|« Prev||§ 1. How did the Church arrive at a second…||Next »|
§ 1. How did the Church arrive at a second authoritative Canon in addition to the Old Testament?
From the standpoint of the Apostolic Epoch it would be perfectly intelligible if the Church, in regard to written authorities, had decided to be satisfied with the possession of the Old Testament. I need not trouble to prove this. We should, however, have been to a certain extent prepared if, as time went on, the Church had added some other writings to this book to which it held fast. Indeed, in the first century, even among the Jews, the Old Testament was not yet quite rigidly closed, its third division was still in a somewhat fluid condition, and, above all, in the Dispersion, among the Greek-speaking Jews, side by side with the Scriptures of the Palestinian collection, there were in circulation numerous sacred writings in Greek of which a considerable number became gradually and quite naturally attached to the authoritative collection. It would therefore have been in no sense surprising, nor would it have been regarded as extraordinary, if from the Christian side some new edifying works had been added to this collection. This actually happened here and there with Apocalypses; indeed, attempts were even made to smuggle new chapters and verses into some of the ancient books of the Canon.44See my Altchristl. Lit.-Gesch., 1, S. 849 ff.; ii. 1, S. 560–589; Texte u. Unters., Bd. 39, Hft. 1, S. 69 ff. That round about the year A.D. 200 Tertullian wished to add Enoch to the Old Testament is well known, and the reasons he gives are very instructive. See Sitzungsber., 1914, S. 310 f. In this fashion 5Christians might have proceeded in yet bolder style, without doing anything unusual, and so might have been able to satisfy requirements which were not met, or not completely met, by the Old Testament. Lastly, judging from the standpoint of the Apostolic Age, we should not have been surprised if in the near future the Old Testament had been rejected or set aside by the Gentile Churches. When the word had gone forth that one should know nothing else than Christ Crucified and Risen, when it was taught that the Law was abolished and that all had become new, the step was very near to recognise the Gospel of Christ, and nothing else. “I believe nothing that I do not find in the Gospel” (Ignat., Phil., 8)—what object then was served by the Old Testament? That the Apostle who taught all this nevertheless himself accepted the Old Testament offered no special difficulty. Gentile Christians knew very well that the Apostle, who to Jews became a Jew, for his own person and out of regard to the Jews, had clung to many things that were not meant to be accepted by others or need no longer be accepted. For all these possibilities (the Old Testament alone; an enriched Old Testament; no Old Testament) we should thus have been prepared; but we should have been absolutely unprepared for that which actually happened—a second authoritative collection. 6How did this come about? It is true indeed that the fact that an Old Testament existed had the most important part in the suggestion and creation of a New Testament; and yet for decades of years the Old Testament was the greatest hindrance to such a creation, more especially because the Old Testament in a very complete and masterly way was subjected to Christian interpretation,55St Paul himself offered a rich collection of such Christian interpretations, although he, as a rule, allowed to the Law its literal sense. and so Christians already possessed in it a foundation document for that new thing which they had experienced. Still, far down beneath the movements of the time, a more sure preparation was being made for that which was to come, namely the New Testament, than for all the other possibilities. These had their strength in forces which lay on the surface; but under the surface a new spirit was working from the beginning, and was striving to come to light.
Here three questions present themselves: (A) What motives led to the creation of the New Testament? (B) Whence came the authority that was necessary for such a creation? (C) Supposing the necessity of a New Testament, how did it actually come into being?
(A) Here a series of motives increasing in importance were at work; but it was the last of these that demanded a new written authority side by side 7with the Old Testament (and this without abandonment of the same).
(1) The earliest motive force, one that had been at work from the beginning of the Apostolic Age, was the supreme reverence in which the words and teaching of Christ Jesus were held. I have purposely used the expression “supreme reverence,” for in the ideas of those days inspiration and authority had their degrees. Not only were the spirits of the prophets subject to the prophets, but there were recognised degrees of higher and highest in their utterances. Now there can be no doubt that for the circle of disciples the Word of Jesus represented the highest degree. He Himself had often introduced His message with the words “I am come” (i.e. to do something which had not yet been done), or, “But I say unto you” (in opposition to something that had been hitherto said). This claim received its complete recognition among the disciples in the unswerving conviction that the words and directions of Jesus formed the supreme rule of life. Thus side by side with the writings of the Old Testament appeared the Word of “the Lord,” and not only so, but in the formula γραφαὶ καὶ ὁ κύριος66(The Scriptures and the Lord.) I cannot be persuaded that “the Lord” as a title of Jesus was first conceived on Gentile-Christian soil. The idea of “Messiah” simply includes that of “Lord.” The formula “The Scriptures and the Lord” has manifold attestation direct as well as indirect in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic epoch. the two terms were not 8only of equal authority, but the second unwritten term received a stronger accent than the first that had literary form. We may therefore say that in this formula we have the nucleus of the New Testament. But even in the Apostolic Age and among the Palestinian communities it had become interchangeable with the formula αἱ γραφαὶ καὶ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον77(The Scriptures and the Gospel.) for in the “Good News” was comprised what the Messiah had said, taught, and revealed.88It is a waste of time to discuss which of the two formulæ, αἱ γραφαὶ καὶ ὁ κύριος or αἱ γραφαὶ καὶ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, is the earlier. Concerning “evangelium” and the earliest history of the conception, I refer to my book Entstehung und Entwickelung der Kirchenverfassung (1910), S. 199-239, especially S. 224 ff. These two almost identical formulæ, though they do not as yet distinguish the followers of Jesus from ideal Judaism, nevertheless mark a breach with Judaism as it actually existed.99We must cry halt for a moment, for the historian of the New Testament in order to gain a more exact conception of what actually happened must survey what might have happened. If the motive here described could have had free course, undisturbed by other motives, we should have expected that a collection of authoritative sayings of Jesus loosely compiled or in more connected form, and at the most enriched by some eschatological elements, would have taken its place beside the Old Testament. And for a time this is what actually happened both in the case of the looser and more connected forms. In the compilation Q that lies behind the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke we have an example of the looser form, and in the Christian version of “The Two Ways” of the more connected form. The latter work, in the form which it has received in the “Didache,” is especially interesting, because in it an attempt is made to base not only the ethics but also the most important institutions of the Christian communities (such as Baptism, Prayer, Fasting, the Eucharist, the rules of life, etc.) upon sayings of Jesus, and thus to give the whole Christian position an “evangelical” foundation, so that it should not depend on the Old Testament as its sole written authority. Lastly, this ancient Didache, in so far as it claims to be both “Teaching of the Lord” and “Teaching of the Apostles,” (Διδαχὴ κυρὶου διὰ τῶν ιβ´ ἀποστόλων) also implies that relative identification of Christ and the Apostles which, as we shall see, was the most essential condition of the origin of the New Testament. Thus without exaggeration we may say that Q (in its earliest form), as well as the old Didache, aim in their own fashion at being a New Testament or “the New Testament.” It was not outside the limits of possibility that Christendom should have produced as its “New Testament,” nothing except a work like the “Didache” side by side with the Old Testament (and the Gospels). How nearly this happened we may judge from the important fact that, even after the New Testament was created, the production of works like the Didache, based upon the authority of the Lord and the Apostles (Constitutions, Canons, etc.), continued up to the fifth and sixth centuries. The motive which led to this authoritative literature is thus older than those which led to the New Testament. When we take up works like the “Apostolic Canons” we should remember that we are dealing with rivals of the New Testament, in idea more ancient and venerable than the New Testament itself, in spite of their wild and audacious development of that idea.9
