The Critical and Historical Movement
It has been said that in Christian times the relation of philosophy and religion may be determined by the attitude of reason toward a single matter, namely, the churchly doctrine of revelation.[4] There are three possible relations of reason to this doctrine. First, it may be affirmed that the content of religion and theology is matter communicated to man in extraordinary fashion, truth otherwise unattainable, on which it is beyond the competence of reason to sit in judgment. We have then the two spheres arbitrarily separated. As regards their relation, theology is at first supreme. Reason is the handmaiden of faith. It is occupied in applying the principles which it receives at the hands of theology. These are the so-called Ages of Faith. Notably was this the attitude of the Middle Age. But in the long run either authoritative revelation, thus conceived, must extinguish reason altogether, or else reason must claim the whole man. After all, it is in virtue of his having some reason that man is the subject of revelation. He is continually asked to exercise his reason upon certain parts of the revelation, even by those who maintain that he must do so only within limits. It is only because there in a certain reasonableness in the conceptions of revealed religion that man has ever been able to make them his own or to find in them meaning and edification. This external relation of reason to revelation cannot continue. Nor can the encroachments of reason be met by temporary distinctions such as that between the natural and the supernatural. The antithesis to the natural is not the supernatural, but the unnatural. The antithesis to reason is not faith, but irrationality. The antithesis to human truth is not the divine truth. It is falsehood.

[Footnote 4: Seth Pringle-Pattison, The Philosophical Radicals, p.216.]

When men have made this discovery, a revulsion carries their minds to the second position of which we spoke. This is, namely, the position of extreme denial. It is an attitude of negation toward revelation, such as prevailed in the barren and trivial rationalism of the end of the eighteenth century. The reason having been long repressed revenges itself, usurping everything. The explanation of the rise of positive religion and of the claim of revelation is sought in the hypothesis of deceit, of ambitious priestcraft and incurable credulity. The religion of those who thus argue, in so far as they claim any religion, is merely the current morality. Their explanation of the religion of others is that it is merely the current morality plus certain unprovable assumptions. Indeed, they may think it to be but the obstinate adherence to these assumptions minus the current morality. It is impossible that this shallow view should prevail. To overcome it, however, there is need of a philosophy which shall give not less, but greater scope to reason and at the same time an inward meaning to revelation.

This brings us to the third possible position, to which the best thinkers of the nineteenth century have advanced. So long as deistic views of the relation of God to man and the world held the field, revelation meant something interjected ab extra into the established order of things. The popular theology which so abhorred deism was yet essentially deistic in its notion of God and of his separation from the world. Men did not perceive that by thus separating God from the world they set up alongside of him a sphere and an activity to which his relations were transient and accidental. No wonder that other men, finding their satisfying activity within the sphere which was thus separated from God, came to think of this absentee God as an appendage to the scheme of things. But if man himself be inexplicable, save as sharing in the wider life of universal reason, if the process of history be realised as but the working out of an inherent divine purpose, the manifestation of an indwelling divine force, then revelation denotes no longer an interference with that evolution. It is a factor in that evolution. It is but the normal relation of the immanent spirit of God to the children of men at the crises of their fate. Then revelation is an experience of men precisely in the line and according to the method of all their nobler experiences. It is itself reasonable and moral. Inspiration is the normal and continuous effect of the contact of the God who is spirit with man who is spirit too. The relation is never broken. But there are times in which it has been more particularly felt. There have been personalities to whom in eminent degree this depth of communion with God has been vouchsafed. To such persons and eras the religious sense of mankind, by a true instinct, has tended to restrict the words 'revelation' and 'inspiration.' This restriction, however, signifies the separation of the grand experience from the ordinary, only in degree and not in kind. Such an experience was that of prophets and law-givers under the ancient covenant. Such an experience, in immeasurably greater degree, was that of Jesus himself. Such a turning-point in the life of the race was the advent of Christianity. The world has not been wrong in calling the documents of these revelations sacred books and in attributing to them divine authority. It has been largely wrong in the manner in which it construed their authority. It has been wholly wrong in imagining that the documents themselves were the revelation. They are merely the record of a personal communion with the transcendent. It was Lessing who first cast these fertile ideas into the soil of modern thought. They were never heartily taken up by Kant. One can think, however, with what enthusiasm men recurred to them after their postulates had been verified and the idea of God, of man and of the world which they implied, had been confirmed by Fichte and Schelling.

In the philosophical movement, the outline of which we have suggested, what one may call the nidus of a new faith in Scripture had been prepared. The quality had been forecast which the Scripture must be found to possess, if it were to retain its character as document of revelation. In those very same years the great movement of biblical criticism was gathering force which, in the course of the nineteenth century, was to prove by stringent literary and historical methods, what qualities the documents which we know as Scripture do possess. It was to prove in the most objective fashion that the Scripture does not possess those qualities which men had long assigned to it. It was to prove that, as a matter of fact, the literature does possess the qualities which the philosophic forecast, above hinted, required. It was thus actually to restore the Bible to an age in which many reasonable men had lost their faith in it. It was to give a genetic reconstruction of the literature and show the progress of the history which the Scripture enshrines. After a contest in which the very foundations of faith seemed to be removed, it was to afford a basis for a belief in Scripture and revelation as positive and secure as any which men ever enjoyed, with the advantage that it is a foundation upon which the modern man can and does securely build. The synchronism of the two endeavours is remarkable. The convergence upon one point, of studies starting, so to say, from opposite poles and having no apparent interest in common, is instructive. It is an illustration of that which Comte said, that all the great intellectual movements of a given time are but the manifestation of a common impulse, which pervades and possesses the minds of the men of that time.

The attempt to rationalise the narrative of Scripture was no new one. It grew in intensity in the early years of the nineteenth century. The conflict which was presently precipitated concerned primarily the Gospels. It was natural that it should do so. These contain the most important Scripture narrative, that of the life of Jesus. Strauss had in good faith turned his attention to the Gospels, precisely because he felt their central importance. His generation was to learn that they presented also the greatest difficulties. The old rationalistic interpretation had started from the assumption that what we have in the gospel narrative is fact. Yet, of course, for the rationalists, the facts must be natural. They had the appearance of being supernatural only through the erroneous judgment of the narrators. It was for the interpreter to reduce everything which is related to its simple, natural cause. The water at Cana was certainly not turned into wine. It must have been brought by Jesus as a present and opened thus in jest. Jesus was, of course, begotten in the natural manner. A simple maiden must have been deceived. The execution of this task of the rationalising of the narratives by one Dr. Paulus, was the reductio ad absurdum of the claim. The most spiritual of the narratives, the finest flower of religious poetry, was thus turned into the meanest and most trivial incident without any religious significance whatsoever. The obtuseness of the procedure was exceeded only by its vulgarity.


On the other hand, as Pfleiderer has said, we must remember the difficulty which beset the men of that age. Their general culture made it difficult for them to accept the miraculous element in the gospel narrative as it stood. Yet their theory of Scripture gave them no notion as to any other way in which the narratives might be understood. The men had never asked themselves how the narratives arose. In the preface to his Leben Jesu, Strauss said: 'Orthodox and rationalists alike proceed from the false assumption that we have always in the Gospels testimony, sometimes even that of eye-witnesses, to fact. They are, therefore, reduced to asking themselves what can have been the real and natural fact which is here witnessed to in such extraordinary way. We have to realise,' Strauss proceeds, 'that the narrators testify sometimes, not to outward facts, but to ideas, often most poetical and beautiful ideas, constructions which even eye-witnesses had unconsciously put upon facts, imagination concerning them, reflexions upon them, reflexions and imaginings such as were natural to the time and at the author's level of culture. What we have here is not falsehood, not misrepresentation of the truth. It is a plastic, naive, and, at the same time, often most profound apprehension of truth, within the area of religious feeling and poetic insight. It results in narrative, legendary, mythical in nature, illustrative often of spiritual truth in a manner more perfect than any hard, prosaic statement could achieve.' Before Strauss men had appreciated that particular episodes, like the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection, might have some such explanation as this. No one had ever undertaken to apply this method consistently, from one end to the other of the gospel narrative. What was of more significance, no one had clearly defined the conception of legend. Strauss was sure that in the application of this notion to certain portions of the Scripture no irreverence was shown. No moral taint was involved. Nothing which could detract from the reverence in which we hold the Scripture was implied. Rather, in his view, the history of Jesus is more wonderful than ever, when some, at least, of its elements are viewed in this way, when they are seen as the product of the poetic spirit, working all unconsciously at a certain level of culture and under the impulse of a great enthusiasm.

