Archibald Robertson, The Origins of Christianity, International Publishers, 1954, rev. ed. 1962.

The Antonine Age

After the death of Hadrian the Roman Empire began visibly to decline. Gibbon’s verdict that the age of the Antonines was the happiest and most prosperous in the history of the world is contradicted by contemporary evidence. The Stoic reforms represented the utmost amelioration of which slave society was capable, and they were not enough to save it. The cessation of imperial expansion had limited the supply of slaves, raised their price and ensured their better treatment. Under Hadrian’s successors, Antoninus Pius (138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180), a trickle of palliatives continued: slavery was further regulated by law, the use of torture limited and manumission facilitated. But the improvement of the lot of the slaves was accompanied by an aggravation of the burdens of the peasantry. This double process prepared the way for medieval serfdom. An Egyptian papyrus of the year 154 speaks ofpeasants flying from the tax-gatherer and taking to banditry — a symptom of crisis which became widespread both in the East and in the West before the end of the second century.

In a social order sick to death the Christian churches played a dual role. Their membership, drawn mainly from the exploited masses, was recruited and held by the hope of a brighter future not only in heaven, but on earth — a millennium based on the dreams of Jewish prophets and psalmists, and on more recent apocalypses and Sibylline oracles, in which the saints would break their oppressors like a potter’s vessel and rule as priests and kings over a world of peace and plenty — a millennium of which the communal feast in which church members joined weekly was a sort of foretaste and pledge. But few of the leadership shared these dreams of the rank and file. They looked rather for an alliance with the Empire, which under Hadrian and the Antonines seemed to the optimistic to be gradually reforming itself. The problem of church leaders was to speak a language revolutionary enough to hold their members, but not so revolutionary as to alarm the imperial authorities. The dilemma was to dog them for generations. It explains not only the contradictions found in early Christian writings, often in one and the same writer, but also the alternation of imperial policy between repression and toleration, often under one and the same emperor.


About 139-140 the rich shipowner Marcion came from Asia Minor to Rome and made a large contribution to the funds of the Roman church. The Roman elders took the money, but in 144, when they knew more about Marcion, returned it and expelled him from their church. They could not have done less without wrecking the movement. Marcion spent his remaining years organizing churches of his own and providing them with a Bible of his own compiling. This consisted of a single Gospel (an emasculated version of Luke) and a collection of ten Pauline Epistles from which anything that suggested the Jewish origin of Christianity was carefully excluded.1 Marcion’s text is lost; but the polemics of Irenaeus, Tertullian and other Fathers have enabled modern scholars to reconstruct it with considerable exactitude. Marcion cut out of the Gospel the birth-stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, with their perilous talk of putting down princes from their thrones and filling the hungry with good things, and made Jesus descend from heaven to do away with the law and the prophets.2 Similarly he cut out of the Epistles all texts which identified the Jewish God with the true God, or which recognized any authority in the law or the prophets, or which suggested any relation but enmity between the older apostles and Paul. In a separate work, the Antitheses, Marcion rubbed in the opposition between Judaism and his version of Christianity. In so handling Christian documents he did no more violence to them than other editors of Gospels and Epistles had done from the first century onward. He believed that he was freeing the authentic Christianity of Paul from Jewish accretions, and in rejecting the Pastoral Epistles he certainly anticipated modern scholarship. By founding breakaway churches Marcion and other heretics forced the main body of Christians to tighten their organization and to consider the question, which had not till then arisen, of a New Testament canon.


The attitude of intellectuals who adhered to official Christianity at this time may be gathered from the writings of Justin. According to his own account he was born of pagan parents in Palestine and after dabbling in various Greek philosophies was converted to Christianity. After travelling about the Empire as a wandering philosopher he settled at Rome, and about the year 150 addressed an Apology for Christianity to the emperor Antoninus Pius, the princes Marcus Aurelius and Verus, and the Roman senate and people. It was not the first work of its kind. The era of reform which culminated under Hadrian had inspired some Christian leaders for the first time with hopes for the conversion of the Empire. A Christian preacher or “prophet” named Quadratus had addressed to Hadrian an apology now lost; and the extant Apology of Aristides was addressed to Antoninus before Justin’s. But Justin’s work is more ambitious. He seeks to find common ground with the rulers whom he addresses.

Justin protests at the outset against persecution for a mere name. He even plays on words: “We are charged with being Christians; but it is not right to hate what is good ” (chreston).3 Christians should be judged only for overt acts. Their sole crime is that they refuse to worship idols, believing with the poet Menander that the workman is greater than his work. Socrates denounced false gods and was put to death as an atheist. Reason (logos), which inspired Socrates, has since taken human form in Jesus Christ. Christians therefore worship the same God as Socrates and Plato. They believe with Plato that the just will be rewarded and the wicked punished after death; but the judge will not be Rhadamanthus or Minos, but Christ, and the sentence will not be for a thousand years, but for ever.

It is said, continues Justin, that Christians look for a kingdom. So they do, but for a divine, not a human kingdom. If the emperor only knew, they are the best promoters of peace in his Empire. They renounce the pursuit of riches, give to the poor out of their common funds, and in everything but idolatry are loyal subjects, praying that in the emperor wisdom and power may be united. Loyalty to Jesus Christ kept them from supporting the late Jewish revolt under Barcocheba.

In affirming the virgin birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Christians say no more than pagans say of Perseus, Asclepius and other demigods: those myths are a demonically inspired anticipation of the Gospel story. As to deifying men, what about the deified emperors?

What about the Samaritan Simon, who practised magic in the reign of Claudius and has a statue on the banks of the Tiber in Rome itself?4 The emperor, says Justin rashly, can, if he pleases, verify the story of the birth of Jesus from the census returns of Quirinius, and the story of his miracles and death from the despatches of Pilate.5 The twelve apostles, obscure men and unskilled in speaking, could not have preached, as they did, to all nations without divine aid.

Justin does not say that only believers will be saved. Those who live according to reason are Christians, “even though accounted atheists”; those who live without reason are enemies to Christ.6 In fulfilment of prophecies made before Christ came, Judaea has been devastated and Gentiles have been converted in such numbers that Gentile Christians now outnumber Jewish.

