liberalism versus fundamentalism
(§ 1) At present, there
is among scholars no "consensus omnium" regarding the historical origins of Christianity (its rise
in the first century), especially with reference to
the dates of composition of the narrative gospels of the New Testament,
their coherence and historical genesis. Nevertheless, these texts, deemed
"holy", form the core of the canon of Christian dogmatic theology. Are they to
be taken literally, mythically or both ?
Why this fuss ? Ideological and religious interests make independent, free research difficult
& the rules of true knowledge). Instead of
formulating theories based on scanty evidence, a minimal hypothesis should
be established. Conflicting data should always be mentioned but -if deemed
necessary- criticized. The full weight of modern historical and critical research should be taken into
consideration. But, the existential authenticity of "belief" should
-because of the facts of mystical
experience- always be respected, although bracketed while doing research.
Biblical science is divided in two camps :
"liberals" (often radical protestants, dogmatic atheists,
humanists & critical historians) stress the human factor in the
composition of these founding texts of Christianity (and hence question some
of the fundamental cornerstones of Christian thought, like the resurrection, the authority of the churches & the notion that
Jesus Christ is God). These scholars conjecture that the narrative gospels
could not have preceded the destruction of the Temple of Jeruzalem (70 AD),
for the latter event, scattering the Church of Jeruzalem, prompted the
redaction of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, called "the Christ" ;
"conservatives" (often dogmatic fundamentalists, believers, priests or
church-authorities) claim the books of the New Testament are a
gift of God and directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, believe Jesus to be Christ,
resurrected and the unique Son of God and understand His Holy Church as the only
spiritual community leading to salvation, for only through the Son can the
Father be known. Their cornerstones are the New Testament and the
is a "nugget of gold" to be discovered in both positions ?
dating the gospels
Liberal scientists date
the narrative gospels as follows (Mack, 1993) :
AD 75 - 80 : redaction of Mark (conservative estimate : 65 -70) ;
AD 85 - 90 : redaction of Matthew (80 - 85) ;
AD 95 : redaction of John (90 - 100) ;
AD 110 : redaction of Luke & Acts (85 - 90).
Critical historians of the period point out the habit of unknown authors
to attribute their texts to a
historical person close to Jesus, like one of the apostles (Matthew, Peter, Thomas,
Paul or one of their converts, like Dionysius.). This procedure gave authority to their proposals, a common strategy in
Antiquity. Also in the past this had worked (cf. Pharaoh
his famous stone) and it continued to be applied afterwards (cf.
ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite).
The latter was probably bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (ca 190 - ca. 264) or an otherwise unknown Syrian monk
able to influence Western theology with his unjustified authority for more than a millennium,
and this by attributing his writings to Paul's first
convert in Athens, Dionysius !
Hence, whether or not the Gospel
of John was written by the historical John, friend of Jesus is,
in the liberal view, of lesser importance
than the ideas proposed by the unknown, real author of John and the way he
Matthew, Peter, Thomas and John probably belonged to the Jesus-people "of the first hour".
We are told Paul never physically met Jesus. Mark was a pupil of Peter. Paul and
Luke being the first who were with Christ "in the Spirit". Had they
physically witnessed the resurrected Christ before His ascension ? No.
It is interesting to note that Paul (by far the most metaphysical and educated
of the apostles) is aware
Jesus is subdued to God. If so, how can God be subdued to God ?
"And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then
shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him,
that God may be all in all. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the
dead, if the dead rise not at all ? Why are they then baptized for the
dead ? Why stand we in jeapardy every hour ? I protest by your rejoicing which I
have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily."
Paul : 1 Corinthians, 15:28-31, my italics.
For the conservatives though, an early dating is more interesting. They try to
prove the narrative gospels are in fact the work of historical
eye-witnesses, those who, at the time, were physically around Jesus. When Jesus
was gone, they wrote down their version of the true story of Christ's birth, life, passion,
resurrection, spiritual descent & ascension (namely Matthew,
John, Peter and Thomas). The narrative gospels are no compositions, but four different approaches
of Jesus Christ based on direct evidence or the very reliable testimony of Christ's
friends. This is the traditional view of dogmatic theology.
In this view, Luke embodies the
first step in the formation of an ecclesiastical order after the work of Paul with the
had been added to the core of the Jewish theology of the pillar-apostles of the
Jeruzalem. Thus, so the conservative story goes, the first
layer of an actual, orthodox universal (catholic) church of Christ was in place before the
turn of the first century, backing the universal authority claimed by Clemens I
ca AD 95. Recent discoveries allow us to seriously doubt this. As a result,
dogmatic theology may be in a severe foundational crisis. The New Testament is
the last word about Jesus Christ, neither was it the first.
Over the last two millenia, every word of these narrative gospels has been
sanctified. They were taken literally. And what happens if history shows the
evangelical drama has to be read as an old myth put in new bags ? Has the New Testament
an authentic historical core, and how to isolate these authentic teachings of Jesus ?
from 20 letters to a complete gospel ...
When papyrologists like
Thiede claim a complete codex of the gospels of Matthew & Mark
was available as early as AD 50 (at the latest AD 70), the conservatives applaud.
He identified (a) little fragments of Greek Qumrân-papyri (on scroll) with an
early (AD 50) Gospel of Mark (cf. the controversy around Qumrân-text 7Q5)
and (b) the Magdalen & Barcelona fragments (forming a complete codex ?) with
a complete Gospel of Matthew (claimed to be an eyewitness of Jesus)
written before AD 70 (Thiede, 1995). So according to him, the canonical gospels
are the earliest record of Jesus, both as a teacher and as Christ, i.e. the
anointed Messiah, Son of God (the Father). Jesus Christ = the historical Jesus
is his thesis.
Whoever is engaged in the free study of the New Testament has to
assimilate the available evidence, formulate conjectures and argue the issues. As long as no additional papyri are found, it seems difficult to be
convinced by the line of reasoning proposed by Thiede. His leap from a fragment
of 20 letters to the hypothesis of a
complete codex of the text of Mark existing between AD 50 - 68 seems too
speculative. Different renderings of 7Q5 have been proposed. The
possibility that cave n° 7 was reopened after AD 68 (to hide Early Christian
scrolls) cannot be completely ruled out. Only by dating the Magdalen &
Barcelona papyri through Accelerator Mass Spectrometry can this question be
solved (for a margin of ca. 50 years is enough). Unfortunately, both the Oxford
& the Barcelona fragments are too small and have no unwritten parts. They
would be destroyed in the process (which seems unacceptable, even to Thiede, but
even more so to their ensurers).
the core of truth of the liberal view
distinction between, on the one side, the Wisdom-sayings of the historical Jesus, pre-dating the books of the New Testament,
and on the other side, the Christ-theology of his apostles, especially Paul,
Peter, John and Thomas, seems confirmed by all emerging new data. These have allowed us
to update our views on this major personality of humanity. Of
representations of Jesus exist and will continue to exist. Nevertheless, taking
the first rule of any hermeneutics of Jesus in mind, namely :
"beware of finding a Jesus entirely
congenial to you" (cf. Funk & Hoover, 1993), we may arrive at a
probable historical view on Jesus Christ.
The eschatological, spirito-communal & magico-sacramental Christ-theology offered by the so-called "ocular" gospels of Matthew & John
(focused on ministry, passion & resurrection) and some of the Letters
of Paul (elaborating on the received Holy Spirit, expecting the return soon &
building a community to welcome Christ) became orthodox. In these narratives, Christ
Jesus is presented as the unique Son of God. The pivot of the whole Paulinian system is
the Passion & Resurrection of Christ Jesus. He suffers on the Cross to redeem humanity
and takes upon Him the sins of the world with His Divine Nature beyond death,
according to the formula of Paul : "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew
no sin ; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
(2 Corinthians, 5:21, my italics). Jesus Christ is deemed a historical
personality, a historical fact, not a mythical figure. Orthodox Christianity
preaches literalism, exclusivism and exoterism. The "Christ within" is the state of being
adopted by this historical Person (cf. Baptism).
is "modern" theology defunct ?
The dogmatic theories of
knowledge presupposed by modern hermeneutics have been thoroughly criticised
have been proposed. They are based on
a mild postmodern philosophy,
critical epistemology, and the conclusions of a study of some of the more important
cognitive features of mystical experience. Modernism is always involved with either metaphysical idealism or its
counterpart, metaphysical realism. Both metaphysical views try to eternalize
continuous change, which is an impossible feat.
Historical detailism should dare to yield a total picture. Textual criticism
historical circumstance and move beyond the materiality of the text
(cf. logocentrism). Literary criticism should also study the impact of the actors on the
form (causing the scenario to rewrite itself), and semiology should put the
psychology of the subject side by side with the structures of its discourses.
Bergson's great idea that the "élan vital" is sublimely expressed in
exceptional creative individuals (like the mystics) should be taken into
consideration by trying to connect
the message of their elocutions (in
the characteristics of an evolution of the human mind
and take this beyond the
the free study of Jesus
It is not possible to deny
the facts of science, i.e. the historical consensus of a large majority of scholars. It is
true a minimum of "spiritual light" remains necessary to understand the
words of Jesus (Laurentin, 1996). Especially the more abstract descriptions (like Son of
Man, Word of the Father, Living, All) need long meditations & the light of a
contemplative wisdom. It would be a confusion to identify this with "the light of
faith" (as Christian fundamentalists often do) for faith covers much more ground than the
mystical insights, intellectual perceptions or intuitive prehensions implied here ; faith also suggests a
spiritual community & its traditions, canon or dogma (the so-called "deposit of
faith"). Mystics, like hermits, experience God in complete solitude or
aloneness (cf. ps-Dionysius,
Even Christian fundamentalists accept the source gospel (the German for "source"
being "Quelle") Q, the historical core or authentic Jesus-message
hidden within the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) discovered by Christian Weisse in 1838. But they
regard the exceptional sayings of Jesus, written down by Thomas, the so-called
of Thomas, as untrustworthy
"logia agrapha" (unwritten sayings). Clearly these theologians are in error when
they claim the Jesus of history has nothing to offer. As usual, they polarize the
discussion between "belief" and "science", between "the light of
faith" and atheist or gnostic "diabolism", between their "holy
scriptures" and the "deformed & corrupted" later copies. A better
strategy is to try to understand both the historical Jesus and the Christ of theology.
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white
horse ; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in
righteousness he doth judge and make war."
John : Apocalyps, 19:11
Can it be denied modern Western atheist hermeneutics and its
adjacent liberal humanism have a prejudice against the Divine ? Their champions of doubt (like
Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Bataille and others) reacted violently against Christianity
and its "magister fidei". Perhaps this grudge was a childish emotional reaction,
caused by fifteen centuries of battle with an unscientific theology &
"holy" dictators anointed by the Roman Church. Any kind of prejudice is
unscientific, even if dogma -like ignorance & fear- always tends to repeat itself,
even today. As knowledge is deemed one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Christianity
has the power to renew itself. Not by clinging to dead stones, but by elaborating
upon authentic historical foundations. Forbid the fabrications and
inconclusive intellectual dogma's.
a good theology is rooted in direct mystical experience
A common error is to
apply -in a vain attempt to enhance status, credence or authority- modern
physical standards to theology. Each object needs its own way of approach. Even
Aristotle knew this already. Another error consists (not without confusion) to
identify or associate this "special" method of theology with the
so-called "light of faith" (or "grace" of the Holy Spirit).
Theology is unmistakingly related to the unique & living un-knowing
insight of the genuine mystics of humanity (cf. Bergson), i.e. those who
live in a direct & continuous experience of the Divine (in Christian
theology this means pure Fatherly Goodness). In philosophy & different spiritual
traditions, this insight, inner knowledge or "gnosis" has been given numerous names. It is
related to "contemplation in the light of truth". However, theology
always remains a superstructure (Staal, 1975) organizing & explaining these living experiences of the
Divine. Dogmatic theology is not interested in mysticism. It needs a holy
book, a Credo !
Intellectual perception does not enable the mind to articulate God or objectify
the absolute (which would stop it from being absolute). Nevertheless, the
presence of this Divine bliss sustains all spiritual traditions, religions,
churches, sects, lodges, free formations (of coenobites) or hermits. It is the
"spark of light" of all humans of good will. A theological format
(being a human artefact) can never articulate God. Jesus was not a Pharisee nor
a theologian. He was a mystic who said the Kingdom of the Father had arrived.
When -following "modern" procedures- the German "formal"
school of theology (cf. Bultmann, 1926, 1955) identified all paranormal
narrative elements enclosed in the New Testament (incarnation, exorcism,
healing, transmutation, transfiguration, levitation, resurrection, ascencion etc.) as
mystifications, more than one Christian priests "lost his faith". What
made these theologians conclude thus ? Was it not an outdated
epistemology cherishing realism in terms of physicalism and materialism ? Given
their so-called sufficient ground, all
the rest must a forteriori have seemed but metaphor, symbol and myth ...
The unfortunate fact these "paranormal events" do exist and befall most if not all
genuine mystics, remains unspoken. Because they are anecdotal (not repetitive),
empirical studies are difficult. "Modern" churches,
"modern" theology as well as "modern" science have no longer
"spectrology" (cf. Derrida) and are thus unable to understand the role
played by the invisible, hidden, veiled & mysterious realities of life.
Hence, they fail to truly help people with their spiritual needs.
The original movements around Jesus
(§ 2) The first
followers of Jesus (the embryonic social formation of original Jewish folk witnessing
Jesus at work) were interested in his teachings. The earliest movements around Jesus
(ca. AD 20 - 30) are defined by Mack (1995) as :
I) an oral, "lore" tradition (AD 30 - 50), especially interested in
the teachings of Jesus and less in biography &
II) several textualizations pre-dating the synoptics such as :
(1) Q1 (ca. AD 50, in Galilee) : this is the earliest layer of the sayings or source Q
(2) Miracle-stories (ca. AD 50 in the North of Palestine) &
(3) the "kerygma" or "announcement" of Paul in his authentic
letters, introducing a "centric" Christ (ca. AD 50 in Greece &
Asia Minor - cf. Corinthians & Romans). Scholars of the
Jesus Seminar divide Paul's letters in "authentic" (written by Paul)
: Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians,
Philemon and "not authentic" (attributed) : Ephesians, Colossians, II
Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I,
II & III John, Jude.