There is no doubt that Strauss, who was at that time an earnest Christian, felt the relief from certain difficulties in the biography of Jesus which this theory affords. He put it forth in all sincerity as affording to others like relief. He said that while rationalists and supernaturalists alike, by their methods, sacrificed the divine content of the story and clung only to its form, his hypothesis sacrificed the historicity of the narrative form, but kept the eternal and spiritual truth. In his opinion, the lapse of a single generation was enough to give room for this process of the growth of the legendary elements which have found place in the written Gospels which we have. Ideas entertained by primitive Christians relative to their lost Master, have been, all unwittingly, transformed into facts and woven into the tale of his career. The legends of a people are in their basal elements never the work of a single individual. They are never intentionally produced. The imperceptible growth of a joint creative work of this kind was possible, however, only on the supposition that oral tradition was, for a time, the means of transmission of the reminiscences of Jesus. Strauss' explanation of his theory has been given above, to some extent in his own words. We may see how he understood himself. We may appreciate also the genuineness of the religious spirit of his work. At the same time the thorough-going way in which he applied his principle, the relentless march of his argument, the character of his results, must sometimes have been startling even to himself. They certainly startled others. The effect of his work was instantaneous and immense. It was not at all the effect which he anticipated. The issue of the furious controversy which broke out was disastrous both to Strauss' professional career and to his whole temperament and character.

David Friedrich Strauss was born in 1808 in Ludwigsburg in Wuerttemberg. He studied in Tuebingen and in Berlin. He became an instructor in the theological faculty in Tuebingen in 1832. He published his Leben Jesu in 1835. He was almost at once removed from his portion. In 1836 he withdrew altogether from the professorial career. His answer to his critics, written in 1837, was in bitter tone. More conciliatory was his book, Ueber Vergaengliches und Bleibendes im Christenthum, published in 1839. Indeed there were some concessions in the third edition of his Leben Jesu in 1838, but these were all repudiated in 1840. His Leben Jesu fuer das deutsche Volk, published in 1866 was the effort to popularise that which he had done. It is, however, in point of method, superior to his earlier work, Comments were met with even greater bitterness. Finally, not long before his death in 1874, he published Der Alte und der Neue Glaube, in which he definitely broke with Christianity altogether and went over to materialism and pessimism.

Pfleiderer, who had personal acquaintance with Strauss and held him in regard, once wrote: 'Strauss' error did not lie in his regarding some of the gospel stories as legends, and some of the narratives of the miraculous as symbols of ideal truths. So far Strauss was right. The contribution which he made is one which we have all appropriated and built upon. His error lay in his looking for those religious truths which are thus symbolised, outside of religion itself, in adventurous metaphysical speculations. He did not seek them in the facts of the devout heart and moral will, as these are illustrated in the actual life of Jesus.' If Strauss, after the disintegration in criticism of certain elements in the biography of Jesus, had given us a positive picture of Jesus as the ideal of religious character and ethical force, his work would indeed have been attacked. But it would have outlived the attack and conferred a very great benefit. It conferred a great benefit as it was, although not the benefit which Strauss supposed. The benefit which it really conferred was in its critical method, and not at all in its results.

Of the mass of polemic and apologetic literature which Strauss' Leben Jesu called forth, little is at this distance worth the mentioning. Ullmann, who was far more appreciative than most of his adversaries, points out the real weakness of Strauss' work. That weakness lay in the failure to draw any distinction between the historical and the mythical. He threatened to dissolve the whole history into myth. He had no sense for the ethical element in the personality and teaching of Jesus nor of the creative force which this must have exerted. Ullmann says with cogency that, according to Strauss, the Church created its Christ virtually out of pure imagination. But we are then left with the query: What created the Church? To this query Strauss has absolutely no answer to give. The answer is, says Ullmann, that the ethical personality of Jesus created the Church. This ethical personality is thus a supreme historic fact and a sublime historic cause, to which we must endeavour to penetrate, if need be through the veil of legend. The old rationalists had made themselves ridiculous by their effort to explain everything in some natural way. Strauss and his followers often appeared frivolous, since, according to them, there was little left to be explained. If a portion of the narrative presented a difficulty, it was declared mythical. What was needed was such a discrimination between the legendary and historical elements in the Gospels as could be reached only by patient, painstaking study of the actual historical quality and standing of the documents. No adequate study of this kind had ever been undertaken. Strauss did not undertake it, nor even perceive that it was to be undertaken. There had been many men of vast learning in textual and philological criticism. Here, however, a new sort of critique was applied to a problem which had but just now been revealed in all its length and breadth. The establishing of the principles of this historical criticism -- the so-called Higher Criticism -- was the herculean task of the generation following Strauss. To the development of that science another Tuebingen professor, Baur, made permanent contribution. With Strauss himself, sadder than the ruin of his career, was the tragedy of the uprooting of his faith. This tragedy followed in many places in the wake of the recognition of Strauss' fatal half-truth.


Baur, Strauss' own teacher in Tuebingen, afterward famous as biblical critic and church-historian, said of Strauss' book, that through it was revealed in startling fashion to that generation of scholars, how little real knowledge they had of the problem which the Gospels present. To Baur it was clear that if advance was to be made beyond Strauss' negative results, the criticism of the gospel history must wait upon an adequate criticism of the documents which are our sources for that history. Strauss' failure had brought home to the minds of men the fact that there were certain preliminary studies which must needs be taken up. Meantime the other work must wait. As one surveys the literature of the next thirty years this fact stands out. Many apologetic lives of Jesus had to be written in reply to Strauss. But they are almost completely negligible. No constructive work was done in this field until nearly a generation had passed.

Since all history, said Baur, before it reaches us must pass through the medium of a narrator, our first question as to the gospel history is not, what objective reality can be accorded to the narrative itself. There is a previous question. This concerns the relation of the narrative to the narrator. It might be very difficult for us to make up our minds as to what it was that, in a given case, the witness saw. We have not material for such a judgment. We have probably much evidence, up and down his writings, as to what sort of man the witness was, in what manner he would be likely to see anything and with what personal equation he would relate that which he saw. Baur would seem to have been the first vigorously and consistently to apply this principle to the gospel narratives. Before we can penetrate deeply into the meaning of an author we must know, if we may, his purpose in writing. Every author belongs to the time in which he lives. The greater the importance of his subject for the parties and struggles of his day, the safer is the assumption that both he and his work will bear the impress of these struggles. He will represent the interests of one or another of the parties. His work will have a tendency of some kind. This was one of Baur's oft-used words -- the tendency of a writer and of his work. We must ascertain that tendency. The explanation of many things both in the form and substance of a writing would be given could we but know that. The letters of Paul, for example, are written in palpable advocacy of opinions which were bitterly opposed by other apostles. The biographies of Jesus suggest that they also represent, the one this tendency, the other that. We have no cause to assert that this trait of which we speak implies conscious distortion of the facts which the author would relate. The simple-minded are generally those least aware of the bias in the working of their own minds. It is obvious that until we have reckoned with such elements as these, we cannot truly judge of that which the Gospels say. To the elaboration of the principles of this historical criticism Baur gave the labour of his life. His biblical work alone would have been epoch-making.