Justin gives a short description of the ritual of the Roman church in his day. Converts are baptized in the name of God the Father, of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit who spoke by the prophets. After baptism the convert is admitted to the assembly. Once a week, after a reading from “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets”, and after exhortation and prayer, bread and a cup of wine mixed with water are brought to the presiding official, who returns thanks (eucharistia) to God for providing them.7 The people say “Amen”. Deacons distribute the eucharistic food to those present and reserve some for those absent. A collection is taken for all in need. These meetings are held “on Sunday, because that is the first of days, when God, having transformed darkness and matter, created the world, and because on that same day Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead “.8 In a paragraph which some consider to have been interpolated as an afterthought by Justin himself, he says that the bread and the mixed wine are the flesh and blood of Jesus, and cites the story of the institution of the eucharist from the apostles’ “memoirs, which are called Gospels “9 Justin ends by appealing to the emperor and his government to accept Christianity if they think it reasonable, but even if they think it folly, not to condemn to death people who have done no evil.

This Apology has more than one remarkable feature. Firstly, Justin not only repudiates revolution, but aims at an alliance between Church and Empire. He appeals to the Antonines as philosopher-statesmen to adopt Christianity as a completion of their philosophy and an aid to their policy. Without completely repudiating its Jewish origin, he minimizes it as far as he can.

Secondly, in his account of Christian meetings he describes only the eucharistic consumption of bread and wine, and ignores the communal meal. Yet we know from the evidence of the catacombs and from Tertullian that the eucharist, both before and after Justin’s day, was part and parcel of a meal at which all ate and drank to sufficiency.10 We know, too, that pagans who regarded the Christians as a dangerous secret society embroidered the facts with horrific allegations of cannibalism and sexual promiscuity.11 Justin (less bold than Tertullian) avoids the subject.

It is instructive to compare Justin’s first Apology with his second, written when his first had failed to impress the imperial government. Provoked by the execution of three Christians at Rome, he becomes more militant. He tells the Romans that the demons whom they call gods are responsible for “murder, war, adultery, intemperance and every kind of vice among men “12 that everything good in the world is the work of the logos, that is of Christ; that Socrates knew Christ only in part and therefore appealed only to the learned; but that in Christ as now manifested “not only philosophers and grammarians put their faith, but even craftsmen and such as were wholly uneducated, despising reputation and fear and death.”13

In the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, written after the first and perhaps after both Apologies, Justin shows another face. Here he insists that Christianity is the true Judaism. Marcionites and others who deny this are, he says, unworthy of the name of Christians. If any Jewish Christian likes to keep the Jewish law, he may do so, says Justin, provided he does not try to force it on Gentile Christians; but in fact, as the law and the prophets foretold, Moses is superseded by Christ. Justin develops this theme at some length. Challenged as to whether he expects an earthly millennium in a restored Jerusalem, he replies that, while many do not, all really sound Christians undoubtedly believe in a millennium in accordance with Jewish prophecy. He cites the Apocalypse of John as proof that this belief is apostolic and that Christians inherit the prophetic gifts formerly enjoyed by Jews.

It will be seen that Justin takes a very different line in addressing the imperial government and in addressing fellow-Christians, or Jews whom he hopes to make Christians. One remarkable feature of both the Apologies and the Dialogue is his silence about Paul. The only New Testament books he uses are the Synoptic Gospels and (in the Dialogue) the Apocalypse. Yet he must have known the Pauline Epistles, and if he knew Luke, he surely knew the Acts. It is strange, therefore, that he should ignore the apostle of the Gentiles and deliberately credit the evangelization of the world to the twelve. It seems that Paul’s reputation had suffered damage from the use made of his name by Marcion and the Gnostics. Until that damage was repaired, writers who wished to be read in the churches were slow to invoke his authority.

Despite or perhaps because of his veneer of philosophy Justin seems to have been little read by the majority of Christians. His works have come down to us in a single manuscript.


Far more representative of the rank-and-file Christians of the time was Hermas, author of the work called the Shepherd. According to a catalogue of New Testament books drawn up at Rome about 190-200 and called, after its discoverer, the Canon of Muratori, Hermas was a brother of the Roman bishop Pius and wrote about 140-154. Hermas himself names more than one contemporary official of the Roman church, but never mentions Pius. Evidently this Pius (though reckoned the first of twelve papal Piuses) was not what we should call a Pope.

Hermas from his book seems to have been a Greek freedman (perhaps from Arcadia, since the scene of one of his visions is laid there) and to have made money in business, but lost it. He cannot afford a conveyance from Rome to Cumae and goes on foot. He has a wife and children. In a series of visions an aged woman (symbolizing the Church, which “was created before all things, and for her sake the world was framed”14) charges him with messages which he is to read to the Roman Christians, and which their secretary, Clement, is to send to other churches.15

In the next vision Hermas sees a number of men building a tower. The tower again symbolizes the Church. Of the stones used some fit perfectly: these are good Christians. Some of these are brought from deep water: they represent martyrs. Other stones are thrown aside for a time: these are sinners who are not past hope ” if they repent now, while the tower is building”.16 Others are rejected: these are hypocrites, apostates and other grave sinners. Among them are white, round stones which do not fit into the building: these are rich Christians who “when tribulation comes, deny their Lord by reason of their riches and their business affairs”. But if their wealth is cut away, we are told, they will become good square stones, as Hermas did when he lost his money.17 Even those rejected, except apostates, may be saved after undergoing a spell of torment — the first trace in Christian literature of a doctrine of purgatory. The tower will soon be finished — so soon, says Hermas, that pardon cannot be expected for any sins committed in the short time remaining. Rich Christians are warned to share their abundance with the poor, lest when the tower is finished they find no place in it. Church leaders are warned to stop their quarrels before it is too late.

Later visions give the book its title. Hermas meets a man in the garb of a shepherd (“the angel of repentance”) who dictates to him a set of maxims very like those of the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistle of James. Noteworthy are the commands to give freely to all in want (“they that receive in distress shall not be judged; but they that receive by false pretence shall pay the penalty: he then that gives is guiltless “) and to tell no lies — a maxim which Hermas finds difficult to keep in his business!18 In a passage which seems to be deliberately directed against the Pauline doctrine of universal depravity, the “angel of repentance” tells Hermas that he can keep these maxims if he makes up his mind to it, but that if he doubts his ability to keep them, he will fail.

This leads to more denunciation of the pursuit of riches. Christians who lay up treasure on earth are giving hostages to the lord of this world.

