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The Formation of the Catholic Church

G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga


This is Klaus Schilling's summary and translation of G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga's work "De wording van de Katholike kerk" available at http://www.radikalkritik.de/katholikekerk.htm.  'wording' is Dutch for emergence/coming into being/formation.  Formatted and edited by Michael Hoffman.



The main impetus for the article came from reviewing Brandon's "The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian church", as well as P.L. Couchoud's "Le Dieu Jesus".

Brandon acknowledges to differ from his contemporary theologians by denying that Christianity's main characteristics are to be looked for in its historicism.

Traditional NT scholarship casually assumes that there's no role for historicity in a pagan framework, and that therefore Christianity must be wholly of Jewish heritage. But it must be considered that the Paulinics don't show much concern for history, and them preceding the Gospels by details overshadows the conventional thesis. Apologists turn to claim an independent, oral tradition for the Gospels in order to save their dear historicism paradigm, but get stuck in excuses and nonsense throughout the realms of theology.

Already Bruno Bauer deconstructed the historicism paradigm thoroughly around 1850. Brandon doesn't seem to know about this and only read about radical stuff from his contemporaries like Benjie Smith and van Maanen. In general, Brandon sticks more to mitigated historical criticism rather than radical.

But at least one fundamental question Brandon is concerned with needs to be forwarded: In which environment did there come up a concern for a historical Jesus ?

Brandon's answers differs from Eysinga's, but his critical sense is to be acknowledged. He notices that, while Paul sees James the Righteous, along with Cepha also known as Peter and John the Zebedee as the representatives of the earliest Christian church, the Gospels emphasise Peter as towering member of the 12, to whom brother James  doesn't even belong. This is inconsistency is correctly seen as eliminating the traditional explanation of how pre-70 Christianity looked, also in virtue of the silence about Alexandrine Christianity in Paul and the acts of the apostles, which smells fishy due to Alexandria, not far from Palestine and center of educated Judaism in any sense.

It's also recognised as a foul point of traditional New Testament scholarship that only Paul's polemic epistles are preserved. Even the so-called genuine letters stir up nothing but confusion and give no clarity about the circumstances that traditional NT scholarship places them in. The picture of Paul as the venerable Apostle from mid first century on is thus easily unveiled as rubbish. Also Jerusalem as the cornerstone of early Christianity is at odds with the low rank that the 'catholic' letters, the only documents of the NT ascribed to the old Jerusalem school, and they smell most strongly of pseudoepigraphy.

Unfortunately Brandon joins in the bandwagon of those who [like J.R. Green posted in the Jesus Mysteries discussion group] accept seven paulinics as authentic, against all odds demonstrated by the radicals. Brandon even fails to wonder about the character of old early Christian writings, especially whether the Paulinics were letters in the first place.

If Brandon had really read the radical critical essays, he'd have known about multistrata character, especially catholic redactions in the Paulinic writings, and the discrepancy between Marcion's and canonical versions. Thus it must have escaped completely to Brandon that the overweight of Judaising elements in Christianity is made plausible as not to stem from first century Palestina, but clearly from second century Rome! Alexandria's hegemony was practically annihilated after Marcius Turbus rebutted the revolution of Luquas.

Luke's, unlike Matthew's (whose disciples flee everywhere possible) makes the disciples stay in Jerusalem, organising the propagation of the Gospel from there. Paul finds a whole lot of excuses to make it to Rome. Alas, there was no such thing as Christian apostles in the first century, they are coined after the messengers who managed the communication between the Sanhedrin and the diaspora communities.



While Philo raised Moses approximately into divine ranks, his successors will have done so with Yeshuah, the successor of Moses, a trifle more celestial than the former.

This Jesus will have been crucified by the archons, that is, fixed to the cardinal points of the ecliptic and celestial equator. According to orthodox church leader Athanasius, Jesus came down in order to destroy the devil, clean the air, and allow us to ascend back to heavens. It's very symbolic that Jesus died in the air, fixed to a cross.