Ferdinand Christian Baur was born in 1793 in Schmieden, near Stuttgart. He became a professor in Tuebingen in 1826 and died there in 1860. He was an ardent disciple of Hegel. His greatest work was surely in the field of the history of dogma. His works, Die Christliche Lehre von der Vereoehnung, 1838, Die Christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes, 1841-1843, his Lehrbuch der Christlichen Dogmengeschichte, 1847, together constitute a contribution to which Harnack's work in our own time alone furnishes a parallel. Baur had begun his thorough biblical studies before the publication of Strauss' book. The direction of those studies was more than ever confirmed by his insight of the shortcomings of Strauss' work. Very characteristically also he had begun his investigations, not at the most difficult point, that of the Gospels, as Strauss had done, but at the easiest point, the Epistles of Paul. As early as 1831 he had published a tractate, Die Christus-Partei in der Corinthischen Gemeinde. In that book he had delineated the bitter contest between Paul and the Judaising element in the Apostolic Church which opposed Paul whithersoever he went. In 1835 his disquisition, Die sogenannten Pastoral-Briefe, appeared. In the teachings of these letters he discovered the antithesis to the gnostic heresies of the second century. He thought also that the stage of organisation of the Church which they imply, accorded better with this supposition than with that of their apostolic authorship. The same general theme is treated in a much larger way in Baur's Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi, in 1845. Here the results of his study of the book of the Acts are combined with those of his inquiries as to the Pauline Epistles. In the history of the apostolic age men had been accustomed to see the evidence only of peace and harmony. Baur sought to show that the period had been one of fierce struggle, between the narrow Judaic and legalistic form of faith in the Messiah and that conception, introduced by Paul, of a world-religion free from the law. Out of this conflict, which lasted a hundred and fifty years, went forth the Catholic Church. The monuments of this struggle and witnesses of this process of growth are the New Testament writings, most of which were produced in the second century. The only documents which we have which were written before A.D.70, were the four great Epistles of Paul, those to the Galatians, to the Romans, and to the Corinthians, together with the Apocalypse.

Many details in Baur's view are now seen to have been overstated and others false. Yet this was the first time that a true historical method had been applied to the New Testament literature as a whole. Baur's contribution lay in the originality of his conception of Christianity, in his emphasis upon Paul, in his realisation of the magnitude of the struggle which Paul inaugurated against Jewish prejudices in the primitive Church. In his idea, the issue of that struggle was, on the one hand, the freeing of Christianity from Judaism and on the other, the developing of Christian thought into a system of dogma and of the scattered Christian communities into an organised Church. The Fourth Gospel contains, according to Baur, a Christian gnosis parallel to the gnosis which was more and more repudiated by the Church as heresy. The Logos, the divine principle of life and light, appears bodily in the phenomenal world in the person of Jesus. It enters into conflict with the darkness and evil of the world. This speculation is but thinly clothed in the form of a biography of Jesus. That an account completely dominated by speculative motives gives but slight guarantee of historical truth, was for Baur self-evident. The author remains unknown, the age uncertain. The book, however, can hardly have appeared before the time of the Montanist movement, that is, toward the end of the second century. Scholars now rate far more highly than did Baur the element of genuine Johannine tradition which may lie behind the Fourth Gospel and account for its name. They do not find traces of Montanism or of paschal controversies. But the main contention stands. The Fourth Gospel represents the beginning of elaborate reflexion upon the life and work of Jesus. It is what it is because of the fusion of the ethical and spiritual content of the revelation in the personality of Jesus, with metaphysical abstractions and philosophical interpretation.

Baur was by no means so fortunate in the solution which he offered of the problem which the synoptic Gospels present. His opinions are of no interest except as showing that he too worked diligently upon a question which for a long time seemed only to grow in complexity and which has busied scholars practically from Baur's day to our own. His zeal here also to discover dogmatic purposes led him astray. The Tendenzkritik had its own tendencies. The chief was to exaggeration and one-sidedness. Baur had the kind of ear which hears grass grow. There is much overstrained acumen. Many radically false conclusions are reached by prejudiced operation with an historical formula, which in the last analysis is that of Hegel. Everything is to be explained on the principle of antithesis. Again, the assumption of conscious purpose in everything which men do or write is a grave exaggeration. It is often in contradiction of that wonderful unconsciousness with which men and institutions move to the fulfilment of a purpose for the good, the purpose of God, into which their own life is grandly taken up. To make each phase of such a movement the contribution of some one man's scheme or endeavour is, as was once said, to make God act like a professor.

* * * * *

The method of this book is that it seeks to deal only with men who have inaugurated movements, or marked some turning-point in their course which has proved of more than usual significance. The compass of the book demands such a limitation. But by this method whole chapters in the life of learning are passed over, in which the substance of achievement has been the carrying out of a plan of which we have been able to note only the inception. There is a sense in which the carrying out of a plan is both more difficult and more worthy than the mere setting it in motion. When one thinks of the labour and patience which have been expended, for example, upon the problem of the Gospels in the past seventy years, those truths come home to us. When one reminds himself of the hypotheses which have been made but to be abandoned, which have yet had the value that they at least indicated the area within which solutions do not lie, -- when one thinks of the wellnigh immeasurable toil by which we have been led to large results which now seem secure, one is made to realise that the conditions of the advance of science are, for theologians, not different from those which obtain for scholars who, in any other field, would establish truth and lead men. In a general way, however, it may be said that the course of opinion in these two generations, in reference to such questions as those of the dates and authorship of the New Testament writings, has been one of rather noteworthy retrogression from many of the Tuebingen positions. Harnack's Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1893, and his Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur, 1897, present a marked contrast to Baur's scheme.


The minds of New Testament scholars in the last generation have been engaged with a question which, in its full significance, was hardly present to the attention of Baur's school. It is the question of the New Testament as a whole. It is the question as to the time and manner and motives of the gathering together of the separate writings into a canon of Scripture which, despite the diversity of its elements, exerted its influence as a unit and to which an authority was ascribed, which the particular writings cannot originally have had. When and how did the Christians come to have a sacred book which they placed on an equality with the Old Testament, which last they had taken over from the synagogue? How did they choose the writings which were to belong to this new collection? Why did they reject books which we know were read for edification in the early churches? Deeper even than the question of the growth of the collection is that of the growth of the apprehension concerning it. This apprehension of these twenty-seven different writings as constituting the sole document of Christian revelation, given by the Holy Spirit, the identical holy book of the Christian Church, gave to the book a significance altogether different from that which its constituent elements must have had for men to whom they had appeared as but the natural literary deposit of the religious movement of the apostolic age. This apprehension took possession of the mind of the Christian community. It was made the subject of deliverances by councils of the Church. How did this great transformation take place? Was it an isolated achievement, or was it part of a general movement? Did not this development of life in the Christian communities which gave them a New Testament belong to an evolution which gave them also the so-called Apostles' Creed and a monarchical organisation of the Church and the beginnings of a ritual of worship?

It is clear that we have here a question of greatest moment. With the rise of this idea of the canon, with the assigning to this body of literature the character of Scripture, we have the beginning of the larger mastery which the New Testament has exerted over the minds and life of men. Compared with this question, investigations as to the authorship and as to the time, place and circumstance of the production of particular books, came, for the time, to occupy a secondary rank. As they have emerged again, they wear a new aspect and are approached in a different spirit. The writings are revealed as belonging to a far larger context, that of the whole body of the Christian literature of the age. It in no way follows from that which we have said that the body of documents, which ultimately found themselves together in the New Testament, have not a unity other than the outward one which was by consensus of opinion or conciliar decree imposed upon them. They do represent, in the large and in varying degrees, an inward and spiritual unity. There was an inspiration of the main body of these writings, the outward condition of which, at all events, was the nearness of their writers to Jesus or to his eye-witnesses, and the consequence of which was the unique relation which the more important of these documents historically bore to the formation of the Christian Church. There was a heaven which lay about the infancy of Christianity which only slowly faded into the common light of day. That heaven was the spirit of the Master himself. The chief of these writings do centrally enshrine the first pure illumination of that spirit. But the churchmen who made the canon and the Fathers who argued about it very often gave mistaken reasons for facts in respect of which they nevertheless were right. They gave what they considered sound external reasons. They alleged apostolic authorship. They should have been content with internal evidence and spiritual effectiveness. The apostles had come, in the mind of the early Church, to occupy a place of unique distinction. Writings long enshrined in affection for their potent influence, but whose origin had not been much considered, were now assigned to apostles, that they might have authority and distinction. The theory of the canon came after the fact. The theory was often wrong. The canon had been, in the main and in its inward principle, soundly constituted. Modern critics reversed the process. They began where the Church Fathers left off. They tore down first that which had been last built up. Modern criticism, too, passed through a period in which points like those of authorship and date of Gospels and Epistles seemed the only ones to be considered. The results being here often negative, complete disintegration of the canon seemed threatened, through discovery of errors in the processes by which the canon had been outwardly built up. Men realise now that that was a mistake.

