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B. The designation of selected writings read in the churches as New Testament Scriptures or, in other words, as a collection of apostolic writings.6767See the histories of the canon by Credner, Reuss, Westcott, Hilgenfeld, Schmiedel, Holtzmann, and Weiss; the latter two, which to some extent supplement each other, are specially instructive. To Weiss belongs the merit of having kept Gospels and Apostles clearly apart in the preliminary history of the canon (see Th. L. Z. 1886. Nr. 24); Zahn, Gesch. des N. Tlichen Kanons, 2 vols, 1888 ff.; Harnack, Das Neue Test. um d. J. 200, 1889; Voigt, Eine verschollene Urkunde des antimontan. Kampfes, 1891, p. 236 ff.; Weizsäcker, Rede bei der akad. Preisvertheilung, 1892. Nov.; Köppel, Stud. u. Krit. 1891, p. 102 ff.; Barth, Neue Jahrbb. f. deutsche Theologie, 1893, p. 56 ff. The following account gives only a few aspects of the case, not a history of the genesis of the canon.
Every word and every writing which testified of the κύριος (Lord) was originally regarded as emanating from him, that is, from his spirit: Ὅθεν ἡ κυριότης λαλεῖται ἐκεῖ Κύριός ἐστιν. (v. (Didache IV. I; see also 1 Cor. XII. 3). Hence the contents were holy.6868“Holy” is not always equivalent to “possessing absolute authority.” There are also various stages and degrees of “holy.” In this sense the New Testament is a “residuary product,” just as the idea of its inspiration is a remnant of a much broader view. But on the other hand, the New Testament is a new creation of the Church,6969I beg here to lay down the following principles as to criticism of the New Testament. (1) It is not individual writings, but the whole book that has been immediately handed down to us. Hence, in the case of difficulties arising, we must first of all enquire, not whether the title and historical setting of a book are genuine or not, but if they are original, or were only given to the work when it became a component part of the collection. This also gives us the right to assume interpolations in the text belonging to the time when it was included in the canon, though this right must be used with caution. (2) Baur’s ‘tendency-criticism’ has fallen into disrepute; hence we must also free ourselves from the pedantry and hair-splitting which were its after effects. In consequence of the (erroneous) assumptions of the Tübingen school of critics a suspicious examination of the texts was justifiable and obligatory on their part. (3) Individual difficulties about the date of a document ought not to have the result of casting suspicion on it, when other good grounds speak in its favour; for, in dealing with writings which have no, or almost no accompanying literature, such difficulties cannot fail to arise. (4) The condition of the oldest Christianity up to the beginning of the second century did not favour literary forgeries or interpolations in support of a definite tendency. (5) We must remember that, from the death of Nero till the time of Trajan, very little is known of the history of the Church except the fact that, by the end of this time, Christianity had not only spread to an astonishing extent, but also had become vigorously consolidated. inasmuch as it takes its place alongside of the Old — which through it has become a complicated book for Christendom, — as a Catholic and apostolic collection of Scriptures containing and attesting the truth.
Marcion had founded his conception of Christianity on a new canon of Scripture,7070The novelty lies first in the idea itself, secondly in the form in which it was worked out, inasmuch as Marcion would only admit the authority of one Gospel to the exclusion of all the rest, and added the Pauline epistles which had originally little to do with the conception of the apostolic doctrinal tradition of the Church. which seems to have enjoyed the same authority among his followers as was ascribed to the Old Testament in orthodox Christendom. In the Gnostic schools, which likewise rejected the Old Testament altogether or in part, Evangelic and Pauline writings were, by the middle of the second century, treated as sacred texts and made use of to confirm their theological speculations.7171It is easy to understand that, wherever there was criticism of the Old Testament, the Pauline epistles circulating in the Church would be thrust into the foreground. The same thing was done by the Manichæans in the Byzantine age. On the other hand, about the year 150 the main body of Christendom had still no collection of Gospels and Epistles possessing equal authority with the Old Testament, and, apart from Apocalypses, no new writings at all, which as such, that is, as sacred texts, were regarded as inspired and authoritative.7272Four passages may be chiefly appealed to in support of the opposite view, viz., 2 Peter III. 16; Polycarp ep. 12. I; Barn. IV. 14; 2 Clem. II. 4. But the first is put out of court, as the second Epistle of Peter is quite a late writing. The second is only known from an unreliable Latin translation (see Zahn on the passage: ‘verba “his scripturis” suspecta sunt, cum interpres in c. II. 3 ex suis inseruerit “quod dictum est”’), and even if the latter were faithful here, the quotation from the Psalms prefixed to the quotation from the Epistle to the Ephesians prevents us from treating the passage as certain evidence. As to the third passage (μήποτε, ὡς γέγραπται, πολλοὶ κλητοὶ, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοὶ εὑρεθῶμεν), it should be noted that the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, although he makes abundant use of the evangelic tradition, has nowhere else described evangelic writings as γραφή, and must have drawn from more sources than the canonic Gospels. Here, therefore, we have an enigma which may be solved in a variety of ways. It seems worth noting that it is a saying of the Lord which is here in question. But from the very beginning words of the Lord were equally reverenced with the Old Testament (see the Pauline Epistles), This may perhaps explain how the author — like 2 Clem. II. 4: ἑτέρα δὲ γραφὴ λέγει· ὅτι οὖκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς — has introduced a saying of this kind with the same formula as was used in introducing Old Testament quotations. Passages, such as Clem. XIII. 4: λέγει ὁ θέος· οὑ χάρις ὑμῖν εἰ ἀγαπᾶτε κ.τ.λ. would mark the transition to this mode of expression. The correctness of this explanation is confirmed by observation of the fact that the same formula as was employed in the case of the Old Testament was used in making quotations from early Christian apocalypses, or utterances of early Christian prophets in the earliest period. Thus we already read in Ephesians V. 14: διὸ λέγει· ἔγειρε ὁ καθεύδων καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός. That, certainly, is a saying of a Christian prophet, and yet it is introduced with the usual “λέγει”. We also find a saying of a Christian prophet in Clem. XXIII. (the saying is more complete in 2 Clem. XI.) introduced with the words: ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη, ὅπου λέγει. These examples may be multiplied still further. From all this we may perhaps assume that the trite formulæ of quotation “γραφὴ γέγραπται,” etc., were applied wherever reference was made to sayings of the Lord and of prophets that were fixed in writings, even when the documents in question had not yet as a whole obtained canonical authority. Finally, we must also draw attention to the following: — The Epistle of Barnabas belongs to Egypt; and there probably, contrary to my former opinion, we must also look for the author of the second Epistle of Clement. There is much to favour the view that in Egypt Christian writings were treated as sacred texts, without being united into a collection of equal rank with the Old Testament. (See below on this point.) Here we leave out of consideration that their content is a testimony of the Spirit. From the works of Justin it is to be inferred that the ultimate authorities were the Old Testament, the words of the Lord, and the communications of Christian prophets.7373See on Justin Bousset. Die Evv. — Citate Justins. Gött., 1891. We may also infer from the expression of Hegesippus (Euseb., H. E. IV. 22. 3; Stephanus Gobarus in Photius, Bibl. 232. p. 288) that it was not Christian writings, but the Lord himself, who was placed on an equality with Law and Prophets. Very instructive is the formula: “Libri et epistolæ Pauli viri iusti” (αἱ καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς βίβλοι καὶ αἱ προσεπιτούτοις ἐπιστολαὶ Παύλου τοῦ ὁσίου ἀνδρός), which is found in the Acta Mart. Scillit. anno 180 (ed. Robinson, Texts and Studies, 1891, I. 2, p. 114 f.), and tempts us to make certain conclusions. In the later recensions of the Acta the passage, characteristically enough, is worded: “Libri evangeliorum et epistolæ Pauli viri sanctissimi apostoli” or “Quattuor evv. dom. nostri J. Chr. et epp. S. Pauli ap. et omnis divinitus inspirata scriptura.” The memoirs of the Apostles (ἀπομνημονέυματα τῶν ἀποστόλων = τὰ εύαγγέλια) owed their significance solely to the fact that they recorded the words and history of the Lord and bore witness to the fulfilment of Old Testament predictions. There is no mention whatever of apostolic epistles as holy writings of standard authority.7474It is worthy of note that the Gnostics also, though they quote the words of the Apostles (John and Paul) as authoritative, place the utterances of the Lord on an unattainable height. See in support of this the epistle of Ptolemy to Flora. But we learn further from Justin that the Gospels as well as the Old Testament were read in public worship (Apol. I. 67) and that our first three Gospels were already in use. We can, moreover, gather from other sources that other Christian writings, early and late, were more or less regularly read in Christian meetings.7575Rev. I. 3; Herm. Vis II. 4; Dionys. Cor. in Euseb., IV. 23. 