Baus, Karl. From the Apostolic Community to Constantine // History of the Church. Ed.H.Jedin, J.Dolan. Vol. I.
The Post-Apostolic Age
WITH the death of the last of the apostles the young Church lost the last leading figure who could be invoked as an eye-witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. Her destinies were now entrusted to a new generation which was, however, conscious of being in a unique way pledged to maintain the traditions of the apostles. Therefore the post-apostolic age represents a phase in the history of the Church which can be regarded as a direct development of what was already begun. In points of detail, the Church of that period did indeed display characteristics which mark her off from the apostolic Church in the strict sense. Her mission field remained essentially the same as in the previous generation, which, starting out from Antioch, had taken a decisive step by addressing her preaching to the world of Hellenistic civilization. Missionary successes had evidently not been revolutionary either in numbers or in the social rank of the new adherents, even though a numerical increase, especially in the big cities of the empire, was clearly perceptible. Because of this, Christianity was to an increasing degree awakening the interest of its pagan surroundings; local persecutions occurred, usually caused by the antipathy of the local population, whereas the pagan State had as yet no definite policy in its relationship to the new religion. The chief development in the post-apostolic age was within the Church, and for our knowledge of it, the primary sources are the writings of the apostolic Fathers which began to appear at this time.
One can hardly speak of a deeper understanding or development of the central themes of Pauline theology. The favourite subject of theological discussion remained the controversy with Judaism, carried on however in a form so steeped in Jewish ideas that at first it might rather be called a theology of Jewish Christianity. Only in the works of the apologists do we perceive a Christianity more strongly affected by the religious philosophy of Hellenism; conflict with this and with Gnosticism (now a keen rival), necessitated a further theological development and represents a new phase in the history of the early Church.
The religious practice of the post-apostolic age remained, both in the narrower sacramental sphere of baptism and Eucharist and in its daily expression in prayer and asceticism, largely that established by apostolic tradition. Only in the question of discipline did the Church seek solutions for new problems which arose from the lapses of individual Christians during times of persecution. The greatest progress is probably to be seen in the further development of ecclesiastical organization, which gave each congregation a monarchical episcopate, whose jurisdiction was clearly defined. This arrangement became general. At the same time a growing consciousness of the underlying union of all Christian congregations with one another is apparent, expressing itself in cordial relations between them, in personal visits, in correspondence and in solicitude for the welfare of other congregations; in this respect, the church of Rome felt itself obliged by a higher degree of responsibility for all the others. The unity of all who confessed Christ in the Roman Empire was believed to be what the founder of the Church demanded. They also believed that in the episcopate set up by him and based on the apostolic succession they possessed a guarantee of that unity.
The Conflict between Christianity and the Roman State Power
The Beginnings of the Conflict
THE Christian communities which sprang up in the cities of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Church's missionary activity were bound, sooner or later, to attract the attention of their pagan neighbours on account of their marked aversion from everything connected with pagan worship. From the beginning this interest had a hostile tendency, all the more remarkable inasmuch as such a reaction on the part of the pagan masses towards new religious cults from the East (except for a few outbreaks against the Jews) was otherwise unusual. Besides, these non-Christian oriental cults generally conducted a lively propaganda, which in places met with considerable success. The cause of this hostile attitude on the pagan side towards the adherents of the Christian religion must, therefore, be sought in the latter itself. It lay ultimately in the claim to absolute truth with which the Christian faith entered the world, a claim which evidently could not be tolerant towards any other religion and was bound to involve the Church in a conflict of principles with the Roman State religion. There now appeared in the Roman Empire, for the first time, a religious movement which did not look upon its God merely as a special divinity, but as the only true God and Redeemer of the world, beside the worship of whom none other might exist. As the Christians also drew the practical conclusion from their convictions in daily life and cut themselves off absolutely from their pagan surroundings, they gradually came to appear to the latter as declared enemies of classical culture, permeated as it was by religion.
The hostile atmosphere thus created was demonstrably nourished by the Jews of the Diaspora, who could not forgive the Jewish Christians for their apostasy from the faith of their fathers. The way the Christians shunned contact with the outside world continually provided fresh fuel for and an appearance of credibility to those dark rumours which accused them of sexual immorality at their nocturnal meetings, and revolting practices in their religious worship. All this formed the soil from which grew that general opinion of the Christians as a low rabble who had only too much reason to avoid the light of publicity. A trifling occasion was therefore often sufficient for the mistrust and stored-up resentment of the pagan population to vent themselves in outbreaks of persecution. Sometimes during these, adherents of the new faith were deprived by mob justice of goods or life, or dragged before the civil authorities with loud demands for punishment.
The Christians themselves always felt such proceedings to be unjust persecution and showed little understanding of the fact that their religious exclusiveness offered some grounds for them. For this reason, the sources of our knowledge of the conflict between Christianity and paganism in pre-Constantinian times are of a peculiar nature and need careful consideration. Both separate descriptions and general accounts of the so-called persecutions were nearly all the products of Christian pens; a detailed history of them from the pagan point of view does not exist. In later Christian historical writing, the Christian attitude towards the events has understandably prevailed, showing on one side only the brutal persecutor who was later stricken down by well-merited divine punishment, and on the other the elect and the just, who by their steadfast witness deserved an imperishable heavenly crown. The view of writers like Lactantius and Eusebius have determined the image of the persecutions right down to modern times. The number of them was said to have been ten, because by mystical anticipation they were thought to have been prefigured in the ten plagues of Egypt.
With the abandonment of this traditional scheme, a more objective estimate of the question has become possible which has led us to recognize two important points: first, that it will not do to look upon every Roman emperor or provincial governor, under whose rule or administration Christians were put to death, as a man who persecuted them in blind rage solely because of their faith. The causes in individual cases differed widely and must be separately assessed. Moreover, the initiative for reprisals against the Christians did not come primarily from the State authorities; it was contrary to the principles of Roman religious policy to proceed with the power of the State against the adherents of a religious movement solely because of their beliefs. No doubt, the close connexion between the Roman religion and the State was regarded as one of the main supports of the empire. If, in Republican times, the invasion of foreign cults from the East was looked on with mistrust, and if, in 186 B.c. on the occasion of the famous affair of the Bacchanalia, certain counter-measures were taken, these were not primarily directed against the religious convictions of the adherents of a new cult, so much as against the immoral excesses which it brought in its train, making it a danger to Roman morality and therefore, indirectly, to the public good. The same motives later prompted the Roman authorities to take proceedings against soothsayers, astrologers and charlatans who caused political unrest by their horoscopes and prophecies.1
This policy was continued during the first century of the empire. The cult of the emperor, as it developed into divine worship such as Augustus received in the eastern provinces, did indeed become a new and essential component of the State religion. But its external form, its ritual, developed only slowly, so that the conscious rejection of emperor worship on the part of the Christians, could but seldom, in the first century, have been the motive for proceedings against them by the State. Only on isolated occasions did emperors like Nero and Domitian press certain prerogatives of the emperor cult and thus provoke conflicts which, however, did not affect the Christians exclusively.
The pagan State power first began to notice the special character of the new religious movement only because of the disturbances that occurred between Christians and Jews or pagans, and then it had to step in, in order to get these tumults under control. Only then, did the authorities gradually become convinced that the religious peace which had reigned hitherto, was being disturbed by the Christians and that the latter in fact constituted a threat to the customary religious policy of the empire. Only after closer observation did it become clear that the Christians also rejected the Roman State religion on principle and thus, in the opinion of the government, jeopardized the State itself. So the pagan State power can be mentioned only with certain limitations when we list the factors to which the persecution of the Christians is to be attributed. The primary cause was rather the claim to absoluteness made by the Christian religion itself; a secondary cause was the hostile attitude of the pagan population. Only in the third century did the conflict between Christianity and the pagan State become one of principle, when the latter thought it saw in the new religion a power that threatened its own existence.
1 Cf. J. Moreau, La persecution du christianisme dans l'empire romain (Paris 1956), 15-19.
oucn a view or cue circumstances in no way preciuues unresiricieu admiration for the attitude of the Christian martyrs, who professed their religious convictions with exemplary heroism and defended, for all time, freedom of conscience in the face of all earthly power.
The Persecutions under Nero and Domitian
The first case that can be verified with certainty in which a Roman State authority was closely concerned with a Christian has hitherto been thought to have been that of the apostle Paul who, invoking his right as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar when brought before the procurator Porcius Festus in 59 and was, therefore, taken to Rome. The proceedings apparently ended, as we have already mentioned, with an acquittal. Paul's religion was evidently not regarded as offending against the existing laws or public order. Recently, however, it has been claimed that indications have been found of an anti-Christian attitude on the part of the Roman State which may be dated to the beginning of Claudius's reign. This emperor, in a letter discovered in 1920,2 was answering the complaints which had been brought to him by a Jewish (and Greek?) delegation from Alexandria which simultaneously conveyed a congratulatory address on his accession. The emperor specifically forbade the Jews of the Egyptian capital to invite thither fellow-countrymen from Syria or Egypt; if they disobeyed in this matter he would be compelled "to proceed against them with every means, since they would spread, as it were, a kind of pestilence over the whole world."3 This "pestilence" has been understood as the Christian religion, which was then being propagated by its missionaries in Egypt and elsewhere in the Roman Empire. The text of Claudius' letter does not, however, force us to such an interpretation; its wording can without difficulty be understood as referring to the continual quarrels of the Jewish inhabitants of Alexandria among themselves and with the Greek population, which had repeatedly led to bloodshed. It is, moreover, against all probability that the Jews, in order to strengthen their position, should admit into the Egyptian capital precisely those Jews who had become converts to Christianity.
