Home>Church History of the First Three Centuries


Sometime Professor Of Theology In The University OF Tubingen.


Minister Of Abernyte IN 1878



THE PAROUSIA (Vol. 1, pp. 246-252)

The belief in the second coming of Christ, and the reaction against a view of the world which had lost its hold upon this belief, are the two leading momenta which serve to explain the origin and character of Montanism.

What connected Christianity with Judaism most directly and most intimately was the Jewish Messianic idea; though from it also there arose the sharpest antithesis by which the two faiths came to be separated from each other. It had been thought that Jesus was the promised Messiah, who had appeared with a view to the fulfilment of the Messianic expectations. His death seemed to leave these hopes unfulfilled, and to destroy them for ever: the disciples, as Jews possessed with the Messianic belief, felt that such an event made it impossible to apply the belief to him. But the gulf lying between idea and fact was only too soon filled up. He had not, as the living Messiah, fulfilled what was hoped of him; but as the risen Messiah, exalted to heaven, he might return from heaven again, now at length to accomplish all that had not yet come about. The Parousia of Christ became a necessary postulate of the faith of the first disciples; the old belief had assumed a new form, but it was impossible to renounce the .substance of it, and it seemed to be a necessity that it should be fulfilled without delay. Many passages of the books of the New Testament show with what power this belief reigned in the minds of the first Christians. So much was this the case, that in this respect there was no essential difference between the apostle of the Gentiles and the author of the Apocalypse. If any of the first publishers of Christianity was capable of discerning that its destiny—its exaltation into the universal religion—was only to be fulfilled in the distant future, it was Paul. Yet even he, as he thinks on Christ’s coming, firmly believes that all is now approaching its end, and that he will himself live to see the great catastrophe. Such a belief, however, too surely brought its own refutation to last long in all its strength and vividness. The longer it remained unfulfilled, the more inevitably it tended to lose its hold on the mind of the age. Even .within the New Testament itself, we can trace the various modifications which it gradually underwent. Compare the two books which vary most widely in their manner of stating it; what a discrepancy of tone do we find between the Apocalypse, where it blazes out in its brightest flame, and takes its most concrete form in the idea of the millennium, and the Second Epistle of Peter. The author of the latter speaks of scoffers who shall come in the last days, walking after their own lusts, and saying, ” Where is the promise of his coming ? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the creation;” and instead of questioning the facts on which the scoffer proceeded, he merely seeks to refute him by substituting for the belief itself a recognition of the general truths that lie at its base. This shows us pretty plainly what the state of belief on the subject was at this time. But though it had ceased, at least in its original form, to be a universal article of Christian faith, still there could not fail to be some, who in contrast to the increasing worldliness of the Christian mind which was manifested in the decay of this belief, quickened it in themselves even to a stronger life, and held it fast with fresh enthusiasm. Such were the Montanists; and this is one of their most prominent traits. Even though it be admitted that millenarianism was at the time a universal Christian belief, still the Montanists were the most pronounced of all millenarians. It was this doctrine that especially kindled their enthusiasm : their prophets announced, in language like that of men inspired, the judgments which were impending with the coming of Christ, the reign of a thousand years, and the end of the world, and depicted all that was coming in the most vivid colours. How much they were occupied with the thought of the immediate end of the world, and how real the thought was to them, is shown by the saying of the prophetess Maximilla, “After me comes nothing but the end of the world I”1 Soon as the consummation might come, it could not approach too quickly for their millenarian spirit. In their daily prayer, to ask that God’s kingdom might come was to give utterance to their millenarian view of the world; the kingdom of God and the end of the world were with them the same idea.1 Even then, though the whole generation for which the coming of Christ was supposed to have been promised, had but looked for it in vain, still the belief itself that in the immediate future Christ would appear, and the kingdom of God begin, was not abandoned. The Montanists knew the spot where the heavenly Jerusalem would descend; they had even had a vision foreshadowing the descent from heaven. With other Christians, coldness and lukewarmness had laid hold of millen- arianism; but for that very reason it became all the stronger and livelier with them. And this shows us how close was the connection between the millenarian belief of the Montanists and another no less characteristic part of their system, ecstatic prophecy. If they were living entirely in the thought of Christ’s coming and of the future, and saw close at hand the events that were to introduce and accompany the impending catastrophe, this contemplation of the future in the present inevitably gave rise to prophecy. Prophecy with the Montanists assumed the form of ecstasy; a fact very characteristic of the sect, though ecstasy itself was by no means an uncommon thing. Ecstasy is merely prophecy intensified. By a natural analogy, as millenarianism among the Montanists advanced to fresh energy, prophecy also, as the expression of their millenarian inspiration, soared with a loftier flight, and became ecstasy. Here the finite subject became absolutely passive under the divine principle. Hence the saying of Montanus, in which he compares man to the lyre, the Paraclete to the plectrum, and calls the former a sleeper, the latter a watcher; and the belief that the special organs of the Holy Spirit were women, prophetesses such as Maximilla and Priscilla. The one belief naturally gained

