The history of Christian dogma has been one long process of
accommodation and deeschatologizing by which one body of belief has been
completely displaced by another, eschatological reality being supplanted by
"The Expanding Gospel," CWHN 12:199
* * * * * * * *
Every church comes before the world with certain basic
historic propositions peculiar to itself. Every church may be judged by those
propositions when they are clearly stated. If a group announces that the end of
the world is going to come on a certain day or, like Prudentius, predicts
victory in a particular battle as proof of its divine leadership, or claims
like the Mormons that there once was a prophet named Lehi who did such and such,
we can hold that church to account.
"Do Religion and History Conflict?"
CWHN 12:435* * * * * * * *
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 a clearly prophesied as was the
passing away of the true church.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:295
* * * * * * * *
The constant revival through the centuries of the old stock
Gnostic claim that the one true apostolic church has by some miracle of survival come down to the
possession of this or that group, is a perpetual reminder of the failure of subsequent Christianity to come up to the
expectations of the first Church. For the chronic
discontent which haunts the Christian churches is by no
means limited to the lunatic fringe. The vigorous beginnings of monasticism and pilgrimage were frankly
attempts to return to the first order of the Church, with
its unworldly austerities and its spiritual manifestations,
and as such were viewed by official Christianity as a clear vote of no-confidence—a rebuke and repudiation of the
"The Passing of the Primitive Church,"
CWHN 4:182-83* * * * * * * *
Each of the swarming imposters did everything he could to
make the world believe that his and his alone was the true, ancient, and sole
surviving heir of the original church and that he alone possessed the secret
knowledge imparted to the apostles after the resurrection; and the smashing
success that greeted many of them is a plain indication of how hungry the
Christian world was for that very knowledge. . . .
was a general groping for something everybody felt the church should have but obviously no longer did have;
Gnosticism was before all else a vacuum phenomenon. The Gnosis rushed in to
fill an empty space which did not exist as long as the apostles were still
alive. . . .
trouble with the Gnostics so-called is not that they claimed to possess the
wonderful post-resurrection revelations but that they did not
possess them. They were only faking or wishfully thinking; they didn't have the
Gnosis at all, and when the time came to deliver the goods, as it soon did,
since they all challenged each other's exclusive claims, they were caught
empty-handed. They had to come up with something: hence the
feverish and irresponsible borrowing of any odds and ends of Oriental lore they
could lay their hands on; hence the solemn and impressive appeal to
philosophy—especially the recondite and mysterious gospel of
neo-Platonism—hence the willingness to make full use of genuine or
spurious holy writings or even to forge new ones outright.
has made the study of Gnosticism so infinitely complex and hopelessly confusing
is the willingness of the Gnostics in their need to throw anything into the
"The Illusive Primitive Church," CWHN 7:72-73* * * * * * * *
The hitherto despised and outcast sectaries of the deserts
now stand at the door and knock for admission into the company of the orthodox.
At the same time the back door by which fastidious scholars have in the past
been able to avoid associating with such disreputable people is being
effectively blocked as a way of escape. That door was the easy dodge of
designating as Gnostic anything Jewish of Christian that one
didn't happen to like. . . . Whatever we find eccentric, we simply call
Gnostic. . . .
we attempt to classify a document by its teachings we run into a hopeless
situation, for half the Gnostic teachings—the preexistent plan, this
world as a place of probation, eternal progression, the spiritual creation, the
withholding of certain teachings from the world, the divine parentage of man,
the preexistent glory of Adam, etc.—were held by the Primitive Church,
and the other half—the unknowable and ineffable nature of God, the free
use of allegory in interpreting scripture, the appeal of philosophy as a
theological foundation, the antithesis of matter (which is evil) and spirit
(which is good), the search for God in the mystic way, etc.—were adopted
by the later church, so that there are no strictly peculiar Gnostic doctrines
to set Gnosticism apart from orthodox Christian views. For some, the very
essence of Gnosticism was belief in direct revelation; for others, it was
denial of direct revelation.
"The Illusive Primitive Church," CWHN 7:67-70* * * * * * * *
Are we to believe that all that authority which Christ
himself divided among twelve men, each of whom was an apostle, was one day to
be poured into a single vessel? Every Catholic will admit that there have been
bad popes, but hasten to point out that there was also a bad apostle. If one
strand of a twelve-strand rope is rotten the rope is still strong; but if one
link for a chain is bad the entire chain is worthless. Only one man, Jesus
Christ, was able to tread the winepress alone. To regard the fullness of his power and
authority as concentrated in the single person of a Borgia is simply
this theory is completely discredited by the fact that great teachers of the
Church—Origen, Justin, Tertullian, Augustine, etc.—were universally
appealed to, instead of the bishop of Rome, to settle "the more important
and difficult questions," and they in turn do not refer their questioners
to Rome as the proper place to seek an answer. Even the official councils of
the Church base their decisions on the writings of these "doctors of the
Church" who were almost never (and then only incidentally) bishops of
"Questions on Authority," 16* * * * * * * *
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.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:219* * * * * * * *
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. . . .
