News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us





Early Period
The history of a society can be understood only in reference to its ideology or the canon embodied in its Scripture. But, obviously, problems arise where the Scripture was completed centuries after the period of the prophet, which in case of Christ was very short. Therefore, Christians had initially to determine two issues, namely, the ideology and the scope of the mission. Accordingly, early tradition remains the chief source for the purpose. As the Bible was compiled in the fourth century, it is necessary to know the various cross currents that interacted to form this early Christian tradition. For even the Scripture is “... the Tradition of the Apostles as committed to writing by them or by those closely associated with them.” The subsequent tradition was supposed to follow the Apostolic tradition. Later the Church became the inheritor of that tradition, since it claimed to have spiritual (Holy Spirit) and Biblical sanction. Though for the Protestants the Scripture embodies the authentic canon, for the Catholics, as decided in the Council of Trent (1545-63), the Scripture and tradition are two distinct authorities. However, an important view is that since the Church itself fixed the canon and the Scripture, it clearly recognised that tradition could no longer be the criterion of truth.

Originally, Christianity started only as a reformed Judaism, with Jews having Christian leanings preaching to other fellow Jews. “Christian communities worshipped and operated essentially as Jewish synagogues” for more than a generation. The early Apostles believed that the system had to be confined to the Jews only. Evidently, they could not forget the direction of Jesus, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [Matt: 10:5]. The limitation of the mission is also clear from : “Truly I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.” [Matt: 10:23]. Further, there is the prophecy of Jesus recorded by Mathew, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me, will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matt: 19:28]. Primarily, because of the felt scope of the mission, there remained a tension between the Apostles at Jerusalem and Paul. “Thus, the Acts show that Paul, despite his gifts, is inferior to the original disciples, a witness of the Resurrection through their own witness, not directly called to the ministry, but ordained by the laying on of their hands.” Initially, the Jerusalem group looked upon Paul, with a certain scepticism. M.E. Marty makes a brief reference to their differences saying, “The clash, the oath, the concern in Paul all indicate how the question of the centrality of Jerusalem becomes itself a symbol of the clash over Law and Gospel, authority and freedom, tradition and renewal.” The chief issue of contention was the scope of the mission, since Apostles in Jerusalem were conservative and insisted on the observance of Jewish ritual Laws in the case of converts to Christianity, “Paul, observing much of the ritual without raising the theological question, showed the Gentile world the idea that freedom from the Law should be attractive. With Paul went Barnabas to face the pillars : John and, even more, James and Peter. Jerusalem held to its basic conservatism; though it would not go out to the Gentile world, it would tolerate the Gentile mission apart from close observance of the ritual Law..... No Jew, born a Jew, could ever turn his back on ritual Judaism. Peter withdrew from his more positive stand and Barnabas wavered. The one Church was two, even in the central supper. In one of the decisive “blasts” of Christian oratory, Paul opposed Peter to his face. “[Gat 2:11] ..... Paul went his own way, almost seeming to disregard restrictions of those who had been Apostles before him. In his trail went “Judaisers” who tried to impose ritual requirement on converts. It was they, and not Paul, that kept the tie to Jerusalem alive.” Paul was always more vocal and critical of the Apostles, “I through the Law died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the Law, then Christ died to no purpose.” [Gat 2: 19-21]. Lietzmann opines, “(Paul) therefore, had to be content to combat in principle the influences issuing from Jerusalem, and to rebuke, as firmly as he could, the emissaries who were ruining his churches. He never wrote a single word who gave them authority; nothing about James in Jerusalem; nothing about Peter in Corinth and Rome. He ignored them. But looking more closely, and reading between the lines of his letter, we perceive behind ‘The Servants of Satan,’ ‘The False Apostles,’ and ‘The spurious Brethren,’ the shadows of the great figures in Jerusalem.”

These serious differences between the Jerusalem Apostles and Paul clearly show not only variant views about the scope of the mission, but also that the first Apostles who had lived and suffered with Christ, distinctly thought that his object was to maintain the Law and to work within its ambit and the Jewish community. Of course, Paul won. It is only when he started including Gentiles without the obligation to observe Mosaic rituals and Laws, that a clear distinction between the two societies took place, and this happened despite the opposition of the Apostolic group.