11. Such writings naturally possessed a high degree of authority. As the Holy Spirit and the Church are inseparable, everything that edifies the Church originates with the Holy Spirit,7676Tertullian, this Christian of the primitive type, still reveals the old conception of things in one passage where, reversing 2 Tim. III. 16, he says (de cultu fem. I. 3) “Legimus omnem scripturam ædificationi habilem divinitus inspirari.” which in this, as well as every other respect, is inexhaustibly rich. Here, however, two interests were predominant from the beginning, that of immediate spiritual edification and that of attesting and certifying the Christian Kerygma (ἡ ἀσφάλεια τῶν λόγων). The ecclesiastical canon was the result of the latter interest, not indeed in consequence of a process of collection, for individual communities had already made a far larger compilation,7777The history of the collection of the Pauline Epistles may be traced back to the first century (1 Clem. XLVII. and like passages). It follows from the Epistle of Polycarp that this native of Asia Minor had in his hands all the Pauline Epistles (quotations are made from nine of the latter; these nine imply the four that are wanting, yet it must remain an open question whether he did not yet possess the Pastoral Epistles in their present form), also 1 Peter, 1 John (though he has not named the authors of these), the first Epistle of Clement and the Gospels. The extent of the writings read in churches which Polycarp is thus seen to have had approaches pretty nearly that of the later recognised canon. Compare, however, the way in which he assumes sayings from those writings to be well known by introducing them with “εἰδότες” (I. 3; IV. 1; V. 1). Ignatius likewise shows himself to be familiar with the writings which were subsequently united to form the New Testament. We see from the works of Clement, that, at the end of the second century, a great mass of Christian writings were collected in Alexandria and were used and honoured. but, in the first instance, through selection, and afterwards, but not till then, through addition.
We must not think that the four Gospels now found in the canon had attained full canonical authority by the middle of the second century, for the fact — easily demonstrable — that the texts were still very freely dealt with about this period is in itself a proof of this.7878It should also be pointed out that Justin most probably used the Gospel of Peter among the ἀπομνημονεύματα; see Texte u. Unters. IX. 2. Our first three Gospels contain passages and corrections that could hardly have been fixed before about the year 150. Moreover, Tatian’s attempt to create a new Gospel from the four shews that the text of these was not yet fixed.7979See my article in the Zeitschr. f. K. Gesch. Vol. IV. p. 471 ff. Zahn (Tatian’s Diatessaron, 1881) takes a different view. We may remark that he was the first in whom we find the Gospel of John8080Justin also used the Gospel of John, but it is a disputed matter whether he regarded and used it like the other Gospels. alongside of the Synoptists, and these four the only ones recognised. From the assault of the “Alogi” on the Johannine Gospel we learn that about 160 the whole of our four Gospels had not been definitely recognised even in Asia Minor. Finally, we must refer to the Gospel of the Egyptians, the use of which was not confined to circles outside the Church.8181The Sabellians still used it in the third century, which is a proof of the great authority possessed by this Gospel in Christian antiquity. (Epiph., H. 62. 2.)
From the middle of the second century the Encratites stood midway between the larger Christendom and the Marcionite Church as well as the Gnostic schools. We hear of some of these using the Gospels as canonical writings side by side with the Old Testament, though they would have nothing to do with the Epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles.8282Euseb., H. E. IV. 29. 5. But Tatian, the prominent Apologist, who joined them, gave this sect a more complete canon, an important fact about which was its inclusion of Epistles of Paul. Even this period, however, still supplies us with no testimony as to the existence of a New Testament canon in orthodox Christendom, in fact the rise of the so-called “Montanism” and its extreme antithesis, the “Alogi”, in Asia Minor soon after the middle of the second century proves that there was still no New Testament canon there; for, if such an authoritative compilation had existed, these movements could not have arisen. If we gather together all the indications and evidence bearing on the subject, we shall indeed be ready to expect the speedy appearance in the Church of a kind of Gospel canon comprising the four Gospels;8383In many regions the Gospel canon alone appeared at first, and in very many others it long occupied a more prominent place than the other canonical writings. Alexander of Alexandria, for instance, still calls God the giver of the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels (Theodoret, I. 4). but we are prepared neither for this being formally placed on an equality with the Old Testament, nor for its containing apostolic writings, which as yet are only found in Marcion and the Gnostics. The canon emerges quite suddenly in an allusion of Melito of Sardis preserved by Eusebius,8484Euseb., H. E. II. 26. 13. As Melito speaks here of the ἀκρίβεια τῶν παλαιῶν βιβλίων, and of τὰ βιβλία τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης, we may assume that he knows τὰ βιβλία τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης. the meaning of which is, however, still dubious; in the works of Irenæus and Tertullian; and in the so-called Muratorian Fragment. There is no direct account of its origin and scarcely any indirect; yet it already appears as something to all intents and purposes finished and complete.8585We may here leave undiscussed the hesitancy with regard to the admissibility of particular books. That the Pastoral Epistles had a fixed place in the canon almost from the very first is of itself a proof that the date of its origin cannot be long before 180. In connection with this, however, it is an important circumstance that Clement makes the general statement that the heretics reject the Epistles to Timothy (Strom. II. 12. 52: οἱ ἀπὸ τῶν αἱρέσεων τὰς πρὸς Τιμόθεον ἀθετοῦσιν ἐπιστολάς). They did not happen to be at the disposal of the Church at all till the middle of the second century. Moreover, it emerges in the same ecclesiastical district where we were first able to show the existence of the apostolic regula fidei. We hear nothing of any authority belonging to the compilers, because we learn nothing at all of such persons.8686Yet see the passage from Tertullian quoted, p. 15, note 1; see also the “receptior”, de pudic. 20, the cause of the rejection of Hermas in the Muratorian Fragment and Tertull. de bapt. 17: “Quodsi quæ Pauli perperam scripta sunt exemplum Theclæ ad licentiam mulierum docendi tinguendique defendunt, sciant in Asia presbyterum, qui eam scripturam construxit, quasi titulo Pauli de suo cumulans, convictum atque confessum id se amore Pauli fecisse, loco decessisse.” The hypothesis that the Apostles themselves (or the apostle John) compiled the New Testament was definitely set up by no one in antiquity and therefore need not be discussed. Augustine (c. Faustum XXII. 79) speaks frankly of “sancti et docti homines” who produced the New Testament. We can prove by a series of testimonies that the idea of the Church having compiled the New Testament writings was in no way offensive to the Old Catholic Fathers. As a rule, indeed, they are silent on the matter. Irenæus and Tertullian already treat the collection as simply existent. And yet the collection is regarded by Irenæus and Tertullian as completed. A refusal on the part of the heretics to recognise this or that book is already made a severe reproach against them. Their Bibles are tested by the Church compilation as the older one, and the latter itself is already used exactly like the Old Testament. The assumption of the inspiration of the books; the harmonistic interpretation of them; the idea of their absolute sufficiency with regard to every question which can arise and every event which they record; the right of unlimited combination of passages; the assumption that nothing in the Scriptures is without importance; and, finally, the allegorical interpretation: are the immediately observable result of the creation of the canon.8787Numerous examples may be found in proof of all these points, especially in the writings of Tertullian, though such are already to be met with in Irenæus also. He is not yet so bold in his allegorical exposition of the Gospels as Ptolemæus whom he finds fault with in this respect; but he already gives an exegesis of the books of the New Testament not essentially different from that of the Valentinians. One should above all read the treatise of Tertullian “de idololatria” to perceive how the authority of the New Testament was even by that time used for solving all questions.
