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Lecture 8: The Christianity of the Alexandrian Fathers

IN the last lecture I sought to sketch a condensed picture of the Jewish philosophy of religion founded by Philo in Alexandria, and then to show how under its influence a century later the Christian tradition experienced that ideal spiritualisation which we are wont to designate as Johannine theology. To-day I would ask you to transport yourselves again with me to Alexandria, no longer into the study of a solitary Jewish thinker, but into a Christian lecture-room in which the Christian faith is being treated as the subject of scientific instruction. It is the famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, the oldest theological educational institution of Christendom, in which at the beginning of the third century the Christian philosopher Clement undertook philosophically to establish and explain Christianity before Christian and heathen hearers. His hearers included many who afterwards occupied influential positions as bishops or teachers in Eastern churches. Among them was the still youthful Origen, who afterwards, as the successor of Clement in the Catechetical School, outshone the fame of his teacher and created the first Christian dogmatic — the foundation of all later theology, and certainly also the apple of discord in all its conflicts. In order to understand Christianity as it has taken shape in the ecclesiastical theology, we must glance at the manner in which the primitive Christian faith became dogmatic theology, by means of the scientific work of the Alexandrian Fathers.

As Philo had found in the Divine Logos the unity of the Old Testament revelation and philosophical reason, the same conception also served Clement as the basis of a philosophy of the history of religion, which made Judaism and the Greek development prior preparatory stages of Christianity. The Divine Logos which enlightened the souls of men from the beginning — so Clement teaches — taught the Jews by Moses and the prophets, and he also awakened wise men among the Greeks, and gave them philosophy as their guide to righteousness. What prophecy was for the Jews, philosophy was for the Greeks; they were both a preparatory education for the higher truth which was to come in the Gospel. Whereas heathen philosophy had several fragments of the truth and Judaism had the truth still veiled in promises, in Christ has appeared the full truth in which all earlier germs of truth have been fulfilled, and at the same time have become a common good for all the world. “The rise of the light has put everything into light; and now all has become Athens, all has become Hellas.”

As the history of religion is regarded as an education of mankind from imperfect to perfect knowledge of truth, the development of the Christian life also falls under the same point of view of a progress from mere faith to the knowledge that is formed by philosophy. Clement, indeed, in harmony with the Church, held faith, that immediate certainty of the divinely revealed truth, to be the necessary basis of the Christian salvation in general, and of knowledge in particular. But above the faith which accepts what is handed down on authority, there stands in his view the Gnosis which comprehends the content of what is believed and can demonstrate it on scientific grounds, or defend it against sophistic attacks. But for this, according to Clement, philosophy is the indispensable auxiliary: not that the Christian Gnostic had to hold to a definite philosophical system, but he has to select the best out of them all, and by occupying himself with philosophy, to appropriate the faculty of reflecting about spiritual things and recognising the deeper sense of the traditional faith. This knowledge of the deeper sense, Clement, according to the customary manner of that age, mediated with the traditional faith by the allegorical transformation of it, which in fact frequently led to the freest criticism of the tradition. But this freedom hid itself from the believing Gnostic behind the fiction that his allegorical interpretation went back by means of an esoteric tradition to a secret doctrine of the apostles, and even the most independent thinking of these Alexandrian Fathers felt itself secured only under the ægis of an at least latent tradition.

The object of the Gnosis is not so much God Himself as rather the Divine Logos. According to Clement, God in Himself is unknowable. He is not to be thought of correctly under any predicate or any name. We but improperly use all kinds of noble names in application to God as a regulative means of averting erroneous thoughts, and as a positive expression of His essential nature. His essence becomes knowable only in His image and instrument, the Logos. Clement thought of the Logos, on the one hand, as the universal world-forming and regulating reason and power, and consequently as one with God according to His immanence in the world; but, on the other hand, he also thought of Him as the Son, personally distinct from God and subordinate to Him, who, as He first gave us as creator the natural life, so He has at last appeared in Christ as teacher in order to bestow upon us the eternal life, through the knowledge of the life that is pleasing to God. Christ is therefore, according to Clement, the ideal manifestation of the universal principle of the true and good, which worked from the beginning in the world, and led humanity educatively to its Divine destination. But this destination is reached only in Christianity, and more particularly by the Christian Gnostic, who is no longer impelled by fear and hope like him who merely believes, but who raises himself in the knowledge and love of God above all that is earthly, and who, in following after His teacher Christ, also becomes Himself a God free from all mere impulses. Clement's ideal of the Christian Gnostic has the greatest affinity with the ideal of the wise man of the Stoics, as the pious Stoics in the time of the Emperors, men like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, have sketched it. What surrender to the Divine order of the world is with them, that with the Christian Gnostic is the knowledge and imitation of the Divine Logos, typically revealed in Christ as the educator and teacher of mankind.

