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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Christ in the Early Church

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CHRIST IN THE EARLY CHURCH.—To treat this subject exhaustively, it would be almost necessary to write a complete history (if such a thing were possible) of the early Christian Church. Christ fills the field of vision. Christian life and Christian thought centre round His Person. It is obvious that in an article of limited length, only salient points can be touched upon, a few typical quotations given, and lines of thought suggested rather than developed.

The first Christians happily knew little of the distinction between the theological and the practical. Belief and life were one. Still, for clearness’ sake, it is proposed in this article to discuss separately, as far as possible, (1) the beliefs of the early Church concerning the Person of Christ; (2) the feeling of the early Church as expressed in practice and devotion, with regard to the living Christ and His present relationship to mankind.

The term ‘early Church’ is, of course, an elastic one. It can scarcely, from a theological point of view, be limited to a shorter period than that which is closed by the Sixth Œcumenical Council (a.d. 681). But within these limits a very special interest attaches to the pre-Nicene period, both from its comparative nearness to the time of Christ, and from the extreme value and interest of its records, scanty though they are. It is with this period (from the closing years of the 1st cent, to a.d. 325) that this article will chiefly deal.

i. Beliefs of the early Church as to the Person of Christ.—1. (a) The earliest Christian writing extant outside the limits of the NT, and one which was for long on the verge of admission into the Canon, is the Epistle to the Corinthians, usually assigned to Clement, bishop of Rome. It was written probably about a.d. 95, to exhort a disordered church to unity and charity. Its interest is therefore chiefly practical, but it should be noted that at least once a doxology is addressed directly to Christ as to a Divine Person (20); that His unique dignity and pre-existence are evidently assumed in such a phrase as ‘the sceptre of the majesty of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the pomp of arrogance, or of pride, though He might have done so’ (16); and that Christ is spoken of as shedding His blood for the salvation of the whole world (7).

(b) The so-called Second Epistle of Clement dates probably within the first half of the 2nd cent., and is a sermon rather than a letter, the earliest Christian sermon extant after the NT. Here Christ is definitely spoken of as ‘God’ (1), as pre-existent (14); and His Incarnation is described in the remarkable words, ‘the Lord who saved us, being first spirit, then became flesh’ (9).

(c) The seven genuine Epistles of Ignatlus of Antioch are in some respects the most notable writings of the 2nd century. They were written by him while he was on his way to martyrdom at Rome, probably in the year a.d. 107, and are addressed to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and to Polycarp of Smyrna. With Ignatius, Jesus Christ is ‘our God’ (Ephesians 1:18, and elsewhere). His blood is ‘the blood of God’ (ib. 1). He is ‘the only Son of God’ (Rom. [Note: Roman.] 1); ‘the unerring mouth in whom the Father hath spoken’ (ib. 8). Ignatius speaks in significant language of the Incarnation, of the human life, sufferings, resurrection, and continued existence of Christ; and of His double nature; ‘There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Eph. 7; cf. also ib. 18, 19, 20; Trall. 9; Smyrn. 1–3). The Virgin Birth of Christ is also distinctly alluded to in Eph. 18, 19.

(d) Another writing usually classed among the ‘Apostolic Fathers,’ is the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, of which the probable limits of date are between a.d. 70 and 132 (Lightfoot). The writer speaks of Christ as ‘Lord of the whole world, unto whom God said from the foundation of the world, “Let us make man after our image and likeness” ’ (5).

(e) A mystical work which enjoyed considerable popularity in the early Church, the Shepherd, attributed in the Muratorian Canon to that Hermas who was brother of Pope Pius i. (a.d. 140–155), contains incidental statements about Christ which point generally in the same direction as those quoted above. The Son of God existed before all creation, and was God’s fellow-counsellor in the work of creation (Simil. ix. 12). He supports all creation (ib. 14). At the same time the language of Hermas about the Incarnation is vague, almost as if the Son of God and the Holy Spirit were identical (Simil. v. 6). It is scarcely fair, however, to interpret this as if it were a careful theological statement. Hermas evidently was not a. man of deep thought or originality. His aim is practical rather than doctrinal. Probably such expressions are to be understood in the same sense as 1 Corinthians 15:45.

