack the necessary material means for carrying out its far-reaching plans.

Relying on the above and supported by the conviction that Rome [233] constituted the church founded in the world capital by the [[ET 221]] greatest apostles, Rome confidently extends itself eastward,3 tries to break down resistance and stretches a helping hand to those who are like-minded, drawing everything within reach into the well-knit structure of ecclesiastical organization. Heresy, with its different brands and peculiar configurations that scarcely even permitted it to be united in a loose association reflecting common purpose, had nothing corresponding to this by way of a similar offensive and defensive force with which to counter. Only a few heresiarchs such as Marcion were able to draw together their followers throughout the world into an ecclesiastical structure. But Marcion himself, the most dangerous of all, to a large measure paralyzed his own cause insofar as he excised with his own hand the source of natural increase for his community by his inexorable rejection of procreation.4 In the long run he simply had to drop out of the picture -- all the more since the organization and the concept of church offices which he advocated also ultimately failed to produce the same tight and efficient structure as developed in the church.5

A united front composed of Marcionites and Jewish Christians, Valentinians and Montanists, is inconceivable. Thus it was the destiny of the heresies, after they had lost their connection with the orthodox Christianity that remained, to stay divided and even to fight among themselves,6 and thus to be routed one after another by orthodoxy. The form of Christian belief and life which was successful was that supported by the strongest organization -- the form which was the most uniform and best suited for mass consumption -- in spite of the fact that, in my judgment, for a long time after the close of the post-apostolic age the sum total of consciously orthodox and anti-heretical Christians was numerically inferior to that of the "heretics." It was only natural that the compact ecclesiastical outlook with its concentrated energy would more and more draw to itself the great mass of those who at first, unclear and undecided, had stood in the middle resigned to a general sort of Christianity, and who under different circumstances could even have turned in the opposite direction. And [[ET 232]] it appears to be no less self-evident [234] that the Roman government finally came to recognize that the Christianity ecclesiastically organized from Rome was flesh of its flesh, came to unite with it, and thereby actually enabled it to achieve ultimate victory over unbelievers and heretics.

Something further must be taken into consideration in order to understand the victory of this kind of orthodoxy. The course of Christianity was directed toward the West from the very beginning. One could almost say that it was driven straight into the arms of Rome by its development. Many a crucial matter might have been different if the actual Orient had not simply excluded the new religion for a long time, thus making it impossible for marked and undiluted eastern influences to become operative. In Edessa, Christianity is more recent than Marcion, and in Egypt its first certain traces are found in the person of the gnostic Basilides during the reign of Hadrian. The Palestinian Jewish Christians were not able to make inroads into Babylonia, with its heavy Jewish concentration, nor was Paul able to gain a firm foothold in Nabataean Arabia. As far as we can see, Damascus, the city of Paul's conversion, no longer plays a role in his later life,7 not to mention the fact that he also had included the other eastern areas only in his final plans. This was not because the Orient was under control and Paul would not work in what was not his own territory, but because these regions at first simply rejected Christianity. Samaria was closed, because even at the time of the Samaritan Justin everybody there worshipped the god Simon, not the god [235] Jesus (Dial. 120.6, Apol. 26.2- 3); and [[ET 233 ]] trans-Jordania also was closed together with the adjacent areas, perhaps because of competing groups such as the baptist sects, which were still of grave concern to Mani,8 but above all because of the presence of an extremely vigorous paganism.9 Prevented by superior forces from turning aside toward the East, Christianity moved northward, clinging close to the hellenized coast of Phoenicia and Syria, and taking a sharp turn westward burst forth over Asia Minor toward Rome and Europe.

It was in Asia Minor (and more precisely primarily in its western part), in Macedonia, and in Greece that Paul engaged in successful activity. He established nothing in his homeland of Cilicia and Tarsus itself, despite extensive efforts (Gal. 1.21). What he held together by virtue of his own personality fell to pieces, was fought over, and was divided up after his death. Lycaonia and Pisidia soon disappear from the tradition. Of Galatia we learn that the capital, Ancyra, which is still a notoriously heretical city for Jerome (Commentary on Galatians 3.8 f.), might have been completely lost to Montanism (the anti-Montanist in EH 5.16.4). Corinth comes completely under Roman influence, and in the second century the "church" sought also to appropriate Ephesus by means of John as one of the twelve apostles. In this, of course, it meets with resistance from the heretics. And we observe the same struggle in the Pauline communities of Phrygia, which for the most part reject "right" belief (above, 81 f.) -- and where they do accept it, in the person of Papias of Hierapolis, they deny any connections with Paul (see above, 214 f.). If our analysis was correct, Philippi, for the most part, soon embraced gnosticism, and perhaps one must conclude the same concerning Thessalonica (see above, 73-75).