The most important among Clement's scholars was Origen, who, while still a youth of eighteen years, became his successor as teacher of the Catechetical School. He had hitherto occupied himself with linguistic science and interpretation of the Holy Scripture. But when there were now also found among his scholars heretics and philosophically educated men, he felt the need of making himself more exactly acquainted with philosophy, and he attended for some years the school of the Neo - Platonist, Ammonius Saccas. Regarding the result of these studies of Origen, the Neo-Platonist Porphyry afterwards delivered an acute judgment, saying that he indeed made great progress in philosophy, but as an adherent of the Christian sect he again falsified all the excellent things he had learned by Hellenising in his doctrine of God and things, and these Hellenistic views he foisted on foreign myths. In fact, Origen's mode of teaching was a mixture of Christianity and Greek philosophy. The latter, indeed, he wished only to use as a means for the defence, establishment, and development of the historically given faith; but it inevitably exercised a determining influence even upon the apprehension of the substance of the doctrine of faith. The traditional views of the faith of the community were spiritualised, idealised, transposed into philosophical thoughts partly far away from their original sense. But on the other hand, the philosophical ideas were so combined with the traditional matter of the half-historical, half-legendary faith of the community, that this dogmatic mixture might well appear to a philosophical critic as a “falsification” of the Hellenistic ideas. This impure mixing of thoughts and sensible images and legends continued to be the fundamental characteristic of the dogmatic theology of which Origen was the scientific founder. It was only at the cost of entering into the form of Greek speculation that the Christian faith could overcome the ancient culture; and on the other hand, the ancient culture could only be preserved for the after-world at the cost of its amalgamation with the Christian tradition. It would be senseless to blame this universal historical necessity, or to make it a reproach to the Fathers; for it is not our function to play the master to history, but to understand it. But it would be just as perverse a position to deny that the theology of the Church as it thus arose, and became a product of the mixture of such heterogeneous elements as the tradition of the community and the Greek philosophy, was far from being a perfect expression of the truth; rather can it satisfy neither the thinking mind nor simple faith. It is a compromise which has to mediate between two constituents, but on that account becomes just to neither of them, because it contains too much artificial reflection for the one, and too much fantastic mythology for the other.

This evil, which has cleaved to dogmatic theology from its beginning, was, however, felt less in the time of Origen than afterwards, because philosophical speculation had not yet become an element of that faith of the community which was binding on all, but was reserved as a higher stage of knowledge for those who were trained for it. And hence speculation could proceed all the more freely because it did not with every proposition give a shock to the sensibilities of the naïve consciousness of the community, and the community of the simple believers could still enjoy the practical saving force of their faith undisturbed, because it was not yet lighted up with the refinement of subtle dogmatic definitions and formulæ. How much confusion would have been spared the Christian Church if its teachers had always proceeded according to the principles of the pedagogic wisdom which was accepted in the Catechetical School at Alexandria in the third century! There were not wanting those who, according to Origen's statement, could give account of their faith with deep reasons that were taken from the essence of things themselves; but they were far from forcing this Gnosis upon all. The many who lacked the power of understanding it were exhorted to keep to the simple faith and thankfully to experience its power in their moral life, without giving themselves any concern about dogmatic questions. “What stands in specially high estimation with us (the ideas of the philosophically educated) we venture to bring forward in our public addresses only when our hearers consist in the majority of men of insight; and on the other hand, we still hold back what is more profound when they have not yet reached the proper stage, but seem still to require milk.” This right to distinguish with pedagogic wisdom between the milk of babes and the strong food of mature men, and not to give the same thing to everyone but to give every one his own, may appeal to the example of the apostle Paul; but it has unfortunately been denied to the Christian teachers from the time when the State intruded, with rough levelling hand, into the sanctuary of the Christian faith, and raised the propositions of a scientific reflection to dogmas which all were bound to confess.

