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Baus, Karl. From the Apostolic Community to Constantine // History of the Church. Ed.H.Jedin, J.Dolan. Vol. I.



The Church in the Second Century


The Position of the Church under the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Martyrdom of the Congregations of Lyons and Vienne

THE writers of early Christian apologetical works ascribed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-80) an edict favourable to the Christians, which Apollinaris of Hierapolis and Tertullian invoked, when they wished to oppose, as unjust, the proceedings of provincial authorities against the Christians of their day. They saw the explanation of this emperor's attitude in the miraculous fall of rain which, it was said, came in answer to the prayer of a Christian legion and saved the imperial army from defeat in the war against the Marcomanni. It may be that the idea of a philosopher on the throne, who endeavoured, as ruler, to put the Stoic ideal into practice, favoured such an estimate of the emperor.

The reality was otherwise. The emperor's own writings show how much he despised the Christians in his heart, because (as he believed) they threw their lives away for an illusion. That he was determined not to let the State religion be jeopardized by fanatical sectaries and by the introduction of hitherto unknown cults is shown by a rescript of 176-7, which was not indeed specially directed against the Christians, but which could easily be employed against them by provincial authorities. Whether this was so in individual cases cannot be proved, but the increase in the number of complaints from the Christians during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, expressed in the apologetical writings of Melito of Sardes, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and the Athenian Athenagoras, clearly indicate a worsening of their situation. Melito drew the emperor's attention to the fact that the Christians of Asia Minor were exposed day and night to plundering and robbery at the hands of people of the baser sort, treatment such as even hostile barbarian tribes would not be subjected to; their attackers invoked new decrees, which however the author could not believe the emperor had issued.4 Athenagoras also complained in his apologia, addressed to Marcus Aurelius, that the Christians were being hunted, robbed, and persecuted, and begged him to put an end to the denunciations of which the Christians were victims.5

That such was the situation is confirmed by a series of individual martyrdoms in different parts of the empire which can be dated in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. In Rome the philosopher Justin was the most notable victim among a group of Christians who were put to death between 163 and 167 after a trial conducted by the city prefect himself, Junius Rusticus. Justin's pupil Tatian seems to attribute part of the responsibility for the death of these Christians to the intrigues of the pagan philosopher Crescens.6 The martyrdoms of three bishops in the East, of which Eusebius gives a reliable account, also belong to the decade 160-70.7 The execution of Publios, Bishop of Athens, between 161 and 170 is attested by a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Corinth to the church of Athens. Bishop Sagaris of Laodicea died a martyr's death "when Servilius Paulus was proconsul of Asia", therefore about the year 164. At the same time Thraseas, Bishop of Eumenia in Phrygia, probably also met his death; Polycarp of Ephesus informed Pope Victor that he was buried at Smyrna. There are good reasons for assigning the martyrdom of a group of Christians from Pergamum to the reign of Marcus Aurelius; Karpos, Bishop of Thyatira, and a deacon, Papylos, were there condemned to be burnt at the stake. A Christian woman, Agathonike, who was present, openly professed her faith and voluntarily threw herself into the flames.8

The clearest account of the background, circumstances, and course of a wave of local persecution under Marcus Aurelius is provided by a joint letter from the Christian communities of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, in which they tell their brethren in Asia Minor what befell them in the year 177; Eusebius has included nearly the whole of it in his History of the

« Euseb. HE 4, 26, S-6. 5 Athenagoras, Suppl. 1, 3.

• The Acts of the martyrdom of Justin and his companions are in Knopf-Kruger, Ausgewahlte Martyrerakten (Tubingen, 3rd ed. 1929), 15-18, which contains a bibliography, esp. Delehaye PM 119-21; Tatian, Or. 19, 1.

7 Euseb. HE 4, 23, 2; 4, 26, 3; 5, 24, 4.
9 New revision of the Latin and Greek texts by H. Delehaye in AnBoll 58 (1940), 142-76. Cf. H. Lietzmann, Festgabe K. Muller (Tubingen 1922), 46-57, and A. M. Schneider in Jdl (1934), 416ff.

Church.8 The Bishop of Lyons was then the aged Potheinos, who was assisted by a priest called Irenaeus; a deacon, Sanctus, belonged to the congregation of Vienne. A considerable number of the Christians in these cities came directly or indirectly from Asia Minor, such as, for instance, the Phrygian physician Alexander or Attalos of Pergamum, who possessed Roman citizenship. Besides these members of the upper class, the lower ranks of society, including slaves, were represented in the congregation of Lyons, in which, on the whole, there was an active religious life.

In the summer of 177, when representatives of all Gaul were assembled in Lyons for the festival of the imperial cult, the popular rage suddenly vented itself on the Christians, who were supposed, as elsewhere in the empire, to be guilty of atheism and immorality. After some initial vexations (the Christians were forbidden to enter Government buildings and to walk in public squares) the mob drove a group of them into the market-place, whence the Roman tribune, after examining them, had them led off to prison until the absent governor could deal with the matter personally. At the inquiry instituted by the latter on his return, a Christian who had not previously been arrested, Vettius Epagathos, volunteered to prove before the court that the accusations of crimes against religion and the State which were made against his brethren were unfounded. As he confessed, on being questioned by the governor, that he was himself a Christian, he too was arrested. Statements made by pagan slaves in the service of Christians accused their masters of heinous crimes; and thus in a few days the elite of both congregations found themselves in prison. During the trial, about ten Christians abjured their faith; the remainder were condemned to death, the execution of the sentence being accompanied by exquisite torments. Bishop Potheinos died in gaol after brutal ill- treatment; the others were thrown to wild beasts in the arena.

When the governor heard that Attalos, a distinguished man, was a Roman citizen, he postponed his execution in order to inquire of the emperor what line of action he should follow. He was told that apostates were to be pardoned; those who stood fast in their profession of Christianity were to be put to death. All proved steadfast, and so the executions continued. Besides the newly baptized Maturus, the deacon Sanctus, Attalos, and Alexander, the report specially singles out for praise the courage of the young girl Blandina and fifteen-year-old Pontikos. The bodies were not handed over to the families of the Christians for burial, but after six days they were burnt and the ashes scattered in the Rhone. The letter gives no exact number of the victims; only a later tradition mentions about fifty names.

• Euseb. HE 5, 1, 1-2, 8; see H. Quentin, "La liste des martyrs de Lyon" in AnBoll 39 (1921), 113-38.


Christians under Marcus Aurelius were not always condemned to death, but were sometimes sentenced to forced labour in the mines. This appears from a fragment of a letter quoted by Eusebius which was addressed by Dionysius of Corinth to the Bishop of Rome, Soter (167-75).

If we seek the reasons for this obviously increased severity of the Roman authorities towards the Christians, fresh legal measures on the part of the emperor cannot indeed be adduced. His decision in reply to the governor's inquiry clearly shows that the legal position remained as it appears in Trajan's rescript and in the resultant practice under Hadrian. Neither are there grounds for supposing that the provincial authorities, even though the legal position remained the same, had been urged from Rome to take sterner measures. The circumstances of the persecution at Lyons and the above-mentioned complaints in the writings of the apologists show rather that it was public opinion under Marcus Aurelius which had become more unfavourable to the Christians. This hostile atmosphere now found expression more frequently and more intensively than under Hadrian, who had still been able to intervene to curb such excesses. If a provincial governor now gave in to the pressure of popular rage oftener than before, in Rome also public feeling was taken more into account and was given an outlet in the baiting of Christians.

The general discontent of the population of the empire under Marcus Aurelius was fed by various causes. The endless campaigns of that emperor laid many burdens on the people; the constant threat of hostile invasion increased the irritation of frontier populations. People were further aggravated by natural disasters such as the overflowing of the Tiber and outbreaks of the plague. Pogroms were the almost inevitable result. When it was noticed, at the ceremonies of propitiation, ordered by the emperor to avert the pestilence, that the Christians were conspicuously absent, the popular anger found its obvious outlet.

The Christian communities, for their part, had, albeit unwittingly, drawn attention to themselves more than usual about that time. The disputes with the Gnostics in particular congregations could hardly remain concealed from the pagans around them; even if the latter could not understand the background to these disputes, the Church's increased opposition to pagan culture and the Roman State nevertheless became apparent. Mention might also be made of the Montanist movement, at least in certain cases, if the growing irritability of the pagans is to be understood. The exalted desire for martyrdom that was peculiar to the Montanists, and their fanatical refusal to have anything to do with the pagan culture on which the State was based, could easily be attributed to Christianity as such, with disastrous results. Of course, the fact that

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in the congregation of Lyons for instance one member came from Phrygia is not sufficient to prove that it contained a Montanist group.

The situation did not change under Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus (180-92), although it is known that he was personally tolerant towards individual Christians, some of whom were able to hold influential offices at his court. Later therefore, Christian writers such as Eusebius11 attributed to the reign of Commodus a higher rate of conversions. The emperor's attitude was partly due to the influence of his wife, Marcia, who according to Dio Cassius12 had the Christian presbyter, Hyacinth, as her teacher and was in friendly relations with the church of Rome, although she cannot necessarily be regarded as having been a baptized Christian. Thanks to her, Commodus ordered the release of the Christians who had been condemned to forced labour in the Sicilian mines.13

This emperor did not issue any new instructions for the conduct of the State authorities towards the adherents of the Christian faith, a fact proved by isolated trials of Christians during his reign, which can be understood only in the light of the previously existing practice. The first extant document of Christian origin in the Latin language14 gives an account of proceedings against six Christians in the African town of Scili, who were condemned to death by the proconsul Vigellius Saturninus in July 180. It may be presumed that these Christians had been denounced to the Roman authorities, for the proconsul tried to make them renounce their faith and had them executed only after their refusal to do so. A denunciation was no doubt also the cause of the trial of the Roman senator Apollonius in 183-4, which Eusebius relates in an extract from the original acts of this martyr.15 The prefect Perennis even canvassed opinions in the Senate on this case and clearly was very unwilling to pronounce sentence upon a man of such high rank, doing so only when the latter obstinately persisted in his profession of faith.

That the representatives of the Roman State did not always act against Christians in a spirit of brutal fanaticism is also shown by the attitude of the proconsul Arrius Antoninus, of whom Tertullian relates16 that he once, when a large group of Christians stood before his tribunal, imprisoned

» Ibid. 5,21,1.

12 Dio Cassius, 72; cf. also Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 4,30,46, and Hippolytus, Philosophoumena 9,11, 12.
14 See A. Bellucci, "I martiri cristiani "damnati ad metalla' nella Spagna e nella Sardegna" in Asprenas 5 (Naples 1958), 25-46, 125-55; J. G. Davies, "Condemnation to the Mines" in Univ. of Birmingham Hist. Journal 6 (1958), 99-107.
,4 Text in Knopf-Kruger, op. cit. 28-29; see F. Corsaro, "Note sugli Acta martyrum Scillitanorum" in Nuovo Didaskaleion (Catania 1956), 5-51.

15 Knopf-Kruger, op. cit. 30-35; see J. Zeiller in RSR 40 (1925), 153-57, and E. Griffe, BLE 53 (1952), 65-76. " Tertullian, Ad Scapul. 5, 1.
only a few of them, releasing the others with the words: "You unhappy wretches, if you wish to die, have you not ropes and precipices enough?"

There are accounts of martyrdoms during this period at Apamea in Phrygia; and Theophilus of Antioch alludes to actual persecutions in Syria when, at the end of his apologia, he remarks that the Christians "are subjected to cruel torments even to this hour". This general formula implies the continuance of individual martyrdoms, of which, because of the incompleteness of our sources, we have no exact knowledge.

This survey of the persecution of Christians under the last two Antonines shows clearly that the attitude of the Roman State towards Christianity, which had been developed under Trajan, still existed; Christians were brought to judgment only when they had been denounced as such to the authorities, but profession of the Christian faith sufficed for their condemnation, proof of other crimes not being required. For these reasons, we have only sporadic evidence that trials of Christians took place; under Marcus Aurelius they were forced upon the authorities more than before by a public opinion that had grown more hostile and often expressed itself in riotous behaviour. The cause of this attitude was the increased nervousness of the pagan population. The situation is reflected in the growing apologetical literature of the second half of the century, which will be dealt with more fully later.

CHAPTER 13 Literary Polemic against Christianity

THE animosity of the pagans which we have described, with its explosions of popular anger and the action taken by the State authorities in consequence, brought the Christians more and more into the public eye, especially during the first half of the second century. Accordingly, there developed a new reaction of paganism against Christianity, this time on the intellectual plane. A will to resist arose in pagan intellectual circles. The resources of profane culture were employed in the battle against Christianity. Mocking speeches, pamphlets, and books became the means of carrying on a literary war, which began about the middle of the second century and soon reached its first climax in the satirical writings of Lucian of Samosata and in the "True Doctrine" ('AXTJOT]? Xoyo<;) of the philosopher Celsus.


This was of great significance for the history of the Church, because it was one of the factors that provoked a reaction from the Christian side; the Christians took up the pen and adopted an attitude of defence and counter-attack. The resultant body of apologetical works became a special department of early Christian literature, giving a characteristic note to the second half of the second century.

The first beginnings of a pagan literary polemic are discernible in the report of Tacitus on Nero's persecution, mentioned earlier. Even though that author did not regard the Christians as responsible for the burning of Rome, his ironic words about their abominable superstition, their heinous crimes and their hatred of mankind reveal the extent of his contempt for them. His opinion of them could not have been without effect among his readers. A little later we meet in Suetonius a similar characterization of the Christians when he calls them adherents of a superstitio nova ac malefica and thus clearly and contemptuously distinguishes them from those who practised the old, true religion.19 A like opinion was held by Epictetus, who coldly disapproves of the readiness of the "Galileans" for martyrdom, since it was (he says) based on blind fanaticism.20 These, however, are casual remarks made by pagan writers who show no real knowledge of the new religion.