The original teachings of Jesus were probably only orally
transmitted. They were finally written down as sayings gospels, wisdom
discourses or sapiential instructions (copied in slightly different versions
& read in the several early movements around Jesus) by diverse,
decentralized groups of Jesus-people around AD 50 (only two decades after
Jesus died). Their message differs from Paul & the Miracle-stories !
After Jesus died (ca. AD 30), this rather loose & diverse early Jewish movement rapidly
transformed into a Christian spirito-communal brotherhood, a Jewish sect shaping a
"christic" or "anointed" Jesus, accepting circumcision, slavery &
excluding woman from the order. Eventually, these communities had to be organized (cf. the
early announcement of Christ (starting ca. AD 50) ignited the formation of a Gentile Christic
Jesus, to be distinguished from Jewish messianic theology (of Qumrân), the historical Jesus of Nazareth (a Jew)
and his people, and the first Jewish Christians of Jeruzalem. Paul reveals
"Christ Jesus" as exceeding Israel and embracing the whole of humanity. His
Greek, Alexandrian backing must have played a considerable role ...
Even during Paul's lifetime & before the turn of the century, dissident
groups existed. The Thomas-people are clearly such a group and they offer a valid &
independent source for the teachings of the historical Jesus. Although the
Thomas (AD 75 - 100), rejected by the Early Church, introduced a mystical
& Divine Jesus, no resurrection is focused, no community is founded and no
thanksgiving is said. The Christ-theology mentioned in the traditional gospels
was "an apostolic invention" (Mack, 1993) which obliterated the
message of the historical Jesus. What can the critical historian add ?
before AD 30 : Jesus, the
Jesus-people and the original wisdom teachings (Q1) ;
AD 30 - 50 : Jews develop the earliest Christ-theology and "Christ" is used to identify
the growing Jewish sect ;
AD 50 - 67 : the Church
of Jeruzalem (Peter) and Paul agree upon a centrist Christ, Paul serves a
universal redeemer, Thomas and John develop a mystical & cosmic Christ and Early
Christianity sees the light - about AD 65, Q2 is added to Q ;
AD 67 - 70 : after the
death of Peter and Paul, Jewish and Gentile fractions merged to form the
beginning of a centrist Roman orthodoxy ;
after AD 70 : with the
destruction of the Temple, Rome, who "had the bones" as well as the "chair of
Peter", takes over the leading role of Jeruzalem ;
AD 70 - 100 : between 69
and 96 AD, the Emperors stopped persecutions and so Roman Catholicism could
organize itself - about AD 80, Q3 is added to Q. In the same
period, Mark, Matthew, John, Thomas and the Didachè are written down. The
centrists are literalists and focus on the historical person of Jesus Christ.
The distinction between the historical Jesus and the "Christ" of theology is not
In the phrase "Jesus Christ" only Jesus is historical,
"Christ" is ideological.
Jesus is the "Son of Man", a Jewish wisdom-teacher.
"Christ", "the Anointed" is a title pointing to the Word of God and refers to
"Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" are Paul's names for his Christ-experience.
In Paul's Christ Jesus, Jewish and Pagan (Alexandrian) elements merge.
Q1 textualized Jesus' great work as "Son of
Man", i.e. the precipitation of the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father,
"the core of an ethic" (Mack, 1993). Together with the
Gospel of Thomas,
these sayings contain a vivid record of the response of the words & the
deeds of Jesus in the minds of his people. They are not formal but contain
direct insight, immediate pictures & intuitive relationships between good
& evil, between humanity & a Kingdom given by the Father through Jesus,
who is "the Word of the Father".
Christianity before Paul & the Gentiles
This first stage of the literature of the Jesus-movements is one of
"collection & composition" (Mack, 1993). The audience being those Jews
directly participating in these early movements. They were interested in Jesus'
teachings, not in his death. The notion Jesus had died for our sins was not
part of their beliefs. Jerusalem was their centre. They went to the Temple, but
they were divided from their fellow countrymen because they identified Jesus with
Israel's promised &
expected Messiah, the "anointed one", in Greek "christos". However, they were not conscious of a discontinuity
between the new and the old convenant. None of them were likely to be persuaded by the
announcement the Mosaic law had been abrogated (Chadwick, 1982) or that Jesus was the
"Christ" come to redeem the whole of humanity (for Israel had only been promised
to the Jewish race). Hence, these earliest Christian communities adhered to
the Jewish faith and thus circumcised their newborns !
As yet (ca AD 30 - 50), no Gentile mission had been launched. So, gentile converts were treated like Jewish
proselytes, i.e. they had to accept the Mosaic law of circumcision and Sabbath-observance.
Going to the Jewish Temple was not abrogated. This earliest layer is followed by a period of frustration with failed expectations
(for they believed Jesus would return in their lifetime) characterized by the
"announcement of judgement" (Kloppenborg, 1988). To defend themselves, they
introduced eschatological elements in their theology (Smith, 1978). In Q2
(AD 65), the Satan
calls Jesus "Son of God", indicating the presence of more extended, universal Messianic concepts (Mark
would introduce a puzzling, magical Jesus, misunderstood by everybody and only
recognized by the evil spirits).
A considerable number of scholars have reached a consensus
regarding the hermeneutical
rules of evidence to be used to identify the words of the
original, historical Jesus, interpreted as a "teacher of wisdom" (Robinson,
1964). What happens when philosophy delineates & critically studies
these words ?
nothing is hidden that will not be made known,
or secret that will not come to light.
Early Christianity is apostolic &
(§ 3) In less than
seventy years after the death of Jesus, the teaching from
Jesus (or "evangelium Jesu"), became superstructured by a centrist
Christianity which stressed the
spirito-communal & sacrificial Christ, Son of God. They focus on the
"holy" scenario of a historical person, culminating in Christ's Passion &
Resurrection. The mystical, riddling, withdrawn but generous
teacher of wisdom was forced into the background and became a towering Word of
God Incarnated to save us.
the unity of Jewish Christians & Gentiles
The Gentile mission was
initiated by private individuals moving ahead of any official
authorization by a central authority. Paul saw himself as "the apostle of
Christ" and acted as a founding father. Paul's account of his "private
meeting" with the "pillar" apostles (AD 48, 14 years after his
conversion "on the way to Damascus") shows how important it was for
Paul's Gentile converts to be accepted by
the community of Jerusalem. The numinous aura of this Jerusalem church was
shared by many Gentiles throughout the Near East.
Before Paul started preaching (after AD 48), some groups of Jesus-people (cf. Q2
& Q3) accepted the earliest version of the Christ-theology, but did not -in order to
true to their original vows- convert Gentiles. For the Messianic Jesus, Son of God was
a Jew. Paul's converts had to become true & full members, albeit extra-mural, of
the "One Church of God of Israel in Christ". However, the Jewish
Christians of Jerusalem were not Paulinian. Its members reached the conclusion
Jesus' teachings could be understood in combination with Jewish devotions
Was Paul able to convince them to transcend
the boundaries of their Jewish "circumcised" identity and so to include
all non-Jews in the One Church of God for humanity ? Paul's contribution to the Christ-theology
was this "announcement" to the Gentiles. His Christ-theology was used to
change the Early Jewish Jesus-movements into Early Christian communities, focused on
establishing a new social order. The family of Israel (blessed "in
Abraham") became thus universalized. Every Christian, Jew or Gentile, could adhere
to the God of Israel "in Christ". Clearly, at this early
stage, both Jewish and Pagan elements influenced this emerging "new" myth.
Jacob, Peter & John made no demand the Gentiles must keep the Mosaic
law, but they gave Paul the "right hands of fellowship" (Galatians,
2:9) on the condition (not unlike dispersed synagogues sent annual
contributions to feed the bloody Temple-service of Jerusalem) the Gentile
communities showed their solidarity by sending the Church of Jerusalem money !
The good old spiritual trade ! Paul was the creator of the idea of a
quasi-independent Gentile Christendom within the One Church !
Paul never met Jesus, but his legendary enlightenment found in Luke "on the
way to Damascus" is traditionally understood as his convenant with the
Spirit of Jesus, who's Aramaic voice he and his companions heard while irradiated
by a "light from heaven". This illumination, which blinded him for
"three days" was Paul's instance of "cosmic consciousness"
(Bucke, 1961). He identified this new "cosmic sense" with
"Christ", not with the person of Jesus (although, according in Acts
9:3-9, 22:6-11 & 26:12-18, Jesus did not say : "I am Christ.").
So his "cosmic sense" became "christic", allowing him to
undertake his Gentile mission. The drama of a Hebrew Jesus appointing Paul (a
former persecutor of Christians who becomes the Moses of the Gentiles) and
sending him to deliver the Gentiles, enhanced the sanctity of Paul's
announcement of "Christ" Jesus, needed to deliver (i.e. converting)
the Gentile nations from their "Solar" Pagan Saviours (Osiris, Horus, Mithras,
Apollo, Adonis, Isis etc.). How much did early orthodoxy assimilate from these very active
The core of the Jewish identity was ethnic & genealogical. Circumcision &
Sabbath-observance were the outer signs of adherence to the God of Israel,
Gentiles could not participate. That was the law. The earliest Jesus-movements
(Q1) did not preach a universal redemption through
Jesus. Even in the Didachè (written ca. 70 years later) this notion is
absent. To accept Jesus as the expected Saviour, did not automatically imply
the abrogation of the law of Moses. The earliest Christ-theology (before Paul) was
meant to create a common
definition for the Jesus-people after Jesus had died. It distinguished
them from the prevailing religion of the Hellenized Pharisees.
"Christ" or "anointed" had not yet received the universal
connotations Paul would add. In doing so, he transformed this earliest Jewish
such a way that "Israel" became to imply the
whole of humanity. The role of Alexandrian philosophy in this, may prove to
have been pivotal.
The distinction introduced by the Jesus-people was taken out of its original
Jewish circle. For this Jewish Christian sect, the equation Israel = Mosaic Jews
had become Israel = Mosaic Jews + Christian Jews. With the coming of Paul,
Israel = Christian humanity, and the Jewish component merged with a series of
"Pagan" elements introduced by Paul, John and Thomas. The
name "Christ", indicating the Messiah, Son of God was given an abstract
universality. What had started as an adjective of Jesus, became an
independent pronoun. This was suited for the purpose of the conversion of the
Gentiles into this new "universal religion". As soon as the historical Jesus
became Paul's abstract "Christ Jesus", theology & liturgy, although
entrenched in Judaism, could easily associate
"Christ" with "Catholicism", neo-Platonic notions as
"second God" (cf. Philo of Alexandria) or Pagan ideas and rituals
(like in the Eucharist). This "Christ" was thus deemed
one in essence with the Father and existed before creation (cf. the opening of
the Gospel of John). Paul's "Christ Jesus" became the myth of
Christ Saviour at the loss of the historical Jesus, the teacher of wisdom,
but not at the expense of Judaism (cf. the parallels between Jewish thanksgiving
and the Prefatio in Holy Mass).
the destruction of Jerusalem
The predominant position of the "holy city" (of both Judaism &
Jewish Christianity) was deeply affected by the two Jewish revolts with the consequent
destruction of much of Jerusalem. Between 70 & 140 the focus of power slowly moved
away from Jerusalem. Rome became the new (old) capital of the so-called "Catholic
Church of God". The apostles (through their "kerygma" or narrative
announcement), tried to organize the spontaneous, open &
diversified earliest (Jewish) and early (Jewish and Gentile) movements of the original Jesus-people. In
seven decades (AD 30 - 100),
the original Jesus-people had become Catholicism, envisaged as a universal, world-wide,
spiritual brotherhood ("koinonia", club or society) or community
("ekklesia") centralized in Rome. Brotherhoods worshipping a particular god
(Hercules, Dionysius, Mithras ... Christos) were common in those days (Smith, 1980). The
"centrist", spirito-communal, "christic" movements became dominant
and initiated what became a hierarchical, centrist Christ-theology (or "evangelium de
Christo", i.e. teaching about Jesus), only "canonized"
(textualized) much later as the New Testament and a "holy" Roman
direct dependencies of the "kerygma" on Jewish & Egyptian theology
It is probable that apostles & evangelists were in contact with several often
anti-Hellenistic, reformative, religious Jewish groups, pursuing a new start in
the desert through a disciplined, stern & pure life shared with those
identically inclined (John the Baptist & his pupils, disciples of
the prophets, Maccabeans, penitents, members of the Qumrân-community, the
Essenes of Alexandria, etc.).
In these stern & ascetical Jewish circles, a poetical, dramatical,
imaginative, metaphorical & pictorial language was used (cf. de Dead Sea Scrolls).
The text shows that, along with neo-Platonic material (cf. the Greek-speaking
Jews of Alexandria, some of whom were members of the
Hermetic Lodge), ideas of these Semitic counter-movements (which
were the result of too much Hellenization) were used by Paul & the apostles to
textualize their martyred Christ-theology. This dynamical mindset would -delivering a universal
redemption- supercede all past (geo-sentimental) theologies.
Early Jewish Christians, as well as those radical Jewish movements, had
their urge to convert as many souls as possible in common, but the radicals limited
themselves to Jews. After the assimilation of Paul, Christianity
the boundaries of race or nation. Neither did it pay respect to the empirial
order. Gentiles were accepted. Jewish Christians
were too few to fashion a community (or "church"). The rite of baptism
(with a parallel in Q2) being all what was required to become a member of Christian universalism or
Christian Catholicism. This ritual "cleansed" the soul and gave it
the possibility for a new start "in Christ". Christ had torn the curtain in the Temple from
bottom to top in two (cf. Matthew) and opened up the "holy of holies"
(introducing a universal highpriesthood - cf. Peter).
Of all non-Christian writers of the first century AD, Philo of Alexandria (ca.
