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Chapter 3


Meaning of Christian Doctrine, Understood by a Minority, has
Become Completely Incomprehensible for the Majority of Men--
Reason of this to be Found in Misinterpretation of Christianity
and Mistaken Conviction of Believers and Unbelievers Alike that
they Understand it--The Meaning of Christianity Obscured for
Believers by the Church--The First Appearance of Christ's
Teaching--Its Essence and Difference from Heathen Religions--
Christianity not Fully Comprehended at the Beginning, Became
More and More Clear to those who Accepted it from its
Correspondence with Truth--Simultaneously with this Arose the
Claim to Possession of the Authentic Meaning of the Doctrine
Based on the Miraculous Nature of its Transmission--Assembly of
Disciples as Described in the Acts--The Authoritative Claim to
the Sole Possession of the True Meaning of Christ's Teaching
Supported by Miraculous Evidence has Led by Logical Development
to the Creeds of the Churches--A Church Could Not be Founded by
Christ--Definitions of a Church According to the Catechisms--
The Churches have Always been Several in Number and Hostile to
One Another--What is Heresy--The Work of G. Arnold on Heresies--
Heresies the Manifestations of Progress in the Churches--
Churches Cause Dissension among Men, and are Always Hostile to
Christianity--Account of the Work Done by the Russian Church--
Matt. xxiii. 23--The Sermon on the Mount or the Creed--The
Orthodox Church Conceals from the People the True Meaning of
Christianity--The Same Thing is Done by the Other Churches--All
the External Conditions of Modern Life are such as to Destroy
the Doctrine of the Church, and therefore the Churches use
Every Effort to Support their Doctrines.

Thus the information I received, after my book came out, went to
show that the Christian doctrine, in its direct and simple sense,
was understood, and had always been understood, by a minority of
men, while the critics, ecclesiastical and freethinking alike,
denied the possibility of taking Christ's teaching in its direct
sense. All this convinced me that while on one hand the true
understanding of this doctrine had never been lost to a minority,
but had been established more and more clearly, on the other hand
the meaning of it had been more and more obscured for the
majority. So that at last such a depth of obscurity has been
reached that men do not take in their direct sense even the
simplest precepts, expressed in the simplest words, in the Gospel.

Christ's teaching is not generally understood in its true, simple,
and direct sense even in these days, when the light of the Gospel
has penetrated even to the darkest recesses of human
consciousness; when, in the words of Christ, that which was spoken
in the ear is proclaimed from the housetops; and when the Gospel
is influencing every side of human life--domestic, economic,
civic, legislative, and international. This lack of true
understanding of Christ's words at such a time would be
inexplicable, if there were not causes to account for it.

One of these causes is the fact that believers and unbelievers
alike are firmly persuaded that they have understood Christ's
teaching a long time, and that they understand it so fully,
indubitably, and conclusively that it can have no other
significance than the one they attribute to it. And the reason of
this conviction is that the false interpretation and consequent
misapprehension of the Gospel is an error of such long standing.
Even the strongest current of water cannot add a drop to a cup
which is already full.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-
witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the
simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if
he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of
doubt, what is laid before him.

The Christian doctrine is presented to the men of our world to-day
as a doctrine which everyone has known so long and accepted so
unhesitatingly in all its minutest details that it cannot be
understood in any other way than it is understood now.

Christianity is understood now by all who profess the doctrines of
the Church as a supernatural miraculous revelation of everything
which is repeated in the Creed. By unbelievers it is regarded as
an illustration of man's craving for a belief in the supernatural,
which mankind has now outgrown, as an historical phenomenon which
has received full expression in Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and
Protestantism, and has no longer any living significance for us.
The significance of the Gospel is hidden from believers by the
Church, from unbelievers by Science.

I will speak first of the former. Eighteen hundred years ago
there appeared in the midst of the heathen Roman world a strange
new doctrine, unlike any of the old religions, and attributed to a
man, Christ.

This new doctrine was in both form and content absolutely new to
the Jewish world in which it originated, and still more to the
Roman world in which it was preached and diffused.

In the midst of the elaborate religious observances of Judaism, in
which, in the words of Isaiah, law was laid upon law, and in the
midst of the Roman legal system worked out to the highest point of
perfection, a new doctrine appeared, which denied not only every
deity, and all fear and worship of them, but even all human
institutions and all necessity for them. In place of all the
rules of the old religions, this doctrine sets up only a type of
inward perfection, truth, and love in the person of Christ, and--
as a result of this inward perfection being attained by men--also
the outward perfection foretold by the Prophets--the kingdom of
God, when all men will cease to learn to make war, when all shall
be taught of God and united in love, and the lion will lie down
with the lamb. Instead of the threats of punishment which all the
old laws of religions and governments alike laid down for non-
fulfillment of their rules, instead of promises of rewards for
fulfillment of them, this doctrine called men to it only because
it was the truth. John vii. 17: "If any man will do His will, he
shad know of the doctrine whether it be of God." John viii. 46:
"If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? But ye seek to
kill me, a man that hath told you the truth. Ye shall know the
truth, and the truth shall make you free. God is a spirit, and
they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Keep my sayings, and ye shall know of my sayings whether they be
true." No proofs of this doctrine were offered except its truth,
the correspondence of the doctrine with the truth. The whole
teaching consisted in the recognition of truth and following it,
in a greater and greater attainment of truth, and a closer and
closer following of it in the acts of life. There are no acts in
this doctrine which could justify a man and make him saved. There
is only the image of truth to guide-him, for inward perfection in
the person of Christ, and for outward perfection in the
establishment of the kingdom of God. The fulfillment of this
teaching consists only in walking in the chosen way, in getting
nearer to inward perfection in the imitation of Christ, and
outward perfection in the establishment of the kingdom of God.
The greater or less blessedness of a man depends, according to
this doctrine, not on the degree of perfection to which he has
attained, but on the greater or less swiftness with which he
is pursuing it.

The progress toward perfection of the publican of the publican
Zaccheus, of the woman that was a sinner, of the robber on the
cross, is a greater state of blessedness, according to this
doctrine, than the stationary righteousness of the Pharisee. The
lost sheep is dearer than ninety-nine that were not lost. The
prodigal son, the piece of money that was lost and found again,
are dearer, more precious to God than those which have not been

Every condition, according to this doctrine, is only a particular
step in the attainment of inward and outward perfection, and
therefore has no significance of itself. Blessedness consists in
progress toward perfection; to stand still in any condition
whatever means the cessation of this blessedness.

"Let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth." "No man
having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the
Kingdom of God." "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject to
you, but seek rather that your names be written in heaven." "Be
ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect." "Seek ye
first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness."

The fulfillment of this precept is only to be found in
uninterrupted progress toward the attainment of ever higher truth,
toward establishing more and more firmly an ever greater love
within oneself, and establishing more and more widely the kingdom
of God outside oneself.

