The Way of the Church
Granted that Jesus founded a church, was that church expected by its founder and members to remain upon the earth for a limited time only, to be removed and restored at a later date, or was the “apostolic church” the ultimate and final foundation of God on earth, destined “to remain firm and steadfast until the end of the world”? That is one of the most important questions that confront students of church history today.
Every day it becomes more apparent that on its solution depends the whole nature and history of the Christian church. The solution is not far to seek: By the simple, almost mechanical, process of extracting from the literature of the ancient church those passages dealing specifically with the church’s future, or what the saints thought would be its future, placing these passages in chronological order, and reading them over, anyone who has the requisite time and patience may discover the answer. That is what the present study intends to do.
It has not been done heretofore because when churchmen have found themselves confronted by the above question, with its alarming implication that all the churches of Christendom might conceivably be astray, they have dismissed the awful thought with a shudder. What! cries Tertullian, can all those martyrs have shed their blood for nothing?1—carefully evading the declaration of the martyrs themselves, that the only reward they ever think of is a crown in heaven, where they have been repaid a thousandfold for their brief sufferings here below. Conventional church history is resolved never to raise the question of whether the church of Christ actually survived as the best way to avoid a disastrous answer. Thus at the present time leading church historians would forestall any embarrassing questions touching the main issue by devising ingenious titles for their studies: “The Infant Church,”2 “A World Being Born,”3 The Unquenchable Light,4 etc., titles as “loaded” as Neander’s Planting and Training of the Christian Church.5
They are “loaded” because they suggest and permit research only along one carefully channeled course. The mere title “Infant Church” as used by these authors fixes unalterably the whole course of church history in advance: If the early church was by very definition an infant church or a world being born, we can tell no other story than one of growth and advancement regardless of what happened—calamitous failures are merely setbacks; success in any direction is growth; the story can have only one outcome; within a thematic framework we can ask all the questions we want to, but the main question of whether the church really was an infant church and not something totally different, must never be raised. And what other tale can one tell of an “Unquenchable Light,” again an expression of those authors, save that it never goes out?6 That wonderul title has forestalled any embarrassing questions as to whether the light was to overcome the darkness or the other way around—for merely to ask such a question is to remind oneself of John’s terribly emphatic answer, that the “Unquenchable Light” was by no means to remain among men.
“The task of church history,” writes the author of the latest large church history to appear, “is to give a clear, comprehensive, scientifically established over-all picture of the evolution of the visible institution of salvation founded by Christ.”7
This is very much as if he were to say, “Our business is to describe the triumph of the church,” as if that triumph were inevitable. Like the classic question, “Have you stopped beating your mother-in-law?” it cleverly avoids a very important question by asking a less important one resting on the assumption that the other has been answered. The assignment of describing the evolution of the institution established by Christ assumes (1) that there was such an institution, (2) that it remained on the earth, and (3) that it underwent an observable process of evolution. All this is taken for granted, yet until very recently the bulk of scholars have regarded the first proposition as unproven, and they have only just begun to think about the second. The third point is, thanks to the systematic avoidance of the second, never questioned.
The Nature of the Evidence
The study of church history has in the past been of interest to but a few, and their interest has been a strenuously partisan one. Who writes church histories? Churchmen. Who reads them? Divinity students. It would be hard to find another branch of science or the humanities in which so few scholars ever engage in the study of the things for its own sake. Even the rare researcher of disinterested motives must end up taking sides, for the nature of the thing requires it.
“Only one who is personally convinced of the truth of the gospel,” writes Heinrich Bornkamm, “can fully grasp its historical manifestations and what is lasting or changing in them. There is no such thing as pure objectivity in the history of thought, which in fact would be rendered sterile by such.” 8 In 1699 Gottfried Arnold published his Impartial History of the Church and Heresy, to show that the true church through the ages has been that of the persecuted mystics and heretics—whether his theory is right or not, it cannot by any effort of the imagination be called impartial.
Recently Professor Pfeiffer has vigorously deplored any side-taking at all in the study of religion; he thinks one can maintain perfect scientific detachment by “keeping facts and faith, history and revelation, historical research and theological speculation separate and distinct.”9 But is not this appeal for a double bookkeeping that shall “distinguish sharply between true facts and true doctrines”10 simply a device for placing one’s own particular beliefs beyond the reach of objective investigation? Is it fair of the doctors to denounce with moral indignation those who have not yet given up those partisan strivings in which they themselves engaged for generations, and only gave up with reluctance when years of determined seeking led to unforeseen and embarrassing conclusions? It is altogether too convenient when one’s own methods of soapmaking have failed, to declare to the world that soap simply cannot be made and heap contempt on those who are still trying and abuse on those who have succeeded.
When the professor finds that his facts do not square with his doctrines, then, but not until then, he announces to the world as a general moral principle that no one should ever try to compare facts with doctrines. That lets him out. But the escape is altogether too convenient; the cause of cool and scientific detachment is defended with such surprising heat and censure; and the announcement of these so liberal and so obvious principles has come so suddenly and so late (for until now church scholars have all admitted to a degree of partisan interest) that one is forced to the conclusion that all this pleading to keep religion out of religious studies is possibly just an extreme form of partisan pleading, an attempt to save face by the related declaration that the rules do not hold any more—that religious and historical facts have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Since the rules no longer favor us, we will abolish them!
The modern scientific credo is thus no exception to the rule that an ulterior motive has marked the writing of church history from the very beginning. “It is dangerous to enquire after truth among later writers,” wrote the great Baronius, “who are often found to write that which false rumors, vain imaginings, private affection and sometimes Flattery suggested to their Minds, to the great prejudice of Historical Truth.”11 But what about the earlier writers? “The age was one of rhetoric,” writes Harnack of the period from the fourth century on, “which did not draw back at artifice and unveracity of every kind. . . . Forgery was the order of the day. . . . Already in the fourth century a spirit of lying prevailed mightily in the official documents . . . and in the fifth and sixth centuries it ruled the Church.” At that time “no one any longer put any faith in any written record or official document or report.”
After giving various examples of the use of falsification by the most illustrious fathers as a partisan weapon, and describing the controversial literature as “a morass of lies and rascality,” Harnack concludes that “one cannot escape the fear that present-day historians are still altogether too trusting in their attitude towards this whole literature. . . . We stand almost everywhere more or less helpless in the face of a systematically fabricated tradition.”12
Recently Walther Völker has shown that the great church history of Eusebius was actually a “tendentious” writing designed to prove a particular point.13 The events culminating in the riotous councils of the fourth century led thinking men of the time to doubt whether the church was still on earth or not: It was to silence his own doubts on this head that Eusebius undertook the researches that resulted in the ecclesiastical history. By the simple process of excerpting “only what agreed with his fundamental thesis,” Eusebius, according to Völker, “altered the appearance of the old church history. All the tensions were removed, all the conflicts smoothed over.” 14 This work, which rightfully won for its author the title of “Father of Church History,” laid down the line which church historians have followed ever since, namely the implicit and unquestioning defense at all times of the basic proposition that the Christian church of today is actually the “apostolic church” of the beginning, no matter how strangely and wonderfully altered. To this proposition all conventional church history is dedicated; it is the axiom which may never be questioned and which predetermines the direction of all research, the bed of Procrustes into which all the evidence must be made to fit, cost what it may.
Before we address ourselves to our proper task, which is (1) to set forth in order the early references to the future of the church, and (2) to show what modern scholars have to say on the subject, it is necessary to get some idea of the nature of the documents with which we have to deal, and of the extent to which church historians have controlled those documents, actually inventing the past which they claim, and often sincerely, to be only discovering. The reader should be warned that the thesis of the present study runs counter to the massive consensus of church history for over a thousand years.
Long ago Socrates showed what a hollow thing consensus is. More recently, in 1932, Olaf Linton published his now famous study of what he calls “the Consensus” of church history in the nineteenth century. Therein he shows how the scholars when they think they are being most sound, most objective, and most scientific in their construction of church history, are actually doing little more than faithfully reflecting their own background and conditioning. As they are liberal, democratic, congregational, individualist, so must the “primitive church” be; if they like ritual, so did it; if they eschewed it, so did the early Christians.15 But what the general public dreams not of, and even the experts underestimate, is that the invention of history has been a major industry for many centuries, one of the primary concerns of scholars having been in every age to control the past. This is a serious, but not criminal charge, for as we shall presently see, it is virtually impossible for anyone to handle ancient records without in some way having to control them; and so, as the records have been handed on from one generation to the next, there has been exercised over them a cumulative, all-pervasive, and thorough control.
To begin with, anyone who writes church history has the inescapable and dangerous obligation of deciding somehow just what evidence shall be made available to his readers and what shall not; obviously, he cannot include it all. Now anyone who takes it upon himself to withhold evidence is actually determining what the reader’s idea of church history is going to be—he is controlling the past. And when the evidence held back is a thousand times more extensive than what is brought before the jury, it is plain that the historian is free to build up any kind of case he desires.
Is there no alternative to this commission of all but absolute power to a few notoriously partial authorities? There is none. The only completely fair presentation of church history would be a full display of all known evidence laid out before the public in chronological order—all the written stuff: histories, letters, sermons, tomes of philosophy, all the artifacts, ruins, and inscriptions, all the traditions, rituals, liturgies, and legends would have to be there, without any attempt on the part of the custodian to interpret or control. But such a corpus would be all but useless, an impenetrable jungle of stuff beyond the capacity of any reader. To be made available even to specialists it would have to be classified, broken up into departments that could be handled by one man and, as far as the general public is concerned, each of these would have to be further reduced by sampling or condensing. If one were to include in a source book but one-tenth of one percent of the writings in the old Patrologiae alone—and they are far from exhaustive, even in their area—the reader would be confronted by five hundred solid pages of quotation. But how representative is a selection of one page in a thousand? One need only examine Kirch’s Enchiridion for the answer.16 Aside from all policy and prejudice, sheer necessity has brought it about that what has been handed on from generation to generation as standard church history is a growing accumulation of carefully hand-picked evidence.
But the business of control does not end with the selecting of evidence. Once our texts have been chosen for presentation, we discover that they are all without exception in an imperfect and fragmentary state, marred by scribal slips, emendations, interpolations, and deletions. Generations of careless, or (what is far more dangerous) careful and deliberate scribes have been busy day and night at the game of controlling the past by altering the texts they were supposed to be copying, and as often as not the alterations have been intentional. And what is the cure for this? More correction! The conscientious, modern editor proceeds to control his text by reconstructing it to say what he believes the original should have said. Such reconstructions are not always infallible. In fact, in the opinion of most scholars, the reconstructions perpetrated by most other scholars are pretty bad.
Once the church historian has picked out the most highly favored passages to call to the witness stand and, as a textual critic, carefully tidied them up and brushed their hair to make a favorable impression for his client (the client being the church of his choice—for most church historians are professional churchmen) a most effective control still remains; for before the evidence can be heard by the general public, it must be translated. Translation is a far more effective and aggressive way of controlling the past than most people suppose.
The business of selecting, restoring, and translating pertinent texts is one that calls for the constant exercise of judgment and the constant making of choices. To enable the scholar to choose between two or more equally authentic but conflicting passages, between equally plausible but conflicting readings of the passage chosen, and between equally grammatical but conflicting translations of the text thus selected and restored, he invariably adopts some rule or policy in the light of which one interpretation will always enjoy a clear priority, thus obviating the necessity of giving serious consideration to the others. Let us consider the well-established principles upon which the experts operate.
All for the Party
In George Orwell’s much cited and disturbing novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the tyrannical super-state of the future is operated by its masters on the proposition that “who controls the past controls the present, and who controls the present controls the future.” That is the secret of power: If you can control people’s ideas of the past, you control their ideas of the present and hence the future. The unhappy hero of the story works in a public relations office where the past is controlled. His task is to check all back newspapers kept in the official files of the state for any piece of news, no matter how old, that might embarrass the government if brought to light—old promises and prophecies that have failed, glorious deeds of men now out of favor with the rulers, friendly alliances with governments now odious to the state, and so forth.
When he comes upon such an item, our hero immediately cuts it out and burns it, substituting in its place a revamped version of the same story of exactly the same length but so rewritten as to make it seem that the present government has always been right, infallibly vindicated in the unfolding of events. It is a careful, deliberate controlling of the past, a rewriting of history in retrospect to suit the present interests and support the present policies of the Party, whose authority is thus confirmed by the verdict of history.
All this seems to us very cynical and sordid, and yet, appalling as it seems, Mr. Orwell has given a very fair description of what has been going on for thousands of years in the learned world! Except in its cold-blooded mechanics, wherein does the operation described differ from that of the learned Hebrew Meturgeman? In his business of rendering ancient Hebrew into contemporary Aramaic, “the most difficult passages were simplified, or explained, the incidents of the past conformed to the ideas of the present . . . and, finally, the laws expanded in accordance with the practice and teaching of later times . . . the Meturgeman did not scruple to transform the text before him in the boldest fashion.”17
His motive in this, we are told, was “to gloss over or to modify everything which seemed inconsistent with the accepted view of the history of the nation, to magnify and expound everything which redounded to the credit of the heroes of the past . . . to explain away the unworthy and to emphasize the pious motive which guided their conduct.”18 These learned men felt it their duty in presenting the message of an ancient prophet to the unlearned, to restate it in such a way as “to draw out its implicit teaching; to harmonize the teaching of the prophet with the current interpretation of the Jewish schools; to modify the language of the prophet where it seemed inconsistent with the traditional view of the nation’s history and even, in certain cases, to reverse the plain meaning of the text.”19
Whether or not all this busy revamping of the record is to be deplored as dishonest and unscientific does not concern us at the moment. What does concern us is the fact that the records have been manipulated in a deliberate attempt to control the past. For many years scholars were convinced that Ramses II was just about the greatest builder and warrior king that ever lived. Ramses planned it that way. While his stonecutters conscientiously effaced from buildings and monuments the names of their real builder (that is, where other enterprising monarchs had not already beaten him to it) and substituted in their place the name of the ruling Ramses, his historians were busy writing up the accounts of battles that had turned out badly for the king in such a way as to transform them into glorious victories. That was controlling the past in the grand manner, a practice as old as Egypt itself. The Fifth Dynasty, for example, based its authority on an historical account of three brothers, which is a most palpable forgery.
By now some American college professors know that conventional Roman history is largely a pious party fiction, made-to-order history that bucks the evidence at every turn. Likewise the whole body of Greek literature that has come down to us has had to pass the scrutiny of generations of narrow and opinionated men: it is not the literature of the Greeks that we have inherited but a puree made from that fraction of their writings which the doctors have felt proper to place in the hands of students after much abridgment and revisal. In compiling their college omnibuses of “standard” plays, orations, and poems, and in preparing their College Outline Series of humanities and science, the professors of Alexandria effectively consigned to oblivion any writings not on the approved list: the Greek schoolmen destroyed the Greek heritage.20
Wherever we look in the ancient world the past has been controlled, but nowhere more rigorously than in the history of the Christian church. The methods of control, wherever we find them, fall under three general heads, which might be described as (a) the invention, (b) the destruction, and (c) the alteration of documents. They deserve some attention.
a. Fabrication: Tertullian tells of a scholar in Asia Minor who “out of love for the Apostle” composed a fantastic miracle and adventure tale called “The Acts of Paul,” which did great damage to the church. 21 He meant well. “We have written these things,” the Apostles are represented as protesting in the Apostolic Constitutions, “that you might get things straight, and not receive books which are falsely circulated in our name. . . . Simon and Cleobus have published poisonous books in the name of Christ and the Apostles, [and there are all sorts of forgeries circulating in the names of the prophets and patriarchs].”22 But the practice continued and grew: “Forgery was viewed by wide circles of the ancient Church not merely as an excusable fraud, but a thoroughly legitimate oeconomia [operation, administrative measure] in the war against the enemies of the faith.” Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Hilary, and John Chrysostom all recommend and use the kale apate (“fair deception”), and justify it by Jeremiah 4:10,23 “—Ah, Lord God! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.”
Just as physicians must sometimes tell fibs to patients to help them along, and as those tending small children or the feeble-minded can handle them and help them more effectively by making up stories as they go, so the Christian priest was to cultivate a useful deception as an essential tool in dealing with the laity, according to John Chrysostom.24 “When Jacob deceived his father,” he explains, “that was not deception but oeconomia.” 25
Jerome admits to employing “a sometimes useful deception,” and admires others for the same practice: “how cunning, how shrewd, what a dissimulator!”26 And he cites Origen as teaching that “lying is improper and unnecessary for God, but is to be esteemed sometimes useful for men, provided it is intended that some good should come of it.”27 But whoever lied with any other intent? In support of his contention, Origen appeals to Plato’s doctrine of deception in the Republic—a thing which had shocked even the pagans.28
It was common practice for Christian scholars in the Middle Ages both “without scruple [to] put forward older texts, with slight alteration, as their own compositions,”29 and to put forth their own compositions without scruple as ancient texts. For centuries the medieval church rested its claims to temporal power on the false Isidorian Decretals, though recognized from the first as a forgery, and its doctrinal and ritual structure on the Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagiticus, a most obvious fake.
“Whoever knows and understands the men of the Middle Ages,” Böhmer writes, “how many of them, though excellent bishops, abbots, clerics, and monks by the standards of the time, practised falsification of documents, [here follows a list of important names] . . . will answer with an unqualified affirmative” the question, “could Lanfranc have been a common forger?”30 The common purpose of such forgeries was to control the past, specifically to make it appear that certain episcopal sees, especially that of Rome, had from the earliest times enjoyed great powers and prerogatives for which in fact no real evidence existed.31
The zealous Thomas Comber finds that in the official editions of the Councils as in Baronius “there is such adding and expunging, such altering and disguising things in the Body of the Councils, and such excusing, falsifying, and shuffling in the Notes, that a Judicious Reader will soon perceive these Venerable Records . . . do not favor them. But these Corruptions are carried on with such Confidence and Cunning, that an unexperienced and unwary Student, may be imposed on by this specious show of Venerable Antiquity.” 32
Now in such matters the general public shows no inclination to be either experienced or wary; even so, any faint stirrings of a critical spirit have been anticipated and forestalled by ample professional restrictions and taboos. On the whole the controlling of the past with the most reliable of all human traits, mental inertia, as its chief ally has been a strangely easy business. There is, as we have pointed out elsewhere, no such thing as a clever forgery—and there does not need to be, for while no forgery can succeed without public approval, no forgery (as the clumsy Piltdown hoax has proved) can fail if it has that approval. And public approval is as sure a thing as the mass ignorance and laziness that guarantee it.
A famous letter written by Innocent I of Rome to the Bishop of Gubbio in 416 provides a commentary on this theme, which is all the more enlightening for being unintentional. The pope is deploring the fact that the church of Gubbio (actually within the metropolitan authority of Rome) observes different rites for the mass from those found at Rome: “Where everyone feels free to observe not what comes by tradition, but whatever seems good to him,” writes the Bishop of Rome, “we see established observances and ways of celebrating of diverse nature, depending on the location of the churches. The result is a scandal for the people who, not knowing that the traditions have been altered by human presumption, think either that the Churches are not in agreement with each other, or that the Apostles established contradictory things.”33
Whatever usage they find, the people naturally attribute to the Apostles. Why not?—are they not instructed to do so? How can they be expected to know “that the ancient traditions have been altered by human presumption”? On the ignorance and complacency of the general public the religious innovator can always rely. Sometimes, however, the public itself forces the scholars to go farther than they want to. This is especially so in the case of church history, where the demand for immediate and definite answers is constant and pressing. What is the poor researcher to do? “The sources were very scarce and fragmentary,” writes Linton of the great days of “scientific” scholarship in the field; “in order to derive any definite information at all from them, it was necessary to interpret these sources and to fill them out. . . . From the very nature of the thing the passages were read with modern eyes.”34 The public could only be satisfied at the price of controlling the past.
b. Censorship: But forgery is a risky business. Much more safe and dignified, and equally effective, is the office of the censor. When the Septuagint was accepted by the Jews as the official text of the Old Testament it was declared to have been revealed from heaven, and all competing texts were officially destroyed. But later when the Hebrew text was fixed again from “old manuscripts saved from the temple of Jerusalem,” the Septuagint was found to disagree with this miraculous discovery and accordingly “was declared to be the work of Satan.” So carefully was the order for its destruction carried out that with the exception of two little bits of papyrus with “fragments of a few verses of Deuteronomy,” to this day “not a single line, neither of the ‘Septuagint’ nor of any other part of the Greek Bible, written by a Jew, is so far known to be preserved.”35 But with the passing of time grave differences arose regarding the correct readings of this Hebrew Bible as those readings underwent constant change at the hands of copyists and emendators, and so it became necessary to restore the text to its ancient purity. This was the work of Masoretes, and since they “had no model of classical Hebrew to which they could adapt the pronunciation of Hebrew . . . they tried to create an ideal pronunciation” which they believed to be correct.36 To establish this new, text all other—and older—Bibles were ordered destroyed, and before many years the fact that the Masorete text stood unchallenged was taken as clear proof that it must be the true and original version of the Bible, for people naturally forgot that the reason why it stood alone through the centuries was that its competitors had all been deliberately and systematically extirpated. Kahle compares this to the claims of the Roman church to pristine purity of doctrine in the Middle Ages: it was, or appeared to be, the oldest surviving doctrine only because the others had been suppressed or destroyed.37
When Joseph Smith announced that the very first words of the Bible had been edited and their meaning changed by “an old Jew without any authority,” he knew whereof he spoke.38 Not that the manipulation of that particular passage has been definitely proven—there is not yet enough evidence, one way or the other—but that the common practice of such manipulation has of recent years become an established fact, thanks to the labors of Kahle and others. The work of the Masoretes, far from being, as it was meant to be, the final and definitive fixing of the sacred text for all time, simply laid the groundwork for new and daring “reconstructions.”