(2) The second motive, manifested with peculiar force in St Paul, but by no means exclusively in him, is the interest in the Death and Resurrection of the Messiah Jesus, an interest which necessarily led to the assigning of supreme importance to, and to the crystallisation of the tradition of, the critical moments of His history. Under the influence of this motive “the Gospel” came to mean the good news of the Divine plan of Salvation, proclaimed by the prophets, and now accomplished through the Death and Resurrection of Christ;1010A change also takes place in the concept of ὁ κύριος. In this term Christ is now regarded from the point of view of His nature and acts rather than as the teacher divinely commissioned. and it would be 10felt that an account of the critical moments of the life of Christ must take its place side by side with the Old Testament history regarded as prophetic.1111The scope of the record to which this feeling led was at first purely arbitrary. The plan of the Markan Gospel shows most clearly that the chief interest lay in the Story of the Death and Resurrection. If the teaching of Christ was to be combined with this story it was necessary to give some kind of preliminary history. This is what St Mark gives. But what he gives is to the very smallest extent determined by interest in the fulfilment of prophecy—simply because the material to hand was so insignificant in this respect (yet see what St Matthew tries to do with it). It was not until courage was found to pass from this preliminary history (the story of our Lord’s teaching and wonderful works) to what we to-day call “preliminary history” (Matt. i.–ii.; Luke i., ii., etc.) that the scheme, “Fulfilled Prophecy,” could be so forcibly applied, as it was already in the story of the Death and Resurrection, and then for the most part to facts that happened because they were wanted. Then at once there must have arisen among Christians the desire and endeavour to prove the concordance of prophecy and fulfilment in order to establish their own faith and confute the unbelief of the Jews. Thus the Church had just as much need of an historical tradition concerning Jesus as of the Old Testament; and a comparison point by point of prophecy and fulfilment was also an absolute requisite. These requirements were still covered by the formula αἱ γραφαὶ καὶ ὁ κύριος (or τὸ εὐαγγέλιον), but the concept ὁ κύριος (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον) demanded now, in addition to the moral (and eschatological) sayings of Jesus, an historical record. With this stage of development correspond our Gospels, or rather the many Gospels of which St Luke still speaks. That 11they were many in itself proves not only the acuteness of the need for them, but also the carelessness that prevailed in the matter of authenticity. It was not the author’s authority that at first carried these writings, but their own content. By the historical element of this literature the separation between the Churches and the Synagogue was set in yet stronger relief than by the Didache literature; for the latter could still connect with Jewish ethic, and was as a matter of fact developed from it (cf. “The Two Ways”), whereas the historical literature laid emphasis upon everything that was to the Jews a “scandalon,” and thus established and widened the cleft between them and the Christian bodies. Under the influence of the second motive, together with the first, the formula “The Holy Scriptures and the Lord” was transformed into “The Holy Scriptures and the (written Gospels) or the (written) Gospel,”1212Accordingly the Gospels were also called “The Scriptures of the Lord”: see Dionysius Cor. (c. A.D. 170) in Euseb., H.E., iv. 23, 22 (Clem. Alex. and Tertullian). The historical situation in the Churches that corresponded to this new formula was that which preceded the creation of the New Testament.1313Here also it is well to halt for a moment. If the above mentioned motive together with the first had had free course, without any interference from new motives, the result must have been as follows: either a written gospel (like our Gospels) would have taken its place beside the Old Testament with all the dignity which its content afforded or, on the other hand, a compilation of concordances of Old Testament prophecies and events in the history of Jesus (together with some work like Q or like the Didache). The first alternative, as is well known, came into being. The Jewish-Christian Churches, as long as they lasted, added one written gospel, the “Gospel of the Hebrews,” or the “Gospel of the Ebionites,” to the Old Testament, and nothing else. It is also conceivable that the Egyptian Churches during part of their history had only a Gospel in addition to the Old Testament. It is, moreover, certain that many important Churches for about half a century (c. 130–170 or 180) set one Gospel (perhaps several—we need not discuss this at present) beside the Old Testament, and that in the Syrian and Arabian Churches this state of affairs lasted until the middle of the third century. We are here concerned only with establishing these facts. Whether these Gospels were valued for their content only, or whether form and the authority of the author were already of importance, and what was the exact relation in which they stood to the Old Testament—these also are questions which lie for the moment outside our scope. In any case it is clear that it was not only not outside the limits of possibility, but that the circumstances rather suggested that a permanent “New Testament” should have arisen comprising only a Gospel (one or several). It is possible to ask whether the course of the Church’s history would not have been simpler if she had kept to a Gospel or to the Gospels as her “New Testament.” But would not the Old Testament have been too strong in the Church if she had been obliged to dispense with the Pauline Epistles? To ask the question means to answer it in the affirmative. The Johannine Gospel could not have performed the absolutely necessary service that the canonised Paul has performed for the Church—still less St Mark or St Luke. As for the second possibility that instead of our Gospels and the Pauline Epistles we should have received only a compilation of concordances between prophecies and fulfilments (with or without Q)—here, too, there is no lack of attempts in this direction. Such compilations existed as is shown by the works of Justin when compared with other works (from the Acts of the Apostles onwards). Note especially the Ἐκλογαὶ of Melito (Euseb., H.E., iv. 26, 13 f. ), unfortunately lost to us; it was made up of “extracts from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour and our whole Faith.” There was no small danger that Christians should have remained satisfied with such concordances, and that development on these lime would have resulted in a cramped and superficial New Testament. Fortunately, however, none was skilful enough to find a satisfactory form for this conception. Hence it has always remained formless in the Church; and, so far as I can see, it is owing to this fact that from this quarter the New Testament met with no such rival as it confessedly met with in the Didache writings (vide supra). We shall discuss later the fact that Marcion was fortunate enough to find a form for the opposite undertaking in his Antitheses, and assigned to this work canonical authority.12
(3) The third motive belongs quite essentially to St Paul and to those who learned from him. It 13finds expression in such words as these: “Christ is the end of the Law,” “The Law is given by Moses, Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ,” and the like. Pauline Christians, and many that were not Pauline, were convinced that what Christ had brought with Him, in spite of its connection with the Old Testament, was something “new” and formed a “New Covenant.” The conception of the “New Covenant” necessarily suggested the need of something of the nature of a document; for what is a covenant without its document? An enthusiast like Ignatius could indeed exclaim: Ἐμοὶ ἀρχεῖά ἐστιν Ιησοῦς Χριστός, τά ἄθικτα ἀρχεῖα ὁ σταυρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις αὐτοῦ,1414(As for me, my documents are Jesus Christ—the unquestionable documents, His Cross and His Death and Resurrection.) Phil., 8. but the quite exaggerated paradox of the statement of itself teaches us that it could never become common property. No; if the handwriting that was against us is torn in pieces then there must be a new handwriting which is for us! If the written Law is abolished then the written Grace and Truth must appear in its place. And yet we notice that at first neither 14with St Paul nor the others is there any demand for a new document. Why not? Just because they thought that they possessed it already in the Old Testament, in those prophetical passages to which they gave the widest compass. By introducing into the ancient Scriptures themselves the distinction, indeed the opposition, between the Law and the Gospel, by finding this distinction in all those passages which speak of something “new,” of a new Covenant, of a First and a Second and the like, of an extension of the Covenant to the Gentiles, they felt that they already possessed the written document of the new message of salvation, the authority they required.1515See especially the Epistle of Barnabas, and Justin.