From the middle of the second century a growing unrest becomes evident among educated pagans on account of the increase of the Christian movement, which evidently could not be halted in spite of popular tumults and police measures. The representatives of pagan philosophy now had occasion to become more closely acquainted with the intellectual and religious phenomena of Christianity and to engage in controversy with it. An early example of a discussion between a member of the Church and a pagan philosopher is the encounter between the apologist Justin and the Cynic, Crescens, in Rome. According to Justin's account,21 Crescens went about proclaiming that the Christians were "atheists and fellows of no religion"; though he did so more to please the pagan majority than because he had any sound knowledge of the facts. If he did learn anything at all of the teachings of Christ, he certainly did not, Justin thinks, grasp their scope and importance. In his disputation with Crescens, no doubt conducted in public, Justin did not feel that he had had the worst of it and was quite ready for further debate. Justin's pupil Tatian hints that Crescens sought to avenge himself on his Christian adversary by other means than those of argument.22

Suetonius, Vita Neronis 16. 10 Epictetus, Diss. 4, 6, 7. S1 Justin, Apol. append. 3. « Tatian, Or. 19, 1.

This example shows that the polemic of the educated adopted the reproach of the masses that the Christians were atheists. The same applies to the pagan rhetor Fronto, who enjoyed a certain consideration, not because of his intellectual importance, but on account of his position as tutor to the imperial princes Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. In a speech before the Senate or in a public lecture (afterwards, no doubt, circulated in writing), Fronto took up the grave suspicions which the common folk repeated about the Christians: at their gatherings they were supposed, after having indulged in luxurious meals and partaken copiously of wine, to give themselves up to the worst excesses, including incest.23 It is noteworthy that this member of the intellectual upper class obviously took no trouble to inquire into the justification for such evil rumours, and gave them, in his speech, an importance which could not fail in its effect on public opinion. This effect lasted until the beginning of the third century at least, when Minucius Felix wrote his Dialogue; the passage quoted by him from Fronto was obviously equally well known to pagans and Christians.

The picture of the Christians which Lucian of Samosata gives in his satire "On the Death of Peregrinos Proteus" cannot strictly speaking be regarded as a polemic against them. For this mocker, who with his sharp pen so readily exposed the weaknesses of his fellow men to the laughter of their contemporaries, was free from hatred against the Christians; he saw in them neither a danger to the State nor a threat to public order, and therefore scorned to repeat the venomous atrocity stories that were current about them. He regarded their religious convictions and their everyday behaviour as belonging to the human follies and errors which he enjoyed pillorying; but he regarded the folly of the Christians as particularly harmless. On his numerous journeys, Lucian had often heard of the adherents of this new faith, and no doubt he had occasionally been able to observe them at first hand. As, however, his alert eye was intent only on what might provide material for burlesque or be exploited for its comic possibilities, his knowledge of Christianity remained quite superficial. The writings of the Christians seem not to have interested him, and of their inner religious world he had no idea. Thus it was that he drew the following caricature of them.

The swindler Peregrinos easily succeeds in exploiting the credulity of the men of Palestine; he is soon playing a leading part in the assemblies of the Christians. He interprets their scriptures, writes some new ones himself, and in a short time he is enjoying almost divine honours. When, on account of his having murdered his own father, he is thrown into prison, this only increases the respect the Christians have for him. With

" Minucius Felix, Octav. 9, 6.


unwearying zeal they seek to ease his lot, visit him day and night in prison and procure him every assistance at his trial, while he unscrupulously exploits their helpfulness and unselfishness for his own enrichment. For the Christians' belief in immortality and their readiness to die Lucian had sympathy rather than cynical mockery; he felt the same about their brotherly love, their contempt for earthly possessions and their community of goods; every clever swindler could exploit this attitude and could soon became rich among them. It is only when the Christians see that Peregrinos Proteus disregards some of the commandments of their religion that they forsake him.24

Through this caricature of the Christian life we see a perceptible glimmer of the real situation. Lucian had heard something of the esteem in which one who professed the faith was held by his brother-Christians; he knew of their solicitude for the imprisoned, of their community spirit, and their courage in the face of death. But, even in a critic so free from hatred, we cannot fail to notice the lack of depth and the gaps in Lucian's knowledge of essential features of the Christian religion. Of Christ himself he had only the vaguest ideas; what Christ's life and teaching, death and resurrection meant to the Christians of that period was quite unknown to him. His notion that Peregrinos could be regarded by the Christians as the author of sacred books is as grotesque as his statement that they honoured the deceiver as a god. The distorted image of true Christianity which Lucian produced could hardly have appeared very attractive to the pagans who read his work. Towards a religion whose adherents were indeed harmless, but at the same time naive fools, and who moreover were completely uncritical with regard to their own traditions of belief, one could scarcely react other than with pitying amusement. Lucian's portrait of Christianity could not fail to produce its effect in the intellectual battle with paganism.


Celsus, who wrote in the eighth decade of the second century, raised the controversy to quite a different level in an extensive work to which he gave the equivocal title 'AX^O/]? X6yoc. We no longer possess the whole work, but lengthy excerpts quoted by Origen in his refutation of Celsus, while not enabling us to make a complete reconstruction, do give us a clear idea of its basic arguments. Its author cannot be assigned exclusively to any philosophical school. His idea of God is largely coloured by a moderate Platonism; he therefore recognizes an absolutely transcendent, first and supreme God, immutable and without form, who should be honoured rather in the individual soul than in fixed forms of communal worship. Besides this supreme God, revealed through philosophical deduction, numerous lower gods claim the reverence of mankind, since to them have been assigned special tasks; these gods include the constellations and the tribal gods of the different nations. The demons are also inferior gods, who indeed often occupy a place in the thoughts and actions of men exceeding their actual importance. Finally, Celsus ranks earthly rulers nearly as high as the lower gods, because men owe their welfare to the order maintained by them in the world.

Celsus thus represented a philosophical creed which rejected monotheism and tolerated, in the Greek manner, popular religion and the mystery cults, provided they in some measure corresponded to the fundamental ideas of his own philosophically based religion. Every new religion must, according to Celsus, justify itself, whether as a popular belief or as a local cult. Christianity appeared to him as a new religious movement, and therefore he subjected it to examination. He had learnt as much as possible about this new religion. He had taken pains to understand its scriptures, he knew parts of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and other Christian literature as well. Evidently he had also sought personal contact with its adherents and spoken with them about questions concerning their faith. Jewish sources and Jewish-Christian polemical writings had provided further information. He summed up the results of his studies in a learned and substantial work, which does not however limit itself to displaying theoretical knowledge but also draws practical conclusions. Since his conclusions were wholly unfavourable to Christianity and were expressed moreover in a highly aggressive way, Celsus' 'Akyp^t; Xoyoc; was a decisive event in the history of literary polemic between paganism and Christianity. The importance attached to the work and its possible effect on the public can be seen from the fact that the most significant theologian of the third century, seventy years after its appearance, thought it worth while to write a detailed refutation of it.

Celsus' philosophical principles did not allow him to accept either the Christian doctrine of Creation or the idea of Revelation. A world which was created out of nothing and will pass away again was something that did not fit into his cosmology; even the manner in which the Old Testament describes the creative activity of God seemed to him irreconcilable with the dignity of the Supreme Being. God, according to the idea of Celsus, sat enthroned at an inapproachable distance from the world and could not reveal himself without changing his nature or subjecting himself to the vicissitudes of history and coming into dangerous proximity to evil. Platonic dualism and Stoic cosmology were the basis of Celsus' attitude; to him the idea of God's becoming man appeared positively

1.1 i i. IWIII I r V_i LXiVll A^jAlINd 1 CHK1M1ANIJY

shameful: "No God and no Son of God has ever descended to earth, nor ever will."25

With this rejection of the doctrine of the Incarnation, Celsus coupled a characterization of the person of Jesus of Nazareth which was bound to offend every Christian deeply. According to him, Jesus was only a man who had gained respect and authority through the means employed by Egyptian sorcerers; but no one would think of giving one of these the title of "God's Son". Jesus was really nothing but a juggler, a boaster, and a liar, whose moral life was by no means blameless. The veneration which Christians had for him was comparable to the cult of Antinous, the favourite slave of Hadrian; their worship was addressed to a dead man, not to a divine being.

The opposition of Celsus to the Christian doctrine of angels was connected with the Greek idea of the impossibility of divine intervention in the course of human history. A God, who at a definite time in history sent a messenger with a mission of salvation, would be breaking the inalterable law to which all earthly things were subject.

Far more effective than his attacks on Christan doctrines was the unfavourable description Celsus gave of the Christians themselves and of their daily life. They were (he said), for the most part, men of limited intelligence, who did not understand their own doctrines and would not discuss them; they even regarded "foolishness" as a mark of distinction. Their faith was the religion of the stupid and of stupidity;26 their deliberate exclusion of the Logos from their religious life was in itself a condemnation of Christianity in Greek eyes. Christian preaching even warned its hearers against earthly wisdom and thus frightened away those to whom Greek culture represented an ideal. That was why it found its audience in those social classes to which, in any case, culture was foreign, namely among the slaves, the lower orders of the despised manual workers and their like, among immature children and women. This was no wonder, for the founder of Christianity belonged to the lower classes, having been only a carpenter.

Celsus based his moral judgment of the Christians as deceivers and liars on their having consciously borrowed ideas from the Greek past, distorting and falsifying them in their propaganda; whereas the Greeks revered their intellectual heritage. Thus Christianity sinned against the Logos and was the irreconcilable opponent of the aX^O^ Xoyo<;, the "true doctrine" of the Greeks. It offended furthermore against that other Greek ideal, that of loyalty to the Nomos, the reverent regard for tradition in religion and worship, which was respected as an unwritten law by all nations. Moses had already disregarded this law when he established Jewish monotheism instead of Egyptian polytheism; but when Jesus of Nazareth began to proclaim a new faith, it was rebellion against the Nomos and an act of apostasy. This falling away from the Nomos forced Christianity into isolation and made it a miserable, hole-and-corner religion, the adherents of which Celsus compared to a group of earthworms assembled on a dunghill, vying with one another as to which of them was the greatest sinner.

The revolt of the Christians against the sacred ideals of Logos and Nomos gave Celsus a pretext for branding them as a gang of lawbreakers who had to shun the light of publicity. Jesus had picked out men of evil repute to be his apostles, men who carried on the unclean businesses of publicans and sailors; he himself was nothing but a "robber chief" at the head of his band of brigands. The successors of the apostles, the Christian preachers of the author's own time, were no better. Their words found an echo only among criminals, whom they incited to further crimes. It was therefore the duty of the State authorities to intervene against a religion which, in a secret and forbidden confederacy, rebelled against all traditional law and order. Sympathy for the victims of the resulting persecution would be out of place.

Here we must stop to ask the question: how far was such a powerful attack effective? It could hardly count on any appreciable success among the Christians themselves. The distorted picture of Jesus was bound to fill them with disgust, especially as it came from a man who was acquainted with the Gospels. The same is true of his characterization of the apostles and early disciples, as well as of his contempt for the martyrs, to whom Celsus denied all moral worth, although elsewhere he highly praised loyalty to religious convictions. His complete misunderstanding of the Christian concept of sin and of what gave the Christians their inner cohesion was bound to prevent his work from having any profound effect on the members of the Church. One may, indeed, justly point out that Celsus was guided in his polemic against the Christians by the motive of saving from destruction the high Greek ideals of a life according to Logos and Nomos. But in considering it necessary to employ in the process a language of contempt and mockery, which did not shrink from the vilest abuse of what he knew to be sacred to the Christians, he served his cause badly. His appeal to the Christians to come out of their isolation and to take part in the social life of the Roman State thereby lost all appearance of sincerity.

The effect of Celsus's book upon contemporary paganism may well have been different. An educated pagan who, without personal knowledge of Christianity, read this work which described, with pretensions to extensive learning, a movement threatening all Greek culture held sacred, could with difficulty bring himself to take much positive interest in such a contemptible religion. The book may indeed have done much to strengthen the conviction that severe measures against such a movement were necessary. Whether Celsus succeeded in bringing about a renaissance of pagan religion in the face of the menace of Christianity may justly be doubted. Subsequent developments indicate that the latter's powers of defence were rather strengthened than weakened by this attack.

CHAPTER 14 The Early Christian Apologists of the Second Century

EVEN before the middle of the second century, some writers on the Christian side had begun a task which, because of its purpose, later earned them the name of apologists. They belonged entirely to the Greek- speaking part of the empire and form a compact group, which in the second half of the century grew in number and importance. In many respects they introduced a new phase in the development of early Christian literature; for the aim of the apologists was intentionally wider than that of their immediate predecessors, the apostolic fathers. They wanted to do more than provide the members of nascent communities with the most important truths of Revelation in a simple form. They saw clearly that the situation of Christianity in the first half of the century, especially in the Hellenic East, presented its writers with new tasks.

The apologists perceived that the faith was meeting with ever-increasing hostility in every department of public life. This development led them to address their pagan neighbours directly, in order to give them, i? more or less extensive explanatory writings, a truer picture of the Christian religion. Thus an unbiased judgment of its adherents and a juster treatment of them would be made possible. In the situation then obtaining, any explanatory work on the true character of Christianity was necessarily also a defence against the suspicions and false judgments of the pagan world. Hence such a work was called axoXoyta, "apologia" or speech for the defence. But it was not difficult to combine missionary and propagandist intentions, and these authors worked at least indirectly towards the spread of the faith among their readers.


The Christian apologists did not need to create the literary form for their purpose; it existed already in the speech for the defence, the logos, which was delivered before the judicial authorities and subsequently published. There was also the dialogue, the immediate occasion and circumstances of which were usually fictitious. Both forms were used in Christian apologetics. The defensive speech, in pamphlet form, was employed especially when addressing the pagans; the dialogue was more used in controversy with Judaism.29 This controversy had entered a new phase now that the political existence of Palestinian Jewry had come to an end through the Roman victory over Bar Cochba. In the changed circumstances renewed discussion with the Diaspora Jews about the true Messiah had become possible.