For the Masoretic text in its turn suffered the usual process of deterioration until, in the sixteenth century, Jacob ben Chaiyim set himself to the task of rescuing it from the state of corruption into which it had fallen: “He was convinced that there was only one correct Masora—the Masora compiled by himself—and that the text arranged by him according to this Masora was the very text which had been established by the great Masoretic authorities of Tiberias.”39 And so scholars accepted Jacob ben Chaiyim’s text as the authoritative one; and when through the ensuing four centuries, older and better texts turned up and showed wherein ben Chaiyim had been wrong, what did the scholars do—correct him? Far from it: they corrected the ancient manuscripts to agree with ben Chaiyim! His hasty, superficial, and hopelessly out-of-date text “has been regarded as the only authoritative text up to the present day.”40 In the nineteenth century Baer made the most notable effort to restore the pure Old Testament. His method was simple and effective: from all the material before him he “selected . . . what he regarded as ‘correct’ and what differed he declared to be ‘corrupt,’ ‘incomplete,’ or ‘in confusion.’ “But Baer not only selected what he regarded as the ‘correct’ text from the material at his disposal, he also freely altered readings of his manuscripts when they did not give what he regarded as “correct.”41 So when confronted by valuable old manuscripts or even by texts corrected by the great ben Asher himself, Baer’s disciples firmly rejected them, since they differed from Baer’s hypothetical reconstruction of them.42 It is not, as one might suppose, the discovery of new and revealing manuscripts that controls and guides the thinking of the scholars; it is their thinking that controls the discoveries. “They approach the texts,” wrote Father Deimel, the Sumerian expert, “with a preestablished and ready-made system, and then force them to conform to this bed of Procrustes.” 43 Even when the scholars have “gnashed their teeth and accepted” new discoveries, according to Housman, they have been prompt to make it appear that such findings were no surprise to them, “and the history of scholarship is mutilated to save the face of those who have impeded progress.”44
Anyone who thinks Kahle may have exaggerated should consult Goldschmidt’s introduction to his standard edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Over 400 years ago Daniel Bomberg brought out the first complete printed text of the Talmud. It was widely circulated and became the “standard text.” But in the ensuing centuries, as might be expected, vast numbers of ancient Talmud manuscripts have been discovered, texts entirely unknown to Bomberg and differing very widely from his text as well as among themselves. Even without these discoveries it is apparent that the Bomberg text “swarms with mistakes” obvious even to the casual reader. In the face of this, one would expect all kinds of new and improved editions of the Talmud, since Bomberg claimed no more divine inspiration than any other editor. But not a bit of it! His text had been accepted by the doctors and that settled the matter forever. “All subsequent editions have been virtually stereotype copies of the first,” Goldschmidt tells us, and so is his! He brushes aside all the great manuscript discoveries—out of respect for the received text he will not even consider them.45 If even the most obvious blunder in the Bomberg edition can possibly be justified by any argument, Goldschmidt retains it without comment; if it cannot be justified he still lets it stand but makes a modest suggestion in a footnote. “The present edition,” he announces with pride rather than shame, “is thus an exact reproduction of the first Bomberg edition; all other readings, even those which are obviously more correct, are put in footnotes as variant readings, the text itself remaining untouched.” The official stamp of approval has so sanctified a text which the doctors themselves describe as extremely inaccurate and poorly substantiated that “no Talmud authority would accept as reliable any text ‘improved’ from the manuscripts or by scholarly judgment, or even recognize such as a Talmud text at all.”46 Though it is hard for the layman to believe that such things can be, they are the rule rather than the exception.
The rigorous and arbitrary censorship of ancient texts belongs to the common heritage of all the “people of the book,” being an established routine in every age. Antiochus ordered all copies of the Jewish scriptures burned, and pronounced the death penalty on anyone guilty of possessing a copy.47 Diocletian passed a like law against all Christian writings, and Constantine followed his example by condemning to death anyone guilty of possessing writings by the heretics Porphyr or Arius.48 In 449 Theodosius and Valentinian passed a law that “all that . . . any person may have written against the pious religion of the Christians be committed to the flames wherever found.” 49 Accordingly Bishop Theodoret of Cyprus can boast of having collected and destroyed in his diocese more than two hundred copies of the diatessaron New Testament.50 When it was officially decided (for party reasons) that Ephraim should be “regarded as the classical Syrian poet, all older forms of Syrian poetry were regarded as imperfect and were destroyed.”51 The Arabs, raised up in the same tradition, upon fixing the final text of the Koran, so carefully destroyed all other texts that for 1200 years it was possible to maintain that the accepted text was the very one dictated by the Prophet, though today we know that it was nothing of the sort.52 In this wholesale destruction of texts to control the past, it is precisely the religious who are least troubled by qualms of conscience, “for how” asks Eusebius, “could a man who writes against the Christians do anything but lie?” 53
But usually the violent economy of wholesale book burning is not necessary to control the past. Skillful officials avoid it as the brutal and straightforward technique of soldiers and governors, and a risky business in the bargain—for there is no telling what slippery or forgotten pages might escape the flames, and the subsequent discovery of such has sometimes proved very embarrassing. The shrewd administrator can exercise an equally crippling censorship simply by condemning certain items wherever they appear, as when Theodosius ordered all his subjects to consider “any laws or rescripts . . . alleged” in the favor of heretics as either “fraud or forgery.”54
To prove that an order is fraudulent one needs no further evidence than that the party doesn’t like it: it is not distasteful to the party because it is a forgery, but is automatically declared a forgery because it is distasteful. Acting on this principle, modern scholars tried to decide whether the account of the Council of Sinuessa was spurious or not solely on the grounds of whether its acceptance would do the Church more harm than good.
One school accepted it as genuine because it said something they thought highly favorable to the Roman Church; the other school condemned it because it said something else which they thought very damaging. The whole problem was whether the story was more favorable to the Church than otherwise—in which case it would be automatically accepted as true. Hefele finds the damage greater than the benefit, and so declares it false.55 With such principles to guide him, the clever scholar in his office of editor can make the past out to be pretty much what he wants it to be.
The voluminous writings of Ambrose are, according to Leander, full of things “that differ from the catholic sense,” being “by no means in agreement with sound doctrine.” Accordingly, every such statement was to be regarded automatically as apocryphal and removed from the text by a special committee appointed by the Pope in 1580.56 Does that sound naive? No less a sophisticated intellectual than Gilson begins his philosophical investigation of God with the announcement, “If we believe by faith that God has spoken, since what God says is true, all that contradicts the word of God can, and must, be at once excluded as false.”57 Is it at all surprising then that M. Gilson ends up by proving his faith, since all his arguments must conform? He is in the position of a man who declares as an article of faith that any coin when tossed will always come down heads. This being the true faith, anything that contradicts it, such as those times when a coin comes down tails, “can and must be excluded as false.” The religious censor is thus not troubled by conscience, and, once he is thoroughly conversant with the party line, has a very easy time of it.
A subtle and very effective form of censorship is the silent treatment. “It is permitted,” writes St. Augustine, “for the purpose of building up religion in things pertaining to piety, when necessary, to conceal whatever appears to need concealing; but it is not permitted to lie, of course, and so one may not conceal by way of lying.”58 The distinction is too fine, for silence can be very mendacious. The celebrated Duchesne, according to his biographer, M. Leclercq, was honest, open, and impartial in all the questions of church history that he treated, “but he would not handle all the questions: for example, he built a wall around the life of Jesus and the founding of the church, and he would not allow anyone to approach it. . . . He would not tolerate any discussion or any hesitation on that subject.” Yet the whole labor of his life was “to prove the validity of the Church’s historic claims,”—and the whole burden of the proof rests in the life of Jesus and the foundation of the Church, the two subjects of which he would tolerate no examination, even by himself!59 Recently (1952) the Knights of Columbus Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Documents in the Vatican Library sent out a brochure announcing its admirable project of microfilming the entire contents of the Vatican Library and housing the films in a special building in St. Louis. Only not quite all of the mighty collection was to be thus preserved: “The documents which the Church has been collecting for nearly 20 centuries,” reads the announcement, “include, of course, the ecclesiastical records from the earliest Christian era. These are housed separately in the Vatican Archives and are not to be microfilmed.” Why not? one asks with surprise; and the answer is a shocker: “as they are not of general interest to scholars.”
Now anyone who consults the card index of any of our big libraries can quickly discover that precisely “the earliest Christian era” has been the subject of more books and studies than all the other centuries combined. If “the ecclesiastical records from the earliest Christian era” cast anything like a favorable light on the case of the Roman Church, we could long since have expected to see them splashed on the covers of some national magazines, not “housed separately” and withheld from circulation. “Not of general interest to scholars,” indeed! The editors of the Patrologia are more ingenuous when they explain their failure to include certain important texts in what purports to be a complete collection of sources: “The editors have not published these three letters because of certain calumnies against the pope.”60
The silent treatment is recommended, however, only in dealing with powerfully uncooperative documents. It is usually possible to control a text simply by weeding out the objectionable matter here and there instead of condemning whole books. Why destroy all the letters of Cyprian because some of them refute Roman claims? You only need declare the unfavorable ones forgeries, as Archbishop Tizzani did, and accept all the others. When Rufinus of Aquileia, translating early Christian texts at the end of the fourth century, comes upon passages presenting the peculiar and unacceptable doctrines of the early Christians, especially concerning God, he simply leaves those passages out, as he explains with disarming frankness.61 When he is translating Origen and finds his text saying something with which he does not agree, he just naturally assumes, he tells us, that Origen never wrote any such thing and either rewrites the offending passage or strikes it out altogether!62 When Eusebius finds anything in the records of Constantine’s life which might not make edifying reading (and there is plenty!), he deliberately omits such improper stuff, he explains, lest it detract from the glory of his subject.63 In the same way, the biographers of Mohammed boast that they have eliminated all offensive passages and accepted into their histories only such material as will cast luster upon the name and reputation of the Prophet.64
Sometimes, however, one can preserve an entire text almost intact simply by inserting a single syllable into it—the little word “not.” Though a powerful censor, this tiny word comes so near to being nothing in itself, that editors apparently think little harm can be done by introducing it here and there where careless scribes seem to have a habit of leaving it out. Thus in the 127 Canons of the Apostles we read that the church has lost the power once enjoyed by the saints to drive out devils, raise the dead, and speak in tongues, though those powers were meant to be “signs to those who believe.” This agrees perfectly with Mark 16:17, “these signs shall follow them that believe,” etc. but not with the conventional Christian thesis, that the loss of the signs was not serious, since they were meant to impress only unbelievers.
And so our editor helpfully inserts the little word which the original writers somehow overlooked: “that they should be a sign to those who do not believe!” 65 In the same spirit of helpfulness, when Justin Martyr propounds the doctrine (to which he refers a number of times) that “God created the world out of unorganized matter,” Lange, quoted in a note in the Patrologia, is good enough to oblige with a useful insertion: “God created the world not out of unorganized matter,” to which by way of clarification he adds a further interpolation, “but out of nothing.”66 Why bother to condemn Justin as a heretic when his words can be so easily controlled?
c. Emendation—the Rewrite Job: The excision of annoying passages and the insertion of useful ones is, after all, a surgery of last resort. Most scholars prefer to display their skill and ingenuity in the more cultivated art of emendation, the correction of purely scribal errors. The object of the game is to make the greatest possible change in the reading of a text by the least possible alteration of the written word; the smaller the alteration and the more striking the change of reading it effects, the more “brilliant” the emendation is considered. This, however, is a three-dimensional chess game reserved for the elite: the art of rewriting texts is practiced with little enough subtlety by most churchmen, whose prime concern has ever been to do a pious rather than a convincing rewrite job. At a very early period, “when anyone, Catholic or heretic, found a statement in the New Testament which appeared to be wrong,” according to Kirsopp Lake, “it would seem to him a moral duty to correct an obvious scribal error into a true statement. But who can say what are the limits of ‘scribal errors’?”67 Those limits are set by any pious reader whose duty it is to alter the text whenever he feels the scribe is off the track. This is an unlimited license to control the past.
In one of the very earliest post-apostolic writings, Ignatius reprimands those Christians who won’t believe anything that can’t be proved from the archives, telling the Philadelphians, “My archives are Jesus Christ, and they can’t be tampered with.”68 Which shows not only how soon the church took to resting its case on documents, but also how soon those documents began to be controlled.
The original version of Josephus’ Jewish War69 contained a very unflattering reference to Christ. For this reason the book was condemned. Yet the writings of Josephus had been raised to almost canonical rank by the Christians—how could this treasure be saved? In the oldest surviving manuscripts, the famous passage about Christ has been savagely inked out, rubbed out, or cut out, as if in hasty attempts to clear the owners of any charge of possessing illicit writings. In later manuscripts, however, this passage reemerges, but this time wonderfully altered: by the changing of a few words and a little deft insertion and deletion the insulting paragraph has now become a glowing character reference for Jesus from the mouth of an infidel!70
Coming down to our own time, we find the emendator still at work in the same old shop. When Père Batiffol reads in the Odes of Solomon, “thou hast introduced thy person into the world,” he asks, “How could God introduce his person into the world which belongs to him? Let us rather say that God introduces his ‘countenance’ instead: . . . not prosopon (person), but morphe (face, form).”71 Let us say, indeed! And what has the author to say about it? This passage, Batiffol obligingly explains, “calls for a rather energetic correction in order to have sense.”72 Sense for whom? The second-year Greek student is constantly running into passages that make no sense to him, and which he feels strongly urged to “correct.” But when a text fails to make sense to a reader, or makes undesirable sense to his church, the last thing he may do is to alter it to some form that he and his party can accept. And that is notoriously the first thing that religious scholars do—just look through the footnotes of almost any early volume of the Patrologiae.
In all his extensive writings, it is axiomatic with M. Batiffol that anything not satisfactory to his church can only be nonsense. Armed with this supremely practical and convenient rule of thumb, he has no difficulty or hesitation in perpetrating his “energetic corrections” whenever an ancient writing refuses to cooperate with him or his party. The Odes of Solomon, for example, repeatedly speaks of “the worlds” in the plural. In one place it declares of Christ, “In Him the worlds speak one to another,” making him the common Lord of many worlds. Such was early Christian doctrine; but not modern: “One is surprised,” writes Batiffol, “to see ‘the worlds’ speaking to one another; one would expect rather that it would be men. . . . I would understand verse 8a to read ‘men,’ not ‘worlds.'” 73 To what purpose then, does an ancient author say “worlds” if an editor many centuries later can substitute any word that suits him in its place? Is a poet writing some eighteen-hundred years ago under any obligation to put down what “one would expect” him to write today? Apparently he is.
By What Authority?
Those who hold ancient writers to modern standards, find their work immeasurably simplified by the use of certain favorite yardsticks. With the textual critics this yardstick is “the best manuscript.” Among a dozen or more ancient manuscripts of a text, one is certain to have fewer mistakes in it, that is, to be nearer the original form, than any of the others. Having located this one, a critic will turn to it and it alone in every case of doubt, oblivious of the fact that the best authority may at times be hopelessly wrong, just as the worst authority may be surprisingly right.
That is another way of saying that there are no authorities. But the scholars insist on acting as if there were because if they had such to appeal to, their problem of constantly having to make decisions would be solved. And so they solve it by creating the authorities to which they then appeal! This procedure drives Mr. Housman to wrathful sermons: “By this time,” he writes, “it has become apparent what the modern conservative critic really is: a creature moving about in worlds not realized. His trade is one which requires, that it may be practised in perfection, two qualifications only: ignorance of language and abstinence from thought. The tenacity with which he adheres to the testimony of scribes has no relation to the trustworthiness of that testimony, but is dictated wholly by his inability to stand alone.” These gentlemen, he says, “use manuscripts as drunkards use lampposts—not to light them on their way, but to dissimulate their instability.”74
But relatively few men work with original manuscripts. Far more common are those other yardsticks, the pet hypothesis and the official party line. Mr. Toynbee uses pet hypotheses just as textual critics use pet manuscripts: “Toynbee’s images,” writes M. Frankfort, “betray an evolutionistic as well as a moral bias which interferes with the historian’s supreme duty,” since he “merely projects postulates which fulfill an emotional need in the West [i.e., his own cultural standards] into human groups whose values lie elsewhere.”75 Taking his own culture as a yardstick, Toynbee has no difficulty at all in telling at a glance just how advanced or retarded everybody else has been.
This is one of the oldest and easiest games in the world, though it was not until the nineteenth century that its devotees had the effrontery to call it a science. The “evolutionistic bias” of modern scholarship has played havoc with ancient history, not only predetermining every reaction of the historian to his text, but also in most cases freeing him from any obligation toward the text at all. Many large college text-books are brought forth by men who, it is painfully apparent, have never bothered to read through the documents on which their work is supposed to be based. Their confidence in a moth-eaten rule-of-thumb is simply sublime—why should one waste precious eyesight examining moldy evidence when everybody knows already what the answer is going to be? “Naturally,” writes one of the better authorities of our time, speaking of the ancient world in general, “the earlier kingdoms were neither large nor firmly established.”
What economy is here! Who would beat a weary trail to the stacks in search of early kingdoms when he can reconstruct them at will by the application of a simple and universal rule? If one knows from biological analogy that early states were naturally small and weak, why spoil the game by toying with evidence which might prove that historically they were nothing of the sort? 76
But more damaging to the past even than the wilful and mechanical application of lazy hand-me-down “science” to its reconstruction is the rule of vanity. In the end, as Housman demonstrates at length, a scholar’s right to reconstruct history or restore a battered text rests on the possession of personal gifts which escape analysis. Here is high art indeed! The expert feels in his bones that what he says is what is right, unaware that his bones have been undergoing constant conditioning since the day of his birth. He is trained and intelligent; he means to be perfectly scientific and detached; he is constitutionally incapable of wanton error; how then can he be wrong?
Answer: simply by being human! Purity of motive is no guarantee of infallibility; the greatest of errors are by no means intentional, and are often made by the ablest of scholars. Yet because Dr. Faugh means to write an honest, impartial, and objective history we are expected by his publishers to have the decency, or at least the courtesy, to believe that his history is honest, impartial, and objective. No scholar alive possesses enough knowledge to speak the final word on anything, and as to integrity, let us rather call it vanity.
After surveying the whole field of Ezekiel scholarship for the period 1933–43, W. A. Irwin came out with the flat announcement that “not a single scholar has succeeded in convincing his colleagues of the finality of his analysis of so much as one passage.” Why not? Because “they have given only opinions, when the situation cries aloud for . . . evidence. . . . There is no clearly emerging recognition of a sound method by which to assault this prime problem. Every scholar goes his own way, and according to his private predilection chooses what is genuine and what is secondary in the book; and the figure and work of Ezekiel still dwell in thick darkness.”77 No common yardstick having been agreed on, every expert is his own yardstick, to which Ezekiel must conform. This we call the rule of vanity, when the scholar simply sets himself up as the final court of appeal.
There are, it is true, worse things than vanity, which is common to all men, and it often happens that the very pomposity of a scholar clears him of any suspicion of cynicism or intent to deceive. As Scaliger teaches us in his table talk, the principal weakness of the learned lies not in their slyness or vindictiveness but in their almost childlike simplicity and gullibility where their own gifts and talents are concerned.
Professor von Gall, for example, was perfectly sincere in his conviction that the doctrine of the Messiah could not possibly have been known to the Jews before the Exile; then when he found passages in the Old Testament that made it perfectly clear that that doctrine was known to them, he solemnly accused such non-cooperative texts of “obscuring the clear line of thought” which he was following; and in all good faith he then removed those passages from the Bible: “If we remove these,” he explains, “then almost everything falls into perfect order—unless the text is corrupt.” If any lingering traces of the Messianic teaching remain in the text after von Gall has got through with it, he begs us to attribute such to lurking corruptions which he has overlooked. How disarming, and how naive!78
Neither can we charge with malpractice those students of history who, having become sincerely convinced that there was no organization in the primitive church, deftly remove as a corruption of the text anything in the New Testament that might imply that there was such an organization.79 Quite recently Professor Bultmann, having decided that the message of John is a purely spiritual one, is, as it were, honor bound to remove from John 3:5 those crass physical words “and of water,” which for him can only be a later interpolation. 80
These people are honest and consistent in their operations, and one need no more accuse them of bad faith than one would condemn the faithful guide in the woods because he is going north when he sincerely believes he is going east. But that simple vanity which forbids us to condemn such guides also admonishes and excuses us from following them.
