Christianity Explained

In the following article an account is given of Christianity as a religion, describing its origin, its relation to other religions, its essential nature and chief characteristics, but not dealing with its doctrines in detail nor its history as a visible organization. These and other aspects of this great subject will receive treatment under separate titles. Moreover, the Christianity of which we speak is that which we find realized in the Catholic Church alone; hence, we are not concerned here with those forms which are embodied in the various non-Catholic Christian sects, whether schismatical or heretical.

Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origin of Christianity and its earliest developments are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures and various sub-Apostolic writings, the authenticity of which we must to a large extent take for granted here, as with much less grounds we take for granted the authenticity of “Cæsar” when dealing with early Gaul, and of “Tacitus” when studying growth of the Roman Empire. (Cf. Kenyon, “Handbook of the Textual Criticism of the N.T.”). We have this further warrant for doing so, that the most mature critical opinions amongst non-Catholics, deserting the wild theories of Baur, Strauss, and Renan, tend, in regard to dates and authorship, to coincide more closely with the Catholic position. The Gospels, Acts, and most of the Epistles are recognized as belonging to the Apostolic Age. “The oldest literature of the Church”, says Professor Harnack, “is, in the main points and in most of its details, from the point of view of literary history, veracious and trustworthy . . . . He who attentively studies these letters (those i.e. of Clement and Ignatius) cannot fail to see what a fullness of traditions, topics of preaching, doctrines, and forms of organization already existed in the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117), and in particular churches had reached permanence” (Chronologie der altchristlichen Literature, Bk. I, pp. 8, 11). Other points will, of course, be touched on and other results assumed, which are more fully and formally treated under JESUS CHRIST; CHURCHREVELATIONMIRACLES.

For clearness’ sake we shall arrange the subject under the following chief heads:


Origin of Christianity and its relation with other religions

Christianity is the name given to that definite system of religious belief and practice which was taught by Jesus Christ in the country of Palestine, during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, and was promulgated, after its Founder’s death, for the acceptance of the whole world, by certain chosen men among His followers.

According to the accepted chronology, these began their mission on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 29, which day is regarded, accordingly, as the birthday of the Christian Church. In order the better to appreciate the meaning of this event, we must first consider the religious influences and tendencies previously at work in the minds of men, both Jews and Gentiles, which prepared the way for the spread of Christianity amongst them.

The whole history of the Jews as detailed in the Old Testament is seen, when read in the light of other events, to be a clear though gradual preparation for the preaching of Christianity. In that nation alone, the great truths of the existence and unity of God, His providential ruling of His creatures and their responsibility towards Him, were preserved unimpaired amidst general corruption. The ancient world was given to Pantheism and creature-worship; Israel only, not because of its “monotheistic instinct” (Renan), but because of the periodic interposition of God through His prophets, resisted in the main the general tendency to idolatry. Besides maintaining those pure conceptions of Deity, the prophets from time to time, and with ever increasing distinctness until we come to the direct and personal testimony of the Baptist, foreshadowed a fuller and more universal revelation — a time when, and a Man through Whom, God should bless all the nations of the earth.

Jesus Christ God Holy Spirit Bible Gospel

Cross and The Holy Spirit

We need not here trace the Messianic predictions in detail; their clearness and cogency are such that St. Augustine does not hesitate to say (Retract., I, xiii, 3): “What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian”. And thus it has been remarked that Israel alone amongst the nations of antiquity looked forward to glories to come. All peoples alike retained some more or less vague recollection of a Paradise lost, a remote Golden Age, but only the spirit of Israel kept alive the definite hope of a world-wide empire of justice, wherein the Fall of Man should be repaired. The fact that, eventually, the Jews misinterpreted their oracles, and identified the Messianic Kingdom with a mere temporal sovereignty of Israel, cannot invalidate the testimony of the Scriptures, as interpreted both by Christ’s own life and the teaching of His Apostles, to the gradual evolution of that conception of which Christianity is the full and perfect expression. Mistaken national pride, accentuated by their galling subjection to Rome led them to read a material significance into the predictions of the triumph of the Messias, and hence to love their privilege of being God’s chosen people. The wild olive in St. Paul’s metaphor (Romans 11:17) was then grafted upon the stock of the patriarchs in place of those rejected branches, and entered upon their spiritual inheritance.

We may trace, too, in the world at large, apart from the Jewish people, a similar though less direct preparation. Whether due ultimately to the Old Testament predictions or to the fragments of the original revelation handed down amongst the Gentile, a certain vague expectation of the coming of a great conqueror seems to have existed in the East and to a certain extent in the Roman worlds, in the midst of which the new religion had its birth. But a much more marked predisposition to Christianity may be noticed in certain prominent features of the Roman religion after the downfall of the republic. The old gods of Latium had long ceased to reign. In their stead Greek philosophy occupied the minds of the cultured, whilst the populace were attracted by a variety of strange cults imported from Egypt and the East. Whatever their corruption, these new religions, concentrating worship on a single prominent deity, were monotheistic in effect. Moreover, many of them were characterized by rites of expiation and sacrifice, which familiarized men’s minds with the idea of a mediatorial religion. They combined to destroy the notion of a nation cultus, and to separate the service of the Deity from the service of the State. Finally, as a contributory cause to the diffusion of Christianity, we must not fail to mention the widespread Pax Romana, resulting from the union of the civilized races under one strong central government.

Thus much may be said with regard to the remote preparation of the world for the reception of Christianity. What immediately preceded its institution, as it was born in Judaism, concerns the Jewish race alone, and is comprised in the teaching and miracles of Christ, His death and resurrection, and the mission of the Holy Spirit.

During his whole mortal life on earth, including the two or three years of His active ministry, Christ lived as a devout Jew, Himself observing, and insisting on His followers observing, the injunctions of the Law (Matthew 23:3). The sum of His teaching, as of that of His precursor, was the approach of the “Kingdom of God”, meaning not only the rule of righteousness in the individual heart (“the kingdom of God is within you” — Luke 17:21), but also the Church (as is plain from many of the parables) which He was about to institute.