Another action of the same emperor can, with much greater justification be connected with Christian missionary work in Rome; it is mentioned by Dio Cassius and Suetonius. Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they were continually in conflict among themselves, the conflict being provoked by a man called Chrestos.
An identification of this Chrestos with Christ positively obtrudes itself; and we may here be seeing the first effects of the Christian message among the Jewish community of Rome. The married couple Aquila and Priscilla, were also affected by the emperor's expulsion order, and they thereupon took up residence at Corinth, where they gave hospitality to Paul when he was preaching there about the years 49-50 (Acts 18:2—4). It may be assumed that the Jewish couple had already embraced Christianity, but were included in the imperial order simply because they belonged to the Jewish race. The emperor's action is, therefore, not yet to be regarded as anti-Christian; it was merely intended to put an end to a centre of unrest among the Roman population.
The earliest example of adherents of the Christian faith being persecuted by Roman authorities remains therefore the events which befell the Christian community at Rome after the burning of the city under Nero in the year 64. The account which Tacitus gives in his Annals provides valuable information about the background to these occurrences. A remarkably persistent rumour was circulating among the people that Nero himself was responsible for the conflagration which on 16 July 64 destroyed several districts of the city completely and others in part. To get rid of this suspicion, the emperor (Tacitus reports) diverted it onto the Christians, "who on account of their misdeeds were hated". Some men, who had been arrested and charged, were bribed to denounce the Christians as the actual culprits. The latter were then seized in large numbers (ingensmultitudo) and executed in the ways reserved for arsonists: some of the Christians were sewn into the skins of animals and thrown to wild dogs, others were clothed in inflammable materials and used as living torches after dark in Nero's gardens, which he threw open to the public for the spectacle. Tacitus had no doubt that the Christians were unjustly accused of arson, even though he believed that they deserved the severest punishments on account of their other crimes. He did not, therefore, share the compassion which was shown towards them at the time "because they were sacrificed to gratify the cruel whim of one man". Tacitus' description, no doubt correct in essentials, shows us that the Christian community at Rome in the seventh decade of the first century had a considerable number of members, for ingens multitudo certainly implies more than a handful. Furthermore, it is clear that the motive of the persecution by Nero was not his belief that the new religion constituted a threat to the State. In carrying out his plan he made unscrupulous use of the hostile attitude of the population towards the
Christians, but he was not aiming at the Christian faith as such. Later Christian apologists, of course, generally regarded him as the first Roman emperor who persecuted Christianity from religious motives; according to Lactantius, Nero's proceedings had as their objective the complete extirpation of Christianity.
The statements about a persecution of the Christians which Clement of Rome made in his letter to the congregation of Corinth before the end of the century no doubt also refer to the events under Nero. He is the first Christian writer to mention them. Without naming Nero directly, he says that not only did Peter and Paul suffer a violent death, but also "a great number of the elect", among them women, had died after cruel tortures.® The reference to the great number and the manner of execution hardly admits room for doubt that we are here reading of the same events that Tacitus describes.
Lactantius is the only author who states that the Roman persecution under Nero was not confined to the capital but included the whole empire. This is improbable, for the other sources are silent on this matter and Lactantius possesses in other respects no exact knowledge of the events in Nero's reign. It would, besides, imply that the measures taken in 64 were not due to a passing caprice, but were based upon a law valid for the empire as a whole. Tertullian indeed says, when telling of the persecution under Nero, that all the proceedings of that cruel emperor were subsequently declared null and void, with one exception: the proscription by him of the Christian name was the only institutum Neronianum that was not removed by his damnatio memoriae.1 Many modern historians quote this statement, assuming from it that a general edict of persecution was issued by Nero.8
The following considerations, however, are decisively against such an assumption. An edict of that kind must have had effects in the whole empire, and therefore in the East also; but all the sources, and, in particular, those for the East, say nothing of it. Moreover, at the beginning of the sixties, Christianity was hardly of such importance to the Roman Government that the latter should have had any occasion to take legal measures against it. What speaks most strongly against the existence of a Neronian edict of persecution, is the fact that never in later times did the Roman authorities base their attitude towards the Christian problem on such a decree. So Tacitus' account possesses in this matter also a greater degree
' Clement, Ep. ad Cor. 6.
7 Tertullian, Ad. nat. 1, 7, 9: "et tamen mansit erasis omnibus hoc solum institutum Neronianum."
9 E.g. J. Zeiller in Fliche-Martin I, 292; H. Gregoire, Les persecutions dans 1'empire romain (Brussels 1951), 25ff.; J. Beaujeu, La religion romaine a l'apogee de l'empire I (Paris 1955), 107.
wnn inc. HUMAN MATE POWER
of credibility; Nero's action against the Christians had no legal foundation, but sprang from the arbitrary will of the ruler, who thereby hoped to cleanse himself from the suspicion of arson. Nevertheless, public opinion regarding the Christians was certainly influenced by Nero's persecution of them; and Tertullian's words are no doubt to be understood in this sense. The vague feeling in the mind of the pagan masses that the Christians were a suspect lot, capable of dark crimes, was, as it were, sanctioned by their execution. From that time on, to be a Christian was to be an outlaw in the eyes of the people; what Nero had begun (id quod a Nerone institutum est), the moral proscription of the name of Christian, persisted for a long time. In the future, the Roman authorities could always find support from public opinion whenever the circumstances obliged them, in any particular case, to face the question whether the State should take action against the Christians or tolerate them. It is not hard to understand how this view of Christianity should gradually acquire the force of a principle of law by which the legal position of the Christians in the empire was largely determined.
The sources tell us far less about the persecution which the Christians endured under the emperor Domitian, though there is no doubt that it took place. There is first the clear and unequivocal statement of Melito of Sardes, who was fairly close in time to the event. He, in his apologia for the emperor Marcus Aurelius, mentions Domitian alongside Nero as an opponent of Christianity.9 The remarks of the Roman Bishop Clement in his letter to the Corinthians (1:1), saying that the perils and tribulations which had suddenly fallen upon the Christians had prevented his writing sooner, can, moreover, hardly be interpreted otherwise than as a reference to measures taken by that emperor against the Christians.10 Some statements of non-Christian authors can also be understood in this sense. Epictetus' reproach to the Christians that they went foolishly and thoughtlessly to their death,11 implies that they were being persecuted, as does the remark of the elder Pliny, in his letter to Trajan,12 that certain alleged Christians had asserted in court the fact of their renunciation of Christianity twenty years before.
Special importance seems due to the statement of Dio Cassius13 to the effect that the consul Flavius Clemens and his wife Domitilla had been accused and condemned on account of "godlessness" (a0e6TY)<;), and with them "many others, who favoured Jewish practices". As Dio Cassius a little later calls the crime of these persons aaipeux, it becomes clear that here is meant the crimen laesae majestatis, the crime of which the Christians
» Euseb. HE 4, 26, 9.
>» J. Vogt, "Christenverfolgungen" (historical) in RAC II (1954), 1168. 11 Epictetus, Diss. 4, 7, 6. 18 Pliny the Younger, Ep. 10, 96, 6. » Dio Cassius, 67, 14, 1-2.
were said to be guilty when, in the second century, they were accused of atheism. If the author here refers, as he evidently does, to Christians — he never mentions them by that name anywhere in his work — the accusation of godlessness makes intelligible the motive behind Domitian's action: it was the emperor's claim to absoluteness for his own person, expressed in the demands of a cult that knew no limitations. Certain references in the Apocalypse also fit in with this view of the facts if one accepts that it was written, at least in its present form, in the last years of the first century, as there are strong grounds for supposing. According to the Apocalypse, the persecution of the Church which the author saw approaching, had, for its cause, the clash between emperor-worship on Domitian's pattern and the Christian idea of God. To the congregations of Asia Minor especially, Domitian's claim to divine honours must have been a heavy blow, because the flourishing imperial cult in that region hardly permitted any avoidance of the conflict. The pretext for the persecution in the eastern provinces was, therefore, based solely on the accusation of lese-majeste which rejection of emperor-worship involved.
The sources make few concrete statements about the extent of the persecution and the number of its victims. We may believe the words of Dio Cassius that in Rome, besides the above-named consular pair, "many others" were implicated. That the consul for the year 91, Acilius Glabrio, likewise condemned to death by Domitian, was also executed for his Christian belief, cannot be proved, but the possibility is not to be excluded. In any case we must not try to support this view by reference to an archaeological discovery which has often been adduced as proof: the so-called crypt of the Acilii in the catacomb of Priscilla is not of earlier date than the middle of the second century. Nor can the nucleus of the present catacomb of Domitilla on the Via Ardeatina be proved to be a burial place founded by the Roman lady put to death by Domitian, even though inscriptions suggest that Domitilla had connexions with the district where it lies.18 As Dio Cassius states, the emperor Nerva did not accept the accusations of godlessness and Jewish practices and so the persecution ceased.
