Subject: 01 February 2013 A Critical Review of the Book Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries By Adolf Von Harnack Introduction: Adolf Von Harnack (1851-1930) is one of the most popular western theologians…
Thus, the religion of Christianity has “become a power” (Harnack 312). Initially, Christianity has been known as a part of Judaism; subsequently, it has become one of the most dominant religions in the world. In its evaluation as a popular religion, it has attained a powerful grip on humanity. Harnack, by analyzing both historical developments of dogma and of the relation of the church to the state, along with missionary movement of Christians, investigates the expansion of this religion. Christianity has received a strong foundation to grow and the time too has been perfect in a certain sense, despite the stiff oppositions, constant attacks, enemies, unfavorable rulers and authorities. Harnack’s work is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the humble but dynamic beginning, with the background of Judaism, and the emergence of Jewish religion. Then it goes on to the mission, consequently segregating from the mainstream. The second section concerns with the contents of the message that influenced the Christians with such a powerful force. The third section dwells on different methods employed, and hostility suffered in the voyage of the mission until it attained the recognition of the masses. This paper offers a critical analysis of Harnack’s work in relation to the mission and the expansion of Christianity. Review: Right at the beginning, in Book 1, Harnack brings to the attention of his audience Christianity’s germination on the fertile land of Jews and examines how it has fared then on. The context has remained favorable for Christianity’s growth. Jewish foothold has been very firm and their propaganda profound. Judaism gradually kept transforming in a philosophical context. However, afterwards, the religion has “presented itself in the eyes of the law and the authorities as a religion distinct from that of Judaism, its character as a religio illicita was assured” (Harnack 302). Simultaneously, the religion has blended itself into the lives and other aspects of the society in the east. This was syncretism, which looked like a unity from distance but is heterogenous in reality. When “Christianity came to formulate ideas of God, Jesus, sin, redemption, and life, it drew upon the materials acquired in the general process of religious evolution standing against polytheism.” Harnack showed that Jesus’ preaching and works are the base for further mission work and the impulse given by His genuineness worked as its spirit. The earliest followers, especially Paul, got this profound consciousness of being an apostle to the world. He was driven till the western ends of Roman Empire. The transition from Jewish mission to gentile mission is clearly shown by Harnack. In between, he argues against the Jews’ evilness and unworthiness of God’s grace. He takes it to extremes. In the gospels, first of all, one can find the obligation to go to the Jews and then the Gentiles. Jesus, however, did not give an explicit command for this, which remained further a field to think upon. However, His message was for the whole humanity. Harnack depicted Christianity as a syncretistic religion. But it is not clear to what extent this syncretism or the acceptance of ideas from others, and employing them for own understanding, was present in the words of Jesus and the ...
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