1 Compare Tertullian, De Orat. c. 5 ; where he says of the^emai regnum tmtm ; Itaque si ad Dei voluntatem et ad nostram suspensionem pertinet regni dominici representatio, quomodo quidam pertractum quendam in seculo postulant (how can so many ask, that the kingdom of God should further prolong itself into secular time ? millenarianism was then no longer a universal belief) ; quum regnum Dei quod, ut adveniat, oramus, ad consummationem seculi tendat; optamus maturius regnare et non diutius servire. Etiam si praefinitum in oratioue non esset, de postulando regni adventu, ultro eam voccm postulassemus, festinantes ad spei nostrae com- plexum.

strength together with the other. The believers in Christ’s coming did not feel their belief disturbed by the long lapse of time to which they had now to look back. On the contrary, the longer the past period, the nearer they thought they must be to the great catastrophe. For the same reason, since everything was now in its last stage, in the Kaipos (rwetrraX/ievo?, the spirit too, the irvevfia ayiov, the principle of the Christian consciousness, must gather its energies more powerfully together, must give forth more immediate, more unequivocal utterances. Both beliefs were involved in the consciousness of living in the dies novissimi. Thus, Tertullian’s theory of the various periods of development is, that as first the plant arises from the grain of seed, and lastly the fruit from the blossom, so justitia was first in the state of nature, then advanced to childhood under the guidance of the Law and the Prophets, next through the Gospel blossomed into youth, and now is brought to maturity by the Paraclete.1 All this is but an analysis of the idea of the novissima. What is sought to be done is to bring out what is the last in the last things, by striking out of them all that is not the last, but must at once be followed by the last. But according to the Montanist opinion, the more nearly everything approached its end, the more everything converged in the novissimi dies, the more concentrated and intense, the more filled with compressed energy did everything become. Everywhere, says Tertullian, the later forms the conclusion, and that which goes before is outweighed by that which comes after. This is a universal law alike of the human and the divine order of things; and especially of the novissimi dies,2 in which the prophecy of Joel (often cited by Tertullian), that the spirit should be poured out on all flesh, was to be fulfilled. In this period, when tempus est in collecto, when every force gathers itself together and prepares all its keenness, the spirit likewise enters into the mind of the Christian with unwonted power, and fills it with its own divine all-

1 De virg. vel. o. 1.

2 De Bapt. c. 13. Compare the Praef. Act. Felic. et Perp., and Epiphanius Haer. 48, 8, in Schwegler’s Montan., p. 39.

illumining essence. The Apocalypse gives virtually the same account of the relation between the novissima and the working of the spirit in connection with it. The several stages of the great catastrophe of the world are the subject of the book; the author is merely the instrument of the divine inspiration that has come upon him; he too is ev irvevfiaTi, i.e., in a state of ecstasy (i. 10). Prophecies and visions form the whole contents of the Apocalypse; prophecy and vision were the shapes assumed by the ecstatic condition of the Montanists. The spirit which from the first was the animating principle of the Christians, and awoke their prophetic inspiration and ecstasy, is also the principle of Montanism. At this time it was generally termed Paraclete, perhaps because in the distress and affliction of the last days it was to be not only the guide that should lead into all truth, but the intercessor, the support and comfort of all those whom it swayed with its rich and abundant power; in any case, this particular name, as applied to the Holy Spirit, was intended to mark its special and peculiar function during that last period, in which the Montanist saw everything pressing towards its end.