The Jewish form of apocalyptics, according to which the Messiah of the Tanakh was yet expected to come in real future, was unknown to primitive, gnostic Christianity. The second parousia is part and parcel of the judaising concept of the Roman church later on.

The 'first coming' is then projected realistically down to earth. The role of Apollos in the apostolic acts shows a downright denigration of Alexandrine tradition.

Unlike Brandon, who accepts the traditional scholarly understanding of the acts as describing the portal for the Christianisation of the ecoumene starting from Jerusalem, vdBvE clearly recognises that the roman-catholic author of the AA denigrates the Jews, but exalts the role of Jerusalem as the prototype of later Rome, as Rom needs the Jerusalem-centred Tanakh as a stronghold against the heresies of Marcion and the Gnostics.

Thus Christianity, and this can't be emphasised enough, did not come from Jerusalem to Rome, but Palestina was posthumously made into the centre of the Roman catholic historified myth, also in order to reject the gnostically infected Alexandria.

Brandon correctly recognises that only after the fall of Zion, the legends about the original Jerusalem church have been preserved, and that for hellenised communities. But Brandon sees in the synoptics a somehow reliable source for Christianity in Herodian times. Familiarity with palestinian geography, Jewish customs, and conflicting Jewish sects is seen as arguments for the palestinian pre-70 background of the synoptics. Brandon also jumps on the bandwagon of Q and Markan priority.

Also, Brandon doesn't see that the patristic story about the flight of the jerusalem Christians into the Judean mountains after the death of James the brother of the Lord, in anticipation of the war, is mere dogmatic fiction. Christians thus saw themselves as selected to escape the destruction that God imposed upon sin-stricken Zion, especially for having rejected Jesus. vdBvE shows other examples where Roman Christianity sees itself as the heirs of the Tanakh-promised salvation which the Jews lost by rejecting Jesus.

Marcion's versions of the epistles, more original than the canonical versions, absolutely see no reason for assuming a Jerusalem mother church before the fall of Zion from which Christian mission of the ecoumene might have started. Paul underlines there his complete independence from any tradition from Jerusalem, especially the false apostles or columns of the Jerusalem community. In order to transit from the Alexandrian construct of a spiritual Christ to the Tanakh figure of the Messiah, it has to be Jerusalem where Christianity must be dogmatically supposed to have started.

Marcion's Jesus descended apparently from heavens at 15th year of the rule of Tiberius, and this happened at Kapernaum. Marcionites counted 115 years from the parousia to Marcion, which leads us to 144. Barnikol turned 144 into Marcion's death year, unlike most scholars and patriarchs who just see it as Marcion's expulsion from Rome.

A differentiation of Roman church into marcionite and catholic branch only appeared after then. Unlike the judaising catholics, Marcion set to preserve the original escapist, antinomist character of Christianity that prevailed in Rome until Hadrian's time.



While vdBvE considers Matthew's as the oldest of the canonical Gospels, Mark's is seen as more original. [most scholars, including radicals, don't take the difference into account] and of Alexandrine origin.

For Markan priorist Brandon, the fall of Zion is the turning point in history which made it necessary to come out with a Gospel preserving the biography of Jesus, being Mark's. Mark's also seen as a scholar of Peter and familiar with Paul the first bishop of Alexandria, sent down there from Rome. This would at least leave a link between Gospel tradition and Alexandria, albeit a weak one. Eusebius completely denied Alexandria to be Christianised before late second century [Pantaenus and Clemens A., I guess]. 

The scope of Matthew's is that of presenting the Saviour as the Messiah of the Tanakh prophets. This is against the original Christian doctrine, who denigrated the God of the Tanakh. This older doctrine was notably represented by Alexandrine heretics, for example Basilides.

Patristic literature mentions a Gospel according to the Egyptians [for example Clemens A. in Stromata when dealing with Alexandrian heresiarch Julius Cassianus].