2. A very interesting feature of the first half of the 2nd cent, is the rise of the Apologists, men of learning who had exchanged heathenism for Christianity, and who addressed heathen readers in justification or explanation of their new faith, (a) Aristides the philosopher (about a.d. 125), addressing the emperor Hadrian, speaks of Jesus Christ as ‘God’ who ‘came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin took and clad Himself with flesh; and in a daughter of man there dwelt the Son of God.’

(b) Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, traces not only prophecies of Christ in the OT, but identifies Him with the God, or the ‘angel of the Lord,’ who appeared in the OT theophanies, and with the Divine Wisdom of Proverbs 7, etc. Justin practically anticipates the Nicene formula ὁμοούσιος τῷ Πατρί (128), though, as in the case of Hermas, some of his statements are vague, and, if pressed verbally, might appear inconsistent with later definitions. There can be no question, however, that he teaches the pre-existence and the Divinity of Christ, and that his writings were deeply influenced by the Logos doctrine of St. John.

(c) One of the most beautiful as well as most intellectual productions of the early Church is the anonymous Epistle to Diognetus. Here Christ is spoken of as ‘the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe’; and the Father sent Him into the world, ‘as sending God,’ ‘as a king might send his son who is a king’ (7).

3. It was, however, the necessity of meeting both outside attacks on Christianity, and misconceptions of it from within, that gradually forced Christian writers to define more clearly and exactly the nature of Christ. This process of theological definition, which began towards the end of the 2nd cent., culminated in the decisions of the great Councils. Early in the 2nd cent, had begun to appear the curious half-heathen travesties of Christianity which are classed under the general name of Gnosticism. These may be described as attempts to combine Christian ideas and phraseology with ideas drawn from Greek and Oriental religions. The Gnostic systems really differed from Christianity on first principles, as they were generally dualistic, and assumed the essential evil of matter. They denied in consequence the perfect humanity of Christ (a tendency alluded to in the later writings of the NT; cf. 1 John 4:2 f.), and the true union of human nature with the Divine nature in one Person. The Gnostic Christ was not really born of Mary, nor did He truly suffer.

(a) The first and chief opponent of Gnosticism, one of the most extensive writers of the early Church, was Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons from 177–202 (?). He meets the Gnostic systems by stating what was definitely believed about Christ in the Christian Church, which is the repository of truth,—truth inherited from the Apostles, preserved by the Church, and the same in all parts of the Church (i. 10, iii. 1, 4, 24). Irenaeus states this faith of the Church in language very similar to that of the later Creeds. The Church, he says, believes in ‘one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; … and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His future manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord and God and Saviour and King, every knee should bow,’ etc. (i. 10). Irenaeus clearly teaches the pre-existence of Christ, that He was begotten and not created (iii. 18); that His humanity is perfect, sinless, yet absolutely real and not Docetic (ib.); and that He is God and man in one Person (iii. 16). Perhaps the most remarkable contribution of Irenaeus to Christology is his teaching that all mankind is gathered together and summed up in the Incarnation (‘in seipso recapitulavit,’ iii. 18, etc.).

(b) In the East, Gnosticism was met by the great writers of the School of Alexandria, Clement and Origen, who further developed the conception of Christ as the Logos who is immanent in the Universe. Origen was in some respects a thinker in advance of his age, and his teaching was undoubtedly misunderstood by his successors. Whether his doctrine of Christ was altogether in harmony with the later definitions of the Councils has often been questioned. That it was really so has been maintained strongly by Bishop Bull in his Defence of the Nicene Creed, and by Bishop Westcott. Origen certainly taught the eternal generation of the Son of God (de Princ. i. 2), which doctrine supplies the basis of the reply to the Arian quibbles about the posteriority of the Son to the Father; the reality of the Incarnation (de Princ. ii. 6); and he spoke of Christ as the God-man (θεάνθρωπος).