But now a certain ambiguity, or at least an appearance of such, appears on the scene. Even St Paul is grievously affected by it. Where lies the boundary between Law and Prophets? Which is the Old and which is the New? Is it that everything in the Old Testament is new, and that there is only need of a right understanding to spy the “New” everywhere? Is thus the “Old” in the “Old Testament” merely a mischievous phantom that emanates from the stubborn unintelligence of the Jews?1616This is the view of the author of the Epistle of Barnabas. Or is it that all in the Old Testament is indeed “New,” but God has, for pedagogic reasons, veiled it with the appearance of the “Old”—indeed 15not only with the appearance, but with the “Old” itself, in accommodation with the character of the Jew; and that now, through Christ, all is unveiled for the Christian.1717This is the common view shared by Justin. Or is a sharp distinction to be drawn between the moral and the ceremonial Law—the latter is abrogated, the former still in force? Or is the “New” a higher stage of development that does not deny its relationship to the “Old,” but in a sense supplements it, or deepens the meaning and gives greater stringency to the demand, or lightens the yoke of the Old? Or, finally, are all these suppositions false? Is the “Old” absolutely and completely abolished be-cause it was a grievous error ever to have regarded the Old Testament as the Word of God? There never was an “Old Covenant,” and the Old Testament is thus unmasked: it is the work of Jews and, as such, is to be despised or even condemned.
Such were the difficulties which oppressed with ever-increasing weight the Christian in his controversy with the Jew and the Gnostic, and, above all, were a source of irritation to the life of the Churches and dominated the thought of their intellectual leaders (between A.D. 60 and 160). What way of deliverance from these perplexities was open? They needed an authoritative document, a document which, because it gave a priori the right standpoint, decided these questions once and for all. But 16where was such a document to be found? The “correct” standpoint between Jew and Jewish Christian on the one hand and Marcion and Gnosticism on the other was given, in the firm determination of the important Churches to abide, with the original Apostles and St Paul, faithful to the Old Testament, and yet at the same time to appeal to written fundamental writings that testified to the transcendent claim of the New Covenant, and gave written authority to the “legisdatio in libertatem” in contrast to the “legisdatio in servitutem” of the same God.1818This meant the rejection of the views of “Barnabas” (an Old Covenant is a Jewish mistake), of Marcion and the Gnostics (the so-called Old Covenant together with the Old Testament is the work of another god), but also of the strict Jewish Christians (the “New Covenant” is essentially nothing new but is only the continuation and completion of the Old). No one that reads Justin’s Dialogue with Typho but can receive the liveliest impression that the author is simply crying for a New Testament; but, seeing that he cannot produce it directly as a fundamental document he is compelled to write endless chapters and laboriously to construct it himself from the Old Testament and the history of Jesus (the Gospels)! If he could have quoted as the Word of God in strict sense one only of the dozens of appropriate passages in St Paul, and could have been able to refer to books of the “New Covenant”—how much simpler and shorter his whole task would have become!
(4) The fourth and last motive derives from the 17problem presented to the Church since the second century by the presence of a considerable Christian literature. A mass of Christian works had come into existence of extremely varied content (especially the Gnostic writings), some of which advanced high claims to authority and often afforded grievous scandal to simple believers. ‘What is admissible, what is not admissible? What corresponds to Orthodoxy (“Orthognomy,” Justin)? what contradicts it? What is “Catholic,” and what not?—These were questions which became ever more burning, and necessitated an authoritative selection of what was trustworthy and good. And, besides, the more time advanced the more one was driven to distinguish between the “New” and the “Old”; for the Christian religion experienced what every religion—and every religious community—experiences—it began to worship its own past. The more perplexing, troublous, and feeble its present appeared, the more precious and sacred became its own past, the time of creative energy, with all that belonged thereto. Necessarily, therefore, the process of selection was governed, not only by the criterion “Catholic,” but also by the criterion “Old,” to which the more definite name “Apostolic” came to be attached. But what had been selected as orthodox and “Catholic” possessed as such a certain authority, which was still further enhanced if the additional predicate “Apostolic” (“old “) could be attached 18to it.1919The task of selection was the more difficult in that, according to the earliest belief, he who speaks (or writes) of the Lord speaks under the influence of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. xii. 3; Didache iv. 1: ὅθεν ἡ κυριότης λαλεῖται ἐκεῖ κύριός ἐστιν. Old-fashioned Tertullian, De Cultu, i. 3: “Omnis scriptura ædificationi habilis divinitus inspirata est”). To select and reject was, therefore, a matter of serious responsibility. Seen from this point of view the New Testament is, therefore, a “remainder-product,” and the belief in its inspiration is a mere relic of the much richer conception that the Spirit of Christ (of God) initiated and overruled every sincere word of testimony to Himself. The New Testament is thus a Remainder-product, and at the same time a new creation (as a collection of Apostolic-Catholic writings). In the former character it was determined by rejection, in the latter by collection. The result of the working out of this fourth motive would therefore quite necessarily combine with what was demanded by the third motive: in the “Catholic” and “Apostolic” would be found fundamental, authoritative documents of the New Covenant.