“What stamps the last twenty years with their special character,” wrote Housman at the beginning of this century, “is . . . the absence of great scholars. . . . They now pretend that the relapse of the last twenty years is not a reaction against the great work of their elders, but a supplement to it. To the Lachmanns and Bentleys and Scaligers they politely ascribe the quality of Genialität: there is a complementary virtue called Umsicht (circumspection, perspicacity) and this they ascribe to themselves. Why, I cannot tell.”81
Lest the reader think such charges of vanity are exaggerated, we reproduce herewith a certificate of supreme competence, written by a famous scholar in recommendation of himself to establish beyond a doubt the authority by which he does the amazing things described in the certificate itself. In his preface to his edition of the Divans of the earliest Arabic poets, the celebrated Dr. Ahlwardt writes (with our italics):
In this edition I have chiefly relied on some manuscripts of the text . . . but I have not abstained from adopting readings which appeared to me more appropriate, from other sources. I think myself justified in claiming this privilege as a right. As I would not hesitate, when a verse has faults in the metre or lacks its proper feet, to correct it as far as I am able to do so from the context, so likewise I do not scruple to reject a reading that is not reconcilable with my appreciation of the sense, and to select another—or even to invent one.82
Ahlwardt claims as a right the privilege of inventing a line of his own whenever the text before him offends his “appreciation of the sense.” And to what remarkable personal gifts does Professor Ahlwardt attribute his infallible judgment of Arabic poetry? Not, surprisingly enough, to any superior knowledge of Arabic language or poetic idiom, but solely to the possession of a quality of superior acumen which only those trained in a modern university possess: “I readily concede,” he writes, “that the feeling of the language which the native Arabian philologians possessed is in great measure wanting in us. . . . The faculty which is especially concerned in these matters, however, is one which was wholly, or almost wholly, denied to them . . . critical acumen.”83
This is that very Umsicht over which Housman makes merry. One would suppose that “the faculty which is especially concerned” with the business of reconstructing ancient verses would be that “feeling of the language” by which alone poetry can be produced or comprehended. But not so. Umsicht is the thing, and Ahlwardt proceeds to ascribe it to himself in lavish measure: “On this ground, as I judge, we have a right to reject readings even when they have been expressly sanctioned by them. I readily admit that we neither now nor ever can equal them in quantity of knowledge. I do not rate our knowledge high, but our power, our method of investigation, our critical treatment of a given subject.”84
And why is Ahlwardt so frank and open in confessing limitations of knowledge? Because he cannot conceal them: any claim to intimate knowledge of a language may be quickly and easily put to the test, whereas in matters of “power, method, and critical acumen” every scholar is his own examiner and awards himself his own certificate: “Every scholar goes his own way, and according to his private predilection chooses what is genuine and what is secondary.”
Ahlwardt claims training in a wonderful method by which the initiate can bring forth knowledge of the past; this knowledge, he says, is far inferior to that possessed by the ancients themselves but is to be preferred to theirs, since their knowledge, though superior to it, was not derived by the approved method! Incredible as it seems, this is the normal attitude of scholars to records of the past, as Paul Kahle has demonstrated at great length. In the end, the mood, the method, the ripe assurance of the individual researcher, in a word, his vanity, has priority over all evidence.
But once a text has survived the ravages of the censor and received its final, “definitive” form at the hands of editors, it still had to face new and deadly perils before being placed in the hands of the general reader. For now comes the business of interpreting, a major factor where religious documents are concerned. Without adding, removing, or altering a single letter in a document one may by simply interpreting it as it stands effectively control its message. Here is the field in which the party can bring direct influence to bear. The Council of Trent “decrees that no one, relying on his own skill, shall . . . presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures—hath held and doth hold.”85 And there is no text on earth so clear, simple, and unequivocal but that some devout commentator cannot make it mean the very opposite to what it says. Thus Justin Martyr in the Dialogue (A.D. 120) can demonstrate with ease that Genesis 22:17 is really a most terrible curse against the seed of Abraham!
There is an easy way of discovering in Mansi or the Patrologiae those texts which run counter to the claims of the Roman church: when the text suddenly gives way to long crowded columns of commentary, it is almost a sure sign that something has been said that has to be explained away, and the more clear and unequivocal the ancient statement, the more toilsome and extensive the commentary. Seventeen pages of Mansi are devoted to getting around the simply and clearly stated thirty-seventh canon of the Council of Arles (A.D. 309) decreeing that paintings should be banned from the churches and explaining why. Schermann, in all seriousness, tells us that the remark of Aristides, that the primitive Christians rejoiced on the death of an infant “all the more, as for one that has left the earth in a sinless condition” proves the early Christians baptized babies!86 Now to those reared in churches that teach and practice infant baptism the passage may prove just that, but to those reared in another tradition it seems to convey the very opposite meaning, identifying sinlessness with infancy as such, since Aristides says that though there was rejoicing at the death of any faithful member, for an infant that was something special. The point here is that what looks perfectly natural and logical to Schermann is, whether right or wrong, really the reflection of his partisan training.
In a very early writing attributed to Peter, that apostle is represented as complaining to James about “the varied interpretations of my words” enjoying currency in the church: “They seem to think they can interpret my own words better than I can, pretending to report my very thoughts, when as a fact such things never entered my head. If they dare so much while I am still alive, what liberties will they not take after I am gone!”87
The greatest handicap an ancient writer has in trying to tell his story against intrenched opinions of the scholars is that he cannot be present to defend himself. The master himself is dead, the public in ignorance, and the field is left clear to the servants of the household to make themselves magnificent at the expense of their lord; when the master does turn up unexpectedly, as did Ben Asher, he is promptly turned out-of-doors so the masquerade can continue. Already Tertullian complains of the technique of reading the scripture so that it says one thing and means another, as if it were all an allegory, parable, or enigma. “But this is to pervert the faith,” he says, “not to believe plain evidence but to put in its place unfounded propositions—and then accept them.”88
Thus, the plain statement in Genesis 18, that the Lord visited Abraham and ate with him, may be explained in two ways, according to writing attributed to Athanasius: (1) If it really was the Lord, then there can have been no eating, and (2) if they really ate, then it could not have been the Lord. 89 In either case the scripture is adjusted to our ideas of what the Lord should do, and under no conditions need we change our own opinions to agree with what the scripture tells us he does. Against those scriptural passages (to cite another case) which tell us that Mary had other children besides Jesus “we give this argument,” writes Pope Siricus, “she could not have, because that would be vileness and incontinence.”90 In vain does the scripture insist—the clergy has made up its mind.
From Origen on, the fathers insist that every verse of the scripture can be read a number of different ways, an arrangement which Aquinas aptly describes as “convenient.” If a passage might prove embarrassing taken as it stands, one has only to read it in some other “sense.” Needless to say the sense most frequently objected to is the crass, literal, historical one—beneath the attention of minds devoted to the contemplation of higher things. In the fathers, according to Schanz, “allegorical arbitrariness and uncontrolled whimsy run riot,” expressing themselves in the scholia, the homily, and the commentary.91
In our own day, both for Catholics and Protestants, this lavish control has boiled down to a much simpler double bookkeeping, in which, according to Professor Pfeiffer, one must “distinguish sharply between true facts and true doctrine. . . . That the points of view of science and faith should be kept distinct is admitted by a historian who is a Roman Catholic priest, G. Ricciotti, when he recognized that exegetically ‘the sun stood still and the moon stayed’ at Gibeon in a literal sense, but that scientifically ‘there was no real astronomical perturbation.'”92 So, the sun stood still literally but not astronomically.
What if Constantine only saw a sundog and not a vision of the cross? This simply proves for Father Bligh “that the value of a confession is not determined by the rational sufficiency of the motives that produced its first steps,” and “what is true for the Emperor is true for those who imitated him,”93 which is another way of saying that though Constantine did not have a vision at all, it is just the same as if he did since in the end he became converted.
Peter the Lombard, more bound by literal mindedness, when he finds the Bible in conflict with his science, falls back on the principle propounded by Hilary: “The thing must not be subject to the word, but the word to the thing.” 94 That sounds reasonable enough: but when the word is the scripture and the thing is one’s own limited experience, then to subject the word to the thing is to interpret any line of scripture in whatever way suits one’s predilections—and as such the Lombard makes full use of it. It is an unlimited license to control the past. It is the boast of the Catholic scholar Schindler that the scholastic philosophers always denounced lying.95 Of course they did; the purpose of their art was to make it unnecessary to lie. If one can prove that black is white by a syllogism, why should one be guilty of blurting it out, unproven, as a lie?
The ardent Catholic apologist Arnold Lunn recently wrote: “The Church claims that her credentials can be proved from certain books in the Bible, treating them as purely human documents. The Bible consists of a series of books selected by the Catholic Church—books which the Catholic Church claims the right to interpret. It is for the church to say where the Bible records objective facts and where the Bible uses metaphor and allegory.” 96 This is self-certification with a vengeance: the church waves before us certain documents which she claims prove her authority; these documents she has personally selected, but even so they do not even remotely suggest what she claims they do unless they be read and interpreted in a very special sense, that sense being carefully prescribed—by the church! Mr. Lunn is telling us in effect that the church has a perfect right to control the past to prove its holy calling, even though the only proof of that calling is the doctored document itself. A reading of Denzinger will show the surprising degree to which the reading of the scriptures is controlled by the Roman church; in this valuable work the extreme nervousness of the clergy about letting people read the Bible for themselves or in their own languages goes hand in hand with the frequent and frank admission, that while the Bible seems to swarm with anti-Catholic material, to make a pro-Catholic case out of it requires the labor of trained specialists equipped with highly artificial tools of interpretation.97
When in 1865 John Henry Newman was consulted by a friend regarding the founding of a Catholic historical review he replied: “Nothing would be better—but who would bear it? Unless one doctored all one’s facts, one would be thought a bad Catholic.”98 At the same time Duchesne was protesting in vain to his fellow church historians “that it was contrary to a sound historical method to insist on twisting the texts to make them talk like Athanasius,” that is, to control the earlier texts in support of later theology.99 In opposing this Duchesne was bucking the established practice of centuries. According to De Wulf, when St. Thomas Aquinas wants to disagree with St. Augustine, his unfailing guide and mentor, “he does not contradict him; he does not consider him suspect . . . instead he transforms the meaning of his statements, sometimes by slight corrections, sometimes by violent interpretations which do violence to the text.” Von Hertling has listed some 250 citations from Augustine, a good portion of them deliberately falsified.100
This business is easily justified among religious writers by the law of the greater good. The Mohammedan doctors established the principle that anything which Mohammed would have said could be safely attributed to him, and on this authority put in his mouth the edict, “Whatever is in agreement with this, that is from me, whether I actually said it or not.”101
What makes this sort of highhanded control possible is the confiding of all interpretive authority in official, appointed bodies of experts, closed corporations of professional clergy that may not be challenged from outside; they are self-certified and self-perpetuating. Nowhere have the doctors enjoyed more absolute authority than among the Jews, whose awe in the presence of formal learning is just this side of idolatry; whatever a clever scholar teaches, according to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, is to be received as if it were the word of God spoken to Moses himself on Sinai!102
By closing ranks and presenting a proud front to the world of common men, the clergy are spared the pains of ever having to answer back to the strong arguments against their control of the past. Any who refuse to accept their verdict are by that very act disgraced and disqualified. As often as not they gain the support of princes and potentates, and then woe to the wretch who questions them!
When the immortal Pascal, one of the supremely great intellects of all time, challenged the tricky but shallow and contradictory arguments of the Jesuits, they put him in his place by accusing him of being “a brilliant farceur without ‘authority,’ a lay theologian, an amateur of two days’ standing, ‘the ladies’ theologian,'” and the like, clinching their charges with the ultimate condemnation of all upstarts: “He does not even have a doctor’s degree!”103 Thus Lunn annihilates one who dared to criticize the matchless double talk of St. Liguori: “The poor man did not realize that casuistry, like other branches of law, has its technical vocabulary and, as a result, he made a very complete fool of himself.” As for Professor Haldane, though he quotes Aquinas in the clearest possible terms, he cannot for Mr. Lunn be anything but “uninstructed and amateurish.”104 This is the last and favorite resort of the clergy when they are questioned too closely: their questioners simply don’t understand; they are “uninstructed and amateurish.” Unless you accept our interpretation of the texts, the layman is told, you obviously do not understand them. And if you don’t understand them, you have no right to question our interpretation of them!
And so the layman is put in his place. The guarded degree, the closed corporation, the technical vocabulary, these are the inner redoubt, the inviolable stronghold of usurped authority. Locked safe within the massive and forbidding walls of institution and formality lies what the Egyptians called “the King’s secret,” the secret of controlling the past.
“. . . As Far as It Is Translated Correctly.”
After all has been said about the art of selecting, censoring, rewriting, and interpreting the records of the past, the fact remains that the greatest opportunity for exercising control over the documents lies not in these mechanical chores but in the business of translating the strange and unfamiliar idioms in which the texts are written. As Joseph Smith knew so well, next to revelation it is language that holds the key to the past. This key is worth a brief examination here.
The writers of fantastic fiction often overlook the very obvious. We have yet to learn of any creation of theirs that has surpassed in boldness of conception or economy of operation that astounding device by which the human race has throughout its history been able to preserve the very thoughts of men and transmit them through unlimited expanses of time and space. Writing is a thoroughly artificial thing—no more a product of evolution than feathers or water or algebra are. It is hard to believe that the first systems of writing that arose almost simultaneously in Egypt, Sumer, Elam, and India (all these cultures being at that time in contact with each other) were each invented independently or brought forth in response to the needs of the business world.105 For though writing may have been suggested by such useful mnemonic devices as property marks and tallies,106 busy practical people have always got along supremely well without it. Like the calendar—long supposed to have been the invention of farmers, who of all people are the least dependent on the fixed and rigid setting of days107—writing is only useful in everyday life because everyday uses have been found for it. But the businessman, however capable he may be in other things, often becomes awkward and self-conscious when he tries to write correctly, embarrassingly aware that he is handling a medium that is strange to his calling.
Though writing is as old as history, practical people have never yet got used to it, but like the generality of mankind have persisted in viewing it as a sort of magic, an affected and artificial thing, an ornamental accomplishment designed for ostentation rather than for use. It is inconceivable that true writing was ever devised as a tool for these people, let alone by them. The really marvelous things that writing does, the astounding feats of thought-stimulation, thought-preservation, and thought-transmission for which it has always been valued by a small and specialized segment of society, “the scribes,” are of no interest to practical people: business records, private letters, school exercises, and the like are periodically consigned to the incinerator by clerks and merchants to whom eternal preservation and limitless transmission mean nothing. The contents of such documents from the beginning show a complete unawareness, almost a visible contempt, for the real capabilities and uses of writing. It is another and equally ancient type of document that knows how to prize the true merit of the written word, and it is easy to surmise that this wonderful device came to the human family as a gift from parties unknown whose intent was that it should assist the race in a sort of cosmic bookkeeping. At any rate, that actually is the principal use to which the instrument has been put since the beginning of that history which it alone has made possible.
One might as well argue that the brace and bit was invented as a crude tool for scratching leather and later discovered to be useful for boring holes in wood as to maintain that writing was conceived as a means of keeping track of heads of beef and measures of grain by people who later discovered that far more wonderful and significant things could be done with it. The great Seal of England can be used to crack nuts with—a simple, practical, primitive operation, suggesting a very plausible origin—but it also has other uses. The earliest uses of writing for the keeping of accounts are in temple records, sacred things; and right along with them go the ritual texts, with an equal claim to antiquity and a far greater claim to the attention of those priests who have always been the peculiar custodians of the written word. From the beginning the written words were the divine words, the mdw ntr.108
To state it briefly, we find writing from the first used for two kinds of bookkeeping: for terrestrial business it is not really necessary—in fact, such masters of this field as Commodore Vanderbilt found themselves better off without it; but for celestial business it is indispensable. Which, then, is the more likely to have produced it? Every indication points to the temple.
And what an instrument! By its operation we know not only what men saw and heard and did and said three and four thousand years ago, but actually what they also thought and felt. The most delicate nuances and fleeting impulses of the mind have outlasted the enormous Cyclopean foundations of world-ruling cities, and where twenty-ton blocks may have vanished without a trace, the dreams, hopes, and surmises of the fragile people who lived among them remain as fresh and clear as ever, available to the modern world in almost embarrassing abundance. Embarrassing, because this inestimable treasure lies neglected, even by those regiments of professional humanists who claim to be its custodians.
The cause of this neglect is to be found in the peculiar nature of the instrument. Our thought-transmission machine is the simple and economical apparatus it is by virtue of being at the same time an exceedingly sensitive one. The price of the thing is nominal in this age of great libraries and microfilming, but its effectiveness depends entirely on the skill and understanding with which it is operated. True writing is not picture writing; to receive its message the reader himself must be very specially adjusted. And when such a reader takes it upon himself to convey to others the words of the ancients, he himself becomes a part of the transmission machine—its most vital element, in fact. As far as the general public is concerned, the effectiveness of the miraculous and age-old machine for thought-transmission depends entirely on the man who is operating it.
All the documents of antiquity without exception are written in languages that no one speaks today. What an opportunity this offers for controlling the past! In the field of translation the scope and ambition of operations are simply staggering. The ancient writer and the modern reader—producer and consumer of history respectively—are alike at the mercy of a tyrannical middleman without whose express permission not one word can be conveyed from the past to the present. This serious situation demands a moment’s attention. Let us consider briefly the crippling disadvantages of trying to study church history through the medium of translations.
The Follies of Translation
Folly Number One—Destroying the Clues: Every page of any ancient text is a densely compact, all but solid mass of elaborately interwoven clues. No two people react the same way to these clues, and no one person reacts the same way to them twice. Yet a translation, no matter how good, is only one man’s reaction to the clues at one time of his life. The most famous and successful translation in the English language is Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat. Fitzgerald’s, not Omar Khayyam’s, for though Fitzgerald translated the whole thing again and again, producing a different Omar each time, Fitzgerald was never satisfied that any of his poems was Omar’s. The translator is like an officious detective who hands us his written report of the case but refuses to let us see the evidence for ourselves. Granted that the constable is smarter than we are and more experienced at his business, still we want to see the clues for ourselves, for in them lie the charm, challenge, and instruction of the game. In the place of a teeming, living complex of hints and suggestions which is the original text the translator gives us, as he must, only a limited number of certitudes—his certitudes, not the author’s—and whatever fails to attract his attention and elicit his response is left unrecorded. Thus the door is closed to any critical study of any text in translation, and we have the well-known dictum that the completest critical commentary on a text is a translation of it, or in other words, that a translation is not a text at all but only a commentary on it: after the translator has given us his views there is nothing more to say. He places before us his own handiwork from which all possible interpretations but his own have been removed.
Folly Number Two—Opinions for Evidence: There are two things that no translation can convey, namely what the author said and how he said it. At the beginning of his book on the translation of Greek and Latin, Wilamowitz-Moellendorf gives a well-nigh perfect definition of a translation: “A translation is a statement in the translator’s own words of what he thinks the author had in mind.” He cannot, of course, state what the author actually had in mind, for only the author knows that; nor can he report what the author said he had in mind, for the author has already done that; he can, as Wilamowitz assures us, only tell us in his own language what he thinks the author is trying to convey.
This means that any translation is at best only an opinion—one man’s opinion of what another man had in mind. Now the importance of ancient documents as a whole lies in their value as evidence, the evidence on which we must build the whole story of the human race. But an opinion is not evidence. It is not admissible in the court of scholarship for the same reason that it is not admissible in a court of law, because it always contains a conclusion of the witness. We may not ask A for B’s testimony—only B can speak for B, and when Professor Shorey pompously entitles a book by himself What Plato Said he is officiously interposing his own person between Plato and the reader, offering himself, like an insinuating dragoman, as interpreter for one of the most marvelously articulate men who ever lived—whether Plato wants him or not.
Only a perfect translation is ever acceptable as evidence in any situation, for if it is anything short of absolutely perfect, how can we be sure at any given moment that the translator has not slipped up? But can there be a perfect translation? How would it deal with double meanings and puns of which the ancients were so fond? Or how should it convey something which the original writer had no intention of telling us? For the student of the past the great value and charm of many a text lies in what it reveals without the author’s knowledge, as when the terminology of the philosophers unconsciously reveals their social backgrounds and prejudices. The old writings are like questionnaires which have been filled out by the subjects with sly intent to deceive, unaware as they are that their every word tells the skilled investigator something about themselves which they do not wish told. But a translation should report, according to Wilamowitz, only what the translator thinks the author had in mind, that is, what he wanted to convey. This rule is terribly confining, but it can’t be broken, for if a translator is allowed to introduce into a writing what the author neither had in mind nor said in so many words, there is no limit to what he might read into a text, setting forth as actual statements of the original what is to be detected only by an interpretation of clues. The translator has no right to go beyond the writer’s intent; but the reader of an original is bound by no such obligation—there is no limit to the things that the text might legitimately convey to him. This is no mere rationalization: the experience of any teacher of the classics will confirm the observation, made with wonder and amazement by each succeeding generation, that every reading of an ancient author is a new experience full of the most surprising discoveries.