The method and choice of theme varied according to the adversary addressed. In dialogues with the Jews, the main theme was already given: only Jesus of Nazareth could be the true Messiah, for in him alone were fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. In debate with pagan religions and Hellenistic culture there was a wider choice. First of all, the persistent rumours accusing the Christians of sexual immorality, atheism, and inadaptibilty for social life had to be refuted, for it was these rumours that kept alive the animosity of the pagan masses. More space was devoted to setting forth the truths of the Christians and the ethic on which it was based. In this connexion the Christian writers were fond of adding some more or less sharp criticism of the pagan gods and mythology for which contemporary philosophers might sometimes have provided both stimulus and example. A few of the apologists endeavoured to prove that the religious quest of the most profound pagan thinkers found its fulfilment in Christianity. Alongside such a more or less positive appreciation of the cultural achievements of paganism there was also, however, a purely negative attitude which treated all that Greek civilization had produced with cheap mockery. Repeatedly, the apologists draw the conclusion that the right to existence of such a lofty religion as Christianity could not be denied, and that, therefore, the measures taken against its adherents by the authorities were completely lacking in justice.

The series of apologetic writers begins with the Athenian Quadratus, who, according to Eusebius,50 addressed an apologia to the emperor Hadrian. The single fragment of his work which is certainly genuine, permits no conclusions about its general character. Various attempts to see the Apologia of Quadratus in this or that extant apologetical work of the early Christian period must be regarded either as unsuccessful or

s" Such as the lost work by Ariston of Pella: Disputation between Jason and Papiscus concerning Christ (circa 140); cf. Quasten P, I, 195 f. M Euseb. HE 4, 3, 1; the fragment ibid. 4, 3, 2.
viniNiJiiiviN fti-ULUWbO Ut Itit SECOND CENTURY

as hypotheses which have not met with unanimous acceptance by historians.31

On the other hand it has been possible to rediscover complete in a Syrian translation the long-lost work of his fellow-countryman and contemporary, Aristides, and to show that the Greek novel Barlaam and Joasaph, in the version of John Damascene, is a free adaptation of it. Aristides was no doubt addressing the same emperor, Hadrian, as Eusebius (who knew his Apologia in the original text) was aware of.32 The author, however, did not succeed in presenting and developing his theme effectively. His main argument was that the three races, barbarians, Greeks, and Jews, did not possess the true idea of God; only the fourth race, the Christians, had the true doctrine and moral code. He was not above borrowing some of the Epicureans' religious criticism and employing Jewish arguments against polytheism. His clumsy style is no doubt partly due to his efforts to use the language of contemporary philosophy in order to bring home to his readers the fundamental truths of Christianity. These, for him, consisted in the belief that Jesus Christ as Son of God had come down from Heaven and taken flesh of a virgin, and that after his death and resurrection he had commanded the apostles to proclaim the true God to all nations and to make them observe his commandments; he who obeyed these would become a partaker in eternal life.

Aristides' tone becomes warmer when he speaks of the daily life of the Christians (c. 15), which recommends itself by its lofty purity of morals. He was deeply permeated with the belief that Christianity alone could bring salvation to mankind. This earliest surviving attempt of a Christian apologist to introduce his faith to his pagan fellow-citizens leads one to suppose that a recent convert from paganism was bold enough to undertake a task which he was not yet quite capable of fulfilling.33

An incomparably higher achievement was the work of Justin, a convert from a Greek family of Flavia Neapolis in Palestine, who as director of a school in Rome, died a martyr's death about the year 165.34 An Apologia with an appendix, addressed to Antoninus Pius and his son Marcus Aurelius, together with a lengthy Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon have

" Cf. Altaner 117f. The most interesting view so far is that of P. Andriessen, wh^ considers that the Apologia is identical with the Letter to Diognetus; cf. his essays, RThAM 13 (1946), 5-39, 125-49, 14 (1947), 121-56, and Vig Chr 1 (1947), 129-36; SE 1 (1949), 44-54; Bijdragen 11 (1950), 140-50. On this question see also G. Bardy, APhilHislOS 9 (1949), 75-86; B. Altaner, RAC I, 652-4.

!i Euseb. HE 4, 3, 3, The Syrian translation is addressed to "Adrianos Antoninos", i. e. Antoninus Pius; but the translator is more likely to have been mistaken than Eusebius. 43 Cf. W. Hunger, "Die Apologie des Aristides eine Konversionsschrift" in Scholastik 20-24 (1949), 390-400. On its doctrinal content see P. Friedrich in ZKTh 43 (1919), 31-77.

54 The account of his martyrdom is in Knopf-Kriiger, op. cit. 15-18.

come down to us, the remnant of eight works by Justin which were known to Eusebius.35 The Apologia to the two emperors was written about 150. Whether the appendix, often called the Second Apologia, was published with it as its original conclusion, or was a supplement added later, it is difficult to decide.36 The Dialogue refers to the Apologia as having already appeared; more precise indications as to its date are lacking.

The career and the superior education of their author give these writings a special importance. Justin belonged to the educated upper class. As a professional philosopher he was acquainted with all the principal intellectual movements of his time, and as an unswerving seeker after truth he had tried them all in turn and found inner peace only when he recognized Christianity to be "the only certain and adequate philosophy" (Dial., c. 8). He thereupon embraced it and devoted the rest of his life to proclaiming and defending it. It is understandable that, as a teacher of this philosophy in Rome before a pagan public and pupils, he made use of philosophical ideas and ways of thought that were familiar to them and were in some measure akin to the truths of Christian Revelation. He attacked polytheistic mythology with the methods placed at his disposal by the "enlightened" philosophers. To it he opposed the one true God, the "Father of the universe" (Apol. app. 6), who is without origin and himself the first cause of the world, and for whom there is no name that can express his nature. He is enthroned above the world, in which he cannot be directly apprehended by the senses. Justin does not argue that this one God is called "Father" because he has favoured men with a kind of divine sonship, but, rather, because he is the first cause of creation. He seeks to connect this philosophical idea of God with elements of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Creed, so that the Christian belief in God is shown as including also belief in Jesus Christ his Son and in the prophetic Spirit.37 The Logos was in the beginning with God; he was begotten by the Father and appeared in his divine fullness in Jesus Christ, as Holy Scripture had foretold. He has not indeed the same rank as the Father, but, as his Son, he shares the divine nature (Dial. 61). Even before his manifestation in Christ, the Logos was active; not only did the Father create the world through him, but he also appeared frequently as the "angel of the Lord", he spoke in the prophets of the Old Testament, and he was active too in such eminent men as Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonios, in whom he was at work as "germinal Logos", so that these

35 Euseb. HE 4, 18, 1.

30 Cf. A. Ehrhardt in ]EH 4 (1953), 1-12. He repeats the theory of two independent apologias.

37 W. Pannenberg, "Der philosophische Gottesbegriff in fruhchristlicher Theologie" in ZKC 70 (1959), 1-45.


— ___ __ ii iiMM—M—Ii and many others who lived in accordance with the Logos working in their reason are actually to be reckoned as Christians.

If in Justin's teaching about God and the Logos Stoic influence is especially evident,38 his ideas on the activities of angels and demons show a strong affinity with the Platonic philosophy of his time.39 God gave the good angels charge over men and earthly affairs (Apol. 2:5). They are not pure spirits but possess aerial bodies, nourished by a kind of manna (Dial. 57). The fall of the angels was caused by their having sexual intercourse with women. Their children are the demons, who from their kingdom of the air exercise their baleful influence on mankind, until at Christ's return they will be cast into everlasting fire. They are the actual founders of the pagan cults; they also made the Jews blind to the Logos and so caused his death on the Cross. They continue by their cunning to prevent the conversion of mankind to him and to God. But in the name of Jesus Christ the redeemer, a power has been given to Christians which protects them against the demons (Dial. 307).

Justin's Christianity has another side, less influenced by philosophical abstractions, which appears when he writes of the daily life of the Christians, in which he took part like any other member of a congregation. Its high moral level was for him a convincing proof that the Christians were in possession of the truth. They led a life of truthfulness and chastity, they loved their enemies and went courageously to death for their beliefs, not because they had been persuaded of the importance of these virtues by philosophical considerations, but because Jesus had demanded of them a life in accordance with such ideals. It was for Justin an incontrovertible proof of the truth of Jesus' message that in him all the prophecies of the Old Testament were unequivocally fulfilled. He esteemed the Old Testament as highly as the Gospels, the "memoirs of the apostles" (Apol. 66 and Dial. 100).

With the artlessness of a simple member of the Church he speaks of baptism and the eucharistic liturgy as essential components of Christian worship. Baptism, performed "in the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe and of our redeemer Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit" (Apol. 61), frees us from sins previously committed and creates a new man

58 G. Bardy, "S. Justin et la philosophie stoicienne" in RSR 13 (1923), 491-510, 14 (1924), 33-45; M. Spanneut, Le stoicisme des Peres (Paris 1957); R. Holte, " Logos Spermatikos. Christianity and Ancient Philosophy according to St Justin's Apologies" in StTh 12 (1958), 109-68; N. Pycke, "Connaissance rationelle et connaissance de grace chez S. Justin" in EThL 37 (1961), 52-85.

58 C. Andresen, "Justin und der mittlere Piatonismus" in ZNW 44 (1952-3), 157-95; W. Schmid, "Fruhe Apologetik und Piatonismus (Prooimion des Dialogs mit Tryphon)" in Festschrift O. Regenbogen (Heidelberg 1952), 163-82.


through Christ; as the Christian is spiritually enlightened by it, baptism is also called "enlightenment". The purest form of worship is the eucharistie sacrifice,41 at which the faithful, joined in brotherly union, bring bread and wine over which the head of the congregation utters a prayer of thanksgiving. These gifts are again distributed among the faithful, but now they are no longer ordinary bread and wine but the flesh and blood of that Jesus who himself became flesh. This change is wrought by the words which Jesus spoke over the bread and wine at the Last Supper and which he told the apostles to repeat (Apol. 62). This food the Christians call the Eucharist; it has replaced the Old Testament sacrifices, which God rejects. It is the perfect sacrifice which Malachy foretold, and the fulfilment of the spiritual sacrifice which the Greek philosophers longed for and which they regarded as the only worthy form of divine worship. It is the only true XoyixYj Ouaia, because the Logos himself, Jesus Christ, is its centre.

In other matters, too, Justin's views reflect the traditional teaching of the early Church, even when this was in contradiction to pagan sensibilities. Quite naturally he speaks of the mystery of the cross and the redemption of mankind by the bloodshed and death of the Son of God. His belief in the resurrection of the body, which would one day bring incorruptibility to the just, was unshakeable. Although, according to his own words (Dial. 80), not all good Christians agreed with him in this, he expected a millennium — thousand-year kingdom — in Jerusalem which would begin at the end of time, when the souls of the dead would be delivered from Hades.

We could certainly give a more complete picture of Justin's theology if his other works had been preserved. In these he stated his attitude towards the heresies of his time and dealt in more detail with questions such as the Resurrection, the universal dominion of God, and the human soul. His apologetical purpose in controversy with the pagans required him to show a philosophical and rational basis for his faith, whereas the dispute with the Jews limited him very much to the question of the

Messiah. Nevertheless, one is bound to say that he did not confine himself to a purely philosophical Christianity; his survey represents a significant advance in the development of early Christian theology when compared with the world of the apostolic fathers and the earlier apologetic of Aristides.

Justin's pupil, the Syrian Tatian, shared with him a similar way to Christian faith, for he too had found his way to the truth only after long searching (he had been initiated into the Mysteries) and by reading the holy books of the Christians (Orat. 29). His "Speech to the Greeks", written to justify his conversion, marks a retrograde step in comparison with Justin's Apologia. Whereas the latter found elements of truth everywhere in Greek philosophy and spoke with high esteem of some of its representatives, Tatian had, for the cultural achievements of Greece, only mockery and contempt. None of these, he said, was of Greek origin, but everything was borrowed from the barbarians, upon whom the Greeks looked down with such arrogance; and even then, they had misunderstood or maliciously distorted that which they had borrowed (Orat. 1 ff.). The theology of the Greeks was folly, their theatres were schools of vice, their philosophy full of deception, their games, music, and poetry, sinful (Orat. 21-28). Such a whole-sale condemnation was not exactly likely to make an educated Greek receptive to what Tatian had to say about the Christian religion.

The centre of this religion, he said, was the one God without a beginning, clearly distinct from the material world he created through the Logos. God intended man to rise again after the consummation of all things and would also be man's judge. Man, endowed with free will, could decide to be on the side of goodness and so enter into immortality, in spite of the influence of the demons, who sought to lead him astray. It was they who tried to force upon mankind belief in Fate, and for this they would finally suffer eternal damnation. Man, as God's image, could free himself from their domination if he renounced matter by strict self-mortification. This the Christians did, though they were calumniously accused of every possible vice.

The incomplete and fragmentary nature of Tatian's theology strikes us at once. What is especially noticeable is his failure to give any details about the person and the redemptive action of Christ, particularly when addressing pagan readers. Indeed, he states only a few of the fundamental points of his theology, the selection of which was governed by a predetermined schema of missionary preaching. The want of moderation in Tatian's attack on Hellenistic culture was in accordance with his character, namely his tendency to extremes, which eventually after his return to his native Syria about the year 172 was to lead him outside the Church to become the founder of the Encratites, a Christian sect which rejected marriage as sinful and renounced the use of flesh or wine in any form.

