The Church In The Second Century Part 2

23 Jul


The Church In The Second Century Part 2

By: Bob Gersztyn




The dominant personalities of the second century Church can be broken down into two categories, that of the apologists and that of the theologians. Each of the two groups have an important function. However, it should also be noted that in certain cases individuals function in both categories simultaneously: e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. The apologist formed the same relationship to the paganism, the mystery cults, and the philosophical schools as the theologians did to the heresies which were cropping up within the Church.

According to Paul Tillich, โ€œThe apologetic movement can rightly be called the birthplace of a developed Christian theology.โ€ 1 The term apology in relation to theology comes from the Greek word โ€˜apologiaโ€™ which means to make a defense for or answer to.2 The purpose of the apologist was to make a defense for Christianity as a lawyer would defend his client in court. We have historical records of fifteen apologists in both extant and fragmentary form. The apologists all lived within the second and third centuries.

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaton (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 24.
  2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), Pgs. 61 & 285.

By the second century few apologists bothered to devote โ€œmuch attention to the Jews and Judaism. By the time that they wrote, the separation of the Christian community form Judaism was almost complete and Christians were being drawn primarily form paganism.โ€1


Since their audience was primarily pagan, they devoted themselves to pagan issues such as โ€œthe follies and inconsistencies in polytheistic worship . . .โ€ and โ€œThey pointed out the normal weaknesses of some of the leading philosophers.โ€2 They did not give that much time to the mystery religions, but when they did speak of them it was negative.

There are two points in the apologistsโ€™ teachings which because of their far reaching importance must be heavily underlined, viz. (a) that for all of them of the description โ€˜God the Fatherโ€™ connoted, not the first person of the Holy Trinity, but the one Godhead considered as author of whatever exists; and (b) that they all, Athanagorus included, dated the generation of the Logos, and so his eligibility for the title of โ€˜sonโ€™, not from origination within the being of the Godhead, but from his emission of putting forth for the purpose of creation, revelation and redemption.3

Some of the leading second century personalities who functioned either as apologists or theologians or both were Aristedes, Athanagorus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen.


  1. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953). Pg. 83.
  2. Ibid.
  3. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Fransisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pg. 100.

Aristedes was an Athenian philosopher who was converted in the beginning of the second century. He wrote an apologetic letter to the emperor Antonius Pius (A.D. 138-161). This work was lost until 1889 when it was discovered in a monastery in Mount Sinai by a professor named Harris. Aristedesโ€™ letter is a classic example of how secular thought infiltrated Christianity in the fact that his letter begins

โ€œ… with an outline demonstration of Godโ€™s existence based on Aristotleโ€™s argument form motion. The consideration of the order and beauty of the universe induced in him to believe in a Supreme being who was the prime mover and who remaining himself invisible dwelt in his creation. The fact that there was a cosmos demanded a divine craftsman to organize it. Sovereign and lord, He has created everything for man; reality came to be out of nothing at the Behest of him who is incorruptible, unchanging and invisible. He himself is uncreated, without beginning or end; he has no form, no limits, no sex. The heavens do not contain him (here we detect a criticism of stoic pantheism, with its identification of God with the world); on the contrary, he contains them, as He contains everything visible and invisible. Hence, Christians acknowledge God as creator and demiurge of all things . . . and apart from Him worship no other God.โ€1

His apology compares Christianity to pagan religion, and is one of the best sources of differences and similarities in doctrine and ritual between the two.


Athenagorus was another Athenian. He wrote an apologetic work entitled โ€œA Plea for the Christians,” and addressed in A.D. 177 to Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. It was reminiscent of Justin Martyrโ€™s works in its liberal character. In his apology, he defends Christianity against the widespread charges of immorality which the ancient world accused it of. In fact, he stated that ones who made these charges,

โ€œwere themselves sodomites and adulterers, but that Christians believed in treating their neighbors as themselves and, since they were convinced that in a future life they must give an account to God of their deeds here, adopted a temperate and benevolent manner of life, when struck did not strike in return, and robbed did not go to law.โ€1


  1. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Fransico: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pg. 84.