Yet, though He often foreshadowed a time when the Law as such would cease to bind, and though He Himself in proof of His Messiahship occasionally set aside its provisions (“For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath”, Matthew 12:8), yet, as, in spite of His miracles, He did not win recognition of that Messiahship, still less of His Divinity, from the Jews at large. He confined His explicit teaching about the Church to His immediate followers, and left it to them, when the time came, openly to pronounce the abrogation of the Law. (Acts 15:5-11, 18; Galatians 3:19; 24-28; Ephesians 2:2, 14-15; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 7:12)

It was not so much, then, by propounding the dogmas of Christianity as by informing the Old Law with the spirit of Christian ethics that Christ found Himself able to prepare Jewish hearts for the religion to come. Again, the faith which He failed to arouse by the numerous miracles He wrought, He sought to provide with a further and stronger incentive by dying under every circumstance of pain, disgrace, and defeat, and then raising Himself from the dead in triumph and glory. It was to this fact rather than to the wonders He worked in His lifetime that His accredited witnesses always appealed in their teaching. On the marvel of the Resurrection is based in the counsels of God the faith of Christianity. “If Christ is not risen again, your faith is vain”, declares the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:17), who says no word of the other wonders Christ performed. By His death, therefore, and His return from the dead, Christ, as the event proved, furnished the strongest means for the effective preaching of the religion He came to found.

The third antecedent condition to the birth of Christianity, as we learn from the sacred records, was a special participation of the Holy Spirit given to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. According to Christ’s promise, the function of this Divine gift was to teach them all truth and bring back to their remembrance all that [Christ] had said to them (John 14:26; 16:13). “I send the Promised of my Father upon you, but remain ye in the city till ye shall be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). As a result of that Divine visitation we find the Apostles preaching the Gospel with wonderful courage, persuasiveness, and assurance in the face of hostile Jews and indifferent Gentiles, “the Lord working with them and confirming their words by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20).

We have now to consider the circumstances of Christianity at the outset, and to estimate to what extent it was affected by the already existing religious beliefs of the time.

It took its rise, as we have seen, in Judaism: its founder and His disciples were orthodox Jews, and the latter maintained their Jewish practices, at least for a time, even after the day of Pentecost. The Jews themselves looked upon the followers of Christ as a mere Israelitish sect (airesis) like the Sadducees or the Essenes, styling St. Paul “the instigator of the revolt of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). The new religion was at first wholly confined to the synagogue, and it votaries had still a large share of Jewish exclusiveness; they read the Law, they practised circumcision, and they worshipped in the Temple, as well as in the upper room at Jerusalem. We need not wonder, then, that some modern rationalists, who reject its supernatural origin and ignore the operation of the Holy Spirit in its first missionaries, see in early Christianity Judaism pure and simple, and find the explanation of its character and growth in the pre-existing religious environment. But this theory of natural development does not fit the facts as narrated in the New Testament, which is full of indications that Christ’s doctrines were new, and His spirit strange. Consequently, the records have to be mutilated to suit the theory. We cannot pretend to follow, there or in other places, the rationalists in their New Testament criticism. There is the less need of doing so that their theories are often mutually destructive. A dozen years ago an observer computed that since 1850 there had been published 747 theories regarding the Old and New Testaments, of which 608 were by that time defunct (see Hastings, “Higher Criticism”). The effect of these random hypotheses has been greatly to strengthen the orthodox view, which we now proceed to state.

Christianity is developed from Judaism in the sense that it embodies the Divine revelation contained in the latter creed, somewhat as a finished painting embodies the original rough sketch. The same hand was employed in the production of both religions, and by type and promise and prophecy the Old Dispensation points clearly to the New.

But type, and promise, and prophecy as clearly indicate that the New will be something very different from the Old. No mere organic evolution connects the two. A fuller revelation, a more perfect morality, a wider distribution was to mark the Kingdom of the Messias. “The end [or object] of the Law is Christ”, says St. Paul (Romans 10:4), meaning that the Law was given to the Jews to excite their faith in the Christ to come. “Wherefore”, he says again (Galatians 3:24), “the law was our pedagogue unto Christ”, leading the Jews to Christianity as the slave brought his charges to the school door.

Christ reproached the Jews for not reading their Scriptures aright. “For if you believed Moses, you would perhaps believe me also; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). And St. Augustine sums the whole matter up in the striking words: “In the Old Testament, the New lies hidden; in the New, the Old is made manifest” (On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed, 4.8). But Christ claimed to fulfil the Law by substituting the substance for the shadow and the gift for the promise, and, the end having been reached, all that was temporary and provisional in Judaism came to a conclusion. Still, a direct divine intervention was necessary to bring this about, just as, in any rational account of the theory of evolution, recourse must be had to supernatural power to bridge the gulf between being and non-being, life and non-life, reason and non-reason. “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manner, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, least of all in these days has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2), the message growing in clearness and in content with each successive utterance till it reached completion in the Incarnation of the Word.

The Christianity, then, which the Apostles preached on the day of Pentecost was entirely distinct from Judaism, especially as understood by the Jews of the time; it was a new religion, new in its Founder, new in much of its creed, new in its attitude towards both God and man, new in the spirit of its moral code. “The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

St. Paul, as was to be expected, is our clearest witness on this point. “If any man be in Christ”, he says, “he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). How new Christianity was, the Jews themselves showed by putting its Author to death and persecuting His adherents. Renan himself, who is not always consistent, admits that “far from Jesus being the continuer of Judaism, what characterizes His work is its breach with the Jewish spirit” (Vie de Jésus, c. xxviii).

It may be granted that there is a certain resemblance between the Essene communities and the earliest Christian assemblies. But the resemblance is only on the outside. The spirit of the Essenes was intensely national; except in the matter of worship in the Temple, they were ultra-Jewish in their observance of external forms, ablutions, the Sabbath, etc., and their mode of life and discouragement of marriage were essentially anti-social. Harnack himself owns that Christ had no relations with this rigoristic sect, as was shown by His mixing freely with sinners, etc. (Das Wesen des Christenthums, Lect. Ii, p. 33, tr.). But Christianity did not reject anything in Judaism that was of permanent value, and so the Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost could not have felt that they were abjuring their ancient faith, but rather that they were then for the first time entering upon the full understanding of it. More will be said on this point when we come to consider what is the essence of Christianity, but we may notice that the Church very early found it necessary to emphasize her distinctness from Judaism by abandoning the essentially Jewish rites of circumcision, Temple-worship, and observance of the Sabbath.

Judaism is not the only religious system that has been requisitioned by rationalistic writers to account for the appearance of Christianity. Points of similarity between the teaching of Christ and His Apostles and the great religions of the East have been taken to indicated a derivation of the latter system from the earlier, and the elaborate eschatology of the Egyptian religion has been quoted to account for certain Christian dogmas about the future life.