Folly Number Three—The Substitute Flavor: The commonest objection to translations is that they lose much of the “flavor” of the original. Though that is by no means the worst charge against them, it is a serious one, for the “flavor” is not merely weakened or denatured by translation, it is usually destroyed altogether, and in its place is submitted something far different and almost always far inferior. That is because the commonly translated works of antiquity are those of high literary merit, while the men who do the translating are almost always those of low literary gifts. There is a saying in England that translation is the lazy scholar’s refuge. The more feeble, unoriginal, and unenterprising the mind, the more easily and naturally it falls into the vice of simply translating the text that it has been taught to construe since childhood. Thus most translations are made by the last men in the world who should be allowed to make them—academic drones who render the text in a stilted and artificial classroom jargon no matter who is speaking in it.
The verses which a translator puts down in and under the name of a great poet can never be greater than his own verses would be. True, he may be working under the powerful and constant stimulation of the glorious page at his elbow; but the example and inspiration of the original, while they may give him the uncontrollable urge to compose matchless poetry, can, alas! never give him the ability to do so. If it could, America would have produced as many immortal bards as it has professors of English.
But if dullness is a common defect of translators, even genius can be a danger. For if it is unfair of a translator to do a worse job than the original poet, it is both unfair and unkind of him to do a better! The only solution is for the translator to be just as great a poet—no more, no less—as the man he is translating. And what are the chances of that ever happening? And if it did, the result would be not two versions of the same poem, but simply two poets writing on the same theme. Homer was to the Greeks and all who followed the poet, the greatest master of poetic language the world has known. Yet though poets have read and translated him in every age, to this day the only readable Homer in English is not poetry at all but prose—literally Homer with Homer left out!
Folly Number Four—The Illusion of the Literal Translation: “He who translates a verse quite literally is a liar,” is the rabbinical rule.109 If two words in two different languages had exactly the same meaning in all contexts, then it would be possible to translate the one by the other in any operation. But it is almost impossible to find two words in any two languages that have this perfect one-to-one relationship! Nothing could be more obvious than that the Latin “in,” for example, is the same as our word “in”; yet at least half the time it is impossible to translate the one “in” by the other. For a literal translation every word in one language would require a word that matched it perfectly in the other. But the meanings of words in different languages do not coincide snugly; they only overlap loosely in limited areas; for example, “to follow” may mean to accompany, to pursue, to understand another, to succeed, to come after, to chase, to obey another, etc. All these ideas overlap with the idea of following. So when a recently found ancient Christian manuscript says that miracles come after faith, and are not meant for the unbelieving, it is an easy thing for the modern translator to take the sting out of the passage by rendering “come after” (tabat) as “accompany,” because in some cases it can mean that.110 If he is taken to task for the obvious perversion of the meaning, the translator need only point with wide-eyed innocence to the dictionary, where, sure enough, “follow” does mean “accompany.” Because words only overlap in meaning, the most “literal” translation can be completely misleading.
In dealing with contemporary languages something like a one-to-one relationship may be detected in limited areas, such as sports and science. Today an Arabic, Greek, Russian, English, and French newspaper will all dutifully report that a meeting is going to “take place” at such and such a time, though the expression “take place” is not native to any of those languages but one. Still they all use it, for they speak an international idiom, the sophisticated language of world civilization. This was as true two thousand years ago as it is today, and every student has wondered why Greek and Latin seem so much alike—almost like one language with two alphabets—though fundamentally they are as different from each other as they are from English. Professor Albright has commented often on the amazing uniformity of the languages of four thousand years ago—they too had their own peculiar world-idiom. 111 As Spengler observed, it is civilizations, not cultures, that keep records (alle Geschichte ist Stadtgeschichte); hence the language of the records is the language of civilization and at any given time reflects a fairly uniform equipment of ideas and things, which makes the translation of contemporary languages into each other comparatively mechanical and reliable.
It is when we want to translate between languages separated by a gap of thousands of years or even a few centuries that the trouble begins. So completely does any one-to-one relationship vanish between languages that reflect widely different cultures that it may be necessary to translate one line of a text by a whole page or a page by a single line!112 So much for “literal” translation. Where a synthetic language must be translated into an analytic one or vice versa, the idea of literal translation is completely annihilated, and the experts often declare any translation at all to be out of the question. A passage from Dieterici shows what we are up against:
In sentence structure the Semites employ short, disconnected utterances, expressed only by fits or starts, which reflect the subjective concept only in the most brief and sketchy form. The Indogermanic languages on the other hand move in well-ordered, easily-unfolding periods. The Semitic sentence is but the immediate reflection of a subjective idea (Affekt), it is only an opinion; the Indogermanic insists on the identity of the thought conveyed with actual reality. . . . At the institution of the sacrament, Christ cannot possibly have said anything but “this: my blood, this: my flesh,” and no one present could possibly have misunderstood him. . . .
Such a nominal sentence (the usual thing in Semitic) is utterly untranslatable into Greek without the word “esti” (is) which of course in the original language never existed.113
Yet on that esti rests the whole doctrine of transubstantiation. At the Marburg disputation Luther, it is said, silenced the opposition by writing upon the table with a piece of chalk: Hoc est corpus meum, with all the emphasis on the est, a word which in the language of Jesus had no equivalent! Only to one writing Latin do the fine theological distinctions between est, ens, essens, essentia, esse, etc., have a real, if any, significance, and when M. Gilson triumphantly defines God at the end of his search as “the pure act of being,” he is uttering what, to vast numbers of the human race—in whose languages “being” is not an act at all and often does not even exist as a verb—would be the purest nonsense. The Latin fathers often express regret that the impossibility of rendering Greek expressions into Latin makes it impossible for them to convey a clear conception of the Godhead.114
Folly Number Five: The Search for Shortcuts: Most of the energy and determination that should go into surmounting the language barrier between us and the past is at present being expended in ingenious efforts to circumvent it. A widespread recognition of the limitations of translation has, for example, produced a continual outpouring of bilingual editions, with the original text on one page and the English facing it on the other. Such texts are a pernicious nuisance: if one can read the original, the translation is an impertinence, if not, the original is a rebuke. But worst of all the double text is a fiendish design for crippling the mind. No one ever knows any language as well as his own, and when confronted by two texts the eye, following the law of least resistance, will infallibly gravitate to the more familiar idiom. I defy the best scholar alive to spend a week with a Loeb text without losing a good deal of his confidence and independent judgment, for the ready translation constantly anticipates and thereby conditions all one’s reactions to the clues.
Then there are special handbooks and courses designed to reduce the language barrier to a minimum by confining all effort to an assault on one single book, typical offerings being Biblical Aramaic, New Testament Greek, Homeric Greek, Legal Latin, etc. In these special courses, special grammars and special dictionaries, we are told just what the text is going to say before we read it. If it does not say just that for us, we have learned our lesson badly. But if we know exactly what the original text is going to tell us before we open it, why bother to open it at all? We are told exactly how to react to every word, when the whole purpose of our study is to enjoy an independent reaction.
Hardly much better are standard grammars and dictionaries. They can get the student started on his way, but they accompany him only the first few steps of his journey. The excellence of the great scholars of the Renaissance and after, lay in their early discovery that there is no such thing as the correct dictionary meaning of a word. For the most part, grammars and lexicons are loaded dice: they are tipoffs on the clues, preconditioning the reader and precluding independent reaction to the text. Professor Gardiner shows us the limitation of all mechanical helps when he explains why the translation of Egyptian is so hard:
The meaning of the large majority of the words employed is either already known, or else can be elicited through comparison with other examples; but not the precise nuances of meaning, only the kind of meaning, its general direction and its approximate emotional quality. . . . The only basis we can have for preferring one rendering to another, when once the exigencies of grammar and dictionary have been satisfied—and these leave a large margin for divergencies—is an intuitive appreciation of the trend of the ancient writers’s mind. A very precarious basis, all will admit.115
If language followed natural laws, then the area of intuition might be reduced to nothing and a machine for perfect translation be devised. But one of the greatest charms of language is that it may be used waywardly, wantonly, whimsically, ironically, subtlely, inanely, or literally to any degree which a writer chooses—and it is the greatest masters of language that take the most liberties with it. The very purpose of literature is to annihilate boredom, and for most people the rules of grammar are a bore. The rigid rules of grammar infallibly suggest naughty tricks to the creative mind, which loves to crack the mold of usage upon which the whole regularity of language depends. And once the genius has struck off in a new direction the million promptly and gladly follow him, and in their dogmatic, unimaginative way turn the new grammatical felony into a law of grammar.116 Thus in an endless antiphonal the spirit rebukes the letter, and the letter checks the spirit, and by the time the machine has caught up with the mind, the mind is already two jumps ahead of it.
This endless game effectively disqualifies another device by which students have hoped to circumvent the language obstacle. This is the study of linguistics. The arbitrariness of language makes all the general laws subject to change without notice. In linguistics one is everlastingly discovering and demonstrating the two principles, (1) that people are very conservative, and (2) that in spite of that, rules do get broken. If the human race were absolutely conservative, we could have reliable rules of language.117 But fortunately the very men and women who take the most liberties with language are those who have the most influence upon it: The people who make the rules are the people who break them.
A belated attempt to remove the language barrier is the invention of simplified languages, such as basic English, and of new international idioms such as Esperanto, Volapuk, and Interlingua. These languages prove what we should have known long ago: that the languages men speak today are much harder than they ever need to be, that people like it that way, and that they find language devoid of challenge to be tasteless to the point of nausea. After all, language, as its name tells us, is something that is on the tongue—it must have flavor, and a body, or we spit it out. This was even truer in ancient times: “What the evidence suggests,” writes Lord Raglan, “is that the originators, not of language but of all known languages, were people of acute and fertile minds who took a pride and a pleasure in working out complex grammatical systems, systems which merely as a means of communication are quite unnecessary.”118 We may find such artificiality regrettable, but let us not forget that all language is artificial—there is no rule in speech, any more than there is in music; genius must work with instruments that nature alone has created.
The language of Homer, Vergil, the Eddas, and the Qasidas is pure professional jargon, about as artificial as a thing can be. While the evolutionists think of language as a tool, the human race itself resents functionalism in language as it does in dress.
The value of a language is not to be measured by its efficiency: The greatest languages are the hardest. The operation of a hard grammatical apparatus requires a certain minimum of mental effort, even of those who have grown up with the language (does the fact that English is our mother tongue make the spelling of English easy for us?); it guarantees a degree of cerebration which easier languages do not. The mere statement of a thing in some languages is a mental challenge. The Romans envied the superior difficulty of Greek and did their best to make their own language like it. Their writings display a conscious mental effort which they positively enjoyed and which is the chief stimulus of Latin to this day—one never misses a sense of exercise, of stretching one’s mental muscles, which is disturbingly lacking in some less vertebrate languages. Looking at a page of Latin one can readily see that almost every word has a familiar root and that the story might be very simply and easily told in Spanish or French. Yet superimposed over the whole page, like a complicated template over a map, is a grammatical pattern so laborious and arbitrary that the best scholars must spend hours trying to figure out simple sentences. And this tough and annoying apparatus is entirely unnecessary. It shows us that language does more than fill a need for elementary communication. It is mankind’s other world, a dream world, the playing field, the parade ground, the shady retreat, the laboratory, the theater, the forum, the mirror of the cosmos; we must allow it infinite scope and infinite ambition. Along with that it is also a tool, a means of communication of man not only with his fellows but also with himself. This takes us:
Beyond the Gadgets
Today we have machines that do most of our calculations for us. IBM machine “702” is now ready to take over all the functions of accounting and book-keeping in a world which lives by those disciplines.119 At a total of only six percent of present capital outlay, it is estimated, all the big industry of the United States could be operated almost entirely by mechanical controls. Three cheers! What a machine can do, that a machine should do. But what remains for us? Science without gadgets! That we can do some things that no machine can or conceivably ever could do—therein lies our true dignity and destiny as human beings. The checking and ushering and bookkeeping, all the automatic and repetitious things that make up the day’s work for most modern men, have no business being done by living people; some day they may be done as they should be, by machines, and then men can really get down to business.
Yet for most of us such a prospect is simply terrifying. The busy-work that rightfully belongs to the machine is the refuge of the timid mind, and it is to the gadgetry of scholarship—the pretentious secretarial tasks of compiling, annotating, copying, checking, abridging, and the rest—that the academic world clings today with a sort of desperation. Regiments of workers equipped with costly machinery are busy searching out, digging up, acquisitioning, classifying, cataloging, preserving, reproducing, disseminating, explaining, displaying, and even selling the documents of the past—doing every conceivable thing with the documents but reading them! They are waiting for the reading machine that will never come. Three hundred and fifty years ago Joseph Scaliger could read more ancient texts and comprehend what he read more clearly than any scholar in the world today. Scientists can stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, but not humanists. The latest text in astronomy supersedes and supplants whole shelves of earlier textbooks, but the humanist must start with his ABCs and read on, page by page, through the very same literature that Casaubon and Lipsius had to wade through centuries ago. Summaries, condensations, and translation will help him not at all, for they are only opinions and bound to be out of date. A rapid skimming of the stuff is out of the question. What a joyful thing to contemplate—the one boundless task left to man in the universe!120
During the past century repeated attempts have been made to handle the vast and ever-growing bulk of stuff bequeathed us by the ancients by certain ingenious experiments in repackaging. Against a roar of protest Lord Acton introduced the study of history at Cambridge, but this did not reduce but only added to the amount of materials to be handled by the conscientious student. Today ambitious men would grasp the whole message of the human record by repackaging it in this or that social science: the packages are impressively tied and labeled—but there is very little in them, and nothing of the original source material that makes up the vast preponderance of the field notes and lab notes of the human race. A new school of archaeology is trying to grasp the same prize, claiming that they can discover the past simply by looking at pictures—which is much easier than reading texts. Leading archaeologists are loudly deploring this tendency, which is bound to become as popular as it is futile. While any text may be meaningful without pictures (though illustrations are always welcome), no picture can convey its real meaning without reference to some text: to abolish the text is to abolish archaeology, and to abolish the original language is to abolish the text. The glamorous package, a great aid to salesmanship, has no place in scholarship: it will do nothing either to surmount or circumvent the language barrier.
But you can’t expect people to learn scores of languages to be able to survey the past! They don’t need to. It is one of the delightful compensations to the student willing to go the hard way that Providence, as if taking pity on his plight and concerned lest the staggering accumulations of the past go neglected in an inextricable maze of hundreds of forgotten languages, had removed the difficulty by a most marvelous device: the world language.
One wishing to study twentieth century world civilization could do so knowing one language alone—English—and he would pretty well have to know that. But English still has serious competitors as a world language, and it has only been on top for forty years. Imagine, then, how important our language would be if it had been the only world language, without competitors, for a thousand years! What if for ten centuries everything of any importance that was thought or said in the western world had to be said and written down in English. Well, for a thousand years Latin actually was the one language of the West, while at the same time Arabic ruled the East. And before that for another thousand years—the most creative period of all—Greek was the common world language of East and West. And before that for yet another thousand years, a common Semitic idiom was the learned and diplomatic language of the world. The greatest and most significant works of the human mind, as well as the smallest and most insignificant efforts of the schoolmen, are almost all recorded in a few languages, and the records of the past run not into innumerable linguistic puddles to be searched out and correlated but are conveniently channeled into a few vast, all-inclusive reservoirs. This should make it clear why a knowledge of certain languages is absolutely indispensable to any serious study of the past, and why their neglect has led to a serious crippling of all our efforts to get a convincing picture of what men have really been doing and thinking through the ages. The gadgets will never answer that question for us.
But if scholarship is not a slide-rule science, it has certain controls which any science might envy. Antiquity is a romantic study; it has an irresistible appeal to the glamor hunter and the poseur; everybody wants to get into the act. The result is a chaos of clashing ambitions and waspish tempers, with amateurs and “professionals” everlastingly accusing each other of stupidity and humbug. Without a governor the humanities get completely and quickly out of hand. But in language we have perfect control: The man who can read off the ancient text you place before him is not likely to be an irresponsible crackpot. The rigid check on the scholar does not lie in the judgment of his fellows—scholars band easily together into groups and schools and conform their thinking to that of prevailing movements with notorious servility—the perfect teacher of virtue is the text itself. The scholar with an ancient text before him may do with it as he chooses: He may insert any vowels he pleases if it is in a Semitic language; he may divide up consonants into whatever groups catch his fancy; he may punctuate to taste; he may give any word, allegorically, any meaning he wants to; in short, he can cheat to his heart’s content. But how far will it get him? Every wrong and wilful reading must be supported by another one: If one word is arbitrarily treated, the next must be beaten into conformity with it, and the resulting sentence, all wrong, must match the next sentence, and so on. With every wrong reading the student gets himself deeper into the mud; the farther he carries the game the more humiliating it becomes; with every new syllable his position becomes more intolerable and the future more threatening. In the end he gives up and starts all over again—the text, unaided and alone, has won the day.
The more one considers the power of the written word, the more miraculous it appears. The determined and desperate efforts to control it which we have been describing are a remarkable tribute to its uncanny capacity to convey the truth regardless of designing men. Within the last decade a few simple scrolls have successfully overcome the solid and determined opposition of scholarly consensus and shattered all the fondest beliefs and firmest preconceptions of church historians. Church history must now be written all over again and it is to the most vital questions of that fascinating subject that we must now turn our attention.
In times of world crisis and widespread calamity, those churchmen who normally exhibit a bland and easy confidence in the assured and inevitable triumph of Christianity through the ages find themselves pressed by the force of events to ask questions and indulge in reflections which in better times are left strictly alone. We have suggested already that the key to conventional church history is its fair-weather determination not to face up to certain unpleasant, nay, alarming possibilities, in particular the proposition that the church of Christ did not survive in the world long after the Apostles.
But today, as at other moments of great upheaval, such authorities, Catholic and Protestant, as D. Busy, Bardy, A. G. Herbert, and F. A. M. Spencer are moved to remind us that, after all, Christianity has never come anywhere near either converting or saving the world. Instead of the moral reform which the fourth-century fathers promised with such confidence, if the empire would only turn officially Christian, came a disastrous deterioration of morals; instead of world peace (also promised), world war; instead of prosperity, economic collapse; instead of the promised intellectual certainty, violent controversy; instead of faith, speculation and doubt; instead of tolerance and love, ceaseless polemic and persecution; instead of trust in God, cynicism and power politics. The world once Christianized not only remained barbarian, but became also more and more barbaric as it passed from one century of Christian tutelage to the next. Contemporary scholars freely admit, since they can’t deny it, that something went very wrong. A. G. Herbert, a Catholic writer, now even goes so far as to declare that defeat, not victory, is “the hall-mark of authenticity” for the church of Christ on earth.
So much being conceded, the only question is not whether God would allow his church to suffer—he has allowed it—but how far he would allow things to go? Some Christians when pressed will allow that the rule of evil reached the point of almost complete extermination for the church on earth; this is the Baptist “trial of blood” theory—that the church has been reduced from time to time to an almost imperceptible trickle but never allowed to go out entirely. The last inch, of course, they cannot concede, for that would be fatal to all their claims. To save at least the tattered remnants of the true church, modern claimants fall back on three main arguments. The first is the perfectly irrelevant “gates of hell” passage (Matthew 16:18), which we shall discuss later. The second is what they like to call “the simple fact” that the church has, for all its setbacks and troubles, persisted in the world unintermittently for nigh onto two thousand years. This is worth a moment’s thought.
Actually that statement of survival merely assumes what it claims to prove, namely that whatever has come through so many centuries must be the true church. But the fact that churches (never just one, and usually many) calling themselves Christ’s have been found on the earth in every century since the apostles is no proof in itself that all or any of those churches really were Christ’s. After all, did not the Lord himself predict a time when there would be many groups bearing his name and saying, “Lo, here is Christ, or there!” and did not he warn that at such a time none of those professing Christians would be authorized? (Matthew 24:23.) As the so-called Apostolic Fathers and the early apologists never tire of repeating, the name of Christian does not guarantee the Lord’s approval of recognition of the individual or society bearing it, nor does its presence in the earth prove at any time that Christ’s church has survived. So though we find in every age churches claiming to be the true heirs of the apostles, and though we are under obligation to investigate them all, we are by no means bound to accept any one of them simply because it is big or old—least of all, simply because it exists. Athanasius says the argument of bigness is preposterous; Justin Martyr says the argument of antiquity is vicious. The argument of mere existence is the weakest of all, when at no time since Christ have there failed to be numbers of Christian churches all damning each other as impostors.