This need not imply any deliberate defection from the Apostle to the Gentiles. After all, we noted that in Phrygia it was precisely orthodoxy that rejected Paul (above, 214 f.). Perhaps the Macedonian gnostics were just as self-conscious of being the genuine disciples of Paul as was Marcion. [236] In the long run almost any gentile Christian could attach himself to the Apostle to the Gentiles so as to [[ET 234]] receive legitimization from him -- the author of 2 Peter already complains about this (3.16). One such Paulinist could, unencumbered by the weight of a Jewish heritage, develop Paul's extreme pessimism with respect to the material world into a doctrine of the demiurge, while another could omit this last step, as the Apostle himself had done. This one might put the whole Old Testament behind him, because "Christ is the end of the law" (Rom. 10.4), while that one might find the same sort of justification for continuing to revere it as "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7.12). The "strong" as well as the "weak" (those who practice abstinence) stood equally close to him. His christology bordered on docetism with its repeated statements about the Christ who was to be considered as a man (homoiwma; Rom. 8.3, Phil. 2.7) abetted by his silence about the Lord's career on earth, while his talk about the "Christ in the flesh" (e.g. Rom. 1.3, 9.5) "born of woman" (Gal. 4.4) also permitted the complete humanity to be maintained firmly. Paul supported a belief in bodily resurrection -- nevertheless, this involves neither flesh nor blood (1 Cor. 15.42-50). He was a pneumatic like none other (cf. 1 Cor. 14.18, 2 Cor. 12.1-4), but was also the advocate of ecclesiastical order (e.g. 1 Cor. 14.26-36). And although it is true that orthodoxy exulted in the high regard for church and apostles shown in Ephesians, and that the connections between Ephesians and certain churchmen (1 Peter, Ignatius, Polycarp, and even Hermas) can hardly be ignored because of their frequency (even though the decisive argument for proof of literary dependence is lacking), it is also true that the gnostics attributed their speculation about the aeons to this epistle and to Colossians.10

But the elasticity of the Pauline outlook did not become important only for those who came after him; it possessed significance already for Paul himself and for his epoch. Paul's as yet quite rudimentary organization of thought patterns, in combination with his apostolic openness that leads him to become everything to everyone so as to win all (1 Cor. 9.22), allows him to display a spirit of toleration that scarcely knows what a heretic might be -- that is, "heretic" in the sense of a fellow Christian concerning whom one is convinced that his [[ET 235]] divergent stance with regard to the faith bars him from the path of salvation. Paul is far from being under the illusion that even in his own communities everyone believes and thinks exactly as he does. Nevertheless, it is instructive to observe the position he takes with regard to divergencies, especially by comparison to the view of later times. [237] According to Paul, the adherents of Cephas and of Apollos in Corinth are not heretics, but represent legitimate varieties of the new religion, as also do the teachings of the other independent apostles such as a Barnabas or a Titus. (It is unfortunate that we know so very little about the last named and his position, and can only suspect that he was of extraordinary significance; in any event, Titus was not, like Timothy, satisfied simply to enlist in the service of the Pauline proclamation.) The faith as it was cultivated in the house church of Aquila and Priscilla and in similar conventicles -- how would it have looked? Through detailed explanations the Apostle endeavors to persuade the Corinthian Christians who reject bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15.12) -- perhaps the Alexandrianism of Apollos is at work here. For Justin, such people are only "so-called Christians" (Dial. 80.3), and Polycarp does not hesitate to use the expression "firstborn of Satan" (Phil. 7.1). It is only with reference to a most serious moral deviation that the Apostle proposes exclusion from the community by handing the offender over to the devil (1 Cor. 5.1-5). In the pastoral Epistles the same sentence is leveled against Hymenaeus and Alexander because they have "made shipwreck of the faith" (1 Tim. 1.19 f.).

Furthermore, the religious outlook of the Pauline circle may have picked up additional traits through men who, like Epaphras in Colossae (Col. 1.7), and perhaps also in Laodicea and Hierapolis, proclaimed abroad the Pauline gospel to the extent that they understood it and elaborated upon it. Possibly the aforementioned Epaphras is not entirely blameless for the fact that in the community he established at Colossae, peculiar syncretistic ideas were introduced such as the worship of the cosmic elements -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that such ideas already were present from the very beginning in Colossae but that Epaphras did not take the trouble to eliminate them. Paul receives news about how things stand. But instead of reacting by attacking with a club, he develops his [[ET 236]] view in the calm confidence that the Christian religion will again eliminate from itself whatever is alien to it, and thus not compatible with it.