Formulation of the Ideology Starts
On the ideological side we have already identified two factors that influenced the development of the Christian society, namely, its Judaic heritage and Graeco-Roman culture. Manichaeism, a Christianity oriented system, was a third dualistic ideology in the field. It was also a withdrawal sect that recommended vegetarianism, and preferred celibacy to marriage. Its mention is relevant because St Augustine, the first great Christian theologian, was originally a Manichaean.

Origen (185-254 AD)
Origen, from Alexandria, was the first well-known theologian of Christianity. It has been suggested that like Plotinus he was also a pupil of Ammonius Saccas, regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. For him, souls are there since the time of creation, and virtuous souls become a part of Nous, a concept raised by Plotinus. Like men of his times, he accepts the validity of magic and miracles. After Resurrection, he felt, all spirits would become bodiless. Because of his Neoplatonist and ascetic background, he was quite other-worldly and recommended that Christians should not take part in affairs of the State. They, being part of a divine nation, should do only religious works. He lived as an ascetic and had got himself castrated. As undoubtedly the first important theologian of Christianity, he proclaims the concepts of God, immortality and freewill, as also the divinity of God, Son and the Holy Ghost. He compiled the Old Testament. In a way, it was he who set the other-worldly pace of Christian ideology, which was later fully confirmed by St Augustine in his City of God. Apparently, Origen was not so exclusive and narrow, as were some of his successor theologians like St Augustine. For, in line with many of the Jewish prophets, he was universal in saying that ultimately everyone would submit to Christ and be saved, meaning thereby that there would be no permanent hell or eternal damnation. He also did not seem to believe in the complete equality of Father and Son. But, it is significant of the growing exclusivism, parochialism and intolerance of the Christian Church, that later some of his universal views and those about the inequality of Father and Son were declared heretical.

Originally, partly because of their reluctance to join the Army and to accept the Emperor as the representative of God, the Christians suffered considerable persecution and martyrdoms. But, by the third century things started changing. Christ’s system was so positive in its approach, that almost in the first three centuries of its life, Christianity exhibited virtually no monastic trends, and this happened despite the fact that the entire religious environment, whether of Jewish withdrawal groups, the Neoplatonists and the Manichaeans, was against participation in the life of the world which stood downgraded.

In this context, three points need to be mentioned. Christ’s crucifixion by the State apart, neither the Jerusalem Apostles, nor Paul was in a position to confront the Empire or organize an opposition to it. Second, the good news was that the end of the world and the day of Redemption were near at hand, and except from faith in Christ, other activities were fruitless and in vain. Third, reluctance to oppose the State was presumably based on Christ’s reported statements; “My kingdom is not of this world,” and, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” “The New Testament does not concern itself very often with problems of the secular state. Paul, of course, urged loyalty to the temporal authorities, because they were ordained by God,” writes Marty. He adds, “His (Christ’s) followers had a higher loyalty, and in momentary expectation of the end, were to make their way in day-to-day existence in the earthly realm of authority. Paul’s outline in Romans 13 goes somewhat further in expression of temporal loyalty, and the late “Petrine” writings are fairly earlier. Even Justin Martyr, an enlightened Christian, remarked, [Apology I, XVII], “The Lord said, ‘Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, to God what belongs to God.’ Therefore, we render worship to God alone, but in all other things we gladly obey you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of earth, praying that in you the royal power may be found combined with wisdom and prudence.” Similarly, Martyr Tertullian, a lawyer, (220 CE) assures loyalty to the State saying, “In the Emperor we reverence the judgement of God, who has set him over the nations.” [Apology II: XXXII]

But from the middle of the third century CE, the hot winds of persecution started cooling down or became erratic. Gallienus was comparatively a mild ruler. Galevius in 311 CE issued an order of toleration. Finally, in 337 CE Emperor Constantine made the declaration of religious freedom for the Christians and accepted the faith.

