Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/190

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arriving at a sure conclusion as to these matters, from the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, or any other data offered by the synoptic Gospels (and a fortiori from the fourth Gospel) are insuperable. Every one of these records is colored by the prepossessions of those among whom the primitive traditions arose and of those by whom they were collected and edited; and the difficulty of making allowance for these prepossessions is enhanced by our ignorance of the exact dates at which the documents were first put together; of the extent to which they have been subsequently worked over and interpolated; and of the historical sense, or want of sense, and the dogmatic tendencies, of their compilers and editors. Let us see if there is any other road which will take us into something better than negation.

There is a wide-spread notion that the "primitive Church," while under the guidance of the apostles and their immediate successors, was a sort of dogmatic dovecote, pervaded by the most loving unity and doctrinal harmony. Protestants, especially, are fond of attributing to themselves the merit of being nearer "the Church of the apostles" than their neighbors; and they are the less to be excused for their strange delusion because they are great readers of the documents which prove the exact contrary. The fact is that, in the course of the first three centuries of its existence, the Church rapidly underwent a process of evolution of the most remarkable character, the final stage of which is far more different from the first than Anglicanism is from Quakerism. The key to the comprehension of the problem of the origin of that which is now called "Christianity," and its relation to Jesus of Nazareth, lies here. Nor can we arrive at any sound conclusion as to what it is probable that Jesus actually said and did without being clear on this head. By far the most important and subsequently influential steps in the evolution of Christianity took place in the course of the century, more or less, which followed upon the crucifixion. It is almost the darkest period of Church history, but, most fortunately, the beginning and the end of the period are brightly illuminated by the contemporary evidence of two writers of whose historical existence there is no doubt,[1] and against the genuineness of whose most important works there is no widely admitted objection. These are Justin, the philosopher and martyr, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. I shall call upon these witnesses only to testify to the condition of opinion among those who called themselves disciples of Jesus in their time.

Justin, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, which was written somewhere about the middle of the second century, enumerates

  1. True for Justin; but there is a school of theological critics, who more or less question the historical reality of Paul and the genuineness of even the four cardinal epistles.