Two things have been gained in this discussion. There is first the recognition that the canon is a growth. The holy book and the conception of its holiness, as well, were evolved. Christianity was not primarily a book-religion save in the sense that almost all Christians revered the Old Testament. Other writings than those which we esteem canonical were long used in churches. Some of those afterward canonical were not used in all the churches. In similar fashion we have learned that identical statements of faith were not current in the earliest churches. Nor was there one uniform system of organisation and government. There was a time concerning which we cannot accurately use the word Church. There were churches, very simple, worshipping communities. But the Church, as outward magnitude, as triumphant organisation, grew. So there were many creeds or, at least, informally accredited and current beginnings of doctrine. By and by there was a formally accepted creed. So there were first dearly loved memorials of Jesus and letters of apostolic men. Only by and by was there a New Testament. The first gain is the recognition of this state of things. The second follows. It is the recognition that, despite a sense in which this literature is unique, there is also a sense in which it is but a part of the whole body of early Christian literature. From the exact and exhaustive study of the early Christian literature as a whole, we are to expect a clearer understanding and a juster estimate of the canonical part of it. It is not easy to say to whom we have to ascribe the discovery and elaboration of these truths. The historians of dogma have done much for this body of opinion. The historians of Christian literature have perhaps done more. Students of institutions and of the canon law have had their share. Baur had more than an inkling of the true state of things. But by far the most conspicuous teacher of our generation, in two at least of these particular fields, has been Harnack. In his lifelong labour upon the sources of Christian history, he had come upon this question of the canon again and again. In his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 1887-1890, 4te. Aufl., 1910, the view of the canon, which was given above, is absolutely fundamental. In his Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 1893, and Chronologic der allchristlichen Literatur, 1897-1904, the evidence is offered in rich detail. It was in his tractate, Das Neue Testament um das Jahr 200, 1889, that he contended for the later date against Zahn, who had urged that the outline of the New Testament was established and the conception of it as Scripture present, by the end of the first century. Harnack argues that the decision practically shaped itself between the time of Justin Martyr, c. A.D.150, and that of Irenaeus, c. A.D.180. The studies of the last twenty years have more and more confirmed this view.


We said that the work of Strauss revealed nothing so clearly as the ignorance of his time concerning the documents of the early Christian movement. The labours of Baur and of his followers were directed toward overcoming this difficulty. Suddenly the public interest was stirred, and the earlier excitement recalled by the publication of a new life of Jesus. The author was a Frenchman, Ernest Renan, at one time a candidate for the priesthood in the Roman Church. He was a man of learning and literary skill, who made his Vie de Jesus, which appeared in 1863, the starting-point for a series of historical works under the general title, Les Origines de Christianisme. In the next year appeared Strauss' popular work, Leben Jesu fuer das deutsche Volk. In 1864 was published also Weizsaecker's contribution to the life of Christ, his Untersuchungen ueber die evangelische Geschichte. To the same year belonged Schenkel's Charakterbild Jesu. In the years from 1867-1872 appeared Keim's Geschichte Jesu von Nazara. There is something very striking in this recurrence to the topic. After ail, this was the point for the sake of which those laborious investigations had been undertaken. This was and is the theme of undying religious interest, the character and career of the Nazarene. Renan's philosophical studies had been mainly in English, studies of Locke and Hume. But Herder also had been his beloved guide. For his biblical and oriental studies he had turned almost exclusively to the Germans. There is a deep religious spirit in the work of the period of his conflict with the Church. The enthusiasm for Christ sustained him in his struggle. Of the days before he withdrew from the Church he wrote: 'For two months I was a Protestant like a professor in Halle or Tuebingen.' French was at that time a language much better known in the world at large, particularly the English-speaking world, than was German. Renan's book had great art and charm. It took a place almost at once as a bit of world-literature. The number of editions in French and of translations into other languages is amazing. Beyond question, the critical position was made known through Renan to multitudes who would never have been reached by the German works which were really Renan's authorities. It is idle to say with Pfleiderer that it is a pity that, having possessed so much learning, Renan had not possessed more. That is not quite the point. The book has much breadth and solidity of learning. Yet Renan has scarcely the historian's quality. His work is a work of art. It has the halo of romance. Imagination and poetical feeling make it in a measure what it is.

Renan was born in 1823 in Treguier in Brittany. He set out for the priesthood, but turned aside to the study of oriental languages and history. He made long sojourn in the East. He spoke of Palestine as having been to him a fifth Gospel. He became Professor of Hebrew in the College de France. He was suspended from his office in 1863, and permitted to read again only in 1871. He had formally separated himself from the Roman Church in 1845. He was a member of the Academy. His diction is unsurpassed. He died in 1894. In his own phrase, he sought to bring Jesus forth from the darkness of dogma into the midst of the life of his people. He paints him first as an idyllic national leader, then as a struggling and erring hero, always aiming at the highest, but doomed to tragic failure through the resistance offered by reality to his ideal. He calls the traditional Christ an abstract being who never was alive. He would bring the marvellous human figure before our eyes. He heightens the brilliancy of his delineation by the deep shadows of mistakes and indiscretion upon Jesus' part. In some respects an epic or an historical romance, without teaching us history in detail, may yet enable us by means of the artist's intuition to realise an event or period, or make presentation to ourselves of a personality, better than the scant records acknowledged by the strict historian could ever do.

Our materials for a real biography of Jesus are inadequate. This was the fact which, by all these biographies of Jesus, was brought home to men's minds. Keim's book, the most learned of those mentioned, is hardly more than a vast collection of material for the history of Jesus' age, which has now been largely superseded by Schuerer's Geschichte des Judischen Volkes im Zeitalier Jesu Christi, 2 Bde., 1886-1890. There have been again, since the decade of the sixties, periods of approach to the great problem. Weiss and Beyschlag published at the end of the eighties lives of Jesus which, especially the former, are noteworthy in their treatment of the critical material. They do not for a moment face the question of the person of Christ. The same remark might be made, almost without exception, as to those lives of Jesus which have appeared in numbers in England and America. The best books of recent years are Albert Reville's Jesus de Nazareth, 1897, and Oscar Holtzmann's Leben Jesu, 1901. So great are the difficulties and in such disheartening fashion are they urged from all sides, that one cannot withhold enthusiastic recognition of the service which Holtzmann particularly has here rendered, in a calm, objective, and withal deeply devout handling of his theme. Meantime new questions have arisen, questions of the relation of Jesus to Messianism, like those touched upon by Wrede in his Das Messias Geheimniss in den Evangelien, 1901, and questions as to the eschatological trait in Jesus' own teaching. Schweitzer's book, Von Reimarus zu Wrede: eine Geschichte der Leben Jesu-Forschung, 1906, not merely sets forth this deeply interesting chapter in the history of the thought of modern men, but has also serious interpretative value in itself. For English readers Sanday's Life of Christ in Recent Research, 1907, follows the descriptive aspect, at least, of the same purpose with Schweitzer's book, covering, however, only the last twenty years.

It is characteristic that Ritschl, notwithstanding his emphasis upon the historical Jesus, asserted the impossibility of a biography of Jesus. The understanding of Jesus is through faith. For Wrede, on the other hand, such a biography is impossible because of the nature of our sources. Not alone are they scant, but they are not biographical. They are apologetic, propagandist, interested in everything except those problems which a biographer must raise. The last few years have even conjured up the question whether Jesus ever lived. One may say with all simplicity, that the question has, of course, as much rightfulness as has any other question any man could raise. The somewhat extended discussion has, however, done nothing to make evident how it could arise, save in minds unfamiliar with the materials and unskilled in historical research. The conditions which beset us when we ask for a biography of Jesus that shall answer scientific requirement are not essentially different from those which meet us in the case of any other personage equally remote in point of time, and equally woven about -- if any such have been -- by the love and devotion of men. Bousset's little book, Was Wissen wir von Jesus? 1904, convinces a quiet mind that we know a good deal. Qualities in the personality of Jesus obviously worked in transcendent measure to call out devotion. No understanding of history is adequate which has no place for the unfathomed in personality. Exactly because we ourselves share this devotion, we could earnestly wish that the situation as to the biography of Jesus were other than it is.