The Court Trials of Christians under Trajan and Hadrian
Of the legal position of the Christians during the reign of Trajan (98-117) and of the proceedings of the authorities in Asia Minor, in particular, we should know nothing if we had only Christian sources to rely on. The official question addressed to the emperor by a governor of Bithynia, as to what principle he should follow in certain border-line cases when dealing with Christians, shows clearly that in that Asiatic province numerous persons were denounced to the authorities as Christians, tried and examined, and, if they remained true to their faith, executed. Together with the answer, which the emperor personally sent to the governor in the form of a rescript, this correspondence between Pliny the younger and his imperial master gives us an opportunity to study the attitude which the Government of the empire adopted towards Christianity at the beginning of the second century.
Pliny, who took office in 111 or 112, gives us welcome information about the situation of the Christian religion as he found it in his province. It had already found many adherents outside the towns among people of all classes and ages. The reason why the governor was concerned with the Christian community was the fact that many of its members did not obey the imperial decree banning the hetairies, associations unrecognized by the State. These Christians were denounced to the governor, sometimes even anonymously. Pliny first established by examination that they were Christians and then ordered them, with threats of the death penalty, to give up their religion. Only when they obstinately persisted in it did he have them put to death, with the exception of those who were Roman citizens; these were, in accordance with the law, kept apart from the others that they might be transported to Rome for their cases to be heard.
Various occurrences during the trials, however, caused doubts to arise in the mind of the governor as to whether the method employed was legally correct; it sometimes came out at the hearings that many denunciations were made solely from motives of spite; in a long list of names of alleged Christians the accusers were anonymous. Many of those denounced asserted that they had never been Christians; they confirmed this by calling on the gods or by sacrificing before their images or before that of the emperor. Others claimed that they had long since renounced Christianity and likewise sacrificed to the gods and the emperor; they even emphasized their recantation by reviling the God of the Christians. The examination of those who confessed themselves Christians before the governor disclosed no crime against the existing laws, even when torture was applied.
Pliny formulated his scruples in a few precise questions addressed to the emperor. Must the age of the accused be taken into consideration? May one grant pardon if one of them recants? Is it the name alone (of Christian) which is to be punished, even when there are no other crimes? Are only those crimes to be punished which are associated with the name of Christian? Finally, Pliny tried to suggest an answer to the emperor which would enable him to proceed with leniency: if he were indulgent towards the penitent, he might expect to win back a large number to paganism.
One thing appears clearly from Pliny's letter: the governor of Bithynia was unaware of any law or decree of the State which might serve as a norm in proceedings against adherents of the Christian faith. He does not at all ask how this or that formulation of a law should be interpreted or amplified. His dilemma is simply this: does the mere name of Christian suffice as grounds for persecution, or must other crimes be proved?
Trajan's answer confirms equally unmistakably that there was no general law regulating proceedings against Christians; the situation was still in the emperor's opinion such that he could establish no universally valid norm. He gave Pliny certain directives intended to lighten his difficulties — Christians were not to be sought out, anonymous accusations were to be ignored. A man denounced as a Christian was to be examined; if he denied his Christianity and confirmed his denial by invoking the Roman gods, he was not to be punished even if he had formerly been a Christian. Only he who on examination confessed himself to be a Christian and persisted in his confession was to be punished. Proof of crimes against other laws was therefore not to be demanded; the mere fact of being a Christian sufficed for condemnation.
The rescript of Trajan does not in any way attempt to give a reason for or to justify these principles; they were clearly self-evident and familiar to the emperor as an expression of the current public opinion about the Christians. The estimate of them which had grown up since Nero's time had become firmly established and was so general that even the Roman authorities could make this maxim their own: to be a Christian is something which is not allowed. That such a maxim was in contradiction to the acknowledged principles of Roman law shows the inconsistencies which the rescript contains. Although to be a Christian was already an offence, the authorities were not on their own initiative to seek out Christians. He who had made himself guilty of this crime could nevertheless escape punishment if he renounced his religion. It is noteworthy that even after this rescript the State authorities in the provinces were given wide freedom of action; according to the degree of the Roman official's independence from the pressure of pagan opinion, persecution could flare up in individual provinces and take extreme forms, or complete peace might reign. One positive advantage the Christians might feel they had gained, arose from the emperor's directive that no consideration was to be given to anonymous accusers; they were thereby protected from many vexations and might with the exercise of a little prudence expect to live in anyway relative security.
The sources give little information about the effects of Trajan's rescript. Thus we know no names of Christians who lost their lives in Bithynia, nor do we learn the fate of those who as Roman citizens were kept apart in order to be tried at Rome. Whether the references to persecutions in Polycarp's letter to the congregation of Philippi18 apply to the reign of Trajan cannot be determined. There are only two martyrs whose names have been handed down that can with any certainty be attributed to this period. Bishop Simeon of Jerusalem, successor of James, met death by crucifixion at the age of 120 years.19 Ignatius of Antioch was brought to Rome, probably being a Roman citizen, and was executed there while Trajan was still emperor, as Eusebius relates20 on the authority of Irenaeus, without giving the exact date of his death. Reports of other martyrdoms under Trajan in later Acts are of such doubtful value that we can learn little from them.
Under Trajan's successor Hadrian (117-38) a governor again applied to the emperor for directions in his dealings with the Christians. The letter of the proconsul of the province of Asia Proconsularis, Getulius Serennius Granianus, to Hadrian is lost, but the emperor's answer to his successor in office, Minucius Fundanus, has been preserved by Justin, who included it in his Apologia.21 Even more decisively than Trajan, Hadrian condemned anonymous denunciations of Christians and demands made by the mob for their punishment. Only when someone vouched with his name for the accusations was a Christian to be brought to trial, and only when it could be proved that the accused "had offended against the laws" was the governor to pronounce sentence "according to the gravity of the offence".
This rescript of Hadrian has been regarded as nothing more than a reaffirmation of the norms which Trajan had established.22 In this view, the proof which the accuser had to produce would then be nothing more than evidence that the person named was a Christian. The proconsul, however, was to punish "according to the gravity of the offence". It is hard to see how in the mere fact of being Christian there could be any differences of degree in the eyes of the judge. The interpretation which Justin gives of the rescript is therefore more probable. According to him, Hadrian's attitude meant a relief for the Christians which went far beyond the norms fixed by Trajan; Christians could be punished only if they could be proved to have committed crimes against the existing laws of the State. Hadrian does not indeed exclude the possibility of prosecution for merely being a Christian, but he appears to have demanded proof that the accused had offended against Roman law. Be that as it may, the rescript was only giving guidance to a proconsul on how to act in his own province. Elsewhere a Roman administrator could well follow the maxim that the nomen Christianum in itself was worthy of punishment.
There is every indication that Hadrian's rescript perceptibly ameliorated the position of the Christians. No document mentions an actual or even an alleged martyrdom in the province of Asia Proconsularis, nor can executions of Christians in other parts of the empire be attributed with certainty to the reign of Hadrian.
The principle that the mere fact of being a Christian was punishable remained the general norm during the rest of the second century, as is proved by several martyrdoms under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius (138-61). Justin adds to the appendix of his Apologia an account which relates, obviously with an exact knowledge of the details, the execution of three Christians at Rome,23 who because of their steadfast profession of faith were condemned to death by the prefect of the city. The Shepherd of Hermas, with its remarks about Christians who remained constant or relapsed, likewise presupposes proceedings against them under Antoninus Pius.24 The part played by the pagan populace in the carrying out of legal procedure against a Christian is made very clear in the report which the congregation of Smyrna gave on the death of their Bishop Polycarp.25 In the form of a letter to the Christian community of Philomelion, the Christians of Smyrna relate how the pagans of the city, making a tumult, demanded of the magistrates that the bishop, who had fled, should be sought out and brought to judgment. As he refused to deny Christ he was condemned to death at the stake and burnt in the theatre. Fixing the date of this martyrdom does indeed involve some difficulties; but placing it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, as Eusebius does, demands such a number of weakly-based hypotheses that the traditional view that Polycarp died under Antoninus Pius seems to be preferable.2'
This survey of the persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire from the time of Nero to the middle of the second century leads us to the following conclusions. There was no general law that governed the attitude of the State towards the Christians. Out of the hostile feeling of the pagan population there developed an opinion that regarded being a Christian as incompatible with the Roman way of life; from this arose a kind of legal maxim that made it possible for the authorities to punish adherence to Christianity as a crime in itself. The persecutions that resulted were only local, occurred only sporadically and were directed against individual
" Justin, Apol. append. 2.
