Divination In Primitive Christianity

In* the last chapter we spoke of two defects in Schleier-macher's doctrine of divination. The first of these — his misleading assumption that this is a universal human faculty —has already been considered, and we have now to turn to the second. This is that, though Schleierinacher's description of divination in relation to the world of nature and history has both warmth anil insight, he gives no clear detailed account, but only the scantiest hints, of what is after all its worthiest object and the object most propitious to its development. namely, the history of religion, especially that of the Bible and its culmination in the person of Christ himself. His concluding' discourse ' makes emphatic and significant mention of Christianity and Christ, but Christ is here only introduced as the supreme divining subject, not as the object of divination par ex-'dlence. And it is the same in Schleierinacher's ' Glaubenslehre'. In this, too, the significance of Christ is, essentially, intended to be fully given in the fact that, he 'admits us into the power and beatitude of his consciousness of God*. Now this is a thought of high value, but it does not attain to that-supreme value which Christianity imputes to Christ, of being in his own person 'holiness made manifest', that is, a person in whose being, life, and mode of living we realize of ourselves by 'intuition and feeling' the self-revealing power and presence of the Godhead. For to the Christian it is a momentous question w hether or no a real divination—a direct, first-hand apprehension of holiness manifested, the ' intuition' and 'feeling' ot it—can be got from the person and life of Christ; whether, in short,' the holy ' can be independently experienced in him making him a real revelation of it.

In this matter we can obviously get no help from the painful and fundamentally impossible inquiries, so often started» into ' Jesus' consciousness of himself '. They are impossible, if for no other reason, because the evidence at our disposal is neither sufficient in quantity nor appropriate to such a purpose. Jesus puts as the content of his message and all his utterances, not himself, but the ' kingdom', its beatitude and righteousness, and, in its first and most straightforward interpretation, the ' gospel' is the ' good tidings' of the kingdom of God. What statements about himself do occur are fragmentary and incidental. But even were this not the case, even if we could find in the gospels a detailed theory of Jesus as to his own nature, what would this prove ? Religious enthusiasts have not infrequently had recourse to the most exalted modes of self-proclamation, and often enough no doubt their statements about themselves have been completely bona fide and sincere. And it is just such self-revealing statements of the prophets of all ages that are more than any others dependent for their form upon their temporal or local context, the equipment of myth or dogma with which his environment supplies the speaker. The fact that the prophet or seer or inspired teacher applies all this material to state something about himself merely demonstrates the intensity of his self-consciousness, his sense of mission, his conviction, and his claim to belief and obedience—all of which are to be taken for granted where a man stands forward in response to an inner call. The immediate, intuitive ' divination' of which we are speaking would indeed not come as a result of such statements by the prophet about himself, howTever complete; they can arouse a belief in his authority, but cannot bring about the peculiar experience of spontaneous insight that here is something holy made manifest. ' We have heard him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ' (St. John iv. 42).

It cannot now be doubted that such an avowal wTas made to him as a result of a spontaneous, original divination. This must at any rate be true of Christ's own first disciples. Otherwise it would be unintelligible how the Church could have come into existence at all. Mere proclamation, mere authoritative statement, cannot bring about these massive certainties and that impelling strength, that power to maintain and assert itself, which were necessary if the Christian community was to come into being and which can be recognized in it as its unmistakal >le characteristics.

Misapprehension of this is only possiblo if, attempting a one-sided approach to the phenomenon of the origin of the Christian Church, we try to reconstruct the facts solely by the method« of scholarship and out of the material afforded by the staled feelings and blunted sensibility of our present-day artificial civilization and complex mentality. It would be an advantage if, in addition to these methods, an attempt were made to frame a less abstract intuition of the genesis of original and genuine religious communities with the aid of living instances of the thing as it may still be found to-day. It would be necessary for this to seek places and moments at which even to-day religion shows itself alive as a naive emotional force, with all its primal quality of impulse and instinct. This can still be studied in remote corners of the Mohammedan and Indian world. Even to-day one may come upon scenes in the streets of Mogador or Marrakesh, which have the strangest outward resemblance to those recorded by the Synoptic Gospels : 'holy men ' (and very queer specimens they generaily are !) now and then make their appearance, each the centre of a group of disciples,and about them the people come an>l go, listening to their sayings, looking at their miracles, observ ing how they live and wdiat they do. Hands of adherents gather round them, more loosely or more closely united as the case may be. ' Logia', tales, and legends form and accumulate ; 1 new brotherhoods arise or, it' already arisen, extend in wi icn-