His writing in general reveals that โ€œThe Deity is unoriginate and eternal,โ€2 that the word of God is his son, but not in a human sense, since โ€œ God from the beginning being eternal intelligence, had his word (logou) in Himself, being eternally rational (aidios logikos).โ€3 He was a trinitarian and believed that the Spirit inspired the prophets. He believed that man had a free will and was responsible for his actions, and that there will be a final resurrection and a future life where both the body and soul participate.

Justin Martyr was born either at the end of the first century, or the beginning of the second century A.D. He was born in Neapolis, in Samaria of northern Palestine, at that time a province of Rome. His family was Greek in origin and had colonized in Palestine sometime earlier. As far as record indicate, Justin was the first trained philosopher to defect to Christianity. His conversion took place around A.D. 132. 4

  1. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A history of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. I: The First Five Centuries (Grand rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1937), Pg. 125.
  2. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San FransicoL Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pg. 85.
  3. Ibid., Pg. 100.
  4. Justin Martyr, Marcus Aurelius and His Times: Apology (Roslyn, New York: Walter J, Black, Inc., 1945), Pg. 244.

Prior to his conversion, Justin investigated the Stoics, the Aristotelians, and the Pythagoreans. However, in the end he became a Platonist. โ€œThe influence of Plato, however, and of Justinโ€™s Greek philosophic training shows in all his writings as a Christian, and he is eager to point out the concepts they have in common, such as the creation of the world by God, and the immortality of the soul.โ€1

Justin felt that all of the noble principles found in Greek philosophers, dramatists, and even Homer, could also be found in the pre-dated Hebrew Scriptures. In order to arrive at this conclusion, Justin had a concept of the Logos that bridged the gap between the Hebrew and Greek cultures. The logos principle was referred to by the early Greek philosophers, and was developed as an important part of Platoโ€™s philosophy. The Apostle John used this word to refer to the pre-incarnate form of Christ in his Gospel; and Justin further expounded upon the term in his first apology.

โ€œWe are taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have told you already that he is a the Word of whom every race of men partakes; and that those who lived by their reasons were Christians, even though they might be called Atheists. Such men among the Greeks were Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, Ananias, Azarius, Misael, Elias . . .โ€2

In the above quote it can be seen that Justin made a comparison of Socrates to Abraham and that he believed that God gave all men glimpses of truth regardless of ethnicity. However, he also stated that with the birth of Christ, the incarnate word, all the previous philosophies were culminated, and that now Christianity is the โ€œtrue philosophyโ€ 3.

  1. Justin Martyr, Marcus Aurelius and His Times: Apology (Roslyn, New York: Walter J. Black, Inc., 1945), Pg. 245.
  2. Ibid., Pg. 282.
  3. Ibid.

While all others were merely foreshadows of it. Truth is truth, argued Justin, regardless of its source. Justin had the most developed theology of the effect of Christโ€™s incarnation of any of the other apologists, Justin was martyred in Rome during the time of emperor Marcus Aurelius by decapatation.1

Tatian was a pupil of Justin Martyr. His original home was Mesopotamia. He further developed Justinโ€™s teachings of the logos, although in his doing so he โ€œgave Justinโ€™s thesis a violently anti-Hellenic and polemical edge that would have distressed Justin.โ€ 2

Tatian believed that before creation, God was alone, although the Logos was lying dormant in him, much in the same way that the potentiality for our words lie within us until we use them. In the same way he also believed that when the world was brought into existence that is was just as much a part of the Father as our words are a part of us, yet at the same time that word took nothing away from the Father when it was spoken forth.. Tatian was an early Trinitarian as was Justin, although neither explicitly taught the doctrine; but rather it could be derived from their writings by their references God, the Logos, and the Spirit.

“According to Tatian, the Spirit of God is not present in all but He comes down upon some who live justly, unites Himself with their souls, and by His predictions announced the hidden future of other souls.” 3

He also believed, like Justin, that man had a free will and was in a fallen state requiring salvation to bring him back into union with God.

  1. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Fransico: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pgs. 168, 169.
  2. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967), Pg. 79.
  3. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines ( San Fransico: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960) Pg. 102.