Walter Bauer [not Bruno Bauer, not F.C. Baur] opposed Egyptians to a Gospel according to the Hebrews, the latter being Judeochristian, the former hellenic Christian. The Christian craddle must sought out in lower Egypt, and not in Palestina.

According to Jewish scholar Clausner, it's impossible that Palestinian Jews may have supported a preexistant or god-possessed Messiah. But it was possible in hellenised Alexandrine judaism.

Philo mentioned utterly polemically a group of contemporary Alexandrian Jews that fell off the ways of the fathers and practiced Antinomianism, they should be seen as Gnostics. [for a more recent yes-but take on this topic, see Birger Pearson's book "Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity"] . Philo named them Cainites.

Also Ireneus knows of a cainite sect in a Christianised framework, [who owned a Gospel according to Judas], adoring Kain as a salvific force oppsed to the subdeity Ialdabaoth [etymology is unknown]. The radical gnostic sect of the Peratae called the OT god a bloodthirsty demon who rejected the bloodless sacrifice of Cain [and a murderer from the beginning, parallel in John's]. According to Marcion, Jesus descended to the Hades in order to save Cain and other OT villains.

Patrists like Hegesippos deemed Gnosticism as a fruit of pre-Christian Judaism. But later church tradition tried to wipe out the allusion to a lifeline alexandrian judaism->Gnosticism->Christianity and made Samarian Simon Magus the head of all heresies. The start of heretic schools is then seen following the dead of most of the apostles. This church tradition is mostly bogus.

Also Marcion saw his mission in denying dependence on law and prophets, and a god that can't be deemed as benign, as opposed to Christ, the true God of love and mercy.

It's a blatant error to see this antijudaism as related to antisemitism.

Kayser first expressed that the original antithesis of Marcion was nature vs. God, thus shifting from a metaphysical to an ethical context, which should be seen as influenced by his proto-catholic contemporaries. Marcion does decline speculative mythologies [see H.Detering's essay on Paul's adversaries in Galatians] that are characteristic for the bunch of Gnostics, esp. Alexandrine.



Bousset tried to base Marcionism on Persian thought, with a lot of speculative usage of Persian prophesies and calendar. Marcion would have been more respected in the East, for example Edessa, than in Rome.

Marcion already had that vague fixation of Jesus in space and time. This is the greatest form of suffering in docetism. Hieronymus emphasised the excellemce of Daniel's prophesies about Jesus as the Messiah, using the koine versions of that book. Jesus would have had to appear around the fall of Zion, which was made impossible by the moral decay of the Jews.

Flavius Josephus also confirms that the Temple destruction was expected as the point of the parousia. The Roman chronists chime in that choir about the world end expected around the war of 70. [vdBvE does not recognise the dependence of the synoptic apocalypse on a bar Kochba background, his arguments for late dating of the canonical Gospels are of different nature]

The oldest assumable Gospel, which must be seen as a Gnostic treatise, dealt symbolically with the epiphany, passion, and resurrection/ascension of the mythical redeemer figure Jesus. Passion is inflicted by the demonic rulers of the world. No chronological framework was involved.

All important chronologists of the era report end-time hopes due to Daniel's around 70, and the events of 70 as fulfillment of prophesies of the Tanakh. This gave a chronological matrix into which the canonical Gospel story was cast. The temple destruction was also seen as a punishment for the rejection of the Messiah.

The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the uniqueness of Jesus, who is seen as unborn, as a sacrifice. He marks the completion of the amount of sins of the Jews preceding the apocalypse. The Gospel of Peter also sees the Jews as the sole malefactors.

Early Christianity clearly continues stoic philosophy. This is clear in several Paulinic passages. In Hebrews, Jesus is perfected by suffering. Older, that is, gnostic Christianity did not have such a notion.

Couchoud's work is really instructive. His timeframe for early Christianity up to Ireneus differs severely from Eysinga's, albeit unconservative as it is.