We have now sketched the embryonic history of the New Testament in its leading motives.2020Motives which derived from the relations of the Churches with the surrounding heathen world can scarcely be included here. The apologists even after the creation of the New Testament found no need to change the old method of operating with the Old Testament alone, and only adding a little from the Gospel tradition. When dealing with heathen it was such an advantage to be able to appeal to scriptures of venerable antiquity that the new were left on one side; indeed Justin, one of the earliest apologists, makes more constant use of the new writings (the Gospels) and in controversy with the heathen thrusts them more conspicuously into the foreground, than any of his successors. The most important apologetic work of the primitive Church, Tertullian’s Apologeticum, gives in reference to Christ only an historical sketch, which would necessarily have been understood by heathen to proceed from official “Acts of Pilate,” while the Gospels are as good as ignored. Yet in making these remarks I do not wish to deny that in many particular cases of controversy of Christians with heathen it was not a great advantage to be able to appeal to a New Testament as well as to the Old Testament, and that complications must have occurred so long as this was not yet possible. This 19history led to written gospels on the one hand, and on the other hand to the demand for a fundamental document of the New Covenant that would confute both Jewish Christian and Gnostic alike. Moreover, it led also to the demand that the orthodox (Catholic) writings should be separated from the mass of upstart, misleading works, and that at the same time special honour should be paid to all that was “old” (Apostolic). These needs and requirements would of themselves suggest the standard by which such books were chosen; but the task must have been easier in places where “Apostolic” articles of faith had become firmly established, and so a fixed standard for selection had been set up.2121Here is the point where the question of the connection between the growing New Testament and the Creed presents itself—the problem which Lessing was the first to state clearly. His solution is correct in the sense that the Catholic standard of orthodoxy, or Rule of Faith, is more ancient than the New Testament, and exercised an important influence on its compilation. The Muratorian Fragment in several passages affords a direct proof that this was so; but even without this testimony the fact would be proved. Lessing, however, has not shown, or at any rate has not sufficiently clearly shown, that every collection of sacred documents has an innate and un-conquerable tendency to shake itself free from the conditions out of which it has arisen (cf. Second Part, § 1). Thus an Old Testament with Christian interpretation or an enriched Old Testament no longer sufficed; for neither the one nor the other fulfilled 20the needs that had grown up and now imperiously asserted themselves. In the motives which we have described the New Testament exists in embryo.
(B) But whence came the authority which was necessary for such a production? Three points are here to be considered.
In the first place, in primitive Christendom, though every Christian was believed to have received the Spirit, certain members were regarded as being specially inspired, as being “bearers of the Spirit” κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν. The directions of these “Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers” could not but be simply accepted and obeyed.2222Cf. concerning these three, my Missionsgeschichte, 12, S. 267 ff., and my Kirchenverfassung, S. 18 ff. Their connection with Jewish tradition need not here be discussed. Though, on the one hand, their existence and activity might mean a hindrance to the formation of an authoritative written canon—for what need was there of Scriptures when one had living authorities?—yet, on the other hand, they might act as promoters; for if they gave any directions concerning written works, these also could not but be obeyed. In these “bearers of the Spirit” the Churches thus possessed, until far into the second century, authorities that could create what was new and could give to the new the seal of prescription. If in later days the bishop was asked what ought to be read in public,2323Vide e.g. Euseb., H.E., vi. 12, 4, where Serapion, bishop of Antioch at the time of Septimius Severus, gives an important decision concerning the Gospel of Peter. there is no 21doubt that at earlier times the same question was addressed to the “Apostle” or the “Prophet” or the “Teacher,” and that their authority sufficed.
In the second place, every circle of Christians that met together in the name of Jesus Christ and gave a direction or made a decision, felt and knew that it had the Holy Spirit or, in other words, the power of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. v. 4) as leader and supporter. The formulæ: “The Holy Spirit and we have decided” (Acts xv. 28), or “What we have said, God has said through us” (1 Clem. ad Cor. 59), or “We have spoken or written through the Holy Spirit” (1 Clem. ad Cor. 63), were in constant use. But the Church in its solemn assembly was especially an organ of the Holy Spirit; and Sohm in his Kirchenrecht (vol. i.) is right in making this conception the source of the absolute powers of the “Synods,” which indeed had developed from the Church assembly.2424When in after times Constantine and his successors revered the œcumenical synods as instruments of the Holy Spirit, and Justinian treated the decisions of the first four Councils as equal to the four Gospels, a principle was at work which can be justified from the early history of the Church. These powers extended also to the determination of what writings were to be accepted or rejected, publicly read or excluded. From this standpoint we can comprehend the peremptory expressions of the Muratorian Fragment (“recipi non potest”; “recipimus”; “legi oportet”; “se publicare in finem temporum non 22potest”; “nihil in totum recipimus”; [“rejicimus”]); or the similar statements of Tertullian: “non recipitur” (Apoc. Enoch); “a nobis quidem nihil omnino rejiciendum est quod pertineat ad nos”;2525De Cultu, i. 3. “penes nos [istæ scripturæ] apocryphorum nomine damnantur”;2626De Anima, 2. “certi sumus nihil recipiendum quod non conspiret germanæ paraturæ”;2727Loc. cit. “receptior apud ecclesias epistola Barnabæ”2828De Pudic., 20.—they are intended to be taken as decisions of the Churches. That, moreover, the judgment of the Churches concerning the admissibility of books to the sacred canon depended in some cases at least upon direct synodical decisions, is baldly stated by Tertullian (De Pudic., 10): “Sed cederem tibi, si scriptura Pastoris non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum, etiam vestrarum, inter apocrypha et falsa indicaretur.”2929Also in De Baptism, 17, it is evidently the intention of Tertullian to bring about a decree of the Church which would annul the too hasty reception of the Acta Pauli as a genuine document. The Community, therefore, in solemn assembly, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was felt to have the power to accept or not to accept into the Canon, and this power was also consciously exercised.3030Augustine speaks quite frankly (c. Faustum, xxii. 79) of “sancti at docti homines,” as compilers of the New Testament (“Legunt scripturas apocryphas Manichæi, a nescio quibus sutoribus fabularum sub apostolorum nomine scriptas, quæ suorum scriptorum temporibus in auctoritatem sanctæ ecclesiæ recipi mererentur, si sancti et docti homines, qui tunc in hac vita erant et examinare talia poterant, eos vera locutores esse cognoscerent”). A valuable piece of information (cf. Origen, Præf. in Luc.)! The legends that the Apostles themselves, or the Apostle John, compiled the New Testament first appear in the Middle Ages, and are worthless. It is, therefore, surprising that Overbeck has no scruple in appealing to this very late legend to support his hypothesis concerning the predominant influence of “John” (i.e. of the Fourth Gospel) in the formation of the Canon of the Gospels (Das Johannesev., 1911, S. 486, “In ancient legends (!) in which John appears as the founder of the Canon of the Gospels, indeed sometimes of the whole Canon of the New Testament, one may well recognise an echo of the original course of events if this went as I suppose.” S. 490: “There is in existence an ecclesiastical legend that the Apostle John was the founder of the Canon of the Gospels, indeed of the Canon generally. This legend, late though it is, and in content on the whole unacceptable, may, nevertheless, quite justly be appealed to as a confused historical reminiscence of an actual occurrence of Christian antiquity such as I have sketched.”) With what scorn would Overbeck have overwhelmed a critic that had dared to take a similar legend so seriously!23