We have spoken thus far as if the whole biblical-critical problem had been that of the New Testament. In reality the same impulses which had opened up that question to the minds of men had set them working upon the problem of the Old Testament as well. We have seen how the Christians made for themselves a canon of the New Testament. By the force of that conception of the canon, and through the belief that, almost in a literal sense, God was the author of the whole book, the obvious differences among the writings had been obscured. Men forgot the evolution through which the writings had passed. The same thing had happened for the Old Testament in the Jewish synagogues and for the rabbis before the Christian movement. When the Christians took over the Old Testament they took it over in this sense. It was a closed book wherein all appreciation of the long road which the religion of Israel had traversed in its evolution had been lost. The relation of the old covenant to the new was obscured. The Old Testament became a Christian book. Not merely were the Christian facts prophesied in the Old Testament, but its doctrines also were implied. Almost down to modern times texts have been drawn indifferently from either Testament to prove doctrine and sustain theology. Moses and Jesus, prophets and Paul, are cited to support an argument, without any sense of difference. What we have said is hardly more true of Augustine or Anselm than of the classic Puritan divines. This was the state of things which the critics faced.

The Old Testament critical movement is a parallel at all points of the one which we have described in reference to the New. Of course, elder scholars, even Spinoza, had raised the question as to the Mosaic authorship of certain portions of the Pentateuch. Roman Catholic scholars in the seventeenth century, for whom the stringent theory of inspiration had less significance than for Protestants, had set forth views which showed an awakening to the real condition. Yet, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one would have forecast a revolution in opinion which would recognise the legendary quality of considerable portions of the Pentateuch and historical books, which would leave but little that is of undisputed Mosaic authorship, which would place the prophets before the law, which would concede the growth of the Jewish canon, which would perceive the relation of Judaism to the religions of the other Semite peoples and would seek to establish the true relation of Judaism to Christianity.

In the year 1835, the same year in which Strauss' Leben Jesu saw the light, Wilhelm Vatke published his Religion des Alten Testaments. Vatke was born in 1806, began to teach in Berlin in 1830, was professor extraordinarius there in 1837 and died in 1882, not yet holding a full professorship. His book was obscurely written and scholastic. Public attention was largely occupied by the conflict which Strauss' work had caused. Reuss in Strassburg was working on the same lines, but published the main body of his results much later.

The truth for which these scholars and others like them argued, worked its way slowly by force of its own merit. Perhaps it was due to this fact that the development of Old Testament critical views was subject to a fluctuation less marked than that which characterised the case of the New Testament. It is not necessary to describe the earlier stages of the discussion in Vatke's own terms. To his honour be it said that the views which he thus early enunciated were in no small degree identical with those which were in masterful fashion substantiated in Holland by Kuenen about 1870, in Germany by Wellhausen after 1878, and made known to English readers by Robertson Smith In 1881.

Budde has shown in his Kanon des Alten Testaments, 1900, that the Old Testament which lies before us finished and complete, assumed its present form only as the result of the growth of several centuries. At the beginning of this process of the canonisation stands that strange event, the sudden appearance of a holy book of the law under King Josiah, in 621 B.C. The end of the process, through the decisions of the scribes, falls after the destruction of Jerusalem, possibly even in the second century. Lagarde seems to have proved that the rabbis of the second century succeeded in destroying all copies of the Scripture which differed from the standard then set up. This state of things has enormously increased a difficulty which was already great enough, that of the detection and separation of the various elements of which many of the books in this ancient literature are made up. Certain books of the New Testament also present the problem of the discrimination of elements of different ages, which have been wrought together into the documents as we now have them, in a way that almost defies our skill to disengage. The synoptic Gospels are, of course, the great example. The book of the Acts presents a problem of the same kind. But the Pentateuch, or rather Hexateuch, the historical books in less degree, the writings even of some of the prophets, the codes which formulate the law and ritual, are composites which have been whole centuries in the making and remaking. There was no such thing as right of authorship in ancient Israel, little of it in the ancient world at all. What was once written was popular or priestly property. Histories were newly narrated, laws enlarged and rearranged, prophecies attributed to conspicuous persons. All this took place not in deliberate intention to pervert historic truth, but because there was no interest in historic truth and no conception of it. The rewriting of a nation's history from the point of view of its priesthood bore, to the ancient Israelite, beyond question, an aspect altogether different from that which the same transaction would bear to us. The difficulty of the separation of these materials, great in any case, is enhanced by the fact alluded to, that we have none but internal evidence. The success of the achievement, and the unanimity attained with reference to the most significant questions, is one of the marvels of the life of learning of our age.

In the Jewish tradition it had been assumed that the Mosaic law was written down in the wilderness. Then, in the times of the Judges and of the Kings, the historical books took shape, with David's Psalms and the wise words of Solomon. At the end of the period of the Kings we have the prophetic literature and finally Ezra and Nehemiah. De Wette had disputed this order, but Wellhausen in his Prolegomena zur Geshichte Israels, 1883, may be said to have proved that this view was no longer tenable. Men ask, could the law, or even any greater part of it, have been given to nomads in the wilderness? Do not all parts of it assume a settled state of society and an agricultural life? Do the historical books from Judges to the II. Kings know anything about the law? Are the practices of worship which they imply consonant with the supposition that the law was in force? How is it that that law appears both under Josiah and again under Ezra, as something new, thus far unknown, and yet as ruling the religious life of the people from that day forth? It seems impossible to escape the conclusion that only after Josiah's reformation, more completely after the restoration under Ezra, did the religion of the law exist. The centralisation of worship at one point, such as the book of Deuteronomy demands, seems to have been the thing achieved by the reform under Josiah. The establishment of the priestly hierarchy such as the code ordains was the issue of the religious revolution wrought in Ezra's time. To put it differently, the so-called Book of the Covenant, the nucleus of the law-giving, itself implies the multiplicity of the places of worship. Deuteronomy demands the centralisation of the worship as something which is yet to take place. The priestly Code declares that the limitation of worship to one place was a fact already in the time of the journeys of Israel in the wilderness. It is assumed that the Hebrews in the time of Moses shared the almost universal worship of the stars. Moses may indeed have concluded a covenant between his people and Jahve, their God, hallowing the judicial and moral life of the people, bringing these into relation to the divine will. Jahve was a holy God whose will was to guide the people coming up out of the degradation of nature-worship. That part of the people held to the old nature-worship is evident in the time of Elijah. The history of Israel is not that of defection from a pure revelation. It is the history of a gradual attainment of purer revelation, of enlargement in the application of it, of discovery of new principles contained in it. It is the history also of the decline of spiritual religion. The zeal of the prophets against the ceremonial worship shows that. Their protest reveals at that early date the beginning of that antithesis which had become so sharp in Jesus' time.

This determination of the relative positions of law and prophets was the first step in the reconstruction of the history, both of the nation of Israel and of its literature. At the beginning, as in every literature, are songs of war and victory, of praise and grief, hymns, even riddles and phrases of magic. Everywhere poetry precedes prose. Then come myths relating to the worship and tales of the fathers and heroes. Elements of both these sorts are embedded in the simple chronicles which began now to be written, primitive historical works, such as those of the Jahvist and Elohist, of the narrators of the deeds of the judges and of David and of Saul. Perhaps at this point belong the earliest attempts at fixing the tradition of family and clan rights, and of the regulation of personal conduct, as in the Book of the Covenant. Then comes the great outburst of the prophetic spirit, the preaching of an age of great religious revival. Then follows the law, with its minute regulation of all details of life upon which would depend the favour of the God who had brought punishment upon the people in the exile. The prophecy runs on into apocalyptic like that of the book of Daniel. The contact with the outside world makes possible a phase of literature such as that to which the books of Job and Ecclesiastes belong. The deepening of the inner life gave the world the lyric of the Psalms, some of which are credibly assigned to a period so late as that of the Maccabees.