Tatian's other surviving work, which he called To Sia reaaapcoy euayYeX'.ov, had a much more far-reaching effect than his apologetical work. It was a harmony of the Gospels which was intended to reduce the four separate gospels to a single account. This Diatessaron, which the fragment of Dura-Europos (dating from before 254) seems to show was written in Greek, was used as a liturgical book in the Syrian church until the fifth century, and St Ephraem wrote a commentary on it. It was early translated into Latin, and it evidently influenced the text of the Gospels outside Syria. The surviving Armenian text of Ephraem's commentary and versions of the Diatessaron in Arabic, Latin, and Middle Dutch enable us to make a reconstruction of its original form.

Athenagoras, the "Christian philosopher of Athens", wielded a more skilful pen than any of the apologists above mentioned. About the year 177 he addressed a petition to the emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, in which he refuted the calumnies against the Christians, claimed for Christianity equal rights with pagan philosophies, and therefore demanded its toleration by the State. The nobility of tone of the work as a whole is matched by Athenagoras' attitude towards the Greek philosophers, many of whom showed monotheistic tendencies without on that account being looked upon as atheists. The reproach of atheism made against the Christians ought therefore to be dropped, for they believed in one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and were convinced of the existence of a world of angels to whom was entrusted the ordering of the universe (Suppl. 10). The existence of this one God can be proved even by reason alone (Suppl. 8). Revelation shows the divinity of the Logos; the working of the Holy Spirit, who is an emanation of God, is especially perceptible in the prophets (Suppl. 7 and 10). The high standard of Christian morality was proved by the purity of their married life and the esteem in which virginity was held among them, a second marriage being regarded as "decent adultery" (Suppl. 31-35). The Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body, so difficult for the Greeks, Athenagoras sought to prove philosophically in a special work. It is clear that in the writings of this apologist the philosophical argument had gained in quality and the theological understanding of Christianity in depth.

Only the Three Books to Autolykos survive out of the considerable body of writings left by Theophilos, a men of Hellenistic education who, after his conversion about the year 180, became head of the Christian congregation at Antioch.48 Autolykos was his pagan friend, to whom he wished to prove, in a pleasing Greek style, that the Scriptures of the Christians (that is, the Old Testament) were superior, both in antiquity and in religious and philosophical content, to everything that the Greek intellect had produced. The line of argument and the defence against pagan calumnies follow the usual course. In Theophilos' account of the faith we meet for the first time in a Christian writer the designation -rpiac, (Trinity) (2:15), for the persons of which he always uses the terms ©so? (God), Aoyo? (Logos), Socpia (Sophia) (1:7; 1:10; 2:18). The evangelists were for him, like the prophets, bearers of the Spirit; their writings, with the epistles of Paul, were the "holy, divine word" (2:22; 3:13-14). The human soul was potentially immortal; immortality would be given as a reward for freely choosing to observe the commandments of God (2:27).

Except for a few fragments, the apologia of Bishop Melito of Sardes, as well as the works of the rhetor Miltiades of Asia Minor and Apollinaris, Bishop of Hierapolis, are lost.47 With courage and dignity Melito pointed out to Marcus Aurelius the unjust plundering and persecution to which the Christians were exposed, whereas the benevolent attitude of the emperor's predecessors, except Nero and Domitian, had brought God's blessing on the Roman Empire.48 Eusebius has preserved a list of the other works of this much respected bishop, the titles of which show the astonishing range of his interests. It is highly probable that a homily on Exodus 12, rediscovered in a papyrus of the fourth century, is by Melito. This, preached no doubt at a Paschal celebration of the Quartodecimans, gives important information about early Christian teaching in Asia Minor on original sin, on the redemptive act of Christ, on baptism, and on the character of sermons at that time. A hymn in the same papyrus fits so well with the Easter liturgy of the Quartodecimans and with the ideas of Melito that it too has been claimed for the Bishop of Sardes.60

There are finally two other apologetical writings which belong to the closing years of the second century or the beginning of the third. The anonymous Letter to Diognetus attracted attention more by its elegant Greek than by its theological content; it has repeatedly tempted scholars to identify its author, but it is difficult to prove anything. A short criticism of the Jewish and pagan religions is followed by the oft-quoted hymnic chapter on the Christians' daily life: "Every foreign place is their home, and their home is a foreign place to them; ... they dwell on earth, but their conversation is in heaven; they love all men and are persecuted by all; they are poor and enrich many. They are despised and are thereby glorified. They are insulted and they bless; they are mocked and show honour to those that mock them; punished with death, they rejoice as if they were awakened unto life. In brief, what the soul is to the body, the Christians are to the world" (chapters 5 and 6). The reality, it is true, did not in the year 200 everywhere correspond to the ideal. The satire of Hermias, Aia<7op[Ao<; xcov e^w cpiAoa6<p«v, is rather an audacious pamphlet than a reasoned study. It makes fun of the contradictions in the teachings of various philosophers or schools of philosophy about God, the universe and the human soul.

A general appreciation of the achievement of the second century apologists can no longer defend, without qualification, the thesis that their endeavours to make Christianity intelligible to the Hellenistic world played a decisive part in hellenizing the Church. The genuinely Christian content of apologetical literature is too unequivocal to support such a thesis, especially when we remember its purpose. In their efforts to appeal to pagans and Jews the apologists could not give a complete exposition of Christian theology. For this reason also they had to renounce any intention of describing in detail the Christian mysteries. Compared with the apostolic fathers, however, they show a considerable development in their teaching about God, in the christology of the Logos, in the doctrine of the Trinity, and in Christian anthropology. Great progress was made in biblical studies; a start was made at establishing a canon; the doctrine of inspiration began to be developed, and the Old Testament became the foundation of a christology based on the Bible. Finally, in the works of the apologists we get valuable information on the building up of the inner life of the Church in the second century, notably for instance in the liturgical parts of Justin, in the accounts of the relations between Church and State and of the missionary activity of the young Church.

The question as to the success of the second century apologists is, of course, difficult to answer. They did not attain one of their objects, which was to place the Christian religion on the same footing as other cults and thus put an end to persecution by the State. But their works may well have increased the self-confidence of the Christians not a little; and the missionary and propagandist purpose which motivated the work of the apologists certainly played a considerable part in the expansion of Christianity before the end of the second century, especially in the East.

CHAPTER 15 The Dispute with Gnosticism

IF the literary polemic of paganism represented no great danger to the Christian community, there arose in so-called Christian Gnosticism an adversary which, from the first decades of the second century, constituted to an increasing degree a threat to her very existence. It was part of the manifestation of late classical religious syncretism which, based on oriental dualism, united Jewish religious ideas with certain elements of the Christian revelation, albeit in a distorted form. Now, as a mighty current bent on sweeping all before it, it came flooding in from the East.

Gnosticism had a great attraction for Hellenistic man; it made a real appeal to him, demanding that he make up his mind. Its impetus was derived ultimately from its claim to bring to religious-minded persons a valid interpretation of the world and of themselves — the claim made by Christianity itself. Its message was expressed in a copious literature, often of considerable stylistic beauty, and proclaimed by teachers and heads of philosophical schools with respected names. The power of Gnosticism to win recruits was supported by a liturgy which borrowed its forms from the mystery cults or from Christianity and which made skilful use of its symbolic content. The Gnostics carried on a well-planned propaganda, which employed sacred hymns as well as fascinating novels, and they strove to organize their newly-won adherents into a close-knit community. With a sure instinct, Gnosticism felt the Church to be a serious competitor, and it made a bold attempt to conquer her from within, to infiltrate into her congregations and to disrupt them by forming Gnostic cells inside them. The existence of ecclesiastically organized Christianity depended on whether the heads of the Christian congregations saw this danger and were able to sustain a defensive struggle that would tax all their energies.

Until recently, the incompleteness of our sources prevented the writing of any satisfactory account of the basic teachings of Gnosticism and of its manifestations. Only a few works of Gnostic origin were known in the original, as, for instance, the Pistis Sophia, which is fairly late, and the Books of Jeu, containing alleged revelations of Christ to his disciples. The reason for this state of affairs is that after the victory of Christianity a large part of Gnostic literature — which, in the second century, must certainly have exceded Christian literature in quantity — was destroyed or else perished through lack of interest. To a great extent therefore the only available material was that contained in quotations and excerpts preserved in the works of Christian anti-Gnostics, especially in those of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, and to a lesser degree in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and the later authors, Epiphanius of Salamis and Filastrius of Brescia.

But even anti-Gnostic literature survives only in part. Thus, what was perhaps the earliest work of this kind, Justin's Against all Heresies, written at the time when Gnosticism was most flourishing, is now lost. The anti-Gnostic literature of the Church was naturally polemical, deliberately picking out from Gnostic works that which it was most easy to attack; this selection therefore hardly permits us to form a complete picture of the whole realm of Gnostic ideas, for the Christian writers' account of it could not be other than one-sided.

A completely new situation with regard to source-material was brought about by the discovery in 1945-6 of the extensive library of a Gnostic community near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in the vicinity of the former Pachomian monastery of Chenoboskion. It contained in thirteen papyrus manuscripts more than forty hitherto unknown works in the Coptic language, mostly direct translations from the Greek. These translations belong to the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century; the Greek originals were probably written in the second century. Many of the titles of the newly-found treatises at first led to the supposition that they were already known Christian apocrypha; but closer inspection revealed that their contents are quite new. For example, there are apocryphal gospels of Thomas and Philip, a "Gospel of the Egyptians" and a "Gospel of Truth". There are Acts of the apostles Peter and Matthias. Apocalyptic literature is particularly well represented by apocalypses of Peter, Paul, John, James (three), Dositheos, and Seth (Sem). As in many of the manuscripts the prophet Seth plays a central role, we may assume that the library of Nag Hammadi belonged to the Sethian sect, which is often mentioned by early Christian writers. There are, moreover, works of Hermes Trismegistos, doctrinal works by Gnostic leaders such as Silvanos and Eugnostes; others claim to be an "Explanation of Gnosis" or an account of the nature of the archons. Up till now only a fraction of the newly discovered manuscripts is available in the original language or in translations; only the publication of all the texts will make possible an account of Gnosticism that will be accurate in detail.
Basic Ideas of Gnosticism

On first acquaintance, Gnostic writings convey an overall impression of a confusing mass of ideas and questions, often expressed in strange forms. When examined, however, they reveal a basic theme which recurs in all the variations of Gnostic opinion and can be reduced to one question and the attempt to answer it. The question is: How can man find the true knowledge which will explain the riddle of the world and the evil therein, as well as the riddle of human existence? The Gnostic, Theodotos, gave a rough definition of gnosis. Knowledge (Gnosis) of the answers to the following questions gives freedom: "Who were we? What have we become? Where were we? Whither have we been cast? Whither do we hasten? From what will we become free? What is birth? What is rebirth?" In the answers to these questions the same basic ideas recur: man's inmost being longs for union with the true, perfect, but unknown God. Man, however, by a peculiar destiny has been banished to this imperfect world, which is not the creation of the supreme God, but can only be the work of a lesser, imperfect being, who rules it with the help of evil powers. Man can be free of their domination only if he rightly knows himself and is aware that he is separated from the perfect God. Only this knowledge makes possible his return to the upper world of light where the true God dwells.

This basic theme of Gnosticism, giving mankind an interpretation of the universe and of being, cannot in the present state of research be ascribed to any single, clearly comprehensible and generally recognized source. Rather are its elements derived from different religious movements which are known to have existed during the syncretic period in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean area. These elements were connected with one another in a variety of ways, so that Gnosticism continually appears under different aspects according to the regions to which it spread and the formulations of its leading representatives. The observer is not confronted with any compact system of clearly defined concepts or dogmatic teachings, but with a multicoloured stream of religious ideas and opinions, which can look different from different points along its banks. Nevertheless, certain currents are discernible which show from which tributaries the river as a whole was formed.

First of all, there already existed a certain substratum of Gnostic ideas independent of any contact with Christianity. Among these was a strongly marked dualism, which made an absolute opposition between light and darkness, between good and evil. The home of this dualism is to be found in ancient Iran. When these Iranian ideas met the Genesis account of Creation, this was interpreted in a Gnostic sense. The Creator God of the Old Testament became the Demiurge who did not know the light. Another source whose waters flowed into the Gnostic stream was astrological learning. Since the time of Alexander the Great, astrology had spread through the Hellenistic world from its Babylonian place of origin and had had a far-reaching effect with its doctrine of the influence of the planets on the destinies of man and the world. If such concepts were already widespread in Hellenistic times, it was in the Gnostic movement that they acquired a special force, as we can see from the speculations about the constellations, about the Pole star as the beginning of the kingdom of light, and about the spheres of the seven evil planets or archons.

The new discoveries at Chenoboskion stress the fact that Egypt was a fruitful soil for the growth of Gnostic ideas. It is true that the influence of Egyptian religion needs to be more closely studied, but the hermetic writings in the library at Nag Hammadi certainly point to an undeniable connexion between Egyptian Hermetism and Gnosis. Even though in these writings a demiurge plays no part in the creation of the world and the bizarre figures of the demons are lacking, the opposition which they proclaim between light and darkness, the encounter of a higher being with matter, the liberation of man who is tied to matter and his ascent to God once he is free — all this is part of Gnostic thought, only here the biblical and Christian elements are absent.

The relationship between Judaism and Gnosis constitutes a difficult problem. It is generally admitted that the world of the Old Testament played a significant part in Gnostic literature. The latter is, besides, full of images and ideas such as were current in Jewish apocalyptic works. Biblical influence is particularly strong (even though the Gnostics disagreed with the Bible) in the Gnostic account of Creation. It seems not impossible that late Jewish sectarianism exercised a mediatory function between Iranian and Hellenistic religious currents on the one side and the Gnostic movement on the other, since it can be proved that there were Jewish heretics who were prepared to accept dualistic ideas. One feels compelled to ask if there were not here and there connecting links between Essenes and Gnostics. The Qumran community imposed, like the Gnostics, a strict commandment of absolute secrecy regarding certain parts of its doctrine; the Book of Discipline further teaches that God, when he created man, appointed two spirits to govern him, the spirit of truth and the spirit of wickedness, which could make a man into a son of light or a son of darkness — a fundamentally dualistic conception which is strongly

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reminiscent of similar ideas in Gnosticism. It has also been suggested that remnants of the Qumran community survived in Gnostic circles.