The most important example here is concerning the Apocalypse of John.

They both agree that it has been revamped by the Roman church for dogmatic purpose.

Bad tongues would say that Eysinga sees interpolations everywhere where it is useful for the radical hypothesis, but that's clearly a grave misunderstanding. In the case of the Paulinics, existence of posterior interpolations are solidly backed up by Marcion's version.

Beyond any doubt, the Apocalypse of John is full of Jewish elements. But also pagan motives are detectable. The Jewish elements in those revelations are not genuinely Jewish, but part and parcel of the Judaisation of Christianity, in the sense of B. Bauer. Christianity started out as an antijudaistic movement, in the sense of reversing conventional reading of the Tanakh. Lohmeyer saw an inner consistency in the Apocalypse of John that makes it impossible to see it as a patchwork. The observation is correct, but this does not exclude that various traditions have been used.

Dependence on the Tanakh and its prophets is obvious. And then the general apocalyptic mood, which was not confined to Judaism. It must be noted here that apocalyptics was not part and parcel of mainstream rabbinic Judaism. The Tanakh is not used for backing up claims and interests of the author, not even as a retreat of a pious Jewish soul, but uses the Tanakh in an almost secular manner. A syncretic cultural knowledge is absolutely undeniable, allusions to Parthian, Babylonian, and the like myths are obvious. This reminds us to universally literate church fathers like Justin Martyr and Clemens Alex.

The Tuebingen scholars errantly took John's revelations as a judeochristian counterweight to Paul's epistles.



vdBvE's arguments for dating John's Apocalypse circle around

1.       Presence of characteristically Montanist topics.  [This has also been noted in J. Raskin's postings about Tertullian as main editor/redactor of the New Testament in the JesusMysteries discussion group. -ks]

2.       Antignostic (esp. Basilides) polemics

3.       Sense for orthodoxy, implausible for earliest Christianity

Phrygia is the plausible homeland of Montanism, and the Attis cult is a particularly fertile ground for Montanistic Christianity which got off the ground around 160.

Montanists were known for ethical rigor that got lost in Roman Christianity time after time, while having been essential in the earliest beginnings of Christianity. The decay was obviously necessary for pragmatic purposes of a mass religion.

Montanists were convinced of the end of the world soon to come. Chastity and (intentional) martyrdom are other Montanist topics relevant for the Apocalypse.

The high value of martyrdom contrasts sternly with Basilidean view, where the suffering of martyrs is just punishment for sins, possibly in previous lives. There's no salvific value in it. Man is mortal and bound for death anyways, so there's no reason to call man's death a suffering for the Lord's sake. [Jesus's own suffering is denied in consequence, either by docetism or supposing that Simon of Cyrene died instead. Otherwise Basilides would have to allow that Jesus suffered justly for his personal sins! -ks]

According to Montanist Tertullian, those who deny to be Christians [for example in a trial as described by Plinius] also deny Christ, and thus don't deserve the attribute Christian. Only martyrdom may perfect Christianity. 

Montanists vigorously object to seeing the general resurrection as something that already happened, as done by Basilides, once again.

According to Gnosticism, an imperfect world musty be the work of a Demiurge, not the true God. When the Roman credo asserts a unique God, it does so exactly in refutation of Gnostic heresy. The Apocalypse of John underlines the catholic position against Gnostic dualism when emphasising the creative activity of God.

Basilidean theology is actually nihilistic. God is seen beyond any comprehension of existence that can be expressed in terms of human language and thinking. This contrasts sternly to the completely realistic sense for existence expressed in the Apocalypse which fixes existence in space and time.

The Realism of Roman Christianity is typically Roman. This is especially expressed in organisation and discipline of the church. Judaist thought is similarly pragmatic, and turned thus helpful for the goal of the Roman church, causing an absorption of seemingly Jewish topics into the Roman church.