That Origen employed allegorical interpretation as a means for the mediation, or even veiling, of the opposition between his philosophical culture and the positive tradition, was not new. But he first grounded this method systematically, and brought it into intellectual connection with his metaphysics. As man has body, soul, and spirit, so the Scriptures have a threefold sense—the bodily or literal sense, the psychological or moral sense, and the spiritual or Gnostic sense. According to Origen's conviction, the literal sense contains much which is not worthy of God nor conducive to our salvation, or which at least is important only for a low religious consciousness, but is indifferent for those who are advanced: such matter has been intentionally intermixed in the Scripture by the divine Logos, in order thereby to give us occasion to rise above the letter and to seek after the deeper sense. With this position Origen won great freedom in respect of all the Biblical narratives which were repellent to the cultivated taste of his time. Not only the legends of the Creation, of Paradise, and the Fall, and the intercourse of God with the Patriarchs, but also many Gospel narratives, have been treated by him as allegories of spiritual truths; and he grounded this, his mystical interpretation, in a manner which has the most striking affinity with the modern mythical explanation of miracles. For example, he says that the evangelists have not properly understood many of the extraordinary deeds of Jesus which they described, and also that they have given what was purely spiritual often in the form of an external history: they interchanged the spiritually true with the external, so that they not seldom preserved the spiritual truth to a certain degree in the veil of an untruth.

Let us now cast a glance at the dogmatic system in which Origen has professedly combined the results of his investigation of Scripture into a coherent whole, but in which he has in truth worked together the Biblical ecclesiastical tradition with the Greek philosophy. It is the systematic work “Concerning Principles” (De Principiis), and the apologetic treatise “Against Celsus,” which come here under consideration. According to Origen, God is to be thought of as simple, unchangeable, perfect spirit, so far exalted above all finite beings that we are never able fully to know Him. He has indeed so expressed His nature in the visible creation that a certain relative knowledge is to be gained from it, as it is found in philosophers; but we Christians have learned to know God still better through the incarnate Logos. Nevertheless, our knowledge of God always remains only relative. “Whatever it be that we are able to divine, or to know of God, we must always believe that He is yet far more glorious and greater than what we have known of Him.” The attributes which we predicate of God serve as a means to help us to think of Him in so far as this is possible to human nature. But we must think away from them all that is unworthy of God, and especially all that would bring a contradiction or a change or a moral imperfection into God; for example, such states of feeling as repentance or anger. Between the goodness and justice of God there is no discordance, as the Gnostics thought; but justice or righteousness is the order in the manifestation of His goodness. Nor is the omnipotence of God to be thought of as so limitless that it could come into contradiction with the wisdom or omniscience of God. Because the omnipotence is constantly determined by the wisdom of God, it can do nothing contrary to reason; but it is also limited by the knowing of God, in so far as this cannot embrace a thing that is unlimited in itself; and therefore omnipotence was not able to create a world unlimited from the beginning, but merely an endless series of worlds limited at every time. The unlimited would be the incomprehensible, even to God; it could not be the object of His knowledge, whose nature is to limit the knowable.

As the perfect spirit, God cannot be without revelation; but this is mediated by the Son begotten eternally out of God, or the Logos. The personal independence of the Logos has been taught much more definitely by Origen than by Clement. The opposition to the Gnosticising teaching of the Monarchians (Unitarians), and the need of closest attachment to the ecclesiastical way of thinking in which the identification of Jesus with the Logos had already become a standing view, was without doubt the determining motive of Origen's emphasising of the independent hypostasis of the Logos, that source of all the further defects and contradictions in the ecclesiastical doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ. But it appeared as yet less prominently in Origen than in his successors. In virtue of the beginningless generation of the Son which is grounded by the immutability of God, He stands above all creatures, shares in the perfect nature of the Father, and is therefore directly called God. But as the Son begotten by the Father, who has the principle of His being not in Himself but in the Father, He is subordinate to the Father in the same manner as all creatures, and is Himself also called creature. His equality of Being with the Father becomes a relative equality, and His unity with the Father is understood as a moral harmony of will. One sees that Origen's formula of the “eternally begotten Son” already includes in itself the contradiction of equality with God and subordination, from which as a natural consequence the conflict between the Arian and Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity afterwards arose.