Lastly there were the religiously-tinged philosophical currents of Hellenism, which undeniably found expression in syncretic Gnosticism. Certain themes of Gnostic theology are already foreshadowed in the Platonic doctrine of the fall of the soul and its attachment to the matter of the body. Stoicism too contributed its share to Gnostic thought. The Gnostic writings of Chenoboskion eagerly take up the allegorical interpretations of Homer and Hesiod which Hellenism had developed. Probably, however, the borrowings of Gnosticism from Hellenistic philosophy were in its terminology rather than in its ideas.

When syncretism was at the peak of its development, Christianity entered the Hellenistic world from its Palestinian birthplace and, in the syncretic climate of the time, it became the object of growing interest. Many men of that age could not but listen when a new redemption was promised to them through a person who was also the bringer of hitherto unknown revelations. Moreover, the new tidings of salvation came accompanied by a corresponding form of worship whose mysterious rites were alleged to ensure salvation. Such a message and such a cult offered many points of contact through which a connexion with the prevailing religious syncretism might be attempted.

Even, though the process of adopting Christian elements is no longer possible to follow in detail, nevertheless the figure of Christ had soon become a part of Gnostic thought, and many who followed syncretic tendencies were soon claiming to be Christians. About the year 160 Justin mentions men of his time who called themselves Christians, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, but who saw in the Creator of the world only an evil god; there were already several groups of such Christians, who were named after their leaders Valentinians, Marcionites, or Basilidians. A little later Celsus refers to Christian communities known to him as Valentinians and Gnostics. Both Justin and later Origen emphasize, however, that such groups did not represent true Christianity and did not belong to the Church. The syncretic character of such sects is even more clearly shown in Irenaeus' account of a certain Marcellina, who came to Rome in the time of Bishop Anicetus and tried with some success to make converts to her ideas. Her adherents called themselves Gnostics. Among the images of the religious leaders whom they revered was to be found, beside those of Pythagoras and Plato, that of Christ, which supposedly came from Pilate.60


The leaders of such Gnostic communities appealed in support of their teachings to apostolic tradition or to the words of Christ himself; Ptole- maeos, for instance, a pupil of Valentinus, in his Letter to Flora.*1 Others incorporated in their systems Christian ideas in a distorted form, as for example the Valentinians when they stressed the need for redemption, without which no man could reach the pleroma or "fulfilment"; the baptism of Jesus effected the remission of sins, but only redemption by Christ, who had descended into him, brought perfection. One became a partaker of this redemption by a mysterious rite and certain formulas to be recited during its performance. Thus the redeemed was to say: " I am confirmed and redeemed; I redeem my soul from this aeon and from all that derives from it, in the name of Jao, who redeemed this soul in Christ, the Living One."62 Besides echoes of New Testament phraseology, what is here chiefly remarkable is the splitting of the person of the redeemer into an earthly Jesus and a heavenly Christ in a way quite unacceptable to the Christian Church.

Although Christian writers give no precise information on the subject, it may be presumed that the teachers and proselytizers of Gnosis found some of their adherents among the members of the Church, who often lacked the critical power to recognize at once the heterodox character of such opinions. Two factors may have contributed to the success of Gnostic propaganda. First there was the stress laid on ecclesiastical tradition, on which the doctrine of the "true Gnosis" and the salvation to be attained through it alone was supposed to be based; this tradition, because of its exalted nature, could be transmitted only in secret and was clothed in parables that could be explained only to those who were capable of understanding them.68 Was not this what the gospel of Mark said (4:33-34): "And with many such parables he spoke to them the word, according as they were able to hear. And without parables he did not speak to them: but apart, he explained all things to his disciples"?

From this secret source came the abundance of Gnostic scriptures, which invoked now this apostle or disciple, now that, as the specially chosen messenger of revelation. The very fact that the contents of these revelations were so wrapped in mystery was bound to make them interesting to many Christians, particularly when their attention was directed to them by veiled allusions. Moreover, the success of the Gnostics in winning adherents was founded upon the thesis that they, as Christians of a higher rank, "spiritual men" (7tveu|ji«Ti.xoi), alone possessed the true interpretation of cosmic events and were thus the only ones capable of attaining to

41 Ptolemy, Ep. ad Flor. 7, 8-9. 41 Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 1, 33, 3-7.

Ibid. 1, 3, 1.

perfect knowledge of God. He who, like the great mass of Christians, tried to work out his salvation merely by faith and good works, remained for ever on a lower level, a lesser Christian or "psychic".64 It was unavoidable that a far-reaching conflict should arise between the prophets of such a distorted form of Christianity and the leaders of the Church, if the latter did not wish the substance of their faith to be dissolved.

The Principal Manifestations of Gnosticism

Though the different currents in Gnosticism show a certain basis of opinions held in common, they also show equally clearly how much room there was in the movement as a whole for variations and even contradictions.

The Syrian group belongs to the early phase of Gnosticism and it formed around Menander and Satornil (called Saturninus by Irenaeus) with its centre at Antioch. Menander, a1 Samaritan by origin, is said to have proclaimed himself as the Redeemer, who had been sent into this world by the invisible powers. The author of the Philosophoumena gives more details about the teachings of Satornil. The unknown supreme Father created the angels, powers and aeons of the upper world; the lower, earthly world, however, was the work of seven lower spirits, the highest of whom was identified with the God of the Jews, the Creator of Genesis. To them, man owed his wretched existence, since they had not been able to create him in the image of the Supreme Being. But the Power from above had sent him also a spark of life, which after his death would enable him to return to those higher beings whom he could claim as his kindred.65 Satornil is said to have been the first Gnostic to mention Jesus; but he was also regarded as a pupil of Simon Magus, in whom Christian apologists saw the actual founder of Gnosis.

The Basilidian school owed its origin to the Syrian Basilides. It ushered in the golden age of Gnosticism and attained great influence, especially at Alexandria, but it also had adherents at Rome. Basilides was very active as an author and, among other works, wrote a commentary on the Gospels in twenty-four books, besides hymns and prayers. A Christian, Agrippa Castor, is said to have attempted a refutation of Basilides in a lost work, Elenchos. This Gnostic addressed himself to the Christians with the claim that he was the recipient of secret doctrines which the Redeemer had entrusted to the apostle Matthias in special conversations before his ascension.66 He was familiar with Persian dualism and taught an elaborate

44 Ibid I, 6, 1-2. 44 Philosophoumena 7, 28. M J. Doresse, op. cit. 21.

doctrine of emanation; according to him innumerable angels inhabited the four heavens and their 365 firmaments. Christ was sent into the world by his unbegotten Father to save from the power of the archons those who believed in him; it was only apparently that he took a human form, and Simon of Cyrene died on the cross in his stead.

The Egyptian Valentinus was evidently Gnosticism's most gifted exponent. In the form in which he preached it, with lofty religious and poetic enthusiasm, it became the most dangerous threat to genuine Christianity. He began to teach at Alexandria about the year 135 and then propagated his opinions in Rome for nearly thirty years. There he seems to have played a leading part in the Christian community, but after a quarrel with the Roman Christians he returned to the East. His teachings were spread by means of letters, hymns, and sermons, and a Treatise on the Three Natures is also attributed to him. Irenaeus mentions a Gospel of Truth which was said to have been written by Valentinus, and among the finds at Nag Hammadi is a work of this title, the contents of which do not contradict what we know of Valentinus' doctrines. Many of these can be gleaned from writings or fragments of works by his pupils, for example Ptolemaeos, who in his Letter to Flora is a moderate propagandist for the Gnostic religion; or Heracleon, who had a predilection for the Gospel of John and wrote commentaries on it which Origen was later to discuss. Perhaps another work of Heracleon survives among the manuscripts at Chenoboskion.

Valentinus' Christian opponents reproached him with having borrowed his wisdom largely from Pythagoras and Plato; they rightly saw that the Gnostic's ideas were similar to those of these philosophers. He also, however, frequently follows Pauline lines of thought and employs words of Christ, interpreted in a Gnostic sense, and this gives his teaching a biblical colouring that may have made it seem familiar to many Christians. The basis of his doctrine of the universe is the common Gnostic myth of the invisible Father, from whom the "syzygies" of the emanations proceed, of which the thirty highest aeons form the pleroma. This is the upper spiritual world, wherein all earthly events have their origin, and to return to which is the longing of imperfect creation.67 The latter is the work of the Demiurge, who created man and breathed into him the psychic or "natural" element which binds him to matter. Unknown to the Demiurge, however, man also received a pneumatic or "spiritual" element; if this has been awakened and formed by the true Gnosis which the Redeemer brought to earth, the spiritual part of man will be saved at the end of the world and can be again united with the light. In order to make possible the ascent of the lower world towards the light, Jesus became man, and

" H. Leisegang, Die Gnosis (Stuttgart, 4th ed. 1955), 297.

upon him at his baptism the Spirit descended. For the passage to the light, which led the soul through the realm of the hostile powers, the dying Gnostic was, among the Valentinians, prepared by anointings and secret formulas, in which he said to the angels of the Demiurge that he possessed the true knowledge (gnosis) about himself and whence he came, so that they could not harm him.

On the fringe of these main Gnostic schools, there existed also various sectarian groups representing a highly popularized Gnosticism in which now this, now that particular doctrine often blossomed forth in the most luxuriant forms. Among such sects, anti-Gnostic literature mentions in particular the Barbelo-Gnostics, the Ophites, Naassenes, and Sethians. The first of these took their name from Barbelo, a female emanation of the Father who had the functions of the Logos. In their dualistic interpretation of the universe they employed the Old Testament, allegorically explained; the Apocryphon johannis belongs to this sect, whose adherents were mainly in Egypt and Syria.68 In the mythology of the widespread sect of the Ophites a special place was given to the serpent, a religious and cosmic symbol in various pagan cults; it represented the son of Jaldaboath, the creator of the heavens and of the angels and demons, who had rebelled against the supreme Father and God. The first human couple was cast out of Paradise by Jaldabaoth, but the serpent too was banished to earth and there he sowed discontent among men and sought, with his six sons, to prevent their return to the supreme Father. But one of the highest aeons, Christ, came into the world in the man Jesus, through whom he proclaimed the truth to mankind. Since his resurrection, the elect had been initiated by Jesus into the mysteries and thus could escape the domination of the Demiurge. Not all Ophite groups regarded the serpent as evil; to some he was neutral, to others the symbol of saving knowledge. The Naassenes probably represented a large sub-group among the Ophites, who, according to Hippolytus, considered themselves to be the true Gnostics and found confirmation of their opinions in all religions.

The sect of the Sethians, both by its use of the serpent-symbol and its borrowings from Greek mythology, closely resembled the Ophites and Naassenes. The author of the Philosophoumena,\n describing their teachings, mentions a holy book of this sect called the Paraphrase of Seth. In its myth of creation, there are not two but three principles in the universe: light, darkness, and between the two, a pure pneuma resembling the perfume of balsam. These three forces are reflected in many forms throughout the cosmos, especially in the symbol of the womb, which through the co-operation of light, darkness, and pneuma gives birth to man. The perfect Logos also had to enter into the womb of a virgin; but he was able to cleanse himself and drink the cup of living water, without which no man can find salvation. In one of the manuscripts of Nag Hammadi, entitled Paraphrase of Sem, we find the same doctrine of the three principles of the universe (light, darkness, and pneuma), so that there is hardly any doubt that it is a Coptic version of the work mentioned in the Philosophoumena.

The myth of the triad of world principles is thus a characteristic of the Sethian sect. As other manuscripts in the library of Chenoboskion refer to the prophet Sem or Seth or claim to have been written by him, it may be presumed that the whole collection belonged to a Sethian community, and that further knowledge about the doctrines of the sect may be expected from it. Even now, a preliminary inspection of its contents shows that its ideas were often clothed in a mantle of Christianity, so that the Sethians can undoubtedly be regarded as representatives of a Christian form of Gnosticism.


Even if Marcion cannot be called a Gnostic in the full sense, he nevertheless adopted so much of Gnostic thought in his teaching that he may not unjustly be included here as representing a Christian Gnosticism of his own. The facts of his life show us a man of strong will, energy, and initiative combined with organizing ability. A well-to-do native of Asia Minor (he owned a shipping business at Sinope in Paphlagonia), he came into conflict while still quite young with the leaders of the local Christian community, probably because of differences of opinion about the interpretation of Pauline doctrines. His exclusion from the congregation in his own city was followed by his rejection on the part of leading Asiatic Christians such as Papias and Polycarp of Smyrna.

About the year 140 Marcion came to Rome, where he joined the Christian congregation, which he supported with generous financial contributions. His connexion with the Syrian Gnostic Cerdon, who also lived in Rome, no doubt made him more closely acquainted with Gnostic ideas, from which he took especially his doctrine about the Old Testament Creator. The latter was not for Marcion the true God, the Father of

Jesus Christ, but only the strict and just God who in the Mosaic Law laid upon the Jewish people an unbearable yoke. In Rome too, Marcion's peculiar opinions met with no recognition, and in the autumn of 144 he left the Christian Church, albeit unwillingly.

He at once began with skill and energy to win over adherents, to whom he gave a close-knit organization. Everywhere there arose, alongside the Christian congregations, Marcionite associations, governed by bishops who in turn were assisted by presbyters. As their liturgy continued to follow closely the usage of the Catholic Church, the change-over to Marcion's church was for many Christians not too difficult; and the initial success of the Marcionites, which was evidently considerable, was no doubt largely due to the influx from Christian circles. The strict organization of his establishment distinguished Marcion's community from the other Gnostic groups and gave it a special impetus which made it a serious danger to the Church. She soon recognized this threat, and the majority of ecclesiastical writers from Justin to Tertullian felt obliged to take up the pen against Marcion and his doctrines. Only when their irreconcilability with apostolic tradition was convincingly proved could their attraction for orthodox Christians be neutralized.