BC 25 - AD 50), the "elder contemporary of St.Paul" (Chadwick, 1967)
was the major source for emergent Christianity (cf. the writings of Paul). Philo
was a very proficient Jewish exegete, who knew Hebrew imperfectly, if at all. He
used the Greek Septuagint, commissioned by the first Ptolemaic Pharaoh, and considered this translation to be divinely
inspired. Philo provides analogies to the New
Testament writings which are remarkable. The theology of the Hellenistic
synagogue and the ideas of Paul were close enough to be mistrusted by rabbinical
Judaism. A direct
dependence between the writings of Paul and the voluminous work of Philo is the simplest
& most probable hypothesis. With this connection, a direct relationship
between Early Christian theology and
Late Egyptian theology may be established,
for Philo knew the native traditions, and assimilated parts of them in his
system (the most important being the logos of God as the "second
God", found in Hermetism, itself based on
Ancient Egyptian theology, and in the
Memphite theology). In fact, the
influence of Egyptian
philosophy on Greek thought is unmistaken.
The "tradition" stating Peter converted Philo when the latter visited
Rome under Calligula shows the extent with which later writers wanted to
recuperate Philo (calling him a bishop). If serving a greater good, fraud was
deemed possible ... These apocryphal legends indicate how
close Pauline & Johannine Christianity stand to Philo of Alexandria.
This is a crucial link to understand the origin of the Christ-theology. Especially his
on the "logos", on "grace", on "human vices", on
the "circumcision of the heart" & more than one common type of
moral exhortation show how both men, except for Messianism, the battle between
light & darkness and the communal sense (to be found in the Qumrân-community),
fished in the same Gentile, Pagan pool (Chadwick, 1982). This is extraordinary
and often neglected (as if the Christ-myth emerged ex nihilo).
Later, this connection made it easy for Early Christian theology to assimilate Late Egyptian spirituality (popular Isis
& Osiris and the more initiatic Hermetism), neo-Platonism (Plotin),
Mithraism and more than one gnostic practice. Early Christianity should
therefore be pictured as a loose patchwork quilt, uniform in its centre but
increasingly diverse in its periphery.
Christianity has not been able to
integrate the contradictions between the different patterns on the quilt :
between Jerusalem & Rome, between West & East, between papacy &
imperialism, between accepted & heretical Christologies & Trinitarisms,
between Roman & other liturgies, between Reformed & Counter-Reformed,
between Tridentine rituals & Vatican II practices, et j'en passe ...
influence of Qumrân on the
most definitely part of the Library of Qumrân (4Q246). In 4Q285
the Messiah (called "offshoot of David") is killed (or kills). The Damascus
Document contains ideas about a "new convenant" (cf. the
"convenant of the Gentiles" & the conversion of Paul on his way to
Damascus). In 1Q, the
Community Rule, bread & wine are blessed when the Messiah is present
... Should it surprise us elements of this table offer can be found in the
hieroglyphs adorning the Temple of Horus of Edfu ?
When important elements of the apostolic Christ-theology are compared with strong features
of the Qumrân-ideology, surprising similarities suggest Early
Christianity assimilated (took over & changed) at least Qumrân's Messianism, onto-dualism, eschatology & spirito-communal sense (or
eucharism). This is incredible news which has been treated by the churches as
irrelevant or of no danger to their institutionalized traditions. They should
know better ...
When interpreted in the light of the difference between the historical
Jesus and the theology of Christ (focusing on the conflicts between the
sayings gospel & the narrative gospels), Early Christianity (the apostles
being Jews), in its desire to christify Jesus, also turned to the
revolutionary desert-movements of Jewish orthodoxy to construct a superstructure
(or ideology) on top of their person spiritual
experiences. This took place in a very
early stage, as shown by the introduction of the narrative figure of John the
Baptist at the Q2-level of Q and the early Letters of
Liberal critical research concludes the "kerygma" (of Paul) was the
result of a "myth-making process", a misinterpretation and falsification
of Jesus'original words (Mack, 1995). This seems too strong. Indeed, it has
become necessary to distinguish between the teachings from Jesus and the
theology about the "Christ" of his apostles (especially Paul). The
historical Jesus has apparently nothing to say about apostolic succession,
eucharism or the resurrection. But the mystical experience of Paul "on the way
of Damascus" should be respected, although it cannot be the sole backing of
Catholicism ! If so, not Jesus but Paul would be the founder of Catholicism.
More than one scholar would agree this is indeed the case.
fundamentalism is irrational
A definitive picture of
the historical Jesus cannot be discerned on the basis of the "canonical" writings.
These texts also served the purpose of organizing & leading a religious mass
movement coming into existence after Jesus had died. The sayings gospel Q
(especially Q1) together with the
of Thomas discovered in 1945 in the Library of Nag Hammadi, constitute
the first books of what could be called the Words of Jesus, an open set
of texts containing the genuine teachings from and not about Jesus.
Apparently, the Didachè, a rulebook of Jewish
Christianity, may also point to certain historical features of Early
deny this, as orthodox fundamentalists do, means to reject without good reasons the serious work of many truth-seeking
scientists. Only fundamentalists (as Laurentin, 1996)
choose this path and contribute to the "sins against truth" the
Catholic Church recently asked forgiveness for.
Freedom of expression & the Jesus-movements
(§ 4) Mark, who allegedly
preached the gospel in Alexandria, probably initiated the
narrative plot which became the framework for both the gospels of Matthew
& Luke. To incorporate martyrdom into his story, he made use of an
existing narrative pattern : the unjustly accused just (Mack, 1988), a theme
also found in Ancient Egyptian literature
(like Horus accused by Seth). His Jesus
is an awesome, powerful magical figure, a Divine miracle-worker. He is
introduced performing an exorcism, driving out demons with the Holy Spirit. His
teachings are esoteric and not meant for the public at large. Not even those who
completely adhere understand it. Only Mark's readers do. They
"receive" the secret of the Kingdom,
interpreted as an event in the future. The disciples are negative
examples not to be imitated. Only the demons really know Jesus is the
"Son of God". The last supper was nothing special. Jesus will not eat
& drink before the Kingdom is established. This picture differs from what we
read in Q or the Gospel of Thomas. It is truly apocalyptic &
magical. Its mentality is that of the spiritual enclave.
The Jesus of Matthew is programmatic, not magical. He is the flower of Jewish
wisdom. Jesus is a public figure who inspired people to seek sanctity and to be
"pure of heart". Early Christians are now portrayed as a subcultural
Luke focuses on the Holy Spirit, the link between Jesus and the apostles and he
realized the importance for the bishops to receive their authority from the
apostles who got it from Jesus (the "apostolic succession"). However,
the figure of Jesus has already moved to the background and the community of the Holy
Spirit is emphasized. This text heralds the beginning of the Catholic Church as
an institution, with political and economical power.
Although conflicts between these three so-called "synoptic gospels" occur, they follow the same
narrative plot initiated by Mark. Thematic material was poured into the mould of
the soteriologically ideal itinerary of the Christ-figure, portrayed from the
Annunciation (Matthew & Luke) to the descent of the Holy Ghost, always
centralizing the Jerusalem-drama, its Passion and Resurrection.
The Gospel of John moved beyond this itinerary & soteriology. He
gave cosmogonical, metaphysical & theological features to "Christ", not without introducing its reversal, the anti-Christ &
end of the world. His "gnostic" gospel completed (as a symbolical "omega") the
narrative, "christic", spirito-communal superstructure on top of a supposed life
of Jesus, who's sayings ("alpha") they had incorporated in their narratives of
"the good news".
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God." (Gospel of John, 1:1).
"There comes into being in the mind ; there comes into being by the tongue,
(something) as the image of Atum ! Ptah is the very great, who gives life to all
the gods and their Kas. Lo, through this mind and this tongue." (Memphis
The Jesus of John has been
called "gnostic" (and was rejected by some groups in the second
century). He focused on the cosmogonical Jesus, the "Lord of the Cosmos"
(the later "Christos Pantokratos"), who
invited his followers to seek enlightenment. This feature may
be compared with the "gnostic" historical Jesus of the
Gospel of Thomas, but
differs from the latter because the Thomas-people seem to have had no interest in the
centrist spirito-communal dimension, while John clearly had (supposedly, he
backed the Roman Pontif). Instead, John introduced a mythical Christ, a
"logos" existing before creation (cf. an earlier example of this may
again be found in Egypt, namely in the
originally a Late New Kingdom text). This "logos" was God. John
used a set of signs ("semeia") or miracles to compose his gospel.
These are explained in different ways. Sometimes they are not even understood. A
"sign" was a miracle with a meaning exceeding the purely dynamical
features of a miracle.
short summary of the canonical gospels
* Mark (Scorpio - Water) : the initiator of the
plot of the Jerusalem-drama portrays a magical
(miraculous), eschatological, elitist, misunderstood, secret, Egyptian (?) Jesus, who's
identity" is only grasped by the demons he exorcises ;
* Matthew (Taurus - Earth) : Jesus is a public figure with a practical programme,
a truly Jewish teacher of wisdom, recognized by Peter as "Christ" and founder of
the Church of Jeruzalem, composed of Jewish Christians ;
* John (Leo - Fire) : Jesus Christ is the "logos", existing before time, Lord
of the cosmos, stimulating his followers to find enlightenment, manifesting his power
through miracles, which are signs pointing to a deeper layer of meaning, revealing the
more transcendent qualities of Christ ;
* Luke (Aquarius - Air) : Jesus was a major event in human history. He made the
Spirit of God available to all, not only to the Jews. His life was obedience to
this Spirit, a golden age untainted by evil. Luke shapes a new "ethos" and
connects Jesus' life with the legendary history of Israel.
The organization of Early Christianity
(§ 5) Apostles like Peter, Paul &
John initiated many Christian communities. Every local community had its council
of elders ("presbyteroi") and bishops ("episkopoi",
overseers), assisted by deacons ("diakonoi"). Bishops were elected out
of the elders, if possible under guidance of an apostle. Next to these rather
administrative, sedentary functions, more spiritual functions existed, the
so-called work of the prophets (those who spoke the words of the Holy Spirit),
usually itinerant, and the teachers. The important work of the prophets declined
rapidly and although their authority had been very prominent in the primitive
Church, at the end of the second century quasi none were left.
Also in the Didachè,
we find rules to distinguish between authentic and "false" prophets, a
distinction implying the presence of an orthodox, centrist "code", as
well as a vast number of rejected, "heretical" prophets ...
the autarchy of the bishops united with Rome & ordination
As early as AD 96, Clement I of Rome
warned the community could not dispose
of its bishop. In one of the letters attributed to Paul, he had written to his
disciple Timothy (2 Tm 1, 6) not to forget to kindle the fire of God's
grace given to him by the imposition of Paul's hands. In the
Didachè, probably written in Syria shortly after AD 100, but covering first century
Jewish Christianity (AD 30 - 70), the verb
"cheirotonein" (or the imposition of hands) is used to define the
ordination of bishops & deacons, however without mentioning the special
"charisma", or extraordinary spiritual "seal" or permanent power of the Holy Spirit, so
important later. It was this power of the Holy Spirit which guaranteed the
proper workings of the priest, even if the latter was sinful (cf. Donatism). Indeed,
even today, an excommunicated Roman priest can no longer say Mass and his
sacramental mediations are deemed invalid, but he nevertheless remains a priest.
The seal of the Holy Spirit is permanent.
the apostolic succession
This ritual for conveying "sacramental power" was linked with the belief in a
chain of "charisma" from Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit cascading
down to the apostles unto the bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, lectors,
exorcists and doorkeepers. At the top of this imperial order throned the
"bishop of bishops", the Pope, who, as Pharaoh & the Roman Emperor before him, represented
Christ (Horus) on Earth. From the start of this empirial system, not attested in the
earliest teachings of Jesus, schisms, conflicts and power-struggles rose.
The complete set of seven orders (the correlation with the seven
days of the week and the seven planets of the Ptolemaic system is evident)
became operative in the third century, when the Churches of Rome and
Alexandria had assimilated and christened the best of the most common Pagan
rituals, philosophies and popular beliefs. Even at the time Roman Catholicism
became the state religion of the Roman empire, the local communities were still able to influence the ordination of its bishop, but he was only
rightfully ordained by the imposition of the hands of other bishops. Moreover,
if ordained, the special "power" was believed to stay with him
till death. A priest could be forbidden to do his work but his priestly
"seal" could not be taken away. A closed sacramental
hierarchy was reinvented. A century or more later, ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite
(bishop Dionysius of Alexandria ?) wrote his The
Ecclesiastical Hierarchy ...
external problem :
Who ordained Anacletus (or Cletus), the second bishop of Rome after Peter
Linus, the first bishop of Rome, was ordained by Peter who was -so biblical tradition claims- ordained by Jesus
himself (cf. the "Prima Petri"-verse). As nothing is known about who ordained
Cletus, can one exclude Linus not ordaining Cletus ? The apostolic succession
defining the core of Roman Catholicism could have ended when Linus died. Vital information
about this very important event is lacking. Why is this so ? In view of
the many stories and texts circulating at the time, this absence of information
about this fundamental event seems rather strange. Perhaps First Clement was the
first to truly realize the political power of having "the bones" in Rome ?
Perhaps he was the first to have the means to write and distribute his centrist
The urge with which First Clement
wanted to secure obedience to the "apostolic succession" is explained by
history by his being a third-generation bishop who possessed indeed nothing but the bones of
Peter & Paul to secure the power of Rome in the emerging mass movement. The
authority of Clement I was not contradicted by John (leading the Ephesians). The Church of
Rome, like its New Testament, is therefore truly and fully apostolic. Not
the Jesus of history was important, but the "Christ Jesus" of the
Catholic Church of Rome. In this figure, the original, historical
Jesus-teachings merged with the prevailing Saviour-myth, a Christ-theology
incorporating, besides Jewish themes, via Paul, John and Thomas, components of
Ancient Egyptian and Hermetical "gnostic" lore.
internal problem : What about 1 Peter, 2:4-10 ?