Before Origen the Church had as yet taught nothing definite regarding the Holy Spirit: it wavered between the view of the Spirit as a creature analogous to the angels or identical with the Son. Origen, essentially in the sense of the Johannine Gospel, conceived of the relationship of the Spirit to the Son as an analogous repetition of the relationship between the Son and the Father: the Spirit has taken Being through the Son, is of the same substance with Him, but subordinate. The activity of these three hypostases was represented by Origen in the form of three concentric circles: the widest, embracing the whole Being, is that of the Father; the next that of the Son, which extends to the rational creation; and the narrowest is that of the Spirit, which rules in the holy men of the Church. But the inference might easily be drawn from this view that Father, Son, and Spirit are three modes of the revelation of the one Deity, developing themselves in so many stages out of each other; and this would amount to the same thing as the modalistic doctrine of the Trinity held by Sabellius. But Origen repudiated this inference, seeing that he held fast the view of the hypostases as subjects separating themselves independently from each other, as they most naturally are apprehended by the popular mind.

The creation of the world, according to Origen, cannot have had a beginning in time; for it is unthinkable that God has ever been inactive, that His goodness did nothing, His omnipotence exercised no power. But if His omnipotence was always active, it must also have had objects, and therefore must always create a world; a transition from not-creating to creating would also be in contradiction with the immutability of God. The world as a revelation of the infinite omnipotence must be infinite; but as object of the divine knowing, which can only embrace what is limited, it must always be finite. Origen solved this antinomy by the thought of an endless series of finite worlds succeeding each other. He probably borrowed this thought from the Stoics, but he improved their theory in that he did not think of the successive worlds as a mere repetition of the same existence, but as an ascending series of developments, in which every prior existence carries the germs of the later in itself, so that the seed of the preceding world comes to maturity in states of the later world. Origen found a further difficulty in the inequality of the creatures, whereas the divine justice is the law of equality for all. If the reason of the inequality can lie neither in the one creator nor even in several creative causes, it must lie in the creatures themselves — namely, in their free self-determination in a pre-terrestrial existence. In agreement with Plato, Origen supposes that all rational beings existed before their terrestrial appearance as pure spirits in the ideal world, and that freedom belonged to them, so that they might continue to persevere in the imitation of God or fall away from Him. This very mutability, as grounded in their freedom, distinguished them from the immutability of the Divine Being. The fact that the possibility of their fall was actualised, is explained from the cooling down of their original love to God and their inertness in the preservation of goodness. The fall itself appears so far as a necessity grounded in the nature of the finite spirit; only the degree of deviation from the good is different in individuals according to the measure of their freewill. The soul is the spirit fallen away, or cooled in its love for the good (which Origen finds indicated in the etymology of the word ψυχή); but it has the possibility of again returning to its spiritual origin. The extreme point of the fall of souls is their incorporation in a material body; but this is at the same time the beginning of the process of return or of the elevation of the soul again to spirit. The body is on the one hand the prison and place of punishment of fallen souls, and on the other hand it is the means of their purification and education. According to Origen, the whole material world is only created as a place for the purification of fallen spirits. Matter is that which is wholly undetermined in itself; it receives its determining formations from the distinctions that are grounded in the freedom of souls; it is therefore properly only the manifestation of the freedom, or of the essence, of spirits. With this decisive significance of creaturely freedom, Origen could not accept a divine predestination. The election of some, or rejection of others, has not, according to him, its ground in a groundless divine decree, but in the preterrestrial merits of some and offences of others. Moreover, it does not condition any absolute and definite opposition, but only a relative and temporary distinction, seeing that the divine goodness and wisdom aims at the final restoration of all. The place of particular predestination is consequently taken, in the view of Origen, by the profound and genuinely Christian thought of a world-government educating all. The Divine wisdom knows so to guide all the events which happen, that they must serve the common end. It brings the resisting tendencies of will together for fulfilment of the one world-purpose. It directs the doing of the free spirits to goals which lie beyond their own thinking and willing; and even the antagonism and hindrance of some by the others, only serves it as a means by which so much the more to further and secure the victory of the good. “As our body, while consisting of many members, is yet an organism which is held together by one soul, so the universe is to be thought of as an immense living being which is held together by one soul, the power and the Logos of God.” We might find in this an anticipation of Leibnitz's thought of a pre-established harmony of monads, or of a harmonious development of the world guided by an immanent purposive idea. But side by side with these truly speculative thoughts, we find in Origen many fantastic details concerning angels and demons which pursue their work in nature and the world of men, and exercise good or bad influences upon the natural and moral life of men,—notions in which the Alexandrian theologian has paid tribute to the mythological way of thinking of his time.

