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The Evidence Of The New Testament

( Originally Published 1906 )

MR. QUICK once called the Book of Proverbs an " early treatise on education "; and, unusual though the view may be, there is much in that wonderful collection of wise sayings to recommend the remark as just and justifiable. The same character cannot be claimed for the contents of the New Testament ; or, at any rate, it cannot be claimed with anything approaching to the same degree of truth. Nevertheless, traces of the primitive Christian attitude to pagan learning, of its social theory, and of that wider disciplinary training of mental outlook and moral character, referred to in the Introduction as being certainly an element in education, may be found ; vague and elusive but still visible, these exist in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles to the early Churches. Since the New Testament is within the reach of all who can read, it is convenient to consider it before a beginning is made on more remote sources of information.

Christianity, " this strange history of a crucified God," as J. St. Mill called it, proved a powerful solvent of many received ideas and accepted customs ; but it never left humanity again without a definite if distant goal, and a system of life whereby that goal might be achieved eventually, and even in part and gradually in this present state. This simple fact is important educationally, for an end implies means ; and means, being used, must, for good or for ill, educate those who use them.

Until the results of the Higher Criticism are more definitely established and settled than they are at present, it seems convenient and even necessary to speak of the Apostles and Evangelists, and of the rest of the primitive Christians, as the authors and doers of the words and deeds hitherto ascribed to them, simply because this present inquiry aims at discovering what the theory and practice with regard to learning and education of the primitive Christians really were. It matters little to that inquiry whether St. Paul's Epistles were written by him or "by another man of the same name," if they were written in and represent the views of primitive Christian times. Again, it matters little whether St. Clement of Alexandria was or was not head of the Catechetical School, so long as some learned pagan-turned-Christian did and said the words and actions commonly assigned to that great man. So long as the works appealed to in this book represent fairly and truly the primitive Christian outlook on life, that suffices ; and therefore without trenching on controversial matters, or expressing a worthless opinion about them, the present writer will prefer to write St. Paul says or was this, and St. Clement and St. Cyril said or did that, taking the accepted view, but all the while basing the argument on the pertinent fact that it is a primitive Christian opinion or deed ; a position which, so far, appears not to have been challenged.

St. Paul then, as we are accustomed to say, was a learned man. It is quite unnecessary to labour the matter. It is true that the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers called him a "babbler "; but that was rather because they disliked the matter of his discourse than because they impugned the form in which it was cast ; they certainly conveyed him to the Areopagus in order that he might deliver that great speech, which apparently owed some of its power to the "rhetoric" which the Apostle had gained in his native school at Tarsus, and afterwards from Gamaliel, when, agreeably to the native custom, he proceeded from the somewhat elementary school of his own city to a more advanced centre of learning. St. Paul, it will be remembered, reminded King Agrippa of the extreme orthodoxy of his training. Had he, in his Christian days, revolted against that acquaintance with classic writers which his education in "the straitest sect of our religion" (the Jewish religion, of course) had still allowed, it is hardly likely that he would in his writings have quoted these same "to point a moral." And this, as is well known, he did three times ; once on Mars Hill, from the works of his fellow-townsman, Aratus, "for we are also His (God's) offspring ";I a second time from Menander (from a comedian, too, this time) when he was writing to the Corinthian Church, " evil communications corrupt good manners "; and yet a third time, to the well-beloved Titus, bishop of Crete, from Epimenides, the epic poet of Crete, " Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, idle gluttons." And to Epimenides, St. Paul pays the emphatic tribute, " This testimony is true."

Had primitive Christians and primitive Christian education, undeveloped as it doubtless was, had no time to spare for anything outside the immediate circle of their religion, no student of human nature need have felt surprise. Lessons of width, of comprehension, of conciliatory tolerance cannot be learned quickly. If, in the dawn of the Faith, its novelty, its engrossing interest, its dominant claim on a man's heart, had eclipsed all other aims and interests, there would have been no ground for astonishment. Ages, like individuals, have a tendency towards total absorption in a single idea and its corollaries, as the history of the Italian Renaissance sufficiently shows. That phenomenon seems natural enough, partly, perhaps, because of its comparative unfamiliarity. And similarly we might feel the naturalness of a Christian's absorption in the new creed, if so many centuries of repetition had not blunted men's senses. If the novelty of it were not destroyed, it would be rather a cause for wonder that with that insistent call ringing in their ears—" What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul ? "—men did not more generally feel that the distinction between "the world " and " the soul," between the "Kingdom of Heaven " and the actual visible Roman Empire, was absolute.