It were a long and not very profitable task to state and refute these various theories in detail. Underlying all of them is the rationalistic postulate which denies the fact and even the possibility of Divine intervention in the evolution of religion. In virtue of that attitude rationalism is confronted with the impossible task of explaining how a universal religion like Christianity, with an extensive yet logical system of dogma, could have been evolved by a process of promiscuous borrowings from existing cults and yet preserve everywhere its unity and coherence. If the selection were made by Christ and His adherents, rationalists must tell us how these “ignorant and unlettered men” (Acts 4:13; cf. Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:2) knew the religions of the East, when it was a matter of astonishment to their contemporaries that they knew their own.

Or, if the dogmas and practices under consideration were the additions of a later age, the questions arise, first, how to reconcile this statement with the fact that the essence of Christianity is discoverable in the earliest Christian witnesses and, secondly, how scattered communities composed of various nationalities and living under different conditions could have united in selecting and maintaining the same dogmas and rules of conduct.

We may ask, furthermore, why Christianity which, on this hypothesis, only selected pre-existing doctrines, excited everywhere such bitter hostility and persecution. “About this sect”, said the Roman Jews to St. Paul in prison, “we are informed that it meets with opposition everywhere” (Acts 28:22)k.

Immense erudition has been wasted in the attempt to show that Buddhism in particular is the prototype of Christianity, but, apart from the difficulty of distinguishing the original creed of Gautama from later and possibly post-Christian accretions, it may be briefly objected that Buddhism is at best only an ethical system, not a religion, for it recognizes no God and no responsibility, that in so far as it emphasizes the comparative worthlessness of earthly things and the insufficiency of earthly delights it is in accord with the Christian spirit, but that in aim it is essentially diverse. The supreme aim of Christianity is eternal happiness in a state involving the employment of all the soul’s activities, that of Buddhism the ultimate loss of conscious existence.

Let us grant, once and for all, that God’s intercourse with His creatures is not confined to the old and New Covenants, and that Christianity includes many doctrines accessible to the unaided human reason, and advocates many practices which are the natural outcome of ordinary human activities. We thus expect to find that, human nature being the same everywhere, the various expressions of the religious sense will take similar shapes amongst all peoples. Accordingly, false religions may very well inculcate ascetic practices and possess the idea of sacrifice and sacrificial banquets, of a priesthood, of sin and confession, of sacramental rites like baptism, of the accessories of worship such as images, hymns, lights, incense, etc. Not everything in false religion is false, nor is everything in the true religion (or Christianity) supernatural. “We must not look”, says M. Müller, “in the original belief of mankind for [distinctively] Christian ideas but for the fundamental religious ideas on which Christianity is built, without which as its natural and historical support, Christianity could not have become what it is” (Wissenschaft der Sprache, II, 395).

These remarks apply not only to the religious systems which are alleged to have influenced the conception of Christianity, but to those which it met as soon as it issued from Judaism, its cradle. Here, we are face to face with history, and not with mere hypothesis and assumption. For Christianity, on its first essaying to realize its destiny as the universal religion, did actually come in contact with two mighty religious systems, the religion of Rome, and the widespread body of thought, more of a philosophy than a creed, prevalent in the Greek-speaking world.

The effect of the national religion of pagan Rome on early Christianity concerned rites and ceremonies rather than points of doctrine, and was due to the general causes just mentioned. With Greek philosophy, on the other hand, representing the highest efforts of the human intellect to explain life and experience, and to reach the Absolute, Christianity, which professes to solve all these problems, had, naturally and necessarily, many points of contact.

It is on this connection that modern rationalists have brought all their learning and research to bear in the effort to show that the whole later intellectual system of Christianity is something more or less alien to its original conception. It was the transference of Christianity from a Semitic to a Greek soil that explains, according to Dr. Hatch (Hibbert Lectures, 1888), “why an ethical sermon stood in the forefront of the teaching of Jesus, and a metaphysical creed in the forefront of the Christianity of the fourth century”. Professor Harnack states the problem and solves it in similar fashion. He ascribes the change, as he conceives it, from a simple code of conduct to the Nicene Creed, to the three following causes:

  • The universal law in all development of religion, that when the first generation of converts who have been in contact, more or less immediate, with the founder, and endowed with his spirit, have passed away, their successors, having no personal grasp of their creed, must depend on formulæ and dogmas
  • the union of the Gospel with the Greek spirit (a) due to the conquests of Alexander and the consequent mingling of Jew and Gentile, (b) further strengthened about A.D. 130, when Greek converts brought into Christianity the philosophy in which they were educated, (c) again, about a century later, when Greek mysteries and Greek civilization in its widest range were admitted, and finally, (d) about the middle of the fourth century, when the Greek spirit finally prevailed and polytheism and mythology (i.e. the worship of the saints) were admitted
  • the internal struggles with Gnosticism, which aimed at a synthesis of all existing creeds. “The struggle with Gnosticism compelled the Church to put its teaching, its worship, and its discipline into fixed forms and ordinances, and to exclude everyone who would not yield them obedience” (Das Wesen des Christenthums, Lect. Xi, p. 210).

It is the second of these reasons for the birth and growth of dogma that concerns us immediately; but we may remark in regard to the first that it ignores the direct working of God on the soul of the individual, the perpetual renewal of fervour through prayer and the use of the sacraments, that have always marked the course of Christianity. Herein, the spirit of its first days is seen still to be energetic, notwithstanding the comparative elaborateness of creed and ritual of modern Christianity. The saints are admitted to be the most perfect exponents of practical Christianity; they are not exceptions or accidents or by-products of the system; yet they did not find dogma any hindrance to their perfect service of God and man.

As regards the third cause above mentioned, we may grant that it has always been the providential function of heresy to bring about a clearer definition of the Christian creed, and that Gnosticism in its many varieties undoubtedly had this effect. But long before Gnosticism had sufficiently developed to necessitate the safeguarding of doctrine by conciliar definition, we find traces of an organized Church with a very definite creed. Not to mention the traditional “for of doctrine” spoken of by St. Paul (Romans 6:17) and the act of faith required by Philip from the eunuch (Acts 8:37), many critics, including the Protestants Zahn and Kattenbusch (Das Apostolische Symbol., Leipzig, 1894-1900), agree that the present Apostles’ Creed represents a formula which took shape in the Apostolic Age and was uninfluenced by Gnosticism, which Protean heresy first became formidable about A.D. 130. And as regards organization, we know that the episcopate was a fully recognized institution in the time of Ignatius (c. 110), whilst the Canon of New Testament Scripture, the final establishment of which was undoubtedly helped by Gnosticism, was in process of recognition even in Apostolic times. St. Peter (assuming the Second epistle to be his) classifies St. Paul’s Epistles with the “other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16), and St. Polycarp, early in the second century, quotes as Scripture nine of those thirteen Pauline documents.