The human soul, although it is a fallen spirit, still always retains from its origin a spiritual element in itself, an image of God which includes the capacity of becoming actually like to God. Origen finds this higher endowment pre-eminently in the capacity of our reason to distinguish between good and evil and to choose with freedom, but strikingly explains that our acting is never determined merely by external stimulations, but becomes determined by our inner self. The influences of God or of demons which certainly take place, exercise no necessitating power, but it depends on our freewill whether we shall surrender ourselves to the one or the other. Nevertheless, Origen accepts the view of a universal sinfulness of all men (with the single exception of Jesus); but according to him it is not a consequence of the fall of Adam, but of the fall of the several souls in the state of pre-existence, and their combination with the impure material body. Accordingly, he interprets the narrative in the Bible of Paradise and the fall of our first parents allegorically, as applying to the state of souls in the ideal world, and to their sinking down from that world into the corporeal world. The further consequence of this position was that the fallen souls were exposed to the corrupting influences of the demons. With all this deterioration, however, the seeds of the divinely good remain in every soul, and guarantee the possibility of their redemption and restoration.

Origen thought of redemption as a gradually ascending education of men by divine revelation and guidance, which has proceeded down through the whole history of the world, but attained its culmination in the incarnation of the Logos. The incarnation took place at the critical moment when mankind had fallen so much into corruption that it had become incapable of helping itself, and could only be restored by the immediate help of the Creator Himself. That the Divine Logos had become man in Jesus, was an established proposition in the view of the ecclesiastical teachers from the time of the Gospel of John, but Origen was the first who reflected more definitely about the how of the incarnation. He was led to this on the one hand by his doctrine of the independent personality of the eternal Logos, and on the other hand by his doctrine of the nature and origin of human souls. All souls have a certain participation in the Divine Logos, but in a different degree according as they make themselves worthy and capable of his communication by their love to the Logos. Now the soul of Jesus was originally quite like other souls; but as in virtue of its free choice it cleaved to the Logos in unchangeable and indissoluble love, it became one with the Logos in the same way as the iron is penetrated by the fire; it so received the Divine nature of the Logos in itself, that the Logos became its own nature. There did not take place thereby a change or limitation in the Logos, but in the soul of Jesus. There was certainly an elevation above human limits in so far as by its free love for the Logos it became participative of its nature and was deified. And as the character of the body is always determined by the soul, so the divinity of the soul of Jesus had as its consequence that even His body had supernatural properties which distinguished it from other human bodies. It could already on earth assume any change at pleasure, but after the resurrection and ascension it was completely freed from all earthly limits: since then Christ has become wholly God, and pervades the world omnipresently. Thus, according to Origen, the miraculous God-man of the Christian dogma comes about by an ethical process at whose end the two personal subjects, the Divine Logos and the soul of Jesus, are fused into a single Being. The result of the process passes beyond all human analogy and becomes a transcendental mystery, although the process itself keeps within the analogy of our moral-religious experience. Viewed on this side, we have a religious ideal in which the Christian experience indeed potentiates its proper content and yet finds it again intelligibly; while on the other side we have the abstract form of an artificial reflection which has no significance for the religious faith, but so much the more contains matter for theological disputation. Thus the Christology of Origen stands exactly intermediate between the unreflected religious faith in Christ of the oldest Christendom and the scholastic Christ-dogma of the Church for which it laid the foundation.

The work of Christ was described by Origen from different points of view, for which occasion was given partly by the statements of the New Testament and partly by the popular notions of his time. To the former belongs the view of the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice which He, as the sinless head of the community, offered vicariously for them, in order to satisfy the justice of God. To the latter belongs the mythological idea of a conflict of Christ with Satan and the Kingdom of Demons, in which His death appears partly as a heroic self-sacrifice for the liberation of His own people, and partly as the ransom for redeeming them out of Satan's captivity. But Origen has himself very finely observed that the different views of the salvation effected by Christ correspond to the different wants of the religious consciousness. Its truth, therefore, is a relative truth according to the standpoint of the person who views it. He says, “Christ is for different souls the Way, Physician, Door, Lamb of God, and High Priest; on every stage of rational existence He is all to all. He became flesh in order to be apprehended by those who could not see Him as the pure Logos.” “Blessed are they who have come so far that they no longer need Christ as a Physician and Redeemer and Shepherd, but only as the Logos and the truth, as the teacher of the heavenly mysteries!”

