Imagini ale paginilor

orthodox materials for the construction of a Catholic religion. But on what authority, human or divine, was this great work accomplished ?

In those early days, no supreme Pontiff or infallible Council held the pretensions, or claimed the right to select and authenticate Sacred Scripture. The task was, therefore, unconsciously undertaken by a small group

of zealous but credulous men, known to us as the early Fathers of the Christian Church. Irenæus, Clement, and Tertullian, who flourished at the close of the second and beginning of the third century, stand out prominently in ecclesiastical history as the canon-makers of the New Testament. And as his successors closely followed in the footsteps of Irenæus, the work was practically accomplished by a man so hopelessly obtuse and credulous that he declares there should be neither more nor less than four Gospels, because there are four universal winds, and four quarters of the globe. If, therefore, Irenæus had counted the winds by the points of the modern compass, he would have selected thirty-two from the numerous Gospels competing for canonisation, and Christianity would have been afflicted with the additional weight of doctrines, dogmas, and mysteries, found in their pages, and accepted by posterity as divine revelation.

Irenæus, writing in the last quarter of the second century, adopted the four Gospels, thirteen epistles of Paul, 1 John, and Revelations; and assigned a secondary place to 2 John, 1 Peter, and the Shepherd of Hermas. He knew nothing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jude, James, or second and third Peter.

1 Heresies, iii. 9.


Clement added to this collection the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jude, the Revelations of Peter, the Epistles of Clement of Rome and Barnabas, both of whom he accepts as apostles; and the Shepherd of Hermas, viewed by modern Orthodoxy as a pious fiction, he declares to be divine.

Turning to the epistle of Clement of Rome, we find the following fable adduced as an argument in favour of the truth of the Resurrection.

· Let us think of that marvellous sign which occurs in the East, that is to say, in Arabia and the surround- ; ing countries. There is a bird called a Phoenix-the only one of its kind—which lives five hundred years, and, when the time of its death is at hand, makes a nest of frankincense, myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is completed, it enters and dies. As the flesh decays, a worm is produced which, fed by the remains of the dead bird, creates feathers. Then, when strong enough, it takes the nest containing the bones of the parent, and passes with them from Arabia to Heliopolis, a city of Egypt, and, flying in the daytime in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and returns to its former home. The priests then refer to the registry of dates, and find that it has returned in exactly five hundred years. Do ye, therefore, think it a great and marvellous thing for the Creator of the universe to raise up again those that have piously served him, in the assurance of faith, when He manifests to us through a bird the greatness of His power to fulfil His promise ?

If one of the compilers of New Testament Scripture canonises an author sufficiently credulous to adopt this


i Clem. Rom. XXV.


heathen legend (known to Herodotus) as a practical proof of the truth of man's resurrection from the dead, what confidence can we place in his capacity to determine what should be the contents of an infallible Bible?

Tertullian adopts a nearly similar canon ; but, if we accept him as a competent and trustworthy compiler of infallible Scripture, we must also receive at his hands the Book of Enoch as the inspired autogram of that patriarch, or the miraculously restored version of Noah.

Of all the ante-Nicene Fathers, Origen (254 A.D.) applied the greatest ability and industry to the study of Christian literature in a spirit of rational criticism ; and his evidence establishes general corruption in the text of the Evangelists. “It is obvious,' he states, “that the difference between the copies is considerable, partly from the conclusions of individual scribes, partly from the impious audacity of some in correcting what is written, partly also from those who add or remove what seems good to them in the work of correction.' This language obviously fails to assure Christianity of the possession of an infallible New Testament.

Origen honestly endeavoured to classify Christian literature in the order of merit, a form of criticism unsuggestive of faith in divine inspiration ; and as he wavered in opinion respecting the authenticity of books some of which are accepted and others rejected by modern Christianity, it was evidently an open question in the third century as to what really constituted the contents of the New Testament.

So far the Christian Fathers had not published any specific list of the books meeting their approval; and


1 On Female Dress, üi.

Orig. In Matt. xv. 14,

their canonical conclusions are only to be inferred from their works. But when the Emperor Constantine (about 330 A.D.) recognised the importance of identifying a definite selection of Christian literature with the Catholic Church, he applied to the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, for a complete collection of authentic works.

Eusebius, in his ecclesiastical history, assigns the first place to the four Gospels, fourteen epistles of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter. These he calls óuoloyoúuevagenerally received ; but adds, there are some who include the Gospel to the Hebrews, with which converted Jews are particularly pleased. It also should not be concealed that some have rejected the epistle to the Hebrews as not the work of Paul.' Among disputed books— åvtiheyoúueva-although well known and approved by many -he places the epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John; and classes among spurious works (vóda) the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Revelations of Peter, and the Revelation of John—the latter qualified with the remark, “if it should appear right, as some reject, whilst others consider it genuine.

Thus, when Christianity was taken in hand by the temporal power, in the fourth century, with the view of establishing a Catholic Church, its primitive literature was dependent for attestation on a Roman philosopher who had never heard of the Gospel of John or the epistles of Paul- an Alexandrian presbyter who believed in the Phænix, à Gallican bishop who discovered the fourth Gospel in the last quarter of the second century, and a Punic presbyter who accepted the Book of Enoch as antediluvian, and

[ocr errors]

1 Hist. Eccl. ii, 25.

eventually drifted into the ascetic mysticism of Montanus, who believed himself to be the Paraclete. Where, therefore, was the infallible evidence of the Apostolic Succession supposed to have existed at Rome from Peter to the latest of the Popes? We answer-waiting evolution through the imaginative piety of later generations. And as we see Eusebius seeking in doubt and perplexity for apostolic records which had no existence, and accepting doubtful versions through hazy traditions and contemporary credulity, we can understand the ecclesiastical phenomena of Nicæa, where antagonistic bishops assembled at the bidding of a Roman Emperor, not to discuss the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, but to affirm, through a victorious majority, the foregone conclusions of doctrinal mysticism unknown to the primitive School of Galilee.

In the next century we find Augustine and Jerome still perplexed with the problem of Bible-making, and disclosing the absence of any higher authority for the canon of Scripture than arbitrary traditions and ecclesiastical usage, which virtually meant nothing more than that time had granted prescriptive rights to the credulous conclusions of the ante-Nicene Fathers.

The Evangelists accordingly emerged from the impenetrable shadow of the first century with doubtful dates, conjectural authorship, and varying versions. We hold no record of the fluctuations of Christian opinion during the long interval of oral traditions; and when narrative and discourses assume the form of manuscript, not one of which has reached us with an earlier date than the fourth century, we possess no guarantee against the revisions and interpolations of successive scribes,

« ÎnapoiContinuați »