4. The 3rd cent, is marked by a series of heresies which from different points of view attacked the doctrine which, as we have seen, had been consistently held in the Church, though at times vaguely stated, of the unique relationship of the Son to the Father, in other words, of the Divinity of the historic Christ. How, it was asked, could the Divinity and the eternal pre-existence of Christ be reconciled with the unity of God? There were two principal heretical answers to this problem, and they may be called ‘heretical’ in a sense that Gnosticism was not, because they arose within the Church itself, and claimed to be the original doctrine.

(a) The Adoptianists, who seem to have been the doctrinal successors of the early Judaic-Christian sect of the Ebionites, and whose chief teachers at Rome were Theodotus and Artemon, all taught a subordination, to a greater or less degree, of the Son to the Father, even making Christ nothing more than a highly exalted man, who was ‘adopted’ to His Sonship by the Father. This last point was reached by the teaching of the brilliant Paul of Samosata (260–270), who was condemned by a series of Councils at Antioch, and finally deposed in 270.

(b) On the other hand, the Monarchians or Patripassians, represented by Praxeas, Noetus, and Sabellius, so merged the personality of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the unity of the Father, that it practically followed from their teaching that the historic Christ was actually the Father Himself who was incarnate, and suffered on the cross, so that, in the spiteful epigram of Tertullian, Praxeas ‘put to flight the Comforter and crucified the Father.’

The most important opponents of these heresies were Hippolytus, bishop of Portus (d. 258?), and Dionysius, bishop of Rome (d. 269). Only a fragment remains of the writings of the latter; and those of the former, as well as the exact nature of his teaching, are wrapped in considerable obscurity.

The controversies of the 3rd cent, obviously still waited for a final solution. It is quite evident that the general conscience of the Church revolted against both Adoptianism and Patripassianism, though the uncertainty of theological terms, the absence of a fixed theological vocabulary, and the difficulty of arriving at common action owing to the stress of frequent persecutions, rendered it difficult for the Church as a whole to come to close quarters with these different forms of error. This slight sketch of pre-Nicene theology should, however, be sufficient to show that, despite the absence of any statement of faith common to the whole Church, there is an overwhelming consensus of Church belief from the first to the effect (1) that the historic Jesus Christ was truly God, pre-existent with the Father; (2) that He was also truly man; (3) that in Him are permanently united God and man in one Person.

5. The Edict of Milan (312) introduces a new era of Church history. Persecution ceased, Christianity tended at once to become the recognized religion of the Empire. This sudden outburst of popularity brought into the Church an influx of ill-instructed converts, who were naturally eager to assimilate Christianity as far as possible to their old heathenism.

(a) The teaching of Arius, a parish priest of Alexandria, who had, however, previously studied at Antioch, brought swiftly the crisis when the Church must definitely and clearly state her belief as to the Person of Christ. We thus enter upon the era of the great Councils, called ‘Œcumenical,’ as involving an appeal to the universal conscience and witness of the Christian Church throughout the world.

Arius seems to have taught a form of Adoptianism: Christ was the Son of God, and prior to all other created things, and yet Himself a creature. To pay Divine honours to a creature, however exalted, was, of course, really idolatry; but for this very reason Arianism was popular with those nominal converts who had never in their heart relinquished their old polytheism. To the teaching of Arius, the Church at the Council of Nicaea (325), mainly through the exertions of the great Athanasius, opposed the key-word of the Nicene Creed. Christ, the Son of God, is ‘of one substance’ (ὁμοούσιος) with the Father, i.e. He is, and was from all eternity, of the same Godhead as the Father. Strife and controversy raged round this celebrated phrase during most of the 4th century. It was defended consistently by Athanasius, Basil, and the two Gregorys (of Nyssa and Nazianzus). Ultimately all attempts to substitute for it some vaguer expression failed, and the Council of Constantinople (381) definitely re-affirmed the Nicene statement. The absolute Deity of Christ in the fullest sense of the term was thus finally vindicated. Other problems, however, remained.