Origen therefore distinguishes different stages of the Christian life. On the lowest stage stands the faith by authority; and at this stage there is still no true knowledge and free love, but the motives of fear and hope move the individual to a slavish bondage. Yet even this faith has a value as a means of moral education; nor is it to be designated as blind faith, seeing that it is founded upon the “demonstration of the spirit and of power”—that is, according to Origen's interpretation, upon prophecy and miracle. The high value which he laid upon these demonstrations, especially the first, appears the more striking to us, seeing that he himself puts these alleged proofs on a line with the heathen oracles and miracles, only that he finds the superiority of the Biblical prophecies and miracles in their moral effects. But if their demonstrative power depends upon the moral character of their bearers, it would be natural for us to draw the inference that the proper proof just lies in this moral fact and not in that supernatural element. That this immediate inference did not occur even to such idealistic thinkers as Origen and the other Greek apologists, is characteristic of the way of thinking of that time, in which sublime speculation was always mixed with fantastic mythology.

But above this elementary belief of beginners stands the stage of the advanced, who recognise in Christ the revelation of the eternal Logos, and with it also raise themselves to the free love of God, which, passing above what is commanded, becomes an ascetic perfection. A constant progress in knowledge and moral purification takes place even beyond the earthly life. In this reference Origen has applied the traditional ideas of punishment in the other world, and especially of hell-fire, which is not to be understood as meaning local tortures, but as the torture of the evil conscience, and as the painful repentance and purification of the soul. But if all punishment has only educative significance, there can be no question about an eternity of punishment in hell. Origen is so logical as to deny this not merely with regard to men but also to demons, seeing that to God there is no injury of the creature which is unhealable, and the duration of the healing discipline is only different in different individuals according to their measure of evil. The goal of all these purifications is that the potential image of God in the man of the first creation is actualised to the likeness to God, and this becomes at last unity with God. Origen strikingly describes this ideal of completed perfection as a spiritual Paradise restored upon a higher stage. It is a Paradise in which God will dwell and rule in souls in which there will no more be any distinction of goodness and badness, because nothing bad will longer cleave to him to whom God is all, and when one will no longer desire to eat of the tree of knowledge, because he will always stand in the good and be at the same time in and with God. And to this spiritual perfection there will also be a corresponding bodily perfection. It is not the sensible body that will rise again; but the soul having become wholly spiritual and holy, will also receive a body worthy of this state, a body of inexpressibly fine material and perfect form—as Origen held in agreement with Paul (1 Cor. xv,), but in opposition to the traditional Eschatology of the Church. Yet this worldend, according to Origen, is not to be final, seeing that the mutability lying in the nature of the freedom of the creature always leads again to a new fall, to a new creation of a material world, and to a new process of educating and purifying fallen spirits. That this view lets go the teleological standpoint of an inner perfection of the world by fulfilment of its absolute purposive idea, and the carrying back of all oppositions to their unity in God, was undoubtedly felt by Origen himself; and he therefore wavered between the view of an absolute end and of endless repetition of always new worlds. But far be it from us to reproach him with the fact that he has not solved an antinomy, the solution of which no one has fully succeeded in finding even to the present day.

If we now review this system, whose outlines I have attempted to unfold to you, it appears to me that we can only view with admiration the greatness of the theological thinker, who with all his entanglement in the presuppositions of his time, and with all his pious fidelity to the traditions of his Church, was yet at the same time able to rear on the ground given to him the intellectual structure of a “spiritual Christianity,” in which the highest ideas of the Greek philosophy are wedded with the moral earnestness and with the all-embracing love of the Gospel, in which the sensuous fantastic hopes of the future cherished by the primitive Christianity are laid aside and replaced by a moral religious ideal of sublime purity, and in which the visionary fantasy of the Gnostic mythologising is restrained by rational thinking, and the quietistic mysticism of the Neo-Platonic ecstacy is moralised by practical love of God. If it is the task of theology to unfold the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God which are hidden in Christ, to put them into relation with the various elements of the consciousness of the time, and to prove them to be the fulfilment of all previous germs of truth and the corrective of all previous errors, and thus to make the Divine principle the ennobling leaven for all human thought and life, then we must recognise that Origen has fulfilled this task of theology for his time in a masterly and truly exemplary way. And in saying so we do not overlook the fact that as a child of his age he was confined to his limits, that his thinking with all its ideal aspiration was still far from the soberness and logical discipline of the modern scientific method, that he had no sense for historical criticism, that to him the limits between historical reality and intellectual products were always unfixed and wavering, and that from all these grounds his dogma became a mixture of religious truth and fantastic mythology welded together by a scholastic dialectic which it is often difficult to distinguish from sophistry.