If this text was composed to help the Christians of Asia Minor, then clearly Peter, the
direct successor of Jesus and apostolic key-holder of the Catholic Church, envisaged a holy nation of priests, the people of God. The
succession is universal and the laity automatically ordained, for the unification (as
complete as possible) by, with & in Christ leads automatically to the reception of the
"charisma" of holy priesthood, offering spiritual gifts. This concept
is in accord with what we read about the Kingdom in Q1. No special class of people is
needed to act as channels for the Grace of God (as was the case in Paganism). Every
baptized Christian is de facto a priest and therefore fully able to lead
his or her own life "in Christ". This is the great message of
esoteric Christianity, one that would be permutated by the Christian Gnostics of
the second century. It mixes well with the "gnostic" Christ of John and Thomas. The fact an exoteric system like the
Catholic Church rose, shows the extent of people's need to have outer
leaders who claim to possess Divine authority. If even today this holds true,
how much more then in those ignorant days ?
a form of Paganism ?
The whole Pagan idea of a spiritual
hierarchy of bishops, priests, deacons, etc. was brought to a close by the
historical Jesus (cf.
the "Son of Man" affirming the coming of the Kingdom). Hence, the centrist successors of
Peter broke away from their founding Jesus-tradition. The Roman centrists wanted orthodoxy. They limited the economy of
Christian redemption and tried to channel to the few what was meant to be a sea
for all. Existing religious forms were christened and incorporated. In doing so,
Pagan rituals and theologies were adapted and taken over (the Holy Trinity is
the best example).
When he envisaged a redeemed
humanity in Christ and not the emergence of a sacramental hierarchy or a sacred
order (as had been the case in Antiquity, both Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian,
Greek and Roman), Peter, the
first Head of the Church, followed the teachings of Jesus in Q1. The
historical Jesus was not a Divine king who lived in a palace, nor a Deity to whom sacrifices
were given to gain something. He lived like the poor with
the poor. He came for the poor. He was not an emperor, nor a Pope. To witness
Benedict XVI saying Mass in his golden robes and walk in his red shoes is thus truly non-Christian !
Liberal scholarly research showed these and other texts (like 1 & 2 Timothy,
Titus) were in fact composed much later, and served as instructions of the apostles about the
status of the centrist bishops (1 Peter is dated AD 100, 2 Peter
as late as AD 150). So, they were meant to give later generations of bishops the
scriptoral authority needed to continue with the elaboration of their centrist,
catholic orthodoxy. More and more, the historical Jesus became less important
than Christ Himself, the Son of God who had Incarnated only once, but who would
return at "the end of time" ...
The rise of Roman Catholicism
(§ 6) Between AD 69 & 81, under the
Flavians Vespasian (AD 69 - 79 ) and Titus (AD 79 - 81), the persecution of
Christians stopped (emperor Nero, who killed himself in 69, had used them as
living torches during his evening festivities and blamed them for burning of
Rome, which he had done himself).
In these few years of calmness,
the leaders of the Christians organized the churches which were
spreading rapidly. The fact people could be baptized irrespective of race,
former belief or social position helped considerably to enhance the number of
adherents. Both slaves & members
of the imperial family worshipped the same God through Christ.
Soon the orthodox realized this pluriformity had
to be replaced by the uniformity of a standard (or "Christ-theology").
The many churches becoming the "one mother church" (an endeavour completed
much later) and the dramatic theology of a Messianic & cosmic Christ, who
had Incarnated only once as the historical Jesus, were the two main restricting forces at work.
This early Christ-theology had touched Jewish (Messiah), Alexandrian (Hermetism,
Philonism), Greek (Dionysus) and Roman (Mithras, Sol Invictus) Saviour myths. In
the second century, Gnostic and native Egyptian material (Osiris, Isis, Horus,
Anubis) would be added, leading to a severe orthodox counter-movement and
"purgation" of the theology. This resulted in the problems of the third century,
when the questions "Who was our Saviour ?" and "Who is our God ?" were urgently
posed and cause of the schism in the "mother" church between Roman Catholicism
and the Eastern Church.
ca. AD 67 Linus became the first bishop of Rome after Peter, followed by Anacletus
(AD 76 or 79). Nothing precise is known about either of them, but they
were both venerated as martyrs.
the rise of the Early Roman Church
The apostolic era came to a close at the end of the first century, when emperor Domitian
(AD 81 - 96) killed a Christian member of his family (Flavius Clement in
persecuted John and banished him to Patmos. At the end of the first century, Ignatius of
Antioch wrote his first four letters to the Christians of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles &
Rome. Then at Lystra, he wrote three more. In these he speaks of the presidency of the
bishops and of the ordination of priests by the latter. In his Epistle to the Romans
he salutes their church as leading the "fraternity" of the Christians.
In his De
primatu Romani Pontificis, Clement I of Rome is clear about this primateship of the
Church of Rome, which became more widely established in the Constantine Era without
ever universally accepted. In his Letter to the Corinthians (ca. AD 96), he mentions
the apostles had ordained bishops & deacons. The prophets are not
The rise of the Roman Church was facilitated by the
destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (AD 70). The Jewish revolts point to the
spirit of the time, much opposed to the Roman occupation of the "holy
land". They also elucidate the fact a lot of changes were happening in
the Jewish cultural form (cf. the end of Temple worship, the final redaction of
the Torah and the invention of the rabbinical system). In Italy, between
AD 70 and 96, the Roman centrists were able to elaborate a
spirito-administrative order (copied from imperial and Pagan sources), a ruling,
intellectual "elite" within the Catholic Church. How this came to be
has been lost to memory.
Greek churches versus Roman bones
The Greek Eastern churches thought rather
of an ellipse with two foci : Rome & Antioch or Rome & Alexandria. The bishop of Rome, who
possessed the remains of the martyred apostles, disclosed to the Greek East that
Christendom was a circle centred in Rome. This controversy becomes apparent,
explodes and turns into a schism in
the following centuries (cf. the conflicts regarding the date of Easter,
the role of the Holy Spirit, Christology & Trinitarism, etc). The
bishop of Rome did not remember the apostles went to Rome from the East,
nor that Rome had been a "harlot". He wanted more than to be called
"the patriarch of the West", for "Rome had the bones". The
bishop of Rome had to be the sole representative of God on Earth in Christ ! This
hope would be fulfilled under Constantine (both theologically -concily- as
politically -Constantinople-), who's spiritual politics is still with us
So the advent of Roman Catholicism was reinforced by the presence of the bones of Peter
& Paul (cf. Pagan talismans & amulets, the catacombes and the tomb as
altar). Later, these famous relics were placed under the altar of the main church of Rome.
Is it irony that the church of St.Paul's-without-the-Walls is left isolated &
neglected ? Nevertheless, Paul, more than Peter, should be regarded as the
founder of the Papacy (Chadwick, 1982).
Consider following sources and components of Early Christianity :
the sayings of the
founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem (Q1)
= the original component ;
in Jerusalem (or Matthew, Mark, Didachè) = the Jewish component ;
Christian Jews like
Thomas & John = the Gnostic component ;
the writings of
Paul, apostle of the Gentiles = the Gentile component.
Together with centrist
movements emerging in Roman intellectual circles between AD 70 and 100 (this
Early Roman Church had its imperial converts), these early layers remained
connected untill the death of John (ca. AD 110), closing the period of Early
Christianity. Between AD 110 - 150, we see the first counter-movements rise :
Gnosticism, Marcionism & Montanism, evidencing a plurality of possible
expressions of the Holy Spirit moving against the orthodox literalists.
(§ 7) When Marcion
(excommunicated by the Roman Church AD 144), as well as the centrist bishop Irenaeus of Lyon
(ca. AD 120 - 203), formulated their (different) list of
"holy books", they tried to finalize the process of textualizing Jesus
Christ. This process had been going on at least since about AD 50, if not earlier
(AD 30). At
the start of the second century, ten gospels and a library of manuscripts
were circulating : miracle stories, pronouncement stories, infancy gospels, hymn
books, sermons, treatises, commentaries, correspondence, martyrologies,
polemics, etc. This fact is of tremendous historical significance. It shows
Early Christianity was a complex and multi-layered reality. The postulate
there is a direct and unspoiled connection between Jesus of Nazareth who died in
Jerusalem and the centrist orthodoxy of Clement I of Rome is a fiction. The historical reality proves to be a
complex and phased development of various competing groups. This explains the
composition of various conflicting texts about Jesus Christ. Prophesy was still much
alive and no orthodoxy or central authority was in place to distinguish between
conflicting prophesies !
Compared with the
New Testament, the body of literature between AD 30 & 200 is
enormous (a collection of the sayings of Jesus from this Early Christian literature
numbers 503 items - Crossan, 1986). These texts were very often pseudonymous.
Were most of them burnt ?
The conflicts rising between the Roman Church, with its hope to monopolize
Christian "universalism" (Catholicism), and powerful so-called "heretics", triggered (unfortunately) a lot of
hiding & destruction. Again "sins against truth" at work.
Early heresies (from "haeresis", the choice) :
* first century :
As no central authority was in place, no organized attack against
"dissident" Christians or critical non-Christians could be initiated.
If we define a "Christian gnostic" as someone who adheres to a
personal, direct "inner" life with Christ in the Holy
Spirit, then Paul was the first Christian gnostic. Paul's gnosis showed him the
meaning of "Christ" as the Incarnated and Crucified "Word of
God". Thomas and John were eye-witnesses of Jesus and their record stressed
the "inner" and "vital" side of genuine Christian life, so
important to second century Gnostics. In fact, is the
of Thomas not the apostolic "nihil obstat" to Christian Gnosticism
? Whas it therefore discarded ? John, in Alexandrian fashion, elucidated
"Christ" as pre-existent and cosmic, and the scope of his evangelical
and apocalyptic perspective preluded the brontosauric ontologies of Christian
* second century :
(1) Christian Gnostic churches (Iranaeus of Lyon's Adversus haereses, written
in AD 177, was primarily written against Gnostics as Valentinus or Basilides)
emerged at the beginning of the second century and rapidly became a major treat
to the centrists. For example, some Gnostic churches allowed the "sacred
order" to rotate at every gathering of the community and this by democratic
or random rule (so the bishop celebrating yesterday's Mass could be the deacon
tomorrow). Inner illumination (esoteric Christianity) was deemed more important
than the outer activities of the church (exoteric Christianity). A varieties of
theologies and Christologies saw the light, the one more spectacular than the
other. Especially its intellectual fancies and moral relativities made Christian
Gnosticism unpopular. Hence, the centrists focused on literal, clear-cut, consistent and
dogmatic (scriptoral) solutions. However, no "canon" of "holy
script" was yet in existence ... The mystical and allegorical method of
interpreting the gospels, used by Paul and the Gnostics, was replaced by a
historical and literal approach.
(2) the church of Marcion (Early Docetism, eliminating the physical body of
Jesus Christ and making Him completely Divine) : Marcion, excommunicated by the Church of Rome in AD 144, reinterpreted
the four gospels, did not accept the writings of the apostles and claimed they
had misunderstood Jesus ...
(3) the community around Montanus, a former Pagan priest who identified himself
with the Holy Spirit shortly after being baptized, leading, together with two
prophetesses, a spiritual movement initiated in AD 156 or 172 (De Jong, 1992).
These movements all made another choice than the centrists. That is why they are
heretics. The freedom they took was, according to the centrists, in conflict
with the Will of God. The centrists claimed only those appointed by the Son of God
Himself possessed the seal of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the successor of Peter was
the sole representative of God on Earth. All others were "false"
prophets, and not allowed "to speak for Jesus Christ". In all these
discussions, conflicts and open power stuggles, one crucial factor was lacking :
a consensus regarding which body of texts had to be deemed
"universal". With the absence of a canon, no dogmatic theology could
see the light and no "Divine" decrees could be deduced, hence, no
real "legal" power exercized. We have to wait untill AD 190 to read the words "New
Testament", or the known collection of books, a manmade,
intellectual selection out of a vast literature dealing with Jesus Christ.
Moving against the very successful Gnostics, the close of the second century
gives rise to orthodoxy. Instead of the "inner" Christ of the Gnostics, the
centrists proposed the "outer" Christ of the Church. After the confusion of
doctrines of the second century, the centrists are forced to conceptualize their
major dogmata : Who is Christ ? Who is God ? For more than a century the debate
would last, and both Latin and Greek specialists of orthodoxy could not reach a
consensus catholicus. In the course of this century, a series of
radically non-orthodox views emerged which made the universal church an ideal
never to be realized ...
* third century :
(4) Sabellius (ca. AD 220) saw the Persons of the Trinity as three modi of
one, unpersonal, Divine essence (i.e. "modalism"). In the West this
view was called "Patripassianism" (the doctrine the Father suffered).
This "modalistic monarchianism"
is associated with
"subordinationism", which considers Christ to be the subordinate of the
Father (in will, essence or number). Tertullian (following Irenaeus) saw the
threeness of Father, Son and Spirit as a plurality revealed
in the economy of the Divine plan working out in history. It was Theophilus
of Antioch who was first to use the term "Triad" in relation to God
(Trinitarian theologies go back to Ancient Egypt, Hermetism and Alexandrian neo-Platonism) ;
(5) For Origen (AD 185 - 254) the Fall was pre-material, creation eternal
& hell possibly only temporal (cf. his "apokatastasis", the
redemption of the demons). Origin explained Father & Son are one in
power & will but are nevertheless two distinct realities, differing in
"hypostasis". The Son is in some sense subordinate to the Father, a
lower level of being (distinct as archetype and flawless image) ;
The issues turn around the nature of the
founder. Great differences are present, even within the body of the orthodox !
These divisions between the Western (Latin) and the Eastern (Greek) model will
never be reconciled.
It becomes clear the centrist & intellectual approach of the message of the
founder of Christianity leads to incommensurable (axiomatic) differences to be
harmonized "de manu militari", i.e. by the Roman emperor !
Jesus Christ is deemed to have had two natures, namely that of the incarnated
Word of God, perfect in His humanity and perfect in His Divinity (cf. Cyril of
Alexandria and the Coptic "miaphysis"). This is the Christological issue. Another adjacent
problem is posed by Christ's Divine
status. If Christ is God, then He can be in no way "inferior" to the Father or
subordinated to Him. This reasoning runs against the emanational logic of the
Greeks. This is the Trinitarian issue.