Religious truth of the Gnostics got projected down to earth by the Roman orthodoxy, as a necessity for integrating a larger circle of believers than what would be possible in an elitist Gnostic framework which dug into abstract fantasies and speculations.

This projection is nothing new, it has been reflected in [for example, Seneca's] drama about Hercules. Justin Martyr showed the parallels of Christian and pagan godman stories. [He saw the pagan stories as imitations, sent by Satan in order to distract the believers. Strangely those copies would predate the 'original', that is, Jesus. -ks]

The antignostic polemics of the apostolic credo is purely dogmatic and may not be seen as having any historical cause, it culminates in the resurrection of the flesh, the main point of antignostic polemics by the church. This is also seen by the Ignatians, who exhibit the same antidocetic tenor. Earthly events around Jesus are emphasised in the credo, such as (albeit virgin) birth, suffering under Pontius Pilatus, and death by crucifixion.



Apocalyptic and mystery thought parallel in some sense. While mystery emphasises sacramental union with a mystery deity for the sake of achieving psychic immortality, apocalyptics prepare for achieving resurrection in the flesh at the end of times. Roman Christianity combines the both of them.

Original (gnostic) Christianity was essentially encratite/ascetic. This is seen by the early Christian (Alexandrian) Gospel according to the Egyptians. Sexuality is seen as the misery generis sui. Celestial man is thought completely asexual. That was also the case in Philo's thought. The Jesus of GE is coming in order to put an end to reproduction and death by rigorous encratism.  [Clemens Alexandrinus in his Stromata assigns this teachings to Julius Cassianus, using GE. He himself, though of course not acknowledging Egyptians as scripture, tries to give it a more allegorical interpretation. -ks]

The canonical Gospels still show remainders of this thinking, as seen in the case of Luke's command to hate home and family. Canonical Paul also exhibits a denigration of marriage and family, but this is a whole more mitigated. [stronger of course in Marcion's version]. This is all in the spirit of calling the creator an inferior being, as opposed to a truly good God.

Marcion was already mitigated in the sense that he did not indulge in the wild phantasmagoric speculations of early Gnosticism about aions' and archons' genealogies, but still preserves the original Encratism. The Romans saw in these speculative works a slip into paganism and thus opposed to it rigorously, which results in a major topic in the formation of NT writings, along with providing for a non-elitist framework, which of course meant trashing all forms of encratist/ascetic discipline for the sake of rules for managing a large and stable society of believers.

The Tanakh, not the Jews, was welcome by the Roman brand of Christianity as a bouncer against Gnostic escapism. The integration of the Christ dram into the network of law, kings, and prophets is an antignostic measure. The Kerygmata Petrou underline the value of the Tanakh prophesies for the antignostic picture of Jesus, drawn by the early Roman orthodoxers.

Marcion had a more literal understanding of the Tanakh. Jesus is thus not the messiah of the Tanakh, the latter being rather the Antichrist who will found a [global?] Jewish kingdom on earth. Jesus comes in order to save us from the law and the prophets of the Tanakh, whose God is seen as the evil force of nature. Roman brand of Christianity emphasises the unity of creator and father. The canonical Gospels can't deny their origin in gnostic circles, for example Matthew 20:28, where the son of god is given as a ransom. In Marcionite original meaning, this ransom is of course to the creator and Lord of the world. Catholicism shifted the role of the Lord of the world from the creator to Satan.

An additional strata of allegories allowed Roman Christianity to pry the Tanakh loose from the Jews and consider itself as the privileged people of the Tanakh deity, the Jews having lost the privilege. This completes the representation of the road of early  Christianity from the elitist escapism it started out with to the universal religion for common people it became by absorbing the Tanakh for authority, while rebuking the Jewish people.

Finally, van Eysinga appeals to liberal Protestantism as to stop seeking for authority in history, and to be content with faith as such. This allows for a significantly more objective understanding of the history of Christian religion.

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