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.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:263* * * * * * * *
The first great doctrinal guide of the Church and the
founder of orthodox theology was Origen. All serious questions of doctrine came
to him for solution; he kept seven secretaries busy night and day turning out
his instructions to the Church. Yet he was only a presbyter whose ordination
was not recognized by his own bishop. The significant thing is that he himself
claims no authority beside his mother wit and learning.
[A] typical statement of Origen [is]: "The above are the thoughts which
have occurred to us while treating of subjects of such difficulty as the
incarnation and godhood of Christ. If there be anyone indeed, who
can discover something better, and who can establish his assertions by clearer proofs
from the holy Scriptures, let his opinion be received in preference to mine."
. . .
the man who is quoted by later Church writers more than any other when speaking
of first principles always hedges and qualifies, is always very cautious and very
uncertain. What makes this attitude so significant is that he is not speaking
on abstruse and minor details but of the very first principles of the gospel.
The introduction to his work of that title makes the clear and unequivocal
statement that an understanding of the first principles was not to be
had in the church in his day, since neither the scriptures nor the
tradition contained the necessary plain and adequate explanations. . . .
does Origen take as his guide? Scripture and philosophy. And when the two
clash? Scripture must give way. You simply cancel any contrary passage by
giving it an allegorical (Origen says "proper" or "mystical")
interpretation. This method is followed by all subsequent theologians.
"Questions on Authority," 8-9* * * * * * * *
In the 270 letters of Augustine that have survived, we see
the man at work trying to answer the great questions of doctrine and
administration that should have been answered by the head of the church.
Letters pour in to him from all over the Christian world, and he answers them
as best he can. He never refers the questioners to any higher authority, even
though the cases are sometimes very serious and have nothing at all to do with
his diocese; nor does he personally ever appeal to any higher authority, either
in administration or in doctrinal matters, however important they may be. . . .
Let us consider briefly the doctrinal perplexity and the complete lack of
leadership and direction in the church that is apparent in the
twenty years at least, Augustine was never able to find out just what the
Christian church believed. He tells how he went to school as a boy and made fun
of the things his mother believed, how he joined a strange Christian sect, the
Manichaeans, which enjoyed enormous popularity at the time, and for once in his
life thought he knew certainty. When he left the Manichaeans, he says the
bottom of his world fell out, and he spent the ensuing years in black despair.
He joined a group calling themselves the sancti [holy, or
consecrated], large numbers of whom were living secretly in Rome; and all the
time his mother kept after him to return to the church of his birth, but this
he could not do because their arguments could not stand up to those of the
Manichaeans, from whom in a vague way he still hoped for light. When he finally
became a catechumen upon the urging of his mother and St. Ambrose, easily the
most important leader in the church of the time, he still did not know what to
believe but was "doubting everything, tossed back and forth in it all."
"A Substitute for Revelation," CWHN 3:92-93* * * * * * * *
There was a real knock-down, drag-out fight between the "Allegorists"
and the "literalizers" in the Church, ending with complete victory
for the intellectuals. Henceforth any reviving spark of crackpot sectarian
Mantic is attacked by the churchmen with hysterical fury. That group cannot be
in the Catholic Church, which claims to have prophets and charismatic gifts,
even though it follows all the proper Christian forms. The Mantic has
become the very essence of heresy.
Creeds of the fourth century and after were Sophic, phrased in the jargon of
the schools, to the horror of many, if not most, good Christians. There is
nothing open-ended about them, since their whole purpose is to settle all problems once for all. The mood of the early
Fathers is one of desperation rather than of faith. The fantastic cruelty and
intolerance of the fourth century are, Alföldi observes, a natural
expression of the thinking of the times: "The victory of abstract ways of
thinking, the universal triumph of theory, knows no half-measures; punishment,
like everything else, must be a hundred per cent, but even this seemed
inadequate." There was no place for the nonconforming Mantic in this
Sophic world of hundred-percenters.
Augustine completes the process of de-Manticizing antique culture that began
with the sixth century B.C. It was he, we are told, who cast the Christian and
antique culture together "once for all in one mighty mold," thereby
achieving that fusion of once hostile traditions which make up the metal of our
own civilization to this day. But what the great man put into the crucible was
not the whole of the Christian or the Greek heritage but only the Sophic part
has been written about Augustine as the man who finally closed the books on
chiliastic, charismatic Christianity, but what is not so well known is that at
the same time he finished off the lingering traces of Mantic glory in the
antique tradition. His famous justification for including the learning of
non-Christian antiquity in the curriculum of the Christian schools was the
doctrine of "spoiling the Egyptians." The Egyptians have good stuff
which we can use without danger if we make a careful selection.
