But an acute critic remarked that Monsieur Chateaubriand was mistaken in his feelings; he thought that he was a true Catholic, while as a matter of fact he was only standing before the ancient ruin of the Church and exclaiming: “How beautiful!” That is one of the ways in which a man can appreciate a religion without being an inward adherent of it; but there are many others, and, amongst them, some in which a nearer approach is made to its true substance. All of them, however, have this much in common, that any actual experience of religion is no longer felt, or felt only in an uncertain and intermittent way. Conversely, a high regard is paid to the outward shows and influences connected with it, and they are carefully maintained. Whatever finds expression in doctrines, regulations, ordinances and forms of public worship comes to be treated as the thing itself. This, then, is the first force at work in the transformation: the original enthusiasm, in the large sense of the word, evaporates, and the religion of law and form at once arises.
But not only did an original element evaporate in the course of the second century; another was introduced. Even had this youthful religion not severed the tie which bound it to Judaism, it would have been inevitably affected by the spirit and the civilisation of that Greco-Roman world on whose soil it was permanently settled. But to what a much greater extent was it exposed to the influence of this spirit after being sharply severed from the Jewish religion and the Jewish nation. It hovered bodiless over the earth like a being of the air; bodiless and seeking a body. The spirit, no doubt, makes to itself its own body, but it does so by assimilating what is around it. The influx of Hellenism, of the Greek spirit, and the union of the Gospel with it, form the greatest fact in the history of the Church in the second century, and when the fact was once established as a foundation it continued through the following centuries. In the influence of Hellenism on the Christian religion three stages may be distinguished, and a preliminary stage as well. We have already mentioned the preliminary stage in a previous lecture. It is to be found in the circumstances in which the Gospel arose, and it formed a very condition of its appearance. Not until Alexander the Great had created an entirely new position of affairs, and the barriers separating the nations of the East from one another and from Hellenism had been destroyed, could Judaism free itself from its limitations and start upon its development into a religion for the world. The time was ripe when a man in the East could also breathe the air of Greece and see his spiritual horizon stretch beyond the limits of his own nation. Yet we cannot say that the earliest Christian writings, let alone the Gospel, show, to any considerable extent, the presence of a Greek element. If we are to look for it anywhere—apart from certain well-marked traces of it in Paul, Luke, and John— it must be in the possibility of the new religion appearing at all. We cannot enter further upon this question here. The first stage of any real influx of definitely Greek thought and Greek life is to be fixed at about the year 130. It was then that the religious philosophy of Greece began to effect an entrance, and it went straight to the centre of the new religion. It sought to get into inner touch with Christianity, and, conversely, Christianity itself held out a hand to this ally. We are speaking of Greek philosophy; as yet, there is no trace of mythology, Greek worship, and so on; all that was taken up into the Church, cautiously and under proper guarantees, was the great capital which philosophy had amassed since the days of Socrates. A century or so later, about the year 220 or 230, the second stage begins: Greek mysteries, and Greek civilisation in the whole range of its development, exercise their influence on the Church, but not mythology and polytheism; these were still to come. Another century, however, had in its turn to elapse before Hellenism as a whole and in every phase of its development was established in the Church. Guarantees, of course, are not lacking here either, but for the most part they consist only in a change of label; the thing itself is taken over without alteration, and in the worship of the saints we see a regular Christian religion of a lower order arising. We are here concerned, however, not with the second and third stage, but only with that influx of the Greek spirit which was marked by the absorption of Greek philosophy and, particularly, of Platonism. Who can deny that elements here came together which stood in elective affinity? So much depth and delicacy of feeling, so much earnestness and dignity, and—above all—so strong a monotheistic piety were displayed in the religious ethics of the Greeks, acquired as it had been by hard toil on a basis of inner experience and metaphysical speculation, that the Christian religion could not pass this treasure by with indifference. There was much in it, indeed, which was defective and repellent; there was no personality visibly embodying its ethics as a living power; it still kept up a strange connexion with “demon- worship” and polytheism; but both as a whole and in its individual parts it was felt to contain a kindred element, and it was absorbed. But besides the Greek ethics there was also a cosmological conception which the Church took over at this time, and which was destined in a few decades to attain a commanding position in its doctrinal system—the Logos. Starting from an examination of the world and the life within, Greek thought had arrived at the conception of an active central idea—by what stages we need not here mention. This central idea represented the unity of the supreme principle of the world, of thought, and of ethics; but it also represented, at the same time, the divinity itself as a creative and active as distinguished from a quiescent power. The most important step that was ever taken in the domain of Christian doctrine was when the Christian apologists at the beginning of the second century drew the equation: the Logos = Jesus Christ. Ancient teachers before them had also called Christ “the Logos” among the many predicates which they ascribed to him; nay, one of them, John, had already formulated the proposition: “The Logos is Jesus Christ.” But with John this proposition had not become the basis of every speculative idea about Christ; with him, too, “the Logos” was only a predicate. But now teachers came forward who previous to their conversion had been adherents of the platonico-stoical philosophy, and with whom the conception “Logos” formed an inalienable part of a general philosophy of the world. They proclaimed that Jesus Christ was the Logos incarnate, which had hitherto been revealed only in the great effects which it exercised. In the place of the entirely unintelligible conception “Messiah,” an intelligible one was acquired at a stroke; Christology, tottering under the exuberance of its own affirmations, received a stable basis; Christ’s significance for the world was established; his mysterious relation to God was explained; the cosmos, reason, and ethics, were comprehended as one. It was, indeed, a marvellous formula; and was not the way prepared for it, nay hastened, by the speculative ideas about the Messiah propounded by Paul and other ancient teachers? The knowledge that the divine in Christ must be conceived as the Logos opened up a number of problems, and at the same time set them definite limits and gave them definite directives. Christ’s unique character as opposed to all rivals appeared to be established in the simplest fashion, and yet the conception provided thought with so much liberty and free play that Christ could be regarded, as the need might arise, on the one side as operative deity itself, and on the other as still the first born among many brethren and as the first created of God.