In this which has been said of the literature we have the clue also for the reconstruction of the nation's history. The naive assumption in the writing of all history had once been that one must begin with the beginning. But to Wellhausen, Stade, Eduard Meyer and Kittel and Cornill, it has been clear that the history of the earliest times is the most uncertain. It is the least adapted to furnish a secure point of departure for historical inquiry. There exist for it usually no contemporary authorities, or only such as are of problematical worth. This earliest period constitutes a problem, the solution of which, so far as any solution is possible, can be hoped for only through approach from the side of ascertained facts. We must start from a period which is historically known. For the history of the Hebrews, this is the time of the first prophets of whom we have written records, or from whom we have written prophecies. We get from these, as also from the earliest direct attempts at history writing, only that conception of Israel's pre-historic life which was entertained in prophetic circles in the eighth century. We learn the heroic legends in the interpretation which the prophets put upon them. We have still to seek to interpret them for ourselves. We must begin in the middle and work both backward and forward. Such a view of the history of Israel affords every opportunity for the connecting of the history and religion of Israel with those of the other Semite stocks. Some of these have in recent years been discovered to offer extraordinary parallels to that which the Old Testament relates.


When speaking of Baur's contribution to New Testament criticism, we alluded to his historical works. He was in a distinct sense a reformer of the method of the writing of church history. To us the notions of the historical and of that which is genetic are identical. Of course, naive religious chronicles do not meet that test. A glance at the histories produced by the age of rationalism will show that these also fall short of it. The perception of the relativity of institutions like the papacy is here wholly wanting. Men and things are brought summarily to the bar of the wisdom of the author's year of grace. They are approved or condemned by this criterion. For Baur, all things had come to pass in the process of the great life of the world. There must have been a rationale of their becoming. It is for the historian with sympathy and imagination to find out what their inherent reason was. One other thing distinguishes Baur as church historian from his predecessors. He realised that before one can delineate one must investigate. One must go to the sources. One must estimate the value of those sources. One must have ground in the sources for every judgment. Baur was himself a great investigator. Yet the movement for the investigation of the sources of biblical and ecclesiastical history which his generation initialed has gone on to such achievements that, in some respects, we can but view the foundations of Baur's own work as precarious, the results at which he arrived as unwarranted. New documents have come to light since his day. Forgeries have been proved to be such, The whole state of learning as to the literature of the Christian origins has been vastly changed. There is still another other thing to say concerning Baur. He was a Hegelian. He has the disposition always to interpret the movements of the religious spirit in the sense of philosophical ideas. He frankly says that without speculation every historical investigation remains but a play upon the surface of things. Baur's fault was that in his search for, or rather in his confident discovery of, the great connecting forces of history, the biographical element, the significance of personality, threatened altogether to disappear. The force in the history was the absolute, the immanent divine will. The method everywhere was that of advance by contrasts and antagonisms. One gets an impression, for example, that the Nicene dogma became what it did by the might of the idea, that it could not by any possibility have had any other issue.

The foil to much of this in Baur's own age was represented in the work of Neander, a converted Jew, professor of church history in Berlin, who exerted great influence upon a generation of English and American scholars. He was not an investigator of sources. He had no talent for the task. He was a delineator, one of the last of the great painters of history, if one may so describe the type. He had imagination, sympathy, a devout spirit. His great trait was his insight into personality. He wrote history with the biographical interest. He almost resolves history into a series of biographical types. He has too little sense for the connexion of things, for the laws of the evolution of the religious spirit. The great dramatic elements tend to disappear behind the emotions of individuals. The old delineators were before the age of investigation. Since that impulse became masterful, some historians have been completely absorbed in the effort to make contribution to this investigation. Others, with a sense of the impossibility of mastering the results of investigation in all fields, have lost the zeal for the writing of church history on a great scale. They have contented themselves with producing monographs upon some particular subject, in which, at the most, they may hope to embody all that is known as to some specific question.

We spoke above of the new conception of the relation of the canonical literature of the New Testament to the extracanonical. We alluded to the new sense of the continuity of the history of the apostolic churches with that of the Church of the succeeding age. The influence of these ideas has been to set all problems here involved in a new light. Until 1886 it might have been said with truth that we had no good history of the apostolic age. In that year Weizsaecker's book, Das Apostolische Zeitalter der Christlichen Kirche, admirably filled the place. A part of the problem of the historian of the apostolic age is difficult for the same reason which was given when we were speaking of the biography of Jesus. Our materials are inadequate. First with the beginning of the activities of Paul have we sources of the first rank. The relation of statements in the Pauline letters to data in the book of the Acts was one of the earliest problems which the Tuebingen school set itself. An attempt to write the biography of Paul reminds us sharply of our limitations. We know almost nothing of Paul prior to his conversion, or subsequent to the enigmatical breaking off of the account of the beginnings of his work at Rome. Harnack's Mission und Ausbreitung des Christenthums, 1902 (translated, Moffatt, 1908), takes up the work of Paul's successors in that cardinal activity. It offers, strange as it may seem, the first discussion of the dissemination of Christianity which has dealt adequately with the sources. It gives also a picture of the world into which the Christian movement went. It emphasises anew the truth which has for a generation past grown in men's apprehension that there is no possibility of understanding Christianity, except against the background of the religious life and thought of the world into which it came. Christianity had vital relation, at every step of its progress, to the religious movements and impulses of the ancient world, especially in those centres of civilisation which Paul singled out for his endeavour and which remained the centres of the Christian growth. It was an age which has often been summarily described as corrupt. Despite its corruption, or possibly because it was corrupt, it gives evidence, however, of religious stirring, of strong ethical reaction, of spiritual endeavour rarely paralleled. In the Roman Empire everything travelled. Religions travelled. In the centres of civilisation there was scarcely a faith of mankind which had not its votaries.

It was an age of religious syncretism, of hospitality to diverse religious ideas, of the commingling of those ideas. These things facilitated the progress of Christianity. They made certain that if the Christian movement had in it the divine vitality which men claimed, it would one day conquer the world. Equally, they made certain that, as the very condition of this conquest, Christianity would be itself transformed. This it is which has happened in the evolution of Christianity from its very earliest stages and in all phases of its life. Of any given rite, opinion or institution, of the many which have passed for almost two millenniums unchallenged under the Christian name, men about us are now asking: But how much of it is Christian? In what measure have we to think of it as derived from some other source, and representing the accommodation and assimilation of Christianity to its environment in process of its work? What is Christianity? Not unnaturally the ancient Church looked with satisfaction upon the great change which passed over Christianity when Constantine suddenly made that which had been the faith of a despised and persecuted sect, the religion of the world. The Fathers can have thought thus only because their minds rested upon that which was outward and spectacular. Not unnaturally the metamorphosis in the inward nature of Christianity which had taken place a century and a quarter earlier was hidden from their eyes. In truth, by that earlier and subtler transformation Christianity had passed permanently beyond the stage in which it had been preponderantly a moral and spiritual enthusiasm, with its centre and authority in the person of Jesus. It became a system and an institution, with a canon of New Testament Scripture, a monarchical organisation and a rule of faith which was formulated in the Apostles' Creed.

To Baur the truth as to the conflict of Paul with the Judaisers had meant much. He thought, therefore, with reference to the rise of priesthood and ritual among the Christians, to the emphasis on Scripture in the fashion of the scribes, to the insistence upon rules and dogmas after the manner of the Pharisees, that they were but the evidence of the decline and defeat of Paul's free spirit and of the resurgence of Judaism in Christianity. He sought to explain the rise of the episcopal organisation by the example of the synagogue. Ritschl in his Entstehung der alt-catholischen Kirche, 1857, had seen that Baur's theory could not be true. Christianity did not fall back into Judaism. It went forward to embrace the Hellenic and Roman world. The institutions, dogmas, practices of that which, after A.D.200, may with propriety be called the Catholic Church, are the fruit of that embrace. There was here a falling off from primitive and spiritual Christianity. But it was not a falling back into Judaism. There were priests and scribes and Pharisees with other names elsewhere. The phenomenon of the waning of the original enthusiasm of a period of religious revelation has been a frequent one. Christianity on a grand scale illustrated this phenomenon anew. Harnack has elaborated this thesis with unexampled brilliancy and power. He has supported it with a learning in which he has no rival and with a religious interest which not even hostile critics would deny. The phrase, 'the Hellenisation of Christianity,' might almost be taken as the motto of the work to which he owes his fame.