It is obvious that, appearing as it did in the midst of the Jewish
and heathen world, such teaching could not be accepted by the
majority of men, who were living a life absolutely different from
what was required by it. It is obvious, too, that even for those
by whom it was accepted, it was so absolutely opposed to all their
old views that it could not be comprehensible in its full

It has been only by a succession of misunderstandings, errors,
partial explanations, and the corrections and additions of
generations that the meaning of the Christian doctrine has grown
continually more and more clear to men. The Christian view of
life has exerted an influence on the Jewish and heathen, and the
heathen and Jewish view of life has, too, exerted an influence on
the Christian. And Christianity, as the living force, has gained
more and more upon the extinct Judaism and heathenism, and has
grown continually clearer and clearer, as it freed itself from the
admixture of falsehood which had overlaid it. Men went further
and further in the attainment of the meaning of Christianity, and
realized it more and more in life.

The longer mankind lived, the clearer and clearer became the
meaning of Christianity, as must always be the case with every
theory of life.

Succeeding generations corrected the errors of their predecessors,
and grew ever nearer and nearer to a comprehension of the true
meaning. It was thus from the very earliest times of
Christianity. And so, too, from the earliest times of
Christianity there were men who began to assert on their own
authority that the meaning they attribute to the doctrine is the
only true one, and as proof bring forward supernatural occurrences
in support of the correctness of their interpretation.

This was the principal cause at first of the misunderstanding of
the doctrine, and afterward of the complete distortion of it.

It was supposed that Christ's teaching was transmitted to men not
like every other truth, but in a special miraculous way. Thus the
truth of the teaching was not proved by its correspondence with
the needs of the mind and the whole nature of man, but by the
miraculous manner of its transmission, which was advanced as an
irrefutable proof of the truth of the interpretation put on it.
This hypothesis originated from misunderstanding of the teaching,
and its result was to make it impossible to understand it rightly.

And this happened first in the earliest times, when the doctrine
was still not so fully understood and often interpreted wrongly,
as we see by the Gospels and the Acts. The less the doctrine was
understood, the more obscure it appeared and the more necessary
were external proofs of its truth. The proposition that we ought
not to do unto others as we would not they should do unto us, did
not need to be proved by miracles and needed no exercise of faith,
because this proposition is in itself convincing and in harmony
with man's mind and nature; but the proposition that Christ was
God had to be proved by miracles completely beyond our

The more the understanding of Christ's teaching was obscured, the
more the miraculous was introduced into it; and the more the
miraculous was introduced into it, the more the doctrine was
strained from its meaning and the more obscure it became; and the
more it was strained from its meaning and the more obscure it
became, the more strongly its infallibility had to be asserted,
and the less comprehensible the doctrine became.

One can see by the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles how from
the earliest times the non-comprehension of the doctrine called
forth the need for proofs through the miraculous and

The first example in the book of Acts is the assembly which
gathered together in Jerusalem to decide the question which had
arisen, whether to baptize or not the uncircumcised and those who
had eaten of food sacrificed to idols.

The very fact of this question being raised showed that
those who discussed it did not understand the teaching of Christ,
who rejected all outward observances--ablutions, purifications,
fasts, and sabbaths. It was plainly said, "Not that which goeth
into a man's mouth, but that which cometh out of a man's mouth,
defileth him," and therefore the question of baptizing the
uncircumcised could only have arisen among men who, though they
loved their Master and dimly felt the grandeur of his teaching,
still did not understand the teaching itself very clearly. And
this was the fact.

Just in proportion to the failure of the members of the assembly
to understand the doctrine was their need of external confirmation
of their incomplete interpretation of it. And then to settle this
question, the very asking of which proved their misunderstanding
of the doctrine, there was uttered in this assembly, as is
described in the Acts, that strange phrase, which was for the
first time found necessary to give external confirmation to
certain assertions, and which has been productive of so much evil.

That is, it was asserted that the correctness of what they had
decided was guaranteed by the miraculous participation of the Holy
Ghost, that is, of God, in their decision. But the assertion that
the Holy Ghost, that is, God, spoke through the Apostles, in its
turn wanted proof. And thus it was necessary, to confirm this,
that the Holy Ghost should descend at Pentecost in tongues of fire
upon those who made this assertion. (In the account of it, the
descent of the Holy Ghost precedes the assembly, but the book of
Acts was written much later than both events.) But the descent of
the Holy Ghost too had to be proved for those who had not seen the
tongues of fire (though it is not easy to understand why a tongue
of fire burning above a man's head should prove that what that man
is going to say will be infallibly the truth). And so arose the
necessity for still more miracles and changes, raisings of the
dead to life, and strikings of the living dead, and all those
marvels which have been a stumbling-block to men, of which the
Acts is full, and which, far from ever convincing one of the truth
of the Christian doctrine, can only repel men from it. The result
of such a means of confirming the truth was that the more these
confirmations of truth by tales of miracles were heaped up one
after another, the more the doctrine was distorted from its
original meaning, aid the more incomprehensible it became.

Thus it was from the earliest times, and so it went on, constantly
increasing, till it reached in our day the logical climax of the
dogmas of transubstantiation and the infallibility of the Pope, or
of the bishops, or of Scripture, and of requiring a blind faith
rendered incomprehensible and utterly meaningless, not in God, but
in Christ, not in a doctrine, but in a person, as in Catholicism,
or in persons, as in Greek Orthodoxy, or in a book, as in
Protestantism. The more widely Christianity was diffused, and the
greater the number of people unprepared for it who were brought
under its sway, the less it was understood, the more absolutely
was its infallibility insisted on, and the less possible it became
to understand the true meaning of the doctrine. In the times of
Constantine the whole interpretation of the doctrine had been
already reduced to a RÉSUMÉ--supported by the temporal authority--
of the disputes that had taken place in the Council--to a creed
which reckoned off--I believe in so and so, and so and so, and so
and so to the end--to one holy, Apostolic Church, which means the
infallibility of those persons who call themselves the Church. So
that it all amounts to a man no longer believing in God nor
Christ, as they are revealed to him, but believing in what the
Church orders him to believe in.

But the Church is holy; the Church was founded by Christ. God
could not leave men to interpret his teaching at random--therefore
he founded the Church. All those statements are so utterly untrue
and unfounded that one is ashamed to refute them. Nowhere nor in
anything, except in the assertion of the Church, can we find that
God or Christ founded anything like what Churchmen understand by
the Church. In the Gospels there is a warning against the Church,
as it is an external authority, a warning most clear and obvious
in the passage where it is said that Christ's followers should
"call no man master." But nowhere is anything said of the
foundation of what Churchmen call the Church.

The word church is used twice in the Gospels--once in the sense of
an assembly of men to decide a dispute, the other time in
connection with the obscure utterance about a stone--Peter, and
the gates of hell. From these two passages in which the word
church is used, in the signification merely of an assembly, has
been deduced all that we now understand by the Church.

But Christ could not have founded the Church, that is, what we now
understand by that word. For nothing like the idea of the Church
as we know it now, with its sacraments, miracles, and above all
its claim to infallibility, is to be found either in Christ's
words or in the ideas of the men of that time.