Marcion's teaching was based upon a clearly defined canon of scripture, from which the whole of the Old Testament was a priori excluded, for therein spoke the God of justice, the creator of the universe, the Demiurge, who was a stranger to goodness and love. The good God revealed himself only when he sent Christ as the Redeemer, who brought to tormented mankind the Gospel of the love of God. Paul was the only apostle who accepted this Gospel without falsifying it. It found expression in his epistles and in the Gospel of Luke, though even these writings had been corrupted by interpolations due to the apostles who adhered to the Old Testament God. Therefore everything had to be removed from them which sought to introduce into the revelation of Christ the justice and legalism of the Old Testament. Marcion wrote a commentary on these purified scriptures, the Antitheses, preserved only in a few fragments, which was primarily concerned with explaining his fundamental thesis, the contrast between the Old and the New Testament.

Marcion's thesis, with its dualistic approach, was a direct attack on the Christian concept of God, which did not permit of a division between a strict, merely just Creator and a God of love unknown till the coming of Christ. This doctrine alone might have caused the Christian writers to include Marcion among the Gnostic teachers. But his christology also justified them in doing so; it was less its modalistic colouring than its

Docetism which provoked their opposition. For Marcion, the idea that the Redeemer Christ sent by the good God should have chosen impure human flesh to be the bearer of the Deity was impossible; a real human birth would have subjected Christ to the dominion of the Demiurge. The Christian adversaries of Marcion, who pointed out that the latter's ?j doctrine of the apparent birth of Christ led to the conclusion that his death on the cross was also apparent and that therefore the redemption was ineffective, were difficult to refute, even though Marcion tried to maintain the reality of the crucifixion. The fact that his pupil Apelles corrected him on this very point clearly shows the weakness of the Marcionite doctrine compared with that of the Catholic Church. In the eyes of his opponents Marcion was finally placed in the Gnostic camp ^ by his rejection of marriage, which, in consequence of his view of the body as a part of evil matter, he forbade to all baptized persons.

Marcion's theology was indeed free from the bizarre speculations of i Gnosticism about the emanations of the pleroma, free from astrological beliefs, from fantastic cosmogony and from the overestimation of pure gnosis as opposed to faith with its consequent gradation of Christians into "pneumatic" and "psychic". The Gnostic ideas which he adopted were enough, however, to make him suspect in the eyes of the Church and to make his teaching seem in an increasing degree a grave danger to essential features of the Christian faith. That the Church opposed him and his sect with more determination and energy than she did many other Gnostic groups was due to his disturbing success, to which the gravity of his ascetic demands and, perhaps most of all, his strong personality contributed. Like no other figure in the Gnostic world, Marcion compelled the Church to consider and to reconsider her own attitude to Scripture and criteria of faith, to overhaul her organization and to deploy her whole inner strength in face of such a menace.

The Church's Self-Defence and the Importance of the Christian Victory

The Church's campaign against the threat to her existence caused by the manifold attractions of Gnosticism was waged in two ways, each supplementing and supporting the other. First, the leaders of individual congregations immediately took practical steps against those Gnostics who endeavoured to infiltrate into them, or who, having previously belonged to the congregation, sought from within to win over its members to their new faith. Secondly there were the theological writers of the time, who attacked the Gnostic movement on the literary plane, demonstrating the irreconcilability of its doctrine with Christian revelation and

opposing its main theses with the corresponding truths of Christianity, now more precisely formulated as the result of profound study and development.

The defensive struggle at the pastoral level naturally left little evidence in the literary sources and it is therefore harder to reconstruct it in detail. The immediate object was bound to be the suppression of centres of infection within the congregations; that is, the exclusion of the bearers of Gnostic doctrine from the community and the prevention, for the future, of the formation of Gnostic cells in their midst. Only the excommunication of Marcion himself found much of an echo in early Christian literature, but it serves as an example for many similar occurrences that are not mentioned. Probably it was already his Gnostic convictions at their earliest stage, which led to his expulsion from the Christian congregation of his home town, Sinope. Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna also cast him out; in Rome likewise the leaders of the church came to recognize that the exclusion of such a wealthy and influential man was the only means of protecting the Christians from the errors which he preached. Similar measures were no doubt taken in all places where the danger of the formation of Gnostic cells within Christian congregations was seen. The complaint of many Gnostics that the Catholics would have nothing to do with them and called them heretics, although they held the same doctrines, implies such defensive action on the part of the senior clergy. Other Gnostics voluntarily separated themselves from the Christian congregations when they found themselves isolated and unable to carry on their activities; such isolation was itself due to the initiative of the Church authorities or to the congregations' own efforts. Valentinus seems to have been late in breaking with the Church, but he had been repeatedly reprimanded in the congregations to which he had belonged.

The eradication of Gnostic cells was accompanied by sermons explaining the insidious nature of false doctrines, and Christians were warned by their pastors of the danger to the true faith. Irenaeus gives excerpts from the sermons of an Asiatic priest which he had himself heard; they are entirely affirmative in tone and are concerned with expounding the orthodox Catholic teaching, but they unmistakably constitute a refutation of characteristic Marcionite doctrines, without any mention of Marcion by name. We are led to suppose that instruction and immunization against the Gnostic menace was the practice of most Christian leaders of the time.

That this form of defence was not merely local is shown by the example of Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth about the year 170. Eusebius devotes some informative lines to his pastoral activities. Dionysius carried on a lively correspondence not only with the churches in Greece itself but even with Asia Minor and far-off Pontus, seeking to build up a broad defensive front against the heresies of the age. He urged the Christians of neighbouring Athens and the island of Crete to hold fast to the true doctrine and warned them against false teachings, just as he warned the congregations of Amastris and Nicomedia in Bithynia. The heresy of his time was primarily Gnosticism; indeed, his letter to Nicomedia expressly names Marcion, to whose errors he opposed the "Canon of Truth". The special situation in which Christianity found itself placed with regard to Gnosticism made the bishops more fully aware of their duties as guardians of orthodoxy, and the increased activity of the heads of congregations which resulted made the faithful more conscious of the monarchical episcopate and of its significance for the future.

Parallel to this activity of the bishops in combating Gnosticism ran that of the theological writers, to whom the rise and growth of the Gnostic movement acted as a powerful stimulus. An extensive body of literature from the Catholic side supported the Church authorities and provided a theological basis for the counter-attack. Most of this anti-Gnostic literature has perished, especially since the fourth century, when, because of the completely changed situation, there was no need to take any interest in the products of the second. A considerable part of these writings was still extant when Eusebius wrote, and he mentions a number of authors who were active in their production, but he evidently gives only a selection. Among them were Agrippa Castor, who opposed Basilides, Rhodon from Asia Minor who wrote against Marcion and his pupil Apelles, and Modestus, whose refutation of Marcion was specially praised by Eusebius. Bishops who wrote anti-Gnostic works include Melito of Sardes, Philip of Gortyna in Crete and Theophilos of Athens, all of whom were concerned with refuting Marcion; this shows how much importance was attached to the man and his work. He was also the object of attacks by Justin Martyr and several other theologians whom Eusebius does not name.

Certain apocryphal writings on the Catholic side, such as the Acta Pauli and the Epistula Apostolorum were also of anti-Gnostic tendency and were intended as the orthodox counterpart to similar literature of

Gnostic provenance. Hegesippus, who was of oriental origin, wrote his Memorials (of which some fragments are extant) against the Gnostics; soon after the middle of the second century, seeking instruction in the true doctrine in view of the widespread success of Gnosticism, he came to Rome. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in his "Unmasking and Refutation of the False Gnosis", gives an analysis of Gnosticism based on his own reading of Gnostic writings, which is of outstanding merit. Another work which he planned to write against Marcion seems not to have been carried out. To his account of Gnostic systems Irenaeus added a refutation of their errors. He opposed them, using his own exact knowledge of Scripture and tradition, with the true doctrine of the Church. The author's interest in his subject and the soundness of his work make us forget any stylistic failings; his achievement was not surpassed by any of the anti- Gnostic writers who succeeded him. Of equal merit is the author of the Philosophoumena or Refutatio, which is generally ascribed (though not with absolute certainty) to the priest Hippolytus, who came from the East and was active in Rome at the beginning of the third century. His work presupposes a knowledge of Irenaeus; but he brought a new point of view into the discussion, inasmuch as he sought to show that the opinions of the Gnostics were not taken from Holy Scripture but from the works of the Greek philosophers, from the mysteries, from writers on astrology and magic — in fact, from non-Christian sources. Hippolytus' account of the catholic attitude is concise and jejune compared with that of Irenaeus and gives little information about the nature of the Church's campaign against Gnosticism. In this respect his work resembles the Syntagma, a review of the heresies that had arisen down to the author's time. The original is lost, but it can be reconstructed from the writings of later users.

More important are the works of the only Latin writer who engaged in the controversy with Gnosticism, Tertullian of Carthage, who, however, did not write until the third century. The two short treatises, De carne Christi and De reswrectione camis prove positively from Scripture that two of the Gnostics' theses were untenable: their doctrine of Christ's "apparent" body and their rejection of the resurrection of the body. Three other writings were directed against particular Gnostics: Hermogenes, the Valentinians, and Marcion. To the last work, consisting of five books, Tertullian devoted special care; it gives a detailed account of the principal

Marcionite doctrines followed by a skilful refutation based on reason and the Bible. In De praescriptione haereticorum he explains the meaning and value of apostolic tradition as opposed to the claim of the heretics, especially the Gnostics, to possess the true doctrine of Christ. The language he uses is that of the Roman law courts.

On the basis of this surviving anti-Gnostic literature we are able to give some account of the character and quality of the theological struggle against Gnosticism, at least in its main features. In general one may say that the Church's theologians thought out anew and established on a firmer foundation those points of Christian revelation which were particularly attacked and threatened by Gnostic teachings.

The claim of the heretics to be the sole possessors of the revelation imparted by Christ to his apostles meant nothing less than a depreciation of the Christian scriptures, which dated from apostolic times, and of the other, extra-biblical apostolic traditions; furthermore it implied a rejection of the Christian bishops' claim to be the only lawful witnesses to that body of tradition. If this Gnostic thesis were correct, then the whole foundation crumbled on which the inner cohesion of the Church had hitherto rested. The Christian theologians set to work to prevent the threatened collapse by bringing into the foreground the concepts of apostolic tradition and succession, and by deciding and confirming what constituted the Christian scriptures. A starting-point for the establishment of a canon of New Testament scriptures was already given in the books of the Old Testament, recognized as sacred; these served as a model and an encouragement to accord rank and respect to books from the period of the primitive Church. Even though we can no longer clearly discern the beginnings of this development, it is evident that two originally separate collections, the four Gospels and the Pauline epistles, gradually came closer together, although the latter were not yet accorded parity of esteem with the Gospels. According to Melito of Sardes, in the years 170-80, books of the New Testament were placed on the same level as those of the Old. No doubt the example of Marcion, who declared a clearly defined canon of New Testament writings to be necessary, hastened a development already begun in the Church. She did not however copy Marcion, but, in sharp contrast to him, accepted the Old Testament as sacred scriptures — the Christian understanding of them being made easier by developing allegorical interpretation — and then incorporated in her New Testament canon other books rejected by Marcion, notably the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse. In the controversy with Gnosticism this canon became widely accepted, and in the "Muratorian

ii*»- ui^iuit wiiii u.'iuaiiLlJM

Fragment", a list (made by the Roman congregation or one closely attached to it) of the New Testament books held to be canononical, it is already approaching its final form before the end of the second century.

In deciding which individual writings were to be included, the Church had to be able to invoke an undisputed, objective principle. This was to be found in ecclesiastical tradition. Only those books could be recognized as canonical which went back to apostolic times and had from an early date been particularly esteemed in the traditions of the whole Christian community. The only guarantors of the genuineness of such traditions were those leaders of congregations who could trace their unbroken succession back to the apostles. The positive effect of this principle of apostolic succession was to assure the place of tradition as an essential element of the Church's faith and theology. Its negative effect was to strip the Gnostic apocrypha and doctrinal works of their authority and cut them off from the Church, for in no case could they claim to be acknowledged by the witnesses and guardians of apostolic tradition.

A second principle was employed by the Christian theologians in their war against error, that which Irenaeus calls the Canon of Truth,S1 given to the faithful at baptism. This seems to refer to the baptismal "symbol" or profession of faith, or at least to the summary of truths to which the catechumens had been introduced during their instruction before baptism. "Whoever compared the teachings of the Gnostics with this norm or rule of faith could immediately see how they contradicted the true doctrine. The profession of faith at baptism had in fact about the middle of the second century been expanded in a christological sense to affirm more emphatically the reality of the human birth and of the Passion and death of Christ. This was a blow at the Docetism of many Gnostic sects and a declaration of the historicity of our Lord's miracles in the face of "spiritualist" attempts to explain them away. The same creed proclaimed the one God and Lord and Creator of the universe and thus rejected all Gnostic speculations about the origin of the cosmos as well as Marcion's doctrine of two gods. The Christian conviction of the resurrection of the body contrasted with the Gnostics' contempt for the body as part of matter, held by them to be radically evil.

During the course of the conflict some individual theologians were moved to lay stress on certain truths of revelation which were endangered or distorted by Gnostic opinions. Thus Irenaeus made it his special concern, in the face of the dualistic misunderstanding of original sin, to expound the true doctrine of the Fall, and in oppostion to Gnostic self-redemption to emphasize the gratuitousness of the gift of grace. The exaggeration by the Gnostics of the value of "knowledge" for redemption was later the occasion for Clement of Alexandria and Origen to consider more deeply the relationship between faith and knowledge and to acquire a Christian understanding and a true theological appreciation of Gnosis.