“Prepare nothing more for thyself but a competency which is sufficient for thee, and make ready that whenever the master of this city may desire to cast thee out for thy opposition to his law, thou mayest go forth from his city and depart to thy own city.”19
Evidently Hermas expects no reconciliation with the Roman Empire. But neither does he hope for social revolution. The rich are to be shorn, but are to be left with enough to supply the wants of the poor; and the poor man is to “thank God for him that gave to him “.20

Hermas is but little interested in doctrinal disputes. His creed is simple, though set forth in a rather involved series of parables. God through his Holy Spirit, manifested in the Christian community, has given a law to all mankind. The Spirit dwells in all “who are worthy of repentance”,21 but dwelt especially in one man (Jesus) who for “labouring much and enduring many toils” and “behaving himself boldly and bravely” was chosen by God to be the agent through whom the new law should be given to the world.22 None who reject it can be saved. Among those who accept it the highest place is reserved for martyrs; the next for Christians who, though not martyrs, “have kept the commandments of the Lord”. Hermas puts the majority of Christians in this class.23 Others may be saved by repentance — petty sinners easily; great sinners too, if they are loyal to the cause; rich men with much more difficulty. Even for heretical teachers (whom Hermas regards as conceited prigs rather than as first-class sinners) there is hope. Only renegades and traitors are beyond pardon.24

Finally Hermas returns to his comparison of the Church to a tower. He addresses a special warning to corrupt church officials — “deacons that exercised their office ill, and plundered the livelihood of widows and orphans, and made gain for themselves”e;25 — and ends with a passage which sheds a lurid light on the misery of the poor under the Antonines.

“Every man ought to be rescued from misfortune; for he that has need and suffers misfortune in his daily life is in great torment and want . . . Many men on account of calamities of this kind, because they can bear them no longer, lay violent hands on themselves. He, then, who knows the calamity of a man of this kind, and rescues him not, commits great sin and becomes guilty of the man’s blood. Do good works, therefore, whoever of you have received benefits from the Lord, lest while you delay to do them the building of the tower is completed . . . Unless you hasten to do right, the tower will be completed and you shut out.”26

In Hermas we have a more than usually articulate spokesman of the mass of freedmen, slaves and poor freemen who made up the rank and file of the Roman and other churches in the middle of the second century. He is innocent of Pauline theology, never quotes a book of the Old or New Testament and sees only a nuisance in doctrinal wrangles. By later Catholic standards he is very much a heretic: his story of God taking Jesus into partnership on his merits would never have passed muster in the fourth century. To Hermas dogma is infinitely less important than comradeship. His Church is not a hierarchy directing him what to think and do, but a body of very ordinary people who have found, as they believe, a way out of the evil society of the Roman Empire. The essential thing is that Christians should stick together, that they should stop wrangling over things that do not matter, that the rich should share their wealth with the poor, and that they should leave the rest to God. So evil a world cannot last long!

For a time Hermas was accepted as an inspired writer. By an impossible anachronism (which there is no reason to think he intended) his book was attributed to a first-century Hermas mentioned by Paul. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen quote him as scripture. His work is actually included in our oldest manuscript of the New Testament, the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus. All this speaks volumes for his popularity in the churches. But in the end authority could not stomach him. The Canon of Muratori excludes him in view of his recent date. Tertullian finds him morally lax and calls the book the “Shepherd of adulterers”. Eusebius in the fourth century (rather unfairly, since Hermas wrote under his own name) dubs the book spurious.

The Episcopate

In order to hold their members and at the same time to bid for an alliance with the Empire, Christian leaders had more and more to tighten their organization and discipline. We have seen how from the end of the first century the democratic organization of the primitive churches depicted in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles gradually gave place to government by irremovable elders or “bishops” claiming to derive their office by succession from the first apostles. By the middle of the second century the necessity of presenting a united front to disrupters of one kind or another, as well as to the imperial government, was leading to a further step in centralization. Of the committee of elders who ran each particular church one was coming to be regarded as the bishop par excellence, with unlimited power to discipline and in the last resort to expel undesirable or insubordinate members. The new episcopate, like the older presbytery, claimed apostolic authority, though the New Testament may be searched in vain for evidence of its existence.

This development did not take place everywhere simultaneously. Justin, writing at Rome about 150, mentions a presiding officer at Christian meetings, but does not say that the same official always presided. Hermas, though he mentions and even names officials of the Roman church, says nothing of a supreme bishop, though later writers “wished” that dignity on his brother Pius. Episcopal government seems to have originated not at Rome, but in Asia. The first full-blown bishop of whom we know anything is Polycarp of Smyrna.

We derive our information on Polycarp from three sources — the Epistle bearing his name, addressed to the church of Philippi; an account of his martyrdom, said to have been written by the church of Smyrna in 155-156; and the writings of his pupil Irenaeus. The account in Eusebius is based on these three sources and has no independent value. None of these authorities is above criticism. The Epistle of Polycarp in its present form is linked with the Ignatian Epistles, which we have seen reason to reject. The martyrology as it stands is embellished with miracles more edifying than credible — a prophetic vision, a voice from heaven, a miraculous deflection of the fire from the victim, a sweet smell of incense from the burning faggots. Irenaeus on his own showing knew Polycarp only in boyhood and may easily have misunderstood the reminiscences of an old man of eighty. Still Irenaeus is an honest witness and, except when he demonstrably blunders, is entitled to consideration. Since he mentions Polycarp’s letter to Philippi and the fact of his martyrdom, we may take it that both are historical, though the letter has been interpolated and the martyrdom embroidered.

Irenaeus states that Polycarp had personally known “John and the others who had seen the Lord”, and had been appointed by them bishop of Smyrna.27 We can check this by another statement of Irenaeus. He tells us that Papias of Hierapolis was a “hearer of John and companion of Polycarp “.28 Now Papias was not a hearer of John or any other apostle: we have his own word for it (quoted by Eusebius) that to get material for his book, the Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord, he had to contact older men who had known the apostles. But Papias seems to have known another John whom he calls “the elder”,29 This John in all probability was the real author of the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. It is a fair inference that Polycarp, like his friend Papias, knew John “the elder”, but not John the apostle, and that Irenaeus, sitting at the feet of Polycarp as a boy, pardonably confused the two.

The career of Polycarp at Smyrna covered the first half of the second century. Mere seniority would give him a unique place among the local leaders. By the end of his life no one, least of all young Irenaeus, was in a position to check his early history. All who wished to exalt the episcopate would foster the legend of his appointment by men “who had seen the Lord”; and his congregation would easily credit it.