It is during these first centuries that gradually the doctrines of the religion and its rituals or sacraments were formulated. In this early peirod, the Jewish system, rituals and synagogue were the model to be followed, otherwise the Christians observed local customs in clothing, food, and the other aspects of life. But, because of a serious rift with the parent community, and Paul’s open departure in giving up adherence to Jewish rituals while including the Gentiles, new practices also came to be formed. Baptism had been started by John who had also baptised Christ. Originally, baptism was not administered straightaway, and a three-year period of probation was the norm. Infant baptism was a very late adoption and ultimately it virtually substituted adult baptism. Under Paul’s influence, the form of Didache was altered and circumcision was given up. The importance of the common meal decreased, and bread and wine replaced it at the time of morning service. Wine and bread were believed to represent the blood and flesh of Jesus, who had taken flesh and blood for the salvation of his followers. The Judaic Sabbath was changed to Sunday. As time passed, rigidity in the observance of infant baptism and other rituals increased. Eternal damnation was the fate of un-baptised infants. These were signs of the system losing its elan, but trying to maintain the form and the position by the threat of curses and punishment hereafter. Rigidity in the observance of rituals always signifies that a culture is either on the decline or on the defence. This happened in the later centuries suggesting the decline of culture. Because, after the empire became Christian, there was no external threat to it, yet rigidity and insistence on form were greater than in the initial centuries.

Except for the Torah, Christianity never inherited a clear-cut canon or doctrines. These had to be formulated. It was a task to be done. Hence, for the purpose, debates and hair-splitting continued for centuries among theologians and scholars. It was only in the middle of the second century that the Epistles of Paul and the four Gospels took shape. “Perhaps by CE 200, they were as broadly accepted as the Old Testament among Christians,” “... the canon in its present form was detailed completely for the first (preserved) time by Athanasius in CE 369.” The Church regarded “... the body of inspired writings as qualitatively different from all others. It helped constitute doctrinal authority, and made clear a path of salvation.” There were competing texts of the New Testament, called “Text types.” In the West, the final New Testament text was approved only in the Council of Hippo in 393 CE and of Carthage in 397 CE. This is so far as bare formulation is concerned; as to what were the factors that contributed to the compilation, is an entirely different subject. For, “drawing together the loose ends of scriptures into a canon did not, of course, solve everything. The closed canon remains perpetually open, because it is a product of the Church it helped to produce. The diversity of teachings based upon the same scriptures also suggests enduring difficulties. The New Testaments canon, as such, is not the foundation of the Church’s unity. On the contrary, the canon as such, i.e., as a fact as it is available to the historians, is the foundation of multiplicity of confessions.”

The Emperor Becomes Christian
After the initial period of suffering in the second and third century, Christians started converting wealthy and influential persons; and Christianity became a religion of kings and princes. The Emperor becoming a Christian and Christianity becoming the State religion, is a major landmark in its history. Different reasons have been assigned for this decision of Constantine. Obviously, rulers hardly ever take such steps for reasons other than political, pragmatic or purely of self interest. The subsequent history of the Roman Emperors also suggests that.

Some of the reasons indicated by Gibbon and others are : (i) The Christians who were a cohesive group, formed a large section of the Imperial Army; (ii) A belief had gained currency that the Church had some control over the life after death. In fact, this was a trump card which the Popes so often used in their political tussles with the Rulers; (iii) The power of miracles attributed to the Church and its saints; (iv) The cohesion, sense of discipline and moral level of the Christian Community; etc.

After Christianity became the state religion, four developments started taking place. First was a fillip to scholarship and consequent attempts to formulate and standardize the theology and doctrines of the religion. Second was a continuous struggle for power and supremacy between the two major organised institutions, the Church and the State or States. Third, simultaneously started friction and tension within the Church organisation, and rivalry between the Western and the Eastern Churches. Fourth, began a rapid growth of monasteries and nunneries all over the Christian world; and the institutions of monks and mysticism influenced to an extent the ideological developments in Christianity.