Adolf Harnack was born in 1851 in Dorpat, in one of the Baltic provinces of Russia. His father, Theodosius Harnack, was professor of pastoral theology in the University of Dorpat. Harnack studied in Leipzig and began to teach there in 1874. He was called to the chair of church history in Giessen in 1879. In 1886 he removed to Marburg and in 1889 to Berlin. Harnack's earlier published work was almost entirely in the field of the study of the sources and materials of early church history. His first book, published in 1873, was an inquiry as to the sources for the history of Gnosticism. His Patrum Apostolicorum Opera, 1876, prepared by him jointly with von Gehhardt and Zahn, was in a way only a forecast of the great collection, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschickte der alt-christlichen Literatur, begun in 1882, upon which numbers of scholars have worked together with him. The collection has already more than thirty-five volumes. In his own two works, Die Geschichte der alt-christlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 1893, and Die Chronologie der alt-christlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 1897, are deposited the results of his reflexion on the mass of this material. His Beitrage zur Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 1906, etc., should not be overlooked. He has had the good fortune to be among those who have discovered manuscripts of importance. He has had to do with the Prussian Academy's edition of the Greek Fathers. A list of his published works, which was prepared in connexion with the celebration of his sixtieth birthday in 1911, bears witness to his amazing diligence and fertility. He was for thirty-five years associated with Schurer in the publication of the Theologische Literaturzeitung. He has filled important posts in the Church and under the government. To this must be added an activity as a teacher which has placed a whole generation of students from every portion of the world under undying obligation. One speaks with reserve of the living, but surely no man of our generation has done more to make the history of which we write.

Harnack's epoch-making work was his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 1886-88, fourth edition, 1910. The book met, almost from the moment of its appearance, with the realisation of the magnitude of that which had been achieved. It rested upon a fresh and independent study of the sources. It departed from the mechanism which had made the old treatises upon the history of doctrine formal and lifeless. Harnack realised to the full how many influences other than theological had had part in the development of doctrine. He recognised the reaction of modes of life and practice, and of external circumstances on the history of thought. His history of doctrine has thus a breadth and human quality never before attained. Philosophy, worship, morals, the development of Church government and of the canon, the common interests and passions of the age and those of the individual participants, are all made tributary to his delineation.

Harnack cannot share Baur's view that the triumph of the Logos-Christology at Nicaea and Chalcedon was inevitable. A certain historic naturalness of the movement he would concede, the world on which Christianity entered being what it was. He is aware, however, that many elements other than Christian have entered into the development. He has phrased his apprehension thus. That Hellenisation of Christianity which Gnosticism represented, and against which, in this, its acute form, the Church contended was, after all, the same thing which, by slower process and more unconsciously, befell the Church itself. That pure moral enthusiasm and inspiration which had been the gist of the Christian movement, in its endeavour to appropriate the world, had been appropriated by the world in far greater measure than its adherents knew. It had taken up its mission to change the world. It had dreamed that while changing the world it had itself remained unchanged. The world was changed, the world of life, of feeling and of thought. But Christianity was also changed. It had conquered the world. It had no perception of the fact that it illustrated the old law that the conquered give laws to the conquerors. It had fused the ancient culture with the flame of its inspiration. It did not appreciate the degree in which the elements of that ancient culture now coloured its far-shining flame. It had been a maker of history. Meantime it had been unmade and remade by its own history. It confidently carried back its canon, dogma, organisation, to Christ and the apostles. It did not realise that the very fact that it could find these things natural and declare them ancient, proved with conclusiveness that it had itself departed from the standard of Christ and the apostles. It esteemed that these were its defences against the world. It little dreamed that they were, by their very existence, the evidence of the fact that the Church had not defended itself against the world. Its dogma was the Hellenisation of its thought. Its organisation was the Romanising of its life. Its canon and ritual were the externalising, and conventionalising of its spirit and enthusiasm. These are positive and constructive statements of Harnack's main position.

When, however, they are turned about and stated negatively, these statements all convey, more or less, the impression that the advance of Christianity had been its destruction, and the evolution of dogma had been a defection from Christ. This is the aspect of the contention which gave hostile critics opportunity to say that we have before us the history of the loss of Christianity. Harnack himself has many sentences which superficially will bear that construction. Hatch had said in his brilliant book, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 1891, that the domestication of Greek philosophy in the Church signified a defection from the Sermon on the Mount. The centre of gravity of the Gospel was changed from life to doctrine, from morals to metaphysics, from goodness to orthodoxy. The change was portentous. The aspect of pessimism is, however, removed when one recognises the inevitableness of some such process, if Christianity was ever to wield an influence in the world at all. Again, one must consider that the process of the recovery of pure Christianity must begin at exactly this point, namely, with the recognition of how much in current Christianity is extraneous. It must begin with the sloughing off of these extraneous elements, with the recovery of the sense for that which original Christianity was. Such a recovery would be the setting free again of the power of the religion itself.

The constant touchstone and point of reference for every stage of the history of the Church must be the gospel of Jesus. But what was the gospel of Jesus? In what way did the very earliest Christians apprehend that gospel? This question is far more difficult for us to answer than it was for those to whom the New Testament was a closed body of literature, externally differentiated from all other, and with a miraculous inspiration extending uniformly to every phrase in any book. These men would have said that they had but to find the proper combination of the sacred phrases. But we acknowledge that the central inspiration was the personality of Jesus. The books possess this inspiration in varying degree. Certain of the books have distinctly begun the fusion of Christian with other elements. They themselves represent the first stages of the history of doctrine. We acknowledge that those utterances of Jesus which have been preserved for us, shaped themselves by the antitheses in which Jesus stood. There is much about them that is palpably incidental, practically relevant and unquestionably only relative. In a large sense, much of the meaning of the gospel has to be gathered out of the evidence of the operation of its spirit in subsequent ages of the Christian Church, and from remoter aspects of the influence of Jesus on the world. Thus the very conception of the gospel of Jesus becomes inevitably more or less subjective. It becomes an ideal construction. The identification of this ideal with the original gospel proclamation becomes precarious. We seem to move in a circle. We derive the ideal from the history, and then judge the history by the ideal.

Is there any escape from this situation, short of the return to the authority of Church or Scripture in the ancient sense? Furthermore, even the men to whom the gospel was in the strictest sense a letter, identified the gospel with their own private interpretation of this letter. Certainly the followers of Ritschl who will acknowledge no traits of the gospel save those of which they find direct witness in the Gospels, thus ignore that the Gospels are themselves interpretations. This undue stress upon the documents which we are fortunate enough to possess, makes us forget the limitations of these documents. We tend thus to exaggerate that which must be only incidental, as, for example, the Jewish element, in the teaching of Jesus. We thus underrate phases of Jesus' teaching which, no doubt, a man like Paul would have apprehended better than did the evangelists themselves. In truth, in Harnack's own delineation of the teaching of Jesus, those elements of it which found their way to expression in Paul, or again in the fourth Gospel, are rather underrated than overstated, in the author's anxiety to exclude elements which are acknowledged to be interpretative in their nature. We are driven, in some measure, to seek to find out what the gospel was from the way in which the earliest Christians took it up. We return ever afresh to questions nearly unanswerable from the materials at hand. What was the central principle in the shaping of the earliest stages of the new community, both as to its thought and life? Was it the longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God, the striving after the righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount? Or was it the faith of the Messiah, the reverence for the Messiah, directed to the person of Jesus? What word dominated the preaching? Was it that the Kingdom of God was near, that the Son of Man would come? Or was it that in Jesus Messiah has come? What was the demand upon the hearer? Was it, Repent, or was it, Believe on the Lord Jesus, or was it both, and which had the greater emphasis? Was the name of Jesus used in the formulas of worship before the time of Paul? What do we know about prayer in the name of Jesus, or baptism in that name, or miracles in the name of Jesus, or of the Lord's Supper and the conception of the Lord as present with his disciples in the rite? Was this revering of Jesus, which was fast moving toward a worship of him, the inner motive force of the whole construction of the dogma of his person and of the trinity?