The fact that men called what was formed afterward by the same
word as Christ used for something totally different, does not give
them the right to assert that Christ founded the one, true Church.

Besides, if Christ had really founded such an institution as the
Church for the foundation of all his teaching and the whole faith,
he would certainly have described this institution clearly and
definitely, and would have given the only true Church, besides
tales of miracles, which are used to support every kind of
superstition, some tokens so unmistakable that no doubt of its
genuineness could ever have arisen. But nothing of the sort was
done by him. And there have been and still are different
institutions, each calling itself the true Church.

The Catholic catechism says: "L'Église est la société des fidéles
établie par notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, répandue sur toute la
terre et soumise à l'authorité des pasteurs légitimes,
principalement notre Saint Père le Pape," [see Footnote]
understanding by the words "pasteurs légitimes" an association of
men having the Pope at its head, and consisting of certain
individuals bound together by a certain organization.

[Footnote: "The Church is the society of the faithful,
established by our Lord Jesus Christ, spread over the
whole earth, and subject to the authority of its lawful
pastors, and chief of them our Holy Father the Pope."

The Greek Orthodox catechism says: "The Church is a society
founded upon earth by Jesus Christ, which is united into one
whole, by one divine doctrine and by sacraments, under the rule
and guidance of a priesthood appointed by God," meaning by the
"priesthood appointed by God" the Greek Orthodox priesthood,
consisting of certain individuals who happen to be in such or such

The Lutheran catechism says: "The Church is holy Christianity, or
the collection of all believers under Christ, their head, to whom
the Holy Ghost through the Gospels and sacraments promises,
communicates, and administers heavenly salvation," meaning that
the Catholic Church is lost in error, and that the true means of
salvation is in Lutheranism.

For Catholics the Church of God coincides with the Roman
priesthood and the Pope. For the Greek Orthodox believer the
Church of God coincides with the establishment and priesthood of
Russia. [See Footnote]

[Footnote: Homyakov's definition of the Church, which
was received with some favor among Russians, does not
improve matters, if we are to agree with Homyakov in
considering the Greek Orthodox Church as the one true
Church. Homyakov asserts that a church is a collection
of men (all without distinction of clergy and laymen)
united together by love, and that only to men united by
love is the truth revealed (let us love each other, that
in the unity of thought, etc.), and that such a church
is the church which, in the first place, recognizes the
Nicene Creed, and in the second place does not, after
the division of the churches, recognize the popes and
new dogmas. But with such a definition of the church,
there is still more difficulty in reconciling, as
Homyakov tries to do, the church united by love with
the church that recognizes the Nicene Creed and the
doctrine of Photius. So that Homyakov's assertion that
this church, united by love, and consequently holy,
is the same church as the Greek Orthodox priesthood
profess faith in, is even more arbitrary than the
assertions of the Catholics or the Orthodox. If we
admit the idea of a church in the sense Homyakov
gives to it--that is, a body of men bound together
by love and truth--then all that any man can predicate
in regard to this body, if such an one exists, is
its love and truth, but there can be no outer signs
by which one could reckon oneself or another as a
member of this holy body, nor by which one could put
anyone outside it; so that no institution having
an external existence can correspond to this idea.

For Lutherans the Church of God coincides with a body of men who
recognize the authority of the Bible and Luther's catechism.

Ordinarily, when speaking of the rise of Christianity, men
belonging to one of the existing churches use the word church in
the singular, as though there were and had been only one church.
But this is absolutely incorrect. The Church, as an institution
which asserted that it possessed infallible truth, did not make
its appearance singly; there were at least two churches directly
this claim was made.

While believers were agreed among themselves and the body was one,
it had no need to declare itself as a church. It was only when
believers were split up into opposing parties, renouncing one
another, that it seemed necessary to each party to confirm their
own truth by ascribing to themselves infallibility. The
conception of one church only arose when there were two sides
divided and disputing, who each called the other side heresy, and
recognized their own side only as the infallible church.

If we knew that there was a church which decided in the year 51 to
receive the uncircumcised, it is only so because there was another
church--of the Judaists--who decided to keep the uncircumcised

If there is a Catholic Church now which asserts its own
infallibility, that is only because there are churches--Greco-
Russian, Old Orthodox, and Lutheran--each asserting its own
infallibility and denying that of all other churches. So that the
one Church is only a fantastic imagination which has not the least
trace of reality about it.

As a real historical fact there has existed, and still exist,
several bodies of men, each asserting that it is the one Church,
founded by Christ, and that all the others who call themselves
churches are only sects and heresies.

The catechisms of the churches of the most world-wide influence--
the Catholic, the Old Orthodox, and the Lutheran--openly assert

In the Catholic catechism it is said: "Quels sont ceux qui sont
hors de l'église? Les infidèles, les hérétiques, les
schismatiques." [Footnote: "Who are those who are outside the
Church? Infidels, heretics, and schismatics."] The so-called
Greek Orthodox are regarded as schismatics, the Lutherans as
heretics; so that according to the Catholic catechism the only
people in the Church are Catholics.

In the so-called Orthodox catechism it is said: By the one
Christian Church is understood the Orthodox, which remains fully
in accord with the Universal Church. As for the Roman Church and
other sects (the Lutherans and the rest they do not even dignify
by the name of church), they cannot be included in the one true
Church, since they have themselves separated from it.

According to this definition the Catholics and Lutherans are
outside the Church, and there are only Orthodox in the Church.

The Lutheran catechism says: "Die wahre kirche wird darein
erkannt, dass in ihr das Wort Gottes lauter und rein ohne
Menschenzusätze gelehrt and die Sacramente treu nach Christi
Einsetzung gewahret werden." [Footnote: "The true Church will be
known by the Word of God being studied clear and unmixed with
man's additions and the sacraments being maintained faithful to
Christ's teaching."

According to this definition all those who have added anything to
the teaching of Christ and the apostles, as the Catholic and Greek
churches have done, are outside the Church. And in the Church
there are only Protestants.

The Catholics assert that the Holy Ghost has been transmitted
without a break in their priesthood. The Orthodox assert that the
same Holy Ghost has been transmitted without a break in their
priesthood. The Arians asserted that the Holy Ghost was
transmitted in their priesthood (they asserted this with just as
much right as the churches in authority now). The Protestants of
every kind--Lutherans, Reformed Church, Presbyterians, Methodists,
Swedenborgians, Mormons--assert that the Holy Ghost is only
present in their communities. If the Catholics assert that the
Holy Ghost, at the time of the division of the Church into Arian
and Greek, left the Church that fell away and remained in the one
true Church, with precisely the same right the Protestants of
every denomination can assert that at the time of the separation
of their Church from the Catholic the Holy Ghost left the Catholic
and passed into the Church they professed. And this is just what
they do.