The probable conditions which brought about the formation of the New Testament canon in the Church, for in this case we are only dealing with probabilities, and the interests which led to and remained associated with it can only be briefly indicated here.8888I cannot here enter into the disputed question as to the position that should be assigned to the Muratorian Fragment in the history of the formation of the canon, nor into its interpretation, etc. See my article “Das Muratorische Fragment und die Entstehung einer Sammlung apostolisch-katholischer Schriften” in the Ztschr. f. K. Gesch. III. p. 358 ff. See also Overbeck, Zur Geschichte des Kanons, 1880; Hilgenfeld, in the Zeitschrift f. Wissensch. Theol. 1881, part 2; Schmiedel, Art. “Kanon” in Ersch. u. Gruber’s Encykl., 2 Section, Vol. XXXII. p. 309 ff.; Zahn, Kanongeschichte, Vol. II. p. 1 ff. I leave the fragment and the conclusions I have drawn from it almost entirely out of account here. The following sketch will show that the objections of Overbeck have not been without influence on me.
The compilation and formation of a canon of Christian writings by a process of selection8989The use of the word “canon” as a designation of the collection is first plainly demonstrable in Athanasius (ep. fest. of the year 365) and in the 59th canon of the synod of Laodicea. It is doubtful whether the term was already used by Origen. Besides, the word “canon” was not applied even to the Old Testament before the fourth century. The name “New Testament” (books of the New Testament) is first found in Melito and Tertullian. For other designations of the latter see Rönsch, Das N. T. Tertullian’s p. 47 f. The most common name is “Holy Scriptures”. In accordance with its main components the collection is designated as τὸ εὐαγγέλιον καὶ ὁ ἀπόστολος (evangelicæ et apostolicæ litteræ); see Tertullian, de bapt. 15: “tam ex domini evangelio quam ex apostoli litteris.” The name “writings of the Lord” is also found very early. It was already used for the Gospels at a time when there was no such thing as a canon. It was then occasionally transferred to all writings of the collection. Conversely, the entire collection was named, after the authors, a collection of apostolic writings, just as the Old Testament Scriptures were collectively called the writings of the prophets. Prophets and Apostles (= Old and New Testament) were now conceived as the media of God’s revelation fixed in writing (see the Muratorian Fragment in its account of Hermas, and the designation of the Gospels as “Apostolic memoirs” already found in Justin.) This grouping became exceedingly important. It occasioned new speculations about the unique dignity of the Apostles and did away with the old collocation of Apostles and Prophets (that is Christian prophets). By this alteration we may measure the revolution of the times. Finally, the new collection was also called “the writings of the Church” as distinguished from the Old Testament and the writings of the heretics. This expression and its amplifications shew that it was the Church which selected these writings. was, so to speak, a kind of involuntary undertaking of the Church in her conflict with Marcion and the Gnostics, as is most plainly proved by the warnings of the Fathers not to dispute with the heretics about the Holy Scriptures,9090Here there is a distinction between Irenæus and Tertullian. The former disputed with heretics about the interpretation of the Scriptures, the latter, although he has read Irenæus, forbids such dispute. He cannot therefore have considered Irenæus’ efforts as successful. although the New Testament was already in existence. That conflict necessitated the formation of a new Bible. The exclusion of particular persons on the strength of some apostolic standards, and by reference to the Old Testament, could not be justified by the Church in her own eyes and those of her opponents, so long as she herself recognised that there were apostolic writings, and so long as these heretics appealed to such. She was compelled to claim exclusive possession of everything that had a right to the name “apostolic,” to deny it to the heretics, and to shew that she held it in the highest honour. Hitherto she had “contented” herself with proving her legal title from the Old Testament, and, passing over her actual origin, had dated herself back to the beginning of all things. Marcion and the Gnostics were the first who energetically pointed out that Christianity began with Christ, and that all Christianity was really to be tested by the apostolic preaching, that the assumed identity of Christian common sense with apostolic Christianity did not exist, and (so Marcion said) that the Apostles contradicted themselves. This opposition made it necessary to enter into the questions raised by their opponents. But, in point of content, the problem of proving the contested identity was simply insoluble, because it was endless and subject to question on every particular point. The “unconscious logic,” that is the logic of self-preservation, could only prescribe an expedient. The Church had to collect everything apostolic and declare herself to be its only legal possessor. She was obliged, moreover, to amalgamate the apostolic with the canon of the Old Testament in such a way as to fix the exposition from the very first, But what writings were apostolic? From the middle of the second century great numbers of writings named after the Apostles had already been in circulation, and there were often different recensions of one and the same writing.9191The reader should remember the different recensions of the Gospels and the complaints made by Dionysius of Corinth (in Euseb., H. E. IV. 23. 12). Versions which contained docetic elements and exhortations to the most pronounced asceticism had even made their way into the public worship of the Church. Above all, therefore, it was necessary to determine (1) what writings were really apostolic, (2) what form or recension should be regarded as apostolic. The selection was made by the Church, that is, primarily, by the churches of Rome and Asia Minor, which had still an unbroken history up to the days of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. In making this choice, the Church limited herself to the writings that were used in public worship, and only admitted what the tradition of the elders justified her in regarding as genuinely apostolic. The principle on which she proceeded was to reject as spurious all writings, bearing the names of Apostles, that contained any-thing contradictory to Christian common sense, that is, to the rule of faith — hence admission was refused to all books in which the God of the Old Testament, his creation, etc., appeared to be depreciated, — and to exclude all recensions of apostolic writings that seemed to endanger the Old Testament and the monarchy of God. She retained, therefore, only those writings which bore the names of Apostles, or anonymous writings to which she considered herself justified in attaching such names,9292That the text of these writings was at the same time revised is more than probable, especially in view of the beginnings and endings of many New Testament writings, as well as, in the case of the Gospels, from a comparison of the canonical text with the quotations dating from the time when there was no canon. But much more important still is the perception of the fact that, in the course of the second century, a series of writings which had originally been circulated anonymously or under the name of an unknown author were ascribed to an Apostle and were also slightly altered in accordance with this. In what circumstances or at what time this happened, whether it took place as early as the beginning of the second century or only immediately before the formation of the canon, is in almost every individual case involved in obscurity; but the fact itself, of which unfortunately the Introductions to the New Testament still know so little, is, in my opinion, incontestable. I refer the reader to the following examples, without indeed being able to enter on the proof here (see my edition of the “Teaching of the Apostles” p. 106 ff). (1) The Gospel of Luke seems not to have been known to Marcion under this name, and to have been called so only at a later date. (2) The canonical Gospels of Matthew and Mark do not claim, through their content, to originate with these men; they were regarded as apostolic at a later period. (3) The so-called Epistle of Barnabas was first attributed to the Apostle Barnabas by tradition. (4) The Apocalypse of Hermas was first connected with an apostolic Hermas by tradition (Rom. XVI. 14). (5) The same thing took place with regard to the first Epistle of Clement (Philipp. IV. 3). (6) The Epistle to the Hebrews, originally the writing of an unknown author or of Barnabas, was transformed into a writing of the Apostle Paul (Overbeck zur Gesch. des Kanons, 1880), or given out to be such. (7) The Epistle of James, originally the communication of an early Christian prophet, or a collection of ancient holy addresses, first seems to have received the name of James in tradition. (8) The first Epistle of Peter, which originally appears to have been written by an unknown follower of Paul, first received its present name from tradition. The same thing perhaps holds good of the Epistle of Jude. Tradition was similarly at work, even at a later period, as may for example be recognised by the transformation of the epistle “de virginitate” into two writings by Clement. The critics of early Christian literature have created for themselves insoluble problems by misunderstanding the work of tradition. Instead of asking whether the tradition is reliable, they always wrestle with the dilemma “genuine or spurious”, and can prove neither. and whose contents were not at variance with the orthodox creed or attested it. This selection resulted in the awkward fact that besides the four Gospels there was almost nothing but Pauline epistles to dispose of, and therefore no writings or almost none which, as emanating from the twelve Apostles, could immediately confirm the truth of the ecclesiastical Kerygma. This perplexity was removed by the introduction of the Acts of the Apostles9393As regards its aim and contents, this book is furthest removed from the claim to be a portion of a collection of Holy Scriptures. Accordingly, so far as we know, its reception into the canon has no preliminary history. and in some cases also the Epistles of Peter