Theopolis, Bishop of Antioch, was another second century apologist. In A.D. 180 he wrote a letter defending Christianity addressed to an individual by the name of Autolycus.1 In this letter, which was of a rambling nature, he โ€œtraces his conversion to a perusal of the scriptures and to fulfillment of their prophecies.โ€2 Theopolis became the first apologist to use the term โ€˜triadโ€™ in a relation to the Godhead. He drew a parallel between the three days preceding the creation of the sun and moon, and the Godhead, stating that they,

โ€œโ€™were types of the triad, that is, of god and of His Word and of His Wisdom . . .โ€™ He envisaged God as having His Word and His Wisdom eternally in Himself, and generating Them for the purpose of creation; and he was also clear that when God put them forth, He did not empty Himself of Them, but โ€˜is forever conversing with His Word.โ€3

Theoplis, as Tatian, believed that man was not created good, evil, mortal, or immortal, but with the capacity to become either. In his fall, Adam lost the guidance of the Spirit, and was now subject to demonic attacks.

  1. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967),Pg.79.
  2. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. I: The First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing House, 1937), Pg. 120.
  3. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines ( San Fransisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pgs. 102 &104.

Clement of Alexandria was the first great teacher of the Cathetical school in Alexandria, Egypt. His exact dates of birth and death are unknown. Clement led the school during the last two decades of the second century, and left it in A.D. 203 due to the persecution under the Emperor Septimus Severus.

Clement, like Justin Martyr, was very sympathetic towards Greek philosophy.

โ€œHe contended that the philosophy of the Greeks was a preparation for the Gospel, to those who were familiar with it paving the way for perfection in Christ. He held that God is the source of all good things, of philosophy as the old and New Testaments. Indeed he held that the Greek philosophers had learned much from Moses.โ€1

Paul Tillich stated that โ€œClementโ€™s thought is a great example of a synthesis of Christian thinking and Greek philosophy.โ€2 Clement is best known in modern times by his writings, especially three surviving works entitled โ€œThe Exhortation to Conversion (Protrepticus), The Tutor (Paedagogus), and The Miscellanies (Stromateis) which he never completed.โ€3 From these works it is possible to construct a picture of Clementโ€™s theology. This picture is extremely important since it entails the subject matter which was taught at the second centuryโ€™s most influential center of Christian theology.

  1. Kenneth Scott Latorette, A History of Christianity, Vol.I: Beginnings to 1500 ( New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953), Pg. 148.
  2. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, Edited by Carl E. Braaton, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 56.
  3. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1067), Pg. 94.

As it was before mentioned, the purpose of organizing the Church and its doctrine was to combat corruption of the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles, or at least what the consensus of the Catholic church was. However, Clement was an objective scholar who understood that even heresies contained some amount of truth in order to survive. Therefore, although Clement opposed the Gnostic heresy, he believed in a true gnosis (knowledge), that of the Gospel which required faith in order to enact salvation.


Clement was a moderate who opposed the asceticism, which was gaining in popularity in the Christian circles at that time. He felt that each individual must determine his or her position regarding such things as dietary habits and alcoholic consumption; however, he opposed hedonism. Henry Chadwick, an English historian who wrote on the early church states that โ€œthe central principle of Clements thinking is the doctrine of creation. This is the ground of redemption.โ€1 Another important aspect of Clementโ€™s theology could be found in his teachings on the relationship of Jesus to God. โ€œClement taught that God is one and that the word or logos always existed as the โ€˜faceโ€™ of God, and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity.โ€2 Clement felt that the Logos, translated as Word or reason,

โ€œprepared the Jews by the law, and the Greeks by their Philosophy. He has prepared all nations in some way. The Logos is never absent from people.โ€3

  1. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967) Pg. 97.
  2. Kenneth Scott Latourette, Christianity Through he Ages (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), Pg. 49.
  3. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaton (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 55.

Clementโ€™s principal writings were done as a layman, while he supported himself as a independent teacher. There is some evidence that he was an ordained presbyter in the church prior to his death. However, this was most probably as a part of an effort to try and regulate independent teachers like Clement by the Catholic Church.

