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The Study of Theology in the West in the Third Century

The Study of Theology in the West in the Third Century

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Published by: glennpease on Jun 15, 2013
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THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY I THE WEST I THE THIRD CETURYBY CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGS1, The study of theology in the West until the middleof the third century was chiefly in the Greek language,not only in Borne, but also in distant Gaul, where were theprincipal centres of education at the beginning of thecentury.The literature of the early Church was in the Greek language. The Bible used by the early Christians, notonly in Alexandria, but all over the Roman world, wasthe Greek version of the Old Testament.^ The writingsof the apostles were circulated in Greek. The worksof the great Christian teachers of this early period wereall in Greek, so far as preserved. It is therefore naturalthat Greek should have remained for a time the languageof Christian scholarship even in the West. The greaterChristian teachers, in the West as in the East, had forthe most part studied and taught in the grammar andrhetorical schools of the Roman Empire, before theirconversion ; and not a few had been trained in theuniversities. These brought over with them intoChristianity the Greek methods of instruction, and,combining them with Hebrew methods, produced amixed Christian system of grammar and rhetoricalschools.1 Vide Briggs, Study of Holy Scripture, p. 190.154 HISTORY OF THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY [pt. n.2. Latin influence was exerted in the Church chieflythrough Roman Law and methods of administration, whichmade Rome the centre of Church government and discipline.This very situation, however, was provocative of conflicts within the Church, especially in Rome ; andthe West during the third and fourth centuries wasdistracted by numerous schisms, due not so much todoctrinal differences, as to practical differences in churchdiscipline, so that the ecclesiastical lawyer became more
important than the doctrinal theologian.In the first half of the century the popes were notmen of ability, intellectually, morally, or as executives.From Zephyrinus to Fabian (199-250) all were lax indiscipline as regards both faith and morals. In strivingafter peace and quiet they kept to a middle course, whichcould not satisfy any of the contending factions.Victor, near the close of the previous century, hadcondemned the Adoptionist, Theodotus of Byzan-tium, and his school. But the Modalistic doctrine of the Trinity, coming from Asia in the person of Praxeas,was tolerated at Rome, though condemned at Carthage.So also, while oetus was condemned at Smyrna, theModalists established themselves at Rome under hispupil Epigonus, who was followed by Cleomenes, andfinally by Sabellius. The strictly orthodox as to moralsand faith, whose leader was Hippolytus, were outragedat the laxity of the popes. They finally separated, andmade Hippolytus antipope. Thus at last they com-pelled Calixtus to action, and Sabellius and his partywere condemned.The earliest list of the minor orders is in a letterwritten by Cornelius of Rome to Fabius of Antioch in251. It includes, with bishops, presbyters and deacons,sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers and door-keepers. Those who would become presbyters andbishops were obliged to ascend through these lowerCH. v.] I THE WEST I THIRD CETURY 165grades, with practical training in each, before they couldrise higher. In cases of necessity, or with candidates of unusual ability, there might be an ordination per saltum ;but the custom was, that a considerable time should bespent in each of the lower orders. According to Drane,' the author of the Philosophumena acquaints us "with thefact that Pope Calixtus i. established a school of theologyat Rome, which appears from his account to have beencrowded with disciples.' ^3. The Canon of the ew Testament became fixed inBorne by the close of the second century, as the Muratorian
fragment of that date attests.The first layer of the ew Testament Canon, consistingof the four Gospels, had won universal recognition in theChurch prior to Justin, who cites them as authoritative,^and represents that they were read in the churches bythe side of the Old Testament Prophets ; and to Tatian,who compacted them together in his Diatessaron, whichwas used in the Syrian churches for generations.The second layer of the Canon, containing the PaulineEpistles and the Acts, had gained general recognition bythe close of the second century. The Epistle to theHebrews was included in this layer in the East, but notin the West. These two layers are recognised in theDoctrine of Addai,^ which gives the primitive usage of thechurch of Edessa.The third layer of the Canon, comprising the CatholicEpistles and the Book of Revelation, remained for sometime open to discussion, and gained recognition verygradually. The first Epistles of Peter and John werereceived by common consent in the second century ; theother books were disputed.*1 Drane, Christian Schools and Scholars, p. 11.« Justin, Apology, i. 66. 67 ; Dialogue with Trypho, 49, 100.• Doctrine, of Add at, p. 46.* Vide Briggs, Study of Uoly Scripture, p. 134.156 HISTORY OF THE STUDY OF THEOLOGY [pt. n.4. The chief Roman theologian at the opening of thethird century was Hippolytus, wJw was, however, a pupilof Irenceus. He shows a comprehensive knowledge of the entire field of theology. His writings are in the Greek language, and are exegetical, historical, dogmatic, polemic,and practical. He is especially to be valued for his historicinvestigations and his codification of church law.The writings of Hippolytu^ (f c. 236) may all be placedin the period from 200 to 235 ; and he may therefore be

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