24 Hermas, Past. Vis. 2, 2-3; 3, 6-7; 4, 2, 5.
26 Martyr. Polycarp. 3, 2.
" Cf. H. Gr^goire, "La date du martyre de Polycarpe" in AnBoll 69 (1951), 1-38; E. Griffe in BLE 52 (1951), 170-7; 54 (1953), 178-81; H.-I. Marrou in AnBoll 71 (1953), 5-20.
Christians. They were generally sparked off by popular disturbances, and only because of these did the State authorities intervene. The number of victims was relatively small.
The Religious World of the Post-Apostolic Age as Mirrored in its Writings
IF we turn from the letters of the New Testament to the writings of the post-apostolic age, we are immediately struck by the vast difference in form and content between the latter and the former. The writers of this period are but epigones of the great figures of the apostolic era. They took up the pen almost hesitantly in order to discuss questions concerning the Christian interpretation and ordering of life. In so far as we can clearly identify individual personalities among these writers, they have been given the honorary title of "Apostolic Fathers," to express the fact that they were conscious of being close to the time and world of the apostles. They felt themselves to be only followers of those great men, whose stature they did not in any way reach. Even Ignatius of Antioch, pre-eminent emong them for his lively religious sense, knew that he could not at all compare himself with them,27 and Clement of Rome saw in "the excellent apostles" the unattainable ideal for his own generation.28
The regard in which the apostles were held remained undiminished, as is shown by those apocryphal writings which soon appeared, seeking to gain a heightened interest for themselves by the use of titles such as Letter of the Apostles, Missionary Sermon of Peter, Letter of Barnabas, Acts of Paul, Acts of John, etc.29 Post-apostolic writings were largely nourished by the legacy of the apostles; what the apostolic fathers had to say was the echo and result of apostolic tradition. The pictures they paint of the religious life and thought of their time is for that very reason deserving of special attention.
The series of apostolic fathers begins with Clement of Rome, who is held to be the author of a lengthy letter addressed by the Roman congregation to the church of Corinth shortly before the end of the first century. Clement evidently wrote the letter in his capacity as leader of the Roman congregation, as is asserted by the most ancient tradition,30 even though his position in the list of Roman bishops cannot be determined with certainty. The occasion of this letter was the report of a regrettable schism within the Corinthian church, which led to the removal from office of presbyters of proved worth by a group of younger members of the community. The Roman Christians felt themselves bound to their brethren in Corinth by strong ties of solidarity, because of which they earnestly admonished them to restore the unity of the Church.
In language and style, as well as in his handling of the subject, Clement shows his formal education no less than his religious and theological originality. Hellenistic philosophy, especially in its Stoic form,31 was not unfamiliar to him, and he was highly receptive towards Hellenistic culture as a whole; but he stood closer to the world of the Old Testament and Jewish ways of thought, so that some have seen in Clement a convert from the Judaism of the Diaspora.32 Especially informative about the personal piety of the author are those parts of the letter (chs. 59-61, 64) in which, as a Christian preacher, he addresses the congregation of Corinth and begs them to praise God in a prayer composed by him, just as he may often have concluded his homilies at religious assemblies in Rome. The letter also gives valuable information about office-holders in the early Church.
The most sharply defined figure among the apostolic Fathers is the bishop of a large Christian community in the East, Ignatius of Antioch, who during a wave of persecution was condemned to be thrown to wild beasts and suffered martyrdom at Rome in the last years of Trajan's reign (98-117). On the journey to the capital he wrote from the seaport town of Smyrna seven letters, three of which were addressed to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles, members of which had come to Smyrna to visit the highly respected Bishop of Antioch. At Smyrna too he composed his epistle to the Roman Christians, whereas those to the Philadelphians, to the Christians of Smyrna, and to their bishop, Polycarp, were written at Troas. Their authenticity, in spite of some remarkable opinions put forward by a not unbiased "higher criticism", is now considered certain.
In attempting to assess the value of this corpus Ignatianum as a source of information on post-apostolic theology and religion, one must not overlook the fact that the seven letters were written more or less extempore by a prisoner condemned to death, under the eyes of his not very considerate gaolers. They are, therefore, not well-weighed theological treatises composed in conditions of tranquillity, but the spontaneous outpourings of a courageous leader, full of the love of Christ and a longing for martyrdom. All the more precious is this direct evidence, springing from the crowded
life of the second century, concerning the beliefs, the piety and way of life in Christian communities at that time.
Polycarp of Smyrna, to whom one of the seven letters was addressed, was already bishop of that Asiatic see when he met Ignatius. As a bearer and transmitter of apostolic traditions he ranks high, for he had been, according to the testimony of his pupil Irenaeus, in direct contact with several of the apostles, whose eyewitness accounts of the life and teachings of the Lord he knew well.33 As Polycarp met Pope Anacletus in Rome (circa 154-5 to 166-7),34 the teachings handed down by the apostles were thus passed on to the second half of the second century by a highly qualified witness. Of the numerous pastoral letters that he wrote,35 only one short note and a longer letter to the congregation of Philippi have been preserved, written shortly after the death of Ignatius. This letter gives us a valuable glimpse of the problems which seemed urgent to a Christian pastor of that time when he addressed the faithful of a congregation known to him.
Some of the writings attributable to the first or second post-apostolic generation are either anonymous or apocryphal, but they are nevertheless of great value as evidence concerning the religious life of the period. Chief of these is the "Doctrine of the Apostles", the Didache, which was probably written about the year 100 in Syria and incorporates a Jewish work on the "two ways". Its statements about circumstances within the Church oblige us to give it an early date, though some of its supplementary matter may have been written later.36 Its editor's object was clearly to give newly-founded congregations in Syria a guide for the internal organization of their community life.
The so-called Letter of Barnabas — Alexandrian tradition early ascribed it to Paul's companion, though the text itself names no author — is the work of a Christian making no pretensions to learning, who after the destruction of Jerusalem and probably shortly before 130, engages in controversy with Judaism. In spite of his unfavourable estimate of the latter, which he reproaches with a fundamental misunderstanding of the Old Testament, his way of thinking is Jewish, and he is a witness to the Jewish-Christian character of post-apostolic theology.37
A strange, obscure work, the author of which calls himself Hermas, brings us to the end of the post-apostolic period. According to the Muratorian fragment, Hermas was a brother of Pius, bishop of Rome (circa 140-154). He gave his book the title of The Shepherd after the central figure, who
" Euseb. HE 5, 20, 6. 54 Irenaeus in Euseb. HE 5, 24, 16. « Ibid. 5, 20, 8.
" Thus A. Adam in ZKG 58 (1957), 1-47, whose opinion is to be preferred to that of Audet, La Didache (Paris 1958), who considers an earlier date necessary. " Cf. J. Daniilou, op. cit. 43-46.
appears in the second part as teacher of the Christians and preaches penance in commandments and parables. The first part is more apocalyptic in tone; in it the Church appears under various figures. A simple member of the community from a Jewish-Christian background here expresses himself about his own hard lot, interwoven with the description of which are sincere, sometimes naive, pictures of the life of the Church. The author is troubled about the lives of many Christians; without theological or speculative interests, he demands with great earnestness a moral reform of the Christian community. The Shepherd is a very important source for our knowledge of contemporary Christian ideas in Rome about the significance of penance in the life of the Church as a whole.
Finally there are the so-called second letter of Clement, probably the oldest extant example of a sermon delivered during a religious service (perhaps at Corinth) about the middle of the second century, and the Epistula Apostolorum, a work in letter-form which first gives alleged words of Christ to his disciples after his resurrection and then goes on to speak, like a kind of apocalypse, of the parousia of the Lord and of the resurrection of the body and the last judgment, as well as of the missionary work of the apostles, uttering at the same time a warning against false doctrines.
Besides these written documents, there also existed in post-apostolic times a mass of oral traditions which handed down the teachings of the apostles: the so-called traditions of "the Elders",38 attested mainly by Papias and Clement of Alexandria. The former, according to Irenaeus "a pupil of John and companion of Polycarp",39 zealously collected them from the elders or from those who had been in contact with them, as he himself relates;40 by the "Elders" he probably means members of the earliest community at Jerusalem. Clement also stresses the fact that he had taken down from old presbyters oral traditions which went back to the time of the apostles.41 As the presbyters of Clement cannot be identical with the Asiatic elders of Papias, they may have been descendants of Jewish Christians belonging to the original community who came to Alexandria after the destruction of Jerusalem. In content, these traditions of the elders concern the doctrine of angels, the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis and chiliastic ideas, so that this stream of tradition also informs us about the nature of post-apostolic theology.
If we base an account of the theological principles and religious life of the post-apostolic age on this body of writings, we find that its most characteristic feature is the controversy with contemporary Judaism. This can be shown to have existed everywhere where numerous Christian
*> Ibid. 55-64.
39 Irenaeus, Adv. baer. 5, 33, 4.
41 Euseb. HE 3, 39, 3-4.
43 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1, 1, 11-12; Euseb. HE 6, 13, 8-9.
WMH,\W ur iHt POST—APOSTOLIC AGE
congregations encountered the Judaism of the Diaspora, especially therefore in Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt, but also in Rome. The claim of the Jews to be the chosen people, the sole heirs of God's promises, was opposed from the Christian side with the thesis that after the unfaithfulness and falling away of the Jewish people the Christians were the true Israel, who had taken over the inheritance of the rejected nation.