Attempts at Standardisation of Theology
During the early four centuries, serious argument continued as to what was Christ’s ideology and its metaphysical position. The Christian view of Christ being the Son or an incarnation was at the very beginning criticised by fellow Jews as unworthy on two scores. First, it involved man-worship which was against the Torah and the Judaic tradition. Second, incarnation meant a pantheistic philosophy, and not a theistic one. At times it was suggested that Christ’s appearance was angelic and in spirit only. Ignatius objected to it saying that in that case Christ’s crucifixion becomes meaningless, being not in blood and flesh. Later, the Logus doctrine was suggested to avoid the criticism referred above. Whether or not this view met the criticism of pantheism or man-worship, is a different matter, but it was accepted by the Church. Christians have since then been fully satisfied with the explanation.

Since the time Emperor Constantine turned Christian, he became interested in solving all ideological disputes in order to avoid wranglings among his leading co-religionists. Accordingly, he called a conference at Nicaea. The Council accepted the division between the spiritual and the secular worlds, with the superiority of the former, and virtually rejected the Arian views of the Trinity. The final rejection of Arianism took place at the Chalcedone Conference held in 451 AD. It is necessary to state that both these decisions were never fully accepted nor implemented in the entire Christian world. In the East, for all practical purposes, the superiority of the State got a de-facto recognition. Nor was the Arian view completely shed. The Arians believed that the Son was not the equal of the Father who had created him. But its opponents believed that Father and Son were not only two separate personalities, but the Son was begotten of the same substance and was His equal in every respect. Constantine and some of the Emperors were halting in accepting this view. It was only Emperor Theodisius (379 AD) who fully endorsed this anti-Arian view. As was perhaps natural with Christianity becoming the State religion, the Christian Church and its theology became rigid and dogmatic. There was so much insistence on the doctrine of equality between Father and Son, that some of Origen’s views, which did not believe in equality of the Father and the Son and in eternal hell and damnation, were later declared heretical.

The doctrine that there could be no salvation except through the Christian Church, was endorsed and persists to date. Even Origen’s views on many issues were a little different and comparatively liberal. Observance of rituals was made very rigid.

The Emperor and the Church
From the time of Constantine and onwards, the Emperor became virtually the head of the religion and issued decrees to pronounce or enforce its doctrines. This position was always accepted in the East. Even in the West, it was the Emperor who called the Nicene Conference and presided over its critical discussions or decisions. It was only later that the Emperor’s position was questioned. even, the subsequent Emperors called conferences, and, at the request of the Church, used their secular powers to give effect to their decisions almost as imperial orders. The Emperors also issued religious edicts. Emperor Constantine was trying to unite different groups of the Church and resolve the issue, but Athanasius was reluctant to forgive the repentent Arians. The Emperor, therefore, condemned the factional attitude of Athanasius. Some Bishops were summoned by the Emperor and asked to condemn Athanasius for his stand. When they were reluctant to do so and accept the decision of the Emperor on doctrinal issues, the Emperor said, “Whatever I will, shall be regarded as a canon ... Either obey or go into exile.” The Church’s claims apart, no one in this period of time objected to the directive influence and interference of the Emperor in purely doctrinal matters. In fact, the precedent of Jewish Kings’ support to the doctrines was cited. Christ’s words, “Render unto Caeser the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” were also invoked in defence. Even St Augustine got issued a directive against those who did not abide by the decision of the Church.

Dichotomy Accepted — Fathers of the Church
We have already indicated that Christian leaders, including Origen, virtually failed or declined to follow a whole-life system. They interpreted Christ largely according to the views of Jewish withdrawal groups like the Essenes. May be, because of the weak position of the Christian community and hostility of the Jews, they never thought of choosing the whole-life approach, which would have involved confrontation with the State. Perhaps, it was a wise tactical decision, otherwise the community might well have been crushed. In the earlier centuries, the Christians, with a deep faith in Christ, stuck to their beliefs to the point of losing thousands of lives. Their new hope was the belief that redemption was near at hand. We have seen that Origen, the first major theologian of Christianity, interpreted Christianity purely in terms of withdrawal from life. It was a strange contradiction, because the Christian belief in the importance of the family and social cohesion was quite strong, especially because the Judaic heritage was also like that. The significant fact is that almost throughout the first three centuries monasticism hardly had a place in the Christian life. It is only in the fourth century that the Fathers of the Church, namely, St Ambrose (339-397 CE), St Jerome (342-400 CE), and St Augustine (354-430 CE), laid down the Christian theology for the Church and the community, completely confirming the dichotomous interpretation of Christ’s system. The fourth century and the early fifth century are an important period in the theological history of Christianity. This was a period when the Emperors and the Empire became Christian. Later, when the Roman Empire fell, there was a criticism that the change of State religion to Christianity had contributed to the fall of the Empire.