Thirdly and lastly, there is another circumstance that must not be overlooked. The greater became the distance in time from the Apostolical Age the more sacred became the series of writings that had Catholic character and Apostolic title, just because of these properties and the distance. They thus acquired such inward and outward authority that the Churches could not bring themselves to believe that they had the power either to accept or to reject them.3131We may imagine the process as follows: From the first ages, the ages of enthusiasm onwards, every Christian writing counted as “inspired” (vide supra). In course of time, as the number of Christian writings increased and their contents became ever more varied, this estimate of value, this feeling of reverence, became weaker and more vague. But now a new valuation according to the standard of the Apostolic-Catholic gradually won its way in the Church. But Apostolic-Catholic did not mean less divine. This change is only one symptom of the grand historical revolution from enthusiasm to ecclesiasticism, from the spirit to the letter combined with the spirit. Like prophecy in earlier days, all that was Catholic and Apostolic had to be accepted as authoritative, and no one could criticise it. We have already touched upon the concept 24“Catholic”; in the next paragraphs we shall deal in more detail with the concept “Apostolic.” Here we need only state the fact that the importance which everything “Apostolic-Catholic,” either in content or in title, had acquired during the second century because of the Gnostic controversy was so great that in face of it the Churches felt that they had lost all right to decision and could only adopt a purely passive attitude. The decision is decision no longer, but mere acquiescence; they accept with all the consequences. Even in the case of Acta Pauli in Carthage, which Tertullian mentions, it cannot have been otherwise. When this book, which claimed to bring from the Apostolic Age a description of the history and teaching of St Paul, reached Carthage, it was as a matter of course accepted as having authority for the Church, and this practically meant that it was attached to the second collection of sacred writings that at that time already existed. One could only succeed in removing it from the Canon if one could unmask it and prove that it was a late and therefore a misleading work, and this is what Tertullian does. Naturally all would have been over with the book 25if it could have been convicted of heresy, but in this case that was not so easy.
To sum up: At first, in the period when foundations were being laid, men were living who had the power to determine books as authoritative and who made use of their power as the need for such books arose. Then came a moment after which the collection of sacred books could only, so to speak, itself create or, rather, extend itself—namely, the moment when the conviction arose that every work that was Apostolic and Catholic belonged to an authoritative group. Other authorities could now have scarcely any voice in the matter, for once the Apostolic-Catholic character of a work was established the only right left to Christians was that of acquiescence. Nevertheless, in practice, this principle by no means established itself quite securely and absolutely. In the first place, the concept “Apostolic” was by no means clear. Did it imply the Twelve Apostles alone? or the Twelve and other Apostolic persons? or the Apostolic Age generally? And, secondly, as we shall see immediately, another and an incommensurable factor was involved, namely, the factor of Custom.
(C) The third question which we have yet to consider is the question—Supposing the necessity in idea of the New Testament, how did it come into actual existence? Motives by themselves do not create, and even if authority is at hand with power 26to realise motives, still there is always need of practical conditions in order to give life and form to what is possible and desirable. Such practical conditions were, however, present. In the first place, there existed a body of writings that was more or less fitted to satisfy the requirements—the Gospels at the earlier date, and in the following period every work that was old (Apostolic) and Catholic as well. But this was not enough to make them formally Scriptures of a Second Covenant. Justin, indeed, with a certain Christian assurance, speaks not only of “our doctrines,” but also of “our writings” (Apol., i. 28) side by side with the Old Testament, but as yet he knows nothing of Scriptures of the “New Covenant.”
But he knew—and this is the second point—of a practice, in use in the Churches, of reading aloud in public worship the “memorabilia of the Apostles” (the Gospels) or the “writings of the prophets.”3232Apol., i. 67. Here we light upon the fact that was of supreme importance for the realisation of the idea of the New Testament. Above all, it was because Christian writings were in public worship actually treated like the Old Testament,3333Note the “or.” without being simply included in the body of the old Canon, that the idea of a second sacred collection could be realised.3434Behind this public reading lay not only the historical motive but also the motive of moral and religious edification, as is proved by the sermon that regularly followed the lection, and, moreover, by the practice of private reading. Concerning the latter practice, see my book, Bible Reading in the Early Church (Williams & Norgate). Thus practical piety also had its share in the creation of the New Testament. This was the 27case in the first place with the Gospels. In actual practice these writings gradually came to be treated in the same way as the Old Testament, and so for half a century they stood side by side with the ancient Scriptures, and very soon with a dignity practically equal to that of the Old Testament. But we have sure evidence that other writings were likewise read at public worship, though perhaps not at first as a regular practice; for Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth (about A.D. 170), tells us that the Corinthian Christians still continued to read in public worship the epistle written by Clement from the Roman Church about A.D. 95, and that they would likewise read the new letter which they had just received from Rome.3535Euseb., H.E., iv. 23, 11. If this happened in the case of important letters between Churches, what doubt can there be that it was so also above all with the epistles of St Paul—so unique, so incomparable —in Corinth and Rome, in Philippi and Thessalonica, in Ephesus, Hierapolis, and Colossæ, and not only in these places but wherever collections of Pauline epistles had arrived.3636Much intensive study has been devoted to the problem presented by the compilation of the thirteen (fourteen) Pauline epistles, with but meagre results. It is no longer possible to discover where the great final collection took place. From 1 Clement we may be sure that a collection of several epistles then existed in Rome, and was treated, so to speak, as public property of the Church. Twenty to thirty years later the collection was certainly in existence in several Churches far distant from one another. This is enough for our purpose. They would certainly 28be read publicly though not with the same regularity as the Gospels, and not as an alternative to the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Johannine Apocalypse too, in its present form, dating from the last days of Domitian, was edited for reading in the Church (i. 3) and naturally not for a single reading only, which would have been quite profitless.3737Compare also the directions that Hermas gives in reference to the public reading of his book (Vis., ii. 4). And though what was read is not indeed yet ἡ γραφή, still it could not but gradually come very near to the γραφή in the estimation of hearers who heard it again and again read aloud side by side with the Old Testament.3838The inner relationship of “written word” with “lection” comes out strikingly in the prologue (by Tertullian) to the Passio Perpetuæ, which will occupy us again later. Here we read: “Si vetera fidei exempla, et dei gratiam testificantia et ædificationem hominia operantia, propterea in litteris sunt digesta, ut lectione eorum . . . et deus honoretur et homo confortetur, cur non et nova documenta æquo utrique causæ convenientia et digerantur? . . . Itaque et nos . . . prophetias et visiones novas . . . ad instrumentum ecclesiæ deputatas . . . necessario et digerimus et ad gloriam dei lectione celebramus.” Yet it ought not to be overlooked that when Tertullian wrote these words the terms “the written word” and “lectio” had already probably a more exclusive relationship than they had sixty or even thirty years earlier. The farther back one goes the freer was the choice of what was read at public service. This explains how it happens that before the rise of the New Testament isolated instances occur in which 29the Gospel is quoted with γέγραπται,3939(It is written.) or in which a passage from a Pauline Epistle is adduced, together with passages from the Old Testament, as a quotation from Scripture.4040For the former, see Barn. iv. 14, and, later, 2 Clement ii. 4; xiii. 4; for the latter Polyc. xii. 1 (only preserved in the somewhat untrustworthy Latin version). The passage 2 Peter iii. 16 would be very important for the equation Pauline Epistles = Holy Scripture if the date of this late epistle could be more definitely determined. This transference of the authority of ἡ γραφή to isolated passages of evangelic writings (before there was as yet a New Testament) has its parallel in the quotations, with the formulæ λέγει or γέγραπται, from Jewish or Christian apocalypses, that did not form part of the Canon. See Ephes. v. 14; 1 Clem. xxiii.; 2 Clem. xi., etc. On the other hand, it ought not to be overlooked that, through this practice of public lection, usages would necessarily be formed in the separate Churches which, in that they affected the development of the future New Testament, created differences that had necessarily to be overcome if any unity was to be attained. So far as the “lectio” allowed usages to arise side by side with the reading of the Old Testament, it unconsciously prepared the way for a second sacred collection, but it could neither dot the “i” nor lead to unity.