"Sophic and Mantic," CWHN 10:353-54* * * * * * * *
Let us remember that the schools had reached an all-time
intellectual low at the time the church chose to embrace their methods. The
church married a sick man, says Duchesne, when she joined forces with the state
under Theodosius; she married a much sicker one when she embraced the schools
of the same decadent age.
could the church gain by such a match? It is inconceivable that the wedding
could have taken place had either of the parties retained its original vigor
and independence—but both, as the writings of the fathers make painfully
clear, were in a desperate condition. One of the earliest fragments of church history
is Hegesippus's remark: "Up until then the Church had remained a pure and
incorrupted virgin." Up until when? Until the philosophers took over. The
last Roman, for Grabmann, was also the first scholastic, who "minted the
authentic coin of its Latin terminology"—that noble Boethius, who in
his last hour was comforted not by religion but by an allegorical visit from
again, why was the marriage with philosophy necessary? Answer: "To
overcome the objections of reason to revelation," that is St. Augustine's
famous reconciliation of classical and Christian learning. But how can you call
it reconciliation when it is always the church that gives way? It is always
reason that has to be satisfied and revelation that must be manipulated in
order to give that satisfaction; this is no compromise but complete surrender.
"Sophic and Mantic," CWHN 10:366-67* * * * * * * *
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 Way of the Church," CWHN 4:216* * * * * * * *
Catholic, Protestant and Jewish writers cover the vagueness
of their message with a massive lubrication of words which allows them to slip
through tight places. They still insist that God has spoken his final word;
they deny him the privilege of adding to his own words even if he wants to,
while they go on with their commentaries, translations, reinterpretations,
explanations, etc., adding here a little and there a little, line upon line,
precept upon precept to God's word.
"Chattanooga," 1-2* * * * * * * *
In vain does the scripture insist—the clergy has made
up its mind.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:241* * * * * * * *
The last and favorite resort of the clergy when they are
questioned too closely [is]: 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!"
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.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:245* * * * * * * *
The Christian world has been reconciled for centuries to the
belief that certain things were "spiritual" rather than "historical":
the physical resurrection, the literal return of the Lord, supernatural gifts
and manifestations, prophecies and revelations. They have been ruled out. They
have been the very essence of heresy. . . .
the Reformation started out they tried to get back to these things. Then
Luther, after a very bitter experience, gave it up; so did the [other] great
Reformers. They said that they would have to turn back to scholarship, just as
St. Augustine and the rest of them did, because they could not deliver the
goods. They wanted the prophecy; they wanted to get the
spirit again; they wanted these gifts and beliefs; but they were out of the
"Early Christian Church," 17-18* * * * * * * *
We believe that [Rudolf] 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.
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 all the time, making it harder and harder for anyone who
would call himself a Christian to brush the old eschatological teachings aside.
the same time the realities of the hydrogen bomb and the very real possibility
of world destruction have occasioned a worldwide resurgence of eschatological
thinking. . . .
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," CWHN 4:311-13* * * * * * * *
The Dead Sea Scrolls are teaching us as Christians to sit
down to dinner with strange cousins from all over the East—Essenes,
Ebionites, Therapeutae, Gnostics, even Moslems—whom a few years ago we
turned out of doors as tramps and aliens: Catholics and Protestants are now
falling over themselves . . . to hail the forlorn strangers of Qumran as
"Sophic and Mantic," CWHN 10:318* * * * * * * *
The world of conventional Christianity lends itself to the
most restrained or the most extravagant imaginings of the artist. It is a
painted canvas, a two-dimensional world whose lack of reality is smothered in
Baroque or Byzantine excesses, or preserved in a Puritan deep-freeze. The
Restored Gospel is something else; it adds a third dimension, so to speak,
accepting the other world as a reality—quite matter-of-fact. . . . The
Book of Mormon cuts through all the dense literary, philological, and theological
undergrowth that bars access to the Garden. It shows us first of all the kind
of document we should be thinking of when we talk about the scriptures.
"The Apocrypha and the Book of Mormon," 1* * * * * * * *
No one knew better than Joseph Smith that sacred things
could be corrupted and changed, surviving in various parts of the world in
different degrees of purity. Those
traditions are to be held in respect; Joseph reprimanded those who mocked the "old
Catholic Church, . . . worth more than all" by the richness of the
elements of the history of the ancient order it has preserved.
"One Eternal Round," CWHN 12:425