This thesis is most strongly expressed by the author of the letter of Barnabas, but it also plays an important part in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. God (the argument runs) did indeed once make his covenant with Israel, but the latter relapsed again and again into idolatry and thereby rejected it. The promises made to the people of the covenant were fulfilled when Jesus was recognized as the Messiah by a new people, the Christians. Jewish invocation of the Old Law was in vain; the Jews in their literal-mindedness had so missed the sense of the Law's religious and ceremonial ordinances that their worship had become almost idolatrous, their attitude one of "lawlessness" (avo^ia); God had finished with them when he allowed the Temple to perish and gave mankind the "New Law of our Lord Jesus Christ". The rejection of Jesus by the Jews was ultimately due to their misunderstanding of the Old Testament; they did not see that in him the promises of the Old Law were fulfilled. The christology of the post-apostolic age was largely characterized by this scriptural proof that Jesus was the Messiah, which was based upon testimony collected from the Old Testament itself.
Whereas the strongly anti-Jewish attitude of Barnabas limited his view of thesoteriological significance of Christ, this was more clearly seen by other post-Apostolic writers, as for example, Clement of Rome, who knew that Jesus had shed his blood for our salvation and thus atoned for the sins of the whole world; even more clearly is this idea expressed by Ignatius of Antioch according to whom the flesh of Christ had suffered for our sins and won us eternal life, giving us a new relationship with the Father. Anti-Jewish polemics figure largely in the Didache, which warns against Jewish fasting and prayers, but at the same time takes over Jewish elements for the liturgy of the Lord's supper. In other writings of the time this anti-Jewish attitude is less evident, for instance in the first letter of Clement; while in the Shepherd of Hermas it actually gives way to one which is markedly friendly towards Judaism.
The central place that the Lord gave to prayer in the religious life of his disciples remained unaffected in the Church of post-apostolic times. Christian prayer was still in many respects akin to that of the Jews; it was still addressed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but every Christian knew that he was the Father of Jesus Christ. It also continued to employ Old Testaments forms, for the Old Testament had been inherited as a priceless possession by the new and true Israel. But a fresh note is audible in more than one of the prayers of this time — a note of victorious confidence, of buoyancy arising from the consciousness of being redeemed. Thus the Father is thanked with gladness for the new life which he has given to men in Jesus. With joyous gratitude Polycarp thanks the Father of Jesus Christ for the gift of martyrdom; for this and for all things he praises and glorifies him now and for ever, confirming his thanks with the word Amen that had been taken into the Christian liturgy. In the same tone of freshness is the great song of praise in the epistle of Clement, which does pray for the blessings which a Christian will always ask his God for: for peace and justice in this world, as well as for help for those in distress and wisdom for the mighty. But it is ever mindful of the one great fact, that Christians have been chosen by the Father from among all men as being those who love the Father through his son Jesus Christ, by whom they have been made holy.
In their hieratic restraint these texts unmistakably show their nearness to liturgical prayers as they were formulated by the bishops who conducted the eucharistic celebration. They are therefore addressed exclusively to the Father, according to the example of the Lord in his prayers; prayer is offered to the Father in the name of his son Jesus Christ, the high priest. This does not mean that private prayers were not also quite early addressed to Jesus Christ; even Pliny (circa 112) knew that the Christians sang hymns to their Lord, the prayers of the martyrs to Christ give us in their fullness and frequency an idea how familiar direct invocation of Christ must have been in the earliest times.
The sacraments do not figure so prominently in the writings of the apostolic fathers as at a later period. Their ritual forms were still in process of development, but their essential place in the Christian life as a whole is clear. This is especially true of the sacrament of initiation, baptism. The Didache stresses the importance of carrying out the rite properly;
immersion in "living" (flowing) water is desirable,59 but in exceptional cases it suffices to pour water thrice over the head of the person to be baptized. More important is it that every time baptism should be administered "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" — the trinitarian formula is the essential formula of baptism. This is what is meant when the Didache elsewhere57 speaks of "baptism in the name of the Lord". The Christian was aware that in baptism he received the seal of the tri-personal God, to whose sovereignty he thereby submitted. The Pauline representation of baptism as a burial with Christ and a rising again with him is perhaps indicated by the practice of immersion as the regular form.
The importance of baptism was underlined by the requirement of a preparatory fast, to which both the person to be baptized and the one administering the sacrament were obliged, but in which, if possible, other members of the congregation were also to take part, for baptism concerned them all — a new member was being incorporated into the community of those who were united in belief in the Lord. That baptism would give a special character to the life of a Christian, that it would be like a suit of armour to him, is emphasized by Ignatius of Antioch, for whom the healing power of the baptismal water is founded upon the sufferings of Christ. The author of the epistle of Barnabas is also aware of the profound connexion between the Cross and baptism; through the latter, the redemption by Jesus Christ becomes applicable to man, for it brings forgiveness of his sins.59 Hermas also is convinced of this; the question of the meaning and effect of baptism is one with which he is much preoccupied. According to him it is the foundation of the Christian's life; "he plunges as a dead man into the water and emerges from it a living man".80 In baptism Christians receive the seal of the Son of God, without which there is no salvation; only this sealing makes a man a disciple of Christ. It unites all who receive it in one Spirit, in faith and love, and it admits them into the kingdom of God, into the fellowship of the Church.81 This seal can indeed be broken, the gifts conveyed by baptism can be lost; therefore every baptized person has a moral obligation "to keep the seal intact".62
Statements about the Eucharist in the writings of the post-apostolic age are rarer and more restrained. It was celebrated on the Lord's Day. According to the Didache, it is a sacrifice the purity of which can be endangered by sin; therefore Christians ought to confess their sins before its celebration. Moreover, he who lives unreconciled to his neighbour ought not to take part in the eucharistic celebration.63 The Eucharist has been given to Christians as food and drink which are above all earthly nourishment, for it gives eternal life through Jesus.84 Ignatius of Antioch sees the Eucharist as a bond uniting all who believe in Christ. For the individual it is an elixir of life, an antidote against death, because it nourishes life in Christ and so guarantees resurrection to eternal life.63 The man who excludes himself from it, because he will not confess "that it is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ", lives under the threat of death.66 Just as the Eucharist joins the individual to Christ, so it unites all the faithul among themselves, since they all partake of one flesh and one chalice at one altar.67 But it can effect this unity only when celebrated in the presence of the rightful bishop or his delegate; "if a man is not within the sanctuary, he must refrain from the bread of God."88 Eucharistic communion not only symbolizes the unity of the Church, it also creates it.
The outstanding feature of post-apostolic piety is its christo-centricity. The will of Christ is the norm for the moral life of Christians, his commandments govern their behaviour; the Son of God himself is now the Law.69 Christ's life has become the model which his faithful follow, the imitation of Christ the basis of Christian piety,70 which sees in martyrdom its noblest proof.71 Certainly the Christian knew that behind the will of Christ there was the will of the Father; but this was revealed in the example of Jesus Christ, and he who followed it came to the Father or lived in the Father.
Life in Christ and the imitation of him represented an ideal towards which all indeed were to strive, but which many Christians failed to attain. Hence the admonitions of the bishops, who were constantly calling upon their congregations to imitate God and his Son. The failure of such Christians faced the young Church with a problem that found its expression
•» Didache, 14, 12.
84 Didache 10, 3 can hardly be understood as referring to Christian truth as such, as thanks have already been given for that in 10, 2. The eucharistic character of the prayers in Didache 9 and 10 being by no means certain, they cannot be taken into consideration here.
86 Eph. 20, 2; Smym. 18, 2. 68 Smym. 7, 1.
87 Phil. 4.
89 Eph. 5, 2.
91 1 Clem 3:4; Polyc., Phil. 4, 1; Ignatius, Magn. 13, 1; 2 Clem 3:4 f.; Hermas, Past. Simil. 8, 3, 2.
70 1 Clem 16:17; 33:7, 8; Polyc., Phil. 10, 1; Ignatius, Eph. 10, 3; Trail. 2, 1.
72 Ignatius, Rom. 4, 2; 5, 3; 6, 3.
w« . . u- rujl-Al'UMULlL AUE
with some asperity in the Shepherd of Hermas. Most of the members of the Roman congregation had indeed remained faithful to the obligation of their baptism, and some had distinguished themselves in persecution as confessors or martyrs; but others had been unable to bear this trial. They had vacillated, full of fear, considering whether to deny or to confess, and only after lengthy hesitation had they decided to suffer for the Christian name. In the face of a threatening new persecution, certain Christians seemed likely to adopt a similar wavering and timorous attitude.
Besides this lack of hope and courage in the hour of danger, Hermas saw other failings in the Roman church. Tepidity and slackness had become widespread, because the desire for possessions and riches had seduced many from the practice of religion, and they lived the same kind of life as the pagans. For them persecution constituted the greatest danger, since they preferred earthly possessions to loyalty towards their Lord. Another evil that was rife among the Roman congregation was ambition and striving after the first places, with regrettable consequences for the peace and unity of the faithful. The elders and deacons especially were liable to such rivalry.