Every church traces its creed through an uninterrupted
transmission from Christ and the Apostles. And truly every
Christian creed that has been derived from Christ must have come
down to the present generation through a certain transmission.
But that does not prove that it alone of all that has been
transmuted, excluding all the rest, can be the sole truth,
admitting of no doubt.

Every branch in a tree comes from the root in unbroken connection;
but the fact that each branch comes from the one root, does not
prove at all that each branch was the only one. It is precisely
the same with the Church. Every church presents exactly the same
proofs of the succession, and even the same miracles, in support
of its authenticity, as every other. So that there is but one
strict and exact definition of what is a church (not of something
fantastic which we would wish it to be, but of what it is and has
been in reality)--a church is a body of men who claim for
themselves that they are in complete and sole possession of the
truth. And these bodies, having in course of time, aided by the
support of the temporal authorities, developed into powerful
institutions, have been the principal obstacles to the diffusion
of a true comprehension of the teaching of Christ.

It could not be otherwise. The chief peculiarity which
distinguished Christ's teaching from previous religions consisted
in the fact that those who accepted it strove ever more and more
to comprehend and realize its teaching. But the Church doctrine
asserted its own complete and final comprehension and realization
of it.

Strange though it may seem to us who have been brought up in the
erroneous view of the Church as a Christian institution, and in
contempt for heresy, yet the fact is that only in what was called
heresy was there any true movement, that is, true Christianity,
and that it only ceased to be so when those heresies stopped short
in their movement and also petrified into the fixed forms of a

And, indeed what is a heresy? Read all the theological works one
after another. In all of them heresy is the subject which first
presents itself for definition; since every theological work deals
with the true doctrine of Christ as distinguished from the
erroneous doctrines which surround it, that is, heresies. Yet you
will not find anywhere anything like a definition of heresy.

The treatment of this subject by the learned historian of
Christianity, E. de Pressensé, in his "Histoire du Dogme" (Paris,
1869), under the heading "Ubi Christus, ibi Ecclesia," may serve
as an illustration of the complete absence of anything like a
definition of what is understood by the word heresy. Here is what
he says in his introduction (p. 3):

"Je sais que l'on nous conteste le droit de qualifier ainsi
[that is, to call heresies] les tendances qui furent si
vivement combattues par les premiers Pères. La désignation
même d'hérésie semble une atteinte portée à la liberté de
conscience et de pensée. Nous ne pouvons partager ce scrupule,
car il n'irait à rien moins qu'à enlever au Christianisme tout
caractère distinctif." [see Footnote]

[Footnote: "I know that our right to qualify thus the
tendencies which were so actively opposed by the early
Fathers is contested. The very use of the word heresy
seems an attack upon liberty of conscience and thought.
We cannot share this scruple; for it would amount to
nothing less than depriving Christianity of all
distinctive character."

And though he tells us that after Constantine's time the Church
did actually abuse its power by designating those who dissented
from it as heretics and persecuting them, yet he says, when
speaking of early times:

"L'église est une libre association; il y a tout profit a se
séparer d'elle. La polémique contre l'erreur n'a d'autres
ressources que la pensée et le sentiment. Un type doctrinal
uniforme n'a pas encore été élaboré; les divergences
secondaires se produisent en Orient et en Occident avec une
entière liberté; la théologie n'est point liée a d'invariables
formules. Si au sein de cette diversité apparait un fonds
commun de croyances, n'est-on pas en droit d'y voir non pas un
système formulé et composé par les représentants d'une
autorité d'école, mais la foi elle-même dons son instinct le
plus sûr et sa manifestation la plus spontanée? Si cette même
unanimité qui se révèle dans les croyances essentielles, se
retrouve pour repousser telles ou telles tendances ne serons
nous pas en droit de conclure que ces tendances étaient en
désacord flagrant avec les principes fondamentaux du
christianisme? Cette présomption ne se transformerait-elle
pas en certitude si nous reconnaissons dans la doctrine
universellement repoussée par l'Église les traits
caractéristiques de l'une des religions du passé? Pour dire
que le gnosticisme ou l'ébionitisme sont les formes légitimes
de la pensée chrétienne il faut dire hardiment qu'il n'y a pas
de pensée chrétienne, ni de caractère spécifique qui la fasse
reconnaître. Sous prétexte de l'élargir, on la dissout.
Personne au temps de Platon n'eût osé couvrir de son nom une
doctrine qui n'eut pas fait place à la théorie des idées; et
l'on eût excité les justes moqueries de la Grèce, en voulant
faire d'Epicure ou de Zénon un disciple de l'Académie.
Reconnaissons donc que s'il existe une religion ou une
doctrine qui s'appelle christianisme, elle peut avoir ses
hérésies." [see Footnote]

[Footnote: "The Church is a free association; there is much to
be gained by separation from it. Conflict with error has no
weapons other than thought and feeling. One uniform type of
doctrine has not yet been elaborated; divergencies in
secondary matters arise freely in East and West; theology is
not wedded to invariable formulas. If in the midst of this
diversity a mass of beliefs common to all is apparent, is one
not justified in seeing in it, not a formulated system, framed
by the representatives of pedantic authority, but faith itself
in its surest instinct and its most spontaneous manifestation?
If the same unanimity which is revealed in essential points of
belief is found also in rejecting certain tendencies, are we
not justified in concluding that these tendencies were in
flagrant opposition to the fundamental principles of
Christianity? And will not this presumption be transformed
into certainty if we recognize in the doctrine universally
rejected by the Church the characteristic features of one of
the religions of the past? To say that gnosticism or
ebionitism are legitimate forms of Christian thought, one must
boldly deny the existence of Christian thought at all, or any
specific character by which it could be recognized. While
ostensibly widening its realm, one undermines it. No one in
the time of Plato would lave ventured to give his name to a
doctrine in which the theory of ideas had no place, and one
would deservedly have excited the ridicule of Greece by trying
to pass off Epicurus or Zeno as a disciple of the Academy.
Let us recognize, then, that if a religion or a doctrine
exists which is called Christianity, it may have its

The author's whole argument amounts to this: that every opinion
which differs from the code of dogmas we believe in at a given
time, is heresy. But of course at any given time and place men
always believe in something or other; and this belief in
something, indefinite at any place, at some time, cannot be a
criterion of truth.

It all amounts to this: since ubi Christus ibi Ecclesia, then
Christus is where we are.

Every so-called heresy, regarding, as it does, its own creed as
the truth, can just as easily find in Church history a series of
illustrations of its own creed, can use all Pressensé's arguments
on its own behalf, and can call its own creed the one truly
Christian creed. And that is just what all heresies do and have
always done.

The only definition of heresy (the word [GREEK WORD], means a
part) is this: the name given by a body of men to any opinion
which rejects a part of the Creed professed by that body. The
more frequent meaning, more often ascribed to the word heresy, is
--that of an opinion which rejects the Church doctrine founded and
supported by the temporal authorities.