And further, when we remember how startling were the circumstances which changed Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle of the Gentiles (for his was no slow probation while ignorance and wonder passed with many a stumble and slip into intelligent discipleship),—and how sudden was his response : "Wherefore . . . I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision"; and yet how lasting, as all his life was lived and all his arguments were based on the reality testified to by that Vision;—when we remember all that, it seems no small evidence of his intellectual width that he should have retained, apt and ready, the weapons polished by his early training. St. Paul's education in pagan literature and philosophy combined, perhaps with his later experience, to teach him that comprehensiveness which most men learn so slowly, to show him that, after all, there are different ways of accomplishing the same task, several avenues to the one goal. That certain members of the early Christian community lacked his mental width no one need be concerned to deny ; since surely that is indicated in the storied Vision by which the impetuous Peter was taught not to call common or unclean that which God had cleansed.

From the glimpses of social theory which the New Testament affords, the student gathers that the Gospel of Humanity cut at the root of those class-distinctions on which the City-States of Greece and the Roman Empire were based ; distinctions which, with the exception of nominal slavery, exist again in Christian States now. The general social attitude of the primitive Christians, which is interesting because it must have tinged their practical education, appears in St. Paul's phrase—" In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free.'" In a similar strain he writes : "There is" (the R.V. has the stronger expression "can be," and Dr. Lightfoot prefers "is room for") "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female ; for ye are all one" (R.V. "one man ") "in Christ Jesus." St. Clement of Alexandria, after quoting the above passage, adds, "There are not then in the same Word some 'illuminated' (Gnostics), and some 'animal' (or natural) men ; but all who have abandoned the desires of the flesh are equal and spiritual before the Lord."

Here, clearly, racial distinctions and class differences are lost in a new equality, a new undivided interest of universal citizenship. St. Paul's pleading for the truant slave, which is as far away from Aristotle's theory of "natural slavery" as from current Greek and Roman practice, is another proof of the Christian view : " I beseech thee for my child whom I sent back to thee. . . For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldst have him for ever, no longer as a bond-servant, but more than a bond-servant, a brother beloved." At the same time it should be remembered that this new social equality would not introduce so unfamiliar an element into education as into . some other spheres of the life of the State, because intellectual training was not wholly beyond the reach of slaves in Imperial Rome : "In the Roman Empire the slave was for the most part of the same colour and practically of the same race as his master. No attempt was ever made to prevent his education ; on the contrary, skill in a handicraft, in the management of business, in art, even in erudition and intellectual accomplishments generally, was held greatly to increase his market value " (Bigg, The Church's Task under the Empire, p. 112).

Dr. Sandys bears similar testimony to the intellectual advantages which Roman slaves might enjoy : " A name of note in the history of Latin Grammar is that of Quintus Remmius Palaemon (fi. 35–70 A.D.) of Vicentia. By birth a slave and by trade a weaver, he learnt the elements of literature while accompanying his master's son on his way to school ; and after obtaining his freedom he held a foremost place among teachers of Grammar at Rome "(A History of Classical Scholarship, vol. i. p. 188).

Viewed, however, from another aspect, the democratic spirit of Christianity was not without influence in the region of education. Though the slave was not debarred from seeking and obtaining knowledge, Roman thought appears to have acquiesced contentedly in the ignorance of the masses (in which were included a great number of women), more contentedly, at any rate, than the detractors of Christian education would suggest.' Neander, drawing attention to the " opposition " noticed by Polybius between the subjective " condition of individuals and the public State religion" of Rome, goes on to remark, a few lines later : "With Polybius agrees Strabo the geographer, who wrote in the age of Augustus Csar. 'The multitude of women,' he observes, `and the entire mass of the common people, cannot be led to piety by the doctrines of philosophy ; for this purpose superstition also is necessary, which must call in the aid of myths and tales of wonder.' Having adduced some examples from the Grecian mythology, he adds, ' such things the founders of States employed as bugbears to awe childish people.' These myths, as it seemed to him, were required not only for children, but no less for the ignorant and uneducated, who are no better than children ; and so, too, for those whose education is imperfect, for in their case, too, reason has not yet acquired strength enough to throw off the habits they have brought with them from the years of child-hood."