Unfortunately for humanity, it is the common lot of the systems of great thinkers that their successors do not keep so much to their true thoughts as to their errors, and that they often exaggerate these errors and develop them one-sidedly when separated from the connection of the whole. So it happened with the Christology of Origen. It was not the revelation of the Logos in the history of human religion, but his metaphysical essence and relationship to God the Father, that became the main object of purely philosophical reflection, which came to have less and less religious interest. The independent personality of the Logos, which Origen has sought to connect in the closest possible way with God the Father, became always more one-sidedly emphasised in the conflict with the Monarchians. In order to keep away all temporal movement from God, they made the Logos a created lower God, in whom the popular consciousness could find an analogon and surrogate for the polytheistic gods. The love of disputation, the delight in dialectical analysis of abstract conceptions characteristic of the Greek, soon took possession of Origen's formula of the eternally begotten Son. Arius found this conception full of contradiction, and put in its place the Son begotten of the will of God in time, who was essentially a creature, and therefore unequal to the essence of God, and yet who preceded the world in time and was raised to Godlike dignity on account of His moral merit. The victory of this doctrine would have led Christianity back into paganism and Judaism,—into paganism in so far as it deifies a creature and abolishes the unity of God; and into Judaism in so far as it makes the union of God and man impossible and their opposition insuperable by the interpolation of a third being, who is neither God nor man. It was the merit of Athanasius to have recognised this danger and saved the religious idea of Christianity, at least in principle, although he veiled it in a transcendent mystery. He acutely pointed out the contradiction in the Arian conception of a created middle God; but the really deciding motive which guided him lay in the religious necessity to establish the truth of the Christian redemption, or union of God and man, as a fact given in Christ. The thought presented by him in manifold variations is this, that it is not a creature, but only God Himself, who can redeem us from sin and death, receive us into the fellowship of God, and make us participators of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. “In order that we might be made Divine, God has become Man.”

But this thought, while entirely correct in itself, led, under the established assumption that the Divine life revealed in Christ is a personal God-Being in distinction from the Father-God, to those insoluble difficulties which have been fixed in unthinkable formulæ by the decrees of the Councils of the Church, and which have been made a law of belief for Christendom. With the Homoousian deity of the Son and of the Spirit as decreed at Nice and Constantinople, they had three Divine persons which were yet not to be three Gods but one Divine substance—a mystery on which the acuteness of philosophical dialectics might try its power, but through which the God of the Biblical faith was not made manifest, but veiled and transported into an impenetrable darkness. The person of the Saviour became also quite as inconceivable. If He was the God-Logos who had appeared in the flesh, how could He yet have been the man whom the Gospels describe Jesus to us as being? Has He taken from humanity only a body, or a body and soul, yet without a human spirit; or has He assumed a whole human nature in spirit, soul, and body? And if the latter was the case, how could a complete human nature subsist with the Divine nature of the Logos in the unity of one person? If the two Natures remained different, then there were properly two persons, the God-Logos and the man Jesus, who are combined only in an improper sense in our view, and worshipped as a single person; or if it was actually a single person, then the human Nature appears not to subsist beside the Divine Nature, but must be merged in it, as a drop of vinegar is merged in the sea. Inevitable as one or other of these two consequences appears to be for the reflective understanding, yet the Church has repudiated both of them, and commanded the mind to think the unthinkable—namely, to think together in the unity of the single person two natures, a perfect deity and a perfect humanity, unmixed and unseparated. Thus did they add to the mystery of the Trinity, according to which three persons form only one Being, the counter - mystery of Christology, that one Person consists of two Natures.