and John, though that of Peter was not recognised at Rome at first. As a collection this group is the most interesting in the new compilation. It gives it the stamp of Catholicity, unites the Gospels with the Apostle (Paul), and, by subordinating his Epistles to the “Acta omnium apostolorum”, makes them witnesses to the particular tradition that was required and divests them of every thing suspicious and insufficient.9494People were compelled by internal and external evidence (recognition of their apostolicity; example of the Gnostics) to accept the epistles of Paul. But, from the Catholic point of view, a canon which comprised only the four Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, would have been at best an edifice of two wings without the central structure, and therefore incomplete and uninhabitable. The actual novelty was the bold insertion into its midst of a book, which, if everything is not deceptive, had formerly been only in private use, namely, the Acts of the Apostles, which some associated with an Epistle of Peter and an Epistle of John, others with an Epistle of Jude, two Epistles of John, and the like. There were now (1) writings of the Lord which were at the same time regarded as ἀπομνημονεύματα of definite Apostles; (2) a book which contained the acts and preaching of all the Apostles, which historically legitimised Paul, and at the same time gave hints for the explanation of “difficult” passages in his Epistle; (3) the Pauline Epistles increased by the compilation of the Pastoral ones, documents which “in ordinatione ecclesiasticæ disciplinæ sanctificatæ erant.” The Acts of the Apostles is thus the key to the understanding of the Catholic canon and at the same time shows its novelty. In this book the new collection had its bond of cohesion, its Catholic element (apostolic tradition), and the guide for its exposition. That the Acts of the Apostles found its place in the canon faute de mieux is clear from the extravagant terms, not at all suited to the book, in which its appearance there is immediately hailed. It is inserted in place of a book which should have contained the teaching and missionary acts of all the 12 Apostles; but, as it happened, such a record was not in existence. The first evidence regarding it is found in the Muratorian fragment and in Irenæus and Tertullian. There it is called “acta omnium apostolorum sub uno libro scripta sunt, etc.” Irenæus says (III. 14. 1): “Lucas non solum prosecutor sed et cooperarius fuit Apostolorum, maxime autem Pauli”, and makes use of the book to prove the subordination of Paul to the twelve. In the celebrated passages, de præscr. 22, 23: adv. Marc. I. 20; IV. 2-5; V. 1-3, Tertullian made a still more extensive use of the Acts of the Apostles, as the Antimarcionite book in the canon. One can see here why it was admitted into that collection and used against Paul as the Apostle of the heretics. The fundamental thought of Tertullian is that no one who fails to recognise the Acts of the Apostles has any right to recognise Paul, and that to elevate him by himself into a position of authority is unhistorical and absolutely unfounded fanaticism. If the διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων was needed as an authority in the earlier time, a book which contained that authority was required in the later period; and nothing else could be found than the work of the so-called Luke. “Qui Acta Apostolorum non recipiunt, nec spiritus Sancti esse possunt, qui necdum spiritum sanctum possunt agnoscere discentibus missum, sed nec ecclesiam se dicant defendere qui quando et quibus incunabulis institutum est hoc corpus probare non habent.” But the greater part of the heretics remained obstinate. Neither Marcionites, Severians, nor the later Manicheans recognised the Acts of the Apostles. To some extent they replied by setting up other histories of Apostles in opposition to it, as was done later by a fraction of the Ebionites and even by the Marcionites. But the Church also was firm. It is perhaps the most striking phenomenon in the history of the formation of the canon that this late book, from the very moment of its appearance, asserts its right to a place in the collection, just as certainly as the four Gospels, though its position varied. In Clement of Alexandria indeed the book is still pretty much in the background, perhaps on a level with the κήρυγμα Πέτρου, but Clement has no New Testament at all in the strict sense of the word; see below. But at the very beginning the book stood where it is to-day, i.e., immediately after the Gospels (see Muratorian Fragment, Irenæus, etc.). The parallel creation, the group of Catholic Epistles, acquired a much more dubious position than the Acts of the Apostles, and its place was never really settled. Its germ is probably to be found in two Epistles of John (viz., 1st and 3rd) which acquired dignity along with the Gospel, as well as in the Epistle of Jude. These may have given the impulse to create a group of narratives about the twelve Apostles from anonymous writings of old Apostles, prophets, and teachers. But the Epistle of Peter is still wanting in the Muratorian Fragment, nor do we yet find the group there associated with the Acts of the Apostles. The Epistle of Jude, two Epistles of John, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter form the unsymmetrical conclusion of this oldest catalogue of the canon. But, all the same writings, by Jude, John, and Peter are here found side by side; thus we have a preparation for the future arrangement made in different though similar fashion by Irenæus and again altered by Tertullian. The genuine Pauline Epistles appear enclosed on the one hand by the Acts of the Apostles and the Catholic Epistles, and on the other by the Pastoral ones, which in their way are also “Catholic.” That is the character of the “Catholic” New Testament which is confirmed by the earliest use of it (in Irenæus and Tertullian). In speaking above of the Acts of the Apostles as a late book, we meant that it was so relatively to the canon. In itself the book is old and for the most part reliable. The Church, however, found the selection facilitated by the fact that the content of the early Christian writings was for the most part unintelligible to the Christendom of the time, whereas the late and spurious additions were betrayed not only by heretical theologoumena, but also and above all by their profane lucidity. Thus arose a collection of apostolic writings, which in extent may not have been strikingly distinguished from the list of writings that for more than a generation had formed the chief and favourite reading in the communities.9595There is no doubt that this was the reason why to all appearance the innovation was scarcely felt. Similar causes were at work here as in the case of the apostolic rule of faith. In the one case the writings that had long been read in the Church formed the basis, in the other the baptismal confession. But a great distinction is found in the fact that the baptismal confession, as already settled, afforded an elastic standard which was treated as a fixed one and was therefore extremely practical; whilst, conversely, the undefined group of writings hitherto read in the Church was reduced to a collection which could neither be increased nor diminished. The new collection was already exalted to a high place by the use of other writings being prohibited either for purposes of general edification or for theological ends.9696At the beginning, that is about 180, it was only in practice, and not in theory, that the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles possessed equal authority. Moreover, the name New Testament is not yet found in Irenæus, nor do we yet find him giving an exact idea of its content. See Werner in the Text. u. Unters. z. altchristl. Lit. Gesch. Bd. VI. 2. But the causes and motives which led to its being formed into a canon, that is, being placed on a footing of complete equality with the Old Testament, may be gathered partly from the earlier history, partly from the mode of using the new Bible and partly from the results attending its compilation. First, Words of the Lord and prophetic utterances, including the written records of these, had always possessed standard authority in the Church; there were therefore parts of the collection the absolute authority of which was undoubted from the first.9797See above, p. 40, note 2. Secondly, what was called “Preaching of the Apostles,” “Teaching of the Apostles,” etc., was likewise regarded from the earliest times as completely harmonious as well as authoritative. There had, however, been absolutely no motive for fixing this in documents, because Christians supposed they possessed it in a state of purity and reproduced it freely. The moment the Church was called upon to fix this teaching authentically, and this denotes a decisive revolution, she was forced to have recourse to writings, whether she would or not. The attributes formerly applied to the testimony of the Apostles, so long as it was not collected and committed to writing, had now to be transferred to the written records they had left. Thirdly, Marcion had already taken the lead in forming Christian writings into a canon in the strict sense of the word. Fourthly, the interpretation was at once fixed by forming the apostolic writings into a canon, and placing them on an equality with the Old Testament, as well as by subordinating troublesome writings to the Acts of the Apostles. Considered by themselves these writings, especially the Pauline Epistles, presented the greatest difficulties. We can see even yet from Irenæus and Tertullian that the duty of accommodating herself to these Epistles was forced upon the Church by Marcion and the heretics, and that, but for this constraint, her method of satisfying herself as to her relationship to them would hardly have taken the shape of incorporating them with the canon.9898We have ample evidence in the great work of Irenæus as to the difficulties he found in many passages of the Pauline Epistles, which as yet were almost solely utilised as sources of doctrine by such men as Marcion, Tatian, and theologians of the school of Valentinus. The difficulties of course still continued to be felt in the period which followed. (See, e.g., Method, Conviv. Orat. III. 1, 2.) This shows most clearly that the collection of writings must not be traced to the Church’s effort to create for herself a powerful controversial weapon. But the difficulties which the compilation presented so long as it was a mere collection vanished as soon as it was viewed as a sacred collection. For now the principle: “as the teaching of the Apostles was one, so also is the tradition” (μια ἡ πάντων γέγονε τῶν ἀποστόλων ὥσπερ διδασκαλία οὕτως δὲ καὶ ἡ παράδοσις)” was to be applied to all contradictory and objectionable details.9999Apollinaris of Hierapolis already regards any contradiction between the (4) Gospels as impossible. (See Routh, Reliq. Sacr. I. p. 150.) It was now imperative to explain one writing by another; the Pauline Epistles, for example, were to be interpreted by the Pastoral Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles.100100See Overbeck, “Ueber die Auffassung des Streites des Paulus mit Petrus in Antiochien bei den Kirchenvätern,” 1897, p. 8. Now was required what Tertullian calls the “mixture” of the Old and New Testaments,101101See also Clement Strom. IV. 21. 