Concerning the “union of the Gospel with the Greek spirit” which, according to Hatch and Harnack, resulted in such profound modification so the former, we may admit many of the statements made, without drawing from them the rationalistic inferences. We readily grant that Greek thought and Greek culture had thoroughly permeated the society into which Christianity was born. Alexander’s conquests had brought about a diffusion of Greek ideals throughout the East. The Jews were dispersed westwards, both from Palestine and from the towns of the Captivity, and established in colonies in the chief cities of the empire, especially in Alexandria. The extent of this dispersion may be gathered from Acts 2:9-11), Greek became the language of commerce and social intercourse, and Palestine itself, more particularly Galilee, was to a great extent hellenized. The Jewish Scriptures were best known in a Greek version, and the last additions to the Old Testament — the Book of Wisdom and the Second Book of Machabees — were entirely composed in that tongue. In addition to this peaceful permeation of the Hebraic by the Greek genius, formal efforts were made from time to time, both in the political and the philosophical sphere to hellenize the Jews altogether.

It is with the latter attempt that we are concerned; for the writings of Philo, its chief and earliest advocate, coincided with the birth of Christianity. Philo was a Jew of Alexandria, well versed in Greek philosophy and literature, and at the same time a devout believer in the Old Testament revelation. The general purpose of his principal writings was to show that the admirable wisdom of the Greeks was contained in substance in the Jewish Scriptures, and his method was to read allegory into the simple narratives of the Pentateuch. To the pure and certain monotheism of Judaism he wedded various ideas taken from Plato and the Stoics, trying thus to solve the problem, with which all philosophy is ultimately confronted, how to bridge the gulf between mind and matter, the infinite and the finite, the absolute and the conditioned. Philo’s writings were, no doubt, widely known amongst the Jews, both at home and abroad, at the time when the Apostles began to preach, but it is extremely unlikely that the latter, who were not educated men, were acquainted with them.

Not until the conversion of St. Paul and the beginning of his apostolate can Christianity be said to have come, in the mind of one of its chief exponents, into immediate contact with Greek religious and philosophical theories. St. Paul was learned, not only in Hebrew, but also in Hellenistic lore, and a singularly apt instrument in the design of Providence, on account of his Jewish origin and education, his Greek learning, and his Roman citizenship, to aid Christianity to throw off the swaddling-bands of its infancy and go forth to the conquest of the nations.

But whilst recognizing this providential dispensation in the election of St. Paul, we cannot, in face of his own express and emphatic testimony, go on to assert that he universalized Christianity, as Philo attempted to universalize Judaism, by adding to its ethical content the merely natural religion of the Greek thinkers of his own more sublime and pure conceptions. In one of his earliest letters, the First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul rebukes their factious spirit, whereby some of them had styled themselves partisans of Apollos, a learned Alexandrian, and repudiates again and again that very attempt to make Christianity plausible by tricking it out in the garb of current speculations. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23; see chaps. 1 and 2, and Colossians 2:8). St. Paul, at any rate, was not indebted for his Christology to Philo or his school, and any similarity of terminology which may occur in the works of the two authors may quite reasonably be ascribed to the metaphors already embodied in the language they both used.

More insistence has been laid, perhaps, on the resemblance between the Christology set forth by St. John in the opening chapters of his Gospel and in the Apocalypse, and the Logos theories which Philo elaborated, and which he is said to have taken from Greek sources. If he did so, we may remark, he neglected others older and nearer to hand, for the conception of a Divine Word of God, by which the Deity enters into relation with the created universe, is by no means exclusively or originally Greek. The idea, expressed in the opening verses of Genesis, is frequently repeated in the rest of the Old Testament (see Psalms 32:6; 147:15; Proverbs 8:22; Wisdom 7:24-30, etc.). Philo, therefore, was not compelled to seek in the Platonic Nous, which is merely the directive cause of creation, or the Stoic Logos, as the rational soul of the universe, the foundation of his doctrine. His Logos theory is not at all clear or consistent, but, apparently, he conceives the Word to be a quasi-personal, subordinate, intermediate being between God and the world, enabling the Creator to come into contact with matter. He calls this Logos “the eldest” and the “first-born” son of God, and uses phrases that suggest the Fourth Gospel; but there is no resemblance in substance between the bold, clear, categoric statements of the inspired Apostle, and the misty, if poetical, conceptions of the Alexandrian philosopher. We may conjecture that St. John chose his language so as to impress the cultivated Greek mind with the true doctrine of the Divine Logos, thus connecting his teaching with the older revelation, and, at the same time, putting a check upon the Gnostic errors to which Philoism was already giving birth.

Abandoning the Apostolic Age, Harnack, in his “History of Dogma”, ascribes the hellenization of Christianity to the apologists of the second century (1st German edit., p. 253). This contention can best be refuted by showing that the essential doctrines of Christianity are contained already in the New Testament Scriptures, while giving, at the same time, their due force to the traditions of corporate Christianity. If the Nicene Creed cannot be proved article by article from the sacred records, interpreted by the tradition that preceded them and determined their canon, then the rationalist assertion will have some support.

But the point of comparison with the Creed must be not only the Sermon on the Mount, as Hatch desires, nor the merely verbal teaching of Christ, but the whole New Testament record. Christ taught by His life no less than by His words, and it was His actions and sufferings as well as His oral lessons that His Apostles preached. For the fuller exposition of this, see REVELATION. Here it suffices to note that Christian theology became, in the hands of the apologists, the synthesis of all speculative truth. It met and conquered the various imperfect systems that possessed men’s minds at its birth and arose after that event.

