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Dictionary of Art and Artists




Gerard David
Flight to Egypt


see also:



The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"




Flight to Egypt



Giotto di Bondone


Duccio di Buoninsegna


Lucas Cranach the Elder


Vittore Carpaccio


Melchior Broederlam


Gerard David


Gerard David


Anthony van Dyck


Michelangelo Caravaggio


Albrecht Altdorfer


Jan the Elder Brueghel


Jan Brueghel the Elder


Pier Mola



The history of

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Part XIX


The church and its history » Church tradition
Christianity has exhibited a characteristic tension toward tradition from its very beginnings. This tension, which is grounded in its essence, has been continued throughout its entire history. It began with rejecting the pious traditions of piety of the Hebrew Scriptures and synagogue practices. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus set forth his message as a renunciation of the Old Testament tradition of the Law. Yet he created a new tradition, a “new law,” that has been carried on in the church. The dogmatic controversies of the Reformation period give the impression that the tradition of the church has to do primarily, if not exclusively, with ecclesiastical doctrinal tradition. Tradition, however, includes all areas of life of the Christian community and its piety, not just the teachings but also the forms of worship service, bodily gestures of prayer and the liturgy, oral and written tradition and the characteristic process of transition of the oral into written tradition, a new church tradition of rules for eating and fasting, and other aspects of the Christian life.

The break with the tradition of Judaism was not total. The Scriptures were adopted from Jewish tradition, but their interpretation was based upon the concepts of salvation that emerged around the figure of Jesus Christ. The book of Psalms, including its musical form, was taken over in Christian worship as the foundation of the liturgy. The new revelation became tradition in the oral transmission of the words of the Lord (the logia) and the reports (kerygma) concerning the events of his life that were important for the early church’s faith in him; his baptism, the story of his Passion, his Resurrection, and his Ascension. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper as anticipation of the heavenly meal with the Messiah–Son of man in the coming Kingdom of God, even to the point of preserving in the liturgy the Aramaic exclamation maranatha (“O Lord, Come”) and its Greek parallel erche kyrie (“Come, Lord!”) as the supplicant calling for the Parousia (Second Coming)—all this became tradition.

Of special significance is the unique tradition of the oral transmission of teachings developed in Judaism. According to rabbinic doctrine, orally transmitted tradition coexisted on an equal basis with the written Law. Both text and tradition were believed to have been entrusted to Moses on Mount Sinai. The doctrinal contents of the tradition were initially passed on orally and memorized by the students. Because of the possibilities of error in a purely oral transmission, however, the extensive and growing body of tradition was, by necessity, fixed in written form. The rabbinic tradition of the Pharisees (a Jewish sect that sanctioned the reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law) was established in the Mishna (commentaries) and later in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmud (compendiums of Jewish Law, lore, and commentary). Because the essence of tradition is never concluded—i.e., by its very nature is never completely fixed in writing—the learned discussion of tradition by necessity continued in constant exegetical debate with the Holy Scriptures. The written record of tradition, however, never claimed to be equal to the Holy Scriptures in Judaism. A similar process of written fixation also occurred among the sectarians of the community at Qumran, which in its Manual of Discipline and in the Damascus Document recorded its interpretation of the Law, developed first orally in the tradition.

In the Christian church a tradition proceeding from Jesus himself was formed. The oral transmission of the tradition was written down between the end of the 1st and the first half of the 2nd century in the form of various gospels, histories of the Apostles, letters, sermonic literature, and apocalypses. Among Christian Gnostics the tradition also included what was believed to be secret communications of the risen Christ to his disciples.

A new element, however, inhered in the Christian in relation to the Jewish tradition. For Jewish piety, revelation encompassed two forms of divine expression: the Law and the Prophets. This revelation is considered concluded with the last Prophets, and its actualization further ensues through interpretation. In the Christian church the tradition is joined not only to the teachings of Jesus and the story of his life as prophet and teacher but also to the central event of the history of salvation, which his life, Passion, death, and Resurrection represent—namely, to the resurrected Christ who is henceforth present as the living Lord of the church and guides and increases it through his Holy Spirit. This led to the literary form of church tradition—the Holy Scripture. As the “New Testament,” it takes its place next to the Holy Scripture of Judaism, henceforth reinterpreted as the “Old Testament.” The tradition of the church itself thereby entered into the characteristic Christian tension between spirit and letter. The spirit creates tradition but also breaks tradition as soon as the latter is solidified into an external written form and thus impedes charismatic life.