It may be argued that if the Romans were satisfied that the learned should hold one position and the ignorant another in religious matters, yet the primitive Christians adopted a similar practice of economy of truth. Cardinal Newman, writing of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, and of St. Clement's avowed practice of fitting his remarks to the " sharpsighted and sincere," and " baffling the perverse," observes : " The Fathers considered that they had the pattern as well as the recommendation of this procedure in Scripture itself. This self-restraint and abstinence, practised at least partially by the Primitive Church in the publication of her most sacred doctrines of our religion, are termed in theological language the disciplina arcani." 1 But the Christian method was a sounder educational plan than the Roman of desiring the ignorant to believe in the gods, in all the crude materialism of the most popular rendering of the old mythology, while the philosophers and the educated did otherwise, for this simple reason, that (to quote Newman again) "the elementary information given to the heathen or catechumens was in no sense undone by the subsequent secret teaching, which was in fact but a filling up of a bare but correct outline."

More interesting, however, to the historian of education than the new social spirit are, perhaps, the traces to be found in the New Testament of the early Christian view of disciplinary training. If the Greeks esteemed temperance " the regular order of the soul," 2 the Apostles attached supreme value to self-mastery, which is similar if not absolutely identical. St. Paul regards subjection to authority—an element in self-mastery not easily won—as a universal necessity : "Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers " ;3 while the Church, as a whole, is, of course, regarded as specially subject to Christ. Before psychology was differentiated from metaphysics, St. Paul was aware of the dual personality in man : "So then with the mind, I myself serve the law of God ; but with the flesh the law of sin." This emphatic identification of the real man, the ego, with the intellectual organ, is another Christian tribute to the importance of the mind. Of his insistence upon self-discipline, upon overcoming the lower self, it cannot be necessary to remind readers of his First Epistle to the Corinthians : "But I keep under " (literally, bruise) " my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached unto others, I myself should be a castaway."

This passage is not only unique, perhaps, among St. Paul's utterances in the poignancy of its pathos, but it indicates the importance he attached to self-mastery ; because obviously it is this that he has preached to the whole body—the word preach is also rendered " been herald to " ; so that St. Paul is saying that he has issued a trumpet call, as it were, to the Christian community, beckoning them away from sloth and self-indulgence to energy and self-restraint. Again, writing to St. Timothy, St. Paul urges, as a point of order in the Christian community, the subjection of woman to man, of children to parents. On this latter point the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also lays stress.

There is another Apostle who maintains the necessity of discipline ; with him it is a universal discipline, which will issue at last in a mutual subjection of all the members throughout the community. It is a commonplace of moralists, used dramatically by George Eliot in Romola, that each of us in a crisis will, in all probability, be very much what all our daily, seemingly trivial and unimportant, habits have been making us, silently, gradually, and unknown to ourselves. St. Peter, who at the moment of cock-crow, when he went out and wept bitterly, learned the hardest of human lessons,—the irremediable pain of remorse; must have realised, never again to forget it, the all-essentialness of winning self-mastery day by day and inch by hard-fought inch. And so we should expect to find him, as we do, urging Christian men to learn to subdue the natural self : " Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear. . . . For this is worthy, if a man for conscience' sake towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. . . . For even hereunto were ye called : because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example."

While St. Peter is thus careful for conscientious obedience, as distinct from servility, in the Christian household (for the word servants is rendered "household servants" in the R.V.), he goes on to apply the rule to the whole Christian community : obedience to authority is no class mark, but the distinction of the Christian man, no matter what his position or function ; not only is each to govern himself, to attain self-mastery, but the several units are to yield to one another, a yet harder matter : "All of you be subject one to another";1 or, as some commentators read, " Be clothed with humility one towards another." And, lastly, St. Peter passes from the Church in its imperfect beginnings to the Church in perfection and completeness ; his thoughts travel on to an ordered subjection obtaining in the heavenly places, as if he fancied that even there self-mastery and mutual submission might find a sphere for exercise : " Jesus Christ "; "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God ; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him."

Instances might be multiplied ; but the above are sufficient to prove that self-discipline was a rule of the primitive Church, a rule often translated into extreme practice. How important an element discipline is in education, we may gather from the words of the judicious Locke : "As the strength of the Body lies chiefly in being able to endure hardships, so also does that of the Mind. And the great Principle and Foundation of all Virtue and Worth is plac'd in this, that a Man is able to deny himself his own desires, cross his own inclinations, and purely follow what Reason directs us best, tho' the Appetite lean the other way."

We are ready enough to admire the self-mastery of the Spartans ; the world applauds ore rotundo when whole Japanese regiments, in a spirit of utter self-abnegation, fling themselves on certain death ; men never weary in attributing the decline of the Roman Empire to the increase of self-indulgence. But this warmth of admiration is apt to cool strangely when the scene changes to that of the primitive Church, as it strove by example and precept to discipline its members, drawn as they were from so many races, from such diverse classes, exhibiting such variety of capacity ; as it strove to inculcate the grace of self-mastery, even of self-sacrifice if need arose.