It is in this context that the Fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine, who has been the most distinguished scholar and theologian of the millennium, formulated and expressed their theology. All these three fathers were emphatic that there was dichotomy between the spiritual life and the secular life. They owned and prescribed other-worldly goals and methodology for all religious life. St Jerome himself started life as an ascetic and helped the growth of quietist mysticism. He praised virginity and for him ascetic, withdrawal was more important than confronting the invaders. St Ambrose too was in favour of virginity and opposed widow re-marriage. True, these early Fathers were men of character and great piety, but some of their views were quite self-contradictory. Both St Ambrose and St Augustine insisted on the separation of the world of God from the sinful world of man. As sex was sinful, a family man could never be virtuous. And yet, they insisted on the supremacy of the Church over the Emperor, who was incharge of secular affairs. It was an unfortunate case of exercise of secular powers without the acceptance of the corresponding responsibility. For example, a Jewish synagogue was burnt, and the Count of the East held that it had been done at the instance of the local Bishop. The Emperor ordered that the actual incendiaries should be punished, and the guilty Bishop should re-build the synagogue. St Ambrose was indignant and opposed the order saying that if the Bishop executed the order, he would become an apostate, and if he opposed it, he would become a martyr. He wrote, “Shall then a place be made for the unbelief of the Jews out of the spoils of the Church, and shall the patrimony, which by the favour of Christ has been gained for the Christians, be transferred to the treasuries of the unbelievers ? But perhaps the cause of discipline moves you, O, Emperor, which then is of greater importance — the show of discipline, or the cause of religion ? It is needful that judgement should yield to religion.” Religious bigotry without responsibility always leads to arrogance, illogic and cruelty.

St Augustine too fully confirmed the doctrine of other-worldliness and unconcern of the religious man with the affairs of the world. It is stated that “Augustine’s City of God (420) attacked both Christians who expected the World to get better and pagans with a cyclic view of history. Augustine did not believe that spread of Christianity would ensure political and economic improvement. The earthly city of self-will would continue to exist amidst the rise and fall of states and Empires.” Actually, St Augustine’s City of God, was written as a defence of the Church against the charge made, after the fall of the Roman Empire, that it was the substitution of the Roman worship and ethos by the Christian system that had caused the calamity. It is the same inference as Gibbon draws later. That is why Augustine says that religion has nothing to do with the City of Man, and that we all are congenital sinners who could be saved only by the grace of Christ, Christians being the only elect in the world. Augustine completely absolves the Christians and the Church of their failure to save innocent citizens against rape, plunder, aggression and oppression.

He believes that if parents had not committed sin, posterity would not have died because of their sin. It is the eating of the apple that has brought sin and eternal damnation. And since Christians alone could be saved, those outside the Church are doomed to eternal damnation, torment, and misery. Augustine’s explanation of sin was quite simple, though hardly satisfactory. As we were all born sinful and wicked, punishment was natural. Grace alone could save man. Therefore, no non-Christian could be virtuous or be saved. In short, Augustine virtually believed in a pre-determined world of sin. He, therefore, discarded Origen’s view that ultimately all would be saved and Hell was not eternal. For Augustine God divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, but both were doomed to damnation.

But Pelagius, another ecclesiastic scholar, believed that man had free will and questioned the doctrine of Original Sin; adding that man could go to heaven if he did virtuous deeds. St Augustine also got these views of Pelagius declared as heretical. He observed that Adam had free will only before his fall. Thereafter man’s life was determined because we all inherit Adam’s sin and deserve eternal damnation from which the Church alone could save us.