The rise of the episcopate was a by-product of the struggle against Marcionism and other disruptive movements. Irenaeus relates that Marcion once met Polycarp and asked: “Do you recognize me?” and that Polycarp replied: “I recognize the first-born of Satan!”30 This must have been when Marcion was still in Asia, i.e., before 139-140. Polycarp’s letter to Philippi must have been written about the same time; for in it he uses the self-same phrase: “Whoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the first-born of Satan,”31 That the material body could not rise again was the teaching of Marcion. In this letter Polycarp does not style himself bishop and is careful to associate the ciders of Smyrna with him. The episcopate is building, but not yet built. Still more noteworthy is the total silence of the Epistle as to any contact with the apostles, though that contact was to become for Irenaeus the supreme title of Polycarp to fame. The letter names no apostle except Paul.

We next hear of Polycarp about 154-155, when as a very old man he visits Rome to confer with bishop Anicetus (by now Rome too has a single bishop) on the keeping of Easter and other disputed matters. This visit is notable not only as the first recorded conference between bishops of different churches, but as the first evidence of the existence of the Easter festival.

Except Sunday, the day of the weekly meeting and common meal, no Christian feast-day is mentioned in the New Testament or appears to have existed in the first century. No record was kept of the date or even the year of the crucifixion. To Jewish Christians the sufferings of the Messiah were less important than his coming return in triumph. To their Pauline rivals the death and resurrection of Christ were mystical and dateless. In the Pauline Epistles the observance of dates is treated sometimes as a foible to be tolerated in weaker brethren, sometimes as a sign of backsliding.32

But in the second century, as the mystical Christ of Paul became fused in the Gospels with a historical Messiah, the need of an annual commemoration began to be felt. The Asiatic churches, which contained a high percentage of Jewish converts, kept the Jewish Passover as the anniversary of the resurrection. The western churches, in which pagan converts predominated, preferred the Sunday next after the Passover. Polycarp and Anicetus failed to resolve the discrepancy and agreed to differ. The incident illustrates the variety of practice existing in the churches of the second century.

Soon after returning to Smyrna Polycarp perished in a local persecution. Its occasion is obscure; but it was probably connected with contemporary events in the neighbouring district of Phrygia. In Phrygia the spread of Christianity among the distressed peasantry had led to a revival of revolutionary Messianism by preachers or “prophets” led by one Montanus. We know of the Phrygian movement, which Church historians call Montanism, only from attacks by late second-century writers quoted by Eusebius, and from Tertullian, who became a Montanist early in the third century. Tertullian does not tell us much about the early history of the movement; and in the attacks of opponents, as usual, we have to disentangle the facts from a great deal of nonsense. The facts which emerge are that Montanus and his comrades, two of whom (Priscilla and Maximilla) were women, revived the ecstatic extempore preaching which had been a feature of primitive Christianity; that they won such support in the Asiatic churches that local bishops were powerless against them; that the preachers foretold the imminence of war and revolution; and that one of them (Alexander) was accused of being a “bandit” — i.e., he had taken arms in some revolt against the government. Such a movement inevitably led to intensified repression in the affected provinces and amply accounts for the martyrdoms at Smyrna.

The extant account of Polycarp’s end, though obviously “written up”, gives a graphic and convincing picture of the procedure in trials of Christians. Many historians (from Mommsen onward) have drawn attention to the identity of the procedure against Christians with that against bandits. If in the eyes of the authorities Christians were bandits or at least accomplices of bandits, this is not surprising. The rise of the Montanist movement in Asia just at this time supplies the key to much that is otherwise difficult to understand. The small fry arrested at Smyrna get no consideration whatever: they are tortured and thrown to the beasts without ceremony. But the proconsul of Asia, Quadratus, would like to spare Polycarp. If only this old man would meet him half-way and repudiate the trouble-makers! “Swear by the genius of Caesar, and I will let you go. Revile Christ!” But that is just what Polycarp cannot do. He is no revolutionary; he offers to explain to the proconsul in private what Christ means to him; but a public repudiation of the Christ whose cult keeps the churches together he will not make. “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” By refusing to swear by the emperor, and by giving to an executed rebel a title reserved for the emperor and the allies of Rome, Polycarp seals his fate. Such language is treason. He is burnt in the public stadium.

One tragic feature of the case must not be missed. The Jews of Smyrna vie with the pagans in howling for the old bishop’s death. It is only twenty years since the suppression of the last Jewish revolt. Christians like Justin, bidding for an alliance with the Empire, loudly dissociate themselves from the beaten Jews. The Jews, as at Smyrna, retaliate by denouncing the Christians.

Zealots for the episcopate naturally exploited the name of Polycarp for all it was worth. Not only so, but by letters forged soon after his death they linked him with Ignatius, the revered martyr of forty years before. In these letters Ignatius, a slave closely guarded on his way to martyrdom at Rome, is improbably allowed to write at length to various churches charging them to stick to their bishops, who are ” in the place of God “, and their elders, who are ” in the place of the apostles “.33 By so doing they will escape the poison of heresy, right or left. “Whoso follows a schismatic shall have no part in the kingdom of God.34 … It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate the holy communion; but whatever he shall approve, that is also pleasing to God.”35 To authenticate all this the letter of Polycarp to Philippi was amplified by a few lines recommending the letters of Ignatius and asking for news of his fate, and so was made to appear contemporary with the older martyr. That the lines are interpolated is evident: if Polycarp had wanted news of the end of Ignatius, he would have written to Rome, not to Philippi. By these forgeries episcopal government, unknown to the apostles and evangelists, yet so necessary to church order in the middle of the second century, was sanctified with the authority of two famous martyrs. The myth of primitive episcopacy was further bolstered by the industry of Hegesippus, a converted Jew who came to Rome about 160 and with slender historical warrant compiled lists of supposed bishops from apostolic times to his own day.

Canon of the New Testament

The organization of the episcopate made it possible for the first time to secure general agreement on a canon. The Old Testament in its Greek version was accepted by all Greek-speaking Christians except the Marcionites and other Gnostics. But hitherto each church had pleased itself in the selection of Christian literature to be read at its weekly meetings. Consequently by the middle of the second century many rival Gospels were in circulation, all reputed to be “memoirs of apostles” or of their associates. The elders of each church, no doubt, exercised a certain censorship; but the variety of quotations in the early Fathers shows that the net was cast very wide. With a single bishop in control of each local church it became possible to work to a common rule.

Accordingly in the third quarter of the second century four Gospels were selected from the rest. Matthew headed the list: it stressed more than any other Gospel the Jewish roots of Christianity and was the favourite of the Syrian churches, where Jewish converts abounded. But an Aramaic variant used by the Jewish Christians of Palestine and known as the Gospel according to the Hebrews was rejected as heretical. Only fragments of it are extant; but we know that it lacked the virgin-birth story and made Jesus far more human than the average church leader of the second century could stomach.