(b) Apollinarism, a reaction against Arianism, ascribed to Christ an imperfect human nature, in which the Divine nature took the place of the human ‘spirit’ (πνεῦμα), the highest part of man’s rational nature. This error was condemned at Constantinople (381); and it seems that at some later date other clauses were added to the original Nicene Creed, derived apparently from a Jerusalem baptismal creed, which emphasized the true and perfect humanity of Christ.

(c) The Council of Ephesus (431) dealt with a further problem, the ‘Hypostatic Union,’ i.e. the union of two whole and perfect natures, Divine and human, in the one Person of Christ. (α) The teaching of Nestorius, in which there are distinct traces of Gnosticism, practically made two persons of Christ, by denying that the infant child of Mary could properly be called ‘God’; and by asserting apparently that at some time after the birth of Jesus, the Divine Logos united Itself with Him. The key-word which the Church adopted to refute Nestorius was the title Theotokos, ‘mother of God,’ applied to the Virgin Mary. (β) A reaction in an opposite direction led Eutyches a few years later to exalt the Divinity of Christ at the expense of His humanity, by teaching that the humanity was in some way swallowed up in the Divinity. The famous ‘Tome’ of Pope Leo i. stated the balance of faith clearly and antithetically, and the fourth Council (Chalcedon, 451), in condemning Eutyches, laid down that the two natures of Christ are to be acknowledged ἀσυγχύτως (‘without confusion’), ἀτρέπτως (‘without change’), ἀδιαιρέτως (‘without division’), ἀχωρίστως (‘without separation’). The same truths were stated in a Latin dress, for Iiturgic use, about this time, in the so-called ‘Athanasian’ Creed.

(d) Eutychianism, however, with its disproportionate reverence for the Divinity of Christ, proved too fascinating for the Eastern mind to be disposed of by the Council of Chalcedon. Political as well as religious causes entered into the long ‘Monophysite’ controversy. The fifth Œcumenical Council (Constantinople, 553) again condemned those who were unwilling to admit the full and perfect humanity existing in the one Person of Christ. The sixth Council (Constantinople, 681) marks the last phase of the long debate. Monothelitism, the last stronghold of Monophysitism, was overthrown by the statement of two wills in Christ, human and Divine, the former perfectly subject to the latter.

The steps by which the halting theology of the pre-Nicene period led finally to the full statement of the Catholic faith, were a legitimate and, indeed, a necessary development. It is not one of the least evidences to a Divine power working in the Christian Church, that, in an age of cosmopolitan superstition and intellectual unrest, all attempts to assimilate Christianity to heathenism were rejected, and a clearly defined and balanced statement of truth emerged and gained almost entire possession of the field. With all its mystery, the Catholic faith of Nicaea and Chalcedon was felt by the common Christian conscience alone to satisfy all the different sides of truth as they are contained in Scripture, and to do justice to all that Christians from the first had believed concerning their Master. To-day there is practically no alternative left between the Nicene Creed and humanitarianism. If the latter is true, the appearance of Christ and its subsequent effect on the world must remain an insoluble enigma,—a miracle even more difficult of credence than the stupendous statement of the Nicene formula.

ii. Devotion of the early Church to Christ.—Whatever uncertainties or faulty definitions may be detected in the statements of pre-Nicene theology, there is no uncertainty as to the attitude of the early Church towards the personal Christ. Lex supplicandi, lex credendi. In the devotion which made men and women and little children live and die for Christ, we shall find even a surer guide than in the attempts of Christian writers to explain their belief. From the very first Jesus Christ stands out in all the records of the early Church as the personal, living Master, not merely the Shepherd and High Priest of His faithful ones, but the true Lord and King of the Universe. He is the object of passionate love, obedience, prayer, and worship.

