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No. I, IX.
A X I>
N o. X C I.
JULY, 18 58.
BY REV. J. M. MANNING, UOSTOX, MASS.
In the year of onr Lord 324, if we may follow the authorities quoted by Gibbon, it chanced on a certain night " that Constantine slept within the walls of Byzantium." Amid the dreams of that night he beheld " the tutelar genius of the city, a venerable matron, sinking under the weight of years and infirmities, suddenly transformed into a blooming maid, whom his own hands adorned with all the symbols of imperial greatness."1 The purpose of the monarch, as the chronicle relates, was formed before he left his couch; and but little more than a decade of years had elapsed, after that nocturnal vision, when the new capital, with its ample walls and blazing palace, its hippodrome, porticos, church of St. Sophia, triumphal arches, royal baths, and works of art gathered out of all the cities in the known world, stood complete on the right bank of the Bosphorus.
It is from the dedication of Constantinople that the history of the Greek church properly starts. Not that it had
1 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Harper's edition), Vol. II. p. 95. Vol. XV. No. 59. 43
become a distinct body at jhat time; for the final separation between it and the church of Rome did not take place till after the middle of the eleventh century. Nor are we to infer that the elements which gradually became embodied in the Greek church, had no existence before the founding of the Eastern empire. Those elements can be traced back to the first ages of Christianity. Indeed we find them more abundant, and more active, as we approach the time and place of the advent of our Saviour. Not more than one, or possibly two, of the sacred writers were born as far West as the city of Constantine; and from thence it was more than a thousand miles on to the schools of Roman learning. The native genius of those writers, and the training which they received, were purely Oriental.1 Considering the isolation of nations in that day, we see that they could have been influenced only in a slight degree by Western mind. Their cast of intellect was thoroughly Eastern; and so also were their modes of thinking, and of expressing thought. The type of Christianity which they give us is the Greek, rather than the Latin. Nor is this a point which needs to be established by argument, but simply a fact of history. God chose to reveal himself to man through Oriental symbols, and beneath the Oriental heavens. He gave us the divine word in an Asiatic rather than a European mould. It was no Western star, but " the star of the East," that shone upon the birthplace of the Redeemer.
It is true that Christianity, so thoroughly Grecian in its earliest form, was modified somewhat, by coming in contact with Roman civilization. Palestine lay in the highway of nations; and they often disputed with each other for its possession. As commerce increased, it became, owing to its central position, a meeting-place for travellers from all parts of the world. It was no unusual thing, in apostolic times, for "Parthiaus, and Medes, and the dwellers in Mesopota
1 Throughout this Article the word "Oriental" is used in its ecclesiastical sense; and is applied to all those Christians, whether Asiatic or European, who lived amid the influences of Greek rather than Latin culture. The Greets had become Oriental in the time of Constantine.
mia and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Cretes and Arabians," to be residing at Jerusalem. The missionary labors of the first Christians also, brought them where the Occidental spirit predominated; and that spirit appears, to a certain extent, in some of the writings of Paul. Especially his letter to the Romans has the straight-forward, logical method of the Western mind. Yet even in that the mystical element, so characteristic of Oriental thought, is not wanting; and almost hides the argument, at times, with its gorgeous veil. The writings of John, from first to last, are Eastern. They chime in with the strains of the old Hebrew bards and prophets: they are rapt, musical, and pensive; showing too much of the lofty seer, and too little of close-linked reasoning, for the Italian intellect of that age. We may trace the same peculiarity in nearly all the teachings of our Saviour. They are not a carefully compacted philosophical system, but living germs of truth. The sayings which fell from the lips of the Son of God, do not suffer, like those of most teachers, when taken out of their first connections. Each one of them had a life of its own; was complete and rounded in itself. The intellectual form which his thoughts took, is associated in our mind with the church of Constantinople, more naturally than with the church of Rome.
