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CHRISTIANITY

again made prominent though not yet supreme, and the metaphysical problems are so close at hand that their discussion is imperative. Even in Paul the term Messiah thus had lost its definite meaning and became almost a proper name. Among the Greek Christians this process was complete. Jesus is the “Son of God”; and the great problem of theology becomes explicit. Religion is in our emotions of reverence and dependence, and theology is the intellectual attempt to describe the object of worship. Doubtless the two do not exactly coincide, not only because accuracy is difficult or even impossible, but also because elements are admitted into the definition of God which are derived from various sources quite distinct from the religious experience. Like all concepts the meaning of religious terms is changed with a changing experience and a changing world-view. Transplanted into the Greek world-view, inevitably the Christian teaching was modified—indeed transformed. Questions which had never been asked came into the foreground, and the Jewish presuppositions tended to disappear. Especially were the Messianic hopes forgotten or transferred to a transcendent sphere beyond death. When the empire became Christian in the 4th century, the notion of a kingdom of Christ on earth to be introduced by a great struggle all but disappeared, remaining only as the faith of obscure groups. Immortality—the philosophical conception—took the place of the resurrection of the body. Nevertheless the latter continues because of its presence in the primary sources, but it is no longer a determining factor, since its presupposition—the Messianic kingdom on earth—has been obscured. As thus the background is changed from Jewish to Greek, so are the fundamental religious conceptions.

The Semitic peoples were essentially theocratic in their religion; they used the forms of the sensuous imagination in setting forth the realities of the unseen world. They were not given to metaphysical speculation, nor long insistent in their inquiries as to the meaning and origin of things. With the Greeks it was far otherwise. For them ideas and not images set forth fundamental reality, and their restless intellectual activity would be content with nothing else than the ultimate truth. Their speculation as to the nature of God had led them gradually to separate him by an infinite distance from all creation, and to feel keenly the opposition of the finite and the infinite, the perfect and the imperfect, the eternal and the temporal. To them, therefore, Christianity presented itself not primarily as the religion of a redemption through the indwelling power of a risen saviour, as with Paul, nor even as the solution of the problem how the sins of men could be forgiven, but as the reconciliation of the antinomy of the intellect, indicated above. The incarnation became the great truth: God is no longer separated by a measureless distance from the human race, but by his entering into humanity he redeems it and makes possible its ultimate unity with himself. Such lines of thought provoke discussion as to the relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and, at a later period, of the nature of the Holy Spirit who enters into and transforms believers.

Greek philosophy in the second century A.D. had sunk for the most part into scepticism and impotence; its original impulse had been lost, and no new intellectual power took its place; only in Alexandria was there a genuine effort made to solve the fundamental problems of God and the world. Plato had made God accessible to the highest knowledge as the transcendent idea, remote from the world. For Aristotle, too, God in his essence is far above the world and at most its first mover. The stoics, on the other hand, taught his immanence, while the eclectics sought truth by the mingling of the two ideas. They accomplished their purpose in various ways, by distinguishing between God and his power—or by the notion of a hierarchy of super-sensible beings, or in a doctrine which taught that the operations of nature are the movement of pure spirit; or by the use of the “Word” of “Wisdom,” half personified as intermediate between God and the world. While these monotheistic, pantheistic doctrines were taught in the schools, the people were left to a debased polytheism and to new superstitions imported from the Orient; the philosophers themselves were by no means unaffected by the popular beliefs. Mingled with all these were the ancient legends of gods and heroes, accepted as inspired scripture by the people, and by philosophers in part explained away by an allegorical exegesis and in part felt increasingly as a burden to the intelligence. In this period of degeneracy there were none the less an awakening to religious needs and a profound longing for a new revelation of truth, which should satisfy at once the intellect and the religious emotions.

Christianity came as supplying a new power; it freed philosophy from scepticism by giving a definite object to its efforts and a renewed confidence in its mission. Monotheism henceforth was to be the belief not of philosophers only but even of the ignorant, and in Jesus Christ the union of the divine and the human was effected. The Old Testament, allegorically explained, became the substitute for the outgrown mythology; intellectual activity revived; the new facts gained predominant influence in philosophy, and in turn were shaped according to its canons. In theology the fundamental problems of ontological philosophy were faced; the relationship of unity to multiplicity, of noumenon to phenomena, of God to man. The new element is the historical Jesus, at once the representative of humanity and of God. As in philosophy, so now in theology, the easiest solution of the problem was the denial of one of its factors: and successively these efforts were made, until a solution was found in the doctrine of the Trinity, which satisfied both terms of the equation and became the fundamental creed of the church. Its moulds of thought are those of Greek philosophy, and into these were run the Jewish teachings. We have thus a peculiar combination—the religious doctrines of the Bible, as culminating in the person of Jesus, run through the forms of an alien philosophy.

The Jewish sources furnished the terms Father, Messiah, Son and Spirit. Jesus seldom employed the last term and St Paul’s use of it is not altogether clear. Already in Jewish literature it had been all but personified (cf. the Wisdom of Solomon). The doctrine of the Trinity.Thus the material is Jewish, though already modified doubtless by Greek influence. But the problem is Greek. It is not primarily ethical nor even religious, but it is metaphysical. What is the ontological relationship between these three factors? The answer is given in the Nicene formula, which is characteristically Greek. By it we perceive how God, the infinite, the absolute, the eternal, is yet not separated from the finite, the temporal, the relative, but, through the incarnation, enters into humanity. We further see how this entering into humanity is not an isolated act but continues in all the children of God by the indwelling spirit. Thus, according to the canons of the ancient philosophy, justice is done to all the factors of our problem—God remains as Father, the infinitely remote and absolute source of all; as Son, the Word who is revealed to man and incarnate in him; as Spirit, who dwells even in our own souls and by his substance unites us to God.

While thus the Greek philosophy furnished the dialectic and the mould for the characteristic Christian teaching, the doctrine of the Trinity preserved religious values. By Jesus the disciples had been led to God, and he was the central fact of faith. After the resurrection he was the object of praise, and soon prayers were offered in his name and to him. Already to the apostle Paul he dominates the world and is above all created things, visible and invisible, so that he has the religious value of God. It is not God as abstract, infinite and eternal, as the far-away creator of the universe, or even as the ruler of the world, which Paul worships, but it is God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Father of Jesus Christ, the grace and mercy in Jesus Christ which deliver from evil. Metaphysics and speculative theories were valueless for Paul; he was conscious of a mighty power transforming his own life and filling him with joy, and that this power was identical with Jesus of Nazareth he knew. In all this Paul is the representative of that which is highest and best in early Christianity. Speculation and hyperspiritualization were ever tending to obscure this fundamental religious fact: in the interest of a higher doctrine of God his true presence in Jesus was denied, and by exaggeration of Paul’s doctrine of “Christ in us” the significance of the historic Jesus was given up. The Johannine writings,