* fourth century :
(6) Cyprian of Carthage (in the last part of the third century) initiated a
sacramental theology which (in the first half of the fourth century) lead to the
Donatist schism (Donatus was the successor of Majorinus of Carthage). Cyprian
had asked : "For how can he who lacks the Spirit confer the Spirit's gifts
?" Donatus argued that the validity of the sacrament depends on the proper
standing of the minister, i.e. the sacraments are valid "ex opere
operantis". This was also the position of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite
(Bishop Dionysius the Great of Alexandria ?).
Pope Stephen upheld against Cyprian (AD 256) the view the sacraments
belong to God and are therefore valid on the ground of the action done, i.e.
"ex opere operato". Later Augustine would add, that all what is
required of the priest to perform a valid sacrament, is the awareness that in his sacramental action
it is the
whole church which is acting ! Donatists refused to accept bishops
consecrated by those administering this order in a state of mortal sin. Rome did
not. This conflict created a lot of difficulties within the system of these
(7) Arius (ca. AD 318) -in a subordinationistic style- understood Jesus as the
Father's highest creation, the unique Son of God. So the incarnate Son is not identical with the
transcendent cause of creation, and hence redemption is given by the Father
through Christ and not by Jesus Christ. The Son who was tempted, who suffered & who died,
is not equal
to or of the same substance of the immutable Father beyond pain & death. If Jesus is other that the
Father, He is the Second Best. Christ as the unique "bearer of God".
According to its opponents, especially bishop Athanasius, Arius' teaching
reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since worship of the Son
was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since
only He who was truly God and human could be deemed to have reconciled man to God, for
the Father was unable to redeem. Arius accused his bishop of Sabellianism, and
throughout the Arian controversy, this charge was levelled at the supporters of Nicene orthodoxy
(those who accepted the doctrine of the Trinity as set forth in the Nicene
Creed), whose emphasis on the unity of substance of Father and Son was interpreted by Arians to mean
the Latin orthodox denied any personal distinctions within God.
"La Divinité n'est pas partagée par les Personnes ni entre
elles. Chaque Personne est Dieu. Ce qui est inconcevable et terminologiquement
inexprimable quand on pose simultanément, comme il se doit, un et trois, sinon à l'aide
d'affirmations juxtaposées et formellement contradictoires."
Andronikof, C. : Le sens de la liturgie, Cerf - Paris, 1988, p.225.
The so-called "radical" Arians were inspired by Aetius (4th century),
a Syrian priest trained in Greek logic, who, during the theological
controversies concerning the "Catholic" view on the Trinity, founded
the Arian sect of the Anomoeans (from Greek "anomoios", "unlike"). The
Arian doctrine carried to its logical conclusion must mean God and Christ
could not be alike (Father & Son are not the same). Because "agennesia" (or
: "self-existence") is a part of the essence of God, Christ could not be like
God because he lacked this necessary quality. Divine impassability could only be
consistently (rationally) maintained, if one asserted the Son was
ontologically distinct from the Father. All derived being is substantially
dissimilar from the underived, impassable First Cause. A contemporary Syrian
theologian, Epiphanius, records Aetius expounded his doctrine in 300
close-knit syllogisms, 47 of which still exist.
Arianism created the most fundamental split between Eastern & Western
Christianity. During 357 AD, the see of Antioch
fell into the hands of the Arian Eudoxius. His approach was also influenced by
the logician Aetius. The Son is ontologically unlike ("anomios") the Father. This
dissimilarian position was opposed to the view Father & Son are
essentially (in substance) identical ("homoousios" - the Nicæan formula of the church
of the Latin West). However, most Greek bishops shared the idea the Son is
"like" the Father ("homoiousios") as a
perfect image resembles its archetype (the formula of the Eastern
Arianism did not go so far as to say Jesus Christ is God and undermined the
salvic power of Christ. Donatism affected Christian sacraments and the value of
* fifth century :
(8) Diodore of Tharse (died AD 394), Théodore of Mopsueste & Nestorius
(ca. AD 428), who -in order to stress the redemptoric power of Jesus-
emphasized Jesus' humanity, argued against Mary's title as "Mother of God" and
said God the Word did not suffer and die on the cross, while Jesus the man did ;
(9) Eutyches (AD 448), a monk condemned for stressing the Divinity of Christ,
taught the humanity of Christ was not made of the same substance as that of
other men. Because of the presence of the Divine
in Jesus the Christ, His flesh was not like that of ordinary humans. The Romans
considered His flesh as perfect but just like ours. According to the monophysite
theory, Jesus Christ has only one nature, not two.
The question of heresy is further studied
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of
Man has nowhere to lay his head.
counter-movements countered by dogma
These heresies (or choices unacceptable
to the orthodox Christian centrists) and the rapid rise of counter-churches, had as a direct result that
"regular" bishops deliberated together
(the so-called "synod" or "concilium") and constituted a
dogma (the first synods were as early as AD 197, 256 & 314). Episcopalism
was born. This episcopalism would be the political tool used to realize the
"universal" church. The first "holy" synod, held under
the aegis of emperor Constantine in AD 325 (Nicænum), initiated a deposit of faith, a magister and a "sacred" tradition to
be kept by the papal court. Curialism was born.
Pope Gregorius the Great
compared the first four "ancient synods" with the four gospels. The
narrative "canon" had established the foundation of the
Christ-itinerary (His life & teachings). The ancient synods (Nicænum,
Constantinople, Ephesis, Chalcedon) established the episcopal exegesis of the
canon and the organization of the episcopate by the Roman curia. It founded a
sense of spiritual tradition which would become more important than the words of
its founder (cf. the "deposit of faith").
It is this split between "accumulated traditions" and the
"original teaching" (identified with the New Testalent) which
-13 centuries later- triggered the reformation and
adherence to scripture & faith alone (cf. "sola fidei, sola
scriptura"). Protestants read the New Testament and concluded
the practices of the Roman Church were in contradiction with the
spirit of Christ. What happens when Catholic Christianity and testamental
Protestantism are confronted with
the original teachings of Jesus ?
The aim of both episcopalism & curialism is administrative, not
spiritual (in a way their methods were not unlike the organization of
power by the Amun priest of Thebes during the late New Kingdom, Pharaoh
being replaced by the Pope). Only those inspired by the Holy Spirit
(the prophets) were "regular" in a mystical, genuine spiritual sense. The substitution
of this inspiration by a dogmatic theology is nothing more than the construction
of a new spirito-imperial system of authority, i.e. a "Christian" Temple-complex
or a "new" Sanhedrin based on human political inventivity but
not on the ungoing Divine Revelations of the Holy Spirit.
This lack of true
spirituality is exactely what Jesus came to do away with. As soon as the centrist
administrators had filled their cups, i.e. contemplated the finite nature of their
"depositum fidei" (its manmade qualities), the period of the
prophets was declared to be "closed".
the "sanctification" of dogma by a Roman "holy" spirit
The conclusions (or "canons")
of these synodal meetings were considered to
be the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, for these bishops claimed an
"apostolic succession" and so they considered the source of their
inspirations & discourses to be a priori identical with those of
the apostles, who were considered to be the only relevant male members of the
original movements around Jesus (cf. the apostolic synod of Jerusalem narrated by
Luke in Acts 15:6-29). What about Mary ? What about Maria Magdalen ? How
can only half of humanity be enough to claim catholicism, i.e. universality ?
Did Jesus teach these ideas ? He did not.
That the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Unity did not
do away with the many disputes, unresolved issues and common, vulgar
political & geosentimental conflicts of power of these bishops in Christ.
Should it not have been clear, at least to the intelligent among them, that
as long as iniquities between bishops existed, catholicism was a no-run ? And if
they reduced the work of the Holy Spirit to this vulgar play called
"majority ruling", then how not be fraudulent towards the Holy Spirit Himself ? Neither did the fact
no real theology of the Holy Spirit was ever developed hinder such episcopal
claims of unity. In matters of faith, the synodical conclusions had the pretence
to seal their conclusions with the Spirit of Christ Himself ! The glorious formula
of auto-sanctification was :
"It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, ..." (Acts,
15:28). How does this Holy Spirit work ? Through strife, conflicts, vulgar
disputes, enforced canons and the like ? Not very likely ...
The authority of the synods, the curia & the Pope were enough to -if
necessary- physically eliminate the opponents of the rule or standard
imposed by episcopal consensus (by majority rule). This becomes possible
after AD 382, when the Roman Church was given to the Empire (and the
Empire to the Church) and the so-called "catholic" strategy could be
enforced "de manu militari" ...
Christology, Trinitarism & Catholicism imposed "de manu militari"
(§ 8) As will be shown
the text of the Words of Jesus is unique insofar as the
accessibility of Divinity is concerned. The idea of a holy community of priests
offering spiritual gifts -conjectured by Peter- comes near to this. In fact, as
far as science knows, Jesus did not use the word "priest". In the
Gospel of Thomas,
he damns the Pharisees.
receive the Kingdom from Jesus
The idea of a priesthood can only be eradicated if the Kingdom is
approached as an interior station
of Divine grace, i.e. the actualization of the spirito-natural right of every human
being to experience the Divine Christ within & exist in communion with the Divine. According to
more is needed to receive this than to fully accept Jesus as the Son of Man.
initiated an organization about & around a person he had only met "in the
spirit". Jewish, neo-Platonic & Pagan theories about "sacramental
grace" influenced the formation of the Early Christ-theology. Is the "apostolic
succession" a theological invention of learned males in power, apostolic fathers who
-not unlike the Temple class Jesus came to abolish- decided dogmatically in favour of a
sacramental hierarchy of bishops, priests & deacons (plus minor orders) ?
This is probably the case.
the systematic destruction of Christians & their communities
In AD 302, the "divine" Diocletianus excommunicated the Christians. Also
Decius (AD 249 - 251) & Valerianus (AD 257 - 258) before him had organized important
persecutions, although authorities had been more tolerant in the last part of the third
century. Valerianus had only tried to destroy bishops leading local Christian communities.
Their administrative power was considerable and mistrusted by Romans confronted
with a failing imperial system. In Diocletianus'
time, only those possessing a "libellus" had fulfilled their offer to the
emperor-god (a kind of Roman Pharaoh). These Early Christians refused to use incense (burned to worship the
emperor). When things cooled down, many "libellatici" asked for reintegration.
Diocletianus' decrees forced the Christian clergy to worship the emperor and
proclaim the latter's divine status. Christian
churches were closed & their "holy books" destroyed.
the stroke of genius of Constantine ?
After Diocletianus and thanks to the
genius of Constantine the Great (ca. 274 - 337), a new balance between ecclesiastical (papal)
& imperial (administrative & military) prerogatives was achieved. Only
10% of the population adhered to this new and persecuted faith, but Christians
were strongly represented in the administrative class. Even the mother of the
emperor, empress Helen, was a fervent Christian. Constantine had to redefine the
role played by the emperor, for a return of the cult of the emperor-god à la Diocletianus
was unlikely to succeed in this sophisticated & multi-cultural Roman Empire
heading, in the West, towards its final decline.
He identified Christianity and its "sacred order" with the
"divine order" which he as emperor had to install & maintain on
Earth. In this way the difference between the worldly power (emperor) and the
spiritual power (Pope) was established and became functionally united. Constantine remained loyal to his pagan Sol Invictus until
moments before his death, when he -as was the custom with those who had to kill-
was baptized (and thus absolved in Christ !).
By legitimizing the centralized & uniform Church of Rome, he
would sanctify the
imperial order and so become the co-founder of an imperial Roman monolith.
In less than two centuries after his death, this led to the long and
continuous struggles between, on the one hand, the Papacy and, on the other hand, imperial, royal or civil
authorities. Nevertheless, Constantine initiated the civil power of the Catholic
Church of Rome. It would not take long before the Pagan imperial claims were
transferred to the successor of Peter himself. The Pope as unique worldly &
spiritual ruler of Christian humanity (theocracy) ... As expected, these
megalomaniac intentions have not been universally realized.
Jesus Christ (part of the"celestial" order) had to be
related to this emperor of the empire of peace on Earth, Constantine ! At that time many
bishops disagreed about the nature of their founder. So, in 325 AD, Constantine called a
small fraction of them together and manipulated the synod to adopt the idea that
Jesus is truly God. This "great" synod was clearly not legitimate
(the Holy Spirit is not known to bless evil manipulations, neither was a
majority of Christian bishops present at the time). But, Constantine's plan
worked out very well and saved his imperial order (the Roman Church is the last
imperial, absolute order). But it caused schisms which still have not been
bridged, and probably never will ...
the foundational synod : the Nicæan
The synod of ca. 220 bishops
(only a small fraction of the total episcopate) gathered by Constantine in Nicæ
in AD 325 had, in order to legitimize the imperial order, to canonize dogma's
pertaining to the nature of the founder of
Christianity. Regarding this a lot of conflicts had arisen between the Roman
position and the bishops of the East. Can we doubt that from the start
Constantine wanted do identify this founder with God ? The emperor -not being
God- would become the "divine" guardian of God's empire on Earth and
so become a kind of third God. As
long as conflicting views about this founder existed, Constantine could not
safeguard the "divine truth" which would give meaning &
justification to his imperial order, and that was precisely what this great strategist
"Credimus in unum Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Dei, natum ex Patre unigenitum,
hoc est de substantia Patris, Deum ex Deo, lumen ex lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, natum,
non factum, unius substantiae cum Padre ..."