Did there exist a possibility of atoning for such grave failings, or had the offenders finally forfeited their salvation? The Shepherd tells Hermas that it would be in conformity with the Christian ideal if baptism remained the only way of forgiving sin; some teachers had made this a law. But God grants to all those who have fallen another chance to repent, for he knows to what trials man is subject on account of his frailty and the wiles of the Devil. However, if a man falls again and again, and every time wishes to atone by repentance, he is not to entertain any deceptive hopes: his salvation is in jeopardy. There was evidently an opinion that repeated repentance was possible. Between this and the rigid doctrine mentioned above, Hermas desires to show a middle way, but like an anxious preacher he stresses with great earnestness that after this second opportunity of atonement has been granted, the forgiveness thus won must not again be imperilled at any price, all the more so as the "building of the tower" will soon be finished. Hermas therefore bases the impossibility of further repentance on eschatological grounds; soon the Church would be complete, and he who did not then find himself inside the tower, who did not belong as a pure member to the Church, could not be saved. Hermas does not discuss the problem of the unforgivability of certain sins; but the question of repentance was already
inc. rwj 1—ili vy » — —- —
a burning one about the year 140. The Shepherd gives us an instructive glimpse of the discussion it raised in the Roman congregation. In the third century it was to be taken up again on a broader basis and with louder repercussions.
The Development of the Church's Organization
IN comparison with the development of theology in the post-apostolic age, progress in completing the ecclesiastical organization in that period was far more extensive and significant. The links which bound the constitution of the post-apostolic Church to the organization of the Pauline community were still indeed apparent; but everywhere a further development from the early beginnings is observable, leading to more highly organized forms both within the individual congregation and in the Church as a whole. This fact gives the post-apostolic age of the Church a special importance.
First of all, the individual congregation is more clearly defined as regards its significance and function as part of the Church's organism. The Christians of a city were now everywhere joined together in separate congregations or local churches. The church of God, dwelling far away in Rome, greets the church of God in Corinth; Ignatius addresses his letters to clearly defined local churches, to those of Ephesus and Magnesia, to the church which, in the territory of the Romans, stands first; the congregation of Smyrna sends to the church of God in Philomelion an account of the martyrdom of its bishop, Polycarp. This joining together of the followers of Christ in a city to form a single congregation differs markedly from the organization of contemporary Judaism in the Diaspora, which had several synagogues in the same place, several congregations but smaller groups.
There was no Christian that did not belong to such a local congregation. He joined with all his brethren in the eucharistie celebration, at which the unity of the post-apostolic congregation is most clearly apparent. Ignatius of Antioch unwearyingly proclaims this unity, which he seeks to explain by various images and comparisons: the congregation is like a choir whose singers praise the Lord with one voice, or like a company of travellers following the directions of its Lord. For the author of the first letter of Clement the unity of the congregation is symbolized by the harmony of the universe or by the arrangement of the human body, in which each member has its appropriate function. Hermas sees it in the image of a tower built upon the cornerstone that is Christ.
This vital, compact unity of the congregation was a possession to be constantly guarded, for it could be dangerously threatened by the tendency to disputatiousness and petty jealousy which led to divisions in the community, or by self-will in interpreting Christ's teaching. Schism and heresy were therefore regarded as the great enemies of unity in the early Church, even though they were not as sharply distinguished from one another as in later times. There is hardly a written work of the post- apostolic period which does not mention the schismatic tendencies which appeared now here, now there; it was not always a definite splitting away hardening into irreconcilability, but often ambition, jealousy, or backbiting, which created a climate of dissatisfaction against which the D 'tdache and pseudo-Barnabas gave warning, but which was also present in the Roman congregation at the time of Hermas. More serious was the situation at Corinth, a congregation formerly distinguished by its spirit of brotherhood; although we cannot discover all the details of the events at Corinth, the epistle from Rome attributed to jealousy the deep division which had caused once leading members of the congregation to be removed from office — jealousy, which was the root of so many evils in the religious past of Israel and also even at that early date in the young Christian Church. The Roman congregation was profoundly grieved by these happenings and condemned them severely.
To the apostolic fathers, the danger of heresy was even greater. As the pastoral and Johannine epistles had had to warn against heretical falsification of Christian doctrine, so it was also Asiatic Christianity in particular that was exposed to danger from heretical groups in post-apostolic times. Ignatius of Antioch directed his attack against spokesmen of Docetism, who said that Christ had not possessed a real body and asserted that the Jewish Law was still valid. There was only one attitude for members of the Christian community to adopt towards them, and that was strict avoidance of all association with them and a closer drawing together of the faithful among themselves, not only in Antioch, but also in Smyrna, Philadelphia, and Philippi. In Rome, too, Hermas knew of attempts to introduce strange doctrines. The leaders of the Church organized the campaign against heresy with exhortations and with warnings to other congregations, almost in the same way as they would soon have to do, with all energy, in opposing Gnosticism.
According to what is perhaps the oldest document of the post-apostolic period, the letter of the church of Rome to that of Corinth, the leaders of the congregation were divided into two groups: one bore the double designation of elders (presbyters, 7tpecrpuTepoi) and overseers (episcopi, s7ii(Txo7roi),the other was represented by the deacons (Siaxovoi). At the end of the post-apostolic age we also meet in the Shepherd of Hermas the two names overseers or elders for the holders of leading offices in the Church, deacons and teachers being mentioned as well. The Didache names only overseers and deacons, Polycarp on the other hand only elders and deacons. Only the letters of Ignatius distinguish clearly between the three offices of overseers, elders and deacons. Every congregation had only one overseer or bishop, to whom the college of elders (priests) and deacons was subordinate.
In Antioch and in a number of congregations in Asia Minor there existed therefore in the second decade of the second century a monarchical episcopate: the government of the church was assigned to one bishop, whereas elsewhere both previously and subsequently, this development was not complete, or at least our sources do not confirm that it was. The one office, which in apostolic times bore the double designation of episcop or presbyter, was divided into two and the term overseer or bishop reserved exclusively for the holder of the highest office in the congregation. The sources do not make it possible for us to follow the phases of this development, nor do they tell us if it took place everywhere in the same way. Soon after 150 the monarchical episcopate seems to have generally prevailed throughout the area of Christian expansion.
The apostolic fathers also partly worked out a theology of ecclesiastical offices, the authority of which is ultimately derived from God. He sent Jesus Christ, who gave the apostles the commission to proclaim the Gospel; they, in accordance with this commission, appointed overseers and deacons, whose places were to be taken at their death by other approved men who would continue their work among the faithful. Thus Clement of Rome regarded the authority of heads of congregations as based upon Christ's commission to the apostles, from whom all power of government in Christian communities must be derived by uninterrupted succession.
Ignatius further developed the theology of the episcopate in another direction; he was the most eloquent advocate of the complete and
ut IHt CHURCHS ORGANIZATION
unconditional bond of union between bishop and congregation. The latter was one with its bishop in thought and prayer; only with him did it celebrate agape and Eucharist. Its members should follow him in obedience as Christ did the Father; nothing should take place in the congregation without the bishop. Even the administration of baptism and the performance of marriage ceremonies were reserved to him.69 Presbyters and deacons had a share in his authority; the faithful were to obey the presbyters as the apostles, and in the deacons they were to honour the law of God.80 The bishop could demand such an attitude from his people only because he represented Christ to them; he who, like the teachers of false doctrines, rejected the authority of the bishops was a rebel against the Lord, who was the actual if invisible bishop of every congregation. The office-holders for their part saw their mission wholly in the light of its supernatural origin and were conscious that in the fulfilment of their task they were guided by the Spirit. Ignatius felt himself thus guided when he urged the Philadelphians to be in agreement with their bishop and presbyters; he was conscious of being the possessor of heavenly mysteries, he knew things visible and invisible. To Polycarp of Smyrna the manner of his death was supernaturally revealed; the Spirit moved Clement of Rome to address his admonition to the Corinthians.82
Two factors then worked together in order that the bishop and his assistants might fulfill their official duty: the apostolic, that is, God-given origin of their authority, and guidance through the divine Spirit. Thus supported, they conducted the eucharistic celebration, presided at the agape, proclaimed the true doctrine and were guarantors of the purity of the Gospel, guardians of the apostolic traditions.
The working of the Holy Spirit was not, however, limited to the leaders of the congregation; it could be felt everywhere among the faithful. Clement of Rome saw in the faith, the wisdom and the chastity of the Corinthians special graces from the Spirit, which were shared by the congregations of Magnesia, Ephesus and Smyrna. Individual members of such congregations claimed to possess very special gifts, like Hermas or the author of the epistle of Barnabas, who speaks of a deep "insight" which he was able to transmit only in part. Charismatic gifts were therefore also present in post-apostolic times, and there were also, as in the earlier period, similar tensions between those of the laity who were favoured by the Spirit and the leaders of the community. This is especially apparent in the Didache, which gives to the "prophets" a special rank. They appear as teachers, they devote themselves to the service of the poor and they have to "give thanks"; they therefore have a particular role in the assemblies. But they had to prove before the congregation their claim to special gifts; for there were false prophets who did not preach the truth and were out to make money. Recognition was due to the tried and true prophet; he was above criticism, to submit him to judgment would have been to sin against the Lord. 5 One has the impression that the editor of the Didache is here fighting for a prophetic ideal which was sinking in general esteem, no doubt in favour of the "teacher", whose suitability had to be strictly examined.
