Thirdly, the church obtained a special, independent value as an institution; it became a religious power. Originally only a developed form of that community of brothers which furnished place and manner for God’s common worship and a mysterious shadow of the heavenly Church, it now became, as an institution, an indispensable factor in religion. People were taught that in this institution Christ’s Spirit had deposited everything that the individual man can need; that he is wholly bound to it, therefore, not only in love but also in faith; that it is there only that the Spirit works, and therefore there only that all its gifts of grace are to be found. That the individual Christian who did not subordinate himself to the ecclesiastical institution relapsed, as a rule, into heathenism, and fell into false and evil doctrines or an immoral life, was, indeed, an actual fact. The effect of this, combined with the struggle against the Gnostics, was that the institution, together with all its forms and arrangements, became more and more identified with the “bride of Christ,” “the true Jerusalem,” and so on, and accordingly was even itself proclaimed as the inviolable creation of God, and the fixed and unalterable abode of the Holy Ghost. Consistently with this, it began to announce that all its ordinances were equally sacred. How greatly religious liberty was thus encumbered I need not show.
Fourthly and lastly, the Gospel was not proclaimed as the glad message with the same vigour in the second century as it had been in the first. The reasons for this are manifold: on the one hand personal experience of religion was not felt so strongly as Paul, or as the author of the fourth gospel, felt it; on the other, the prevalent eschatological expectations, which those teachers had restrained by their more profound teaching, remained in full sway. Fear and hope are more prominent in the Christianity of the second century than they are with Paul, and it is only in appearance that the former stands nearer to Jesus’ sayings; for, as we saw, God’s Fatherhood is the main article in Jesus’ message. But, as Romans viii. proves, the knowledge of this truth is just what Paul embodied in his preaching of the faith. While the element of fear thus obtained a larger scope in the Christianity of the second century—this scope increased in proportion as the original buoyancy died down and conformity to the world extended—the ethical element became less free and more a matter of law and rigorism. In religion, rigorism always forms the obverse side of secularity. But as it appeared impossible to expect a rigoristic ethics of everyone, the distinction between a perfect and a sufficient morality already set in as an element in the growth of Catholicism. That the roots of this distinction go further back is a fact of which we need not here take account; it was only towards the end of the second century that the distinction became a fatal one. Born of necessity and erected into a virtue, it soon grew so important that the existence of Christianity as a Catholic Church came to depend upon it. The uniformity of the Christian ideal was thereby disturbed and a quantitative view of moral achievement suggested which is unknown to the Gospel. The Gospel does, no doubt, make a distinction between a strong and a weak faith, and greater and smaller moral achievements; but he that is least in the kingdom of God may be perfect in his kind.