St Augustine’s views on Christian theology are of great importance. But, one factor regarding his interpretation of Christianity needs to be kept in view while considering its rationale and merit. He wrote his City of God, may be, as a defensive measure because Christianity was being blamed for being one of the causes for the fall of Rome. For, the fall took place after Constantine had accepted Christianity as a State religion instead of Roman Systems, and worship. Centuries later, Gibbon, as we have seen, made a similar charge against Christianity for the calamity the Empire suffered. It has, therefore, been felt that Augustine’s view that Christianity has nothing to do with this world or the City of Man has been expressed in order to avoid the blame for the decline of the Empire. Augustine completely endorsed the dichotomy between religious and worldly life, as earlier suggested by Jerome and St Ambrose; that the spiritual man has no concern with the affairs of this world.

Referring to St Augustine’s City of God, Bertrand Russell observes that his logic therein is strange : “Christians who suffered the sack, have no right to complain. Some wicked Goths may have prospered at their expense, but they will suffer hereafter : if all sin were punished on earth, there would be no need of the Last Judgement.” Again, “It is suggested that God permitted rapes, because the victims had been too proud of their continence.”

He accepts the existence of angels and miracles in the field of eschatology, he virtually maintains the same system as suggested by the pacifist groups among Jews. This he had to do because he stuck to the Jewish myth of Genesis and the Fall of Adam and Eve.

St Augustine and the other Fathers of the Church were very insistent on the proper performance of sacraments and rituals like infant baptism. It is in the context of concluding his chapter on St Augustine that Bernard Russell writes, “It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before the dark ages were concerned not with saving civilisation or expelling the barbarians or reforming the abuses of the administration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damnation of unbaptised infants. Seeing that these were the pre-occupations that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed almost all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition.” The lesson is clear, dichotomy or divorce between the spiritual life and the secular life leads to enervation, pride, self-intoxication and a sense of callous contempt and unconcern for the people in the world.

In the East, the doctrine of Erastanism, namely, that the Church should be subordinate to the State was accepted. But, St Augustine strongly opposed this doctrine so far as the West was concerned. It is, indeed, strange, that although he and his group of theologians wanted separation between the world of God and the incurably sinful world of man, which they were unwilling to partake in or to defend, they insisted on the Supremacy of the Church over the Emperor who was incharge of the secular world and its affairs. It is an evident contradiction that, on the one hand, St Augustine should absolve the Church and Christianity of its responsibility to save people from rape and plunder and for the fall of Rome, and, on the other hand, he should lay down the doctrine of the right of the Church to give directions to the secular authority. Unfortunately, it was a case of the exercise of secular power without acceptance of the corresponding responsibility. This contradiction was amply demonstrated by the illogic of the stand of St Ambrose in the case of the burning of the synagogue by the Bishop as mentioned earlier. For, power without responsibility is always abused.

The religious views of Augustine are very important so as to understand the development of Christian thought and the Church in those centuries. He is the greatest theologian of the earlier period whose ideas were respected and have held the field for almost a thousand years. They have remained almost unchallenged at least till the Renaissance. St Augustine’s version of Christianity has been called the epitome of Christian theology. The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church records, “St Augustine’s abiding importance rests on his penetrating understanding of Christian truth.” It is doubtful if by any modern or humanitarian assessment St Augustine’s views can be rated so highly. Whatever be their value in the context in which they appeared, they are certainly dated. One wonders if he ever did justice to the work and mission of Christ unparalled as they were. Christ’s fundamental dictum, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” is unsurpassed in its depth and universality. But, the exclusivism of St Augustine never understood it; much less did he express or expound it. St Augustine’s scholarship was remarkable, but there was nothing original about it. His greatness lies in the fact that at a time when the Church was somewhat on the defensive and was being blamed for reverses of the Empire, he furnished some rational props to justify and maintain the position of the Church vis-a-vis the Empire, and the faith of the people. True, the Empire had its own troubles. But modern scholars like R.A. Todd do blame the Church for adding to the problems of the State. First is the evident dichotomy and divided loyalties the Church created. Most men of thought and creativity lost interest in the affairs of the world, and others took to monasticism or to the prestigious, unconstructive and easy life of the Church, where raising the moral tone of society was no one’s concern. Christianity in the West instead of confronting the barbarian attacks, accepted them as God’s judgement and even reached an understanding with them. Pope Gregory the Great while he despaired about the decaying City of Rome, negotiated an understanding with the invading Lombards, without any imperial authorisation to do so. But, there is one factor for which the Church has to accept the blame. With the Church having large estates, the Church men had become a part of the feudal society generally living a life of ease as an elite. Of the total Church receipts and income at Rome, hardly one fourth was distributed among the poor for whom it was really meant.