The Greek type of Christianity appears in the theological works of the second and third centuries. But few such treatises comparatively were composed in the Latin tongue before the time of Constantine. The great authors of that period
1 We are speaking, in this connection, of intellectual peculiarities simply, which cannot be regarded as affecting the quality of the inspiration at all. According to the dynamical theory of inspiration, so finely stated by Mr. Lee in his recent work, the human element in the Scriptures loses none of its characteristics, in conjunction with the divine element which guides it. It is an evidence of divine wisdom that the writers of the Bible represent so many different classes of mind. Revelation is thus adapted not only to the religious wants, but in a' great measure to the mental habits, of all men in all ages of the world. Tor some wise reason, however, more prominence has been given to Eastern than to Western methods of expressing thought.
preferred the Greek language, which was then the classic language of the East; and in spirit, also, they were thoroughly Oriental. In order to know this, we have only to examine the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenams, Clement of Alexandria, and his famous pupil Origen. In some of these, such freedom is allowed to Oriental modes of philosophizing, as to distort the truths of the Gospel. We sometimes feel, while reading them, that they made the Persian philosophy a key to the Scriptures; that they subordinated the word of God to the dreams of a lawless fancy; that they engrafted the doctrines of Mithras and Manes upon the utterances of Jesus.1 They interpreted the Bible as no Western mind ever would have done. We trace, through their endless fantasies, the workings of Greek genius, culture, and associations. A Roman intellect would not have been so exuberant and tortuous. Its movements would have been steady and right onward, like the march of a cohort. Its style would have been rugged and warlike. Its imagery would not take us through gardens and seraglios, as does that of the early Christian fathers; but through camps, battle-fields, and the conflicts of the arena. It is important also here, to notice what new elements the church most readily united with, in its progress westward. Its Eastern spirit is everywhere made manifest. The early theologians had no sympathy with the Aristotelian philosophy. That school was thoroughly Occidental; and hence its influence was not felt within the church till after the ascendency of Western mindBut the philosophy of Plato hnd in it a vein of etherial, mystical speculation, suited to Oriental habits of thinking; and therefore it was embraced, and absorbed into the theology of the day, wherever it was encountered. It found a congenial home at Alexandria, and throughout the East; and was a
1 It is hardly necessary to give quotations confirming this statement. Justin Martyr taught that " Christ is the Logos (the reason or intelligence) of which all men participate; so that every one who has ever lived according to Ltbjos [reason) was a Christian." Origen believed in " the pre-cxistence of human soul*, and their incarceration in material bodies, for offences committed in a former state of being." See Dr. Murdock's valuable notes to his translation of Mosheim, Vol. I. pp. 119,168.
reigning power amid all the controversies of the day- Those heresies which distracted the early church, grew out of the vagaries of Asiatic mind. Docetism, which denied that Christ had a human nature: the Ebionites, who contended that the Redeemer's person was, in no respect, superhuman; Manicheism,1 which regarded God as the Ormuzd, and Satan as the Ahrirnan of Zoroaster; these errors show in what direction the speculations of the first Christians leaned.
It is indispensable that we should take this retrospect, in estimating the importance of the Greek church; and such a review of primitive Christianity discovers to us the hollovvness of the great boast of Rome. She claims to be the true apostolic church, built on Peter and Christ; and denounce* the Greek communion as heretical. Both parties had undoubtedly left the true faith, when their contentions began in' the fourth century; but the external forms of religion which were reproduced in the Byzantine church, had become prevalent while Rome was as yet the stronghold of Paganism. The Eastern type of Christianity is much older than that which grew up, and finally overshadowed it, on Italian soil. We have, in the history of these two ecclesiastical bodies, an illustration of a very common fact. That which is oldest in reality may be youngest in name; and in religious contests often, as well as elsewhere, power wins the day against justice. That which is conservatism when judged by a human standard, not unfrequently turns out to be wild and wicked radicalism when tried by the eternal law of God.— The river of divine truth, streaming from beneath the throne of God and the Lamb, appeared to men first amid the vineyards and palm-trees of the East. As it flowed on toward the setting sun, Western elements began to mingle with it. Its Oriental characteristics were gradually overborne, and became almost imperceptible, after it was forced into the same channel with Roman aggression. Nor did those ancient traits show themselves again, till Constantinople had been
1 For a brief statement of the relation of Manicheism and kindred heresies to Oriental philosophy, the reader is referred to Milmnn's Hist. Lat. Christ* Vol. II. p. 322 et seq.