Throughout church history, however, the core of this field of tension has been formed by the transmission of the Christ event—the kerygma—itself. On the one hand, the kerygma is the bearer and starting point for tradition; on the other hand, it molds the impetus for ever-new impulses toward charismatic, fresh interpretations and, under certain circumstances, suggests or even enforces elimination of accumulated traditions. Decisive in this respect is the self-understanding of the church. According to the self-understanding of the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches, the church, as the institution of Jesus Christ, is the bearer of the oral and the written tradition and the creator of the New Testament canon. The church’s selection of canonical writings presupposes a dogmatic distinction between “ecclesiastical” teachings—which, in the opinion of its responsible leaders, are “apostolic”—and “heretical” teachings. It thereby already presupposes a far-reaching intellectualization of the tradition and its identification with “doctrine.” The oral tradition thus became formalized in fixed creedal formulas.

Accordingly, in the history of the Christian church a specific, characteristic dialectic has been evidenced between periods of excessive growth and formalistic hardening of tradition that hindered and smothered the charismatic life of the church and periods of a reduction of tradition that follow new reformational movements. The latter occurred, in part, within the church itself, such as in the reforms of Cluny, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans; they also took on the form of revolutionary movements. The Reformation of the 16th century broke with the institution of monasticism, the liturgical and sacramental tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, and certain elements of doctrinal tradition. Luther, however, was more conservative in his attitude toward the Roman Catholic Church than were Zwingli and Calvin. The Anabaptists and other Enthusiasts (Schwärmer) went even further, demanding and practicing a revolutionary break with the entire Roman Catholic tradition. The churches that arose from the Reformation, however, soon created their own traditions, which emerged from the confessional writings and doctrines of the reformers. The rejection of the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church had practical as well as dogmatic effects—e.g., the eating of sausage on fast days in Zürich at the start of Zwingli’s reformation or the provocative marriages of monks and nuns.

In the 19th century, a period of progressive political revolutions and anti-Catholic movements such as the Kulturkampf, the Roman Catholic Church sought to safeguard its tradition—threatened on all sides—through an emphatic program of “antimodernism.” It endeavoured to protect tradition both by law and through theology (e.g., in returning to neo-Thomism). The representatives of this development were the popes from Pius IX (reigned 1846–78) to Pius XII (reigned 1939–58). With Pope John XXIII (reigned 1958–63), a dismantling (aggiornamento) of antimodernism and a more critical attitude toward “tradition” set in; this extended to traditional dogmatic views as well as to the liturgy and church structure. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) guided this development into moderate channels. On the other hand, an opposite development took place in the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries. In these nations the remains of the Orthodox Church, which survived extermination campaigns of the Leninist and Stalinist eras from the 1920s to the 1950s, preserved themselves in a political environment hostile to the church precisely through a retreat to their church tradition and religious functioning in the realm of the liturgy. From the late 1980s the Orthodox Church experienced greater religious freedom and new growth, as the openly hostile governments in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe dissolved with the fall of communism. In the World Council of Churches, the Orthodox Church in the latter part of the 20th century viewed its task as the bearer of Christian tradition against the predominant social-ethical tendencies of certain Protestant member churches that disregarded or de-emphasized the tradition of the church in a wave of antihistorical sentiment.

The church and its history » Church tradition » The sacraments
The interpretation and number of the sacraments vary among the Christian churches of the world. The number of sacraments also varied in the early church, sometimes including as many as 10 or 12. In his Book of Sentences (1148–51), Peter Lombard asserted that there were seven sacraments, a position adopted by contemporary theologians. At the Council of Trent (1545–63), the Roman Catholic Church formally fixed the number of sacraments at seven: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick. The theology of the Orthodox Church also fixed the number of sacraments at seven. The classical Protestant churches (i.e., Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed) have accepted only two sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, though Luther allowed that penance was a valid part of sacramental theology.