Mark was ancient, had long been in use in the Roman church and was known elsewhere. But to make him generally acceptable his conclusion, relating the manifestation of the risen Christ, was deleted and an epitome taken from the other Gospels substituted.36 The absence of this ending from two of our oldest manuscripts betrays the work of second-century surgery.

Luke’s sheer artistry, his command of Greek and his skill in welding Judaic and Pauline material into an apparently harmonious whole made him an indispensable third to Christians who valued good literature. His Gospel accredited his Acts.

The Fourth Gospel was the least popular. Hitherto it had circulated mainly in its native Asia Minor. The prestige of Polycarp, the disciple of the evangelist, may have helped to win a wider public for the Johannine Gospel and its companion Epistle.37 Even so this Gospel was not accepted without amendment. To conciliate the majority Peter, whom the author had pointedly subordinated to the unnamed ” disciple whom Jesus loved “, was reinstated by adding a chapter in which Jesus pardons Peter’s denial, charges him to ” feed his sheep ” and prophesies his martyrdom. Opportunity was taken to authenticate this suspect Gospel by identifying the ” beloved disciple ” with the author himself.38 Even that did not silence objectors. They remained lively until the third century.

There is no evidence that the Pauline Epistles were universally read in the churches before the time of Marcion. No doubt they were current in the original Pauline churches of the Aegean; but they were not read at Rome. Justin never cites or even names Paul. Hermas seems positively to dislike him. Obviously the Marcionites could not be allowed so dangerous a controversial weapon. The Epistles were therefore rendered safe by suitable doctoring in places and by including the anti-Marcionite Pastorals in the final collection.39 Even so an aroma of Gnosticism clung to the name of Paul. Tertullian in the third century, though he accepts him, still calls him the “apostle of the heretics”.

Final agreement on the canon was not yet reached. Some writings, including the Apocalypse and the Epistle of James, were the subject of dispute down to the fourth century. The latest book of the New Testament, the so-called Second Epistle of Peter, may be said to have scraped in by the skin of its teeth. It was written after the Pauline Epistles had been canonized, as is evident from its reference to them as ” scriptures which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest to their own destruction ” — a palpable hit at the Marcionites.40 No one refers to 2 Peter before the third century; and even Eusebius in the fourth refuses to count it canonical, though ” known to most ” and ” useful to many “.41

Deepening Crisis

Thus in the second half of the second century the Christian movement was knit into a network of disciplined local churches governed by bishops in regular mutual contact, with a common groundwork of doctrine and documents (but with many unresolved points still outstanding) and well equipped to meet the deepening crisis of Roman imperialism.

Even before the death of Antoninus in 161 the Parthians, tempted by the internal weakness of the Empire, took the offensive in the East. In the first year of the joint reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus the enemy overran Armenia and invaded Syria. By withdrawing troops from other provinces and recruiting in Italy (a rare operation in those days) Roman generals managed in a few years to free the frontier, invade Parthia and dictate peace. But the war left the Empire so impoverished that in 166 and the following years whole districts were depopulated by plague — one of many symptoms of the mass misery which was dragging Rome to her fall. An Egyptian papyrus of 168 tells of a village where the number of taxpayers has fallen from eighty-five to ten, ” of whom eight have fled”. Meanwhile German barbarians had broken through the weakened Danube defences and penetrated into northern Italy. The rest of the reign of Marcus Aurelius (Verus died in 169) was spent in meeting this new threat. To restore the frontier he was driven to enlist bandits inhis armies, and finally to settle thousands of Germans in the depopulated border provinces on condition of military service against their countrymen across the Danube.

The sharpening situation led to sharper action against the Christians. About 165 Justin was martyred at Rome. No one had been louder than he in professing loyalty to the Empire; but the government may have doubted the sincerity of an apologist who in addressing them repudiated revolution, while in addressing Christians and Jews he endorsed the inflammatory Johannine Apocalypse.

Christianity was now beginning to spread to the western provinces of Gaul and Africa. In both the burden of taxation pressed heavily on the impoverished peasantry. Gaul in particular from the imperial point of view was a danger-point owing to the proximity of the Rhine frontier. Christianity was brought to Gaul by missionaries from Asia Minor, some of whom were certainly Montanists: we find the Gallic churches later opposing the excommunication of the Montanists, and Irenaeus (though himself no Montanist) writing sympathetically of their “prophetic gifts”.42

The infiltration of this subversive movement into a province so near the northern frontier explains the savage persecution directed in 177 against the churches of Lyons and Vienne. The contemporary and wholly unmiraculous account quoted by Eusebius bears the stamp of authenticity.43 One fact that emerges from this account is the intensity of anti-Christian propaganda. The authorities are frightened. The stock charges of cannibalism and incest, bolstered by evidence wrung from slaves by threats of torture, are used to whip up mob frenzy against the martyrs and to counteract any possible sympathy with their sufferings. Another notable point is the personal part played by Marcus Aurelius. After a number of martyrdoms the governor of Lyonnese Gaul, like Pliny on an earlier occasion, finds liis job beyond him and writes to the emperor for instructions. Marcus, like Trajan, orders that Christians who recant are to be freed, but that those who do not are to suffer the rigour of the law. Accordingly those who are Roman citizens are beheaded, and the rest (including a boy of fifteen and a slave girl) frightfully tortured and then thrown to the beasts.

Marcus cannot have believed the grosser cEarges against the Christians. The one allusion to them in his Meditations refers to their “sheer obstinacy”44 — a very mild charge to lay against incestuous cannibals! His action is evidence that he considered the Empire to be in deadly danger from Christian propaganda.


That this was by now the general opinion of the ruling class is shown by the polemic against Christianity written between 177 and 180 by Celsus, a Platonist philosopher, probably of Alexandria. Like other anti-Christian writings, it was destroyed after Christianity became the State religion; but as the authorities omitted to destroy a reply written by Qrigen. most of the work of Celsus survives in Origen’s quotations.45

Celsus attacks Christianity on both theoretical and practical grounds. The theoretical attack is extremely able and in some ways anticipates modern criticism. Christianity, says Celsus, is of Jewish origin; yet the Jews repudiate it. According to them the founder was a base-born adventurer who picked up magic in Egypt and set up as a wonderworker and a Son of God.46 The passages in the prophets said by Christians to refer to Jesus have nothing to do with him. The original Gospel has been revised “three or four times, nay many times”, in the interest of Christian propaganda.47 The story of the resurrection has many parallels in pagan myth, and rests on the evidence of a crazy woman and a handful of dreamers, wishful thinkers or plain liars. The risen God should have appeared to his judges! The quarrel between Jews and Christians, says Celsus, is as silly as a quarrel between worms and frogs as to which are the favourites of God. Christian teachers are mainly weavers, cobblers and such low people; they address their propaganda not to educated men, but to women, children and slaves; they teach that wisdom is evil and folly good. God, being perfect and unchangeable, cannot become man; he is visible only to the eye of the soul; Christians in worshipping a corporeal God are gross materialists.