1. (a) To Clement of Rome, Christ is ‘the high priest of our offerings, the guardian and helper of our weakness’ (36). Through Him the Father ‘instructed us, sanctified us, honoured us’ (59).

(b) The unknown author of the Second Epistle of Clement opens his sermon with a burst of enthusiastic gratitude: ‘What recompense then shall we give to Him (Jesus Christ)? or what fruit worthy of His own gift to us? And how many mercies do we owe Him! For He bestowed the light on us; He spake to us, as a father to his sons; He saved us when we were perishing—He called us when we were not, and from not being He willed us to be.’

(c) The epigrammatic sentences of Ignatius glow with passionate love to Christ. ‘Jesus Christ’ is ‘our inseparable life’ (Ephesians 3); true Christians are ‘arrayed from head to foot in the commandments of Jesus Christ’ (ib. 9); faith and love in Jesus Christ are ‘the beginning and the end of life’ (ib. 14). ‘He that possesseth the word of Jesus is able to hearken to His silence’ (ib. 15),—a remarkable and pregnant phrase. Ignatius desires suffering and martyrdom that he ‘may attain Christ,’ and ‘rise free in Him’ (Rom. [Note: Roman.] 4, 5, 6). The blood of Jesus Christ is ‘eternal and abiding joy’ (Philippians 1). Those who ‘speak not concerning Jesus Christ’ he looks on as ‘tombstones and graves of the dead, on which are inscribed only the names of men’ (ib. 6).

(d) The Epistle to Diognetus speaks of ‘the Word, who was from the beginning, who appeared as new and yet was proved to be old, and is engendered always young in the hearts of saints,—through whom the Church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied among the saints, grace which confers understanding and reveals mysteries’ (11).

(e) Justin Martyr describes how, after searching vainly for truth and satisfaction among the Stoics, the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists, he at last was led by the advice of a certain aged man whom he met on the seashore to study the Scriptures, and to conceive a love of Christ. ‘Straightway,’ he says, ‘a flame was kindled in my soul’ (Trypho, 8).

2. Not only was Christ loved, He was also obeyed. His commandment must take precedence of every other claim. To Hermas, divorce and remarriage after divorce are as absolutely forbidden as unchastity (Command. iv. 1). Justin Martyr similarly regards as absolute the teaching of Christ respecting divorce, forgiveness, charity, endurance of injuries, swearing, and civil obedience (1 Apol. 15–17).

3. That the personal Christ was worshipped by the early Church as Lord and God is indisputable. Prayer and thanksgiving were addressed directly to Him.

(a) The famous letter of Pliny to Trajan (a.d. 113?) speaks of having elicited from Christians, who had been examined, that it was their custom on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and sing alternately ‘a hymn to Christ as God.’

(b) A remarkable hymn attributed to Clement of Alexandria, intended apparently to be sung by Christian children, in which Christ is addressed throughout and praised as Ruler, Shepherd, and King, is found in his Paedagogus (iii. 12). Of a slightly later date are such hymns as the Gloria in excelsis and the Hail gladdening Light. Indeed, it seemed to the Church, when confronted by the Arian problem, one of the most convincing proofs of the error of the teaching of Arius, that Christ had always received Divine honours in the Church.

(c) The personal nearness of Christ to the believer during Christian worship was especially associated with the Eucharist. To Ignatius, ‘the Eucharist is the flesh of Jesus Christ,’ though the false teachers deny it (Smyr. 6). ‘There is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto union with His blood’ (Philippians 4). To Justin Martyr, the Eucharist, the conditions of receiving which are belief, baptism, and a life according to the commandments of Christ, is not common bread and common drink, but the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, by which our blood and flesh are nourished (1 Apol. 66). To Irenaeus and the Christian Fathers generally, participation in the Eucharist is the actual means whereby Christians share in the life and resurrection of Christ.