124; VI. 15. 125. The expression is also frequent in Origen, e.g., de princip. præf. 4. in consequence of which the full recognition of the knowledge got from the old Bible was regarded as the first law for the interpretation of the new. The formation of the new collection into a canon was therefore an immediate and unavoidable necessity if doubts of all kinds were to be averted. These were abundantly excited by the exegesis of the heretics; they were got rid of by making the writings into a canon. Fifthly, the early Christian enthusiasm more and more decreased in the course of the second century; not only did Apostles, prophets, and teachers die out, but the religious mood of the majority of Christians was changed. A reflective piety took the place of the instinctive religious enthusiasm which made those who felt it believe that they themselves possessed the Spirit.102102The Roman Church in her letter to that of Corinth designates her own words as the words of God (1 Clem. LIX. 1) and therefore requires obedience “τοῖς ὑφ᾽ ἡμῶν γεγραμμένοις διὰ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος” (LXIII. 2). Such a piety requires rules; at the same time, however, it is characterised by the perception that it has not the active and spontaneous character which it ought to have, but has to prove its legitimacy in an indirect and “objective” way. The breach with tradition, the deviation from the original state of things is felt and recognised. Men, however, conceal from themselves their own defects, by placing the representatives of the past on an unattainable height, and forming such an estimate of their qualities as makes it unlawful and impossible for those of the present generation, in the interests of their own comfort, to compare themselves with them. When matters reach this point, great suspicion attaches to those who hold fast their religious independence and wish to apply the old standards. Not only do they seem arrogant and proud, but they also appear disturbers of the necessary new arrangement which has its justification in the fact of its being unavoidable. This development of the matter was, moreover, of the greatest significance for the history of the canon. Its creation very speedily resulted in the opinion that the time of divine revelation had gone past and was exhausted in the Apostles, that is, in the records left by them. We cannot prove with certainty that the canon was formed to confirm this opinion, but we can show that it was very soon used to oppose those Christians who professed to be prophets or appealed to the continuance of prophecy. The influence which the canon exercised in this respect is the most decisive and important. That which Tertullian, as a Montanist, asserts of one of his opponents: “Prophetiam expulit, paracletum fugavit” (“he expelled prophecy, he drove away the Paraclete”), can be far more truly said of the New Testament which the same Tertullian as a Catholic recognised. The New Testament, though not all at once, put an end to a situation where it was possible for any Christian under the inspiration of the Spirit to give authoritative disclosures and instructions. It likewise prevented belief in the fanciful creations with which such men enriched the history of the past, and destroyed their pretensions to read the future. As the creation of the canon, though not in a hard and fast way, fixed the period of the production of sacred facts, so it put down all claims of Christian prophecy to public credence. Through the canon it came to be acknowledged that all post-apostolic Christianity is only of a mediate and particular kind, and can therefore never be itself a standard. The Apostles alone possessed the Spirit of God completely and without measure. They only, therefore, are the media of revelation, and by their word alone, which, as emanating from the Spirit, is of equal authority with the word of Christ, all that is Christian must be tested.103103Tertull., 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 et efficacia virtutum documentisque linguarum, non ex parte, quod ceteri.” Clem. Alex. Strom. IV. 21. 135: “Ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἀπὸ θεοῦ, ὁ μὲν οὑτως, ὁ δὲ οὑτως, ὁι ἀπόστολοι δὲ ἐν πᾶσι πεπληρωμένοι; Serapion in Euseb., H. E. VI. 12. 3: ἡμεῖς καὶ τὸν Πάτρον καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἀποστόλους ἀποδεχόμεθα ὡς Χριστόν. The success of the canon here referred to was an undoubted blessing, for, as the result of enthusiasm, Christianity was menaced with complete corruption, and things and ideas, no matter how alien to its spirit, were able to obtain a lodgment under its protection. The removal of this danger, which was in some measure averted by the canon, was indeed coupled with great disadvantages, inasmuch as believers were referred in legal fashion to a new book, and the writings contained in it were at first completely obscured by the assumption that they were inspired and by the requirement of an “expositio legitima.”
The Holy Spirit and the Apostles became correlative conceptions (Tertull., de pudic. 21). The Apostles, however, were more and more overshadowed by the New Testament Scriptures; and this was in fact an advance beyond the earlier state of things, for what was known of the Apostles? Accordingly, as authors of these writings, they and the Holy Spirit became correlative conceptions. This led to the assumption that the apostolic writings were inspired, that is, in the full and only intelligible sense attached to the word by the ancients.104104See Tertull., de virg. vol. 4, de resurr. 24, de ieiun. 15, de pudic. 12. Sufficiency is above all included in the concept “inspiration” (see for ex. Tertull., de monog. 4: “Negat scriptura quod non notat”), and the same measure of authority belongs to all parts (see Iren., IV. 28. 3. Nihil vacuum neque sine signo apud deum”). By this assumption the Apostles, viewed as prophets, received a significance quite equal to that of Old Testament writers.105105The direct designation “prophets” was, however, as a rule, avoided. The conflict with Montanism made it expedient to refrain from this name; but see Tertullian, adv. Marc. IV. 24: “Tam apostolus Moyses, quam et apostoli prophetæ.” But, though Irenæus and Tertullian placed both parties on a level, they preserved a distinction between them by basing the whole authority of the New Testament on its apostolic origin, the concept “apostolic” being much more comprehensive than that of “prophet.” These men, being Apostles, that is men chosen by Christ himself and entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel, have for that reason received the Spirit, and their writings are filled with the Spirit. To the minds of Western Christians the primary feature in the collection is its apostolic authorship.106106Compare also what the author of the Muratorian Fragment says in the passage about the Shepherd of Hermas. This implies inspiration also, because the Apostles cannot be inferior to the writers of the Old Testament. For that very reason they could, in a much more radical way, rid the new collection of everything that was not apostolic. They even rejected writings which, in their form, plainly claimed the character of inspiration; and this was evidently done because they did not attribute to them the degree of authority which, in their view, only belonged to that which was apostolic.107107This caused the most decisive breach with tradition, and the estimate to be formed of the Apocalypses must at first have remained an open question. Their fate was long undecided in the West; but it was very soon settled that they could have no claim to public recognition in the Church, because their authors had not that fulness of the Spirit which belongs to the Apostles alone. The new canon of Scripture set up by Irenæus and Tertullian primarily professes to be nothing else than a collection of apostolic writings, which, as such, claim absolute authority.108108The disputed question as to whether all the acknowledged apostolic writings were regarded as canonical must be answered in the affirmative in reference to Irenæus and Tertullian, who conversely regarded no book as canonical unless written by the Apostles. On the other hand, it appears to me that no certain opinion on this point can be got from the Muratorian Fragment. In the end the Gospel, Acts, Kerygma, and Apocalypse of Peter as well as the Acts of Paul were rejected, a proceeding which was at the same time a declaration that they were spurious. But these three witnesses agree (see also App. Constit. VI. 16) that the apostolic regula fidei is practically the final court of appeal, inasmuch as it decides whether a writing is really apostolic or not, and inasmuch as, according to Tertullian, the apostolic writings belong to the Church alone, because she alone possesses the apostolic regula (de præscr. 37 ff.). The regula of course does not legitimise those writings, but only proves that they are authentic and do not belong to the heretics. These witnesses also agree that a Christian writing has no claim to be received into the canon merely on account of its prophetic form. On looking at the matter more closely, we see that the view of the early Church, as opposed to Montanism, led to the paradox that the Apostles were prophets in the sense of being inspired by the Spirit, but that they were not so in the strict sense of the word. It takes its place beside the apostolic rule of faith; and by this faithfully preserved possession, the Church scattered over the world proves herself to be that of the Apostles.