The second century marked the beginning of what later became a schism within the Catholic Church. The two factions of this division are known today as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The pioneers of the Eastern theological views were Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. The first clearly Western theologian was Quintus Septimius Tertullianus.


Tertullian was born in Carthage in A.D. 160. He was the son of a Roman Centurion, and was trained to be a lawyer by profession. When at middle age, he became a convert to Christianity. He used all his talents in the defense and development of a Christian theology. Prior to him, only Greek had been used in theological writings. Although he was proficient at Greek, he chose to be the first major theologian to use Latin in his writings. The reason for this lies in the fact that by the end of the second century and the beginning of the third, upper class Rome was being reached by Christianity. There now was a need for Latin to be used to make Christianity more personal to the aristocracy.1

  1. Kenneth J. Pratt, Lecture Notes From The Early Middle Ages (California State University at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif., Fall Quarter, 1979).

This adoption of Latin had two ramifications. First, as the western church adopted Latin, the Eastern church held onto Greek which eventually led to theological language differences. Second, as Latin was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, and as the Roman Catholic Church exerted its influence on Western Culture, Latin became the primary language in place of Greek even for the lower classes.1 In his early days he relied on the Stoic philosophy for many of his reasoning’s and arguments for Christianity. However, in his later years he rejected all philosophy as being false and demonic. He especially attacked Plato.

Tertullian was an intense extremist. In his early life prior to his conversion, he gave himself wholly to pagan pleasures, so it was only natural for him to likewise give himself to Christianity. Since he saw life as a struggle between the forces of good and evil, with the Empire representing all that was evil, he condemned any participation in the system from civil service to attending games. He became an ascetic puritanist. His theological writings had a great deal of influence on the Catholic Church. Kenneth Latourette states that –

โ€œHis view of the trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.โ€2


  1. In the late Fourth & early Fifth Centuries Jerome translated the Bible from its original tongues into Latin. It was called the Vulgate, since it was the vulgar or common language of that time., Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Chrstianity, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers 1953), Pgs. 132, 133.
  2. Ibid., Christianity Through the Ages (New York: Harper & Row, Publsihers, 1960), Pg. 49.

His greatest joy was in supporting some minority cause, which is what Christianity was in the Empire, at that time. However, this later led to his leaving the Catholic Church. He supported the Montanist movement, which was both extremely puritanical and ascetic. He denounced the Catholic Church as being too worldly, โ€œand embraced Montanism as a more outright application of the teachings of Christ.โ€1

The last influential figure within the Church mentioned in this paper is Origenes Adamantius (Origen). He did not become influential until A.D. 203 as Clementโ€™s successor as the head of the cathetical school in Alexandria. However, his importance to the second century is because of the fact that he organized and categorized all the theological developments that had occurred previous to his ascension. He is considered by some to be the Churchโ€™s greatest theologian.

Origen was intense in his Christianity like Tertullian. However, being an Alexandrian he reconciled Greek philosophy with Christianity. Origenโ€™s father was executed as a Christian during the persecution under Septimius Severus; and he was only prevented from joining his father by the fact that his mother hid his clothes. It is said he wrote as many as Six-Thousand books, including tracts.2 He was considered the father of Christian allegorism, just as Philo was of Hebrew.

  1. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. III: Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 3:613.
  2. Ibid., 3:615.

Although Origen was considered one of the Churchโ€™s greatest theologians, it did not save him from eventual condemnation by the Church as a heretic. The reason for this condemnation was due to the fact that he applied his method of allegorical interpretation to every area of scripture; and the case of eschatology, it culminated in what was termed the doctrine of โ€˜the restitution of all things.โ€™ In this doctrine he spiritualized the second coming of Christ to be that of individual spiritual experiences, Hell as the sinners misery here on Earth, and finally that โ€œat the end everyone and everything will become spiritualized; the bodily existence will vanish.โ€1 Origen even found that Satan himself could be saved. This interpretation was partially motivated by his attempt to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christianity, and โ€œbecause freedom is never cancelled out, there is the possibility that the whole process could start over again.โ€2
Although Origen was an Allegorist, he for the purpose of maintaining his Christian purity committed an act that even the Ascetic literalists did not perform. Based on Matthew 5:27-30, in which Jesus told his disciples to remove a body part if it caused them to stumble, Origen castrated himself. He died in the year A.D. 253. This was only three years after he was tortured by being stretched on the rack during the persecution under the emperor Decius at the age of sixty-eight. 3

  1. Paul Tillich, Ahistory of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 64
  2. Ibid., Pg. 64
  3. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. III: Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 3:615.