The early heresies — Sabellianism, Arianism, and the rest — were but attempts to make Christianity one of a number of philosophies; the attempts failed, but the scattered truths that those philosophies contained were shown, as time went on, to exist and find their fulfilment in Christianity as well. “The Church”, says Newman,

has been ever ‘sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing and asking them questions’; claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her teaching. (Development of Doctrine, viii)

In the same section Newman thus summarizes the battle and the triumph:

such was the conflict of Christianity with the old established Paganism, which was almost dead before Christianity appeared; with the Oriental Mysteries, flitting widely to and fro like spectres; with the Gnostics, who made Knowledge all in all, despised the many, and called Catholics mere children in the Truth: with the Neo-Platonists, men of literature, pedants, visionaries, or courtiers; with the Manichees, who professed to seek truth by Reason, not by Faith; with the fluctuating teachers of the school of Antioch, the time-serving Eusebians, and the reckless versatile Arians; with the fanatic Montanists and harsh Novatians, who shrank from the Catholic doctrine, without power to propagate their own. These sects had no stay or consistence, yet they contained elements of truth amid their error, and had Christianity been as they, it might have resolved into them; but it had that hold of the truth which gave its teaching a gravity, a directness, a consistency, a sternness, and a force to which its rivals, for the most part, were strangers. (ibid., viii)

The essentials of Christianity

We have so far seen, in its origin and growth, the essential independence of Christianity of all other religious systems, except that of Judaism, with which, however, its relation was merely that of substance to shadow. It is now time to point out its distinctive doctrines.

In early Christianity, there was much that was transitory and exceptional. It was not presented full-grown to the world, but left to develop in accordance with the forces and tendencies that were implanted in it from the first by its Founder. And we, having His assurance that His Spirit would abide with it for all time, to inspire and regulate its human elements, can see in its subsequent history the working out of His design. Hence, it does not trouble us to find in primitive Christianity qualities which did not survive after they had served their purpose. Natural causes and the course of events, always under the Divine guidance, resulted in Christianity taking on the form which would best secure its permanence and efficiency. In Apostolic times, supreme authority as to faith and morals was vested in twelve representatives of Christ, each of whom was commissioned to proclaim and infallibly interpret His Gospel. The hierarchy was in an inchoate condition. Special charismata, like the gifts of prophecy and tongues, were bestowed on individuals outside the official teaching body. The Church was in process of organization, and the various Christian communities, united, doubtless, in a strong bond of charity, and in the sense that they had one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, were to a large extent independent of one another in the matter of government.

Such was the fashion in which Christ allowed His Church to be established. It has greatly changed in outward appearances during the ages. Has there been any corresponding change in substance? Are the essentials of Christianity the same now as they were then? We affirm that they are, and we prove our assertion by examining the main points of the teaching, both of Christ and His Apostles. We must look upon the matter as a whole. We cannot judge of Christianity properly before the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Gospels describe a process which was not consummated till after Pentecost. The Apostles themselves were not fully Christians till they knew through faith all that Christ was — their God and their Redeemer as well as their Master. And as Christianity furnishes a regulative principle for both mind and will, teaching us what to believe and what to do, faith no less than works must characterize the perfect Christian.

The teaching of Christ

Taking, then, first of all, Christ’s own dogmatic and moral teaching, we may divide it into (a) what He did not reveal but only reaffirmed, (b) what He drew from obscurity, and (c) what He added to the sum total of belief and practice.

(a) The Jews, at the time of Christ, however worldly-minded, were at any rate free from their ancestral tendency to idolatry. They were strict monotheists, believing in the unity, power, and holiness of the Supreme Deity. Christ reaffirmed, purified, and confirmed the Jewish theology, both moral and dogmatic. He asserted the spiritual nature of the Godhead (John 1:18; 4:24), and insisted on the importance of worshipping Him in spirit, i.e. with more than merely external rites. And he exacted the same right dispositions of heart in the whole of God’s service, showing how both guilt and merit depend on the will and intention (Matthew 5:28; 15:18). He recalled the original unity and indissolubility of the marriage-tie. He brought into prominence the immortality, and hence the transcendent importance, of the human soul (Matthew 16:26), as against the heresy of the Sadducees and the worldliness of the Jews in general. In all these points He fulfilled the Law by showing its real and full significance.

(b) But He did not stop here. Taking the great central precept of the Old Dispensation — the love of God — He pointed out all its implications and made clear that the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, so imperfectly grasped under the law of fear, was the immediate source of the doctrine of the brotherhood of men, which the Jews had never realized at all. He never tired of dwelling on the loving kindness and the tender providence of His Father, and He insisted equally on the duty of loving all men, summing up the whole of His ethical teaching in the observance of the law of love (Matthew 5:43; 22:40). This universal charity He designed to be the mark of His true followers (John 13:45), and in it, therefore, we must see the genuine Christian spirit, so distinct from everything that had hitherto been seen on earth that the precept which inspired it He called “new” (John 13:34). Christ’s clear and definite teaching, moreover, about the life to come, the final judgment resulting in an eternity of happiness or misery, the strict responsibility which attaches to the smallest human actions, is in great contrast to the current Jewish eschatology. By substituting eternal sanctions for earthly rewards and punishments, He raised and ennobled the motives for the practice of virtue, and set before human ambition an object wholly worthy of the adopted sons of God, the extension of their Father’s Kingdom in their own souls and in the souls of others.

(c) Among the doctrines added by Christ to the Jewish faith, the chief, of course, are those concerning Himself, including the central dogma of the whole Christian system, the Incarnation of God the Son. In regard to Himself, Christ made two claims, though not with equal insistence. He asserted that He was the Messias of Jews, the expected of the nations, Whose mission it was to undo the effects of the Fall and to reconcile man with God; and He claimed to be Himself God, equal to, and one with, the Father. In support of this double claim, He pointed to the fulfilment of the prophecies, and He worked many miracles. His claim to be the Messias was not admitted by the leaders of His nation; had it been admitted, He would doubtless have manifested His Divinity more clearly. Most modern rationalists (Harnack, Wellhausen, and others) acknowledge that Christ from the beginning of His preaching knew Himself as the Messias, and accepted the various titles which belong in the Scripture to that personage — Son of David, Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), the Christ (see John 14:24; Matthew 16:16; Mark 14:61-62). In one passage — and very significant one — He applies the name to Himself — “But this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

In regard to His Divinity, His claim is clear, but not emphasized. We cannot say that the title “Son of God”, which is repeatedly given to Him in the Gospels (John 1:34; Matthew 27:40; Mark 3:12; 15:39, etc.), and which He is described as taking to Himself (Matthew 27:43; John 10:36), necessarily of itself connotes a Divine personality; and in the mouths of several of the speakers, e.g. in the exclamation of Nathaniel, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God”, it presumably does not. But in the confession of St. Peter (Matthew 16:16) the circumstances point to more than a mere amplification of the Messianic title. That title was at that time in habitual use in regard to Jesus, and there would have been nothing significant in Peter’s expression and in Christ’s glad acceptance of it, if it had not gone further than the common belief. Christ hailed St. Peter’s confession as a special revelation, not as a mere deduction from external facts. When we compare this with that other declaration narrated in the same Gospel (Matthew 26:62-66), where, in answer to the high-priest’s adjuration, ‘I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ the Son of God”, Jesus replied, “Thou has said it” (i.e., “I am”; see Mark 14:62), we cannot reasonably doubt that Christ claimed to be Divine. The Jews so understood this and put Him to death as a blasphemer.