The Christian doctrines and principles brought into prominence by the opponents of the Gnostics do not of course contain any hitherto completely unknown elements of the faith. The Church could hardly have saved her independence, threatened as it was by the innovations of Gnostic propaganda, by combating them with novelties of her own. For the Church, the rise of the Gnostic heresy was nevertheless a very efficient stimulus to reconsider the truths she possessed, to formulate some of them more clearly and to emphasize them more decidedly. Marcionitism in particular hastened the process of the development of dogma and of the Church's consciousness of her own identity, and thus it played its part in forming the character of the "Great Church" of the future. But it would be a distortion of historical reality to see in that Church merely an anti- Marcionite movement. Her inner riches exceeded the sum-total of the doctrines defended in the attack on Marcionitism; the very strength of the independence with which the young Church defeated Marcion and the other Gnostics reveals the extent of those riches.

The decisive victory in the Church's favour occurred before the end of the second century; within a few decades the poison had been ejected, and Gnosticism was thrown back upon itself. Marcion's church, because of its strict organization, lasted longer; but the other Gnostic groups lost all cohesion and lapsed into sectarianism, even though their ideas exercised a certain power of attraction upon educated members of Christian congregations in the big cities down to the middle of the third century, as the works of the Alexandrines, of Hippolytus and Tertullian testify. After that time, anti-Gnostic polemic writings appeared only sporadically, and their complete cessation in the fourth century proves that the once so powerful movement had become insignificant. The actual importance of this swift and permanent victory lies in the fact that the Church, faced by the Gnostic attack, preserved her special character as a supernatural community sharing the same faith and way of life and founded by Christ. Thus she escaped the danger of being swallowed up and of perishing in the sea of Hellenistic syncretism.

CHAPTER 16 The Rise of Montanism and the Church's Defence

THE conflict with Gnosticism was not yet over when a new movement arose in the bosom of the Church which called itself the "New Prophecy". Its opponents called it the "heresy of the Phrygians", thus indicating the geographical area which saw its birth. Only in the fourth century was the term "Montanism" invented, when it was desired to emphasize the part played by Montanus in originating it.

The name "New Prophecy" aptly describes the basic idea of this movement. It took up again that form of religious enthusiasm, so much esteemed in the primitive Church, which regarded certain individual believers as specially favoured messengers of the Spirit and as prophets who placed their gifts at the service of the community. False prophets, illusionaries and swindlers among them had indeed, here and there, brought discredit on prophecy and created mistrust of any new "bearers of the Spirit" that might arise. There had also been tension between those favoured by the Spirit and those who wielded ecclesiastical authority; but good relations had always been restored, for charismatic gifts and the authority of the clergy were not necessarily mutually exclusive. This time, however, it came to a clash between prophecy and authority, which led to the exclusion of adherents of the movement from the community of the Church.

The development of the Montanist movement had an early phase, then a period when it underwent modification by Tertullian, and finally a stage of decline after the Church had defeated it. The early phase began about 170, when the recently baptized Montanus, in the village of Ardabau on the borders of Phrygia and Mysia, proclaimed to his fellow-Christians, with ecstatic behaviour and in strange, obscure language, that he was the mouthpiece and prophet of the Holy Spirit, who was now, through him, to lead the Church to all truth. At first this message was received with some doubts; but when two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, joined

Montanus and in a similar ecstatic manner uttered their prophecies, while Montanus himself promised his adherents a higher place in the approaching heavenly Jerusalem,81 a wave of enthusiasm swept away all hesitation. No connexion can be proved between the old Phrygian cults and the New Prophecy, though the population of the interior of Asia Minor does seem to have had a certain tendency towards religious excesses. The initial success of the three prophets was considerable, although they confined themselves to oral propaganda and at first had no writer of consequence to proclaim their message to the world. For this very reason the prophecies of Montanus and his female companions were treasured by the followers of the movement, and they were soon collected and circulated. Only a few of these oracula are to be found in the works of anti-Montanist writers or of Tertullian, so that we have to rely largely on the accounts of opponents to find out what the New Prophecy consisted of.

The most prominent feature of it was its eschatological message: the second coming of the Lord was at hand and with it the heavenly Jerusalem would be set up in the plain near the Phrygian town of Pepuza. In many parts of the empire men were not unprepared for this message, due to the grave tribulations which pestilence, war, and social distress under Marcus Aurelius had brought in their train. Hippolytus relates that a Syrian bishop had gone out at the head of his congregation to meet Christ, whom he intended to await in the desert, and that a bishop in Pontus had announced what had been revealed to him in a dream — that the last judgment would take place in a year's time. There would be no need to believe the Scriptures any more (this bishop had added) if his prophecy were not fulfilled.82 Probably the Montanist movement would have had little effect either in depth or in extent if it had confined itself to the proclamation of its eschatological message; when the prophesying ceased, a more sober frame of mind would, as in similar cases, have returned. But the prophets drew consequences from their alleged heavenly mandate which involved far-reaching interference with the existing practice of the Church and eventually forced the ecclesiastical authorities to condemn the whole movement.

Fasting suggested itself as a means of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ, for it had long been recognized as a form of inner sanctification, and the official fasts known as "stations" had also been instituted from eschatological motives.83 Hitherto these fasts had been limited to two half-days in the week and recommended by the Church to the faithful as a voluntary exercise. Montanus went beyond the previous practice when he made continual fasting a matter of precept for all Christians, since Christ's return might be expected at any hour. When it did not take place, the fast was confined to the customary stational days but prolonged till the evening and two weeks of abstinence were added, during which only dried food was permitted.94

The same eschatological attitude lay behind the second demand of the Montanist prophets, that which forbade the Christian who was waiting for his Lord to make any attempt at flight from martyrdom. Evasion would have meant a renewed attachment to this world, which was after all approaching its end. Earthly possessions, too, had no value any more, so it should not have been difficult for Montanists to give up their gold, silver, and other valuables to pay for the support of their preachers and prophets.

The Montanists' demand for the renunciation of marriage (as far as this was possible) was bound to have the most decisive effect. In their eyes it was marriage that most strongly attached men and women to this world. Both prophetesses set a good example by ceasing to live with their husbands; they evidently represented it as a duty that others should imitate this example and forbade marriages to take place in the brief span of time before the second coming of the Lord. Tertullian later amended this rule to prohibition of second marriages. Priscilla had a further reason for requiring total continence: it made one better able to see prophetic visions and to utter prophetic messages.95

Montanism naturally showed most enthusiasm in its early phase. New communities in Lydia and Galatia soon added to its already numerous adherents in Phrygia. From the provinces of Asia Minor it passed to Syria (ever receptive to new ideas), where it was especially successful at Antioch; soon it appeared in Thrace also. The Gallic congregations of Lyons and Vienne heard about the Montanist movement surprisingly early, as appears from Eusebius,96 who writes of a correspondence between those congregations and "brethren" in Asia and Phrygia in which it figures. Eleutheros, Bishop of Rome, was independently informed of the rise of the New Prophecy, but he clearly did not regard it as a serious danger, for he uttered no judgment upon it. Perhaps he was confirmed in this attitude by the Christians of Lyons, who sent their presbyter Irenaeus to Rome with a letter which likewise did not condemn the Phrygian movement. Pope Zephyrinus (199-217) also looked favourably upon it at first, for he sent its members letters of peace, which were the expression of

" Tertull., De ieiun. 1, 2, 10. " Euseb. HE 5, 18, 3. •• Ibid. 5, 3, 4.

fellowship within the Church. Tertullian ascribes the later change in Pope Zephyrinus' attitude to Praxeas of Asia Minor, who had given him more detailed information, admittedly somewhat distorted, about the prophets and their churches.97 The Roman bishops, then, were at first unaware of the danger which the New Prophecy represented to the existence of the ecclesiastical organization and of an ordered congregational life.

The first setback to the further spread of the movement was the death vT of the three original bearers of the prophecy. Maximilla died in 179. It was she who had announced: "After me no other prophet will come, but there will be the consummation of all things."98 She had with these words enabled many followers to form a judgment upon the genuineness of her prophesying, and it could not be other than unfavourable. Perhaps the movement would have declined more rapidly — certainly the conflict with it would have taken a different form on the Church's side — if a man of the stature of Tertullian had not joined it and, on the level of literary discussion at least, given it a new importance.

We have no evidence as to when and how the African writer came into contact with the New Prophecy. From about the years 205-6 onwards his writings show not only that he knew its basic teaching and its demands on the faithful, but that he approved of them. Even in a man of the spiritual greatness of Tertullian one might have assumed there would be a period of inner struggle preceding the change from Catholic to fanatical Montanist, for his new faith involved a contrast, patent to all the world, with his previous convictions; he now scorned in unmeasured invective what he had once ardently defended and respccted. What it was that appealed to him in the New Prophecy is not difficult to see when we read his Montanist writings. He found in it an attitude towards the Christian way of life which, in its pitiless severity to all that was mediocre, corresponded to his own rigoristic approach, but which could not in any way be connected with the Gnostic heresy or with the false doctrines of a man like Praxeas. What attracted him even more perhaps was that in the Montanist form of Christianity one could directly invoke the Floly Spirit in support of one's opinions; before this highest court of appeal all others had to be silent — the martyrs, the episcopal Church, the Bishop of Rome himself.

Tertullian was not, however, the man to accept the New Prophecy quite uncritically. He thought out afresh its doctrines and organization and modified it so much in detail that Tertullian's Montanism is something altogether different from that of the early days. The three great prophets of that first phase were for him no inviolable authority. He

possessed indeed a collection of their prophetic utterances, but he made sparing use of them and preferred to lend weight to his views by appealing to the Paraclete directly. Especially did he deny to women in the Montanist community, as conceived by him, a rank like that accorded to Priscilla and Maximilla. They were not to hold any priestly function, nor were they to be allowed to teach or to speak at divine worship, even if they possessed the gift of prophecy; their use of it, if so endowed, was to be confined to private utterances.99 He also disavowed the more concrete prophecies referring to the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem — Pepuza he never mentions. One gets the impression that he wished to detach the New Prophecy from its connexion with the personalities of its early phase and its local associations with Asia Minor and to give it a universal character. His grand design, of which neither Montanus nor his female assistants were capable, is clear from the new basis in salvation history which Tertullian gave the movement. Its real mission consisted, according to him, in bringing Christianity and mankind in general to adult maturity through the working of the Paraclete.100

Tertullian's principal Montanist writings101 repeat the rigoristic demands of the New Prophecy with undiminished severity and in passionate language. With a sophistry that sometimes borders on the acrobatic he defends the prohibition against flight in time of persecution, and represents one marriage only as a commandment of the Paraclete that admits of no exception (secundae nuptiae adulterium).102 In like manner he proves the obligation to fast, which the "natural men" or "psychics", whom he reviles in unmeasured terms, refused to accept. His attack on the Church's practice in the matter of penance is of ruthless severity towards sinners and the fallen. It was his attitude on this question that made him into an opponent in principle of the episcopal Church and led him finally to break away from ecclesiastical authority based upon the apostolic succession.

He soon had to give up his attempt to win over the Christian congregation in his home town of Carthage to the Montanist movement. It is remarkable that after Tertullian's time the sources are at first completely silent about Montanism; in no work or letter of Cyprian is there even a remote echo of it. Evidently the exaggerated rigorism of its African advocate had been unable to gain any large body of adherents among the simple Christian folk of that region. Tertullian's writings, however, undoubtedly found readers; their literary quality and the

" Tertull., De virg. vel. 9.

Ibid., 1.

101 De juga in persecutione, De monogamia, De ieiunio adverstts psychicos, De pudicitia.
103 De monog. 15.
uniqueness of their contents would have ensured that. But there were only readers, not converts. Shortly before Augustine's death a remnant of Tertullianists rejoined the Church in Africa and brought their basilica into Catholic possession.

The defensive campaign of the ecclesiastical authorities against Montanism began, as we have said, slowly, because the latter's opposition to the Christian way of life and to the tradition of the Church became apparent only on closer examination. Emphasis on fasting and readiness for martyrdom, as well as praise for high moral standards in marriage had always been staple themes of Christian preaching; even the renewal of esteem for the prophetic gifts of the early Church gave no cause for alarm. In the message of the New Prophecy there was, moreover, no connexion to be seen with the errors the Church had hitherto been fighting against. Only when it became clear that its genuinely Christian aims were distorted by an immoderate exaggeration of their real significance, and that they represented a falsification of Christian tradition, did defensive action become necessary.

The bishops of Asia Minor must sooner or later have had to face the question, which is bound to arise in the case of every enthusiastic movement, whether the claims of the New Prophecy were not based upon an illusion. Some of them therefore tried to test the genuineness of these prophetic gifts, but they were repulsed by the Montanists. The bishops repeatedly took counsel together (the first example of such synods in the history of the Church) and came to the conclusion that it was not the Spirit of God which spoke through the new prophets. They were therefore to be excluded from the fellowship of the Church together with their adherents. Even towards the middle of the third century a synod of bishops in Iconium was concerned with Montanism; splinter groups were to be found in Spain at the end of the fourth, in Rome at the beginning of the fifth, and in the East even as late as the ninth century.

The victory of the Church over Montanism had consequences for her which brought her unique nature into greater prominence and determined her future development. By refusing to make the excessively ascetic programme of the Montanists a norm binding on all Christians, she escaped the danger of sinking to the level of an insignificant sect of enthusiasts and preserved herself for the task of bringing the message of Christ to all men and making it possible for that message to be effective in every cultural milieu. Moreover, by eliminating uncontrollable religious subjectivism as represented by the Phrygian prophets, with its claim to the sole leadership of the faithful, the Christian community was assured of objective guidance by the traditional office-holders whose calling was based on objective criteria. Finally by renouncing an eschatological hope which believed its fulfilment to be impending, it became possible for the Church to consider


with an objective eye her tasks for the present and the future and to embark upon them with confidence: these were her own inner strengthening and her further missionary activity in the Hellenistic world.


