How the Church became Sacerdotal instead of Spiritual

Public Domain

Public Domain

Excerpt from Hugh M. Scott, Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology: With Some Reference to the Ritschlian View of Theology and History of Doctrine (Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896), pp. 250 f.

The loss of the gospel conception of personal, living union throughout life of the believer with the exalted Christ was followed inevitably by the wrong soteriology of the early Church:  (1) Because He was not felt to be the head of every Christian man and every congregation, bishops and other heads arose.  (2) Because direct personal communion with Him was obscured, the Church and the Sacraments came in between the soul and the Saviour, thus not only bringing in a hierarchy but perverting the whole conception of man’s relation to Christ.  (3) Because constant, direct approach to Christ was lost, a thousand indirect approaches by washings, fastings, visions, ascetic practices, confessions, came into use.  (4) Because the witness of Christ by His Spirit in the heart was largely overlooked, too much stress was laid upon intellectual forms of faith, philosophical proofs of Christianity, and theological creeds.  (5) This loss of the present Christ in the midst of the worshiping congregation was followed by a more formal worship, in which liturgies, elaborate ceremonies, and theological statements, too much took the place of the free charismatic prayers and teachings of the primitive Church.  (6) In life also, as the thought was obscured that Christ dwells in each believer, a loss of holiness followed.  To have the rules of the Church, to follow her discipline, was a lower standard than to “have the mind of Christ.”  From the individual this view spread to the Church.  For the New Testament, believers were a temple of God; for Callixtus, the Church was the ark of Noah, full of both clean and unclean creatures.  (7) Finally, this loss of Christ as King in each Christian changed the whole missionary character of the Church.  Instead of all preaching — let him that heareth say, come” — the clergy preached and the laity listened; or monks went out, spreading their defective views of Christianity.


Hugh M. Scott on the Development of Sacramentalism and Sacerdotal Religion

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder c. 1472–1553

Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder c. 1472–1553

Dr. Hugh M. Scott (1848-1909), Professor of Church History at Chicago Theological Seminary, writes in Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology: with Some Reference to the Ritschlian View of Theology and History of Doctrine, Lectures Delivered on the L. P. Stone Foundation at Princeton Theological Seminary, January 1896 (Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896), note, pp. 220 f.:

The greatest problem in the internal history of the early-Church was that of sins committed after baptism.  Connected with it, appeared Montanism, schisms, asceticism, sacraments, penances, etc.  The solutions reached were various and, in an increasing degree, unsatisfactory.  (1) In opposition to Montanism, many Catholic Christians grew content with a lower standard of living, became more unholy, and trusted in general belief in Christianity and doing one’s duty.  (2) In recognition of a certain truth in the attitude of separation from the world preached by Montanism, ascetics and later monks sought pardon of post-baptismal sins in the anchorite life.  (3) The Church that did not flee to the deserts magnified more and more the sacraments and mysteries as means of blotting out sins.  The number of sacraments was increased, a penitential system (from Cyprian on) grew up about them, and a mathematical calculation of good works arose, which reckoned the alms, prayers, and other exercises, required for the removal of every kind and degree of post-baptismal sin.  Sacraments especially got between the soul and the Saviour, till, by a strange combination of superstition and a longing for the Divine Redeemer, the doctrine of the Mass arose in the Middle Ages — the one dogma developed in that eclipse of faith — and brought the penitent, kneeling before the bread and wine, to bow also to Christ crucified.  The supreme central position attained by the Mass, with all its errors, helped fasten the faith of the worshiper upon Christ, even though the very prayer addressed to Him was part of a system of legality.  (4) But above all and crowning all, was the thought that good works earned the pardon of post-baptismal sins.  Cyprian said, “we wash away by alms ” such defects.  He summed up religion in “prayer and good works” (Ep. xvi. 2). These, he said, satisfied God.  The Lord’s Supper, which Irenaeus called “a gift” (IV. 17, 5), Cyprian called “a sacrifice,” offered by “a priest” and only in the Church (Ep. Ixiii. 14).  It was the great aid of good works.  Here we find the clear outlines of early Catholicism, with its “utter materializing of religion” by legalism and priestcraft (Seeberg, S. 115).  The result was a two-fold morality, of “secular” Christians, who did as well as possible in the world, and “regular” Christians, who assumed the Virgin, the ascetic life.  Heaven was the reward of such good works; hence eschatology now became prominent with its resurrection to crown the saints with immortality, and the rich payment for all faithful services.  The Kingdom of God passed more and more into this future of hope.