CHAPTER XIII. WHY CHRISTIANITY DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
[It adopts oriental errors.]
It first adopted many of the errors of the oriental philosophy. Gnosticism was embraced by many of the leading intellects of the church. It was the reaction of that old aristocratic spirit which had ruled the pagan world. It was an eclecticism of knowledge and culture which had originally despised the doctrines of the Cross. It united the oriental theosophy with the Platonic philosophy, both of which were proud, exclusive, disdainful. "It drew a distinction between the man of intellect, whose vocation it was to know, and the man who could not rise above blind and implicit faith." The early Christians were characterized for the simplicity of their faith. But with the triumphs of faith arose the cravings for knowledge among the more cultivated part of the converts.
[Attempts to reconcile reason with faith.]
Paul had seemingly discouraged all vain speculations, and the Grecian spirit of philosophy, believing that they would not avail to the explanation of the Christian mysteries, but rather prove a stumbling- block and a folly, since the realm of faith was essentially different from the realm of reason - not necessarily antagonistic, but distinct. This fundamental principle has ever been maintained by the more orthodox leaders of the church - by Athanasius, Augustine, Bernard, Pascal, Calvin - even as the fundamental principle of sound philosophy which Bacon advocated, that the world of experience and observation could not be explained by metaphysical deductions, has been the cause of all great modern progress in the sciences. The Gnostics, the men who aimed at superior knowledge, disdained the humbling doctrine of Paul, which made faith supreme over all forms of philosophy, and were the first to seek solutions of difficult points of theology by abstruse inquiries - honorable to the intellect, but subversive of that docile spirit which Christianity enjoined. This tendency to speculation was unfortunate, but natural to those active minds who sought to discover a connection between the truths taught by revelation, and those which we arrive at by consciousness. Grecian philosophy, when most lofty, as expressed by Plato, was based on these mental possessions - these internal convictions reached by logic and reflection. What more harmless, and even praiseworthy, to all appearance, than was this earnest attempt to reconcile reason with faith? The finest minds and characters of the church entered into the discussion with singular intensity and ardor. They would explain the Man-God, the Trinity, the Word made flesh, and all the other points which grew out of grace and free will. A dialectical spirit arose, which combated or explained what had formerly been received with unquestioning submission. In the first century there was scarcely any need of creeds, for the faith of the Christians was united on a few simple doctrines, such as are expressed in the Apostles' Creed. In the second and third centuries agitations and speculations began, and with the Gnostics, that class who invoked the aid of Oriental and Grecian philosophies in the propagation of the new religion. It was to be made dependent on human speculation - a most dangerous error, since it reintroduced the very wisdom which knew not God, and which the Apostles ignored. It ushered in the reign of rationalism, which still refuses to abdicate her throne, and which is absolutely rampant and exulting in the great universities of the most learned and inquiring of European nations.