On one occasion,11 to be sure, we see him flare up indignantly and hear him hurl his anathema against a divergent view -- [238] this is in Galatians, where it is a matter of preventing a gentile Christian community from falling back into Judaism. But even here it is not the overt Jewish Christianity as advocated, for example, by the "pillar" James that is considered heresy and the object of Paul's wrath. Brethren are transformed into false brethren only at that moment in which, in defiance of the agreement reached in Jerusalem, an attempt is made to fasten the yoke of legalism on the necks of liberated gentile Christians.

The Judaists, for their part, thought and felt differently, and demonstrated this again and again by the fact that they were unable to admit that the Pauline gospel could be adequate even for gentiles. Rather, they were fully convinced that this proclamation as such, because of its inadequacy, separated men from the messianic salvation. Thus, if one may be allowed to speak rather pointedly, the apostle Paul was the only heresiarch known to the apostolic age -- the only one who was so considered in that period, at least from one particular perspective.12 It could be said that the Jewish Christians in their opposition to Paul introduced the notion of "heresy" into the Christian consciousness. The arrow quickly flew back at the archer. Because of their inability to relate to a development that took place on hellenized gentile soil, the Judaists soon became a heresy, rejected with conviction by the gentile Christians. Basically, they probably had remained what they had been in the time of James the Just, but the majority of the faithful ultimately came to deviate so much from them that the connection had to break. Thus the Judaists become an instructive example of how even one who preserves the old position can become a "heretic" if the development moves sufficiently far beyond him. [[ET 237]]

That Jewish Christianity was repulsed in no way implies that the gentile Christians at first had constituted a religious entity of their own, apart from their rejection of excessive Judaistic demands and their confession of Jesus as Lord. On the contrary we must suppose that the variety of types was quite considerable;13 and the location where, in any given case, Christianity became indigenous was of great significance. [239]

In Egypt the environmental conditions for the new religion were such that its initial development basically took a form that appeared to the later church to be heresy. In Asia Minor and further to the west Paulinism was in operation. But not only did this Paulinism bear within itself various possibilities, but alongside it there were other forms of the religion of Christ -- compatible with it, alienated from it, or wholly independent of it. To the extent that the Apostle to the Gentiles took a stand with respect to them, even when he felt them to be defective, he still did not detest and condemn them as heretical.

It is not until the postapostolic era that the tensions increase and press for a solution. The explanation for this lies at first in the decline of the eschatological expectation, which made the faithful [[ET 238]] increasingly unable and unwilling to tolerate disturbances and difficulties as defects of a brief transitional period. If one has to prepare for a lengthy stay, he longs for orderliness and harmony in the house. Thereafter, the respective contending forces reinforced their positions during this period. [240] The advances that Christianity makes in the pagan world have to be purchased by means of conscious and unconscious compromise with the syncretistic spirit of the times. And on the other side, the two factors that above all represent a counter balance to the syncretistic-gnostic religiosity acquire increased significance for the faithful -- the Old Testament and the primitive tradition, rooted in Palestine, of the life and teachings of the earthly Jesus.

It seems to me that down to the year 70, and especially where Christians who were free from the law attempted to win gentiles to their religion, Christianity disengaged itself as clearly as possible from Judaism and its approach because of an instinct for self-preservation that is as understandable as it is legitimate.14 After the failure of the Jewish revolt, this was no longer a danger and the new faith could without apprehension appropriate resources and procedures from its surviving competitor -- above all, it could abandon any reservations it might have had toward the Old Testament.15 Surely this book was of incalculable importance for the proof from prophecy, and for other needs of an apologetic sort and of Christian theology in general, and also for the structure and the enriched content of the worship service. But then the dangers inherent in such a relationship were dissipated insofar as the destruction of the temple had removed the relevance of a significant portion of the law and there was no longer any prospect of forcing circumcision and Mosaic observances on the believers from the gentile world.

With regard to the other major item mentioned above, the authentic tradition of the life of Jesus, it is unfortunate that we have such a depressing paucity of information concerning its significance for the gentile preaching and the gentile Christians of the apostolic age. But we do know that Paul made little use of it in his preaching.16 He [[ET 239]] proclaimed the pre-existent Lord Christ, who descended from above, died on the cross, and after the resurrection was exalted again to heaven, whom he had encountered near Damascus. And since Paul deliberately refused to approach the gentiles as a Jew, but in his dealings with them [241] exercised remarkable self-restraint in his use of the Old Testament,17 his converts were especially susceptible to sliding over to the gnostic side. Marcion was not the first to turn in this direction under Paul's influence. Something similar had suggested itself for Philippi and the Pauline communities in Phrygia.