The New Testament mentions a series of “holy acts” that are not, strictly speaking, sacraments. Though the Roman Catholic Church recognizes a difference between such “holy acts,” which are called sacramentals, and sacraments, the Orthodox Church does not, in principle, make such strict distinctions. Baptism and the Eucharist, therefore, have been established as sacraments of the church, but foot washing, which replaces the Lord’s Supper in The Gospel According to John, was not maintained as a sacrament. It is still practiced on special occasions, such as on Holy Thursday (the Thursday preceding Easter Sunday) in the Roman Catholic Church and as a rite prior to the observance of the Lord’s Supper, as in the Church of the Brethren. The “holy acts” of the Orthodox Church are symbolically connected to its most important mysteries. Hence, baptism consists of a triple immersion that is connected with a triple renunciation of Satan that the candidates say and act out symbolically prior to the immersions. Candidates first face west, which is the symbolic direction of the Antichrist, spit three times to symbolize their renunciation of Satan, and then face east, the symbolic direction of Christ, the sun of righteousness. Immediately following baptism, chrismation (anointing with consecrated oil) takes place, and the baptized believers receive the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The church and its history » Church tradition » Scriptural traditions
The most important creation of church tradition is that of the Holy Scriptures themselves and, secondarily, their exegesis (critical interpretations and explanations). Exegesis first appeared in Christian circles among Gnostic heretics and the church catechists (teachers)—e.g., in the Christian school systems, such as in Alexandria and Antioch. The heretics, who could not claim the unbroken apostolic tradition maintained by the orthodox Christian churches, had an interest in claiming the tradition to justify their own movements. Thus, exegesis was directly related to the development of a normative scriptural canon in the orthodox churches. Eventually it contributed to the emergence of the catechetical schools.

The first representatives of early church exegesis were not the bishops but rather the “teachers” (didaskaloi) of the catechetical schools, modeled after the Hellenistic philosophers’ schools in which interpretive and philological principles had been developed according to the traditions of the founders of the respective schools. The allegorical interpretation of Greek classical philosophical and poetical texts, which was prevalent at the Library and Museum (the school) of Alexandria, for example, directly influenced the exegetical method of the Christian catechetical school there. Basing his principles on the methods of Philo of Alexandria and Clement of Alexandria, his teacher, and others, Origen—the Christian catechetical school’s most significant representative—created the foundation for the type of Christian exegesis (i.e., the typological-allegorical method) that lasted from the patristic period and the Middle Ages until the time of Luther in the 16th century. Origen based his exegesis upon comprehensive textual-critical work that was common to current Hellenistic practices, such as collecting Hebrew texts and Greek parallel translations of the Old Testament. His main concern, however, was that of ascertaining the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, the trans-historical divine truth that is hidden in the records of the history of salvation. He thus developed a system containing four types of interpretation: literal, moral, typological, and allegorical. The fourfold sense of Scripture would come to dominate medieval exegesis, though the allegorical understanding of Scripture was the most common form of interpretation.

During the Reformation, under the leadership of Luther, the literal meaning of the Scriptures usurped the preeminence of the allegorical view. The literal interpretation of Scripture had its beginnings in the early church in school of Antioch. In contrast to the Platonic tradition of the school of Alexandria, the school of Antioch was guided by Aristotelian philosophy. In place of allegorizing, which was consciously rejected, Antiochene exegesis was occupied with textual criticism. Both traditions often were included together in the so-called glosses of the Latin Middle Ages, such as in the Glossa ordinaria (“Ordinary Glosses”), edited by Anselm of Laon (died 1117), and the Postillae—the first biblical commentary to be printed (1471–72)—of Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1270–1349).

According to his own statement, Luther’s inspiration came about through reflection on the Scriptures—legendo et docendo (“by perusing and teaching”)—in connection with his lectures on the Bible at the university of Wittenberg in Germany. He used the preliminary work of humanist philologists for the restoration of the Old and New Testament text (e.g., Erasmus’s 1516 edition of the Greek New Testament in the lectures on the Letter of Paul to the Romans). Luther replaced the traditional schema of the fourfold meaning of the Scripture with a spiritual interpretation of the letter—i.e., one based on Christ. Inasmuch as the letter, which speaks historically of the work of Christ, at the same time always means this work as the salvation event that has happened “for us,” it always contains the spiritual meaning in itself. In debates with the Spiritualists and Enthusiasts, who made use of the allegorical-tropological (figurative) method, Luther appealed ever more strongly to the unequivocal “clarity” of the letter of the Scriptures, which contains the “clarity” of the “subject” expressed by it. His exegesis is thus also a dogmatic one. The struggle between historical and tropological exegesis was emphasized in the debate between Luther and Zwingli over the understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

During the early 18th century, biblical interpretation free of dogmatic interest was achieved among theologians accused of heresy by orthodox colleagues of their confession, such as among the Dutch Arminians (e.g., Hugo Grotius and Johann Jakob Wettstein). Interest in the history of the Old and New Testament period was growing; ancient Middle Eastern history, biblical geography and archaeology, and the history of the religions of Hellenism were included in the interpretation of the Scriptures. Historical criticism of the Bible, which was independent of the moral and edifying evaluation of the Holy Scriptures, emerged under the influence of the Enlightenment and remained an important approach in Bible studies in the 19th and 20th centuries.




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