The third argument, usually delivered in shocked and outraged tones, is that God simply would not allow a complete dissolution of his church. “Can God fail?” cried an angry priest to the writer, with a great show of indignation. Well, God has “failed” to give the earth two moons or equip the human race with gold teeth—but is that failure? One can speak only of failure where an intended aim is not achieved; where desirable things are dispensed with, that is not failure but policy. “How often” would God have done things for the people—”and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37.) To learn what God’s intention and policy are in the matter, we must consult not our own common sense or emotions but the statements of his prophets: “My ways are not your ways!” The ancient pagans loved to charge the Christians with believing in a God who was either immoral because he knowingly allowed the existence of evil or weak because he could not prevent it. Their logical minds could not conceive how anything could happen in a universe ruled by an omnipotent God which was not the immediate and consummate expression of that God’s desire and intention. Those Christians are guilty of the same vanity and impetuosity who insist that because they just can’t see the point in taking the church from the earth, God would be foolish and unjust—a failure—if he permitted it. The solution of the problem lies not in men’s feelings on a subject on which they are necessarily very ill-informed, but in God’s expressed intention in the matter. Fortunately the New Testament contains full and explicit information.
The Three Acts of the Drama:—First of all, Christ knew and explained to others the nature and outcome of his own mission: what his purpose was in coming to earth, how he would be received here, and what would happen after he left. These points are all touched upon in a single parable—the only parable in the Bible to which the Lord himself has left us a full explanation. The parable might be called a drama in three acts. Act One is the Lord’s earthly mission, in which he likens himself “unto a man which sowed good in his field” (Matthew 13:24, 37), the field being the world, (Matthew 13:38). In Act Two the villain enters: “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat” (Matthew 13:25), and as a result the crop was spoiled: “when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also” (Matthew 13:26). This sorry state of things, with wheat and tares indistinguishably mixed together, does not represent the state of the church, for we are explicitly told that the ruined field is the world, in which the good seed (“the children of the kingdom”) have not yet been brought together (Matthew 13:27–30). This time of confusion is a long one, lasting “until the harvest,” which is Act Three, entitled “the end of the world” (Matthew 13:39). Here everything is set to rights again, and the wheat is finally gathered together out of the world and “into my barn” (Matthew 13:30). “A gathering out” happens to be the very meaning of the world ekklesia—”church.” In the settling of accounts in the last act the tares are bound in bundles for the burning, and “then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43; italics added), “so shall it be at the end of this world” (Matthew 13:40). It is a happy ending, indeed, but a delayed one: first the Lord, then the adversary, who is the devil (Matthew 13:39), and finally the Lord again.
The parable of the vineyard tells the same story. In Act One we learn that the master of the vineyard, having been detained in a far country, has in the past sent many servants—the prophets—to receive the fruit at the hand of those he had left in charge; but his messengers have all been roughly treated and thrown out. Now he has decided to send his Beloved Son, saying, “it may be they will reverence him” (Luke 20:13; Matthew 21:37). But in the Second Act we see the Son treated even worse than the others, cast out of the vineyard and slain by villainous men who say, “Let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance . . . “; “let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Matthew 21:38; Luke 20:14). So they claim the vineyard for their own and remain in possession until Act Three, when the lord of the vineyard comes to destroy the impostors and turns the vineyard over to authorized workers (Luke 20:16). It is the same three-act theme as the other parable: first the Lord’s work, then the triumph of the impostor, finally the return and triumph of the Lord.
The first two of these acts are the legitimate subject of church history, since the third either has not happened yet or opens with the restoration of the gospel, which conventional church history does not recognize. Let us consider the major steps of the drama as far as the New Testament is concerned. First of all, the Lord came into the world knowing full well that he and his message would be rejected: even as Elias had come “and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them” (Matthew 17:12); “for from the days of John the Baptist [Elias] . . . the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). At the outset of his mission he was met by “two possessed with devils,” who recognized him for what he was and hailed him as the Son of God, with the request that he leave them alone and not torment them “before the time” (Matthew 8:28–29). Immediately thereafter a whole city of mortal men followed the lead of those evil spirits “and besought him that he would depart out of their coasts” (Matthew 8:34). Neither devils nor men would accept his preaching nor did he expect them to:
Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. . . .
And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
Which of you convinceth me of sin? And, if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
. . . because ye are not of God (John 8:43–47).
He expected only hatred from a world who came to testify of it “that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7.) “I know you,” he said to his hearers, “that ye have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), for truly “he knew all men.” He made no effort to wheedle, persuade, or meet the world halfway. Said his enemies:
Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21).
If Jerusalem refused to be gathered to him, no matter how often he would have gathered them, he would not force them (Matthew 23:37). If his hometown people put no faith in him, he could do not mighty works for them (Mark 6:5; Matthew 14:2). If they wanted to go so far as to “kill the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:15), even then he would not resist them (James 5:6).
Either we have here a very weak character or else he has definite reasons for his behavior. The reason and purpose of his preaching he makes very clear; like the other prophets, he has been sent as a witness by the Father: “We speak what we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness” (John 3:11). “And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony” (John 3:32). As in the days of Noah, the witness was given and rejected:
The world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not (John 1:10–11).
Even as their ancestors did not believe in Moses, “ye also have seen me, and believe not” (John 6:36); “for neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:5). “The world cannot receive the spirit of truth” (see John 14:17). Why then bother to preach it? The answer is clear: “For judgment I am come into this world” (John 9:39)—that judgment to take place at a later date; “the Father . . . hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22), but during his earlier mission he did not judge. Men are free to accept or reject him as they will: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
“He that rejecteth me . . . hath one that judgeth him [lit. “one to judge him”]: the word I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:47–48). No judgment now, but “in the last day.” “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,” writes Paul (1 Corinthians 4:5), “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (italics added). The time of Christ and the apostles was not to be the time of judgment, but of testing; without the opportunity of freely accepting or rejecting, there could be no judgment: “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24; italics added). That was the purpose of his preaching to them—to give them the chance, not to convert them no matter what—”That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? . . .
“Therefore they could not believe” (John 12:38–41); “their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matthew 13:15). The world is not going to be converted, but it is going to be judged. The first act of the drama is all a preparation, not for the second act, but for the last one—the second coming and the judgment; on that time and event all the apostles fix their gaze as the reward and vindication of all they are doing. In between lies the dark and dismal interlude of the second act about which the Lord and the apostles have a great deal to say.
Having been as completely as possible rejected by the world—cast out of the vineyard and slain—the Lord was to depart thence and leave the stage clear to the adversary for the gloomy second act. This is a long period in which people go about seeking the Lord in vain and falsely but loudly proclaiming themselves to be the true heirs of the vineyard. First, the departure of the Lord, in no happy mood: “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you?” (Luke 9:41). He is going to rise up and “shut the door” (see Luke 13:25). “The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast” (Matthew 9:15). “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30).
Then, surprisingly enough, once he is gone, everyone, the wicked as well as the righteous, will desire Christ and seek after him—but in vain. Just as the wicked world venerated the prophets and painted their tombs after they had been safely put to death (Matthew 23:29–33), so they would worship Christ—at a safe distance.
Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come (John 7:33–34). I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come (John 8:21). Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you” (John 13:33). The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them (Luke 17:22–23; italics added).
In these speeches the Lord is addressing not the wicked but his followers; even for them the quest will be vain; plainly there are conditions and time limits attached to the promise “Seek and ye shall find,” and “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). In their search they are warned not to follow after any of the groups claiming to be the church—to have found Jesus. Those who are looking admit they have not found him—they are not the church; and all the rest are impostors! Once he has risen up and has shut the door, then all will call upon his name and clamor to be numbered among his followers—but then it will be too late: he will refuse to recognize them (see Luke 13:25–27). “In vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:9) is not a denunciation of idolatry, but of those marching under the banner of Christ. There is a point of no return after which even repentance comes too late, as Esau learned to his sorrow: “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no chance to repent [metanoias topon, ‘place of repentance’], though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). He wants to repent sincerely and makes every effort to be reinstated in his inheritance, but it is too late; he is “rejected” even as those will be rejected who cry “Lord! Lord!” and try to get into the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 7:21). The time is coming when vast numbers shall claim Christ for their own, and when that time comes, “if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23; italics added). And that time is not far off: “the time draweth near [when many shall come in my name]; . . . go ye not therefore after them” (Luke 21:8). It is true, the real church is going to be there for a time, but the story is one of constantly deepening gloom until, to use Polycarp’s famous phrase, after the apostles “the light went out.”
The beautiful and much-quoted words “I am the light of the world” are rarely given in full, since their purpose is to make clear that the light is not going to remain in the world:
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:4–5).
It is not the night of death referred to here (the scripture knows no such expression), but a night that keeps men from doing a particular kind of work—”the works of him that sent me,” the Father’s work, the work of the church. What follows the Lord’s mission is not victory but darkness: “The light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not” (John 1:5).
Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: . . . While ye have light, believe in the light (John 12:35–36).
“And this is the condemnation [literally, ‘the process of judgment’], that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
The Role of the Apostles: But aren’t we forgetting about Christ’s “successors”? A “successor” is one who comes after and takes the place of another. To be a successor it is not enough merely to outlive another or come after him; one must hold his identical office and function. Even a regent is not successor to a king—only a king can be that; when a vice president takes over on the death of a president, he does not become his successor until he, too, is president. The scriptures never call the apostles Christ’s successors; there is only one successor to the Lord mentioned in the Bible, and that is the Holy Ghost, “whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). Here is a true successor, coming expressly to take the Lord’s place: “if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). Sent by the same authority, he will do the very same work, speak the identical words, be a witness for the judgment, and guide the apostles in all things exactly as the Lord had done (John 16:8–15).
As for the disciples, the famous passage in Mark (13:34–37) describes them as servants left behind with authorization to do special jobs: the Lord “left his house, and gave to his servants the authority, to each one his task, and commanded the porter to watch.” There is no mention of supreme authority being given to anyone, but to each the authority for his particular work. The fact that every soldier in the army acts with the authority of the commander-in-chief does not give any one of them the fulness of authority that he possesses. But what about the servants? Were they expected to carry on the work and prosper where the master was rejected?
By no means! “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household” (Matthew 10:25)? “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). The mission of the apostles does not bring about a new and happy turn of events in the drama; where the master has “failed,” we are told not to look for success for the servants: “Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3; Matthew 10:16). He had gone as a lamb to the slaughter; their fate was to be no different. They are repeatedly told that they are to occupy a rear guard position in which they can expect no relief in this world: “I think,” says Paul “that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death” (1 Corinthians 4:9); and he describes the brethren as “the filth of the world, and . . . are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (1 Corinthians 4:13). Are the apostles rejected like the master? They are cast off! Their orders were to endure to the end, and, as Tertullian reminds us,121 there was absolutely no doubt in the mind of any early Christian as to what that meant: to endure to the end meant just one thing, “to suffer the end,” to suffer death. “And ye shall be hated of all men” (Luke 21:17). “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you. But he that endures to the end shall be saved (see Matthew 24:9, 13; italics added).
In that last sentence we are given both the expected outcome and the reward of the apostolic preaching. As he went to his death, Christ said to his apostles, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). His victory was in the resurrection, and in that alone the apostles put all their hope of victory and expectation of reward.
Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, . . . For which cause we faint not (2 Corinthians 4:14, 16).
“Ye shall be betrayed . . . and some of you . . . be put to death. . . .
“But there shall not an hair of your head perish” (Luke 21:16, 18). Paul is more than willing to suffer “the loss of all things, and do count them but dung. . . .
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. . . .
“I press toward the mark for the prize” (Philippians 3:8, 11, 14), the prize being “to know him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). So, at the conclusion of his missionary labors, Paul can claim for his work an unqualified success, and that immediately after noting that things are going to be much worse in the church after his departure (Acts 20:29), that “all they which are in Asia [the bulk of his converts] be turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15), and that in a recent controversy “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:16). In what then does the victory and success consist? “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown . . . which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (2 Timothy 4:8). It never occurs to him or any other apostle that his success is to be measured by the converts he makes. Even spiritual power on this earth was not their objective: “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). That great institution toward which the apostles are striving in no way resembles any later churches: “I appoint unto you a kingdom . . . that he may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, . . . who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21).
The heavenly kingdom, the second coming, the judgment, the resurrection—it is clear what these men were working for. Never once in the days of the early church does anyone so much as hint at great expectations for the church on this earth, never is its future success and glory suggested as a motive for their works or a comfort for their afflictions; even in the midst of the fiercest persecutions when the saints need “strong comfort” no one ever suggests the thought that relief is on the way, that the church will win out in the end, that it is their duty to stick it out so that generations yet unborn may call them blessed (a theme familiar to all of them from the example of pius Aeneas, but never used by the Christians), that they are building up the church which is to fill the earth and save mankind, etc. These are the noisy trumpetings of the fourth century which only make more significant the thundering silence of the earlier period on the future of the church. Either the apostles were remarkably mean and self-centered men, exclusively concerned with their individual salvation and a distant judgment, or else the victory for the church which they steadfastly refuse to promise or even mention and for which they express no yearnings and to which they dedicate no strivings was simply not in the program. When Tertullian122 in a later age, sorely perplexed by the spiritual poverty of the church, tried to comfort himself and quiet his misgivings with the thought that the church could not have been taken from the earth because in that case the martyrs would all have shed their blood in vain, he was forgetting two all-important things: first, that the virtues and sufferings of one man or generation do not accrue automatically to the advantage of another—it is quite possible, as Paul reminds the Galatians, for the church to suffer in vain; and second, that the martyrs have received the only reward they ever thought to get—if one wins eternal life and glory one can hardly be said to have “run in vain”!
The program of the apostles’ mission was the same as that of the Lord’s. Before they ever began to work, they were told that they would be “hated of all men” (Mark 13:13), betrayed and put to death as he was (John 16:2), allowed to preach for a while, but then be thrust out of the synagogues and put to death by pious souls who “think that they are doing God a favor,” even as the “devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, . . . expelled them out of their coasts” (Acts 13:50). “Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive” (Acts 28:26). “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:41). “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
Whence this indomitable optimism—in the belief that the work is going forward and the church growing? Not a word of that: “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also. . . .
“For which cause we faint not. . . . For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us . . . eternal weight of glory;
“While we look not at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: . . . which are . . . eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:14, 16–18).
And what point was there in preaching to a world that would not listen to them? It is the same as with Christ and the prophets: “as it was in the days of Noah,” the gospel of the kingdom was to be “preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14, italics added). First the witness, then the end. “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, . . . and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14–15, italics added). Paul tells us why he bothered to preach to the Jews, who he knew would not hear him, when “he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). To the Gentiles he preached with the same expectations and for the same reason. Though these converts later fell victims to the wolves, turned against him en masse (2 Timothy 1:15), and became his enemies because he told them the truth (Galatians 4:16), he can leave them with the same assurance of “mission accomplished” that he left the Jews: “I know that ye all . . . shall see my face no more. “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 10:25–26). The concern of the apostles is not whether they are believed or not but only whether they bear testimony to all against the day of judgment. Those who hear and reject such a testimony are classed with Sodom and Gomorrah and reserved for “the day of judgment” (Luke 10:12). The apostles are not to judge until they sit on thrones in the kingdom: “Judge nothing before the time until the Lord cometh” (1 Corinthians 4:5) is their instruction.
The apostles were not to spend time overcoming opposition and winning people by long-term programs, as a project of conversion demands; they were rather to bear their testimonies and be on their way in all possible haste. “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11, italics added). The program outlined in Matthew 10 and Luke 9 is not that of founding solid institutions, but of last-minute emergency: “I send you forth as lambs among wolves. . . . Salute no man by the way” (Luke 10:3–4). What is wrong with a purse and scrip, and extra cloak, or overnight visits? Nothing at all, save that there is no time left for the ordinary business and amenities of life, as Paul tells the Corinthians: marriage, mourning, celebrating, business, careers—all that must be forgotten now, for “the time [literally, ‘opportunity’] is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29), “for the fashion [schema: ‘the system’] of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Only for food and lodging were the missionaries to go to individual houses; otherwise, “Go not from house to house” (Luke 10:7), but “in that city that does not receive you, go your ways out into the streets of the same and say: Even the very dust . . . we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Luke 10:10–11). After they have had their chance, the apostles’ business with them is over: “Ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them . . . and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:9–13). “Ye are witnesses for me . . . unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), for “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47–48, italics added).
The Passing of the Church: But even if the apostles were to suffer the same rejection and death as the master, is not the gloom of the “second act” relieved by the survival of the church? What of the “little children” whom they taught? Alas! they are given the same promise of extinction; they, too, are required to “endure to the end” and are given the same comfort and promise—eternal life. “If any man will come after me,” he must lose his life (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35; Luke 9:23–24). The whole church—not just the apostles—are to be partakers in Christ’s sufferings in a physical sense, and receive the incorruptible inheritance “reserved in heaven for you . . . [and] receive the end [reward] of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (see 1 Peter 1:4, 9). “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1). What the saints can look forward to here is necessities, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, and fastings (2 Corinthians 6:4–5). The exhortation to the saints is all for a last-ditch stand; they are to “take . . . the prophets . . . for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience,” with the only hope of relief in the coming of the Lord (see James 5:10). They must work in the limited time they have here, “while it is called Today; . . . For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold . . . unto the end” (Hebrews 3:13–14); “whose house are we, if we hold fast . . . firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6, italics added). When the saints need a “strong consolation” what they get is the assurance that God will reward them if they “hope unto the end” (Hebrews 6:11, 18), not a promise of relief or success or ultimate triumph for the cause.
The saints were not to put up a fight: “My kingdom is not of this world: if [it] were . . . then would my servants fight” (John 18:36). They are to assemble themselves together not for “action” but to await the end—”so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). When the leaders went around “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith,” their specific instructions were “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). These people were already members of the church; it was another kingdom for which they strove. Why is it that none of the apostles wants to make the noble sacrifice and live for the church? Why (later churchmen ask with wonder) did they never bother to write out full instructions for the guidance of the church to come? The “foundation” which Paul lays he emphatically declares to have nothing to do with this world (1 Corinthians 3:10–21). It is all too easy to say with the pagan philosophers and fourth-century theologians that to “leave the world” means only to lay aside the lusts of the flesh. It was Christ who served as the great example in this to the early Christians; all true believers knew that they must “suffer with him [Christ], that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17)—but what can this have to do with turning from lust to philosophy? The Lord never indulged in either.
We learn from the Bible that the end of the church was to come in two ways. The first was the extermination of those who stood fast; that is, as we have seen, the very condition of proving oneself a true saint and winning eternal life, for one had to endure to the end to be saved. For centuries the belief persisted in the church that anyone not put to death for his testimony (martyr means “witness”) had failed to achieve the fullest glory, so emphatic and deep-rooted were the teachings of the early church on the subject. Church members were expected in all confidence to be in the most literal sense “partakers in Christ’s sufferings.”
But what of the rest? What of the vast majority that did not stand fast and “suffer the end”? They continued to profess Christianity, but a Christianity perverted to their own tastes:
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached (2 Corinthians 11:3–4; italics added).
There is no thought in these impostors of renouncing the name and claim of Christians: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).
I marvel that ye are soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that . . . would pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6–7, italics added).
What surprises the apostle in this case is not what is happening, but only that it should be happening so soon. The Lord himself had foretold what would happen:
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect (Matthew 24:24).
Such a deception could be achieved (and the scripture says “they shall deceive”—using the infinitive of result—not “they would if they could”) not by any pagan bluster or anti-Christian propaganda, but only by a very clever imitation of the real thing.
The danger that threatens the masses, according to the apostles, is not the same danger that threatens the true disciples: the latter are to lose their lives and win their glory; but for the rest there is another fate. They will go on as followers of “Jesus,” but it is “another Jesus” they follow. In various ways they “pervert” the truth—not deny it. Some would “depart from the faith” by “forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:1–3); some would be fooled by the false Gnosis (1 Timothy 6:21); some would err from the faith out of “love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10); some would “overthrow the faith of some,” by denying the resurrection (2 Timothy 2:18). But such people do not return to the profession of paganism—they would be horrified at the thought! How much simpler to do it this way:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3–4).
Paul is greatly alarmed at this prospect which he knows is about to be realized: “Take heed . . . unto yourselves, and to all the flock,” he says in his farewell to Ephesus, “over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Here we have a test case: Could one ask for a more perfect assurance of permanence and invulnerability to a church than the pronouncement that it is the “church of God,” that it has been “purchased with his own blood,” and that it is led by the Holy Ghost? Yet this is a solemn writing to take heed,
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things [the “perversion” motive again!], to draw away disciples after them.
Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears (Acts 20:29–31, italics added).
Here we are told that apostolic guidance is to be withdrawn (cf. Galatians 4:18), that as a result the wolves will attack, and that the attack will be successful—the flock enjoys no immunity from such, even though “purchased with his own blood.”