But setting aside discipline, that so necessary part of any successful scheme of education, we may ask what traces we can find in the New Testament of care for intellectual instruction among the early Christians?

Well, St. Paul, at any rate, did not expect "the fellow-citizens with the saints "2 to acquiesce in a dead level of stupidity and complacent ignorance ; his aim was to organise men's gifts so as to make the utmost use of them for the common good, that common general good from which he was so scrupulous to exclude no single man. If this be not so, why did he write to the Ephesians of the diversity of occupations, corresponding to the variety of gifts, in the Church? "Some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers . . . till we all come unto the unity of the faith."' Ephesus, it is true, was a wealthy, rather than a learned city ; Dr. Bigg reckons Athens, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople as "the University towns of the Empire"; 2 he adds Berytus (the modern Beirout) as a law school. But there was an excellent reason why St. Paul should desire sound teaching and honest learners to abound there, why he should hope that " we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." First of all, so acute an observer of human nature as the Apostle of the Gentiles could hardly have witnessed the scene stirred up by the suggestions of Demetrius the silversmith without perceiving that Ephesus was fruitful soil for the growth of that ignorant obstinacy which declines either to listen to argument or to search for truth: "When they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians."

As a more or less natural consequence of that attitude of mind, Ephesus was a centre of heresy, more particularly it appears of that known as Gnosticism. Though nothing is known certainly of the date when this philosophy arose, references to it are thought to exist in the Epistle to the Colossians (e.g. Col. ii. 8), as well as in those to Timothy and Titus.

The founder of the Gnostic sect has not been discovered. If we accept the dictum of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, " the inventor of all heresy was Simon Magus," 2 or that of St. Irenaeus, " from this Simon of Samaria all kinds of heresies derive their origin," we must attribute Gnosticism to him with the rest. After St. Paul's time, Basilides was a noted Gnostic leader in the reign of Hadrian (117-138). Who-ever its founder may have been, it is not disputed that it became rife in Ephesus. Dr. Bigg (The Church's Task under the Empire, pp. 60 et seq.) has some interesting remarks on it. The kernel of the heresy was its pretension to a deeper, more occult knowledge of God and the mysteries of life and mind than was possessed by other philosophic and religious systems. The contemporary account of it is that of St. Irenaeus, detailed and strangely interesting, in the first book of his treatise Against Heresies. Two quotations must suffice here : " They tell us, however, that all this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed through the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it."

After giving a number of examples of their ingenuity in extracting their own particular and peculiar interpretations from the Gospel story, Irenaeus adds : " It is not only from the writings of the evangelists and apostles that they endeavour to derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions : they deal in the same way with the Law and the Prophets, which contain many parables and allegories that can frequently be drawn into various senses, according to the kind of exegesis to which they are subjected."

That the Christians repudiated the Gnostics is clear from the above passages, and still more so from the following words of St. Cyril : " Abhor those above mentioned Gnostics, men of knowledge by name, but fraught with ignorance." Here it is to our present purpose to notice that as with St. Paul so with St. Cyril, we find no slur cast upon learning, only condemnation of false learning ; winds of doctrine" in St. Paul's words ; "men of knowledge by name," but fraught with ignorance " in St. Cyril's. The whole trend of St. Paul's counsel to the Ephesian Church seems, indeed, to favour education, in a wide sense of that word ; it seems to advocate teaching of a broad kind, for evangelists, pastors, and teachers are differentiated carefully, and his purpose apparently was to enable every member to hold on fast to the truth and resist false philosophy. Theology was not so highly developed nineteen centuries ago as it is to-day ; but philosophy, which was surely its handmaid then as it should be and often is now, was, with the exception of psychology, very little less matured then than now ; wherefore St. Paul, the scholar of Tarsus, the pupil of Gamaliel, the orator and accomplished man of letters, did not forget, in the later years of his life, that men do not and cannot resist false philosophy by the ever ready weapons of ignorance and stupidity, or by a rejection of the ordinary means of education. The widely flung Christian net doubtless caught in its meshes, then as now, simple souls who lived and died untroubled by philosophic doubt ; as certainly it enclosed scholars and thinkers; and for such, educated methods are essential in every age. It is difficult not to admit that St. Paul esteemed wisdom when we remember his injunction to the Corinthian Church : " Brethren, be not children in understanding" (R.V. mind) ; "howbeit in malice be ye children, but in under-standing (mind) be men (or of full age)." Dr. Light-foot, as also the R.V., reads, "Howbeit in malice be ye babes," which makes the antithesis even stronger. Once more, St. Paul urges on the parents of Ephesus their responsibility to their children : "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath : but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord."