Another prominent feature in the theology of Christ was His doctrine about the Paraclete. When, in St. John’s gospel (14:16-17), He says; “And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever, the spirit of truth”, it is impossible to believe that what He promises is a mere abstraction, not a person like Himself. In verse 26, the personality is still more marked: “And the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father shall send in my name, He will teach you all things”. (Cf. 15:26, “But when the Paraclete shall come whom I shall send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father” etc.) It may be that the full meaning of those words was not realized till the Spirit did actually come; moreover, the revelation was made, of course, only to His immediate followers; still, no unbiased mind can deny that Christ here speaks of a personal influence as a distinct Divine entity; a distinction and a Divinity which is further implied in the baptismal formula He afterwards instituted (Matthew 28:19).

Christ took up the burden of the preaching of His precursor and proclaimed the advent of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, a conception already familiar in the Old Testament [Psalm 144:11-13], but furnished with a wider and more varied content in the words of Christ. It may be taken to mean, according to the context, the Messianic Kingdom in its true spiritual sense, i.e. the Church of God which Christ came to found, wherein to store up and perpetuate the benefits of the Incarnation (cf. The parables of the wheat and the tares, the dragnet, and the wedding feast), or the reign of God in the heart that submits to His sovereignty (Luke 16:21), or the abode of the blessed (Matthew 5:20 etc.). It was the main topic of His preaching, which was occupied in showing what dispositions of mind and heart and will, were necessary for entrance into “the Kingdom”, what, in other words, was the Christian ideal. Regarded as the Church, He preached the Kingdom to the multitude in parables only, reserving fuller explanations to private intercourse with His Apostles (Acts 1:3).

The last great dogma which we learn from the life, preaching, and death of Christ is the doctrine of Redemption. “For the Son of Man also came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many” (Mark 10:45). The sacrificial character of His death is clearly stated at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And He ordained the perpetuation of that Sacrifice by His Disciples in the words: “Do this in commemoration of me” (Luke 22:19). Christ, knowing the counsels of His Father, deliberately set Himself to realize in His own person the portrait of the suffering servant of Jahveh, so vividly painted by Isaias (chapter 53), a Messias Who should triumph through death and defeat. This was a strange revelation to Israel and the world. What wonder that so novel an idea could not enter the Apostles’ minds till it had actually been realized and further explained by the Divine Victim himself (Luke 24:27, 45). Thus, first of all in action, Christ preached the great doctrine of the Atonement, and, by raising Himself from the dead, He added another proof to those establishing His Divine mission and His Divine personality. But, naturally enough, He left the more explicit teaching on these points to His chosen witnesses, whose presentment of Christianity we shall presently examine.

To turn now to what is new in the moral teachings of Christ, we may say, once for all, that it embodied ethical perfection. There may be development of doctrine, but, after the Sermon on the Mount, there can be no further evolution of morals. God’s own perfection is set as the standard (Matthew 5:48). Duty was the principal motive in the Old Dispensation; in the New this was sublimated into love. Men were taught to serve not on account of the penal ties attached to non-service, but on principles of generosity. Before, God’s will was to be the aim of the creature’s performance; now, His good pleasure also was to be sought. “What things are pleasing to Him, these do I always” (John 8:29), and by action even more than by word Christ taught the lesson of voluntary self-sacrifice. Never till His time were the Evangelical counsels — voluntary poverty, perpetual chastity, and entire obedience — preached or practised. From no previous moral code, however, exalted, could the Beatitudes have been evolved. Meekness and humility were unknown as virtues to the heathen, and despised by the Jew. Christ made them the ground-work of the whole moral edifice. To realize what new thing Christ’s ethical teaching brought into the world and put within the grasp of everyone, we have only to think of the great host of the Christian saints. For they are the true disciples of the Cross, those who imbibed and expressed His spirit best, who had the courage to test the truth of that Divine paradox which forms the substance of Christ’s moral message; “He that shall wish to save his soul shall lose it, but he that shall lose his soul on my account shall find it” (Matthew 16:25; cf. Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25). That was the course He Himself adopted — the way of the Cross — and His disciples were not above their Master. Self-conquest as a preliminary to conquering the world of God — that was the lesson taught by Christ’s life, and still more by His passion and death.

The teaching of the Apostles

Does the Christianity presented to us in the rest of the writings of the New Testament differ from that described in the Gospels? And if so, is the difference one of kind or one of degree? We have seen that Christianity must not be judged in the making, but as a finished product. It was never meant to be fully set forth in the Gospels, where it is presented mainly in action. “I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now”, said Christ in His last discourse. “But when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will teach you all truth . . . and the things that are to come he shall show you” (John 16:12, 13). We may presume that Christ Himself told them these many things when “He showed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), and that they were rendered permanent in the minds of the Apostles by the indwelling of the Spirit of Truth after Pentecost. Accordingly, we must expect to find in their teaching a more formal, more theoretic, and more dogmatic exposition of Christianity than in the drama of Christ’s life. But what we have no right to expect, and what rationalists always do expect, is to find the whole of Christianity in its written records. Christ nowhere prescribed writing as a means of promulgating His gospel. It was comparatively late in the Apostolic Age, and apparently in obedience to no preconceived plan, that the sacred books began to appear. Many Christians must have lived and died before those books existed, or without knowledge of them. And so we cannot argue from the non-appearance of any particular tenet to its non-existence, nor from its first mention to its first invention — fallacies which often vitiate the erudite researches of the rationalists.

The main heads of the Apostolic preaching, as far as we can gather from the records, vary with the character of the audiences they addressed. To the Jews they dwelt upon the marvellous fulfilment of the prophesies in Christ, showing that, in spite of the manner of His life and death, He was actually the Messias, and that their redemption from sin had really been accomplished by His sacrifice on the Cross. This was the burden of St. Peter’s discourses (Acts 2 and 3) and those of St. Stephen and all who addressed the Jews in their synagogues (cf. Acts 26:22-23). Once convinced of the reality of Christ’s mission and the seal God set upon it by His Resurrection, they were received into the Christian body to discover more at leisure all the implications of their belief. In regard to the Gentiles, the same striking fact of the Resurrection was in the forefront of the Apostolic teaching, but more stress was laid upon the divinity of Christ. Still, St. Paul, whose peculiar mission it was to approve the new revelation to those that sat in darkness and had no common ground of belief with the Jews, did not consider that his Gospel was anything different from that of the others. “I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me: for, whether I, or they, so we preach, and you have believed” (1 Corinthians 15:10-11).