In this connection the question involuntarily presses itself, What interest could the Church have in promulgating or prescribing such a product of artificial speculation and dialectic, as a principle of faith? That it was not a mere matter of philosophical school-wit, but an acute religious insight which lies at the basis of these strange dogmatic controversies and formulæ, is guaranteed for us by the representative outstanding name of Athanasius. What the Church wished was unquestionably the establishment and vindication of the central Christian truth—the union of God and man in the religious personality of Christ and of Christians. But this new principle of the union and reconciliation of God and man could only be expressed by the Church by the means and under the presuppositions of the thoroughly dualistic way of thinking of that age; and the discordance between the true Christian religious kernel and the dogmatic shell formed from the notions of that time, became thereby inevitable from the outset. Instead of recognising the union of the divine and human spirit in the religious personality of Jesus as a spiritual fact of such a kind that it is similarly reproduced in the faith of the Christians, and consequently becomes an actually knowable object of our lasting Christian experience, there was put in the front a divine person wholly incomparable with our person, one who had come down from the heavenly heights, had united Himself in a unique and inconceivable manner with humanity, and after the episode of an earthly life had returned again to the heavenly world. Thus in the place of a continuous moral religious experience there was put a mysterious drama of the other world, which is entirely removed from our experience and knowledge, and is only to be worshipped in silent awe. Certainly dogma had thus become a veiling of the religious truth of Christianity; but let us not forget, at the same time, that the veil had become a beneficent protection for that truth, for whose immediate apprehension the peoples had not yet become ripe. And at the same time, in the case of the Germanic peoples, who were then entering into the Church, the mystery of the dogma and worship which became to their childlike souls the object of a reverence full of presentiment of the truth, was a wholesome means of educating them to Christian faith and life.

The two sides of the orthodox dogma—namely, that it has the union of God and humanity as its content, but that this is presented only in the form of a supernatural miracle separated from actual humanity—have their correspondence in the practice of the Church. To the other-worldness of the dogmatic God-man corresponds the ascetic ideal of monasticism, whose most zealous cultivators were those very Fathers who created the orthodox dogma. As the dogmatic Christ is a super-terrestrial Divine Being who only assumes humanity in order to merge it in Himself or in His Deity, so the ideal Christian has practically to negate the humanity in himself, and to withdraw from human society in order to raise himself to deification by a holiness withdrawn from the world. The asceticism and flight from the world of the monk is a consequence and illustration of the transcendent spiritualism of the dogma. Hence the monks were the most zealous champions of this most sublime and inconceivable dogma. The holding as true of the inconceivable was for them a requirement of the ascetic ideal, a mode of intellectual asceticism, or a mortification of the sound understanding. But, on the other hand, the dogma had as its content the mystery of the incarnation, of the indwelling of God in the flesh, His visible appearance under an earthly veil. To this side of the dogma correspond the mysteries of worship which celebrated the presence of the Divine nature under the sensible sign, the visible image, and the edible matter of the holy actions. It is well known what influence the heathen mysteries have exercised upon the development of the ecclesiastical worship. But the deeper ground for the formation of the ecclesiastical mystical worship lay not in the external heathen influences, but in the religious need of the Church itself. The further the God-man of the dogma was removed to a remote unapproachable height, so much the more did men wish to become certain of the presence of the Divine in worship under the sensible, visible, and tangible signs. The mystical realism and the theurgic magic of the worship is the obverse side of the transcendence of the dogma: it is the pledge that the opposition of the Divine and human, of the other world and this, although it otherwise held everywhere in extremest form, was nevertheless overcome at least at one place of the world, at the altar of theChurch, at the holy spot where the mystery of the incarnation of God is always accomplished anew in the miracle of the Eucharist.

It is certain that the sensuous mysticism of the worship and the ascetic desensualising of monasticism lay both equally far from the Christian ideal of the worship of God in spirit and in truth. But it would be unjust and unhistorical if we were on that account to deny all Christian content to those ecclesiastical forms. To use Paul's words, they are assuredly weak and beggarly worldly elements unsuitable for the glorious freedom of the children of God. But, for the immature Christendom which was unable to overthrow so rapidly the habits and inclinations of heathen thinking and feeling, these beggarly elements of the world were yet symbols of spiritual truth and educating means of salvation. They raised the soul above the dust of the earth to feel the presentiment of a higher world, which, while infinitely exalted above the turmoil of earth, yet gives its blessed presence to be felt by the hearts which bend before what is holy, in humility and love.