But we are very far from being able to show that such a rigidly fixed collection of apostolic writings existed everywhere in the Church about the year 200. It is indeed continually asserted that the Antiochian and Alexandrian Churches had at that date a New Testament which, in extent and authority, essentially coincided with that of the Roman Church; but this opinion is not well founded. As far as the Church of Antioch is immediately concerned, the letter of Bishop Serapion (whose episcopate lasted from about 190 to about 209), given in Eusebius (VI. 12), clearly shows that Cilicia and probably also Antioch itself as yet possessed no such thing as a completed New Testament. It is evident that Serapion already holds the Catholic principle that all words of Apostles possess the same value to the Church as words of the Lord; but a completed collection of apostolic writings was not yet at his disposal.109109The fragment of Serapion’s letter given in Eusebius owes its interest to the fact that it not only shows the progress made at this time with the formation of the canon at Antioch, but also what still remained to be done. Hence it is very improbable that Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, who died as early as the reign of Commodus, presupposed such a collection. Nor, in point of fact, do the statements in the treatise “ad Autolycum” point to a completed New Testament.110110See my essay “Theophilus v. Antiochien und das N. T.” in the Ztschr. f. K. Gesch. XI. p 1 ff. Theophilus makes diligent use of the Epistles of Paul and mentions the evangelist John (C. I. 1.) as one of the bearers of the Spirit. But with him the one canonical court of appeal is the Scriptures of the Old Testament, that is, the writings of the Prophets (bearers of the Spirit). These Old Testament Prophets, however, are continued in a further group of “bearers of the Spirit”, which we cannot definitely determine, but which at any rate included the authors of the four Gospels and the writer of the Apocalypse. It is remarkable that Theophilus has never mentioned the Apostles. Though he perhaps regards them all, including Paul, as “bearers of the Spirit”, yet we have no indication that he looked on their Epistles as canonical. The different way he uses the Old Testament and the Gospels on the one hand and the Pauline Epistles on the other is rather evidence of the contrary. Theophilus was acquainted with the four Gospels (but we have no reference to Mark), the thirteen Epistles of Paul (though he does not mention Thessalonians), most probably also with the Epistle to the Hebrews, as well as 1st Peter and the Revelation of John. It is significant that no single passage of his betrays an acquaintance with the Acts of the Apostles.111111The most important passages are Autol. II. 9. 22: ὅθεν διδάσκουσιν ἡμᾶς αἱ ἅγιαι γραφαὶ καὶ πάντες οἱ πνευματοφόροι, ἐξ ὧν Ἰωάννης λέγει κ.τ.λ. (follows John I. 1) III. I2: καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης, ἧς ὁ νόμος εἴρηκεν, ἀκόλουθα εὑρίσκεται καὶ τὰ τῶν προφητῶν καὶ τῶν εὐαγγελίων ἔχειν, διὰ τὸ τούς πάντας πνευματοφόρους ἑνὶ πνέυματι θεοῦ λελαληκέναι; III. 13: ὁ ἅγιος λόγος — ἡ ἑυαγγέλιος φωνή.; III. 14.: Ἠσαΐας — τὸ δὲ εὐαγγέλιον — ὁ θεῖος λόγος. The latter formula is not a quotation of Epistles of Paul viewed as canonical, but of a divine command found in the Old Testament and given in Pauline form. It is specially worthy of note that the original of the six books of the Apostolic Constitutions, written in Syria and belonging to the second half of the third century, knows yet of no New Testament. In addition to the Old Testament it has no authority but the “Gospel.”
It might certainly seem venturesome, on the basis of the material found in Theophilus and the original document of the first six books of the Apostolic Constitutions, to conclude that the formation of a New Testament canon was not everywhere determined by the same interest and therefore did not everywhere take a similar course. It might seem hazardous to assume that the Churches of Asia Minor and Rome began by creating a fixed canon of apostolic writings, which was thus necessarily declared to be inspired, whereas other communities applied or did not deny the notion of inspiration to a great number of venerable and ancient writings not rigidly defined, and did not make a selection from a stricter historical point of view, till a later date. But the latter development not only corresponds to the indication found in Justin, but in my opinion may be verified from the copious accounts of Clement of Alexandria.112112There has as yet been no sufficient investigation of the New Testament of Clement. The information given by Volkmar in Credner’s Gesch. d. N.Tlichen Kanon, p. 382 ff., is not sufficient. The space at the disposal of this manual prevents me from establishing the results of my studies on this point. Let me at least refer to some important passages which I have collected. Strom. I. §§ 28, 100; II. §§ 22, 28, 29; III. §§ 11, 66, 70, 71, 76, 93, 108; IV. §§ 2, 91, 97, 105, 130, 133, 134, 138, 159; V. §§ 3, 17, 27, 28, 30, 31, 38, 80, 85, 86; VI. §§ 42, 44, 54, 59, 61, 66-68, 88, 91, 106, 107, 119, 124, 125, 127, 128, 133, 161, 164; VII. §§ 1, 14, 34, 76, 82, 84, 88, 94, 95, 97, 100, 101, 103, 104, 106, 107. As to the estimate of the Epistles of Barnabas and Clement of Rome as well as of the Shepherd, in Clement, see the Prolegg. to my edition of the Opp. Patr. Apost. In the entire literature of Greeks and barbarians Clement distinguishes between profane and sacred, i. e., inspired writings. As he is conscious that all knowledge of truth is based on inspiration, so all writings, that is all parts, paragraphs, or sentences of writings which contain moral and religious truth are in his view inspired.113113According to Strom. V. 14. 138 even the Epicurean Metrodorus uttered certain words ἐνθέως; but on the other hand Homer was a prophet against his will. See Pæd. I. 6. 36, also § 51. This opinion, however, does not exclude a distinction between these writings, but rather requires it. (2) The Old Testament, a fixed collection of books, is regarded by Clement, as a whole and in all its parts, as the divine, that is, inspired book par excellence. (3) As Clement in theory distinguishes a new covenant from the old, so also he distinguishes the books of the new covenant from those of the old. (4) These books to which he applies the formula “Gospel” (τὸ ἐυαγγέλιον) and “Apostles” (ὁι ἀπόστολοι) are likewise viewed by him as inspired, but he does not consider them as forming a fixed collection. (5) Unless all appearances are deceptive, it was, strictly speaking, only the four Gospels that he considered and treated as completely on a level with the Old Testament. The formula: ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται καὶ τὸ ἐυαγγέλιον (“the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel”) is frequently found, and everything else, even the apostolic writings, is judged by this group.114114In the Pæd. the Gospels are regularly called ἡ γραφή, but this is seldom the case with the Epistles. The word “Apostle” is used in quoting these. He does not consider even the Pauline Epistles to be a court of appeal of equal value with the Gospels, though he occasionally describes them as γραφάι.115115It is also very interesting to note that Clement almost nowhere illustrates the parabolic character of the Holy Scriptures by quoting the Epistles, but in this connection employs the Old Testament and the Gospels, just as he almost never allegorises passages from other writings. 1 Cor. III. 2 is once quoted thus in Pæd. I. 6. 49: τὸ ἐν τῷ ἀποστόλῳ ἅγιον πνεῦμα τῇ τοῦ κυρίου ἀποχρώμενον φωνῇ λέγει. We can hardly conclude from Pæd. I. 7. 