Equally interesting is Celsus’ practical indictment of Christianity. The Christians are a secret and illegal society. They venerate no ancient and accredited god or hero, but a recent ringleader of sedition, thus showing disloyalty to the Empire at a time when the Empire is in the gravest danger. How can they expect toleration? If such disloyalty became general, the Empire would be overrun by wild barbarians who would make an end of Graeco-Roman culture and of Christianity too. Let Christians believe what they will, but let them respect the time-honoured religion of the State and join in saving civilization while there is yet time!

This urgent appeal of Celsus shows how greatly the outlook of the Empire had darkened under Marcus Aurelius. It is no longer enough that Christians should abjure revolution: Celsus calls for their active co-operation in imperial defence. Like other spokesmen of the ruling classes in times of crisis, he overlooked the fact that to an increasing number of its subjects life under the Empire was so intolerable that it was no longer worth defending. Such co-operation as he demanded the Christians were not prepared to give. Even had the bishops offered it, they could not have answered for the rank and file. The Church never officially forbade military service; but the majority of Christians would not serve.48


The policy of Christian leaders at this time may be gathered from the writings of Irenaeus. By birth an Asiatic Greek and in boyhood a hearer ofEolYcarp, Irenaeus accompanied other Asiatic Christians to Gaul and settled at Lyons, where after the persecution of 177 he became bishop. A zealous missionary, he tells us that he learnt Celtic in order to preach to the Gallic peasantry. His chief work, the Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called (usually cited under the shorter title Against Heresies) was written during the lull in persecution which followed the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180. The main purpose of the work, as its title indicates, is to defend what we may call the “general line” of second-century Christianity against disruptive deviations, and particularly against the Gnostic sects who taught that matter was evil and that only a “spiritual” minority of mankind could be saved.

Irenaeus accuses the Gnostics of charging high fees for their esoteric teaching, of eating meat sacrificed to idols, of attending gladiatorial shows, of denying the necessity of martyrdom, of practising sexual promiscuity on the pretext that the flesh cannot contaminate the spirit, and in short of being no better than pagans. It is of course a partisan indictment. Charges of sexual promiscuity should be read with reserve: they were levelled by pagans at Christians generally, and have been levelled at minority movements at most periods of the world’s history. The other charges are doubtless true. We are reminded of Hadrian’s account of the sectaries of Alexandria fifty years earlier. Allowing for the bias of Irenaeus, we can see that the Gnostics dealt in recondite fancy religions which had not even the makings of a mass movement, and that in combating them Irenaeus stood for the future.

At the opposite pole to the Gnostics were the Ebonites or ” poor men ” — the Jewish Christians of Palestine and Syria who continued to observe the Jewish law, condemned Paul as an apostate and used only an Aramaic Gospel attributed to Matthew. Irenaeus dismisses them briefly. We may doubt whether they were much heard of as far west as Gaul.

Against these opposite deviations he lays down what later became the Catholic criterion of orthodoxy — the common doctrine of the churches, derived, he claims, through an unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles. Irenaeus singles out (and is the first writer to single out) the church of Rome as the model to which all other churches and the faithful everywhere should conform, since its tradition goes back to the glorious apostles Peter and Paul. Here Irenaeus forsakes history to follow the romance of Hege.sippu.Sr The story that Peter and Paul founded the church of Rome is irreconcilable with either the Pauline Epistles or the Acts of the Apostles. Indeed the office of bishop, as Irenaeus understood it, was unknown until the time of his master Polycarp. His high opinion of the Roman church did not prevent Irenaeus from protesting with other bishops a few years later when Victor, bishop of Rome, tried to enforce his views on the date of Easter by excommunicating the Asiatic churches. Papal infallibility was still a good many centuries off. Socially and politically Irenaeus is, like Paul, conservative. Existing property relations are ordained by God. He pleads for property in tones which suggest that he had not done badly for himself:

“All of us own property, more or less, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness. Whence come the homes in which we dwell, the clothes which we put on, the vessels which we use and all else which ministers to our daily life, save from what we avariciously acquired when we were heathen, or received from heathen parents, kinsmen or friends who acquired it unjusdy — not to mention what we acquire even now when we stand fast in the faith? Who sells and does not wish to profit out of the buyer? Who buys and does not wish to do a useful deal with the seller? Who is in business save that he may live by his business?”

Irenaeus reinforces this by an ingenious appeal to the Gospels:
” For this cause the Lord said: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged: for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged * — not at all that we should not rebuke sinners, nor that we should consent to what is done ill, but that we should not unrighteously criticise the dispensation of God. For he has justly provided all things for our good.”49
Similarly the kingdoms of this world, says Irenaeus, are not the devil’s, but ordained by God to prevent a war of all against all.

“Since man by departing from God reached such a pitch of fury as even to look on his brother as his enemy, and engaged without fear in every kind of restless conduct and murder and avarice, God imposed on mankind the fear of man, as they did not acknowledge the fear of God; that being subjected to the authority of man and kept under restraint by their laws, they might attain to some degree of justice and exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword suspended full in their view. . . .
“For this reason, too, magistrates themselves, having laws as a clothing of righteousness whenever they act in a just and legitimate manner, shall not be called in question for their conduct nor be liable to punishment. But whatever they do to the subversion of justice, iniquitously, impiously, illegally and tyrannically, by that shall they also perish. For the just judgment of God comes equally on all and in no case is defective.”50

The space which Itenaeus devotes to this argument shows that a great many Christians still regarded the existing social and political order as Satanic. Irenaeus knows that they will quote against him the scorching invectives of the Apocalypse against ” Babylon the great” and the seven-headed beast. He takes up the challenge. He accepts the apostolic origin of the book (innocent of literary flair, he sees no difficulty in attributing the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel to the same John!) and meets his opponents by ingenious exegesis. Ninety years had passed since the Apocalypse was written: allusions topical under the Flavian emperors had become unintelligible and could be made to mean anything. Irenaeus insists that Antichrist is not a Roman emperor (neither Nero, Domitian nor any other) but a tyrant who will arise after the disruption of the Empire. He will be an apostate Jew, he will reign for three years and six months in Jerusalem, and he will be the foe of both Christianity and paganism, since he will set himself up as the only God. His tyranny will end with the coming of the Lord in the six thousandth year from the creation of the world. Then will come the millennium. Irenaeus, citing Papias and “the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord”, ends with a naively materialistic picture of the plenty which will mark the Messianic kingdom.51

In this way Irenaeus reconciles loyalty to the Empire, which had become the policy of the Christian leadership, with the millennial hopes which still sustained the Christian rank and file. The Church and the Empire are not enemies, but predestined allies, since Antichrist will be the common enemy of both. Antichrist will be a Jew, and his capital Jerusalem. The millennium will come not by the destruction of Rome, but by the destruction of the enemy of Rome.