(d) The testimonies of the Christian martyrs are most suggestive. Ignatius, brought before the emperor Trajan, calls himself Theophorus, ‘Bearer of God,’ saying that he bears the Crucified within his breast. Polycarp of Smyrna, when called upon by the pro-consul to revile Christ, confessed in memorable words, ‘Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour!’ And the apparently contemporary record of the martyrdom of polycarp closes with the significant words: ‘The blessed Polycarp was apprehended by Herodes, when Philip of Tralles was high priest, in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, but in the reign of the Eternal King, Jesus Christ.’ The martyrs of Lyons and Vienne (177) are spoken of in the contemporary letter which describes their sufferings (Eus. Hist. Eccl. v. 1) as ‘hastening to Christ’; ‘through them Christ showed that things which appear mean and obscure and contemptible to men are with God of great glory.’ One of them, St. Blandina, ‘was clothed with Christ, the mighty and conquering Athlete.’ Their patience manifested ‘the measureless mercy of Christ.’ And with one and all who suffered, the simple confession of the name of Christ seems to have been the strength which sustained them. St. Perpetua, the African martyr (early in the 3rd cent.), was comforted before her sufferings by a vision of Christ as an aged man, a shepherd, sitting in the midst of a spacious garden, who said to her, ‘Thou hast done well, my child, in coming.’ St. Maximus, who suffered under Decius, declared, ‘These are not torments, but anointings which are laid upon us for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ruinart, Acta Martyrum, p. 204). Phileas of Thmuis, put to death in Diocletian’s persecution, said in his last words: ‘Now we begin to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Beloved, attend to the commandments of the Lord.—Let us call upon Him, the spotless, the infinite One, who sitteth upon the Cherubim, the Maker of all things, who is the Beginning and the End, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen’ (ib. p. 521).

4. Interesting light on early Christian feeling is thrown by the funeral inscriptions and symbols of the Catacombs. As a rule, the inscriptions are of extreme brevity. Their leading thought is that dead Christians are with Christ in a continued existence of peace and joy. The aspirations and prayers of their friends on earth go with them, and the departed in turn remember the living in prayer to Christ, e.g. ‘Vivas’; ‘Vivas in Deo Christo’; ‘In pace’; ‘Deus refrigeret spiritum tuum’; ‘Quam stabile tibi haec vita est’ (i.e. the life beyond the grave); ‘Spiritus tuus in pace et in Christo’; μνήσκεσθε δέ καὶ ἡμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἁγίαις ὑμῶν πρύχας (προσεύχαις).

5. Most of the early Christian pictures of Christ are merely symbolical, the Lamb and the Fish being the most common. But the earliest personal representation is suggestive; it is the figure of the Good Shepherd, sometimes bearing the lost sheep on His shoulders, sometimes surrounded by His flock. This tender personal relationship between the soul and the Saviour, or between the Church and her Lord, which stands in such striking contrast to the trials and sufferings that surrounded the daily life of the Christian in a hostile world, was evidently the aspect which appealed most deeply to the heart of the early believer.

6. The relation of Christ both to His Church and to the world was also set forth impressively in the so-called ‘majesties,’ with which from the 4th cent. onwards the Christian art began to adorn the churches. In these pictures Christ is represented as reigning now in glory, bearing the symbols of His royal, prophetic, and priestly offices. It was not merely to an historic Christ that Christians looked back, or a future coming to judgment that they anticipated, though both these conceptions were vividly present in the mind of the early Church. It was a Christ actually in possession of His Kingdom, even now ruling over the nations, and surrounded by His worshipping saints (who even in this present time shared His throne), that dominated the thought of the early centuries. So in the great mosaics in the Church of St. Cosmas and St. Damian at Rome (6th cent.), the colossal figure of Christ stands in the apse, fronting the worshippers, portrayed on a dark-blue ground amid golden-edged clouds of sunset; His right hand is raised in blessing, His left holds a written scroll. The figures of St. Peter and St. Paul, with palm-trees of Paradise and the phœnix (the emblem of the Resurrection), stand on each side of the Christ, and beneath His feet flows the river Jordan. Below this again is the representation of the Lamb, with the four rivers of Paradise and twelve sheep on either side.