This word "nurture," which from our present point of view is the pith of the passage, is taken by four German annotators to mean training ; on the other hand, Drs. Alford, Ellicott, Olshausen, and Wordsworth would render it strict discipline. If this does not include the idea of intellectual instruction, it seems to point, at any rate, to a moral education of no light or facile kind, to a handling of character grossly neglected sometimes among ourselves.

Apart from all the above facts, we gather from the New Testament records that it was a custom of the Apostles to gather round them disciples, young men, to whom they could impart the fundamentais of the new faith ; whom they could train up, and, in time, send forth to spread the Christian religion, to evangelise the world, so far as it was then known. Possibly we may find the early beginnings of this in St. Paul's work at Ephesus : " When some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he (Paul) departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily " (AA'. disputing daily) "in the school of Tyrannus."

Again St. Paul mentions among " other my fellow-labourers," one Clement who worked with him. St. Jerome writes: "Clement (of whom the Apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says, ` With Clement and others of my fellow-workers, whose names are written in the book of life'), the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the Apostle. He wrote, on the part of the Church of Rome, an especially valuable Letter to the Church of the Corinthians." It is quite true that some commentators have doubted whether the Clement of the Epistle to the Philippians is St. Clement of Rome. And again, though Origen asserted that he was, it is denied sometimes that Clement of Rome was the author of the Epistle generally called by his name. Eusebius quotes the words of Dionysius of Corinth (written c. 170 A.D.) : " The Epistle written to us through Clement." i Again St. Irenaeus writes : " In the time of this Clement, no small dissensions having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace." 2 And, further, St. Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata (bk. vi. chap. viii., and bk. iv. chap. xvii.) attributes the authorship of this Epistle to St. Clement of Rome. It is perhaps impossible to settle whether Clement of Rome wrote the said Epistle, and also whether he were the Clement of the Epistle to the Philippians. But one fact, and, as it happens, the main one of interest in this connection, seems not to be disputed, viz. that there was a Clement of Rome who had been a " disciple" of the Apostles.

St. Irenaeus (bk. in. chap. iii. § 2) speaks of the founding and organisation of the Church at Rome " by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul"; and then in the next paragraph he says that " in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric." Then follows the passage significant to our present purpose — the apostolic training of young men—" This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing (in his ears) and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone in this, for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles." It is surely not straining this passage if we argue that the reference is not to the general body of Christian converts, but rather to its official ministers.

Whether the Epistle be St. Clement's or not, there are evidences in it of this special instruction given by the first Apostles to those who were to succeed them ; e.g. chap. xlii.: " They " (the Apostles) "preached in the country and in the towns, they proved by the Spirit the first-fruits of their work in each place, and appointed them to be overseers and deacons among them that should believe"; and again, chap. xliv., "they appointed the aforesaid overseers and deacons, and ordained that at their death" (i.e. the death of apostolically appointed officials) "their ministry should pass into the hands of other tried men."

There are traces of similar training of young men by St. Peter ; at the end of his first Epistle he mentions Sylvanus, who apparently wrote out the actual script of the Epistle, at St. Peter's dictation ; also he mentions " Mark, my son," of whom St. Jerome (Eccles. Hist. chap. viii.) speaks as " Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter."

Then again there is that other early Father, St. Polycarp, who seems to have been one of these apostolically trained young men. St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. in. iii. 4) writes : "But Polycarp was not only instructed by Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by Apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried (on earth) a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the Apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true."

St. Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men, chap. xvii.) tells us "that Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, and by him ordained bishop of Smyrna, was chief of all Asia, where he saw and had as teachers some of the apostles, and of those who had seen the Lord." In chap. xviii. Jerome mentions " Papias, the pupil of John," and in chap. xix., " Quadratus, disciple of the Apostles."

In this apostolic custom Father Magevny, St.J., sees "the far-off dawnings of a system which with varying fortunes was to lead up to the episcopal or cathedral schools of the Middle Ages and the seminaries of modern times." Those who perhaps feel that such a theory builds too heavy a super-structure on a slight foundation, may yet see in this apostolic custom the germ of some of the work carried on later in the catechetical schools of the Christians, which, though the system was not peculiar to them (see Bigg, op. cit., concerning the catechumens of Isis, p. 40, and Mithra, p. 50), yet attained to great success in the hands of men like St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

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