19th of June AD 325 - my italics
the worship of the imperial Jesus Christ
Constantine the Great initiated the "Constantine Era" which later -in its
Byzantine version till AD 1453- identified the emperor with Christ Himself and the four
gospels with its constitution (which allowed every citizen to become emperor). This
Christ-Emperor (or "Christos Basileus") was head of the spiritual & the
mundane order, fully integrated in the liturgy praising the Celestial Christ. Very
quickly, imperial code-of-conducts were transposed into the Roman liturgy (incense,
processions, vestments, etc.) and both emperors & kings were anointed by the
Pope & his bishops with chrism during their coronations. Paganism was reborn as
towards a Roman Christology
The centrist theologians knew that as long as different Christ-theologies
existed, Catholicism was incomplete and nobody could clearly identify with (nor command)
consensual view on Christ (Christology & Trinitarism). It must be added that such a
"consensus catholicus" has never been reached, for some Eastern churches
remained "monophysite". Are schisms & conflicts not the faithful companions of
too much centralism & authoritarism ?
Christology studied (a) Jesus Christ's "rapport" with His Father and (b) His two natures. For those early theologians, the question was : Was
Christ "created" ("factum") or "generated"
("natum") ? If created, Christ is the subordinate of the Father and therefore
not God as He is. The substance of "1" (unity) differs from the substance of
"2" (duality). If generated, Christ, born out of the Father, was, is and will
always be part of the Father and so in the same way "God" as He is.
Jesus Christ is one Divine person with two
distinct, perfect natures
When concentrating on the Person of Christ, parties disagreed about the proper balance
between Christ's humanity and His Divinity. Too much humanity could loosen the ontological
bond with the Father (whether as "God" -like the Father- or as First Creation
next to Him). Too much Divinity could endanger universal redemption in the name of the
Godman Christ. Deny His humanity and our bond with Him as Son of Man is gone. Deny
His Divinity and Christ can not save us anymore, but only the Father can. In the
Latin West, the formula : "One Divine Person with two natures (human
& Divine)", became the ruling formula promulgated by Constantine's
God is one essence and three
Trinitarism was another area of
difficulty. Tritheism (Father, Son & Holy Ghost as three independent Gods)
& modalism (One God with three Divine modi) had to be refuted. The canons reached at during the ancient
synods had to solve the spirito-political tensions between the bishops and to
allow the imperial order to identify with an evangelical "divine"
order. Jesus Christ, the Son, was "generated" not "created",
born out of the Father and consubstantial ("homoousios") with Him. The
Holy Spirit came from the Father and the Son. Compromizes such as
"analogous in all with the Father" or "resembling the Father in
being" ("homoiousios") were rejected. The Trinitarian formula
became : "one essence and three Divine Persons". This Nicæan formula became the leading dogma of the Roman Church.
from dogma to "holy" canon, to excommunication, to imposed fundamentalism
The 27 books of the New Testament (a name invented
ca. 190 AD) were accepted by
the majority of the Roman Church as late as 382 AD (Concilium Romanum). In 367 AD, bishop
Athanasius had been the first to mention these 27 books. However, many references to
non-canonical Jewish literature occur (ca. 400 according to McDonald, 1989).
From 382 AD,
the only true "holy scriptures" were those defined by the universal, Catholic
Church centred in Rome.
The Holy Spirit had become a full-blown Roman citizen, preferably male.
& priests dressed up for Mass in the outfit of the upper Roman classes. The edict of the
emperor of the West, Gratianus, and his co-emperor Theodosius (dated 27th of February
AD 380) forced every Roman to believe in the Holy Trinity as defined by the bishops of
Rome & Alexandria. This outlawed heathenism. In AD 391, the temple of
Alexandria was set on fire, destroying its important library. In AD 392, nobody was
allowed to perform a heathen ritual at home. The synagogue of Israel was compared to a
brothel ... Pagan libraries were destroyed and many non-Christian
The Nag Hammadi Library was buried around AD 400, most probably as a result of the Easter
letter of AD 367 of archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria, condemning heretics and their
"apocryphal books to which they attribute antiquity and give the name of
saints". He made a list of heretical authors. The Gospel of Thomas was also
on the list of the rejected texts, and this was the work of an eye-witness of
the rise of conflicts "intra muros"
The ideological formation of Roman Catholicism
was so dogmatic & orthodox that heresies (or counter-ideologies) rapidly
emerged. They were counter-acted by new dogma's accepted by "consensus
catholicus" by the Pope and his bishops. These had to reinforce the outer walls of
the monolithical system of dogmatic theology about Christ Jesus. These conflicts were clearly extra
muros, i.e. on the "outside" of the Papacy & the Church of Rome.
early as the fourth century, a revolutionary movement develops from the inside.
Origen's 26th homily on Numbers 26:10 already differentiates between the "army
of Christ" (fighting Satan hand to hand) and "camp followers", who support
the combat but do little or no fighting. After Constantine's revolution this became the
blueprint for the difference between mystic ascetics (the rural, itinerant Christian monk) and
world-affirming ethics (the urban, sedentary Roman priest).
from hermits to cenobites
In the fourth century, a small group of Egyptian Christians renounced
the world, its churches (civil communities) & institutions (Papacy &
deserts & rocks became a metaphor for withdrawal. The desert oasis being suggestive of the
"living waters" of spiritual nourishment amid the hard world of Satan,
the "prince of this world". Indeed, in the South of the Roman
empire, some middle class Egyptians wanted to live "evangelical", i.e.
a life of poverty & purity. Not unlike the
former Essenes, they withdrew from society and lived alone in the desert
Between the world and themselves an invisible wall was erected, i.e.
an inner state of nakedness, tranquility & lasting peace.
One may argue these hermits
wanted to return to the simplicity of the Jesus-people. These
"Desert Fathers" wrote very little and their style was not narrative. Their sayings
synthetical and focused on the interior, esoteric, mystical side of Christianity
(cf. "metanoia" leading to "theosis"). These hermits lived their lives in genuine spiritual
nakedness & outer poverty. They discovered the Kingdom of Elohim and spoke like Jesus,
leaving us spiritual sayings and metaphors.
In a second phase, these Christian desert hermits formed small groups around a spiritually more advanced person.
Loneliness & lack of grace triggered teacher/disciple relationships. So eventually, the
original hermits became cenobites. This implied a social organization,
i.e. a rule of common practice helping evangelical poverty & purity to become real
within the group.
the monk (cenobitic monasticism) is not a hermit
It was the Egyptian Pachomius (Anba Bakhum, AD 290 - 346), the traditional "first monk", who made the original
invisible wall of the hermit visible. When he became a Christian, little groups of
existed. They were living near one another or together. By the scale of his operations, he
differentiated from all his predecessors and can be seen as the founder of
Western Christian monasticism. He was first to make the enclosure wall of the
monastery, not in the least as a result of his Pagan upbringing (familiarizing him
with the Ancient Egyptian temples which most of the time have a walled "temenos").
He gave his brothers, as early as ca. AD 320, a written rule for spirito-communal
evangelical, Christian life ("kionos bios" or communal life). Because of
Pachomius, the word "monk" is -ironically- not associated with a hermit
withdrawn in isolation -as suggested by the words of Jesus-, but with a Christian
community ultimately dependent on one man (the superior), enclosed by a wall provided
with gates and door-keepers to control ingress & egress ... Again an administrative
move away from the "hard" spiritual discipline of the mystical life of
the hermit. Indeed, as soon as a spiritual movement gains more supporters, a
codification and organization becomes necessary. It is this superstructure
which is responsible for the fossilization of the original spiritual sources.
the monastic movement integrated
in the Church
At first, the authorities in Rome were unwilling to accept the monastic movement
and its spiritual organization, spreading
out from Egypt to Italy, Germany, France & Ireland (were the monastic idea
crossed the channel in the 9th century, to directly influence the spirituality
of Champagne and two centuries later, the vast Cistercian movement). Fear of
heresy and the rise of more counter-churches triggered this early unwillingness
of the urban centrists to accept monasticism. When these movements came
under episcopal power and accepted to be organized according to a strict
orthodox rule, their attitude changed. The rule of Basil the Great (ca. AD 330 - ca. 379) accentuated spirito-communal life
-as described in Acts- even more, and facilitated the integration of the
monastic movement by the Roman Church.
philosophical & mystical features of the early cenobitic movements were
slowly reshaped by (Roman) theologians, leading -with the help of
"sacred" emperors & kings- to the monastic formalism of Cluny (10th
A strong revival of Christian mystical spirituality occurred in the 12th
& 13th century (Cîtaux & the
Cistercian movement). However, this
renewed emphasis on a personalized spirituality was also incorporated in
(recuperated by) the exoteric liturgy (cf. the elevation of the Host enabling popular, visual
Indeed, the mystics had to be orthodox. Experiences touching pantheism or
stressing deification (ontological unity with God) were heretical. A century
after it had been written, the Magnum Opus of Ruusbroec
was deemed heretical and burned.
Alternative mystic formations (like the Cathars & the Beguines) were usually
excommunicated, executed and/or annihilated. The possibility of a "personal revelation" through the
fusion of one's soul with the inspiring Holy Spirit was not explicitly made part of popular
teaching, although it remained present in the final chapters of every learned
books on mystical theology.
Some historical landmarks
(§ 9) Selection of suggestive historical
150 BC : first Qumrân-text, disproving the "originality" of Early
Christian Messianism (the theme of the expected "teacher of
righteousness"), eschatologism (the Messiah, the "end of time",
the battle between light and darkness) & eucharism (wine and bread being
consecrated as vehicles of thanksgiving in the presence of the Messiah) ;
7 BC (?) : birth of Jesus - astronomer Hughes (1979) conjectures that the
"star" mentioned in Matthew 3:7 is the extremely rare
acronychal rising of the conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn in Pisces,
precisely happening in Bethlehem on the 15th of September -6 BC at 15:47:30 UT,
when both planets rose at the same moment while the Sun was setting - this was a
very unlikely event which capable astrologers of Antiquity surely would have
predicted. The coming of a world saviour was part of mainstream culture at the
time (Bernal, 1987). The suggestion being the birth of a King (Jupiter) of Israël
(Saturn), initiating a "new" era (the Piscean age, associated with the
planet Jupiter & wisdom - cf. the narrative regarding the three wise men from the
East) - recently, other dates have been suggested based on the conjunction of
Venus & Jupiter ;
27 AD : Jesus starts preaching (according to the synoptics) ;
ca. 30 : in his De migratione Abrahae, Philo of Alexandria develops his
idea of the "logos" as the "second God". This implies that the
theory of the "logos", so important in the centrist, orthodox
view, and later in Trinitarism, is not originally "Christian", but part
of the heritage of the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria. It can also be found in
30 : crucifixion (according to the synoptics) ;
34 - 36 : Saul's conversion on the way to Damascus, becoming Paul, the apostle
of the Gentiles ;
36 : Stephanus preaches at Antioch ;
49 : Paul meets the "pillars apostles" in Jerusalem after which he
started his announcement ;
49 : date given by Seutonius for the expulsion of the Jews of Rome (a certain
"Chrestos" is mentioned) ;
after 49 : Paul starts his three principal missionary journeys ;
ca. 50 : Q1 written down
ca. 50 : Miracle-stories
ca. 50 - 60 : Paul writes his Letter (1 Thessalonians is the oldest) ;
61/62 : the date of the execution of "the brother of Jesus, the so-called
Christ, James was his name" mentioned in Joseph ben Mathias (AD 37 - 100) or
Flavius Josephus' Antiquities
(XX.200) written ca. AD 93 (the other reference -XVIII.63f- in this book, the
so-called "Testimonium Flavianum" was very probably added in the
third century, when a revisionist movement initiated) ;
64 : emperor Nero initiates the persecution of the Christians after the July
burning of Rome ;
ca. 65 : Q2 is added to Q1
67 : death of Peter & Paul, Linus bishop of Rome ;
68 : destruction of Qumrân and latest text ;
69 : Flavian emperors leave Christians in peace ;
70, 29th of August : the Temple of Jerusalem destroyed by fire ;
70 : Jews distance themselves from the Christians ;
70 : Pronouncement-stories ;
ca. 75 : Anacletus second bishop of Rome ;
between 75 & 80 : redaction of Mark (dated by Catholicism : 64) ;
ca. 75 - 100 : Thomas-people & the earliest redaction of the
Gospel of Thomas
ca. 80 : Q3 added to Q1 & Q2, completing Q ;
between 85 & 90 : redaction of Matthew (dated by Catholicism : 80)
95 : Clement I of Rome tries to establish the authority of the bishop of Rome ;
95 : the Christian Flavius Clement executed by Domitian ;
96 : generalized persecutions (in Rome & Asia Minor) of Christians restarted
100 : Didachè : the earliest treatise on catechism & liturgy
written for the leaders of Jewish Christians ;
100 : Ignatius of Antioch writes about the Roman Catholic Church ;
95 - 110 : John : gospel, letters & revelations ;
between 110 & 130 : redaction of Luke & Acts (dated by
Catholicism : 85) ;
between 110 & 120 : Seutonius writes that "Penalties were imposed on
the Christians, a kind of men (holding) a new superstition (that involved the
practice) of magic." ;
117/119 : Tacitus writes about "this superstitious sect" ;
132/135 : Jewish revolt under Simon Bar Kochba - Hadrianus renames the rebuilt
Jerusalem "Aelia Capitolina" and does not allow the Jews to return
removed from Jerusalem and possibly destroyed ;
ca. 130 : Papias of Hieropolis (Asia Minor) introduces Mark as the author of the
first gospel, and defines him as the commentator of Peter ;
140 : Papias composes five books (now lost) On the Interpretation of the Logia of the
144 : Marcion excommunicated by the Roman community - Marcion proposed the
distinction between texts that have authority and those that are spurious (the
first are part of the "canon", the exclusive inspired revelation of
God's Word) ;
150 : zenith of the Christian Alexandro-Roman Gnosticism of Basilides &
Valentinus, who introduce a completely different complex system of hierarchies
and realities based on various Pagan myths and a special kind of individual spiritual
insight or intuitive knowledge, called "gnosis" ;
after 151 : Justin Martyr writes his First Apology, addressed to emperor
between 156 & 172 : expansion of Montanism (from Asia Minor to North Africa)
162-8 : Justin Martyr executed in Rome ;
177 : Iranaeus of Lyon directs his Adversus haereses primarily against the Gnostics. He uses the canonical gospels to defend his position. He
distinguishes between the "old" and the "new" testament. He
is the first Christian theologian (blending the apologetic focus on the
teachings of Jesus with the Paulinian view on the redemptoric power of Christ's
Passion & Resurrection and the primacy of the bishops and the bishop of Rome
as suggested by Clement I). But, he suggests Jesus did not die on the cross but
survived his ordeal ! The same notion is found in the Koran ...