61 that Clement called Paul a “prophet.” A further class of writings stands a stage lower than the Pauline Epistles, viz., the Epistles of Clement and Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, etc. It would be wrong to say that Clement views this group as an appendix to the New Testament, or as in any sense Antilegomena. This would imply that he assumed the existence of a fixed collection whose parts he considered of equal value, an assumption which cannot be proved.116116It is worthy of special note that Clem., Pæd. II. 10. 3; Strom. II. 15. 67 has criticised an interpretation given by the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, although he calls Barnabas an Apostle. (6) As to certain books, such as the “Teaching of the Apostles,” the “Kerygma of Peter,” etc., it remains quite doubtful what authority Clement attributed to them.117117In this category we may also include the Acts of the Apostles, which is perhaps used like the κήρυγμα. It is quoted in Pæd. II. 16. 56; Strom. I. 50, 89, 91, 92, 153, 154; III. 49; IV. 97; V. 75, 82; VI. 63, 101, 124, 165. He quotes the Διδαχή as γραφή. (7) In determining and estimating the sacred books of the New Testament Clement is manifestly influenced by an ecclesiastical tradition, for he recognises four Gospels and no more because that was the exact number handed down. This tradition had already applied the name “apostolic” to most Christian writings which were to be considered as γραφαί, but it had given the concept “apostolic” a far wider content than Irenæus and Tertullian,118118The “seventy disciples” were also regarded as Apostles, and the authors of writings the names of which did not otherwise offer a guarantee of authority were likewise included in this category. That is to say, writings which were regarded as valuable and which for some reason or other could not be characterised as apostolic in the narrower sense were attributed to authors whom there was no reason for denying to be Apostles in the wider sense. This wider use of the concept “apostolic” is moreover no innovation. See my edition of the Didache, pp. 111-118. although it had not been able to include all the new writings which were regarded as sacred under this idea. (Hermas). At the time Clement wrote, the Alexandrian Church can neither have held the principle that all writings of the Apostles must be read in the Church and form a decisive court of appeal like the Old Testament, nor have believed that nothing but the Apostolic — using this word also in its wider sense — has any claim to authority among Christians. We willingly admit the great degree of freedom and peculiarity characteristic of Clement, and freely acknowledge the serious difficulties inseparable from the attempt to ascertain from his writings what was regarded as possessing standard authority in the Church. Nevertheless it may be assumed with certainty that, at the time this author wrote, the content of the New Testament canon, or, to speak more correctly, its reception in the Church and exact attributes had not yet been finally settled in Alexandria.
The condition of the Alexandrian Church of the time may perhaps be described as follows: Ecclesiastical custom had attributed an authority to a great number of early Christian writings without strictly defining the nature of this authority or making it equal to that of the Old Testament. Whatever professed to be inspired, or apostolic, or ancient, or edifying was regarded as the work of the Spirit and therefore as the Word of God. The prestige of these writings increased in proportion as Christians became more incapable of producing the like themselves. Not long before Clement wrote, however, a systematic arrangement of writings embodying the early Christian tradition had been made in Alexandria also. But, while in the regions represented by Irenæus and Tertullian the canon must have arisen and been adopted all at once, so to speak, it was a slow process that led to this result in Alexandria. Here also the principle of apostolicity seems to have been of great importance for the collectors and editors, but it was otherwise applied than at Rome. A conservative proceeding was adopted, as they wished to insure as far as possible the permanence of ancient Christian writings regarded as inspired. In other words, they sought, wherever practicable, to proclaim all these writings to be apostolic by giving a wider meaning to the designation and ascribing an imaginary apostolic origin to many of them. This explains their judgment as to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and how Barnabas and Clement were described by them as Apostles.119119The formation of the canon in Alexandria must have had some connection with the same process in Asia Minor and in Rome. This is shown not only by each Church recognising four Gospels, but still more by the admission of thirteen Pauline Epistles. We would see our way more clearly here, if anything certain could be ascertained from the works of Clement, including the Hypotyposes, as to the arrangement of the Holy Scriptures; but the attempt to fix this arrangement is necessarily a dubious one, because Clement’s “canon of the New Testament” was not yet finally fixed. It may be compared to a half-finished statue whose bust is already completely chiselled, while the under parts are still embedded in the stone. Had this undertaking succeeded in the Church, a much more extensive canon would have resulted than in the West. But it is more than questionable whether it was really the intention of those first Alexandrian collectors to place the great compilation thus produced, as a New Testament, side by side with the Old, or, whether their undertaking was immediately approved in this sense by the Church. In view of the difference of Clement’s attitude to the various groups within this collection of γραφαί, we may assert that in the Alexandrian Church of that time Gospels and Apostles were indeed ranked with the Law and the Prophets, but that this position of equality with the Old Testament was not assigned to all the writings that were prized either on the score of inspiration or of apostolic authority. The reason of this was that the great collection of early Christian literature that was inspired and declared to be apostolic could hardly have been used so much in public worship as the Old Testament and the Gospels.
Be this as it may, if we understand by the New Testament a fixed collection, equally authoritative throughout, of all the writings that were regarded as genuinely apostolic, that is, those of the original Apostles and Paul, then the Alexandrian Church at the time of Clement did not yet possess such a book; but the process which led to it had begun. She had come much nearer this goal by the time of Origen. At that period the writings included in the New Testament of the West were all regarded in Alexandria as equally authoritative, and also stood in every respect on a level with the Old Testament. The principle of apostolicity was more strictly conceived and more surely applied. Accordingly the extent of “Holy Scripture” was already limited in the days of Origen. Yet we have to thank the Alexandrian Church for giving us the seven Catholic Epistles. But, measured by the canon of the Western Church, which must have had a share in the matter, this sifting process was by no means complete. The inventive minds of scholars designated a group of writings in the Alexandrian canon as “Antilegomena.” The historian of dogma can take no great interest in the succeeding development, which first led to the canon being everywhere finally fixed, so far as we can say that this was ever the case. For the still unsettled dispute as to the extent of the canon did not essentially affect its use and authority, and in the following period the continuous efforts to establish a harmonious and strictly fixed canon were solely determined by a regard to tradition. The results are no doubt of great importance to Church history, because they show us the varying influence exerted on Christendom at different periods by the great Churches of the East and West and by their learned men.