This definiteness and uniformity of content in the Apostolic message, and this sense of responsibility in regard to its character, is still more strikingly emphasized by the same Apostle in the next Epistle, wherein, rebuking the Galatians for giving heed to innovators “who would pervert the Gospel of Christ”, he exclaims: ‘Yet, though we ourselves or an angel from heaven preach a gospel other than that we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:7, 8). There is no trace here of uncertainty or ignorance as to what Christianity meant, or of any tentative groping in search of truth. Even then, when theological science was in its infancy, we find the Apostle exhorting Timothy to keep to the very phrases in which he has received the Faith, “the form of sound words”, avoiding “profane novelties of expression” (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:13). Once again “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). And those traditions were directly communicated by Christ Himself to His Apostle, as he tells us in many passages — “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (1 Corinthians 11:23), and again “For I delivered unto you first of all what I received” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Many rationalists have professed to discover in the apostolic writings various kinds of Christianity mutually antagonistic and all alike illegitimate developments of the original Gospel. We have Pauline, Petrine, Joannine Christianity, as distinguished from the Christianity of Christ. But those theories which ignore Catholic tradition and supernatural guidance, and rest on the written records alone, are gradually being abandoned, helped to their disappearance by the critics themselves, who have little respect for each others’ hypotheses. We may take the Apostolic messages as one self-consistent whole, any apparent discrepancies or want of coherence being amply accounted for by the different circumstances of their deliverance.

This preaching, therefore, reduced to its simplest form, was: The Resurrection of Christ as a proof of His Divinity and Incarnation, a guarantee of His teaching and a pledge of man’s salvation.

On the historic fact of the Resurrection the whole of Christianity is based. If He was not truly slain, Christ cannot have been man; if he did not rise again, He cannot have been God. St. Paul does not hesitate to stake everything on the truth of this fact: If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15). Consequently, God’s providence has so arranged matters that the proofs of Christ’s Resurrection place the fact beyond all reasonable doubt.

But if St. Paul is so emphatic about the foundation of the Christian Faith, he is also careful to erect the edifice upon it. It is to him that we owe the statement of the doctrine of grace, that wonderful gift of God to regenerate man. Christ had already taught, in the allegory of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-17), that there can be no salutary action on the part of the faithful without vital communication with Him. This great truth is expanded in many passages by St. Paul (Philippians 2:13; Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Galatians 4:5-6) wherein regenerate man learns that he is God’s adopted son and united with Him by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. This privilege is what man gains by Christ’s redemption, the benefits of which are applied to his soul by baptism and other sacraments. And St. Paul is not only the chief exponent of this doctrine, but he alone of the Apostles promulgates anew the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, the principal fountain of grace (1 Corinthians 11:23, 24; cf. John 4:13-14).

We need not pursue farther the development of doctrine amongst the Apostles. The Christianity they preached was received from Christ Himself, and His Spirit prevented them from misconceiving or misinterpreting it. On the strength of His commission they insisted on the obedience of faith, they denounced heresy, and with skill, incredible had it not been Divine, they preserved the truth committed to them in the midst of a perverse, subtle and corrupt civilization. That same Divine skill has remained with Christianity ever since; heresy after heresy has attacked the Faith and been defeated, leaving the fortress all the more impregnable for its onset. The Christianity we profess today is the Christianity of Christ and His Apostles. Just as they were more explicit than He in its verbal formulation, so the Apostolic Church has ever since laboured to express more and more clearly the treasures of doctrine originally committed to her charge. In a sense, we may believe more than our first Christian ancestors, inasmuch as we have a more complete knowledge of the contents of our Faith; in a sense, they believed all that we do, for they accepted as we the principle of a Divinely-commissioned teaching authority, to whose dogmatic utterances they were ever prepared to give assent. The same essential oneness of faith and the same variety in its content for the individual exist side by side in the Church today. The trained theologian, deeply versed in the wonders of revelation, and the young or the uneducated who know explicitly little more than the bare essentials of Christianity, knowing the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent, believing in the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Church, are equally Christians, equally possessed of the integrity of faith.

The divine purpose in Christianity

It remains now to set forth, as far as we can determine it from the sacred records and from the course of history itself, the purpose of God in establishing Christianity. We gather that the Divine founder meant Christianity to be (1) a universal religion, (2) a perfect religion, (3) a visibly organized religion.

Universality includes both space and time

As regards space, we see that Christianity is intended for the whole world

  • from the prophecies that foreshadowed it in the Old Testament. Among these were the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, the constantly recurring note of which is that in them “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”.
  • From the plainly expressed purpose of Christ Himself, who, while proclaiming that His personal mission concerned only the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), announced the future extension of His Kingdom: “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold” (John 10:16); “Many from the east and the west shall come and shall recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11); “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world in testimony to all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
  • From the actual conduct of the Apostles, who, though they required the special inspiration of the Holy Spirit to bring home to them the practical bearing of this commission, did finally leave the synagogue and proclaim the Faith to all without distinction of race or country.

The universality of Christianity, in time as well as space, is implied in Christ’s promise, “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). It follows, furthermore, from the next element in God’s purpose to be considered.

Christianity is meant to be a perfect religion

A priori, we should expect that a religious system which was revealed and instituted, not by a prophet or even an angel, but by the personal action of God Himself, and was designed, moreover, to supplant an imperfect and provisional form of religion, would lack nothing of possible perfection in end or means. Christ’s own teaching satisfied this expectation, and precludes the notion entertained by some early heretics, and still alive in the minds of men, of a fuller and more perfect revelation to come.

  • First of all, He, its Founder, is God, and therefore had all the knowledge and all the power requisite to establish a perfect religion.
  • Secondly, He promised His Apostles the abiding presence of the Spirit of Truth, who should teach them all truth.
  • Thirdly, He promised that the body enshrining this deposit should never be vitiated by error — “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18; cf. Ephesians 5:27).
  • Fourthly, the same truth is insinuated by St. Paul’s words: “God, who at sundry times . . .last of all . . .hath spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1), and by the expression, the fulness of time, used in Galatians 4:4, to indicate the epoch of the Incarnation.
  • Fifthly, by the character of the Christian revelation itself and the Christian ethical ideal which is the imitation of Christ, the Perfect Being. No possible development of mankind can be thought of which should not find all that it needs in Christ.