Public Lection was unquestionably a particularly strong agent in establishing the second sacred collection however little it was qualified to create inward unity of choice and to determine the limits of a Canon. But when one has mentioned public lection one must also remember another factor, 30quite remote and different in character, that most probably played a part here. It is well known that the reformer Marcion (scarcely later than A.D. 140), who rejected the Old Testament, gave to his Church a collection of sacred writings consisting of a critical edition of the Lucan Gospel and ten Pauline Epistles (likewise critically edited); and that he assigned to this collection the same authority that the Old Testament possessed among the Jews and the Christians of the greater Churches.4141It is interesting that Marcion also added to his collection a work of his own as a canonical book—a work which he called Antitheses, showing the discordance between the Old Testament and the Gospel. That which nearly happened yet did not happen in the Church (vide supra), namely, the construction of a canonical book showing the concordance between the Old Testament and the Gospel history, happened with Marcion in the contrary sense, and his book seemed to him so important that he formally canonised it for his Church. Unfortunately we can form no clear impression of the form of this work because we only possess fragments of it. Catholic Christians must have regarded it as a regular work of the Devil. And indeed, from their point of view, a more evil and dangerous book could not have been imagined. It is also well known that about the same time Gnostic sects, which likewise rejected the Old Testament, appealed to Gospels and Pauline Epistles as an authentic instrumentum doctrinæ.4242See the letter of Ptolemy to Flora which may well be taken in evidence for Valentinus himself, and other pieces of testimony as to the Valentinians, Basilideans, eta. Still, “the Lord” is always properly given the first place. The idea and the realisation of a new, sacred, specifically Christian collection of writings, in addition to the Gospels, appears first among the Marcionites and 31the Gnostics—and quite naturally; for, seeing that they rejected the Old Testament, they were compelled to set up another litera scripta in its place. That which could only arise in the Church as the result of a complicated process of development, because at first the Old Testament was a formidable obstacle, this naturally and necessarily makes its appearance in the heretical sects, because without some such second sacred collection they would have possessed absolutely no instrumentum doctrinæ. Can we think that this step had any influence upon the great Churches? They could hardly have allowed themselves to be consciously influenced; but in history conscious influences are by no means the only influences, nor are they the strongest.4343From this point of view we must doubtless admit that the motive of compulsion had a place in the creation of the New Testament. The Church was in a sense forced to take this step, and the step was not altogether to her advantage. We see this indeed quite clearly in Tertullian’s treatise, De Præscript. Heret. The existence of the New Testament in itself and as a collection of equally authoritative books presented great difficulties to him in his polemic; for how could one prevent false interpretations, and how much there was in these writings that, taken literally, was actually questionable and had now to be justified by laborious interpretation (so with Irenæus, but the embarrassment is specially noticeable in Tertullian). The rather idle question whether apart from the conflict with heresy a New Testament would ever have come into existence is to be answered in the affirmative, for, as has been already suggested by our previous discussion, the idea of the New Covenant and the tendency to establish and confirm the idea would necessarily have resulted in calling the second sacred collection into being. This, however, does not prevent us from recognising that the New Testament as it stands and the history of its development bear traces of the element of compulsion. As an Apostolic-Catholic compilation it was constructed as a means of defence rather than of attack. If the point of view of the compilation had not been anti-Gnostic and Apostolic-Catholic the Acts of the Apostles would hardly have been included, the Johannine Apocalypse would almost certainly have been excluded, and the Pauline Epistles would have stood as a sort of appendix. The simple and notorious 32fact that a new sacred collection was in existence among those heretics must have worked upon the Church as effectually as the composition of the Lutherian Catechism and of the articles and other professions of faith of the Reformers influenced the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.4444See my Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 14, S. 380 f.: “The Church in excluding certain persons on the ground of apostolic rules of whatever kind, and in relation to the Old Testament, would not appear in a satisfactory position either in her own eyes or in the eyes of her opponents so long as she herself recognised that apostolic writings were in existence, and so long as these heretics appealed to apostolic writings. She was compelled to claim for herself everything that had a right to the name ‘Apostolic,’ to take it out of the hands of the heretics, and to show that with her it exists as authentic and stands in the highest esteem. Hitherto she had remained satisfied with proving her title from the Old Testament, and thus tracing herself, far past her real origin, back to the beginning of all things. Marcion, however, and the Gnostics first pointed out with tremendous emphasis that Christianity had its origin in Christ; that all that is Christian must actually satisfy the test of the (genuine) Apostolic teaching; that the assumed identity of Christian common sense with Apostolic Christianity did not exist; indeed (in the case of Marcion), that the Apostles themselves contradicted one another. By the last objection the Church was compelled to accept the field of battle chosen by her opponents. But the task of proving this contested identity was insoluble because every point upon which an argument could be based was a matter of controversy. ‘Unconscious logic,’ i.e. the logic of self-preservation, could point out one only way: the Church must collect everything that was Apostolic, declare herself to be its sole and rightful owner, and weld together the Apostolic so closely with the Canon of the Old Testament that for the future right interpretation was secured.” Further, she would be compelled to set up a rule of faith as a rule for interpretation, and finally to assign to herself the sole right of interpretation. In the next sections we shall go more 33closely into the question of Marcion’s Bible; for its inner arrangement and its division into Gospel and Apostles in their significance for the formation of the New Testament of the Church must be considered, and, as we shall see, our conjecture that here also influence has come into play will be confirmed. But stronger than this positive influence must have been the influence of the antagonism to which the Church was aroused by Marcionism. This also would suggest the idea of Apostolic-Catholic. All such writings must be collected and compiled in opposition to what was false and spurious.