Addendum. — The results arising from the formation of a part of early Christian writings into a canon, which was a great and meritorious act of the Church,120120No greater creative act can be mentioned in the whole history of the Church than the formation of the apostolic collection and the assigning to it of a position of equal rank with the Old Testament. notwithstanding the fact that it was forced on her by a combination of circumstances, may be summed up in a series of antitheses. (1) The New Testament, or group of “apostolic” writings formed by selection, preserved from destruction one part, and undoubtedly the most valuable one, of primitive Church literature; but it caused all the rest of these writings, as being intrusive, or spurious, or superfluous, to be more and more neglected, so that they ultimately perished.121121The history of early Christian writings in the Church which were not definitely admitted into the New Testament is instructive on this point. The fate of some of these may be described as tragical. Even when they were not branded as downright forgeries, the writings of the Fathers from the fourth century downwards were far preferred to them. (2) The New Testament, though not all at once, put an end to the composition of works which claimed an authority binding on Christendom’ (inspiration); but it first made possible the production of secular Church literature and neutralised the extreme dangers attendant on writings of this kind. By making room for all kinds of writings that did not oppose it, it enabled the Church to utilise all the elements of Greek culture. At the same time, however, it required an ecclesiastical stamp to be placed on all the new Christian productions due to this cause.122122See on this point Overbeck “Abhandlung über die Anfänge der patristischen Litteratur, l.c., p. 469.” Nevertheless, even after the creation of the New Testament canon, theological authorship was an undertaking which was at first regarded as highly dangerous. See the Antimontanist in Euseb., H. E. V. 16. 3: δεδιὼς καὶ ἐξευλαβούμενος, μή πη δόξω πρὶν ἐπισυγγράφειν ἤ ἐπιδιατάσσεσθαι τῷ τῆς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου καινῆς διαθήκης λόγῳ, We find similar remarks in other old Catholic Fathers (see Clemen. Alex.). (3) The New Testament obscured the historical meaning and the historical origin of the writing contained in it, especially the Pauline Epistles, though at the same time it created the conditions for a thorough study of all those documents. Although primarily the new science of theological exegesis in the Church did more than anything else to neutralise the historical value of the New Testament writings, yet, on the other hand, it immediately commenced a critical restoration of their original sense. But, even apart from theological science, the New Testament enabled original Christianity to exercise here and there a quiet and gradual effect on the doctrinal development of the Church, without indeed being able to exert a dominant influence on the natural development of the traditional system. As the standard of interpretation for the Holy Scriptures was the apostolic regula fidei, always more and more precisely explained, and as that regula, in its Antignostic and philosophico-theological interpretation, was regarded as apostolic, the New Testament was explained in accordance with the conception of Christianity that had become prevalent in the Church. At first therefore the spirit of the New Testament could only assert itself in certain undercurrents and in the recognition of particular truths. But the book did not in the least ward off the danger of a total secularising of Christianity. (4) The New Testament opposed a barrier to the enthusiastic manufacture of “facts.” But at the same time its claim to be a collection of inspired writings123123But how diverse were the expositions; compare the exegesis of Origen and Tertullian, Scorp. II. naturally resulted in principles of interpretation (such as the principle of unanimity, of unlimited combination, of absolute clearness and sufficiency, and of allegorism) which were necessarily followed by the manufacture of new facts on the part of theological experts. (5) The New Testament fixed a time within which divine revelation ceased, and prevented any Christian from putting himself into comparison with the disciples of Jesus. By doing so it directly promoted the lowering of Christian ideals and requirements, and in a certain fashion legitimised this weakening of religious power. At the same time, however, it maintained the knowledge of these ideals and requirements, became a spur to the conscience of believers, and averted the danger of Christianity being corrupted by the excesses of enthusiasm. (6) The fact of the New Testament being placed on a level with the Old proved the most effective means of preserving to the latter its canonical authority, which had been so often assailed in the second century. But at the same time it brought about an examination of the relation between the Old and New Testaments, which, however, also involved an enquiry into the connection between Christianity and pre-christian revelation. The immediate result of this investigation was not only a theological exposition of the Old Testament, but also a theory which ceased to view the two Testaments as of equal authority and subordinated the Old to the New. This result, which can be plainly seen in Irenæus, Tertullian, and Origen, led to exceedingly important consequences.124124On the extent to which the Old Testament had become subordinated to the New and the Prophets to the Apostles, since the end of the second century, see the following passage from Novatian, de trinit. 29: “Unus ergo et idem spiritus qui in prophetis et apostolis, nisi quoniam ibi ad momentum, hic semper. Ceterum ibi non ut semper in illis inesset, hic ut in illis semper maneret, et ibi mediocriter distributus, hic totus effusus, ibi parce datus, hic large commodatus.” It gave some degree of insight into statements, hitherto completely unintelligible, in certain New Testament writings, and it caused the Church to reflect upon a question that had as yet been raised only by heretics, viz., what are the marks which distinguish Christianity from the Old Testament religion? An historical examination imperceptibly arose; but the old notion of the inspiration of the Old Testament confined it to the narrowest limits, and in fact always continued to forbid it; for, as before, appeal was constantly made to the Old Testament as a Christian book which contained all the truths of religion in a perfect form. Nevertheless the conception of the Old Testament was here and there full of contradictions.125125That may be shown in all the old Catholic Fathers, but most plainly perhaps in the theology of Origen. Moreover, the subordination of the Old Testament revelation to the Christian one is not simply a result of the creation of the New Testament, but may be explained by other causes; see chap. 5. If the New Testament had not been formed, the Church would perhaps have obtained a Christian Old Testament with numerous interpolations — tendencies in this direction were not wanting; see vol. I. p. 114 f. — and increased in extent by the admission of apocalypses. The creation of the New Testament preserved the purity of the Old, for it removed the need of doing violence to the latter in the interests of Christianity. (7) The fatal identification of words of the Lord and words of the Apostles (apostolical tradition) had existed before the creation of the New Testament, though this proceeding gave it a new range and content and a new significance. But, with the Epistles of Paul included, the New Testament elevated the highest expression of the consciousness of redemption into a guiding principle, and by admitting Paulinism into the canon it introduced a wholesome ferment into the history of the Church. (8) By creating the New Testament and claiming exclusive possession of it the Church deprived the non-Catholic communions of every apostolic foundation, just as she had divested Judaism of every legal title by taking possession of the Old Testament; but, by raising the New Testament to standard authority, she created the armoury which supplied the succeeding period with the keenest weapons against herself.126126The Catholic Church had from the beginning a very clear consciousness of the dangerousness of many New Testament writings, in fact she made a virtue of necessity in so far as she set up a theory to prove the unavoidableness of this danger. See Tertullian, de præscr. passim, and de resurr. 63. The place of the Gospel was taken by a book with exceedingly varied contents, which theoretically acquired the same authority as the Gospel. Still, the Catholic Church never became a religion “of the book”, because every inconvenient text could be explained away by the allegoric method, and because the book was not made use of as the immediate authority for the guidance of Christians, this latter function being directly discharged by the rule of faith.127127To a certain extent the New Testament disturbs and prevents the tendency to summarise the faith and reduce it to its most essential content. For it not only puts itself in the place of the unity of a system, but frequently also in the place of a harmonious and complete creed. Hence the rule of faith is necessary as a guiding principle, and even an imperfect one is better than a mere haphazard reliance upon the Bible. In practice it continued to be the rule for the New Testament to take a secondary place in apologetic writings and disputes with heretics.128128We must not, however, ascribe that to conscious mistrust, for Irenæus and Tertullian bear very decided testimony against such an idea, but to the acknowledgment that it was impossible to make any effective use of the New Testament Scriptures in arguments with educated non-Christians and heretics. For these writings could carry no weight with the former, and the latter either did not recognise them or else interpreted them by different rules. Even the offer of several of the Fathers to refute the Marcionites from their own canon must by no means be attributed to an uncertainty on their part with regard to the authority of the ecclesiastical canon of Scripture. We need merely add that the extraordinary difficulty originally felt by Christians in conceiving the Pauline Epistles, for instance, to be analogous and equal in value to Genesis or the prophets occasionally appears in the terminology even in the third century, in so far as the term “divine writings” continues to be more frequently applied to the Old Testament than to certain parts of the New. On the other hand it was regarded (1) as the directly authoritative document for the direction of the Christian life,129129Tertullian, in de corona 3, makes his Catholic opponent say: “Etiam in traditionis obtentu exigenda est auctoritas scripta.” and (2) as the final court of appeal in all the conflicts that arose within the sphere of the rule of faith. It was freely applied in the second stage of the Montanist struggle, but still more in the controversies about Christology, that is, in the conflict with the Monarchians. The apostolic writings belong solely to the Church, because she alone has preserved the apostolic doctrine (regula). This was declared to the heretics and therewith all controversy about Scripture, or the sense of Scripture passages, was in principle declined. But within the Church herself the Holy Scripture was regarded as the supreme and completely independent tribunal against which not even an old tradition could be appealed to; and the rule πολιτεύεσθαι κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον (“live according to the Gospel”) held good in every respect. Moreover, this formula, which is rarely replaced by the other one, viz., κατὰ τὴν καινὴν διαθήκην (“according to the New Testament”), shows that the words of the Lord, as in the earlier period, continued to be the chief standard of life and conduct.
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