[TRANSCRIBIST'S NOTE: The GREEK WORD above used Greek letters,
spelled: alpha(followed by an apostrophe)-iota(with accent)-

There is a remarkable and voluminous work, very little known,
"Unpartheyische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie," 1729, by Gottfried
Arnold, which deals with precisely this subject, and points out
all the unlawfulness, the arbitrariness, the senselessness, and
the cruelty of using the word heretic in the sense of reprobate.
This book is an attempt to write the history of Christianity in
the form of a history of heresy.

In the introduction the author propounds a series of questions:
(1) Of those who make heretics; (2) Of those whom they made
heretics; (3) Of heretical subjects themselves; (4) Of the method
of making heretics; and (5) Of the object and result of making

On each of these points he propounds ten more questions, the
answers to which he gives later on from the works of well-known
theologians. But he leaves the reader to draw for himself the
principal conclusion from the expositions in the whole book. As
examples of these questions, in which the answers are to some
extent included also, I will quote the following. Under the 4th
head, of the manner in which heretics are made, he says, in one of
the questions (in the 7th):

"Does not all history show that the greatest makers of
heretics and masters of that craft were just these wise men,
from whom the Father hid his secrets, that is, the hypocrites,
the Pharisees, and lawyers, men utterly godless and perverted
(Question 20-21)? And in the corrupt times of Christianity
were not these very men cast out, denounced by the hypocrites
and envious, who were endowed by God with great gifts and who
would in the days of pure Christianity have been held in high
honor? And, on the other hand, would not the men who, in the
decline of Christianity raised themselves above all, and
regarded themselves as the teachers of the purest Christianity,
would not these very men, in the times of the apostles and
disciples of Christ, have been regarded as the most shameless
heretics and anti-Christians?"

He expounds, among other things in these questions, the theory
that any verbal expression of faith, such as was demanded by the
Church, and the departure from which was reckoned as heresy, could
never fully cover the exact religious ideas of a believer, and
that therefore the demand for an expression of faith in certain
words was ever productive of heresy, and he says, in Question 21:

"And if heavenly things and thoughts present themselves to a
man's mind as so great and so profound that he does not find
corresponding words to express them, ought one to call him a
heretic, because he cannot express his idea with perfect

And in Question 33:

"And is not the fact that there was no heresy in the earliest
days due to the fact that the Christians did not judge one
another by verbal expressions, but by deed and by heart, since
they had perfect liberty to express their ideas without the
dread of being called heretics; was it not the easiest and most
ordinary ecclesiastical proceeding, if the clergy wanted to get
rid of or to ruin anyone, for them to cast suspicion on the
person's belief, and to throw a cloak of heresy upon him, and
by this means to procure his condemnation and removal?

"True though it may be that there were sins and errors among
the so-called heretics, it is no less true and evident," he
says farther on, "from the innumerable examples quoted here
(i. e., in the history of the Church and of heresy), that there
was not a single sincere and conscientious man of any
importance whom the Churchmen would not from envy or other
causes have ruined."

Thus, almost two hundred years ago, the real meaning of heresy was
understood. And notwithstanding that, the same conception of it
has gone on existing up to now. And it cannot fail to exist so
long as the conception of a church exists. Heresy is the obverse
side of the Church. Wherever there is a church, there must be the
conception of heresy. A church is a body of men who assert that
they are in possession of infallible truth. Heresy is the opinion
of the men who do not admit the infallibility of the Church's

Heresy makes its appearance in the Church. It is the effort to
break through the petrified authority of the Church. All effort
after a living comprehension of the doctrine has been made by
heretics. Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Huss,
Savonarola, Helchitsky, and the rest were heretics. It could not
be otherwise.

The follower of Christ, whose service means an ever-growing
understanding of his teaching, and an ever-closer fulfillment of
it, in progress toward perfection, cannot, just because he is a
follower, of Christ, claim for himself or any other that he
understands Christ's teaching fully and fulfills it. Still less
can he claim this for any body of men.

To whatever degree of understanding and perfection the follower of
Christ may have attained, he always feels the insufficiency of his
understanding and fulfillment of it, and is always striving toward
a fuller understanding and fulfillment. And therefore, to assert
of one's self or of any body of men, that one is or they are in
possession of perfect understanding and fulfillment of Christ's
word, is to renounce the very spirit of Christ's teaching.

Strange as it may seem, the churches as churches have always been,
and cannot but be, institutions not only alien in spirit to
Christ's teaching, but even directly antagonistic to it. With
good reason Voltaire calls the Church l'infâme; with good reason
have all or almost all so-called sects of Christians recognized
the Church as the scarlet woman foretold in the Apocalypse; with
good reason is the history of the Church the history of the
greatest cruelties and horrors.

The churches as churches are not, as many people suppose,
institutions which have Christian principles for their basis, even
though they may have strayed a little away from the straight path.
The churches as churches, as bodies which assert their own
infallibility, are institutions opposed to Christianity. There is
not only nothing in common between the churches as such and
Christianity, except the name, but they represent two principles
fundamentally opposed and antagonistic to one another. One
represents pride, violence, self-assertion, stagnation, and death;
the other, meekness, penitence, humility, progress, and life.

We cannot serve these two masters; we have to choose between

The servants of the churches of all denominations, especially of
later times, try to show themselves champions of progress in
Christianity. They make concessions, wish to correct the abuses
that have slipped into the Church, and maintain that one cannot,
on account of these abuses, deny the principle itself of a
Christian church, which alone can bind all men together in unity
and be a mediator between men and God. But this is all a mistake.
Not only have churches never bound men together in unity; they
have always been one of the principal causes of division between
men, of their hatred of one another, of wars, battles,
inquisitions, massacres of St. Bartholomew, and so on. And the
churches have never served as mediators between men and God. Such
mediation is not wanted, and was directly forbidden by Christ, who
has revealed his teaching directly and immediately to each man.
But the churches set up dead forms in the place of God, and far
from revealing God, they obscure him from men's sight. The
churches, which originated from misunderstanding of Christ's
teaching and have maintained this misunderstanding by their
immovability, cannot but persecute and refuse to recognize all
true understanding of Christ's words. They try to conceal this,
but in vain; for every step forward along the path pointed out for
us by Christ is a step toward their destruction.

To hear and to read the sermons and articles in which Church
writers of later times of all denominations speak of Christian
truths and virtues; to hear or read these skillful arguments that
have been elaborated during centuries, and exhortations and
professions, which sometimes seem like sincere professions, one is
ready to doubt whether the churches can be antagonistic to
Christianity. "It cannot be," one says, "that these people who
can point to such men as Chrysostom, Fénelon, Butler, and others
professing the Christian faith, were antagonistic to
Christianity." One is tempted to say, "The churches may have
strayed away from Christianity, they may be in error, but they
cannot be hostile to it." But we must look to the fruit to judge
the tree, as Christ taught c us. And if we see that their fruits
were evil, that the results of their activity were antagonistic to
Christianity, we cannot but admit that however good the men were--
the work of the Church in which these men took part was not
Christian. The goodness and worth of these men who served the
churches was the goodness and worth of the men, and not of the
institution they served. All the good men, such as Francis of
Assisi, and Francis of Sales, our Tihon Zadonsky, Thomas à Kempis,
and others, were good men in spite of their serving an institution
hostile to Christianity, and they would have been still better if
they had not been under the influence of the error which they were

But why should we speak of the past and judge from the past, which
may have been misrepresented and misunderstood by us? The
churches, with their principles and their practice, are not a
thing of the past. The churches are before us to-day, and we can
judge of them to some purpose by their practical activity, their
influence on men.