Paul is warning the churches in no spirit of mild fatherly admonition; his is not the calm assurance of later church writers that the church of God cannot fail and all will be well: He knows differently—the salt can lose its savor and be thrown out (Luke 14:34). His alarms have gone on for years, night and day, and with tears:
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain (Galatians 4:11). . . . I stand in doubt of you (Galatians 4:20). . . . Have ye suffered so many things in vain? (Galatians 3:4) . . .
There are contentions among you. . . .
Is Christ divided? . . .
I thank God that I baptized none of you (2 Corinthians 1:11, 13–14).
What kind of winning talk is this? Is not the important thing to get people to join the church in numbers so they can be taught? Apparently Paul does not think so. Where the strong members are concerned we hear of nothing but being put to death, enduring to the end, partaking of Christ’s sufferings, thinking only of the resurrection and hereafter, and counting all things but dross as far as this world is concerned. Where the weak ones are concerned, the prediction is all of perversion, corruption, and betrayal: these are not thrown to the lions; instead (in the words of the Didache) these sheep turn into wolves—but still claim to be sheep. As the Son of Man was betrayed, so would the apostles be: Betrayal is not the work of the heathen—it is an inside job:
And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death (Luke 21:16).
Others died other ways, but the great danger comes from betrayal—the pagans can neither betray nor corrupt nor pervert the gospel; only members can do that. It was the Jews who betrayed and murdered the prophets who later adorned their tombs (Acts 7:52–53).
Recently a Catholic writer has declared: “The failure of the Mormon spokesmen to explain when, where, and how the present Catholic Church was founded exposes the fatal weakness of their accusation,” (i.e., that there was a Great Apostasy). The New Testament is only one of many, many sources that clearly “explain when, where, and how” the Christian church completely changed its nature and the present churches came to be what they are. To speak of a founding in a case like this is silly, since naturally no church claiming to have originated with Christ and the apostles (and they all claim that!) is going to go about proclaiming its foundation in this or that century after Christ! Even the Protestants will not admit a time and place of origin after the apostolic age; they are merely reformers of the old order—new things have been inaugurated from time to time, to be sure, and old things reformed—but it was really the same church all along. Every Christian church claims to go back to the first century: in the third century Origen admits the charge of Celsus, that already the church has long been “divided into sects, each of which claimed that it was the depository of the pure old original form of Christianity passed down from the beginning, while all the others were upstarts and innovators.” Whatever groups emerge from the squabble naturally go on claiming each that it is the one church founded by Christ; but in the horrible confusion of that and the following centuries, what are such claims worth?
“Let me ask,” writes Father Poetzl, “was the Catholic Church established in the 20th century? You must answer ‘No.’ If honest, you must say that the church of today is the continuation of the church which existed in the 19th century. Very well. Was the Church established in the 19th century? . . . The Church of the 19th century was the continuance of the Church of the 18th century. Go back farther, century by century. I defy the Mormon spokesman to name any century in which the Catholic Church was established, any other century than the first.”123 With equal propriety, and using the same words, Father Poetzl might ask: “Was the French language established in the 20th century? You must answer ‘No.’ If honest, you must say that the French of today is the continuation of the French which existed in the 19th century. Very well. Was French established in the 19th century? . . . The French of the 19th century was the continuance of the French of the 18th century. Go back farther, century by century. I defy Mormon spokesmen to name any century in which the French language was established other than the first.” Thus it can be shown that Latin never ceased to exist as the vernacular of Gaul and that the great apostasy from the old Roman tongue which the purists so deplored never took place. It is the same with space as with time. Hugo Schuchardt showed that it is quite impossible to point to any spot, line, or area on the map at which Italian ceases and French begins. Is it Livorno? Milan? Nice? It is none of them or any other area you can name. “Very well,” to follow the logic of Father Poetzl, “how can you possibly maintain that different languages prevail in Paris and Rome? The failure of Mormon spokesmen to show when, where, or how the Italian language was founded is fatal to their argument that spoken Latin disappeared.” And yet it did.
The sophistry of the argument (a typical and shopworn school demonstration) lies in the well-known trick of confining the discussion to two alternatives only, and excluding all other possibilities: either a new church was established or else the old church continued. Only those two situations are considered—”have you stopped beating your mother-in-law”—a third possibility is not allowed. But formal establishment is not the only way to bring a church into being, and continuity by no means proves identity. In history actual establishments are extremely rare, and even then they are but the formal recognition of conditions that already exist, while the continuation of institutions is never without change. It is as if the white-haired Columbus were to argue that his hair was really red since he was born with red hair and no one could name the date or place at which it became white.
Since Newman forced the Catholics to admit (albeit with extreme reluctance) that they have been changing things all along, they have fallen back on the argument that once the church had received divine authority there was no limit to the changes that might be introduced without danger of corruption, since the church had the authority to make the changes. But it was precisely these self-initiated changes in the church that worried the apostles; “They went out from us,” says John of the perverters (1 John 2:19). It is entirely possible for important churchmen of high position (a number are pointed out by name in the New Testament) to “preach another Jesus” and to “pervert the gospel of Christ” and to “corrupt the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17), and to “wrest . . . the . . . scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And it is quite possible for these to enjoy great success and become the leaders of the church after the apostles are gone (2 Timothy 4:2–5). This is the process the apostles and the Lord predicted—and it takes place without any break in historical continuity (the impostors make a great to-do about being the legitimate heirs of the vineyard) and without the establishment of new churches: even Tertullian, the greatest authority of his day on the early church, was fooled into believing that the Montanists were the original church of Christ.
To claim that the true Church is immune to corruption no matter how much it changes is to hold all the warnings of the Lord and the apostles in contempt. They felt no such confidence: “For if God spared not the angels,” what guarantee of immunity can men expect? (2 Peter 2:4–22; Jude 5–11). “For it is impossible,” writes Paul, “for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come . . .” (Hebrews 6:4–5).
At this point let us pause and ask any Christian, or, for that matter any thinking man, to finish the sentence for us: just what is impossible for people so richly endowed? If the sixth chapter of Hebrews were a fragmentary text broken off at this place, any thoughtful individual could supply the conclusion: obviously Paul is reassuring the saints, telling them that it is quite impossible—unthinkable, in fact—for those who have already qualified for every earthly blessing plus the sure earnest of the world to come—it is impossible for such ever to be lost. “Reason itself” demands such a conclusion, but it is all wrong—the rest of the sentence administers a stinging rebuke to Christian complacency: It is impossible, the writer continues, for those so blessed “If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Hebrews 6:6). The falling away is a one-way process; it cannot be reversed. Heavenly powers and gifts once lost can only come again
when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; . . . the times of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:19, 21).
The heavenly inheritance can be lost, even to the saints; and no matter how they may seek it “carefully and with tears,” once it is gone they shall “seek and not find.”
The great apostasy did not happen consciously. The mentally ill (“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you”? [Galatians 3:1]) do not know what is wrong with them or when it happened. What the apostles denounce most strenuously in their letters is the complete complacency and self-satisfaction of the perverters: “Lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud. . . . Traitors, heady, highminded” (2 Timothy 3:2–4). No lack of assurance here!
Like the slinging of a noose, the end comes silently, quietly, without warning, so that the victim never suspects what is happening, being the while wholly preoccupied with the “cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). It is not a process of founding new institutions that the scriptures describe, but one of becoming: “love shall turn to hate,” “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2 Timothy 3:13), “iniquity shall increase,” “the sheep of the fold shall turn into wolves” (Didache)—but go right on calling themselves sheep! The false claimants never give up, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). The end was never formally declared (heaven forbid!); in the words of Polycarp, “the lights went out.”
What, then, was “the end”? The Bible has a good deal to say on the subject, and scholars have had a great deal more. At present we are considering only the former. On the mountain of the transfiguration Peter, James, and John, having just beheld Elias in conversation with the Lord and Moses, were told that Elias would at some time come and “restore all things,” though he had already come and been rejected (Matthew 17:11–12). It was further explained that the Son of Man would suffer the same rejection; and later on Peter declares in a sermon that Christ would come again at “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21; italics added). Some time after that the same Peter announces to the church that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7; italics added). Here we have “all things” brought to earth, “all things” coming to an end, and “all things” restored again. “All what things?” we ask, for the world itself seems to go on. Peter gives us the answer: “All things” which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21; italics added); “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; italics added). “All things” means the fulness of the gospel. That is what passes away when “the end of all things is at hand.”
The apostles speak of their own times as the end of the world, and yet they talk of more history to follow: “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared. . . . And unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time” (Hebrews 9:26, 28). Now is here “the end of the world,” and yet it is to be followed by a time of waiting and expectation, after which the Lord will appear again. Plainly with “the end of the world,” the whole story is not told. Literally “end of the world” here means “consummation of the periods, or aeons.” The word aeon appears over a hundred times in the New Testament, nearly always as the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘olam ha-zeh, “the age in which we live.” An aeon is, strictly speaking, a world period, and hence was sometimes loosely employed to refer to this world of ours, our times, the wicked world, etc. But never is the sense of a limited span of time completely absent when this word is employed: one can stretch a point and translate “the completion of the aeon” as “the end of the world,” but only if it is understood that the “world” referred to is not necessarily the physical earth or the physical universe but the present age of men.
When Christ met with the eleven by special appointment on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16), he sent them out with instructions to “teach all nations,” to carry out all the instructions he had given them, and gave his messengers the promise, “Behold I am with you every day until the completion of the period” (Matthew 28:19–20). The “Great Commission” is not an unlimited call to everyone, but specifically and privately to the eleven; it is not an order for them to tell all men whatever they had heard but simply to instruct them to carry out certain specific orders (the language is technical and military); above all, it is not a promise that the Lord is going to stay in the world forever and ever or, as John Chrysostom desperately translates it, “for ages without end;” aeon is here in the singular; a definite limit is placed on the Savior’s personal support, which is to be enjoyed until the apostles have finished their work: “until the completion [syntelesis] of the aeon, or period.” There is going to be an end: the Lord said he would send his apostles out to preach to all the world for a witness, that they would carry out that assignment, “and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). Their mission, like the Lord’s, was indeed at the end of the world. There is no more firmly established belief or more ancient tradition in Christendom than the conviction that the apostles themselves actually did carry out their mission, the Lord, as he promised, “working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). When every man on Pentecost heard the gospel preached in his own tongue, Peter announced that this was actually the fulfilment of
that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
. . . in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:16–17).
These were the last days, the gospel actually had been preached to all flesh, the prophecy was fulfilled, and the end could come. For the prophecy was that before the apostles could be put to death, “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:9–10; italics added). The apostles themselves complete the whole work of the dispensation; after them comes not the beginning—but the end. The clear statement of the Lord, that “this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:32) is enough in itself to settle the issue: either Jesus was a false prophet, or the end did come.
Why did the early Christians express the keen and anxious concern they did for “signs of the times?” Why did they diligently study the times and seasons and everlastingly ask the Lord and the apostles, “When will it be?” (Cf. Acts 1:7.) It is because they were expecting an end and had been instructed to watch even until the end. Their attitude would have been hard to understand if they had ever been given reason to believe that the church had been established, once and for all, to remain firm and steadfast until the end of the world.
It has often been noted that the ancient Christians professed two expectations: one an expectation of bliss, the other an expectation of woe. In their calendar the woe was to come first. Paul explains the situation when he reminds the Thessalonians that they must indeed look forward to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and . . . our gathering together unto him,” but not be deceived into thinking “that the day of Christ is at hand,” since before that could come there must come “a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3). And Peter reminds the church, “first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,” and only later will the Lord come, being meanwhile “not slack concerning his promise,” since “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:3–9). The joy is coming, but first the woe. There are ends and other ends. The “signs of the times” are significant because things follow a pattern: “When you see these events,” says the Lord, stating a general rule in a present general condition, “know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (Luke 21:31); for example, you look at the trees, and “when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand” (Luke 21:29–30, italics added). It is a characteristic and repeated event, this “end of all things” and “restitution of all things,” which we shall discuss in the next section. Whose coming was expected by the saints? The Lord’s, according to some accounts, the adversary’s, according to others. Why should this be a cause (as it has been) of ferocious controversy? Plainly they expected both; and not at one and the same time, but first the deceiver, and then the Lord.
After the Lord left the world, who came next? “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). Who is to follow up the work of the apostles if they are “sent last” and “the end” is to come when they have completed their work? Who indeed: “After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Those are the only “successors” mentioned. Who is to take over the place when Peter leaves it? “The devil . . . abroad as a ravening lion,” completely on the loose. When John announced, “Little children, it is the last time,” is he expecting the Lord? On the contrary: “Even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). You know the last time is here because “the mystery of iniquity doth already work,” and his work is only temporarily held up by an opponent who is presently to be “taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
As modern scholars, Catholic and Protestant, are beginning to realize (we shall discuss them later), the prospects were not brilliant: “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8.) It was a dark interval that lay ahead, “the Wintertime of the Just,” they called it in the ancient church. There is a real element of tragedy here; the tears of the Lord and the apostles were genuine. Paul does not warn constantly and with tears for the sake of a few inevitable crackpots and backsliders: the wicked one is coming “with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9); the night is coming when no man can work, the time which the closing lines of Didache describe as the long ordeal of the human race. There is no doubt that the early Christians were convinced that the glorious final act of the drama would not be played “before the time.” No city ever had a better chance of hearing the gospel than Capernaum; no city ever rejected it more completely; accordingly, “in the day of judgment” Capernaum “shall be thrust down to hell.” But meantime, what is the status of the cursed city to be? Quite magnificent: “exalted to heaven” (Matthew 11:23–24; Luke 10:15). That “meanwhile” is the second act of the drama, and it lasts until the judgment.
If one is determined to believe that the primary intent and purpose of the missions of Christ and the Apostles was the setting up on the earth of a mighty institution of sure salvation for all, “to remain firm and steadfast until the end of the world” (to use the proud formula of 1870—in the absence of any appropriate scripture!), then the negative course of things so clearly indicated in the Bible was a terrible mistake. Common sense rebels against the dismal prospect of the whole earth being given into the hands of “the one who leads the world astray” (as the Didache puts it)—it is a hard thing to take. And that is exactly why all the prophets of the New Testament urge the saints continually not to take the common-sense point of view in the matter: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer!” Is that common sense? “Now is the day of salvation,” Paul cries joyfully, describing the day as one of afflictions, necessities, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, fastings—”as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). It seems like anything but fun or good sense. As to the things that common sense values, Paul says, “I count them but dung, just so I win Christ.” Worldly standards are utterly misleading. Hear what Peter, James, and John have to say:
Note the emphasis in Peter’s epistles on the evil times ahead and the postponement of blessings for a definite interval: “Ye are kept . . . unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness . . . [expecting] praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Peter 1:5–7). “Be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad” (1 Peter 4:12–13). “The God of all grace . . . hath called us unto his eternal glory . . . after that ye have suffered a while” (1 Peter 5:10).
“Humble yourselves . . . that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6), etc. The unpleasant interval is not to be taken seriously, “For all flesh is as grass” (1 Peter 1:24); we are merely “strangers and pilgrims” here (1 Peter 2:11); it is a frightening prospect, but “if you will it shall be as nothing.” Peter preaches a thoroughgoing exchange of earthly values for heavenly values.
James does not mince words: “Know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Nor does John: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world . . . is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof” (1 John 2:15–17). “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. . . . “We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. . . . And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 3:13; 4:6; 5:19).
These were truly the disciples of the Lord who said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). There is no place here for a popular program. The whole consolation of the saints is in the resurrection and glory to come, “whether we wake or sleep, . . . Wherefore comfort yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:10–11). There is a complete disconcern for the possible success or failure of the church on earth, and a total silence on the subject of future generations—never a thought of that “inevitable triumph” which later church historians were to insist should have been their chief consolation. “The foundation of God standeth sure,” not in a visible institution of salvation, but “having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). Every opportunity to play up the church is passed by in silence.
The values of the early Christians were not commonsense values. The translators of the King James Version use the word lusts for the Greek epithumia, which means “desire, interest, value,” in the broadest sense, and thus make it appear that all that John is condemning is vice and depravity, whereas actually he is renouncing all earthly values good and bad. The Christian point of view was not that of another philosophy; it administered a severe shock to intelligent people—”a slap in the face,” to use Karl Holl’s apt expression. Thinking people were not just amused, they were “scandalized” (a favorite word) and enraged, sickened, and disgusted; Tacitus, Celsus, Caecilius, and the Jewish and pagan professors cannot think of words strong enough to express their loathing and alarm.
Here we have two systems of values totally and hopelessly opposed to each other. The things Jesus talked about were entirely outside the range of normal human thought and experience; in time their reality was to be made manifest to all, but meanwhile their rejection was to be emphatic and complete, and pagans could embarrass Christians by chanting about “Jesus the King who never ruled!” A triumphant rule and a triumphant church were not on the program, but the world would settle for nothing less, and of course the world got what it wanted—a church modeled after its idea of what a church should be. Such an institution was as clearly prophesied as was the passing away of the true church.
One Act or Three? Few historians at the present time will maintain that the Christian church today is the result of a smooth and unbroken transmission of institutions and doctrines without change or shadow of change since the days of the apostles. Since no one doubts the necessity and convenience of making certain major divisions in church history, we would strongly urge that the most meaningful and logical division is that so clearly indicated by the New Testament itself. To accept those clearly marked periods (1) revelation, (2) darkness, and (3) restoration, however, is to reject the whole conventional concept of church history as one long unbroken irresistible victory campaign.
Yet even conventional church history is now being forced to spoil the simplicity of the accepted plot of the growing admission that the early church was something very special. It would be hard to find a history of the church that does not honor the “primitive church” with a section all of its own; but of recent years the uniqueness and peculiarities of that church have become objects of the most intense research, which is showing more and more how totally different the original church of Christ was from any of the churches claiming to be derived from it or from any of the ideas which scholars have hitherto entertained concerning it.
The term “primitive church” is itself revealing. The early Christians, far from thinking of themselves as primitive, tell us often that they are living at the end of an aeon in a world ripe for destruction. Though they lived by prophecy, no allowances or provisions were made by them for greater refinements or improvements in their own institution in the years ahead. The church of the apostles was ready for the end, coming as it did at “the end of the aeon,” not at the beginning of a long period of progress.
Still the designation and idea of a “primitive church” are necessary to later generations both as a salve to conscience (this is very clear in Chrysostom) and a sop to vanity (equally ditto in Jerome), for if the glaring differences between the original and the later churches could not be denied, they would have to be explained; and the only explanation that could save the face of Christianity—let alone make it look good—was that which decided with patronizing indulgence that the early church was just “primitive” and its disappearance a necessary and inevitable phase in the growth and progress of an institution.
The folly and vanity of a theory that looks upon the church of the apostles with patronizing superiority and glories in the irrelevant and highly suspect virtues of size and sophistication as proofs of progress, needs no comment. A basic lack of conviction in the argument may be seen in desperate attempts to dress the primitive church up to look like modern churches; serious students know better, of course, but that does not keep the producers of movies and television from assuring the general public that the church really has changed hardly at all, and showing, to prove it, ancient apostles dressed up as eighth-century bishops or mouthing the sentimental commonplaces of the schools through the whiskers and robes of traveling sophists.
But looking behind such flimsy tricks, we find that earnest investigators of church history, Catholic and Protestant alike, are discovering as it were for the first time the great gulf that lies between the ancient church and conventional Christianity, and being surprisingly frank in their comments. More and more they are forcing themselves also to face up to the dark interval of the second act, though most of them still cling desperately to the old rewrite interpretations of “Advance through Storm,” “Struggle and Progress,” “The Certain Victory,” etc.
This interpretation so deranges the plot that the third act must either be dropped out entirely or completely rewritten: naturally we can’t have a “restitution of all things” if all things have been carefully preserved and steadily improved through the centuries. And so we have the third and final act, the great culminating events of world history, studiously effaced by church historians: what we have to reckon with, we are now told, was a “spiritual” second coming which has already taken place; it was “the Easter experience,” some suggest—Pentecost, according to others; it was all a mistake, a tragic miscalculation, according to another school; it is fulfilled in the Real Presence, to follow another; others have maintained that since the crucifixion was the supreme event of all time, all that followed was mere anticlimax; others have made the second coming a mystical experience. And so they go: whatever it is, that third act, as we have called it, is not the great event predicted by the scriptures. Acts two and three are out!
What, then, did happen after the apostles? Do we have reliable reports for the years following? Was it all bad? How did the Christians continue to think of the world and their position in it? Did they expect the lights to go out? Were they surprised when they did? Were they disappointed when the Lord failed to come? Did they believe that what was happening actually was the end? Such questions are the special food of church history in our day. The mere fact that they are being asked now as never before is an invitation to Latter-day Saints to enter the discussion which seems at last to be turning to their own point of view.