The shaping of the second century Church was affected by a multiplicity of stimuli. However, the area that had the greatest influence was that of religious competition, both internally as seen in many heresies, and externally as seen in the co-existing mystery religions and cults. The mystery religions were so called because of the secrecy that was involved in their rituals. All of those religions had rituals and what they termed โ€˜Holy Storiesโ€™ (Hieros Logos). As a rule they all involved sin atonement purification, and grades or steps of achievement, which usually involved asceticism. They all promised immortality, had a paid clergy and, were looking for converts. They were transported into Rome from every area of the Empire, both by soldiers and slaves. Some of the main cults and mystery religions included emperor worship, Dionysus or Bachus worship, Mithraism, Eleusanianism, Serapism, Cyble (Magna Mater) Worship, and the Orphic cult.1

  1. Kenneth J. Pratt, Lecture Notes from The Early Middle Ages, (California State University at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif., Fall Quarter, 1979

There were many similarities between these pagan religions and Christianity; and for this reason some accused the Christians of plagiarism in regard to their beliefs and practices. Examples can be seen in how an initiate to Cyble was placed in a pit where a bull was slain over him, thus cleansing him with the blood. Mithraism, which evolved from Persian Zoroasterism, had a sacred meal in which bread and wine were consumed as in a communion service.1

Serapism was the Greek form of the Egyptian Isis, Osiris religion. The Holy Story deals with Osiris being dismembered by his son Set, and how he was then resurrected by Isis. Many of the pagan religions had a resurrected leader as the center of its sacred story. It was also common for the central figures of these religions to be God-men born of sexual union between a divine being, as in the case of Jupiter (Zeus) and Semel begetting Dionysus (Bacchus).2


However, there were a number of drawbacks to these religions. First, many of them were sexist and open to men only. Second, others required exorbitant initiation fees, eliminating the middle and lower classes. Finally, the figures in each of them, excluding emperor worship, were mythological figures not having any historical credibility.3 In contrast to these drawbacks of the pagan religions, Christianity had a real historical founder. It also had a universal appeal in that there was no sex, age, class, or nationality discrimination. Along with these factors, Christianity appealed to the people of the Roman Empire because it offered a hope in immortality, a universal brotherhood of mankind, and the hope of the coming of the Kingdom of God, which would bring an unprecedented golden age for all mankind.4

  1. Kenneth J. Pratt, Lecture Notes from The Early Middle Ages, (California State University at Los Angeles, L.A. Calif., Fall Quarter, 1979)
  2. Thomas Bulfinch, Bulfinches Mytholigy
  3. Kennneth J. Pratt, Lecture Notes from The Early Middle Ages, (California State University at Los Angeles, L.A., Calif., Fall Quarter, 1979).
  4. Ibid.

The internal conflict which shaped the Church dealt with deviations from the direction in which the Catholic Church was moving. This internal conflict brought three results as previously mentioned: (1) Apostolic succession, (2) determination of authoritative scripture, and (3) condensing of the apostlesโ€™ teachings into its simplest form. These ramifications were the main ingredients for the ecclesiastical structure which became the Roman Catholic Church. The heresies were of two types: Those which were a syncretization of Christianity, and other philosophies or religions, as Gnosticism and Marcionism were; and reactions against the cold calculating anti spiritual, highly structured organization that the church was evolving into, as Montanism was. The first area of investigation dealt with is Gnosticism. Gnosticism existed before Christianity was born.

โ€œThe Gnostics were not a sect; if anything, they were many sects. Actually, however, gnosticism was a widespread religious movement in the late ancient world . This movement is usually called syncretism. It was a mixture of all the religious traditions of that time. It spread all over the world, and was strong enough to penetrate Greek philosophy and the Jewish religion . . . It was also strong enough to penetrate Roman law and Christian theology.โ€1

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 33.