What is the practical work of the churches to-day? What is their
influence upon men? What is done by the churches among us, among
the Catholics and the Protestants of all denominations--what is
their practical work? and what are the results of their practical

The practice of our Russian so-called Orthodox Church is plain to
all. It is an enormous fact which there is no possibility of
hiding and about which there can be no disputing.

What constitutes the practical work of this Russian Church, this
immense, intensely active institution, which consists of a
regiment of half a million men and costs the people tens of
millions of rubles?

The practical business of the Church consists in instilling by
every conceivable means into the mass of one hundred millions of
the Russian people those extinct relics of beliefs for which there
is nowadays no kind of justification, "in which scarcely anyone
now believes, and often not even those whose duty it is to diffuse
these false beliefs." To instill into the people the formulas of
Byzantine theology, of the Trinity, of the Mother of God, of
Sacraments, of Grace, and so on, extinct conceptions, foreign to
us, and having no kind of meaning for men of our times,
forms only one part of the work of the Russian Church. Another
part of its practice consists in the maintenance of idol-worship
in the most literal meaning of the word; in the veneration of holy
relics, and of ikons, the offering of sacrifices to them, and the
expectation of their answers to prayer. I am not going to speak
of what is preached and what is written by clergy of scientific or
liberal tendencies in the theological journals. I am going to
speak of what is actually done by the clergy through the wide
expanse of the Russian land among a people of one hundred
millions. What do they, diligently, assiduously, everywhere
alike, without intermission, teach the people? What do they
demand from the people in virtue of their (so-called) Christian

I will begin from the beginning with the birth of a child. At the
birth of a child they teach them that they must recite a prayer
over the child and mother to purify them, as though without this
prayer the mother of a newborn child were unclean. To do this the
priest holds the child in his arms before the images of the saints
(called by the people plainly gods) and reads words of exorcizing
power, and this purifies the mother. Then it is suggested to the
parents, and even exacted of them, under fear of punishment for
non-fulfillment, that the child must be baptized; that is, be
dipped by the priest three times into the water, while certain
words, understood by no one, are read aloud, and certain actions,
still less understood, are performed; various parts of the body
are rubbed with oil, and the hair is cut, while the sponsors blow
and spit at an imaginary devil. All this is necessary to purify
the child and to make him a Christian. Then it is instilled into
the parents that they ought to administer the sacrament to the
child, that is, give him, in the guise of bread and wine, a
portion of Christ's body to eat, as a result of which the child
receives the grace of God within it, and so on. Then it is
suggested that the child as it grows up must be taught to pray.
To pray means to place himself directly before the wooden boards
on which are painted the faces of Christ, the Mother of God, and
the saints, to bow his head and his whole body, and to touch his
forehead, his shoulders and his stomach with his right hand,
holding his fingers in a certain position, and to utter some words
of Slavonic, the most usual of which as taught to all children
are: Mother of God, virgin, rejoice thee, etc., etc.

Then it is instilled into the child as it is brought up that at
the sight of any church or ikon he must repeat the same action--i.
e., cross himself. Then it is instilled into him that on holidays
(holidays are the days on which Christ was born, though no one
knows when that was, on which he was circumcised, on which the
Mother of God died, on which the cross was carried in procession,
on which ikons have been set up, on which a lunatic saw a vision,
and so on)--on holidays he must dress himself in his best clothes
and go to church, and must buy candles and place them there before
the images of the saints. Then he must give offerings and prayers
for the dead, and little loaves to be cut up into three-cornered
pieces, and must pray many times for the health and prosperity of
the Tzar and the bishops, and for himself and his own affairs, and
then kiss the cross and the hand of the priest.
Besides these observances, it is instilled into him that at
least once a year he must confess. To confess means to go to the
church and to tell the priest his sins, on the theory that this
informing a stranger of his sins completely purifies him from
them. And after that he must eat with a little spoon a morsel of
bread with wine, which will purify him still more. Next it is
instilled into him that if a man and woman want their physical
union to be sanctified they must go to church, put on metal
crowns, drink certain potions, walk three times round a table to
the sound of singing, and that then the physical union of a man
and woman becomes sacred and altogether different from all other
such unions.

Further it is instilled into him in his life that he must observe
the following rules: not to eat butter or milk on certain days,
and on certain other days to sing Te Deums and requiems for the
dead, on holidays to entertain the priest and give him money, and
several times in the year to bring the ikons from the church, and
to carry them slung on his shoulders through the fields and
houses. It is instilled into him that on his death-bed a man must
not fail to eat bread and wine with a spoon, and that it will be
still better if he has time to be rubbed with sacred oil. This
will guarantee his welfare in the future life. After his death it
is instilled into his relatives that it is a good thing for the
salvation of the dead man to place a printed paper of prayers in
his hands; it is a good thing further to read aloud a certain book
over the dead body, and to pronounce the dead man's name in church
at a certain time. All this is regarded as faith obligatory on

But if anyone wants to take particular care of his soul, then
according to this faith he is instructed that the greatest
security of the salvation of the soul in the world is attained by
offering money to the churches and monasteries, and engaging the
holy men by this means to pray for him. Entering monasteries too
and kissing relics and miraculous ikons, are further means of
salvation for the soul.

According to this faith ikons and relics communicate a special
sanctity, power, and grace, and even proximity to these objects,
touching them, kissing them, putting candles before them, crawling
under them while they are being carried along, are all efficacious
for salvation, as well as Te Deums repeated before these holy

So this, and nothing else, is the faith called Orthodox, that is
the actual faith which, under the guise of Christianity, has been
with all the forces of the Church, and is now with especial zeal,
instilled into the people.

And let no one say that the Orthodox teachers place the essential
part of their teaching in something else, and that all these are
only ancient forms, which it is not thought necessary to do away
with. That is false. This, and nothing but this, is the faith
taught through the whole of Russia by the whole of the Russian
clergy, and of late years with especial zeal. There is nothing
else taught. Something different may be talked of and written of
in the capitals; but among the hundred millions of the people this
is what is done, this is what is taught, and nothing more.
Churchmen may talk of something else, but this is what they teach
by every means in their power.

All this, and the worship of relics and of ikons, has been
introduced into works of theology and into the catechisms. Thus
they teach it to the people in theory and in practice, using every
resource of authority, solemnity, pomp, and violence to impress
them. They compel the people, by overawing them, to believe in
this, and jealously guard this faith from any attempt to free the
people from these barbarous superstitions.