It is in the moral sphere that the Paraclete carries on his actual operations. He speaks with his full energy in prophetic ecstasy in order that the secrets of the future may be searched, and all the obscurities of consciousness made light. But he also insists emphatically on the moral requirements of practical Christianity. As the spiritus sanctus, ipsius disciplinae determinator, institutor novae disciplinae, he is the strict spirit of moral severity, the declared foe of all laxity and indifference in moral things. What he is, he is for one end only, viz., that he may in the field of morals realise that which he is; thus Tertullian, when he sums up all the features which belong to the idea of the Paraclete, gives the first place to his practical task. He opens the Scriptures, purges the understanding, raises the Christian to a higher stage of perfection, but above all, his practical aim is to give discipline its right direction.1 The Montanists increased the severity of Chris-

1 De virg. vel. c. 1.

tian discipline by several ordinances peculiar to themselves, as by the xerophagiae, by the extension of the dies stationum to the evening, and by their requirements with regard to marriage and martyrdom. But their fundamental idea, the source of all these regulations, was that the Christian lived in the last times, and stood at the end of the whole course of the world. This thought filled the Montanist’s mind as a belief, and could not but determine his behaviour. He lived in the one thought that the end of the world was at hand, and discerned in all around him nothing but the signs of the advancing catastrophe. It was necessary then, that inwardly as well as outwardly he should have completely broken with the world; and his outward actions could have no other aim than that of carrying out this breach with the world in every direction, and wholly sundering the bonds by which his flesh still joined him to the world. It has been very correctly observed,1 that in its moral requirements Montanism set up nothing new; that it was only new in so far as it was reactionary; that the only question between the Montanists and their adversaries in the Church concerned an increase of strictness in enforcing an old ordinance which was on the point of becoming obsolete; that their laws upon marriage and fasting merely aimed at the carrying out in practice of that which they recognised as a divine and eternal command, the old law laid down in both Testaments. Still the cause of this reactionary tendency was the Montanist’s belief that he understood better than others the time in which the Christian was living, that he recognised it for what it was, for the last time. Further, how much must that original Christian frame of mind, resting on the belief in Christ’s immediate coming, have changed and degenerated, when the duty of martyrdom was so little thought of, that whole churches purchased exemption from persecution with money and wholesale, and when bishops and clergy gave their sanction to the cowardice, and encouraged it by their example.2 We may well conclude that in other respects

1 Hitschi, Enstehung der Altkath. Kirche, Isted., p. 513 j 2d ed., p. 4.97, aq.

2 Tert. de fuga in persec., cap. ii. 13.

THE APOCALYPSE (Vol. 2, pp. 74-76)