Hermas, the author of the Shepherd, was a prophet of the Roman church to whom were vouchsafed many visions which he had to make known to the faithful. They concerned the single important subject of repentance, and he sought to win over to his point of view the presbyters, the official leaders of the congregation. Hermas claimed no teaching authority to which the heads of the congregation were obliged to submit; when he stepped forward in the assembly he was received with respect, for the Spirit spoke through him. That the Spirit did speak through him, it was the business of the authorities to make sure. Hermas knew too that there were false prophets who were known by their works.96 In the case of Hermas there was clearly no rivalry between the possessor of special gifts and the office-holders; harmony seems to have been established and their respective tasks recognized. A few decades later Montanism was to bring prophecy once more into the foreground and compel the ecclesiastical authorities to take up a definite position.
The congregation of post-apostolic times did not however exist in isolation and self-sufficiency. It knew itself to be linked with all the others and united in one organism, through which flowed a supernatural principle of life: Christ the Lord. All the congregations together formed a new people, the universal Church, which was made manifest in every individual congregation. All nations were to recognize that Christians were "the people of God and the sheep of his pasture";97 under the banner of Christ the faithful, both Jews and Gentiles, were united in one body, the Church of Christ; 98 all who had received the seal were one in the same faith, in the same love;99 Christ had given his flesh for his new people.100 Ignatius of Antioch was the first to call this international community of the faithful "the Catholic Church", whose invisible bishop was Christ.101 Its catholicity
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHURCH'S ORGANIZATION
was such a striking characteristic that by its presence the true Church could be recognized.
The Christian experienced the unity and catholicity of his Church in many ways in his daily life. Not only was the missionary welcomed like a brother when he met some of the faithful in a city; the bishop, priest, or deacon who brought a message, even the simple Christian whose business took him to foreign parts — they were all received with brotherly hospitality wherever there was a group of Christians. An active correspondence between one congregation and another kept alive the consciousness of belonging to a great universal community. News was exchanged, joys and sorrows shared; long journeys were even undertaken in order that important questions of a religious nature might be discussed in common.
The inner unity of the universal Church was assured by other powerful ties. Christians sought to maintain religious unity by a rule of faith which, beginning with simple forms, gradually acquired more precise and definite expression; it was in essential points the same everywhere and was impressed upon all Christians at baptism. Unity of worship was established in the celebration of the Eucharist, which did indeed show local variations in form and in the text of many prayers, but which was essentially the same central act of the Christian liturgy, so that Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna in Asia Minor could celebrate it also in the church of Rome. Unity in faith and worship was further preserved by the fact that the tradition of the Church was always the standard to be followed. For here no novelty of human origin could or should be admitted; loyalty to tradition was a prerequisite for the preservation of the truths of the faith and the unity of worship. With striking frequency we find the apostolic fathers, even at this early date, invoking tradition, which was looked upon as a legacy from the apostles and therefore inalterable. Unity in belief, worship and apostolic tradition could ultimately be guaranteed only by him who was their Lord and protector, Christ; therefore the Church turned to him in prayer, imploring him to gather together the people of God from the ends of the earth, to bring them to unity and to preserve them in it.
Even though the bishop's sphere of activity was his own congregation, he was not exempt from all responsibility for the Church as a whole. It was not only a feeling of solidarity with the faithful of other congregations that prompted bishops like Ignatius and Polycarp to address to them words of encouragement or rebuke; they acted thus from a sense of duty. There was, indeed, no bishop of the post-apostolic age who intervened in the affairs of other local churches with the same authority as in his own congregation, or could give instructions to the whole Church. Even Clement of Rome was too much of a background figure, as compared with the Roman church as such, to make it possible for us to attribute to him, on the strength of his epistle to the church of Corinth, a right to admonish, in the sense of a primacy, supported by a special authority. Rather was it the Roman congregation as such that made a claim exceeding the limits of brotherly solidarity. There are no grounds for supposing that Rome's advice had been asked for; the Roman letter seeks to re-establish peace by admonition and counsel, though sometimes its language takes on a more decisive, almost threatening tone that seems to expect obedience.109 Noteworthy too is the respect which Clement's first epistle gained in Corinth and in the rest of the Church during the period immediately following, so that it was sometimes regarded as inspired scripture.110 This implies the existence in the consciousness of non-Roman Christians of an esteem of the Roman church as such which comes close to according it a precedence in rank. It is especially noticeable in Ignatius' letter to the Romans. Its enthusiastic introduction is unique when we compare it with the prefaces to his other letters; the accumulation of honorific and fulsomely respectful epithets is hardly to be explained by personal temperament or by the purpose of the letter alone. In obvious allusion to the epistle to the Corinthians, the letter states that the Roman congregation acted as teacher to others.111 Ignatius does not however mention the Bishop of Rome, and his words about the precedence of Rome in charity112 (i.e. in charitable activities) can in no way be understood in the sense that any special personal dignity was accorded to its bishop.
In conclusion it may be added that the stream of Christians coming from elsewhere to Rome indicates a special attraction of that church which cannot be explained solely by the fact that Rome was the capital of the empire. Orthodox Christians, as well as adherents or founders of sectarian and heretical movements (we need merely mention Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin, and Hegesippus, and the Gnostics Valentinus, Cerdon, and Marcion), sought support or recognition at Rome which would count as legitimation in their own country. This fact also is evidence of the precedence allowed to the church of Rome.
,0» 1 Clem 57:1-2; 59:1-2. 110 G. Bardy, op. cit. 112f.
1.1 Ignat., Rom. 3, 1.
1.3 Ignat., Rom. inscr.
CHAPTER 11 Heterodox Jewish-Christian Currents
QUITE early there developed alongside the orthodox Jewish Christianity of the Jerusalem community and of the post-apostolic period, other Jewish groups which took over Christian elements in doctrine and worship. But, in contrast with genuine Jewish Christianity, they transformed these elements and thereby separated themselves from it as well as from post- biblical Judaism. With the latter, however, they shared the main ideas of late Jewish apocalyptic literature, and they recognized the Mosaic Law. It seems indeed not impossible that Jewish sectaries, who already had religious practices different from official Judaism,113 borrowed Christian elements and thus emphasized their differences. Their separation from orthodox Jewry was not so much the result of changes in religious practice as of fundamentally different doctrines. These were concentrated on two main questions: Christology and the binding force of the Mosaic Law. The latter question was, as we have seen, a cause of considerable conflict in the congregations founded by Paul and was bound sooner or later to lead to the disavowal of the "judaizers" by the Church, if they insisted on imposing observance of the Law upon Gentile Christians as necessary to salvation. Evidently it came to a separation soon after the death of James, when the judaizing group endeavoured to set up their candidate, Thebutis, against the lawfully elected successor of James, Simeon.114 The emigration of the orthodox Jewish Christians to the region east of the Jordan and their consequent dispersion in Coelesyria weakened their inner cohesion and rendered them more open to the influence of Jewish sectaries. For the Church as a whole, however, the christological question grew more and more important and became a criterion of orthodoxy for individual Jewish Christians and Jewish-Christian congregations.
The Christology of Kerinthos115 was, for orthodox Jewish Christians, a ground for bitterly opposing him. His character and doctrine have indeed been distorted by the addition of fantastic and legendary features, notably by Epiphanios;116 but Irenaeus, with his connexions with Asia Minor, may well be reporting what is essentially correct when he states that Kerinthos lived towards the end of the first century in western Asia Minor, and that he asserted of Jesus that the latter was the natural son of Mary and Joseph.
As Jesus had distinguished himself above all other men by his justice and wisdom, Christ in the form of a dove had descended upon him after his baptism; from then on he had proclaimed the hitherto unknown Father and performed miracles. Before the end, Christ had again left him; only Jesus suffered death and rose again.
This image of Christ, tinged with Adoptionism and Docetism, was bound to be unacceptable to the Christians of Asia Minor; an indication of this is to be seen in the curious note of Irenaeus that the apostle John was prompted to write his Gospel by the teachings of Kerinthos. Kerinthos also had Gnostic ideas, for according to Irenaeus, he distinguished the "highest God" from the creator of the world, who did not know the former. Eusebius says moreover that Kerinthos favoured a crude form of chiliasm which may have had its origin among the Jewish sects. He does not seem to have gained a large following; the statements of Epiphanios, who speaks of a sect of Kerinthians, are open to question.