The representations of the suffering and dying Christ, which became the favourites of a later age, have, of course, an independent value. Nevertheless there is a peculiar beauty and significanee in the mingled majesty and tenderness of those earlier pictures of the living Christ, which expressed the love of those whose faith in Him had literally overcome the world. See Christ in Art.

7. The two strands of theology and devotion which we have endeavoured to trace in the early Church seem fittingly to meet in the most remarkable man after St. Paul whom the Church has seen, the great Athanasius. It was largely due, as we have seen, to him that the traditional belief of the Church, at the greatest crisis of Church history, took its clear and definite and accurately reasoned shape in the Catholic creeds. And it is interesting to note that the secret of Athanasius’ defence of the Homoousion was seen by his contemporaries to lie in his own personal devotion from childhood onwards to the Person of the Redeemer. ‘Athanase était enflammé, dès sa jeunesse, de la passion qui fait les saints, l’amour de Jésus Christ’ (De Broglie, L’Église et l’Empire, i. 372). ‘His maintenance of dogma was a lifelong act of devotion’ (Bright, Church Hist. p. 149). The great treatise On the Incarnation of the Word, which marks an epoch in theological writings, is no mere dogmatic statement, but glows with the pure passion of belief. It is the work of one who profoundly and from the heart believes in Christ as a living Person, in His present power, and His absolute claim upon mankind. The power of the Cross of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead are to Athanasius the greatest of facts, unparalleled in history, illimitable in their future consequences. ‘The achievements of the Saviour,’ he says, ‘resulting from His becoming man, are of such a kind and number that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves …; to sum the matter up, behold how the Saviour’s doctrine is everywhere increasing, while all idolatry and everything opposed to the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and losing power and falling; and thus beholding, worship the Saviour, who is above all and mighty, even God the Word’ (54, 55).

8. Not only on the highways of Church history does the figure of the living Christ stand out as the central object of Christian love and loyalty. Such a wonderful production as the Hymn of St. Patrick, with a quotation from which we will elose this brief survey, illustrates the impression which the preaching of Christ produced upon the infant nations just emerging from barbarism. It belongs to the 5th or 6th cent., a time when the civilization and empire of Rome were failing, and men were clinging to Christ as the one power which could guide and set free their lives:

‘Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ in the fort,

Christ in the chariot-seat,

Christ on the poop.

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.’

Literature.—The Apostolic Fathers, one volume edition, containing text, translations, etc., by Lightfoot and Harmer (Macmillan, & Co., 1891); ‘The Apology of Aristides,’ Texts and Studies, Cambridge, 1891; The Ante-Nicene Christian Library (T. & T. Clark); Smith-Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography (Murray, 1877–1887 [the articles on ‘Athanasius,’ ‘Origenes,’ and ‘Christology’ are especially useful]); Smith-Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (1875–1880); Wace-Schaff, Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Oxford and New York, 1890–1900), especially the volumes ‘Eusebius,’ ‘Athanasius,’ and ‘The Seven Œcumenical Councils’; Schaff, History of the Christian Church (T. & T. Clark); Bright, History of the Church, 313–451 (Parker & Co., 1888); Ruinart, Acta Martyrum (Ratisbon, 1859); Newman, Arians of the Fourth Century (Longmans & Co.); Bull, Works (edited by Burton, Oxford, 1846); Burn, Introd. to the Creeds (1899).

A. R. Whitham.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Christ in the Early Church'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/christ-in-the-early-church.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, August 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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