We must look to the circle of the twelve apostles to find the guardians of the most primitive information about the life and preaching of the Lord, that tradition in which Jesus of Nazareth shows himself to be alive so as effectively to stand in the way of those who, preoccupied with their syncretistic conception of the heavenly redeemer and filled with a dualistic contempt for matter, deprive his earthly life of its main content. This treasure lies hidden in the synoptic gospels, and we must once again lament that we know so little about their place of origin and their influence on the outside world, even in their earliest stages. Similarly, we have scarcely any trustworthy information about any activity of the personal witnesses of the life of Jesus outside of Palestine. The only sure trail once more leads back, in the person of Peter, to Rome. Here Mark stands beside Peter already in the first century (1 Pet. 5.13). And it was here, according to the ancient gospel prologues,18 that the gospel of Mark originated. For 1 Clement it is quite sufficient to assume that its author was acquainted with the gospel of Mark and with a form of the logia collection which, judging from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, still must have been in existence in his day. In Rome, the synoptic gospels later emerge for the first time as ecclesiastical books used liturgically, with the claim that they are memoirs of the apostles, and they provide support for Justin in his battle against all the heresies.

Likewise, the Roman confession springs from a synoptic foundation and makes the presence of Jesus commence with his being begotten through the Holy Spirit and his birth from the Virgin. [[ET 240]]

We may further deduce from 1 Clement that in Rome, at least the leading circles which were authoritative in ecclesiastical and theological matters were in exceptionally close contact with the Old Testament. Finally; we also notice that among all of the Pauline letters, it is Romans that is most noticeably colored by the Old Testament, and also that those New Testament authors who in other respects display clear [242] connections with Rome, the authors of 1 Peter and Hebrews, live, as it were, in the Old Testament. By means of such observations, we suggest additional reasons that must have made Rome an opponent of gnosticism from the very beginning, and the headquarters of a Christianity that was ecclesiastical in that sense.

It is indeed a curious quirk of history that western Rome was destined to begin to exert the determinative influence upon a religion which had its cradle in the Orient, so as to give it that form in which it was to achieve worldwide recognition. But as an otherworldly religion that despises this world and inflexibly orders life in accord with a superhuman standard that has descended from heaven, or as a complicated mystery cult for religious and intellectual connoisseurs, or as a tide of fanatical enthusiasm that swells today and ebbs tomorrow, Christianity never could have achieved such recognition. [[ET 241 ]][245] [app 1] //end ch.10//


[1] I am well aware that there were many Orientals among the Roman Christians of the most ancient period, and will not invoke the Latin names in the list of greetings in Rom. 16 against that fact. But the easterners Paul, and even more so Peter, the man of the Old Testament and of the synoptic tradition respectively (see below, 238 f.), and Ignatius (just in case he also was heard in Rome) instituted their towering personalities in Rome not on behalf of a pronounced syncretism, but on the contrary, provided considerable obstacles to it. Notwithstanding the Greek language of 1 Clement, directed to the Corinthians, a person like Clement is pronouncedly Roman and demonstrates what Roman leadership was striving for and what it hoped to avoid. And Justin, with his enthusiastic predilection for the millennial kingdom, is not Roman but oriental, and seems to me to leave the impression that his inclinations are by no means shared in general in his environment. He does distinguish between "godless and impious ai(resiwtai" and the orthodox (Dial. 80.3- 5). But the latter are further subdivided by him into those who share the "pure and pious outlook (gnwme) of the Christians" only in a general way (80.2), and others who are "entirely correct in outlook" (orqognwmones kata panta; 80.5) -- i.e. who possess the correct gnwme in all particulars. The last named share his chiliastic persuasions, while the others will have nothing to do with such a notion. That these others constituted a majority in Rome can be seen from the somewhat earlier Hermas, who makes apocalypticism subservient to practical ecclesiastical aims; [on Hermas and apocalyptic, see further Grant, Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers (= Grant, AF 1 [1964]), pp. 113 f., and Snyder, Hermas, pp. 9 f.].

[2] On this and on what follows, cf. chap. 6 above.

[3] There is no "west" for Christian Rome in the earliest period.

[4] Harnack, Marcion\2, pp. 148 f.