We are compelled, therefore, to believe that the Christian revelation closed with the death of the last of those originally commissioned to set it forth. We are thus brought counter to a modern view regarding revelation which has lately been condemned as heretical by Pius X (Encyclical, “Pascendi Gregis”, Sept., 1907). It is to the effect that revelation is nothing external, but a clearer and closer apprehension of things Divine by the Christian consciousness, which in each particular age is the expression of the experience of the best men of that age. Consequently, revelation grows, like a material organism, by waste and renewed supply, and therefore what is truth for one age maybe quite different from what is truth for another. The error which has these developments is ultimately philosophical, being based on the false assumption that the finite mind can know only the phenomenal and can have no certainty of what is beyond experience. Were that so, any external revelation would be impossible, for its guarantees — miracle and prophecy — could not be grasped by human intelligence. These errors were long ago exposed and condemned by the Vatican Council. The most casual glance at the history of Christianity shows that there has been development of doctrine; the Creed grew only gradually; but that development is merely logical, produced by analysis of the content of the original deposit.

God intended, in the third place, that Christianity should be a visible organization

Christ established a Church and, in a variety of parables, sketched many of the features of its character and history, all of which point to something external and perceptible by the senses. It is the “house built upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24), showing the security and permanence of its foundation, and “the city set upon a hill” (Matthew 5:14) indicating its visibility. Its doctrine works in the three great races descended from Noe’s sons like the leaven hidden in three measures of meal, silently, irresistibly (Matthew 13:33). It grows great from humble beginnings, like the mustard seed (Luke 13:19). It is a vineyard, a sheep-fold, and finally a kingdom, all of which images are unintelligible if the bond that unites Christians is merely the invisible bond of charity.

The old distinction between the body and soul of the Church is useful to prevent confusion of ideas. Christian baptism constitutes membership in the Visible Church; the state of grace, membership in the Invisible. It is obvious that one membership does not necessarily connote the other. Some of these parables apply only to the Church fully developed, and so they indicate Christ’s ultimate purpose. History shows us that, in establishing Christianity as an institution, He was content that on its human side its organization should be subject to the same laws of growth and development as other human institutions. He did not give His Apostles a draft scheme of the Church’s constitution beforehand, to be worked out in the course of ages, prescribing the various stages of progress, and indicating the final term. But the organization which existed in germ in the consecrated hierarchy of the apostles was left to unfold itself under the guidance of the abiding Spirit, according to the needs of time and place. The presence of the Holy Ghost and Christ’s promise sufficiently guarantee that the result, however obtained, is in accordance with the original design. It may well be that the development was very largely natural, modelled, first of all, on the synagogue, and then on the existing civil government; its progress may have been hastened or retarded by the passions of individuals, but any account of it that ignores the directing finger of Providence cannot be true.

This, then, is Christianity, a supernatural religion and the only absolute one; in a sense (developed in the Epistle to the Hebrews), the oldest, for the Church is not an afterthought, but instituted by God in the fullness of time, and containing a revelation of Himself, which all to whom it has been adequately presented are bound under pain of eternal loss to accept (Mark 16:16), offering to all, who are sincere in seeking, the solution of all the world’s problems; enabling human nature to rise to the sublimest heights and “to play the immortal”; full itself of mysteries and Divine paradoxes, as bringing the Infinite into contact with the finite; the one bond of civilization, the one condition of progress, the one hope of humanity. Its fortunes have been the fortunes of its Founder; “not all obey the gospel” (Romans 10:16). The Jews rejected Christ in spite of the evidence of prophecy and miracle; the world rejects the Church of Christ, the “city set upon a hill”, conspicuous though she be through the notes that proclaim her Divine. What men call the failure of Christianity is no proof that it is not God’s final revelation. It only makes evident how real is human liberty and how grave human responsibility. Christianity is furnished with all the necessary evidence to create conviction of its truth, given goodwill. — “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear”.

By Joseph Keating

This article is borrowed from


Christianity is best studied in the New testament Scriptures, authenticated and interpreted by the Church of Christ: of the uninspired literature on the subject only a small selection can be given.

CATHOLIC. — A. WEISS, Apologie des Christenthums (3rd ed., Freiburg, 1894-8) (also in Fench tr.); COURBET, Introduction scientifique â la foi chrétienne; Superiorité du Christianisme (Paris, 1902); DE BROGLIE, Problemes et conclusions de l’histoire des religions (4th ed., Paris, 1904); LINGENS, Die innere Schönheit des Christenthums (Freiburg, 1895); TURMEL, Histoire de la théologie positive (Paris, 1904); SCHANZ, A Christian Apology (Eng., tr., Dublin, 1891-2); NEWMAN, Grammar of Assent; IDEM, Development of Christian Doctrine; DUCHESNE, Histoire ancienne de l’Église (Paris, 1906); LILLY, The Claims of Christianity (London, 1894); DEVAS, The Key to the World’s Progress (London, 1906); HETTINGER, Apologie des Chrisenthums (9th ed., Freigburg, 1906); SEMERIA, Dogma, Gerarchia e Culto nella Chiesa primitiva (Rome, 1902); CHATEAUBRIAND, Génie du Christianisme (Eng. Tr., Baltimore, 1856); C. PESCH, Articles in Stimmen aus Maria-Laach, Vol. LX, 1901.

NON-CATHOLIC. — HARNACK, Das Wesen des Christenthums (Eng. Tr., London, 1901); IDEM, The History of Dogma; PFLEIDERER, Christian Origins (London, 1906); PULLAN, History of Early Christianity (London, 1898); W. M. RAMSAY, The Church in the Roman Empire (London and New York, 1893); LOWRIE, The Church and Its Organization; the Primitive Age (London, 1904); WEIZACKER, The Apostolic Age (London, 1897); JOSEPH BUTLER, Analogy of Religion in Works, Vol. I, ed. GLADSTONE (Oxzford, 1896); WACE, Christianity and Agnosticism (London, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Keating, J. (1908). Christianity. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 18, 2022 from New Advent:

MLA citation. Keating, Joseph. “Christianity.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 18 Sept. 2022 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Theodore L.P. Rego. Dedicated to my religious brother Fr. John Baptist de Rossi Rego, S.J.; and religious sisters, Sr. Dolores Rego, F.M.M.; and Sr. Mirabelle, A.C.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Leave a Reply