As I said when I published my book, Christ's teaching and his very
words about non-resistance to evil were for many years a subject
for ridicule and low jesting in my eyes, and Churchmen, far from
opposing it, even encouraged this scoffing at sacred things. But
try the experiment of saying a disrespectful word about a hideous
idol which is carried sacrilegiously about Moscow by drunken men
under the name of the ikon of the Iversky virgin, and you will
raise a groan of indignation from these same Churchmen. All that
they preach is an external observance of the rites of idolatry.
And let it not be said that the one does not hinder the other,
that "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other
undone." "All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that
observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and
do not" (Matt. xxiii. 23, 3).

This was spoken of the Pharisees, who fulfilled all the external
observances prescribed by the law, and therefore the words
"whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do," refer to
works of mercy and goodness, and the words "do not ye after their
works, for they say and do not," refer to their observance of
ceremonies and their neglect of good works, and have exactly the
opposite meaning to that which the Churchmen try to give to the
passage, interpreting it as an injunction to observe ceremonies.
External observances and the service of truth and goodness are for
the most part difficult to combine; the one excludes the other.
So it was with the Pharisees, so it is now with Church Christians.

If a man can be saved by the redemption, by sacraments, and by
prayer, then he does not need good works.

The Sermon on the Mount, or the Creed. One cannot believe in both.
And Churchmen have chosen the latter. The Creed is taught and is
read as a prayer in the churches, but the Sermon on the Mount is
excluded even from the Gospel passages read in the churches, so
that the congregation never hears it in church, except on those
days when the whole of the Gospel is read. Indeed, it could not
he otherwise. People who believe in a wicked and senseless God--
who has cursed the human race and devoted his own Son to
sacrifice, and a part of mankind to eternal torment--cannot
believe in the God of love. The man who believes in a God, in a
Christ coming again in glory to judge and to punish the quick and
the dead, cannot believe in the Christ who bade us turn the left
cheek, judge not, forgive these that wrong us, and love our
enemies. The man who believes in the inspiration of the Old
Testament and the sacred character of David, who commanded on his
deathbed the murder of an old man who had cursed him, and whom he
could not kill himself because he was bound by an oath to him, and
the similar atrocities of which the Old Testament is full, cannot
believe in the holy love of Christ. The man who believes in the
Church's doctrine of the compatibility of warfare and capital
punishment with Christianity cannot believe in the brotherhood of
all men.

And what is most important of all--the man who believes in
salvation through faith in the redemption or the sacraments,
cannot devote all his powers to realizing Christ's moral teaching
in his life.

The man who has been instructed by the Church in the profane
doctrine that a man cannot be saved by his own powers, but that
there is another means of salvation, will infallibly rely upon
this means and not on his own powers, which, they assure him, it
is sinful to trust in.

The teaching of every Church, with its redemption and sacraments,
excludes the teaching of Christ; most of all the teaching of the
Orthodox Church with its idolatrous observances.

"But the people have always believed of their own accord as they
believe now," will be said in answer to this. "The whole history
of the Russian people proves it. One cannot deprive the people of
their traditions." This statement, too, is misleading. The
people did certainly at one time believe in something like what
the Church believes in now, though it was far from being the same
thing. In spite of their superstitious regard for ikons,
housespirits, relics, and festivals with wreaths of birch leaves,
there has still always been in the people a profound moral and
living understanding of Christianity, which there has never been
in the Church as a whole, and which is only met with in its best
representatives. But the people, notwithstanding all the
prejudices instilled into them by the government and the Church,
have in their best representatives long outgrown that crude stage
of understanding, a fact which is proved by the springing up
everywhere of the rationalist sects with which Russia is swarming
to-day, and on which Churchmen are now carrying on an ineffectual
warfare. The people are advancing to a consciousness of the
moral, living side of Christianity. And then the Church
comes forward, not borrowing from the people, but zealously
instilling into them the petrified formalities of an extinct
paganism, and striving to thrust them back again into the
darkness from which they are emerging with such effort.

"We teach the people nothing new, nothing but what they believe,
only in a more perfect form," say the Churchmen. This is just
what the man did who tied up the full-grown chicken and thrust it
back into the shell it had come out of.

I have often been irritated, though it would be comic if the
consequences were not so awful, by observing how men shut one
another in a delusion and cannot get out of this magic circle.

The first question, the first doubt of a Russian who is beginning
to think, is a question about the ikons, and still more the
miraculous relics: Is it true that they are genuine, and that
miracles are worked through them? Hundreds of thousands of men
put this question to themselves, and their principal difficulty in
answering it is the fact that bishops, metropolitans, and all men
in positions of authority kiss the relics and wonder-working
ikons. Ask the bishops and men in positions of authority why they
do so, and they will say they do it for the sake of the people,
while the people kiss them because the bishops and men in
authority do so.

In spite of all the external varnish of modernity, learning, and
spirituality which the members of the Church begin nowadays to
assume in their works, their articles, their theological journals,
and their sermons, the practical work of the Russian Church
consists of nothing more than keeping the people in their present
condition of coarse and savage idolatry, and worse still,
strengthening and diffusing superstition and religious ignorance,
and suppressing that living understanding of Christianity which
exists in the people side by side with idolatry.

I remember once being present in the monks' bookshop of the Optchy
Hermitage while an old peasant was choosing books for his
grandson, who could read. A monk pressed on him accounts of
relics, holidays, miraculous ikons, a psalter, etc. I asked the
old man, "Has he the Gospel?" "No." "Give him the Gospel in
Russian," I said to the monk. "That will not do for him,"
answered the monk. There you have an epitome of the work of our

But this is only in barbarous Russia, the European and American
reader will observe. And such an observation is just, but only so
far as it refers to the government, which aids the Church in its
task of stultification and corruption in Russia.

It is true that there is nowhere in Europe a government so
despotic and so closely allied with the ruling Church. And
therefore the share of the temporal power in the corruption of the
people is greatest in Russia. But it is untrue that the Russian
Church in its influence on the people is in any respect different
from any other church.

The churches are everywhere the same, and if the Catholic, the
Anglican, or the Lutheran Church has not at hand a government as
compliant as the Russian, it is not due to any indisposition to
profit by such a government.

The Church as a church, whatever it may be--Catholic, Anglican,
Lutheran, Presbyterian--every church, in so far as it is a church,
cannot but strive for the same object as the Russian Church.
That object is to conceal the real meaning of Christ's teaching
and to replace it by their own, which lays no obligation on them,
excludes the possibility of understanding the true teaching of
Christ, and what is the chief consideration, justifies the
existence of priests supported at the people's expense.

