Front Page Titles (by Subject) 16.: The Church - Judgments on History and Historians
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16.: The Church - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Christianity as such was superior to paganism, classical and otherwise, with its unholy gods, its orientation to a no longer existent middle class, its exhausted poetry and literature, and its self-accusations concerning general wickedness and so on.
But the greatest miracle is that from Christianity an external form of power, the church, was able to take shape and that subsequently world churches, considered as orthodox, maintained themselves; further, that a recognized canon of sacred writings was able to come into being.
The inner characteristic of the Christian doctrine was, from the beginning, the highly personal relationship of the individual to the Christian realities and doctrines. Thus there necessarily resulted differing views, even within the earliest circle around the apostles, as evidenced by the existence of converted Jews and pagans. Many schisms arose even within the apostolic communities; this is revealed by the Pauline epistles. After the apostles had died off there was danger of there no longer being any sufficient authority. Then, too, there was the requirement of discipline, which certainly served to repel rather than attract. The symbolum apostolicum did not originate until post-apostolic times, possibly as the creed of the candidate for baptism.
On the other hand, the charitable love in the communities and the equality before God served as uniting forces, and, above all, the persecutions were the greatest promoters of concord; without them there might have been a lot of sects which paganism could have absorbed again.
But there was also an onrush on the part of Greek philosophy (even in the case of Paul), of Oriental theosophy and magic, in addition to asceticism which could be intensified at will. Other religions tried to gain influence; Simon Magus is a case in point. Several messiahs appeared, Bar Kochba and others.
Under circumstances such as these there took place the transposition of primitive Christianity into the world-view and culture of the late classical world, into pagan Christianity, and later the transference to the Germanic and Slavic worlds.
The impetus of Christianity is peculiar. It vociferously lays claim to crowding out all other religions completely. Then it makes sweeping progress as early as the first century; hence Tacitus’ words “Odium generis humani” [an object of hatred to the human race] and the increasing hatred of the masses; until finally, under Constantine, the state has to yield by amalgamating this overwhelming power within its own, willy-nilly.
Christian doctrine had its perils, the heresies. We may leave out of consideration the entire dualistic Gnosticism with its eon theory as hardly able to form communities, despite its colorful variety and the manifold origin of its systems. We may likewise pass over the Judeo- Christian sects, the Ebionites and others (as late as the end of the second century there is the pseudo-Clementine study circle). Undoubtedly the Jews were too arrogant to bother much with this sort of thing; during persecutions of Christians they used to incite the pagans. Bar Kochba, too, murdered Christians.
The strongest pretensions to a church of its own were made by Manichaeism which treated Christianity as merely a varnish of pagan theosophy and ignored Judaism, betraying no Platonic influence, but offering Persian dualism with an admixture of Buddhistic ideas. The re-emergence of Manichaeism in the Middle Ages is evidence of its relative vitality. The Near East at that time was a veritable vagina religionum [womb of religions]; one should also bear in mind, for later, the situation under the Sassanids prior to Mohammed.
Finally there appeared around 150 Montanism with its ecstatic prophecies that proclaimed the beginning of the age of the Paraclete and produced a new outpouring of the spirit. Montanus regarded himself as the Paraclete (?). The sect was characterized by violent asceticism and fanaticism; it professed chiliasm. In somewhat toned-down form, Montanism had also an aftereffect on the East.
The schisms of Hippolytus, Felicissimus, Novatian, and Meletius are to be evaluated as mere deviations and disputes over practices of penitential discipline, coupled with personal quarrels.
More dangerous were the schisms over the Trinity, the Patripassians, a Paul of Samosata, etc.
In the face of all this, the church managed to remain united (the main document is Cyprian’s De unitate ecclesiae); even to organize itself hierarchically; to hold synods, at first as required, later regularly; and to cultivate its universality with increasing determination. It not only sloughed off false doctrines and immorality, but also fought, as it had to, every deviation in external forms, constitution, and ritual. It achieved the complete sovereignty of the episcopate and the beginning of the Roman primateship. Irenaeus, III, 3, says: “Ad hanc enim [scil. ecclesiam Romanam] a gloriosissimis duobus Apostolis Petro et Paulo fundatam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, h.e. eos qui sunt undique fideles, in qua semper ab his, qui sunt undique, conservata est ea quae est ab Apostolis traditio.” [Because of its pre-eminence, the whole church, that is, the faithful everywhere, has to agree with this [i.e., the church of Rome], founded by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul. For within it there has always been preserved by Christians everywhere that tradition which stems from the Apostles.]
Without the last persecutions under Decius, Valerian, and others, the spirit of contradiction, of dialectics, and of ambition would most likely have split the church into sects, and paganism would then probably have overpowered them or at least stood its ground side by side with it. The life of the church was not attached to esoteric doctrinal interpretations and ambitious personalities, but on community feeling, the common feeling of being God’s children, the brotherly helpfulness and beneficence. All this would have been dealt a mortal blow by a split-up into sects, and the specific power to conquer the pagans would thereby have vanished, regardless of the religious zeal of the individual sects.
When, under Diocletian, Christianity got ready to gain control of the Imperium, it was caught up in those dangerous schisms over the Trinity. Diocletian’s persecutions did not, to be sure, remove these schisms, but they undoubtedly did marshal the spirit of unity which existed side by side with the schisms. And when Constantine had dealings with Christianity, he encountered a firm ecumenical organization as an established tradition. Without it he would probably not have shown Christianity any consideration.
If good sense had some say in matters of belief and opinion, most heresies would not have been promulgated, so that the church might remain powerful. However, the same force that made the church mighty also engendered the capacity for, and disposition toward, heresy—to be sure, with the help of much personal dogmatism. There is such a thing as a born sectarian.