The Jewish-Christian group that in Irenaeus goes by the name of Ebionites was, however, a considerable movement. Early Christian heresiologists derive this name from a person called Ebion, but it is more probable that it comes from the Hebrew word 'ebjon (poor). The adherents of this movement would, then, have seen in the name a descriptive designation which referred to their simple way of life. Perhaps the Ebionites were, in the beginning, orthodox Jewish Christians, who, so far as they personally were concerned, had remained faithful to the Law. There would then be much in favour of the assumption that they were originally successors to those members of the primitive Church who settled beyond the Jordan and in Coelesyria. Later, however, they began to propound views on christology and on the binding nature of the Mosaic Law which were heterodox and led to their breaking away from the Church. A clue to the date of their separation is perhaps to be found in Justin Martyr, who distinguishes two groups of Jewish Christians: those who saw in Jesus a mere man, and those who acknowledged him as the Messiah and Son of God. The separation between heretical and orthodox Ebionites must therefore have taken place about the year 150.
Among the writings of the Ebionites, a Gospel of their own must first be mentioned. It was probably the Gospel of Matthew, revised in an Ebionite sense; Epiphanios has preserved fragments of it.120 Ebionite ideas are also to be found in a treatise dating from the first half of the second century, containing the "Sermons of Peter", rewritten by the editor of the pseudo-Clementines. An Ebionite theological writer, known to us by name,
ntl JJIWian—LHRli l IAIN ^URRtJ\15
is the translator of the Bible, Symmachus, whose various works on the Scriptures were extant in the time of Origen.121
No uniform picture can be given of the subsequent history of the Ebionite movement. Both in the attitude towards Christ and in the degree of importance attached to the Law and to sacrifices, there were different tendencies and shades of opinion. Some of the Ebionites accepted Gnostic ideas and indulged in bizarre speculations. The following characteristics are typical of the Ebionite movement in so far as it was heterodox. In their concept of the origin of the world the Ebionites took a dualistic view. God, in the beginning, set up a good and an evil principle: to the latter was given dominion over the present world; to the former, dominion over that which is to come. The good principle is Christ, the promised messianic prophet. Jesus of Nazareth was consecrated by God as Messiah and supplied on the day of his baptism in the Jordan with divine power. He was not the existing Son of God, but the naturally begotten son of a human couple, raised to the rank of Messiah because of his exemplary fulfilment of the Law of God. He was, besides, the "true prophet", who had already appeared in Adam and Moses, each time with a special mission, and who as Jesus was to bring the Jews back to the pure observance of the Law and to win the Gentiles for God.122 This task he was to fulfill by preaching the word of God, not, therefore, by an extraordinary act of salvation, nor by dying for man's redemption. The Ebionites rejected belief in his redemptive death, as Christ had withdrawn himself from Jesus at the time of the crucifixion. The Ebionite image of Christ is thus essentially conditioned by its adoptionist character and by its denial of the soteriological significance of his life and death.
Joined to this christology was the Ebionites' demand for observance of the Law, which was, it is true, to be purged of its distortions. Such, for instance, were the false pericopes which had been later added to the Law of Moses, and above all the bloody sacrifices which represented a falsification of the divine will. This reform of the Law had been effected by Jesus in his teaching; he had shown what was genuine in the Law and in conformity with the will of God, and what contradicted it. He had rejected every form of worship by sacrifices, and therefore his death too had not the character of a sacrifice. Sacrifices were replaced by a life of poverty and community of goods; the Ebionite purified himself by daily washings, by participation in a ritual meal of bread and water, and by celebrating both Sabbath and Sunday.
Together with their esteem for the Mosaic Law and their rejection of the soteriological significance of Christ's death, the Ebionites also showed
Euseb. HE 6, 17.
L. Cerfaux, "Le vrai prophete des Clementines" in RSR 18 (1928), 143-63.
a certain "anti-Paulinism, expressed particularly in the "Kerygmata Petrou" an Ebionite treatise of the first half of the second century which influenced the pseudo-Clementines. According to it, Paul was the great opponent of the Law, "the hostile man", who falsified the true ideas of Jesus. The Ebionites did not accept his elevation to the rank of apostle, for this dignity belonged only to those who had personal acquaintance with Jesus, whereas Paul's vocation rested upon visions and revelations that were nothing more than illusions inspired by devils. Here the Ebionites may be said to represent the heirs of those judaizers who appear in Paul's epistles as opponents of his missionary activity. The "Kerygmata Petrou" also shows an anti-Trinitarian tendency and rejects the Trinitarian interpretation of some Old Testament passages usual in Christian circles.
Recently, certain common features shared by Ebionites, Essenes and Qumran Jews have been pointed out.123 These are especially evident in their attitude towards the Temple, its priesthood and the bloody sacrifices. Thus the Ebionite movement may have been part of a larger current of opinion, which in its extreme forms broke altogether with the official worship of the Temple. The originality of the Ebionites would then have lain in the evaluation they set upon the person of Christ.
Close to the Ebionites stood other Jewish-Christian groups which, on account of certain opinions held by them, can likewise not be regarded as belonging to orthodox Christianity. First, there was the sect of the Elcbasaites, which, by the third century, had spread to some extent. It was founded by a man named Elchasai, who was active on the borders of Syria and Parthia during the early decades of the second century. This sect sent out missionaries and gained adherents in the East as far as the Euphrates and Tigris. It had considerable success in Palestine, and, through Alcibiades of Apamea, it even tried to get a footing in Rome at the time of Hippolytus. Its message was based upon a holy book to which a supernatural origin was ascribed. In it, two heavenly beings played a principal part, a female one, called the Holy Spirit, and a male one, the Son of God or Christ, who came into the world in repeated incarnations. The sect practised a baptism, fully clothed, which was believed to effect forgiveness of sins, as well as frequent washings, which delivered from sickness and defects.124 The foundation of the Elchasaites' way of life was the Law. Circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, and praying towards Jerusalem were obligatory. They disapproved, however, of the Old Testament sacrifices, as well as of certain parts of the Scriptures; Paul they emphatically rejected. The prophecy of an approaching great war, that would usher in the end of the world, shows
HETERODOX JEWISH-CHRISTIAN CURRENTS
apocalyptic traits; he who, when the time came, was in possession of a mysterious formula would be saved. The teaching of the holy book of Elchasai was to be kept secret since not all were worthy of it.
The question as to the original source of Elchasaitism cannot be definitely answered from the evidence at present available. Jewish elements were clearly present; and Christian influences, such as the baptismal formula and a vision of Christ, said to have been enjoyed by Elchasai, are easily recognizable. But the treatment of Christ as a mere man and a simple prophet shows the Christianity of the movement to have been undoubtedly heterodox. Gnostic elements also point in the same direction; amori^ these may be mentioned the repeated incarnations of Christ, the concept of a "highest God" and the use made of magical formulas.
The sect of the Mandaeans can be included here, inasmuch as it was probably connected originally with heterodox Jewish baptist sects which had grown up in eastern Syria and Palestine. Baptism played a predominant part in their worship. It was carried out by immersing the candidate thrice in flowing water, and it could be repeated several times. Great importance was also attached to the liturgical celebration of the ascent of the souls of the dead to the realm of light. According to the Mandaean mythology, there was a great king of light or Great Mana, besides whom there existed innumerable lesser manas; opposing him was a world of black water peopled by demons. John the Baptist was highly revered by the Mandaeans, whereas Jesus was regarded as a false prophet and liar whom John unmasked. Mandaean influence on Christian baptism cannot be proved; the ritual of the baptist sects was evidently supplemented by later borrowings from Nestorian baptismal customs. Other alleged Christian elements in the Mandaean cult are of secondary importance and recede into the background when compared with the Gnostic, Iranian, and Babylonian influences (e. g. astrology). That it originally had links with early Jewish Christianity cannot be assumed. The sect, which still survives with a strength of about 5000 members in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates, did not develop a literature of its own until the seventh or eighth century. It regards Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as false religions.
Finally, the influence of heterodox Jewish Christianity in some early Gnostic groups can be noted, even though the course of these influences is hard to trace. One cannot indeed speak of a Jewish Gnosis in the strict sense, for Judaism does not accept radical dualism in the shape of two original principles of good and evil, equal in rank. Some Jewish schools of thought did preach a relative dualism, accepting a world of angels and demons subordinate to one God; these governed the destinies of nations and individuals.187
Such a Gnostic tendency in heterodox Jewish Christianity can be seen in Samaritan Gnosis, which went back to Simon Magus, who was of course not unfamiliar with Jewish Christianity (Acts, 8:10). Its speculations about the creation of the world by angels, the battle of these with one another and the liberation of mankind by the "virtues and powers", may have been derived from heterodox Jewish sources. Such views could have come via Simon's pupil Menander and the latter's pupils Saturninus (more correctly Satornil) and Basilides to Syria and Egypt, and there joined the Gnostic currents already existing.
The so-called "Apocryphon of John" among the Gnostic writings of Nag Hammadi, with its interpretation of Genesis and its doctrine of archons and angels and the part played by them in the Creation, clearly points to kindred speculations in later heterodox Judaism and in heretical Jewish Christianity. The early Church did not have to engage in controversy to a great extent with all these heterodox Jewish-Christian schools of thought, because she did not come into close contact with all of them. Where, however, such disputes did arise, Christianity had an opportunity to clarify and affirm its beliefs.