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From the Jesus-people to Early Christianity
30 - 110 AD

©  Wim van den Dungen

To the Jesus-page

The original movements around Jesus
Early Christianity is apostolic & evangelical
Freedom of expression & the Jesus-movements
The organization of Early Christianity
The rise of Roman Catholicism
Early heresies
Christology, Trinitarism & Catholicism imposed "de manu militari"
Selection of suggestive historical landmarks
Selection of themes
Towards a description of Early Christianity ?


To the First Christian Catechism

Check my analysis of Christian Orthodoxy


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 (cf. postmodernism & 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 : 

  • the "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" ;

  • the "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 Apostle's Creed.

Is there 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 Shabaka and 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 composed them. 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 Gentiles had been added to the core of the Jewish theology of the pillar-apostles of the Church of 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 probably not 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

The "liberal" 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 course many 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 elsewhere. Alternative rules have been proposed. They are based on a mild postmodern philosophy, a 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 should embrace 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 scripture) and the characteristics of an evolution of the human mind and take this beyond the formal-operatoric mode.

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, Ruusbroec or Beatrice).

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 Gospel 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 a "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 Didachè). Paul's 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 Gospel of 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 made.

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 the Messiah.
"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 ?

For nothing is hidden that will not be made known,
or secret that will not come to light.
Q1 50

Early Christianity is apostolic & evangelical

(§ 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 remain 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 cults ?

The core of the Jewish identity was ethnic & genealogical. Circumcision & Sabbath-observance were the outer signs of adherence to the God of Israel, "YHVH ALHYM". 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 Christ-theology in 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, exclusive 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 Papal Catholicism.

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 moved beyond 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 theories 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 Christ-theology

Messianism is 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 Paul.

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 Gospel 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 Christianity. To 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 Jewish sect. 

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 & eschatology, the 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 Theology, 53).

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 Memphis Theology, 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 "Divine 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 edicts ?

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.

In 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 AD 95), 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 however being ever universally accepted. In his Letter to the Corinthians (ca. AD 96), he mentions the apostles had ordained bishops & deacons. The prophets are not mentioned.

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 today. 

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 ;

  • Jewish Christianity 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.  

Early heresies

(§ 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 early 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 Gospel 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 Gnosticism.

* 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 churches.

(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 churches).

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 liturgy.

* 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 elsewhere.

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
Q1 27

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 its 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 that 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 elsewhere, 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 Q1, nothing more is needed to receive this than to fully accept Jesus as the Son of Man

Paul 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 Creed

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 needed.

"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 Imperial Christianity.

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) a 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.

Excursus : the Name of the Divine.

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 bishops.

God is one essence and three Divine Persons

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.

Bishops & 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 worshippers killed.

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 Jesus !

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.

But, as 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 & clergy). Their 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 (hermits). 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 were 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 semi-cenobites existed. They were living near one another or together. By the scale of his operations, he is 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.

The lonely, 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 century).

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 devotions). 

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. 

Become passers-by.
Thomas 42

Some historical landmarks

(§ 9) Selection of suggestive historical landmarks :

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 Hermetism ;
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 there - the Tora 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 Lord ;
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 Antoninus Pius
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 decades ;
75 : completion of Q ;
75 - 100 : Thomas-people & the redaction of the Gospel of Thomas
80 - 100 : the redaction of the Didachè, 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.

Recent 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 he 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.

Another 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. Pharaonic Heliopolitan theology 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) ; 

  • each Person 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

"Christ" means "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 :


"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 historical Jesus.


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 is the 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 Christ's 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 Christ !

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.


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 Hermeticism). 

More than an interpretation of the "Logia Iesu" is needed ! 

The book Words of Jesus is open, still unfinished, containing -as yet- a limited set of sayings found in Q1, the Gospel of Thomas and the Didachè.

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 :

(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 Jerusalem) :

(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 believers ...

(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. 

Three hermeneutical uses of the word "Christ" should be distinguished :

(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 scapegoat).

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 :

  1. 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) ;

  2. the opinions of the 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  !! 

Objective errors 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 traditions. 

What does Jesus think of all of this ? 

How 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