The Expansion of Christianity down to the End of the Second Century

THE question of the Church's expansion in the second century brings us back to Palestine again. The Jewish war of the first century had, for the time being, put an end to the missionary work of the Jerusalem congregation and of the Christians dwelling in the countryside. Many of the Christians who had fled to Pella, east of the Jordan, probably did not go back to Palestine; those who returned were faced with the task of rebuilding community life in and outside Jerusalem, so that by the years 73-74 a new period of Palestinian Jewish Christianity had begun. Its centre was again at Jerusalem, where the congregation was presided over by Simeon until his martyrdom about the year 107.103 Regarding the size of the congregation our sources make only vague statements; but a remark of Eusebius is noteworthy, according to which "very many of the circumcision had come to the faith in Christ" down to the time of Simeon's death.104 From this it is clear that the new community, like its predecessor, engaged in missionary activity; for Jews in large numbers had settled again in the city after the catastrophe of the seventies, but they now lacked a Temple as a centre for their religious life.

Hegesippus states that at this time there were also Christians outside Jerusalem, especially in Galilee, and this information is confirmed by rabbinical sources.105 The missionary efforts of the Christians certainly encountered enormous difficulties. First of all they had to deal with heterodox Jewish Christianity, which, partly at least, continued to assert that the Law was still binding on all Christians and recognized Jesus of Nazareth as a great prophet indeed, but not as the Messiah and Son of God; moreover, it had been permeated by Gnostic ideas, as formulated by Simon Magus, Dositheos, Menander and Kerinthos.108 Samaria especially was under the influence of Simon and Menander and offered little scope to the Christian mission.

The Christians met the most determined opposition from orthodox Palestinian Jewry, based as it was upon a profound hatred of the "apostates" who had renounced the Sabbath and proclaimed as Messiah him whom the Jews had nailed to the cross. According to the evidence of Justin, not only was this hatred deliberately fomented in the synagogues of Palestine, but it led to powerful missionary counter- activity; from Palestine the Jews sent forth "chosen men" who were to work against the spread of the Christian faith everywhere, especially in the main centres of the Jewish Diaspora. The denunciation of Bishop Simeon also came from anti-Christian circles in Palestine. He was denounced before the proconsul Atticus as being a descendant of David and a Christian, and in the year 107 he was, according to the principle of Trajan's later rescript, crucified after steadfastly professing the faith. Accessions from paganism were probably not considerable in Palestine; the only convert from paganism who is mentioned is Aquila, the translator of the Bible, who, according to the late account of Epiphanios, joined the Church at Jerusalem, but because of his superstitious tendencies was subsequently excluded from the congregation.

As the Jewish war had brought to an end the original community, so did the rebellion of Bar Cochba in the years 132-5 conclude the second phase of Palestinian Christianity and with it the possibility of missionary work among the Jews of Palestine. Persecution by the leader of the rebellion caused the deaths of many Jewish Christians; others again fled beyond the Jordan. As no person of Jewish race was allowed to live in the city of Aelia Capitolina, built on the site of Jerusalem, a Christian congregation could be recruited only from pagan converts. Its first bishop, Marcus, was therefore, as Eusebius states, a Greek; and all his successors down to the middle of the third century bore Greek or Roman names. The Gentile-Christian congregation of Jerusalem played no remarkable role during the rest of the second century, at the end of which the bishopric of Aelia ranked below that of Caesarea. In the rest of Palestine too, the Christians were now mainly Greeks, dwelling almost exclusively in the towns. All attempts at christianizing the Jewish rural population failed


down to the time of Constantine, because of determined hostility towards everything Christian.

In neighbouring Syria the Christian churches dating from apostolic times maintained themselves or increased in importance. The Christians in Damascus, Sidon, and Tyre, likewise had increased in numbers during the course of the second century, while the Phoenician countryside remained largely pagan. In Antioch especially — its earliest important mission- centre — Christianity gained in consideration on account of its bishop, Ignatius, and acquired new converts from among the Greek-speaking population. The letter of Bishop Theophilos, written shortly after 180 to Autolykos, is both apologetical and propagandist in tone and shows that missionary work was going on among the pagan upper class.

In the second half of the second century new territory was opened up to Christianity in the east Syrian district of Osrhoene, when the Jewish Christian Addai began to work inEdessa and its immediate neighbourhood. His labours were continued by the future martyr Aggai and the leaders of the Edessan congregation, Hystaspes and Aggai, the latter of whom had to excommunicate Bardesanes (converted to Christianity in 179) on account of his Gnostic errors. The existence of Christians between Nisibis and the Euphrates in the second half of the second century is suggested by the Aberkios inscription. At that time other congregations were established around Edessa, among which we must presume there existed a certain degree of organized union, for a synod at Edessa discussed the question of the date of Easter. Tatian may have compiled his Diatessaron for these communities. The consecration of Bishop Palut for the see of Edessa, which took place at Antioch about the year 190, shows Antioch's interest in this promising mission-field, which was soon to be contested by various heretics. That the royal house was converted to Christianity in the second century and that Christianity was established as the State religion has often been accepted as fact; it remains, however, open to question. The destruction of a Christian church at Edessa in the flood of 201 is evidence of a well developed ecclesiastical organization. Bardesanes mentions regular Sunday assemblies and fasting on particular days. It is characteristic of the young Syrian church that it did not confine itself to the cities, but from the beginning concerned itself with the evangelization of the country folk. From Edessa Christianity


penetrated farther east into Mesopotamia, thanks to the labours of the missionary Addai.

Whereas southern Arabia appears to have had no Christians for a long time, northern Arabia or Transjordan shows evidence that Christianity was known there in the first and second centuries. "Arabs" were represented among the Jews and proselytes staying in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost (Acts 2:11). The faith may also have been brought to the lands east of the Jordan by Jewish Christians fleeing from Jerusalem and Palestine. The apologist Ariston, who wrote his Dialogue between Jason and Papiskos concerning Christ shortly before the middle of the second century, belonged to the congregation of Pella.120 But before the third century there can have been only individual Arab conversions, most likely in cities such as Bostra, which had come into contact with Hellenistic civilization.

The beginnings of Christianity in Egypt are obscure, in spite of the discovery of numerous papyri of the first and second centuries. As the account of the founding of the Egyptian church by Peter is based on later legends,121 the fragment of John's Gospel on papyri of the early second century may be regarded as the earliest proof of the presence of Christians on Egyptian soil.122 We must also bear in mind that the Gnostic mission had more initial success there than orthodox Christianity, of the existence of which in Alexandria we have no clear evidence dating from before the last two decades of the second century. Pantaenus is the first mentioned preacher of the Christian faith; about the year 190 Bishop Demetrios was the head of an already considerable congregation, consciously preparing for the growth of the Church in the third century.

Besides the district of Osrhoene, the provinces of Asia Minor were the most receptive to Christian preaching in the second century. Both inland and on the west coast, missionaries could continue to build on the foundations laid by Paul. Even by the end of the first century a number of cities in the west of Asia Minor had organized churches (Apoc 2-3) in addition to those founded by the apostle. Ignatius of Antioch maintained relations with these and with the churches of Magnesia and Tralles. The testimony of Pliny is particularly significant: he states that about the year 112 there was in Bithynia a considerable Christian rural population.123 In the following decades the names of cities in Asia Minor in which Christianity had gained a footing continued to multiply; they are found in nearly all provinces.124 The correspondence of Dionysius, Bishop of

Quasten P, I, 195 f.

121 Euseb. HE 2, 16.
123 See above, chapter 7, note 4.
125 Pliny the Younger, Ep. 10, 96.

127 Harnack Miss 737 f.


Corinth, of which Eusebius tells us,125 is addressed to a whole series of congregations, such as those of Nicomedia, Amastris, and "the communities in Pontus". It shows us a well-organized Christianity, able, in the synods of the eighties, effectively to oppose the Montanist movement.126 Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus could point to the glorious Christian tradition of his congregation, which gave it a special place among those of the west coast.127

In Crete the churches of Gortyna and Knossos are now known by name, as the correspondence of Dionysius of Corinth shows,128 whereas we have no information about the growth of the Pauline foundations in Cilicia and Cyprus during the second century. Compared with the rapid expansion of Christianity in Asia Minor, the areas of Greece and Macedonia evangelized by Paul clearly lagged behind. Corinth surpassed all other churches in the intensity of its life, which, under Dionysius, attained a high degree of ecclesiastical organization. Athens, at this time gave to the Church the apologist Aristides. We have no reliable information about attempts at christianizing the Danubian provinces in the second century; Christians among the soldiers stationed there may have won occasional converts to their faith.129

In the Latin West, the growth of the Christian congregation at Rome was probably greatest. The letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome, to the church of Corinth shows that despite the persecutions under Nero and Domitian the Gospel had gained many more believers before the end of the first century, though these may have been largely non-Romans.130 The respect in which the Roman church was held appears from the powerful attraction it exercised upon the Christians of the eastern provinces; Ignatius speaks of it, as we have seen, with expressions of the deepest reverence. Marcion, Aberkios, Hegesippus and Irenaeus, Valentinus and Theodotos, Justin, Tatian, and Polycarp of Smyrna — all travelled for various reasons to the capital in the West; some to seek recognition for their peculiar doctrines, others to learn there the true Christian teaching or to work for the peace of the Church. Hermas, still writing in Greek, gives us a glimpse of ecclesiastical life in Rome with its everyday problems. With Bishop Victor towards the end of the second century the Latin element begins to predominate.131 The educated Greek Justin set himself

129 Euseb. HE 4, 23, 1-13.
131 Ibid. 5, 16, 10.
,s7 Ibid. 5, 24, 1-6, on which see V. Schultze, Altchristliche Stadte und Landschaften, II/2 (Gutersloh 1926), 107 f. 128 Euseb. HE 4, 23, 5 7-8. 181 Cf. RAC IV, 166 f.

110 The list of popes (cf. Harnack Miss 818-32) shows predominantly Greek names

during this period.

131 Jerome, De vir. ill. 53.


a missionary task in Rome when, in a school like those of classical Greece, he taught "the true philosophy" to interested persons among the intellectuals of the capital. From the extensive charitable activity which the Roman congregation was able to carry on in the second half of the century we may conclude that its membership was considerable. There is little evidence concerning Christian advances in other parts of Italy during the second century. One might well expect there to have been missionary expeditions from the capital, but, quite possibly, the fact that the majority of the congregation consisted of non-Latins made such undertakings too difficult. At the most, we can say that in the second half of the century some bishoprics had been established south of Rome.

Whereas Sicily does not appear to have been touched by Christian missionaries before the third century, Roman North Africa proved relatively early to be a profitable field for their activity, although we do not know their names nor the route they followed. The first document that gives information about African Christians, the Acts of the martyrs of Scili, already presupposes the existence there of Latin Christianity, for the six Christians who were put to death in July 180 (a later addition to the Acts shows that other Christians of the province fell victims to the persecution) evidently possessed the epistles of Paul in Latin. The place in which a large Christian community first grew up was, naturally enough, the capital, Carthage, where the catechetical and literary work of Tertullian about the year 200 was so extensive that it would have been possible only in a Christian group that was already numerically strong. The way in which the Roman, Scapula, proceeded against the Christians also compels us to assume that a considerable number of Christians had existed for some time in Africa. And if Bishop Agrippinus, about 220, could summon seventy bishops to a synod, we may conclude that intensive evangelization had been going on in the countryside for a considerable period. North Africa is the only large area of the Latin West at this time which can in any way be compared with the mission fields of eastern Syria and Asia Minor.

The populations of the delta and middle valley of the Rhone owed their first contact with Christianity to the commercial relations between Asia Minor and the south coast of Gaul. For the old Greek colony of Massilia this contact must have come quite early. The numerical strength


of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, which is implied in the account of forty or fifty Christians of those cities martyred under Marcus Aurelius, also presupposes a long period of development. Irenaeus of Lyons can be regarded as a missionary bishop, concerned for the Celtic population of his adopted homeland; no doubt he intended to preach the Gospel among the Gauls, although, as he himself hints, the language problem was a source of difficulties.137 To him too we owe our knowledge of Christian congregations then existing "in the Germanies" — probably in the Rhenish provinces with their chief towns of Cologne and Mainz — and in the Spanish provinces.138 But if Christianity had already penetrated to the frontier towns on the Rhine, it had certainly also reached Trier, situated further inside the frontier and much more frequented by traders. Its relations with the cities of the Rhone valley suggest too the way by which the faith reached the Moselle.

This survey of the expansion of Christianity in the course of the second century gives a clear impression that the missionary enthusiasm of the primitive Church was still fresh and active. Intensive work continued in the original mission fields of the apostles, with great success in the parts of Asia Minor, where Paul had preached. New areas were opened up, especially in east Syria and Mesopotamia in the Orient, in North Africa, Gaul, Germany, and Spain in the West. The bearers of the Gospel were primarily the congregations and the enthusiasm of individual Christians; there is no indication of a central direction and organization of missionary work. The names of the missionaries are for the most part unknown.

Besides the type of preaching familiar from the apostolic period, new ways of proclaiming the Gospel were being employed. First there was the written word, used by the apologetical writers of the second century, whose intentions were also missionary and propagandist. Then there were some Christians who made use of the classical system of education; as teachers in private schools, they expounded the Christian faith. Finally, the heroic behaviour of the martyrs in times of persecution became a missionary factor of the first importance, gaining for Christianity a body of new adherents which, if not numerically great, was spiritually of the highest quality.

"7 Irenaeus, Adv. haer., praef. 1, 3; see E. Griffe, op. cit. 43. 158 Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 1, 10, 2.

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