The history of the church is not a one-act play, a single, long protracted happy ending from start to finish, with a baffled and frustrated villain vainly trying to score a telling point against a cause that is always assured of success and never in any real danger. Yet such a fantastically wishful and unreal plot is the only alternative to the one set forth in the Bible which places the happy ending at the end—”when his glory shall be revealed and all made glad”—with a time of heaviness preceding it, during which the prince of this world holds sway and all the promised glories to come are forgotten in a tragic preoccupation with the things which please men. The story of the church is unfolded not in one act but three.
This is not the discovery of modern scholars or the private hypothesis of Latter-day Saints—through the centuries the church fathers have been aware of it, and it has worried them a great deal. It is very important to understand that the fate of God’s people on earth, specifically, the course of “the church” through the ages (for the idea of “the church” is a very ancient one) has been a subject of vital concern to certain men in every period of history.
From the most ancient prophets to the latest monograph, men have not ceased talking and speculating on this theme. As the Lord was not the first prophet sent into the vineyard, neither was his church without precedent in the world. Church history does not begin suddenly one day in Palestine, any more than the story of the redemption begins with certain shepherds watching their flocks. The mighty drama goes back to the very beginning and leaves its mark in the documents of every age. It is a far bigger thing than the seminarists and schoolmen realize.
In the preceding articles we first indicated the strong and undeniable bias which has controlled the writing of conventional church history since the days of Eusebius. Next we offered a brief preliminary sketch, based on the New Testament, of another view of church history. That view may be thus briefly summed up: the original followers of Christ sought their reward and placed all their hopes in the other world and the return of the Lord in judgment, believing that as far as this world is concerned the work of the church would not prosper but soon come to a close, being followed by a long time of darkness that would end only with the restoration of all things in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Such in barest outline is the substance of “the other view” of church history. It will be readily admitted that it is not the conventional view, and it remains for us now to show from the early sources that it most certainly was the true authentic view of church history held by the members of the early church in apostolic times and after. We shall also show the present trend among students of church history toward the recognition of glaring defects in the conventional picture and increasing awareness of the existence and the validity of the earlier concept.
The Eschatological Dilemma
In any bibliography of present-day studies on the Christian religion, historical or doctrinal, the word eschatology looms large. For the Christian, we are told, “any real understanding of history is only possible in connection with eschatology.”124 And what is eschatology? According to Gressmann, one of the fathers of modern eschatological studies, it was originally whatever had to do with the end of things, whether of the world, the society, the age in which we live or merely of the individual—his death and resurrection. 125 But in the 1880’s the German scholars began using the word in a special sense, applying it specifically to doctrines—Jewish, Christian, or heathen—dealing with the end and renewal of the earth.126 Immediately and inevitably the discussion of such teachings became involved in the terms and problems of Messianic, apocalyptic, mythical, mystical, historical, and prophetic nature. Whereas formerly messianism and eschatology had had nothing to do with each other, the new speculations brought them ever closer together, until Mowinckel was able to announce that they were one and the same.127 Eschatology and apocalyptic were identified in every conceivable degree of relationship: one of the latest studies insists that they be sharply separated, since eschatology “according to my terminology [Lindblom speaking] is the prophesying of a new and totally different age to come.”128
According to an equally recent and authoritative study, eschatology is just the opposite of that: “Eschatological thought I take [S. B. Frost speaking] to be a form of expectation . . . characterized by finality. The eschaton is the goal of the time-process, that after which nothing further can occur: it is the climax of teleological history. . . . It cannot even in thought be superseded by a subsequent event. . . . The eschaton is that beyond which the faithful never peers.”129 So much for the new age—and this sort of thing has been going on for seventy-five years! While one school holds that eschatology is necessarily a late development in Jewish thought, a product of the captivity and quite unknown to the prophets (Lagrange), another maintains that prophecy itself “rests from the very beginning on a . . . fully developed eschatology.”130
Again, while some (e.g., R. H. Charles) have held that the eschatological ideas of heathen nations were first borrowed by Jews, and hence Christians, as an anchor to faith when their own darling prophecies, especially those concerning the Messiah, failed to go into fulfilment, others regard the Jews themselves as the true originators of those ideas. Today some are claiming that apocalyptic writing is simply a combination of eschatology with myth, and Mr. Frost issues the resounding statement: “Whether apocalyptic is to be dismissed as merely myth eschatologized, or whether it is to be taken seriously as eschatology in a mythological dress is perhaps the most urgent problem confronting the Christian Church today.”131 Personally, I am glad it does not confront my church, since Frost is saying in effect: “The most urgent problem confronting the court is whether the accused forged his name to the check or merely changed the amount on it.”
Forty-five years ago Father Lagrange distinguished five different eschatologies, and, in view of the completely baffling nature of the evidence, wisely refused to attempt arranging them in any of those evolutionary or developmental patterns which the scientific scholarship of the age found so irresistible. He listed: (1) a temporal cosmic eschatology without a Messiah; (2) a transcendent cosmic eschatology without Messiah; (3) a historic Messianic eschatology; (4) a transcendent Messianic eschatology; and (5) a transcendent cosmic eschatology embracing a less transcendent but historic Messiah.132
In such a way the eschatological discussion from the first fused and intermingled a wealth of related and conflicting terms, periods, and peoples, and the game of deciding just how and to what degree, if any, each element or combination of elements was related to the others offered inexhaustible opportunities for learned debate: the endless variety of changes, the nice shades and dainty nuances of meaning, the license of bathing forever in the tepid waters of pure terminology or spinning spider-like, from the substance of one’s own esoteric secretions, lovely fragile webs of definition without end—it was all the schoolmen asked of life, and the eschatological discussion might have gone on like the Trinitarian debate for untold generations had not a series of great and unforeseen events given a wholly new orientation to things within the last two decades.
But behind this great outpouring of words, and what keeps it going, is the inescapable conviction that eschatology, that is, what people really believed about their place in the universe, holds the key to the genuine original Christian view of life—that it represents the unique, the peculiar, the essentially different element that sets Christian thinking apart from all other thinking. Those very scholars, such as Harnack and Albert Schweitzer, who insist most emphatically on the hopeless inadequacy of the evidence, are the most reluctant to leave eschatology alone. There is something big and portentous hiding here if we could only grasp what it is. The vague and twittering host of broken fragments and wraith-like traditions for all its mazy confusion is definitely trying to tell us something, and the voices are growing louder and clearer every day. The whole eschatological issue can best be explained, we believe, by a brief diversion into one of those little parables for which we have always had a weakness.
Imagine, then, a successful businessman who, responding to some slight but persistent physical discomfort and the urging of an importunate wife, pays a visit to a friend of his—a doctor. Since the man has always considered himself a fairly healthy specimen, it is with an unquiet mind that he descends the steps of the clinic with the assurance, gained after long hours of searching examination, that he has about three weeks to live. In the days that follow, this man’s thinking undergoes a change, not a slow and subtle change—there is no time for that—but a quick and brutal reorientation. By the time he has reached home on that fateful afternoon, the first shock of the news has worn off, and he is already beginning to see things with strange eyes. As he locks the garage door, his long-held ambition to own a Cadillac suddenly seems unspeakably puerile to him, utterly unworthy of a rational, let alone an immortal being. This leads him to the shocking realization, in the hours that follow, that one can be rich and successful in this world with a perfectly barren mind. With shame and alarm he discovers that he has been making a religion of his career. In a flash of insight he recognizes that seeming and being are two wholly different things, and on his knees discovers that only his Heavenly Father knows him as he is. Abruptly he ceases to care particularly whether anybody thinks he is a good, able, smart, likable fellow or not; after all, he is not trying to sell anyone anything any more.
Things that once filled him with awe seem strangely trivial, and things which a few days before did not even exist for him now fill his consciousness. For the first time he discovers the almost celestial beauty of the world of nature, not viewed through the glass of cameras and car windows, but as the very element in which he lives; shapes and colors spring before his senses with a vividness and drama of which he never dreamed.
The perfection of children comes to him like a sudden revelation, and he is appalled by the monstrous perversion that would debauch their minds, overstimulate their appetites, and destroy their sensibilities in unscrupulous plans of sales promotion. Everywhere he looks he gets the feeling that all is passing away—not just relatively because he is saying goodbye to a world he has never seen before, but really and truly: he sees all life and stuff about him involved in a huge ceaseless combustion, a literal and apparent process of oxidation which is turning some things slowly, some rapidly, but all things surely to ashes. He wishes he had studied more and pays a farewell visit to some friends at the university where he is quick to discover, with his new powers of discernment, that their professional posturing and intellectual busy-work is no road to discovery but only an alley of escape from responsibility and criticism.
As days pass, days during which that slight but ceaseless physical discomfort allows our moribund hero no momentary lapse into his old ways, he is visited ever more frequently by memories, memories of astonishing clarity and vividness—mostly from his childhood, and he finds himself at the same time slipping ever more easily into speculations, equally vivid, on the world to come and the future of this world. The limits of time begin to melt and fuse until everything seems present but the present. In a word, his thinking has become eschatological.
“What has happened to our solid citizen?” his friends ask perplexed. He has chosen to keep his disease a secret; it would be even more morbid, he decides, to parade his condition. But he cannot conceal his change of heart. As far as his old associates can see, the poor man has left the world of reality. Parties and golf no longer amuse him; TV and movies disgust him. He takes to reading books, of all things—even the Bible! When they engage him in conversation, he makes very disturbing remarks, sometimes sounding quite cynical, as if he didn’t really care, for example, whether peppermint was selling better than wintergreen or whether the big sales campaign went over the top by October. He even becomes careless of his appearance, as if he didn’t know that the key to success is to make a good impression on people. As time passes, these alarming symptoms become ever more pronounced; his sales record drops off sharply; those who know what is good for their future begin to avoid being seen with him—like Lehi of old, he is hurting business, and dark hints of subversion are not far in the offing. What is wrong with the man?
As we said, his thinking has become eschatological. He lives in a timeless, spaceless world in which Jack Benny and the World Series simply do not exist. His values are all those of eternity, looking to the “latter end” not only of his own existence but of everything and everybody around him. As he hears the news or walks the streets, he sees, in the words of Joseph Smith, “destruction writ large on everything we behold.” He is no longer interested “in the things of the world.” The ready-smiling, easily adjustable, anxious-to-get-ahead, eager-to-be-accepted, hard-working conformist, who for so many years was such a tangible asset to Nulb, Incorporated, has ceased to exist.
Now the question arises, has this man been jerked out of reality or into it? Has he cut himself off from the real world or has cruel necessity forced him to look in the face what he was running away from before? Is he in a dream now or has he just awakened from one? Has he become an irresponsible child or has he suddenly grown up? Is he the victim of vain imaginings or has he taken the measure of “Vanity Fair?” Some will answer one way, some another. But if you want to arouse him to wrathful sermons, just try telling the man that it makes no difference which of these worlds one lives in—that they are equally real to the people who live in them. “I have seen both,” he will cry. “Don’t try to tell me that the silly escapist world of busy-work, mercenary back-slaps, phoney slogans, and maniacal ‘careers’ has anything real about it—I know it’s a fake, and so do you!”
It will be noted that this eschatological state of mind does not bear the mark of just one school of thought: once it gets in the blood, all the aspects and concepts of eschatalogical thinking enter with it. Our businessman, for example, begins to wonder about certain possibilities: What about the hereafter? Will he ever really see the face of the Lord? Is there going to be a judgment? He almost panics at the thought which has never bothered him before because he has been successful. He becomes preoccupied with history and prophecy, aware for the first time that his whole life is linked not only with D Division of Nulb, Incorporated, but, for better or for worse, with all that happens in the universe; he belongs to history and it to him—”the solemn temples, the great globe itself” are as much his concern as any man’s. These ideas that come to him are all essential parts of the same picture in which one can descry inextricably joined and intermingled apocalyptic, prophecy, millennialism, messianism, history, and theology—all belong to the same eschatology.
But where is myth, the thing that the scholars tell us is “the very essence of eschatology”?133 That is there, too, but you will find it only in the minds of his friends and associates: they, wide-awake and practical people, know perfectly well that the man is suffering from delusions; they know that the things which have become so real to him are all just imagination. To anyone who does not experience it, the eschatological view of things is pure myth—an invention of an overwrought mind desperately determined to support its own premises. Only what they fail to consider is that those who have had both views of the world interpret things just the other way around: it is after all eschatology that looks hard reality in the face; lazy and timid people take refuge in the busy-work of everyday; only strong and disciplined minds are willing to see things as they are, and even they must be forced to it! No wonder the scholars have agreed that whatever else eschatology is, it is not real!
To conclude our parable, what happens to our man of affairs? A second series of tests at the hospital shows that his case was not quite what they thought it was—he may live for many years. Yet he takes the news strangely, for instead of celebrating at a night club or a prize fight as any normal healthy person should, this creature will continue his difficult ways. “This,” he says, “is no pardon. It is but a stay of execution. Soon enough it is going to happen. The situation is not really changed at all.” So he becomes religious, a hopeless case, an eschatological zealot, a Puritan, a monk, a John Bunyan, a primitive Christian, an Essene, a Latter-day Saint. In every age such people with their annoying eschatological beliefs have disturbed the placid (“perfectly-adjusted”) waters of the slough of custom and paid dearly for their folly.
And that leads us to the eschatological dilemma which confronts the Christian world today.
However deplorable the maladjusted state of mind called “eschatological” may be, there can be no denying that it was the prevailing attitude of the early Christians. Accordingly, the Christian world finds itself forced to choose between accepting the extreme view, which does violence to the common sense of respectable people, or rejecting it—and with it the right to be called Christian. In theory this hard dilemma has never ceased to disturb the peace of conventional Christianity, and in times of crisis it has a way of taking on very solid forms. It was the grim reality of World War II that forced certain German ministers—become chaplains—to ask old questions with a new frankness, and at their head Rudolf Bultmann, with inexorable logic, bids the Christian world, since it is not willing to accept the old eschatology, to throw it away entirely. Thereby he has turned a discrete compromise into a cruel dilemma for the clergy.134
Bultmann begins with the premise that the entire New Testament eschatology is pure mythology and nothing else. There is nothing revolutionary about that: it is what the scholars have been saying for many years, only, unlike Bultmann, they have steadfastly refused to draw the logical conclusion from that conviction or face its inevitable consequences. “The picture of the world we find in the New Testament is a mythological one,” we are now told; it served well enough in its time, but it is no good any more. “When the New Testament . . . describes the saving action of God in Jesus Christ . . . it describes this action in terms of the contemporary mythological conception of the world. . . . It was natural for the gospel to be stated in these terms, for that was the outlook of the age.”135 But such terms are decidedly not natural for our age, Bultmann insists: “It is impossible for the man of today to accept the mythology of the New Testament. . . . As long as this is taken at its face value as literally true, Christianity remains meaningless to modern man.”136 It is not therefore a matter of toning down or softening or adaption of the old eschatology, but of its complete rejection: “He contends that to ask the man of today to accept the picture of the world that is found in the New Testament would be at once pointless and to ask the impossible. . . . It is, for instance, impossible for the man of today to interpret a case of epilepsy or schizophrenia as demoniac possession,” or, in Bultmann’s own words, “It is impossible to make use of electric light and radio, and, in case of illness, to claim the help of modern medical and clinical methods and at the same time believe in the New Testament’s spirits and miracles.”137 Is this a shocking statement? There is nothing the least bit new or radical about it. Over a hundred years ago Charles Dickens denounced the Mormons as hopelessly deluded and mentally incompetent because they were actually guilty of “seeing visions in an age of railways!”138 Since it is agreed that railroads and visions cannot possibly go together, why has Bultmann so upset the clergy by saying only what they themselves have believed all along?
It is because he will not let them keep their Christianity and deny it at the same time. “The great difference between Bultmann’s teachings and the liberalism of the 1900’s,” writes Henderson, is that “it eliminates the mythological, instead of interpreting it.”139 If it is a myth, Bultmann argues, why not treat it as such? It is his conclusion, not his premise, that shocks. Yet with the premise all the damage is done. Over fifty years ago a professor of Old Testament could write without shocking a single scholar: “It is impossible from the modern point of view to regard Abraham and Moses as historical characters”—they are simply myths. “All the accounts from Saul to Solomon are mythological-astrological presentations . . . all details concerning the persons and their deeds have been borrowed from a mythological system.”140
For over half a century a great band of Christian scholars have flatly denied that Jesus ever lived, but they have gone on talking and writing about him just the same.141 Scholars became proud and boastful of their “brazen scepticism,” entirely forgetting, Eisler points out, to be sceptical of their own highly subjective conclusions. Their “unhistorical Jesus” was, he says, “the stillborn creature of the age of Liberalism” . . . with a capital “L.”142 Albert Schweitzer attributed to a sound instinct for self-preservation the rejection of the historical Jesus by the Christian churches—for certainly the historical Jesus contradicts their teachings on many points.143 In the end, the only Jesus for which Christianity had any use was an unhistorical Jesus, a “de-mythologized” Jesus, to use Bultmann’s expression.
Speaking of revelation, Bultmann writes: “The existence of such a voice that speaks when God, not as the idea of God . . . but as my God, who here and now speaks to me through the mouths of men, that is the ‘demythologized’ sense of ‘the Word became flesh,’ the Church’s doctrine of the incarnation.” 144 It is with the history of the church as with its doctrine, according to Bultmann: you only accept of that history what you personally feel is useful to you; Christianity, he says, is the “eschatological phenomenon that brings the world to an end; it is not a historical phenomenon of the past, but is the word of that Grace which destroys and in destroying makes alive.” 145 The declaration that one should take and believe from the scriptures only what one wants to has led to loud protests from the churchmen.
Yet what else have they been doing with the Bible all these years? “We are thankful,” wrote Schweitzer years ago, “that we have handed down to us only gospels, not biographies, of Jesus.”146 The scholars have shown by word and deed that they do not want to know any more about Christ than they do; instead of joyfully embracing the priceless discoveries which from the Didache to the Dead Sea Scrolls have brought us step by step nearer to a knowledge of the true Church of Jesus Christ as it existed anciently, they have fought those documents at every step.147 If the resurrected Jesus were to walk among them they would waste no time beseeching him “to depart from their coasts”—they have the only Jesus they want, and they will thank you not to complicate things by introducing new evidence. In the same spirit a great German classical scholar once expressed to the author his disapproval of studying Oriental sources. They disturb the neatness, compactness, symmetry, simplicity, and permanence of our mental picture of the Greeks, he explained.
It is accepted practice to rewrite the Gospels at will, provided one employs the proper jargon. But in frankly admitting that he is out to reshape Christianity to something nearer to the heart’s desire, Bultmann has gone too far. “I do not want my eschatology de-eschatologized,” cries the eminent scholar Millar Burrows.148 “It is one thing,” he says, “for a theologian to say that demonology is for him a mythological experience of the reality of suffering and evil in the world; it is something else for an exegete to say that Jesus himself did not believe in demons. You cannot have accurate, realistic exegesis if you are not prepared and willing to find ideas that you cannot accept.”149 You cannot de-mythologize the history in the New Testament no matter how badly you want to, Oscar Cullmann protests, because after all it never was mythology or allegory and never was meant to be—it was real history.150 What Bultmann fondly thinks is a clear, detached, objective view of things, his vaunted Vorverständnis is nothing but the scientific tradition he has inherited, says von Dobschutz, a thing that conditions the thinking of every scholar whether he admits it or not. And as to this business of picking out of the scripture as the substance of your faith whatever suits your fancy and rejecting what does not, what does that lead to? “Bultmann floats in Bible and theology from one concept to another,” von Dobschutz writes, “but everything remains idea without substance. One forgets entirely that Primitive Christianity was actually a very concrete phenomenon.” 151
It is high time these things were being said, but without Bultmann it is hard to imagine their ever being said by modern pastors and priests, for the charges against that alarming man are precisely those to which they are most susceptible themselves. For Bultmann by calling a spade a spade is smoking out the temporizers and spiritualizers by forcing them to take a stand. Many years ago Bultmann himself jarred a cornerstone of “liberal” religion with the announcement that “a revealed religion must insist that it is the only true religion, nothing less than the Truth,”152 thereby declaring that the true church must be a “narrow,” not a “liberal” one.
We believe that Bultmann is quite wrong in choosing to throw away the old Christian eschatology in that the ministry has no chance but to oppose him; but he is quite right in insisting on the terrible truth that if you don’t throw it away you have to believe it! There he has the ministry checkmated, or rather they have checkmated themselves, for it is they who for over a century and a quarter have with a single voice hurled against the Mormons the awful charge of actually believing in visions, miracles, and the visitation of angels! And now Bultmann tells them they must believe in those things, too, or else forget about them.
But what now complicates the game, to the embarrassment of both players, is the increasingly frequent and maddeningly unpredictable introduction of new pieces onto the board. New discoveries of documents are “compromising” modern Christianity more deeply all the time, making it harder and harder for anyone who would call himself a Christian to brush the old eschatological teachings aside. At the same time the realities of the hydrogen bomb and the very real possibility of world destruction have occasioned a world-wide resurgence of eschatological thinking.