Some thematical landmarks
(§ 10) Selection of themes :
20 - 30 : early movements & communities around Jesus ;
30 - 50 : the rise of Jewish Christianity (church of Jeruzalem) ;
30 - end first century : very inspired, independent figures who had known Jesus
or who experienced Christ in the Holy Spirit, such as Paul (which his notion of
existing "in" Christ, who died AD 67), Thomas (with a blend of wisdom
sayings and gnostic insights, textualized between ca. AD 75 and 100), John (with
a cosmic & apocalyptic Christ) and probably many more ;
50 - 60 : earliest textualizations of the teachings of these early movements & communities around
Jesus : the Words of Jesus (Q1) & the Miracle-stories
ca. 50 : initiation of Paulinism or Gentile texts about Christ
("evangelium de Christo"), the start of a "narrative", with salvic (Passion &
Resurrection) & eucharistic (spirito-communal) elements present ;
67 : the rise of the Early Roman Church was facilitated by the end of
persecutions (Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor as a god) ;
96 : generalized persecution of Christians restarted ;
70 - 100 : the destruction of the Temple of Jeruzalem allowed the Roman
centrists to position themselves as the sole guardians of the
"universal" Church of God in Christ Jesus, a process which took three
75 : completion of Q ;
75 - 100 : Thomas-people & the redaction of the
Gospel of Thomas
80 - 100 : the redaction of the
handbook of Jewish Christianity, became important after the destruction of the
Temple of Jerusalem ;
ca. 90 - 99 : Clement I of Rome defines the "apostolic succession" and
the primacy of Rome ;
67 - 100 : initiation of the theory on episcopal "charismatic" power ;
70 - 110 : redaction of the canonical gospels ;
110 - 150 : rise of first counter-movements : the Gnosticism, Marcionism &
Montanism, showing the plurality of possible expressions of the Holy Spirit and
moving against the centrists by not accepting certain of their texts (Marcion
did only accept 10 Letters
of Paul -his Apostolicon- and the Gospel of Luke) ;
150 - 200 : composition of a collection of Christian books, called (in AD 190) the New
Testament and introduced as a "canon" to be distinguished from
the many other Christian books available at the time ...
ca. 200 : the start of the literary criticism of the texts (Serapion of Antioch
forbids the liturgical use of the Gospel of Peter) and completion of the
canon (general acceptance had to wait till AD 367).
Towards a description of Christianity ?
(§ 11) It is not easy to define
"Christianity". Roman Catholicism, Eastern Catholicism, various shades
of Protestantism and Anglicanism are its major "official" Churches.
But today (as in the past) many smaller organized churches, communities, groups,
lodges or sects exist, all of "Christian denomination" or part of a
larger group (recently, an important member of "Opus Dei" became
cardinal, i.e. Pope-elect). They all confess
to adhere at least to "Jesus Christ" and most of them to a "sacred
text" and usually the New Testament is accepted as "the word
of God". For others, "Christ", as the Word of God, was before Jesus.
views on Jesus
What to think of some of the recent views on the historical Words of Jesus
Jesus was not a cynic (Mack, 1993). His teachings are not cynical, for this Greek
philosophy lacks a positive, constructive emphasis on the Divine Father. Cynics
do not bless with peace. They heal not. When a Stoic maxim about kingship is compared with
the Kingdom of Elohim, and the original Hebrew context, i.e. the pragmatics of
"Malkuth" -the 10th Sephira- is disregarded, an unrealistic interpretation of
the historical Jesus should be not too far away ... In the Old Testament the
word "kingdom" is indeed often used to indicate a sovereign nation, a
social entity. But, the mystical connotations (Exodus, 19:6 & Psalm
22:29) also endure. The Kingdom is of Elohim, the Father. It is a Divine order already
realized, but we refuse it (cf. the parable of the banquet). But the Father
Himself is not a Elohim, for He does not belong to creation but transcends it.
That Jesus was poignantly aware of the Hellenized Judaism of his time can not be denied.
His humour & revolutionary spirit are also clear-cut. But to call him a cynic in the
tradition of those itinerant seekers of the Greek "wisdom of philosophy"
is incompatible with the free study of the historical Jesus.
Although I respect and selectively endorse the findings of Mack regarding the history of Q,
the invention of the "centrist" myth of Christ & his translation of Q,
I can not support his conclusion that Jesus was a philosopher and certainly not that
should be classified amongst the cynics.
"The match between the Cynics and the Q people is not exact, however, mainly
because the Cynics had no interest in emphasizing the divine aspect of either the natural
order or the rule they represented. The people of Q, on the other hand, did emphasize that
the rule they represented was the rule of God."
Mack, B.L. : The Lost Gospel, Element - Dorset, 1994, p.127.
Jesus was not a Buddhist (Gruber & Kersten, 1996). The insistence with which Q1
tries to relate the Kingdom of Elohim ("Malkuth", the 10th Sephira) with the
Father (beyond "Kether", the 1th Sephira) is ample proof that the intended
"eschaton" is the Deification of all of creation by adhering to the
Father. Buddhism accepts the presence of Divine Beings,
but it does not give them any substantiality (cf. the "Great Heresy" in
Mahâyâna). Hence, to them, the notion the Transcendent is fully realized in the
Immanent has no meaning. The Middle of the Lotus of Buddhism (realize how all is
unsubstantial) and the Heart of the historical Jesus (realize the Kingdom of Elohim)
produce incompatible theologies.
Jesus is not a Gnostic. Besides the Father no other "superior" is suggested.
Moreover, the Creator, our Father, is good. No intricate hierarchy is introduced. In fact,
in Q1 there is no trace of the bi-polarity of the Divine (for Jesus stresses the
realization of the Kingdom). Nevertheless, "gnosis" can be isolated and is
backed by history (cf. The Gospel of Thomas). Although Jesus was not a
Gnostic, part of his teachings were.
Hence, Q1 reveals what had to be expected : the historical man was
at least an extremely learned, witty, itinerant, mystical and social Israelite who spoke
as a teacher, understanding the simple, naked essence of the Old Testament and who
prophetically dared to challenge the ways of those who tried to dominate the spirits of
the common folk. He rebuked the holiness of the Torah but knew its qabalah
perfectly and told people to look for the realized Kingdom themselves by looking into
their hearts and answering the Father by realizing His Kingdom. Moreover, he spoke of
himself as the Son of Man, initiating the path of
humility, poverty & sacrifice in the service of the Father & His Kingdom, bringer
of peace & healing.
Surely a lot of Jewish teachers could be called "philosophers". But, in Q1 no
Platonic, Aristotelian, Cynic or Stoic themes are consistently heard. Hence,
this "wisdom" is not Greek. Although the actual
contacts between Greeks and Semites go back to Minoan and Mycenaean times (cf. certain
terms in Homer and other early Greek authors), nothing is known about this in early
writing. At the end of the 4th century BC, Jews are first mentioned by Greek writers,
who praise them as brave, self-disciplined & philosophical. Nevertheless, the
philosophical inclination of the Semites is never divorced from the need to
spiritualize, live a good life & face the Divine. The same attitude
contextualizes the abstract flights of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. The
Greek ideal, however, was primarily concerned with communication, language & the
formation of a just society.
Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus or
Jesus the Christ ?
Most Christians say they believe in "Jesus Christ"
or "Christ Jesus". In this statement, the
proposed link between the person called "Jesus" and his epithet or
title "Christ" is left
untouched, suggesting the unity of Jesus and "Christ". However,
"Jesus" is a pronoun, "Christ" an adjective.
"Jesus" is the subject, and "Christ" is the accident.
confession reads : "I believe in Jesus the Christ." Here, the
unity of the man Jesus and the Divinity of Christ, the Word, is completely situated
within the name "Jesus". In this interpretation, "Christ" is what is
said of the man called
"Jesus", namely that this man Jesus was, is and shall be the unique
incarnation of the Messiah, the anointed one (or
"christos"). As this Messiah is the Word of God Incarnate, the unique
nature of Jesus the Christ is made obvious.
The Roman "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" runs a
dualistic mindset, spliting Jesus in two and attributing two natures to that
one, unique Son of Man. Their Christ-theology is focused on Christ's Passion and
Resurrection, and their liturgic approach has become more and more exoteric and
lifeless. In this mindset, the Son of God is co-substantial with His Father,
transforming Jesus Christ into God Himself in the same way as His Father is God.
proposed identical ideas.
In the Eastern Orthodox theology, God transcends His creation. Before
creation, there is only God, the One Being with Three Persons. The difference between the
essence of God (oneness) and the Divine Persons is not eliminated (as in
Arianism, where Son and Spirit, as subordinated, merge in essence). God is
undivided, and so the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one and the same
in all possible respects, save those of being unbegotten, of filiation and of
procession. They are like three stars cleaving to each other without separation,
giving out light mingled and conjointed into one.
Thus Divine unity (the essence of God) is not lost, although radical monotheism
is avoided. For the Latins, the Persons are rather God's most sublime symbols of the Divine
function of relatedness, than ontological divisions causing divisions within
God, who has no second but is a God of Relation, of "Ich-Du". To
understand this, Platonism and neo-Platonism have to be called in.
Each Divine Person contains the unity of God (the essence of oneness
characterizing God as such) because :
each Person relates
to Himself (monos) ;
constantly relates to the other Persons, thus animating a Divine
participation or circumambulation of God's essential pure Glory and this by
endlessly participating in the Presence of the other Persons (proodos) ;
God Alone is the sole
goal of the activities of the Persons (apostrophe).
This dialectic of the
Holy Trinity is precreational. The Son of God is the Word. This
"logos" is the Great Plan of creation itself, or Christ before Jesus.
The incarnation of this Word, of Christ, was complete in Jesus. He who believes
this, may say to adhere to Jesus the Christ. In the Coptic church of Egypt,
which refuses to be called "monophysite", Christ, the Word of God,
incarnated in the one, united nature of Jesus, the nature of the incarnate Word.
the good oil
"anointed". In Antiquity both mundane & spiritual excellencies
were associated with "oil". Unlike water, oil is more permanent. Water
cleanses, but oil confirms & heals (i.e. oil stabilizes the received
renewal). The smooth & conductive qualities of oil are associated with the
wholesome delights ("ânanda", "dulcedo",
"jubilatio") of an advanced spiritual consciousness, joyful &
liberated, always at home in the spiritual. Through the mediation of an
anointed objectivity, visible & invisible are expected to meet.
A clerical class always tries to monopolize redemption. They see themselves fit
as the unique mediator and reduce or manipulate the personal spiritual
approach, which nevertheless is the home of real spiritual emancipation.
In fact, the Christian clergy is the only surviving imperial order. They
initiated the worship of the martyred "Christ" and
spirito-communalized the solitary Jesus (glimpses of him are recorded in the New Testament)
with the rigour of a military spirit inherited from the Romans. That a lot of
good has come out of this most disturbing history can not be denied. But this
Christ-strategy runs against the spirituality of Jesus found in the
Words of Jesus.
Following hermeneutical categories emerge :
I) THE SOURCE : THE JESUS-PEOPLE (AD 27 - 80)
"Jesus said" or the sayings of Jesus :
(1) Q1 (AD 50)
(2) Q2 (ca. AD 65) + Q3 (ca. AD 80)
(3) Gospel of Thomas (ca. AD 70 - 100)
The information gathered here is crucial. A general picture of Jesus emerges.
Both the solitary and the spirito-communal occur, but in Q1 & the Gospel of Thomas
Jesus' sublime spiritual exemplarity is very pronounced. This historical Jesus has
nothing to say about the resurrection, the apostolic church, the holy orders,
the eucharist or the redemption through sacrifice. His message feels
nevertheless very Christian. Is this the archetypal layer of Christianity ?
Let this be the most important finding of the study of the
II) EARLY CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY (AD 50 - 110)
The work of Paul is outstanding. The circumstances of his conversion too. To say
he is the first Christian "gnostic" is to underline the intimate,
private and interior of Paul's source of knowledge, which he calls
"Christ" and in whom he recognized the human face of Jesus, the
Messiah of Israel. That his testimony has influenced the formation of the Roman
Church is due to his moral and centrist views, much like a very good
administrator (a Western Confucius). His Alexandrian overtones reinforced the
connection between Rome and the Egyptian Alexandria, subdued as a wealthy Roman
province, but allowed, under Roman law, to continue its religious practices.
The Gospel of Thomas as well as the nearly "heretical" Gospel
of John reflect a completely different life with Jesus the Christ. Here, the
interior, private but direct confrontation with Christ in the Holy Spirit is
found as God's eternal gift to humanity. Christ is seen as Jesus, the incarnated
Word. The desert is a better place than a town. Urban life is avoided. And how
many other early testimonies have there been ? Research suggests hundreds and
hundreds. Again, this variety betrays the traditional story of how Early
Christianity and the Early Church of Rome came into being. Instead of one
mindset, hundreds of views circulated. The Roman centrists catched the fish
because of their unique political position and shrewd spiritual
administration and trade.
History shows an explosion of prophetic activity took place after Jesus,
the Anointed died. This death of the incarnated Word, implied the end of the
ongoing symbiosis between God and the flesh, i.e. the humanity of Jesus. The "return of Christ, the Word of God" is never again
"in the flesh" (this incarnation was a unique, literal, single event) but
spiritual sealing, at the Pentecostal descent, of the soul's ordination in the
Holy Spirit which comes out of Christ. This is the Gnostic testimony rejected by
the centrists. It is a miracle a few of these views have survived (cf. the
Nag Hammadi library).
We know now these eye-witnesses (John, Thomas) or Gnostics of the first
hour (like Paul) initiated independent, local Christian communities. Like the
Jewish Christians that made up the church of Jerusalem, they expected the return
of Jesus in their time (parousia). The fact this did not happen at all,
must have had a tremendous spiritual impact on the adherents (instead of
return, persecutions were unleached which initiated martyrdom). The explosion of
prophetic sects in the early second century underlines the fundamental diversity
of Early Christianity.