As further investigation took place it became obvious that Gnosticism was a major factor in shaping both the political system and the Church itself; because,

โ€œwhile the political movement went from West to East, the religious movement went from East to West. Hence Gnosticism was an attempt to combine all the religious traditions which had lost their genuine roots, and to unite them in a system of a half philosophical, half religious character.โ€1

For the Gnostics, all created matter is evil. They differentiated the God of creation in the Old testament and the God of Salvation in the New Testament. Christian Gnosticism taught that one of the heavenly powers of the good God, called an Aeon, descended through the realm of the Evil God of Creation. In his descending he passes each of the planets which are controlled by demonic powers, this is as in astrology. As he descends he takes the seals of each of these powers along with their name. He then takes on the likeness of flesh, not real flesh since all flesh is matter and thus evil, and is called Jesus. He then reveals the gnosis (knowledge) that he has obtained to his disciples. After pretending to die, he ascends back to his heavenly realm. Now his followers may follow by using the gnosis which he revealed to his disciples to pass through each successive realm controlled by demonic powers, until the liberation of the spirit is completed. This is done through a gradual learning process of secrets that Jesus orally transmitted, but were never written down.2

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 34.
  2. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967), Pgs. 22-28.

โ€œThe principal ingredients which Gnosticism derived from Christianity was the central idea of redemption. But not all second-century sects included Jesus as the redeemer.โ€1

Gnosticism taught that men were at three levels. Some were the elect who had a divine spark within them, and were destined to salvation. Others (ordinary church members) had the potential to achieve a lower level of spirituality, but not attain to the same degree as the chosen ones. A last group were comprised of the heathen, who were hopelessly lost without any hope of redemption. According to tradition, Simon Magus, the magician of Samaria found in Acts chapter ten, was one of the founding fathers of Christian Gnosticism.

Church of S. Costanza
The second area of investigation was probably the most successful of the early Christian heresies. Its founder, Marcion, was a native of Sinope, a city of Pontus in Asia Minor. It is believed that his father was a Christian bishop in that city. Marcion was wealthy and migrated to Rome in about A.D. 138. Upon his arrival in Rome he presented the church there with a sizable gift and joined himself to it. By the year A.D. 144 he was excommunicated from the church and had his gift returned upon his departure. However, when he left a number of members followed him, and they formed their own church. The proof of his success lies in the fact that Marcionism persisted up until the fifth century, when it is believed that it merged Manichaeism.

  1. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1967), Pg. 37.

Marcionโ€™s theological concepts are similar to Gnosticism in many respects and were often confused with it. Marcion clearly taught a dualism between the God of the Old Testament, which he called the Demiurge, as the Gnostics did, and that of the New Testament. He taught that the God of the New Testament was unknown to man until Jesus, at the age of thirty appeared. He rejected the birth and the childhood of Jesus as a falsification of the true story.
Marcion believed that the flesh was evil as the Gnostics did. He went so far as to forbid sexual union among members who were married. According to his concept, birth further continued the evil creation of the Demiurge. Naturally, since the flesh was evil, Christ could not have actual flesh and blood, but only appeared to be, as a phantom. This idea of appearing to be flesh is called Docetism, and was taught in many latter heresies as well.1 The main point of departure between Marcionism and Gnosticism lies in the issue of a secret knowledge (gnosis). Like the Gnostics,
โ€œand indeed, like the Christian churches as whole, he was deeply concerned with the salvation of men. This, however, he conceived to be not, as did the Gnostics, through initiation into a mystery, but by simple faith in what he believed to be the gospel.โ€2

Because of his rejection of Old Testament, and the fact that he felt that the Gospel was distorted, he compiled a New Testament composed of ten of Paulโ€™s letters and Lukeโ€™s gospel. He edited out Those portions which contradicted his teachings, and accused them of being latter additions.

  1. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Chrstianity, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953), Pgs. 125-128
  2. Ibid., Pg. 126.

Tillich states that โ€œMarcion was not a speculative philosopher, but a religious performer.โ€1 His reforms were listed in his book entitled Antithesis, in which in which he clarified the distinction between the Old and New testaments, and how he was making the final severance between Judaism and Christianity, which Paul had begun, but which was later distorted by his disciples.