What else has Catholicism done, what else is it doing in its
prohibition of reading the Gospel, and in its demand for
unreasoning submission to Church authorities and to an infallible
Pope? Is the religion of Catholicism any other than that of the
Russian Church? There is the same external ritual, the same
relics, miracles, and wonder-working images of Notre Dame, and the
same processions; the same loftily vague discussions of
Christianity in books and sermons, and when it comes to practice,
the same supporting of the present idolatry. And is not the same
thing done in Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and every denomination of
Protestantism which has been formed into a church? There is the
same duty laid on their congregations to believe in the dogmas
expressed in the fourth century, which have lost all meaning for
men of our times, and the same duty of idolatrous worship, if not
of relics and ikons, then of the Sabbath Day and the letter of the
Bible. There is always the same activity directed to concealing
the real duties of Christianity, and to putting in their place an
external respectability and cant, as it is so well described by
the English, who are peculiarly oppressed by it. In Protestantism
this tendency is specially remarkable because it has not the
excuse of antiquity. And does not exactly the same thing show
itself even in contemporary revivalism--the revived Calvinism and
Evangelicalism, to which the Salvation Army owes its origin?

Uniform is the attitude of all the churches to the teaching of
Christ, whose name they assume for their own advantage.

The inconsistency of all church forms of religion with the
teaching of Christ is, of course, the reason why special efforts
are necessary to conceal this inconsistency from people. Truly,
the need only imagine ourselves in the position of any grown-up
man, not necessarily educated, even the simplest man of the
present day, who has picked up the ideas that are everywhere in
the air nowadays of geology, physics, chemistry, cosmography, or
history, when he, for the first time, consciously compares them
with the articles of belief instilled into him in childhood, and
maintained by the churches--that God created the world in six
days, and light before the sun; that Noah shut up all the animals
in his ark, and so on; that Jesus is also God the Son, who created
all before time was; that this God came down upon earth to atone
for Adam's sin; that he rose again, ascended into heaven, and
sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and will come in the
clouds to judge the world, and so on. All these propositions,
elaborated by men of the fourth century, had a certain meaning for
men of that time, but for men of to-day they have no meaning
whatever. Men of the present day can repeat these words with
their lips, but believe them they cannot. For such sentences as
that God lives in heaven, that the heavens opened and a voice from
somewhere said something, that Christ rose again, and ascended
somewhere in heaven, and again will come from somewhere on the
clouds, and so on, have no meaning for us.

A man who regarded the heavens as a solid, finite vault could
believe or disbelieve that God created the heavens, that the
heavens opened, that Christ ascended into heaven, but for us all
these phrases nave no sense whatever. Men of the present can only
believe, as indeed they do, that they ought to believe in this;
but believe it they cannot, because it has no meaning for them.

Even if all these phrases ought to be interpreted in a figurative
sense and are allegories, we know that in the first place all
Churchmen are not agreed about it, but, on the contrary, the
majority stick to understanding the Holy Scripture in its literal
sense; and secondly, that these allegorical interpretations are
very varied and are not supported by any evidence.

But even if a man wants to force himself to believe in the
doctrines of the Church just as they are taught to him, the
universal diffusion of education and of the Gospel and of
communication between people of different forms of religion
presents a still more insurmountable obstacle to his doing so.

A man of the present day need only buy a Gospel for three copecks
and read through the plain words, admitting of no
misinterpretation, that Christ said to the Samaritan woman "that
the Father seeketh not worshipers at Jerusalem, nor in this
mountain nor in that, but worshipers in spirit and in truth," or
the saying that "the Christian must not pray like the heathen, nor
for show, but secretly, that is, in his closet," or that Christ's
follower must call no man master or father--he need only read
these words to be thoroughly convinced that the Church pastors,
who call themselves teachers in opposition to Christ's precept,
and dispute among themselves, constitute no kind of authority, and
that what the Churchmen teach us is not Christianity. Less even
than that is necessary. Even if a man nowadays did continue to
believe in miracles and did not read the Gospel, mere association
with people of different forms of religion and faith, which
happens so easily in these days, compels him to doubt of the truth
of his own faith. It was all very well when a man did not see men
of any other form of religion than his own; he believed that his
form of religion was the one true one. But a thinking man has
only to come into contact--as constantly happens in these days--
with people, equally good and bad, of different denominations, who
condemn each other's beliefs, to doubt of the truth of the belief
he professes himself. In these days only a man who is absolutely
ignorant or absolutely indifferent to the vital questions with
which religion deals, can remain in the faith of the Church.

What deceptions and what strenuous efforts the churches must
employ to continue, in spite of all these tendencies subversive of
the faith, to build churches, to perform masses, to preach, to
teach, to convert, and, most of all, to receive for it all immense
emoluments, as do all these priests, pastors, incumbents,
superintendents, abbots, archdeacons, bishops, and archbishops.
They need special supernatural efforts. And the churches do, with
ever-increasing intensity and zeal, make such efforts. With us in
Russia, besides other means, they employ, simple brute force, as
there the temporal power is willing to obey the Church. Men who
refuse an external assent to the faith, and say so openly, are
either directly punished or deprived of their rights; men who
strictly keep the external forms of religion are rewarded and
given privileges.

That is how the Orthodox clergy proceed; but indeed all churches
without exception avail themselves of every means for the purpose
--one of the most important of which is what is now called

Every art, from architecture to poetry, is brought into
requisition to work its effect on men's souls and to reduce them
to a state of stupefaction, and this effect is constantly
produced. This use of hypnotizing influence on men to bring them
to a state of stupefaction is especially apparent in the
proceedings of the Salvation Army, who employ new practices to
which we are unaccustomed: trumpets, drums, songs, flags,
costumes, marching, dancing, tears, and dramatic performances.

But this only displeases us because these are new practices. Were
not the old practices in churches essentially the same, with their
special lighting, gold, splendor, candles, choirs, organ, bells,
vestments, intoning, etc.?

But however powerful this hypnotic influence may be, it is not the
chief nor the most pernicious activity of the
Church. The chief and most pernicious work of the Church is that
which is directed to the deception of children--these very
children of whom Christ said: "Woe to him that offendeth one of
these little ones." From the very first awakening of the
consciousness of the child they begin to deceive him, to instill
into him with the utmost solemnity what they do not themselves
believe in, and they continue to instill it into him till the
deception has by habit grown into the child's nature. They
studiously deceive the child on the most important subject in
life, and when the deception has so grown into his life that it
would be difficult to uproot it, then they reveal to him the whole
world of science and reality, which cannot by any means be
reconciled with the beliefs that have been instilled into him,
leaving it to him to find his way as best he can out of these

If one set oneself the task of trying to confuse a man so that he
could not think clearly nor free himself from the perplexity of
two opposing theories of life which had been instilled into him
from childhood, one could not invent any means more effectual than
the treatment of every young man educated in our so-called
Christian society.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But
if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute
the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches
are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene
Creed--the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in
the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all
meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its
representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene
Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call
themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes
superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make
every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the
Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the
intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence
of the churches has lasted hitherto.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and
deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men
would begin to understand Christ's teaching. But this
understanding will be the end of the churches and all their
influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant
relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people
and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches:
to instill a false interpretation of Christ's teaching into men,
and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so-
called believers.

Leo Tolstoy

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