With St Augustine, the Catholic ideology was broadly settled for the Roman Church. Disputes with the East on points of ideology and otherwise continued and even conferences were held to sort out those differences and variant views. But, despite the efforts of the Emperors, ideological and political disparities continued. For, the Church at Rome had claimed its apostolic succession and priority.

There have been scholars whose views on some of the fundamentals of the Christian theology have been quite variant with those accepted by the Church. Quite often, all theological differences were sternly dealt with heavy punishments for all kinds of heresy.

Growth of Monasticism
Whenever there is decline in the official Church of a system, monastic trends appear. For, persons with greater religious sensitivities, when they can neither agree with the fall of moral standards of the official Church, nor are in a position to reform it, invariably withdraw into the shell of other-worldliness. Growing Christianity was becoming a religion of the wealthy and the well-to-do. Christianity was later called a religion of princes and kings. Christ after his crucifixion gave man a whole-life or people’s religion. For almost two centuries, it was the people, the masses who fought with their faith. They struggled, suffered and were martyred in thousands — men, women and children. But, slowly and surely, the leaders, the theoligians, may be because they were unequal to the task, created a religious system that was divorced from the world or the masses of people. Whether it was Origen, St Paul, St Jerome, St Ambrose or St Augustine, they all promoted a dichotomous system with the City of God having no responsibility for the City of Man, which was supposed to stew in its own juice. That is why it has been felt that Christ’s religion of “Love your neighbour as yourself” was derailed.

It is in this context that by the end of the third century monastic centres started appearing, first away from Rome. Monasticism was justified on the words of Jesus, “There are some who are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God.” After Christianity became State religion, dichotomy was formalised, and those religious persons who did not want to enter the organised life of the Church, went into monasteries and nunneries. The point of significance is that the appearance of dichotomy preceded far earlier than monasticism. In fact, the first monastery appeared only in a 315-20 CE. This clearly means that monasticism or dichotomy was never indigenous to Christianity. As it was, all external influences, whether of the pacifist groups of Judaism, the Neoplatonists or the Manichaeans, were other-worldly since they were all withdrawal groups, and were unconcerned with the affairs of the society. True, the imperial pressure on the Christian society was a factor that, in the interests of survival, made it non-confrontational and compromising with the State. For, isolationism became a good method of escape. Even Paul made it clear that celibacy favoured the work of the apostolate, and in reference to the State, he was quite polite. Origen definitely recommended non-involvement in State affairs and doing only religious works. Similarly, St Jerome, promoted monasticism. We have indicated that it became a standard achievement of the Church to attract the wealthy and the influential. This naturally diverted the religious-minded persons to isolationism. About this trend M.E. Marty opines, “It is best explained as a reaction against the secularisation of the Church in the years when it was poised to overtake the Empire.”
From the fourth century onwards, monasteries and nunneries grew all over the Christian world. In the early period, discipline in the monasteries was very rigid and ascetic. But, in later periods, it became comparatively regulated and moderate. While monastic life has been considered to be the path to holiness, the institution has had its critics as well. It is true that compared to the increasing lust and corruption in the Christian society and even in the Church, life in the monasteries was far more Christian in its character. In the mediaeval period, as in the case of the Benedictine Order, a prescribed routine of prayers, duties, labour, service, sleeping hours, etc., had to be followed, and requisite discipline was enforced. This does not mean that indiscipline and intrigue were altogether avoided. There were sometimes incidents of immorality and even murder. The Benedictines, the Dominicans and Franciscans were some of the main orders.

An important contribution of the monasteries has been in the field of education and scholarship. Albert Magnus, Thomas Acquinas, Occam, and Scotus are scholars from different orders. Many of the Christian mystics have also been the product of these institutions.



ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, All rights reserved. Designed by Jaswant (09915861422)