The centrists of Rome had three great advantages : Jewish Temple service was
down (AD 70), between AD 69 - 96, Christians were not persecuted by the Roman
Empire and Paul & Peter had been executed and buried in Rome (AD 67). Around
their dead bones, a very popular mystique and geosentimentality was created. Not
unlike talismans & amulets of old, relics of saints were deemed to be
vehicles of Divine grace. In various ways, morbid associations were present.
Death was present everywhere. Roman Christians of the first hour used the lid of
a coffin as an altar (hence the later practice of placing bones of saints in
altars). The catacombes of Rome show how the rituals of Antiquity (later deemed
"Pagan" and "heretical") were intermixed with the earliest
forms of this brand of centrist and administrative Christianity, an imperial
spiritual order, which would conquer the world and try to rule it in the name of
III) THE ADVENT OF ROMAN CHRISTIANITY (AD 67 - before the New Testament
was created and given its name - AD 95)
The New Testament was only universally accepted as late as AD 367.
The administrators of the church of Rome (the community of Christians living in
Rome between AD 67 - 96) successfully organized their cherished
"universal" church in Christ Jesus, largely because of a concert of
lucky circumstances and the presence of "sacramental" (not
"magical" - sic !) Christian relics (the bones of the martyred founders of
the "universal" church, namely the Jew Peter, appointed by Jesus
Christ, and the Gentile Paul, appointed by Jesus in the Holy Spirit). In Rome
under the Flavians, Pagan imperial structures and various religious practices
were present everywhere, both to imitate and to reject. It took only three
decades before the bishop of Rome (Clement I) claimed to be the guardian of the
whole of Christianity (AD 95), a claim repeatedly rejected by countless
"heretics", both in the West as in the East. In 96, the persecutions
of Christians restarted. The decades that followed, a wild bunch of Christian
Gnosticisms and counter-churches were active. Sects emerged and "false"
prophets gathered large communities ...
Orthodoxy had to be the ideology countering these movements. Roman
geosentimentality became a cherised fetish of orthodoxy or the cursed Babylon
for the heterodox. But, Rome had the bones ! Those who made a different choice
("heretics") were excommunicated. A century after Jesus the Christ had
died, the spiritual terror of the old system had returned ! Once the imperial
order reconciled with this Roman brand of Christianity, the fundamentals of
"Pagan" worship (especially Osiris and Mithras) would sublimate in the myth of Christ, the emperor of
all ... This is precisely what happened after Constantine.
IV) THE CENTURY OF HERESIES (AD 100 - 200) :
The formation of a centrist Roman church did not safeguard orthodoxy. In fact,
the latter had to acquire apologetic means to counter the formation of sects,
counter-churches, Christian Gnosticism etc. By countering these heretics, the Roman
centrists developed a straight orthodox ideology, which attracted intellectuals
who had enjoyed a better (higher) education. This led to a refinement of
centrist theology and a firmer administrative grasp on the Christian communities
that sought the blessing of the bishop of Rome ...
V) THE CATHOLIC TRADITION = liturgical practices, ecclesiastical hierarchy &
theology of the "Fathers of the Church" based on the New Testament
& other "inspired" writings (AD 190 - today)
The formula proposed by the Reformation ("sola scriptura, sola fidei")
questions the Roman Catholic transposition of the scriptures in terms of public
worship (liturgy) and a specific theory on God backed by a synodal consensus
presided by a "pontifex maximus" (theology) representing a supreme
magisterial power on Earth in matters Christian (cf. the Jewish "Great Sanhedrin").
The conviction that
the "deposit of faith" initiated a Christian tradition which is as important (if
not more important) than the "holy" scriptures, was firmly
rejected by Protestantism.
The individual relationship with Jesus the Christ became more essential than the
adherence to the traditions of a church invented by male bishops sustaining a
whole series of raw injustices (like Papal authority, the commerce of
indulgence & the sacramental theory "ex opere operato").
The Catholic tradition was initiated as soon as the "canon" of
"holy texts" was defined. By now, it should be clear this choice
was political and
administrative. The Holy Spirit ? The "Word of God", namely Christ Himself, was
identified with the New Testament. By erecting a Catholic superstructure
or ideology, the so-called "universal church" could establish its
authority with ease. This spiritual order was so hierarchical that Constantine
saw in it the means to eternalize the Roman empire. As soon as Roman Catholicism
was raised to the level of a State Religion, all other Christian movements were
banned, and its adherents excommunicated. Paganism was eliminated and the
temples of old closed. The books of so-called "heretical Christians"
were blacklisted and nobody could possess or read their books without being in
conflict with ... God. Clearly these developments were
anti-evangelical, to say the least ...
(§ 12) The New Testament clearly
documents a shift away from the Words
of Jesus towards the spirito-communal "Christ", the anointed
"Messiah" condemned by the ruling priests of the temple of Jerusalem
(the Sadducees embracing Hellenism) & executed by the Roman Empire. He who
took "our" sins, rose from the dead & redeemed humanity. This
sacrificial Christianity (or "evangelium de Christo" - the gospel
about Christ) has to be distinguished from the original Jesus-people, recording
the Words of Jesus (or "evangelium Jesu" - the good new from
Jesus). Early Jewish Christianity (Didachè) centered around a spiritual figure (like John and
Thomas), while Paul introduced Gentile elements (Alexandrian Philonism and
More than an interpretation of the "Logia Iesu" is
The book Words of Jesus is open, still
unfinished, containing -as yet- a limited set of sayings found in
the Gospel of Thomas and the
Four historical stages are significant :
(1) original Jewish Jesus-people (30 - 50 AD) :
in Q1 : no explicit "christic" themes & ideas, except for
the notion "Son of Man" ;
in Thomas : various rather gnostic & christic elements are present :
CHRIST = SON OF MAN
(2) Jewish Christianity (30 - 70 AD) :
"Christos" is a Greek word added to indicate that Jesus was the
"anointed" saviour of Israel. These Jews remained loyal to the
"old convenant" and converts had to be circumcized (cf. the Church of
CHRIST = JEWISH MESSIAH REDEEMING ISRAEL
(3) Gentile Christianity (50 AD) :
"Christ" indicates a "new convenant" open to everybody. The
"law" of Moses (Paul) is superceded. Christ is the head of the One Church, the so-called "mystical body" of
CHRIST = THE SON OF GOD HEADING THE MYSTICAL BODY OF THE CHURCH
(4) Catholic Christianity (100 AD) :
"Christ" is the unique Son of the God of Israel, incarnated to redeem
humanity (the evangelists). The God of Israel is the God of Humanity. Christ
Jesus is a God as is the Father and the Spirit. This will become
the Nicæan Christ.
CHRIST = THE UNIQUE SON OF GOD
Three hermeneutical uses of the word "Christ" should be
(1) Christ Jesus : this is the Paulinian reading : baptism makes one enter
Christ (be in Christ) and become part of Him, thus being saved from death
as He was ;
(2) Jesus Christ : this combination stresses the Messianic identity of Jesus :
Jesus as the unique Son of God, the Anointed One who came to lead the
children of Israel back to their Father ;
(3) Jesus the Christ, the Word of God incarnating as Jesus : this Egyptian formula is the
most interesting : Christ, preexistent as the Word of God, fully incarnates as
the man Jesus. When we reach out for the Word of God, we see the face of Jesus
The 27 books of the New Testament
contain no definitive narrative about the historical Jesus. They are the
narrative cornerstones of a Christ-theology composed by a limited number of male
"apostles" around Jesus. They centralized a
"christic" interpretation of Jesus and assimilated Jewish, neo-Platonic
& magical notions & practices. In this way Jesus the Christ saw the
light. We will explore in what measure the main
themes of this "christic" theology are extrapolations of teachings of
the historical Jesus. Eucharistic devotion and universal redemption as we know
them are not prefigured in the texts of the Jesus-people but came later (these were already present in the Jewish spiritual practice - cf. thanksgiving,
The religion of "the Christ" or Christianity is the belief,
superstructure, theology or spiritual ideology of the community (the members) of
Christ (the head). It superceded the original teachings of Jesus in the name of
a Gentile, imperial, worldly view on the Kingdom (the body). The eucharist, the
resurrection, the apostolic succession, the holy orders, sacred martyrdom and
one Catholic Church are all constitutive elements of Christianity.
These founding principles of Christianity are absent in the teachings of
the historical, original Jesus. At best they transpose & extrapolate a
few of Jesus' wisdom-sayings, using Hellenized (Septuagint, Philo
of Alexandria, Hermetism, mystery cults)
& orthodox Judaism (Qumrân and the church of Jeruzalem).
Christian fundamentalism did not & does not drill for ultimate textual
authenticity. Vatican II was unable to move beyond the limitations imposed by
the dogmatic tradition represented by the Roman Church. Recent theological
conservatism (Laurentin, 1997) bluntly denies the conclusions of the Jesus
Seminar because these historical facts do not confirm the "holiness"
of the founding texts. Serious scientific exploration is often -because of the
lack of open communication- confused with militant atheism. Because Christianity
is much indebted to the Judaic "service of the word" & its
veneration of the Torah, it has difficulty accepting the fact that the
canonical gospels are narratives predated by a sayings-tradition evidencing a
different view on Jesus.
The absolute, infallible, exclusive status "ex cathedra" of the
opinion of a Pope in matters related to Jesus Christ can no longer be maintained. This
"magister" is not in accord with the Jesus shown in Q1. Despite
these scientific facts, the Roman Church clings to the "sacred" status
of the complete New Testament. This has been recently reaffirmed (cf.
Vatican II, chapter 5 of Dei Verbum, 1968).
I would like to end these conclusion with two recent statements of official
bodies of the Roman Catholic Church :
the list of
objective historical errors in ways of acting admitted by the Catholic
Church in 2000 during the liturgy of the "Day for Pardon" (12/03)
the opinions of
Belgian cardinal concerning the results of the critical historical work done
the last century by scholars, proving the difference between the Jesus
of history & the Christ of the church(es).
The list (briefly
placed on the internet) covers
errors & sins done in the course of twenty centuries !!
have been recorded which are unacceptable in the light of the Holy Spirit.
These include : (a) sins in general, (b) sins committed in the service of truth,
(c) sins which have harmed the unity of the body of Christ, (d) sins against the
people of Israel, (e) sins committed in actions against love, peace, the
rights of peoples, and respect for cultures and religions, (f) sins against
the dignity of women and the unity of the human race and (g) sins in relation
to the fundamental rights of the person. In the text is clearly mentioned that the confession is made by the
Pope to God who
alone can forgive sins but also before men.
How can this church confess all these sins and
continu to be salvic ?
The list is a puzzling historical document. The whole idea of this brontosauric liturgical confession of two thousand years of errors and their
resulting suffering during only a few brief swings of the incenser & the
light of seven candles seems misplaced and grotesque. In this unique
liturgical action, an unseen quantity of evil was confessed in less than ten
minutes. The confession points to the pride of human beings and their
inability to submit to the Divine and obey the rule of love. The
confession itself is a repetition of what is rejected. No truth was
served. During the grandiose action, the Pope was attended by hundreds of bishops in
their new &
expensive 4th century Constantine styled Jubilee 2000-regalia. Seven top
cardinals had to lit a candle and confess a sin, specifying their guilt.
Some bishops were visibly discomforted with the whole affair (the church
asking God's forgiveness for the abuse of the keys by its sons and
daughters) and showed incongruent
body language ... The "Day of Pardon" was placed in the context
of the Jubilee. Is there any reason to jubilate about such massive
misconduct ? And what about penitence ?
Nevertheless, because of this list of objective errors, no Catholic
(after march 2000) is able to deny what has been claimed to be a fact by
scholars over the last centuries. Is this confession a proof that the
Roman Catholic Church has been doing a good job ? When they claim that
their aim in confessing all of this was to invite a change of mentality
& attitude in the church, in order for it to be a source of a new teaching etc. ... then
how is this shown in the subsequent nomination of 37 new conservative members in the
council of the Pope-elects (cardinals) by the sick pope John Paul II ?
Advisors & interpretors have only seen in this a move to assure the
conservative interpretation, devoid of a historical Jesus and bound to
What does Jesus think of all of this ?
can there be forgiveness if proper remorse is lacking ? Does the Vatican
come down to propaganda and the
spiritual marketing of opening & closing old wooden doors ? Why should
Catholicism not work with the same principles as all the rest under God ?
In december 2000, a reporter of De Gazet van Antwerpen (a local Antwerp
newspaper) interviewed cardinal Godfried Danneels, the head of the Catholic
Church in Belgium and considered to be a "brilliant theologian". He says : "Some
authors of bestsellers say that we only recently know who Jesus truly is.
This thanks to the discovery of scrolls of his time in the caves of the
Dead Sea. And this historical Jesus is another one than the one of the
Church." The cardinal replies : "These theories go back to the
beginning of the century and are only now reaching the great public. But
contemporary biblical science has a more refined discourse. The euforia of
'we found it' is over. The scientific and rationalistic view on Jesus is
as limited and one-sided as the one of the past, as bound to temporal
circumstances. It is certainly not a refutation of the image of Jesus
given to us by the gospels & the Church."
This answer is wrong. The Qumrân-texts (between 1947 &
1956) as well as the Nag Hammadi library (1945) were discovered much later
than what he claims. Moreover, it took considerable time before critical
translations were available ('80). Some investigators did even argue
that the Roman Church did everything to postpone these publications ...
Only the last 15 years or so has their historical, philological,
philosophical & theological impact been appreciated & assimilated. The distinction between the Jesus of history and the
Christ of the Church stands erect !
At the end of his answer, the cardinal seemed to praise the universality
of relativity and the omnipotent power of time, even over spiritual
affairs (deemed eternal). Is his idea that because all views on Jesus are
influenced by context, no true Jesus can be found ?
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initiated : 11 XI 1997 - last update :
28 XII 2008
- version n°1