The Christology of the Apocalypse comes next in time to that of Paul. Here, too, the same canon holds good; for, the mightier the expected catastrophe is which is to accompany Christ’s coming, the higher must be the idea formed of the person of him who is to introduce it. With this writer, as with Paul, it is through his death and resurrection that Christ arrives at the highest divine power and glory. In the apviov ecr<j>ay^evov that stands before the throne of God, the greatest and the least, the contraries of life and death, of heaven and earth, are united and beheld in one and the same contemplation. Not only does Christ, in the immediate presence of God, share a like power, and dominion, and adoration with God, but predicates are given him which seem to leave no essential distinction between him and God. He is termed Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, in the same sense in which God, the ruler of all, is called o <ov ical 6 rjv Koi 6 ep^o^evos. The new name (iii. 12) given to the Messiah, the same name of which it is said that no man knew it but he himself (xix. 12), is the unspeakable name of Jehovah. Indeed, not only are the seven spirits of God, in whom the power of the divine government that watches and rules over all is individualised, attributed to Christ (iii. 1); but he is also the afXn T7?<> KTicretas Tov Qeov, and the Xoyo? Tov Qeov (iii. 14 ; xix. 13). But all these predicates bear a mere external relation to the person of the Messiah. He- is certainly called Jehovah, or God in the highest sense; but he is merely called so,—we are not justified in inferring from the name that a truly divine nature is ascribed to him. Nor does this follow from the designation of the Messiah as the \dyos Tov Qeov. The Xoyo? Tov Qeov furnishes the point of view from which the writer regards Xo’yo? Rov Qeov (i. 9); all that composes the apocalyptic visions is the \oyoi d\r)divoi Tov Qeov (xix. 9). It is Jesus who reveals the counsel of God, and who also executes it. What has been once spoken as the counsel of God must be brought to pass : here, too, Jesus is the Xoyo? Tov Qeov. To this refers the comparison of the agency of Jesus to a sharp sword going out of his mouth (xix. 15). When this sword is spoken of as going out of his mouth, it is clearly indicated that the comparison is between the sword and the word that goes out of the mouth of Jesus, the Xoyo? Tov Qeov, which he reveals; and it is a sharp sword, that is, the whole counsel of God is accomplished by him as a stern judgment with irresistible power. Accordingly, he first receives this name, the Word of God, in this passage (xix. 13), where he descends from heaven to earth as a chastising judge. The fundamental conception is the word of God, or the will and counsel of God, accomplished in the strictness of the divine judgment. The expression, then, contains nothing metaphysical, conveys nothing concerning any relation that belongs essentially to the nature of the subject in question. From this we can at once discover the sense in which we should take the further and especially noticeable predicate given to Jesus when the Apocalypse styles him the a-PXn T’7? Kricrecos Tov Qeov (iii. 14). Although, as the beginning of the creation, he is only the first created, this expression seems clearly enough to contain the conception of pre-existence. But if we consider, on the other hand, that immediately above (iii. 12) the name of the Messiah is called a new name, and that the pre-existence of the Messiah is not declared in plain words anywhere else in the whole book, we shall think it probable that this title is no dogmatic definition, but a mere name of honour, an enhanced expression of the idea that the Messiah is the highest creature, who was an object of attention even from the beginning, at the creation.

The peculiarity of the Christology of the Apocalypse therefore is, that though the highest predicates are applied to Jesus, as the Messiah, they are all names given to him merely externally, not yet joined to his person with any intrinsic and essential unity. There is no intrinsic connection as yet between the divine predicates and the historical individual who is to receive them.1 Although therefore we must not omit to notice the striking way in which the Christian consciousness felt urged, even at this period, to place the person of Jesus as high as possible, we must not the less remember that these predicates, in their whole extent, are a mere transcendental form, which still lacks a concrete matter based on the personality of Jesus himself. They are not yet indwelling features of his nature, rising out of the substantial essence of his person itself. Nothing more is implied than that Christ must have a position adequate to the great expectations concerning the last things, of which he is the chief subject. The Apocalypse embraces nothing metaphysical within its circle of vision ; it takes its point of view altogether from below, and only transfers to the Messiah after his death all that gives him his divine majesty. Compare v. 12.

A further stage of development is formed by the Epistle to the Hebrews and the lesser Epistles of Paul. In their Christology Christ has come to be regarded as a being divine in himself.

The fundamental conception of the Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that of the Son. It is as the Son of God, in the specific sense, that Christ receives all the predicates which are here given to him. As the Son, he is the image, the immediate reflection of the glory of God, who bears the impress of the divine essence in the concrete reality of his personal existence (i. 3). He is thus, as the Son of God, placed simply above the world : he is a being essentially divine and distinct from the world. Though he has so much iu common with the world that, like all things, he came forth from God, and on this account he is called (i. 6), still it is he who upholds all things by the word

1 Cf. Zeller, Beitrage zur Eiuleitung in. die Apocalypse — Theol. Jahrb. 1842 p. 709 sq.

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