1 It is astonishing that thn main problem of Gospel criticism, viz. how the collect! in of ' Logia' arose, is not studied in this still liv.ng milieu. It is even more astonishing that the logia-series were not long ago elucidated from the closely corresponding milieu of the 'Sayings of the Fathers'( :Ti<ii>"<yfinrn riv nnrepoii), from the Iiadith of Muhammed, or from the Franciscan legends. And a particular striking case of the same thing is the collection of the Logia of liama Krishna, which has grown to completion in our own day and under our very eyes.

m ing circles. But the centre of it all is always the man himself, a ' holy man ' in his lifetime, and what sustains the movement is always the peculiar power of his personality, the special impression he makes on the bystander. Those who should know assure us that ninety-eight per cent, of these ' holy men' are impostors ; but, even so, we are left with two per cent, who are not, a surprisingly high percentage in the case of a matter that invites and facilitates imposture as much as this does. The consideration of this remaining two per cent, should continue to throw much light on the actual fact of the genesis of a religious community. The point is that the ' holy man' or the ' prophet' is from the outset, as regards the experience of the circle of his devotees, something more than a 1 mere man' (\fri\dy a^OpcoTroy). He is the being of wonder and mystery, who somehow or other is felt to belong to the higher order of things, to the side of the numen itself. It is not that he himself teaches that he is such, but that he is experienced as such. And it is only such experiences, which, while they may be crude enough and result often enough in self-deception, must at least be profoundly and strongly felt, that can give rise to religious communities.

Such cases of contemporary religious movements afford after all a very inadequate analogy, far removed from that which occurred long ago in Palestine. Yet, if even these movements are only made possible by the fact that men actually experience, or presume that they experience, veritable holiness in the personalities of individuals, how far more true must this not be of the early Christian community 1 That this was so is attested directly by the whole spirit and the universal conviction of the early communities as a whole, so far as we can discern it in their modest records. And certain of the slighter touches in the Synoptic portrait of Jesus confirm the fact expressly in particular cases. We may instance here the narratives already referred to of Peter's haul of fishes (Luke v. 8), and of the centurion of Capernaum (Matt. viii. 8; Luke vii.6),which point to spontaneous responses of feeling when the holy is directly encountered in experience. Especially apt .u this connexion is the passage in Mark x. 32: km tji> npodyuiv aiTOvi o 'Iricrnvr' <11 tOifiBuvvro, oI Si ¿KoXovdovi'Tts ttf>o-fiuCi'To (' an>! Jesus went before them: and they were amazed ; and as they followed, they were afraid'). Thi-, passage renders with supreme simplicity and force the immediate impression of the numinous that issued from the man Jesus, and no artistry of charactcrization could do it so powerfully as these few masterly and pregnant words. The. later saying in John xx. 28 (the confession of Thomas,' My Lord and my God ') may perhaps appear to us by contrast the utterance of a time too far-reaching in its formulations, and very far removed from the simplicity of the original experience of the disciples. And this passage in Maik may appeal to us all the more just because the living emotion here disdains any precise formulation at all; none the less does it-contain the real roots of all later developments of Ohristology.

Such intimations of the numinous impression made by Jesus upon those who knew him occur in the Gospel narrative only, as it ,\ere, incidentally to the main purpose of the narrator, who is scarcely interested in them, but absorbed rather in miracle- or other records. In our eyes their interest is all the greater, and we can fancy how numerous similar experiences must have been of which no trace survives in the records,just because there was no miracle to be told of in connexion with them and they were simply taken for granted by the narrator as a matter of course.

To this place belong further the belief in Jesus' supremacy over the demonic world and the tendency to legend that began to take effect from the start; the fact that his own relatives take him for a man ■ possessed', an involuntary acknowledgement of the 'numinous' impression he made upon them; and in an especial degree the conviction that- breaks spontaneously upon the minds of his disciples as by a sudden impact, won not from hii teaching but from the very experience of hirn, that he is the 'Messiah', the being who stood for the circle in which he moved as the numinous being par excellence. The experiential character of this belief in his Messiahship stands out clearly :n Peter's first confession and Jesus' answer to it (Matt. xvi. lj-17), ■ Flesh and blood have not revealed it

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