[5] Cf. Harnack, Marcion\2, pp. 146 f.

[6] As an example of this, it suffices to refer to the conflict between the followers of Marcion and of Bardesanes in Edessa; see above, 29.

[7] For a long time we hear nothing about Christianity in Damascus. The suggestion in the Chronicle of Arbela that Christians might have been there around the year 200 (ed. with German translation by E. Sachau, Abhandlungen der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, 6 for 1915: 59), is more than balanced by the silence of Eusebius, even where he speaks of the conversion of Paul (EH 2.1.9 and 14). I cannot agree at all with the favorable assessment of the historical worth of the most ancient parts of the Chronicle of Arbela, which belongs to the sixth century, by such people as Sachau, Harnack (in the 4th German ed. of Mission\2, pp. 683-689, especially 684 [this material is lacking in the ET, at p. 146]), and others. I find it impossible to reconcile the claim that there could have been Christianity -- and that of an ecclesiastical sort -- east of the Tigris already around the year 100 with the picture that I have constructed on the basis of older and better sources. If the beginnings here go back to the apostle Addai, as is claimed for Edessa by the Doctrine of Addai, extreme caution seems to me to be necessary (see above, 20). I have no fear that Arbela represents the fixed point from which my world could be turned upside down.

[8] Schmidt and Polotsky, Mani- Fund, 62.1. (On the baptizing sects, see J. Thomas, Le mouvement baptiste en Palestine et Syrie (Gembloux, 1935).]

[9] One thinks, e.g. of the position of Emesa or of Heliopolis- Baalbek with respect to Christianity. Cf. Harnack, Mission\2, 2: 123, 125 (= 4th German ed., pp. 658, 660).

[10] Cf. Heinrici, Valentinianische Gnosis, pp. 184 f,, 192; Zahn, Geschichte, 1.2: 751.

[11] The thrust of the polemic in Phil. 3 and in Rom. 16.17-20 is not entirely clear -- or in any event, can be interpreted in different ways -- and may be left aside at this point.

[12] I am restricting myself here to what is attested. Whether the Judaists also came into conflict with others who preached Christ apart from the law, and how they dealt with such, is not reported to us.

[13] In this regard, there is no change during the entire period treated in this book. [239] What was so particularly striking about the new religion for Celsus, who attentively observed and thoroughly studied the Christianity that he attacked (Neumann, RPTK\3, 3: 772-775), is a rather disconcerting wealth of ideas, outlooks, and practices that mill about in confusion without achieving any arrangement or unity (Origen Against Celsus 5.61-63). Celsus finds as the sole point of agreement within Christianity, which in other respects is disintegrated into fragments, the statement that "the world is crucified to me and I to the world" (5.64 f., citing Gal. 4.14). Indeed, at one point he mentions in passing that part of the Christians have knit themselves together into the "great church" (5.59; see above, 216 n. 36), and finds these people to be peculiar for their close relationship to Judaism from which they had derived the story of creation, the genealogy of mankind, and some other things. But the picture is hardly brought into clearer focus thereby; in any event, the overriding impression remains one of extreme diversity. In a bewildering way, the lines cross one another. And from our perspective, the model according to which Celsus constructed his picture of Christendom is sometimes the orthodox Christian, but at other times the heretic or an undefinable mixture of the two. Surely actual heretics provide the pattern when Celsus says that the Christians boasted of their sorcery and magic, and made use of foreign names and various magical formulas (6.38-40). Indeed, he has seen barbaric books full of names of demons and other abominations in the possession of certain Christian "presbyters" (6.40). Obviously the accusation of sorcery by the pagan civil authorities against the new religion also renders feasible or even encourages the idea that Christianity actually presented such an image when considered from one point of view. Is there anything that did not have its place alongside everything else in primitive Christianity!

[14] 1 have sought to demonstrate this from a different point of view in Wortgottesdienst, pp. 19 ff.

[15] Nevertheless, this reticence toward the Old Testament continues to persist in certain areas where the proximity of a strong Jewish influence is considered doubtful (cf. 1 John, gospel of John, Ignatius).

[16] On this, see Bauer, Johannesevangeliums, pp. 245 f.

[17] Cf. Bauer, Wortgottesdienst, pp. 39-46.

[18] Harnack, Evangelien-Prologe, pp. 5 f. (= 324 f.), on the prologues to Mark and Luke. [For the texts, see also Aland, Synopsis, pp. 532 f.; ET in Grant, Second Century, pp. 92 f. See also above, 186 (n. 84).]

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