Forty-seven years ago Father Lagrange could dismiss the apocalyptic presentation of the old eschatology with contempt: true, he admitted, it was strictly orthodox doctrine and the early Christians were all for it, but it was a mistake just the same, “a false literary genre, whose overheated imaginings leave hardheaded people (les gens de sangfroid) unimpressed.” For Lagrange it was all “a huge exertion in which a few flashes of bon sens illuminated a brain-sick nightmare.”153
That is how it all looked to the safe and solid world of 1909. But what do we read today in a leading Catholic journal? “We know that thou hast been with us daily until now, and that thou shalt be with us forever,” writes the editor in Church Latin, making a necessary concession to the official viewpoint, which definitely frowns upon teachings of the Second Coming.154
Thou dwellest among us, near us, in the land which is thine and ours. . . . But now has come a time in which thou must appear to us again, and give to this generation a sign that thou canst not put off nor deny. . . . For thou seest, Christ, our need, thou knowest how great is our necessity, our helplessness, our poverty, our desperation; thou knowest how badly we need thy coming, how necessary is thy return. Come, Christ, even as lightning, and as lightning depart; only appear to us, hear our prayer: come and go and speak but one word, one coming and one departing. . . .
Send us a sign—lightning in the sky or a light by night: let the heavens be opened, let the night be lighted: give us but an hour of thine eternity; in place of thy long silence give us but one word. . . . We do not, we do not ask for a great descent in heavenly glory, nor for the splendor of the Transfiguration. . . . Often after the resurrection didst thou appear to the living, and to those who meant to hate thee . . . didst thou show thy countenance. . . . Thou, who didst so often return for but a few, why dost thou not now return but once for all of us? If they deserved to see thee . . . surely we in our utter desperation deserve to see thee. . . . Never has thy word been so necessary as it is today . . . the rule of Satan has reached its full maturity . . . the only remaining hope is in thy return.
Return, O Christ, return! . . . We expect thee, Christ, at this end-time; we expect thee daily, although we are unworthy and although our desire is an impossible one, still we shall expect thee.155
Where now is the clerical sang froid and bon sens? When the world is topsy-turvy and the danger is real, Christians have a way of suddenly remembering how fundamental to the gospel are those eschatological and Messianic concepts of which official Christianity disapproves. The ancient faith was no summertime religion, and its preoccupation with eschatology—the “end of all things”—no “brain-sick nightmare” but a hard-won decision to consider things as they are.
* “The Way of the Church,” originally appeared as a series in the Improvement Era, 58 (Jan.–Dec. 1955): 20–22, 44–45, 86–87, 104, 106–7, 152–54, 166, 168, 230–32, 258, 260–61, 306–8, 364–66, 384–86, 455–56, 502–04, 538, 570–71, 599–600, 602–6, 650–53, 708–10, 817, 835–38, 840–41, 902–3, 968.
1. Tertullian, De Praescriptionibus (The Prescription against Heretics) 29, in PL 2:47–48.
2. Pierre Batiffol, L’église naissante et le catholicisme, 13th ed. (Paris: Victor Lecoffre, 1909).
3. Henri Daniel-Rops, “Un monde qui naît, un monde qui va mourir,” in L’église des apôtres et des martyrs, vol. 1 of Histoire de l’église du Christ, 5 vols. (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1948), 1:353–414.
4. Kenneth Scott Latourette, The Unquenchable Light (London: Religious Book Club, 1945).
5. August Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles, trs. J.E. Ryland and E.G. Robinson (New York: Sheldon, 1869).
6. Regarding Latourette’s church history, E. A. Payne writes in “The Modern Expansion of the Church: Some Reflections on Dr. Latourette’s Conclusions,” Journal of Theological Studies 47 (1946): 151: “There is always danger of a metaphor once adopted becoming master instead of servant. One cannot escape the feeling that Dr. Latourette finds his diminishing periods of recession a little too neatly and easily.”
7. Karl Bihlmeyer, Kirchengeschichte: Das christliche Altertum (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1951), 1–2.
8. Heinrich Bornkamm, Grundriss zum Studium der Kirchengeschichte (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1949), 14.
9. R. H. Pfeiffer, “Facts and Faith in Biblical History,” Journal of Biblical Literature 70 (1951): 14.
10. Ibid., 3.
11. Caesar Baronius, Anno 1077, quoted in Thomas Comber, The Church History Clear’d from the Roman Forgeries (London: Roycroft, 1695), 189.
12. Adolf von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 5th ed., 3 vols. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1931), 2:63–64.
13. Walther Völker, “Von welchen Tendenzen liess sich Eusebius bei Abfassung seiner ‘Kirchengeschichte’ leiten?” Vigiliae Christianae 4 (1950): 157, 159–60.
14. Ibid., 180.
15. Olaf Linton, Das Problem der Urkirche in der neueren Forschung (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksell, 1932), 9–10.
16. Conrad Kirch, Enchiridion Fontium Historiae Ecclesiasticae Antiquae (Barcelona: Herder, 1947). The six hundred pages of this famous handbook are taken up entirely with short, carefully chosen excerpts, obviously and sometimes violently forced into a prearranged historical framework. As soon as the reader begins to get interested—and curious—regarding a passage, the text is, as it were, snatched from his hands by the zealous editor.
17. John Fredrick Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), x.
18. Ibid., xi.
19. Ibid., xiv.
20. Wilhem Schmid, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, 2 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1929), 1.1:2–8.
21. Tertullian, De Baptismo (On Baptism) 17, in PL 1:1326–29.
22. Clemens Romanus, Constitutiones Apostolicae (Apostolic Constitutions) 4, 16, in PG 1:949–55.
23. Robert Eisler, Iesous Basileus ou Basileusas, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter, 1929) 1:44–45; von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte 2:63, gives other examples of approved deception.
24. John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio (On the Priesthood) I, 5, in PG 48:624; cf. his Homilia (Homily) 56 in Commentarius in Acta Apostolorum (Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles), in PG 60.
26. Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum (Against Jovinian) 2, 73, in PL 23:371.
27. Jerome, Epistolae (Letters) 82, in PL 22:740.
28. Jerome, Apologia adversus Libros Rufini (Defense against the Book of Rufinus), in PL 23:412.
29. Paul E. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza (London: Oxford Press, British Academy, 1947), 221; cf. 2nd ed., enlarged (1959).
30. Heinrich Böhmer, Die Fälschungen Erzbischofs Lanfrancs von Canterbury (Leipzig: Dieterich, 1902), 126. For a fuller discussion see my article “New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study,” Improvement Era 56 (1953): 919–1003.
31. Ibid., 830, 859–62, 919–1003.
32. Comber, The Church History Clear’d From the Roman Forgeries, introduction.
33. Innocent 1, Epistolae et Decreta (Letters and Decrees), in PL 20:551–52.
34. Linton, Das Problem der Urkirche, 10 (emphasis added).
35. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 138–39.
36. Ibid., 86, 108, 118, 127.
37. Ibid., 85.
38. Joseph Smith, “King Follett Discourse,” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1977), 348. Even the motive attributed to the scribe, that he “thought it too bad” to leave the text as he found it, is the authentic and conventional one.
39. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 71, 77; cf. 2nd ed., 130.
40. Ibid., 71–72; cf. 2nd ed., 131.
41. Ibid., 63–66; cf. 2nd ed., 115.
42. Ibid., 66; cf. 2nd ed., 118.
43. Anton Deimel, Sumerische Grammatik (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1924), 8.
44. Alfred E. Housman, Manilius, 5 vols. (London: Cambridge, 1927), 5:xxxiv.
45. Lazarus Goldschmidt, Der babylonische Talmud, 12 vols. (Haag: Nijhoff, 1933) 1:13.
46. Ibid., and 1:14.
47. 1 Maccabees 1:56–57, 63.
48. Sozomen, HE I, 21, in PG 67:861–62; Socrates, HE I, 9, 31, in PG 67:33–34. The pagan Diocletian was milder against the Christians than they were against heretics, Eusebius, HE VIII, 11, in PG 20:768–69.
49. Corpus Juris Civilis, vol. 2: Codex Justinianus, Paul Krüger, ed. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1877), 1.1:3; and Novella 42, i, 2; lib. 3, de summa trinitate.
50. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 211.
51. Ibid., 84.
52. Ibid., 29; cf. 192–97.
53. Eusebius, HE VI, 19, 9, in PG 20:561–72.
54. Codex Theodosius XVI, 1, 16 tit. v leg. 6–23, discussed in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 2 vols. (New York: The Modern Library, 1932), ch. 27, 2:956, 1001.
55. Karl von Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, 9 vols. (Freiburg: im Herder, 1856–90), 1:143–44.
56. Leander, Praefatio (Preface) 1, in PL 18:89.
57. E. Gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University, 1942), 11.
58. 11. Augustine, De Mendacio (On Lying) 1, 10, in PL 40:500–2.
59. Henri Leclercq, “Historiens du Christiánisme,” in DACL 6:269–98. That the motive for censorship was to cover up the adverse effect of the evidence is clear from Duchesne’s revealing explanation of why he did not leave the Catholic church in view of his discoveries: he could not, he explained, offend his aged mother as the price of being “true to himself.” Idem.
60. Editorial note on Tertullian, Apologeticus adversus Gentes pro Christianis (Apology), in PL 1:1205.
61. Rufinus, Preface to the Recognitiones Clementinae (Clementine Recognitions), in PG 1:1205–8.
62. Rufinus, Preface to Origen’s Peri Archon (On First Things), in PG 11:111–14.
63. Eusebius, De Vita Constantini (On the Life of Constantine) 1, 11, in PG 20:924–25.
64. C. Snouck-Hurgronje, “Der Islam,” in Pierre Chantepie de la Saussaye, ed., Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte (Tübingen: Mohr, 1925) 1:656.
65. Jean & Augustin Perier, Les ‘127 Canons des Apôtres’ 48, in PO 8:623–24.
66. Justin Martyr, Apologia pro Christianis (Apology) 1, 10, in PG 6:340.
67. Kirsopp and Silva Lake, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Harper, 1937) 99. Cf. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 157: the “Targums had no authoritative text. Every copyist could try to improve the text he copied.”
68. Or, “they haven’t been tampered with.” Ignatius, Epistola ad Philadelphenses (Epistle to the Philadelphians) 8, in PG 5:833: “hou parakousai prodēlos olethros.”
69. Josephus, Jewish War II, 110, 172; cf. Jewish Antiquities XVIII, 63–64.
70. This famous Josephus passage is the subject of Eisler’s whole two-volume work, Iesous Basileus ou Basileusas. Cf. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 150.
71. Père Batiffol, “Les Odes de Salomon,” Revue Biblique 20 (1911): 163
73. Ibid., 189, note to Odes of Solomon 12:8.
74. Housman, Manilius 1:30, 40, 53.
75. Henri Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956), 14; cf. 20–21: Toynbee, “the confessed ’empiricist’ adheres to a preconceived system and disposes of the facts” to suit himself; for his “challenge and response” system he “must in each case invent a challenge to fit a historic reality which [he] labels response.”
76. Joseph W. Swain, The Ancient World, 2 vols. (New York: Harper, 1950), 1:65, reviewed by the present writer in The Historian 13 (Autumn 1950): 79–81. For a blunt statement and searching criticism of the common practice of prehistorians of giving full priority to the concept of evolution at the expense of the evidence see respectively M. Jacobs, “Further Comments on Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology,” American Anthropologist 50 (1948): 565–66; and W. D. Wallis, “Presuppositions in Anthropological Interpretations,” American Anthropologist 50 (1948): 560–64.
77. W. A. Irwin, “Ezekiel Research Since 1943,” Vetus Testamentum 3 (1953): 61. See our discussion of this in Hugh W. Nibley, “New Approaches to Book of Mormon Study,” 57 (1954):148–49, 170.
78. August von Gall, Basileia tou Theou (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926), 14.
79. T. Schermann, Die allgemeine Kirchenordnung, 3 vols. in 1 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1914–16), 2:143.
80. Rudolf Bultmann, Das Evangelium des Johannes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1941), 98–99; cf. tr. by G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), 138.
81. Housman, Manilius 1:41–42.
82. Wilhelm Ahlwardt, The Divans (London: Trubner, 1870), 8.
83. Ibid., 8–9.
85. Tridentinum, canon 4, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York and London: Harper, 1905), 2:83.
86. Schermann, Die allgemeine Kirchenordnung 2:269.
87. Clement, Epistola Petri ad Jacobum (Epistle of Peter to James), in PG 2:28.
88. Tertullian, Adversus Gnosticos Scorpiace (Scorpiace) 11, in PL 2:169. “Sed haec est perversitas fidei, probata non credere, non probata praesumere.”
89. Athanasius (Dubia), Confutationes Quarumdam Propositionum (Refutations of Certain Arguments) 13, in PG 28:1377–80.
90. Siricus, Epistolae (Letters) 9, in PL 13:1177.
91. Martin Schanz, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, 5 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1914) 4:543–44.
92. Pfeiffer, “Facts and Faith in Biblical History,” 3–5.
93. J. Bligh, “The ‘Edict of Milan’: Curse or Blessing?” Church Quarterly Review 153 (1952): 310.
94. Peter Lombard, Sententiae (Opinions) I, 5, 8, in PL 192:537.
95. F. Schindler, “Die Lüge in der patrischen Literatur,” in Albert Koeniger, ed., Beiträge zur Geschichte des christlichen Altertums (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1969), 432.
96. Arnold Lunn and John B. S. Haldane, Science and the Supernatural (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935), 51.
97. Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum (Rome: Herder, 1967), nos. 1429–32, 1530–32, 1602–8.
98. Quoted by G. C. Coulton, “Catholicism and Civilization,” Hibbert Journal 19 (1921): 336.
99. Leclercq, “Historiens du Christianisme,” 2689.
100. Maurice De Wulf, History of Medieval Philosophy, 2 vols., tr. E. C. Messenger (London: Longmans, Green, 1926), 2:7, note 4.
101. Ignác Goldziher, Vorlesungen über den Islam (Heidelberg: Winter, 1925), 43.
102. Ibid., 44.
103. Albert Bayet, Les provenciales de Pascal (Paris: Société française d’édit one littéra res et techniques, 1931), 90.
104. Lunn & Haldane, Science and the Supernatural, 94.
105. This belief is held by Vere Gordon Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East (New York: Praeger, 1953), though where business economy fails to produce writing or even use it when it is known, he overlooks the anomaly. “There is no evidence that the local kings felt the need of clerks to look after their revenues,” 217.
106. See our series, Hugh W. Nibley, “The Stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph,” Improvement Era 56 (January–May 1953).
107. The independence of ancient farmers from written calendars is well-illustrated in the Talmud where, for example, the performance of ritual acts or the length of ritual periods is determined by the time when certain leaves fall, when certain plants turn dry, when winter grapes are ripe, etc.; houses are rented “until the second rain falls,” TB Shebi’ith 9. Indeed Childe admits that the first set calendar, that of the Egyptians, “was patently useless for just the purpose for which it had been devised,” New Light on the Most Ancient East, 4—another way of saying that it must have been devised for some other purpose.
108. Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 1.
109. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah, 9.
110. Perier, Les ‘127 Canons des Apôtres’ 48, in PO 8:623.
111. E.g., “Recent Progress in North Canaanite Research,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 70 (1938): 21.
112. Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (Cincinnati: Block Printing, 1894), 89–90.
113. Friedrich Dieterici, Die Philosophie der Araber im X. Jahrhundert nach Christ (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1876), 18–21.
114. Thus Anselm on the enormous difficulty of interpreting a translated passage of scripture, Cur Deus Homo 1, 18, in PL 158:388.
115. Alan H. Gardiner, “The Eloquent Peasant,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 9 (1923): 6.
116. This process is illustrated by Simeon Potter, Our Language (London: Penguin, 1953), ch. 4, 7, and passim, with Shakespeare leading the parade of innovators.
117. “Now, comparative philological research has definitely proved that the laws which govern one language or group of languages do not necessarily govern another, nor do the laws which control linguistic phenomena in one period of history hold true of the same phenomena in a different age.” William Foxwell Albright, “Philological Method in Identification of Anatolian Place-Names,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 11 (1925): 19.
118. Lord Fitz Roy Raglan, The Origins of Religion (London: Watts, 1949), 43.
119. Science News Letter 65 (June 5, 1954): 360.
120. On the closing of the other doors, Phillippe Le Corbeiller, “Crystals and the Future of Physics,” Scientific American 188 (January 1953), 50–56. On the new “translation machine” (IBM 701) and its limitations, see Mina Rees, “Computers: 1954,” Scientific Monthly 79 (August 1954): 118–24. This gadget is simply an electronic dictionary that gives back the one-to-one equivalents that have been built into it. Where such one-to-one relationships do not exist between languages, it will not work.
121. Tertullian, Adversus Gnosticos Scorpiace (Scorpiace) 10, in PL 2:166.
122. Tertullian, The Prescription against Heretics 29, in PL 2:47–48.
123. Matthew Poetzl, O. F. M., “Was There a ‘Great Apostasy’?” (St. Paul: Radio Replies Press, 1955).
124. Paul Althaus, “Heilsgeschichte und Eschatologie,” Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie 2 (1924): 605.
125. Hugo Gressmann, Der Ursprung der israelitisch-jüdischen Eschatologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1905), 1.
126. Ibid., and R. Arconada, “La Eschatologia Mesianica en los Salmos ante dos objeciones recientes,” Biblica 17 (1936): 204–29.
127. Arconada, “La Eschatologia Mesianica,” 210–14.
128. J. Lindblom, “Gibt es eine Eschatologie bei den alttestamentlichen Propheten?” Studia Theologica 6 (1952): 113.
129. S. B. Frost, “Eschatology and Myth,” Vetus Testamentum 2 (1952): 70.
130. Gressmann, Der Ursprung der israelitisch-jüdischen Eschatologie, 152.
131. Frost, “Eschatology and Myth,” 80.
132. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Le Messianisme chez les Juifs (Paris: Gabalda, 1909), 58–59.
133. Gressmann, Der Ursprung der israelistisch-jüdischen Eschatologie, 152, “Das Mythische . . . ist das Wesentliche an der Eschatologie [Myth is the essential feature of eschatology].”
134. For the best general treatment of Bultmann and his work, see Ian Henderson, Myth in the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1952). We have avoided using the word existentialism in this discussion to keep from becoming too involved in definitions and distinctions.
135. Ibid., 10–11.
136. Ibid., 9.
137. Ibid., 11–12.
138. See my discussion in The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1954; reprinted Salt Lake City: F.A.R.M.S., Deseret, 1987), 16.
139. Henderson, Myth in the New Testament, 13. Italics are Henderson’s.
140. Hugo Winckler, “Geschichte und Geographie,” in Eberhard Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, 3rd ed. (Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1903), 209, 222.
141. E.g., Bauer, Kalthoff, Hoekstra, Pierson, Naber, E. Johnson, J. M. Robertson, W. B. Smith, P. Jensen, C. P. Fuhrmann, A. Drews, A. Niemojewski, P. L. Couchard, George Brandes. The subject is discussed by Eisler, Iesous Basileus ou Basileusas 1:xiv–xvii.
142. Ibid. 1:205.
143. Albert Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Tübingen: Mohr, 1921) 3:2.
144. R. Bultmann, “Die Frage der Entmythologisierung,” Theologische Zeitschrift 10 (1954): 93: “Dass es ein solches Zusprechen gibt, indem Gott nicht als Gottesidee . . . sondern als mein Gott, der hier und jetzt zu mir spricht, u.z.w. durch den Mund von Menschen, das ist der ‘entmythologisierte’ Sinn des ho logos sarx egeneto, der kirchlichen Inkarnationslehre.” The reader will note that the author’s translation, though all but incomprehensible, still lacks something of the density of the German original. The authority of mere jargon in these discussions cannot be overestimated.
145. Ibid., 94. The remarks on the preceding note apply here.
146. Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung 3:12.
147. The subject is treated at length by Eisler, Iesous Basileus ou Basileusas 1:179–95.
148. M. Burrows, “Thy Kingdom Come” Journal of Biblical Literature 74 (1955): 8.
149. Ibid., 3.
150. Oscar Cullmann, Urchristentum und Gottesdienst (Zürich: Zwingli, 1950), 57.
151. Ernst von Dobschütz, “Die Kirche im Urchristentum,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 28 (1929): 108. Henderson, Myth in the New Testament, 13–14, makes the same objection: Bultmann “ignores the fact that Christianity is an event.”
152. Bultmann, “Untersuchungen zum Johannes Evangelium,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 27 (1928): 118–19.
153. Lagrange, Le Messianisme chez les Juifs, 135, 39.
154. For an official statement, see Robert Koch, “Der Gottesgeist und der Messias,” Biblica 27 (1946): 260–68.
155. Riccardo Avallone, “Veni, Christe!” Antiquitas 8 (1953): 17–21. This is a translation from G. Papini, which, however, the editor considers particularly applicable to the present time, 21.