The fact that most valuable, important, and primitive Christian writings were at hand, further, the practice of public reading, and, lastly, the examples of the Marcionites and Gnostics, which must have provoked both imitation and opposition, explain how the motives, which suggested the origin of the Church’s New Testament, could realise themselves, and how the authorities that could create it came into action. But we must still take another fact into consideration before we can understand how the collection of works came to be the “Canon of the New Covenant.”
A simple “collection” of writings need not be final; rather it can even more or less purposely be 34left open, especially if it serves ends (such as public reading) which do not forbid enrichment from the stores of the present. And yet a collection of fundamental documents has already the tendency to become final, and certainly a collection of fundamental documents of a Covenant carries in itself the idea of complete finality. It is also certain that a compilation of writings is always in danger of disintegration if it is not in some way limited, in idea at least. A hundred years ago Novalis advanced the very reasonable question: “Who declared the Bible (the Canon of the New Testament) to be closed?” Our answer to the question is: The idea, firmly held, that the new books were fundamental documents of the Second Covenant which God had established through Jesus Christ, was the intellectual originator of the “closed” instrumentum novum. When, then, did the idea of the New Covenant come to be firmly grasped? Now no one could have had a more strongly practical and historical hold upon it than the Apostle Paul (vide supra); yet he never thought of “books” of the Covenant, nor was he in a position to distinguish a classical Covenant-time from the lime that came afterwards. Gradually, however, new “books” appeared, as we have seen, and gradually with the advance of time the idea ever more strongly insinuated itself that the Apostolic Age, with all that belonged to it, was classical; it set up 35an authoritative model of perfection to which subsequent ages could no longer attain.
Then the Montanist movement made its appearance and, with all the force of primitive energy, struggled against the Christian mediocrity that veiled itself in this assumed humility. Far from allowing that the highest lay in the past and was now only inherited as an “objective” legacy, the Montanists proclaimed that the highest both in revelation and in doctrine had now first arrived in the Paraclete, and that no final covenant of unapproachable sanctity had been given in the Apostolic Age, but that continually and increasingly the Novum and Novissimum reveals itself in prophecy, vision, and admonition.4545It is scarcely necessary to say that Montanism with the claims that it advanced could never have arisen if a New Testament had been already in existence. (The same is true of the appearance of the so-called Algoi, who are still, according to my belief, to be placed in Asia Minor.) It was in opposition to this position that the leaders of the Church first thought out and developed the idea of a covenant established and finally sealed in the manifestation of Christ and in the work of His Apostles, so that they were able to consistently reject every work which did not belong to this primitive epoch. By this procedure the Testamentum Novum (as a collection of the books of the New Covenant) was really first firmly established and forthwith finally limited in conception at least. The era of 36enthusiasm was closed, and, so far as the present time was concerned, the Spirit—using Tertullian’s words (Adv. Prax., 1)—was actually chased away—chased into a book!4646The New Testament opens and legitimises the period of the Christendom of the second order or the period of legitimised Christianity. Prophets, to say nothing of Apostles, are now no longer possible, Ἑκαστος ἔχει χαρισμα ἀπὸ θεοῦ, ὁ μὲν οὕτως, ὁ δὲ οὕτως, οἱ ἀπόστολοι δὲ ἐν πᾶσι πεπληρωμένοι (Clem. Alex., Strom., iv. 21, 135). But again still more emphatically Tertullian—the same man who when he remembers his Montanism speaks so differently—writes (De Exhort., 4): “Spiritum quidem dei etiam fideles habent, sed non omnes fideles apostoli . . . proprie enim apostoli spiritum sanctum habent, qui plene habent in operibus prophetiæ . . . non ex parte, quod ceteri.” Thus the Apostles have the Spirit proprie et plene like the Lord ! What real Christian could dare to compare himself with them, and how could a prophet possibly arise among those who thought thus! The New Testament, though not with one stroke, brought to an end the condition of things in which a chance Christian inspired by the Spirit could claim to give authoritative decisions and directions and could enrich with his fancy the history of the past and foretell the events of the future so as to command the faith of his hearers. Moreover, through the New Testament, it came to be recognised that the Christianity of the post-Apostolic epoch was only secondary and particular and, therefore, could never be authoritative nor serve as a standard. In refutation of an epistle of the Montanist Themison, who was also a Confessor—an epistle that was evidently addressed as a manifesto to the whole Church—the anti-Montanist, Apollonius, writes (Euseb., H.E., v. 18, 5); ἐτόλμησεν, μιμούμενος τὸν ἀπόστολον, καθολικήν τινα συνταξάμενος ἐπιστολήν, κατηχεῖν τοὺς ἄμεινον αὐτοῦ πεπιστευκότας. More will be said on this point in the second part. Naturally it was a long, long time before all was brought to a firm conclusion—there were too many “usages” and other variations still to be overcome—but since the end of the Montanist controversy, and entirely as a result of that controversy, the collection of the books of the 37New Covenant stands complete in idea. In this connection it is therefore not by accident that we first find the expression “the books of the Old Covenant”4747Euseb., H.E., iv. 26, 14. used by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, about A.D. 170-180, a native of Asia Minor and an opponent of the Montanists. We may with the greatest probability conclude that one who used this expression already recognised a collection of works as books of the New Covenant. What books these were cannot be ascertained so long as we must bewail the loss of the works of Melito, yet this is not a matter of the first importance. The one fact of decisive importance is that he does actually know books under such a title. And Melito, with his knowledge of “Books of the New Testament,” does not stand alone in Asia Minor. The anonymous anti-Montanist of Euseb., H.E., v. 16, 3 (about A.D. 192—193) writes: δεδιὼς καὶ ἐξευλαβούμενος μή τῃ δόξω τισὶν ἐπισυνγράφειν ἢ ἐπιδιατάσσεσθαι τῷ τῆς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου καινῆς διαθήκης λόγῳ ᾧ μήτε προσθεῖναι μήτε ἀφελεῖν δυνατὸν τῷ κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον αὐτὸ πολιτεύεσθαι προῃρημένῳ.4848(In fear and dread, lest in writing I might seem to be adding to the injunctions of the Word of the New Covenant of the Gospel, to add to or to subtract from which is unthinkable for one who chooses to live in accordance with the Gospel itself.) The fear that the publishing of a written work might awaken the suspicion that one wished to add something to the doctrine of the New Covenant as given in the Gospel 38could not have arisen unless writings of the New Covenant, and these not only Gospels, were already in existence. Of equal importance is the evidence afforded by Tertullian. This writer, who as a Catholic churchman and opponent of heresy and as a Montanist is always in conflict with himself, on the one hand, when he, writing in cool blood, uses the expression Novum Testamentum or libri Novi Testamenti, on the other hand, in all the excitement of controversy he denounces in his prologue to the Passio Perpetuæ those Churchmen who proclaim a New Testament finally closed, and would therefore grant no place in it, or side by side with it, to the contemporary utterances of the novissima prophetia. All goes to show that, though the Gnostic crisis did indeed create the idea of Apostolic-Catholic as applied to writings, and brought about a selection of works which included the whole material of the future New Testament, it was the Montanist, not the Gnostic crisis, that brought the idea of the New Testament to final realisation and created the conception of a closed Canon. The Muratorian Fragment sets the seal as it were to the decision of the Church never to admit a later (non-Apostolic) writing into the New Testament, when it declares that “the Shepherd” of Hermas, who wrote “nuperrime temporibus nostris,” ought not “in finem temporum” to be received into the sacred Canon, and by the almost insulting severity 39of its rejection of Montanus: “Una cum Basilide (!) Asianum Cataphrygum constitutorem [rejicimus].”4949Montanus could be ranked with Basilides, because among the adherents of the latter two prophets, Barkoph and Barkabbas, stood in the highest honour. Although the author of the Fragment expressly leaves the Canon of Apostolic writings still open—for him only the writings of the Old Testament prophets form a “completus numerus” (line 79), not the writings of the “Apostles”—yet in fact he so good as closes it completely; for, according to his theory, acceptance could be granted only to those Apostolic writings that hitherto had been accidentally overlooked.