Close of the Second Century

Thus towards the end of the second century the Catholic Church emerges as a highly disciplined mass organization, led by bishops who have succeeded in harnessing potentially revolutionary followers to a policy anything but revolutionary. The leaders hold the rank and file by the disbursement of benefits from Church funds under their control, and rally their morale by what were once revolutionary slogans, but officially they repudiate revolution and are ready for an alliance with the Empire on one condition — the recognition of Catholic Christianity as the State religion, and of its clergy as dispensers of the social services which the Empire can no longer provide. Their propaganda is directed not against the Empire as such, but against its most vulnerable organ, namely its official religion — against sacrificial cults with their “stinking holocausts of dead beasts”;52 against gladiatorial shows, a relic of human sacrifice; and against emperor-worship. In all these respects Christianity played a progressive role under the conditions of that time.

The ultimate victory of the Church was assured. Year by year the Empire became less and less able to ensure a tolerable life for the masses or even for the middle classes. The wars of Marcus Aurelius had brought plague and famine in their train. Under the irresponsible Commodus (180-192) the Empire slid visibly towards anarchy. Not for nothing did Irenaeus forecast its disruption. Desertion and mutiny in the legions, and peasant revolts, especially in the West, became chronic. The rising of Maternus in 186 swept Gaul and Spain, and needed a whole army to cope with it. In 189 there were famine riots at Rome. In 193 the emperor Pertinax abolished the provision made by Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian for the education of poor children in Italy: the Empire could no longer afford even a fraction of a welfare State. After the murder of Pertinax four years of devastating civil war gave the purple to the African Septimius Severus. In his advice to his sons to enrich the soldiers and treat the rest of their subjects with contempt we may read the declaration of bankruptcy of Roman imperialism — if indeed it could still be called Roman when Rome and Italy were at the mercy of provincial generals and provincial armies.

And another factor favoured the Church. In an Empire no longer expanding, but now permanently on the defensive against the barbarians, with its economic basis shifting from chattel-slavery to serfdom, its man-power reduced by plague and its surplus wealth steadily diminishing, the pagan cults began to be felt by the middle classes as a burdensome expense. Tertullian in his brilliant, defiant and often witty Apology, published at Carthage in 197-198, mentions pagan complaints of dwindling temple revenues, and retorts: “We cannot cope with men and gods begging together.”53 The Church, with a mass following to whom it could offer more than the Empire did, had only to expel irreconcilables like the Montanists and stand out for terms. Sooner or later a competitor for the purple would find Christian support worth buying. Tertullian’s boast of the numbers of the Christians, whose ” only commonwealth is the universe “, and his hint of what ” one night and a few little torches ” could do if they were permitted to render evil for evil, must have gravely embarrassed the bishops.1 No doubt they were relieved when a few years later he seceded to the Montanists. Montanism was not Tertullian’s only heresy. The frank materialism of his book On the Soul, published shortly before his secession, raises the interesting question whether he was a convert from Epicureanism. To Tertullian the soul is a material substance transmitted from parents to children in the process of reproduction, and no immortality is conceivable except the “resurrection of the flesh “.

Only the revolutionary origins of Christianity, the continuing disaffection of its rank and file (shown less in active resistance than in apocalyptic denunciation and the refusal of military service) and the natural reaction of a ruling class at bay delayed for another century the alliance between the Catholic Church, which had put the millennium into cold storage, and an Empire heading for feudalism, Roman now only in name, and soon to crumble under barbarian attacks into the feudal monarchies of the next age.55


In this book we have been concerned with the origins of Christianity. The results arrived at differ both from orthodoxy and from most current Rationalism.

Orthodoxy accepts at their face value the books of the New Testament, despite their contradictions. It is thus committed to a creed according to which God, without ceasing to be God, became man in the person of Jesus Christ, suffered death under a Roman governor of Judaea in the first century, rose again, founded the Catholic Church, and will return hereafter to judge the living and the dead.

The Rationalist rightly points out the contradictions in the orthodox creed and in the documents which support it, and the absence of independent historical confirmation of its claims. This commits him to the quest of a credible explanation of the facts. So far Rationalists have reached no agreed solution. The more conservative hold that a teacher named Jesus lived and died at the traditional date and uttered enough of the sayings recorded in the Synoptic Gospels to entitle him to be called the founder of Christianity. The more radical reject an historical founder and regard Jesus as a mystery-god pure and simple. The difficulties of both views have been pointed out. Neither explains all the facts. Neither takes sufficient account of the fact that early Christianity was a mass movement conditioned by the decaying slave society of antiquity. Yet in a sense both are true, since both are legitimate deductions from some of the available data.

This seeming contradiction disappears when we realize that the texts which support the historical and mythical theories refer to two opposed tendencies in early Christianity.56 Some, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, refer to a first-century revolutionary movement of the poorer classes, centred in Palestine and connected with the Essenes. Round a crucified leader of this movement or, more likely, round confused traditions of more than one leader the original Gospel story was written. Other texts, especially in the Pauline Epistles, refer to a mystery cult among Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora, whose Christ Jesus was no leader of flesh and blood but a god by whom its initiates were to be redeemed from this evil world, and which attracted rich as well as poor converts. The propaganda of both tendencies was conducted in the underworld of the Mediterranean cities. Their bitter rivalry can be traced in the Pauline Epistles and in the Johannine Apocalypse.

After the Jewish revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem the Pauline leaders set to work to draw the sting of the revolutionary movement and so to prevent, if possible, clashes with Rome in which they too were likely to be involved. They did this, firstly, by using the funds at their disposal to provide benefits which the revolutionaries could not afford, and secondly, by rewriting the Gospel story, neutralizing its revolutionary content and remaking its hero in the image of their own mystery-god. The first process put the control of the churches into safe hands; the second left the Gospels the contradictory patchwork which we see today.