The final heresy investigated in this paper is Montanism. Montanism, as Marcionism was named after its founder. Montanus was also from Asia Minor, from the area called Phrygia. Prior to his conversion Montanus โ€œhad been a priest of Cybele, and apparently was a man of enthusiastic and neurotic temperment.โ€2 He merged the ecstatic characteristics of his former faith with the teachings of Christianity, and the outcome was Montanism. Montanism had many positive factors in it, which made it a rather formidable opponent to orthodoxy. So formidable, in fact, that Tertullian, the great second-century theologian, defected to it. 3

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 34.
  2. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953), Pg. 346.
  3. Ibid., Pg. 129.


Montanism accused the Orthodox Church of growing too lax and worldly. He instituted strict discipline and moral standards. Although marriage was allowed, celibacy was prized, and communal living was encouraged. There were two areas of emphasis, which were basic Christian teachings of the first-century Church that the second-century Church began to supress.1 The first was that of the working and continuation of the prophetic spirit. Montanus claimed that he spoke in tongues at his baptism and that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus. Ecstatic prophecies were encouraged among all members. Two women by the names of Priscilla and Maximilla became the primary source next to Montanus, for receiving the oracles of God.2
A second area of emphasis had to do with the second coming of Christ. The first-century Church had taught his imminent return. However, after over a century had passed, laxity set in and the emphasis was switched to living in the present world. Montanus taught the urgency of Christโ€™s return. In fact, he led a group of people out to a plain in Phrygia to await the descent of the New Jerusalem as spoken of in Johnโ€™s Apocalypse. A result of the immediate expectation of Christโ€™s return was the neglect of materialism and things dealing with the present life, increased fasting, and martyrdom being held in high honor.3

Montanism spread through Asai Minor, Africa, and Rome. It persisted well into the eighth century. However, it was excluded from the Orthodox Church from the beginning, but as Paul Tillich stated concerning the Church โ€œvictory over Montanism also resulted in loss.โ€4

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 41.
  2. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. III: Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 3:605.
  3. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1953), Pgs. 128 & 129.
  4. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (NewYork: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 41.

Tillich states that this loss occurred in four areas. First, there could be no new revelation, only new insights, but even that was greatly โ€œreduced in power and meaning.โ€1 Second, the prophetic spirit was excluded from the Church and replaced by hierarchy. Third, the idea of the end of history was eliminated and subrogated by each individual preparing for their end of history at death. Fourth, discipline was disregarded in the Church as it gave way to growing laxity.

  1. Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought. Edited by Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), Pg. 41

Church Triumphant


Heresies such as Montanism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism definitely had an influence upon Christianity, as did the pagan cults and the mystery religions. However, the object of this paper has been to point out how these supposedly negative stimuli contributed positive influences as well as negative. Results such as apostolic succession, a New Testament Canon, and a rule of faith were the three principal contributions, but countless others occurred as well.

Although politics, ideas, and theological achievements were critical to the development of the second-century Church, the people who originated and promoted them, being their source, were far more important. Therefore, an understanding of individual, personal contributions ranging from the emperors Trajan to Septimius Severus, from the apologists Aristedes to Origen the Alexandrian are crucial to the total scenario. Grasping the influence of the aggregate of all the above is essential for a complete understanding of the twentieth-century Church, both institutionally and theologically. It also answers the oft asked question: “What happened to the first century Church?”

I wrote this paper 34 years ago, so I have some additional thoughts to share in my addendum to the conclusion. The question of “What happened to the Jesus Movement?” can be answered with the same answer of “What happened to the first century Church?” They both became part of the system and no longer had spiritual power, but were simply another arm of Babylon, which is the secular world. There have been spiritual events that are outbursts of the true gospel throughout history regardless of the geographic location or controlling political power. However, as soon as the persecution and suffering or social upheaval ends and the rules and regulations begin, the original power dissipates and what remains is an impotent relic of what once was, as a reminder of what can and will be again when the time comes. Some spread the fire and some keep the embers burning until they are needed again.



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