Thus the second Canon came to take its place beside the first. The first was preserved because the God of Salvation was felt to be also the God of Creation, and because Christians following St Paul held fast to the historical conception that the Covenant given in Jesus Christ was preceded not only by prophecies but also by a Covenant, naturally imperfect because suited to the childhood of mankind. This conception has an artificial touch of which it can only be relieved if one gives it the universal form of the “Education of mankind” and strips it of particularistic traits; and it would probably not have held its ground, and the Old Testament would have perished in the Church as it did among the Gnostics, if the book had not been 40so indispensable for Apologetics. So long as the truth of religions was measured by their age the apologist simply could not do without the Old Testament. With it he could prove that Christianity went back to the creation of mankind. How could he forgo so great an advantage that was only to be gained through the preservation and recognition of the Old Testament!
Naturally the Old Testament could only continue in force under the condition that, while its essential equality with the new Canon, as shown in prophecy and through the employment of allegorical interpretation, was recognised, yet from a second point of view it was regarded as inferior. This is at once clear from the works of Irenæus the first ecclesiastical author that operates with the two Canons. The Old Testament as “legisdatio in servitutem” has become inferior since the appearance of Christ. The books of the “legisdatio in libertatem” outshine it and throw it into the background. And though Irenæus does not yet know of a closed second Canon and though he does not assign to it the name “the books of the New Covenant,” still in his exposition he proceeds as if it were already closed—the name only is wanting, the thing itself is practically in existence for him. The books of the new collection are on the one hand the documents of the New Covenant and on the other hand the Apostolic-Catholic books of 41the Church.5050Of the Church—ἐκκλησιαστικαὶ γραφαί: this term now also makes its appearance. During the conflict with the Gnostics and Montanists, and because of the conflict, the Church had come to recognise that she belonged both to heaven and to earth. Before this she knew herself only as something heavenly, high, and exalted, now she feels that she belongs also to earth. The affinity between herself and the new Canon finds at once strong expression in the Muratorian Fragment: the New Testament is the book of the Church in opposition to heathen, heretics—and enthusiasts; the seven epistles of the Apocalypse and the epistles of St Paul to seven churches are in truth addressed to the one Church spread over all the world (lines 47-59); the epistles to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy are “in honore ecclesiæ”; for “in ordinatione ecclesiasticæ disciplinæ sanctificatæ sunt” (lines 59-63). Nothing false can be received “into the Catholic Church” (lines 63-68). The Epistle of Jude and the two epistles of John “in catholica habentur” (lines 68 f.). The Wisdom of Solomon was written “in honorem catholicæ” (so we must construe lines 69-71). The Apocalypse of Peter, “according to the view of some of our people,” ought not to be read “in ecclesia” (lines 71-73). The Shepherd of Hermas should not be read aloud before the people “in ecclesia” (lines 73 ff.). The new collection belongs to the Church as an earthly as well as a heavenly entity, serves the ends of the Church, and becomes her book in the same sense (vide especially Origen) that the Old Testament was and is the book of the Jewish Theocracy. Because they are the latter they are also the former and vice versa. With these lofty predicates the New Testament was given in the sense in which it has remained in force unto the present day.5151Its text now at last (i.e. in the third century) became stable because the letter now had become most important. In the second century there was a fair amount of correction of the text of the Gospels even in orthodox communities. But seeing that the corrections were mostly due to conformation with the text of the other Gospels and doctrinal corrections were most infrequent, we have no right to conclude that the texts were still regarded as absolutely free for correction. Already at the time of Justin such a one as he would have certainly shrunk from laying a hand upon the Memorabilia of the Apostles, and Dionysius of Corinth complains only of the arbitrary correction made by heretics (Euseb., H.E., iv. 23, 12: ἐπιστολὰς ἀδελφῶν ἀξιωσάντων με γράφαι ἔγραψα, καὶ ταύτας οἱ τοῦ διαβόλου ἀπόστολοι ζιξανίων γεγέμικαν, ἃ μὲν ἐξαιροῦντες, ἃ δὲ πρεστιθέντες· οἷς τὸ οὐαὶ κεῖται. οὑ θαυμαστὸν ἄρα εἰ καὶ τῶν κυριακῶν ῥαδιουργῆσαί τινες ἐπιβέβληνται γραφῶν, ὁπότε καὶ ταῖς οὐ τοιαύταις ἐπιβεβουλεύκασιν. Conformation, however, did not count as correction. The transmission of the text of the Pauline Epistles is excellent. It is, moreover, interesting to see how long the Gospels, in spite of the creation of the New Testament, still kept in the foreground and occupied a certain separate position. Even at the beginning of the fourth century Alexander of Alexandria (Theodoret, H.E., i. 4) calls God the giver of the Law, the prophets, and the Gospels. This special distinction of the Gospels never quite ceased in the practice of the Church in public worship, especially in the East, and in connection with private reading. The enormous number of manuscripts of the Gospels, when compared with the manuscripts of the Apostolus, of itself proves this. Among Protestants this distinction between the two parts of the Canon has become more faintly marked than among the Catholic Churches; in this Protestantism has about it a touch of Marcionitism. Yet also of the Catholic Churches it is true that in hermeneutics and dogmatics “The Lord” is subsumed under “the Apostolic.” It is partly otherwise only in Monasticism and in the theory of neo-Protestantism.
|« Prev||§ 1. How did the Church arrive at a second…||Next »|