In the second century the church leaders had to turn round and fight another enemy — the ultra-PauUnists who would have cut the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the Gnostics who would have so mystified it as to rob it of all mass appeal. The upshot was the emergence of the episcopate and the formation of the New Testament canon.

Consequently the New Testament exhibits insuperable contradictions — a Jewish Messiah of human descent, who is nevertheless God from the beginning; a material kingdom of God on earth, and yet a kingdom not of this world and not to be inherited by flesh and blood; denunciations of the rich and visions of the fall of Rome, side by side with exhortations to slaves to obey their masters and to all to obey the government. These contradictions illustrate the different points of view rooted in different social classes — the millennial dreams of the poor and hungry, and the mystical escapism of the more comfortable — which went to form the Catholic Church and the Catholic creeds of later centuries. The dogmatic, authoritarian side of the new religion became the ideology of feudalism. Its revolutionary, millennial side, submerged for the time being, helped to shape the popular and progressive thought of ages to come.


1 The theory of a few critics that Luke’s Gospel is an expansion of Marcion is untenable. Luke came first. Tertullian, who had the documents before him, says: “Marcion in his Antitheses argued that the Gospel which we attribute to Luke was interpolated by defenders of Judaism in order to bring in the law and the prophecs.” Against Marcion, iv, 4.

2 Here lay Marcion’s real significance. He was not merely anti-Judaic, but anti-revolutionary in a crude way which threatened to drive away church members. That was what church leaders could not tolerate.

3 Justin, Apology 1, 4.

4 Justin here commits a first-class blunder. The statue he saw was dedicated to an old Italian god Semo Sancus — Semoni Deo Sanco. Justin misread this as Simoni Deo Sancto — “to the holy god Simon”!

5 Justin of course had no access to official papers and is speaking entirely “in the air”. In later centuries “despatches of Pilate” (Acta Pilati) were forged in default of the genuine article.

6 Apology I, 46.

7 The mixture of water wiih eucharistic wine is unknown in the New Testament. Was it an attempt to conciliate the Marcionites, who used water only?

8 Apology I, 67.

9 I, 66. For discussion of this passage see Coulange, The Evolution of the Mass, part II, chap. I. Justin’s purpose is not to affirm transubstantiation, but to repudiate Marcion, who said that Jesus had no material body. Bread, wine and water made the body of Jesus, just as they make other human bodies.

10 See chap. VI, § 5, and VII, § 5.

11 Charges of cannibalism and promiscuity seem to have been stock weapons against ancient revolutionaries. They were levelled at Catiline and his associates in 63 B.C., doubtless with as little truth as later against the Christians.

12 Apology II, 5.

13 II, 10.

14 Hermas, Vision II, 4.

15 This Clement cannot be the author of the Epistle of the Roman to the Corinthian church, which in fact bears no name. He may have been a descendant of the Flavius Clemens put to death by Domitian. The family seem to have remained Christians. (Renan, Les Evangiles, chap. XVI.) Titus Flavius Clemens, better known as Clement of Alexandria, was probably another descendant.

16 III, 5.

17 III, 6.

18 Mandates II-III.

19 Parable I.

20 II.

21 VIII, 6.

22 V, 5-6.

23 VIII, 1-3.

24 VIII, 6-10.

25 IX, 26.

26 X, 4.

27 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 3, 4; letter to Florinus, cited by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, 20, 4-8; letter to Victor, cited ibid., V, 24, 12-17.

28 Against Heresies, V, 33, 4.

29 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, 39, 1-4. See above, chap. VII, § 14.

30 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 3, 4,

31 Polycarp, Philippians VII.

32 Romans xiv, 5-6; Galatians iv, 10.

33 Ignatius, Magnesians, VI-VII. See above, chap. VII, § 13.

34 Philadelphians, III.

35 Smyrnaeans, VIII.

36 Mark xvi, 9-20. See above, chap. VII, § 6.

37 Loisy suggests that the fixing of the canon of the Gospels was among the subjects discussed by Polycarp and Anicetus in 154-155. Birth of the Christian Religion, chap. X.

38 John xxi, 15-24.

39 Marcion had certainly doctored his collection of the Epistles. But there is no reason to suppose that his opponents were not equally good at the game. A signal example of anti-Marcionite padding is the exordium and peroration of Romans (i, 1-7; xvi, 25-27). The Jewish prophets and the Jewish descent of Jesus are dragged by force into what should be a simple greeting and farewell. See chap. VI, § 7.

40 2 Peter iii, 15-16.

41 Ecclesiastical History, III, 3, 1; 25, 3.

42 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, 6, I.

43 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, 1-4. The ultra-critical Van Manen concedes that the account is “historical, even if here and there adorned with touches of art”. Encyclopaedia Biblica, article “Old Christian Literature”.

44 XI, 3.

45 Origen, writing seventy years after Celsus, mistakes him for an Epicurean namesake, a friend of the satirist Lucian. But the quotations prove that Origen’s Celsus is a Platonic idealist.

46 This proves that the rabbinical counterblast to the Gospel story, later incorporated in the Talmud, was already current in the second half of the second century.

47 Origen, Against Celsus, II, 27.

48 The story preserved by Eusebius of a Christian legion whose prayers produced a timely thunderstorm is fiction. The name “Thundering Legion”, alleged to have been conferred on this unit by Marcus Aurelius, really dates from Nero, if not from Augustus. The thunderstorm, however, really occurred and is depicted on the Antonine column at Rome. The sculpture may have suggested the story. As early as the time of Tertullian (197) a forged despatch of Marcus was in circulation attributing the rain to the prayers of Christian soldiers (Tertullian, Apology, V, 6).

49 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV, 30, 1-3.

50 V. 24, 1-2.

51 V, 33, 3-4. See chap. V, § 2, above.

52 Tertullian, Apology, XXIII.

53 XLII.

54 XXXVII-XXXVIII. The fact that Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the middle of the third century, called Tertullian “master” need imply no more than admiration for his style. Cyprian had not to cope with Tertullian alive.

55 Constantine was not the first emperor to consider the official recognition of Christianity. The Syrian Alexander Severus (222-235) proposed the concurrent endowment of Christianity, Judaism and paganism. Philip the Arab (244-249) was actually a Christian; but military opposition destroyed him before he showed his hand.

56 The Tübingen school of critics may be said to have pointed the way to this conclusion. But the Tübingen school were Hegelians and interested only in the struggle of ideas.

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