In the second volume Harnack treats of the development primarily of the Christological and trinitarian dogma, from the fourth to the seventh centuries. The dramatic interest of the narrative exceeds anything which has been written on this theme. A debate which to most modern men is remote and abstruse almost to the point of unintelligibility, and of which many of the external aspects are disheartening in the extreme, is here brought before us in something of the reasonableness which it must have had for those who took part in it. Tertullian shaped the problem and established the nomenclature for the Christological solution which the Orient two hundred years later made its own. It was he who, from the point of view of the Jurist, rather than of the philosopher, gave the words 'person' and 'substance,' which continually occur in this discussion, the meaning which in the Nicene Creed they bear. Most brilliant is Harnack's characterisation of Arius and Athanasius. In Arius the notion of the Son of God is altogether done away. Only the name remains. The victory of Arianism would have resolved Christianity into cosmology and formal ethics. It would have destroyed it as religion. Yet the perverse situation into which the long and fierce controversy had drifted cannot be better illustrated than by one undisputed fact. Athanasius, who assured for Christianity its character as a religion of the living communion of God with man, is yet the theologian in whose Christology almost every possible trace of the recollection of the historic Jesus has disappeared. The purpose of the redemption is to bring men into community of life with God. But Athanasius apprehended this redemption as a conferment, from without and from above, of a divine nature. He subordinated everything to this idea. The whole narrative concerning Jesus falls under the interpretation that the only quality requisite for the Redeemer in his work was the possession in all fulness of the divine nature. His incarnation, his manifestation in real human life, held fast to in word, is reduced to a mere semblance. Salvation is not an ethical process, but a miraculous endowment. The Christ, who was God, lifts men up to godhood. They become God. These phrases are of course capable of ethical and intelligible meaning. The development of the doctrine, however, threw the emphasis upon the metaphysical and miraculous aspects of the work. It gloried in the fact that the presence of divine and human, two natures in one person forever, was unintelligible. In the end it came to pass that the enthusiastic assent to that which defied explanation became the very mark of a humble and submissive faith. One reads the so-called Athanasian Creed, and hears the ring of its determination to exact assent. It had long since been clear to these Catholics and churchmen that, with the mere authority of Scripture, it was not possible to defend Christianity against the heretics. The heresies read their heresies out of the Bible. The orthodox read orthodoxy from the same page. Marcion had proved that, in the very days when the canon took its shape. There must be an authority to define the interpretation of the Scripture. Those who would share the benefits which the Church dispensed must assent unconditionally to the terms of membership.

All these questions were veiled for the early Christians behind the question of the kind of Christ in whom their hearts believed. With all that we have said about the reprehensible admixture of the metaphysical element in the dogma, with all the accusation which we bring concerning acute or gradual Hellenisation, secularisation and defection from the Christ, we ought not to hide from ourselves that in this gigantic struggle there were real religious interests at stake, and that for the men of both parties. Dimly, or perhaps vividly, the man of either party felt that the conception of the Christ which he was fighting for was congruous with the conception of religion which he had, or felt that he must have. It is this religious issue, everywhere present, which gives dignity to a struggle which otherwise does often sadly lack it. There are two religious views of the person of Christ which have stood, from the beginning, the one over against the other.[5] The one saw in Jesus of Nazareth a man, distinguished by his special calling as the Messianic King, endued with special powers, lifted above all men ever known, yet a man, completely subject to God in faith, obedience and prayer. This view is surely sustained by many of Jesus' own words and deeds. It shines through the testimony of the men who followed him. Even the belief in his resurrection and his second coming did not altogether do away with it. The other view saw in him a new God who, descending from God, brought mysterious powers for the redemption of mankind into the world, and after short obscuring of his glory, returned to the abode of God, where he had been before. From this belief come all the hymns and prayers to Jesus as to God, all miracles and exorcisms in his name.

[Footnote 5: Wernle, Einfzhrung in das Theologische Studium, 1908, v.204.]

In the long run, the simpler view did not maintain itself. If false gods and demons were expelled, it was the God Jesus who expelled them. The more modest faith believed that in the man Jesus, being such an one as he was, men had received the greatest gift which the love of God had to bestow. In turn the believer felt the assurance that he also was a child of God, and in the spirit of Jesus was to realise that sonship. Syncretist religions suggested other thoughts. We see that already even in the synoptic tradition the calling upon the name of Jesus had found place. One wonders whether that first apprehension ever stood alone in its purity. The Gentile Churches founded by Paul, at all events, had no such simple trust. Equally, the second form of faith seems never to have been able to stand alone in its peculiar quality. Some of the gnostic sects had it. Marcion again is our example. The new God Jesus had nothing to do with the cruel God of the Old Testament. He supplanted the old God and became the only God. In the Church the new God, come down from heaven, must be set in relation with the long-known God of Israel. No less, must he stand in relation to the simple hero of the Gospels with his human traits. The problem of theological reflexion was to find the right middle course, to keep the divine Christ in harmony, on the one side, with monotheism, and on the other, with the picture which the Gospels gave. Belief knew nothing of these contradictions. The same simple soul thanked God for Jesus with his sorrows and his sympathy, as man's guide and helper, and again prayed to Jesus because he seemed too wonderful to be a man. The same kind of faith achieves the same wondering and touching combination to-day, after two thousand years. With thought comes trouble. Reflexion wears itself out upon the insoluble difficulty, the impossible combination, the flat contradiction, which the two views present, so soon as they are clearly seen.

In the earliest Christian writings the fruit of this reflexion lies before us in this form: -- The Creator of worlds, the mediator, the lord of angels and demons, the Logos which was God and is our Saviour, was yet a humble son of man, undergoing suffering and death, having laid aside his divine glory. This picture is made with materials which the canonical writings themselves afford. Theological study had henceforth nothing to do but to avoid extremes and seek to make this image, which reflexion upon two polar opposites had yielded, as nearly thinkable as possible. It has been said that the trinitarian doctrine is not in the New Testament, that it was later elaborated by a different kind of mind. This is not true. But the inference is precisely the contrary of that which defenders of the dogma would formerly have drawn from this concession. The same kind of mind, or rather the same two kinds of mind, are at work in the New Testament. Both of the religious elements above suggested are in the Gospels and Epistles. The New Testament presents attempts at their combination. Either form may be found in the literature of the later age. If we ask ourselves, What is that in Jesus which gives us the sense of redemption, surely we should answer, It is his glad and confident resting in the love of God the Father. It is his courage, his faith in men, which becomes our faith in ourselves. It is his wonderful mingling of purity and love of righteousness with love of those who have sinned. You may find this in the ancient literature, as the Fathers describe that to which their souls cling. But this is not the point of view from which the dogma is organised. The Nicene Christology is not to be understood from this approach. The cry of a dying civilisation after power and light and life, the feeling that these might come to it, streaming down as it were, from above, as a physical, a mechanical, a magical deliverance, this is the frame within which is set what is here said of the help and redemption wrought by Christ. The resurrection and the incarnation are the points at which this streaming in of the divine light and power upon a darkened world is felt.

That religion seemed the highest, that interpretation of Christianity the truest, the absolute one, which could boast that it possessed the power of the Almighty through his physical union with men. He who contended that Jesus was God, contended therewith for a power which could come upon men and make them in some sense one with God. This is the view which has been almost exclusively held in the Greek Church. It is the view which has run under and through and around the other conception in the Roman and Protestant Churches. The sense that salvation is inward, moral, spiritual, has rarely indeed been absent from Christendom. It would be preposterous to allege that it had. Yet this sense has been overlaid and underrun and shot through with that other and disparate idea of salvation, as of a pure bestowment, something achieved apart from us, or, if one may so say, some alteration of ourselves upon other than moral and spiritual terms. The conception of the person Christ shows the same uncertainty. Or rather, with a given view of the nature of religion and salvation, the corresponding view of Christ is certain. In the age-long and world-wide contest over the trinitarian formula, with all that is saddening in the struggle and all that was misleading in the issue, it is because we see men struggling to come into the clear as to these two meanings of religion, that the contest has such absorbing interest. Men have been right in declining to call that religion in which a man saves himself. They have been wrong in esteeming that they were then only saved of God or Christ when they were saved by an obviously external process. Even this antinomy is softened when one no longer holds that God and men are mutually exclusive conceptions. It is God working within us who saves, the God who in Jesus worked such a wonder of righteousness and love as else the world has never seen.

chapter iii theological reconstruction
Top of Page
Top of Page