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Muratorian Fragment

Muratorian Canon on Early Christian Writings

Muratorian Fragment, a very ancient list of the books of N.T. first pub. in 1740 by Muratori (Ant. Ital. Med. Aev. iii. 851) and found in a 7th or 8th cent. MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. The MS. had come from the Irish monastery of Bobbio, and the fragment seems to have been a copy of a loose leaf or two of a lost volume. It is defective in the beginning, and breaks off in the middle of a sentence, and the mutilation must have taken place in the archetype of our present copy. This copy was made by an illiterate and careless scribe, and is full of blunders; but is of the greatest value as the earliest-known list of N.T. books recognized by the church. A reference to the episcopate of Pius at Rome ("nuperrime temporibus nostris") is usually taken to prove that the document cannot be later than c. 180, some 20 years after Pius's death (see infra). This precludes Muratori's own conjecture as to authorship, viz. that it was by Caius the presbyter, c. 196; and Bunsen's conjecture that Hegesippus wrote it has nothing to recommend it. It is generally agreed that it was written in Rome. Though in Latin, it bears marks of translation from the Greek, though Hesse (Das. Mur. Frag., Giessen, 1873) and others maintain the originality of the Latin.

The first line of the fragment evidently concludes its notice of St. Mark's Gospel; for it proceeds to speak of St. Luke's as in the 3rd place, St. John's in the 4th. A notice of St. Matthew's and St. Mark's must have come before, but we have no means of knowing whether the O.T. books preceded that notice. The document appears to have dealt with the choice of topics in the Gospels and the point where each began (cf. Iren. iii. 11). It is stated that St. Luke (and apparently St. Mark also) had not seen our Lord in the flesh. For its story as to the composition of St. John's Gospel see Leucius. The document goes on to say that by one and the same sovereign Spirit the same fundamental doctrines are fully taught in all concerning our Lord's birth, life, passion, resurrection, and future coming. At the date of this document, therefore, belief was fully established in the pre-eminence of the four Gospels, and in their divine inspiration. Next comes the Acts, St. Luke being credited with purposing to record only what fell under his own notice, thus omitting the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul's journey to Spain. Thirteen epistles of St. Paul are then mentioned. (a) epistles to churches, in the order: I. and II. Cor., Eph., Phil., Col., Gal., I. and II. Thess., Rom. It is observed that St. Paul addressed (like St. John) only seven churches by name, shewing that he addressed the universal church. (b) Epistles to individuals: Philemon, Titus, and two to Timothy, written from personal affection, but hallowed by the Catholic church for the ordering of ecclesiastical discipline. Next follow words which we quote from Westcott's trans.: "Moreover there is in circulation an epistle to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, bearing on [al. 'favouring'] the heresy of Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received into the Catholic church, for gall ought not to be mingled with honey. The epistle of Jude, however, and two epistles bearing the name of John, are received in the Catholic [church] (or, are reckoned among the Catholic [epistles]). And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour [is acknowledged]. We receive, moreover, the Apocalypses of St. John and St. Peter only, which latter some of our body will not have read in the church." Marcion entitled his version of Eph. "to the Laodiceans," and there is a well-known pseudo-Pauline epistle with the same title. It has been generally conjectured that by the epistle "to the Alexandrians," Hebrews is meant; but it is nowhere else so described, has no Marcionite tendency, and is not "under the name of Paul." The fragment may refer to some current writing which has not survived, or the Ep. of Barnabas might possibly be intended. Though only two Epp. of John are mentioned, the opening sentence of I. John had been quoted in the paragraph treating of the Gospel, and our writer may have read that epistle as a kind of appendix to the Gospel, and be here speaking of the other two. The mention of Wisdom in a list of N.T. books is perplexing. Perhaps we should read "ut" for "et"; and the Proverbs of Solomon and not the apocryphal book of Wisdom may be intended. There may be an inaccurate reference to Prov. xxv. 1 (LXX). The fragment next says that the Shepherd was written "very lately, in our own time" in the city of Rome, his brother-bishop Pius then occupying the chair of the Roman church; that, therefore, it ought to be read, but not in the public reading of the church. The text of the last sentence of the document is very corrupt, but evidently names writings which are rejected altogether, including those of Arsinous, Valentinus, and Militiades, mention being also made of the Cataphrygians of Asia.

Westcott has shewn that no argument can be built upon the omissions (Ep. of James, both Epp. of Peter, and Hebrews) of our fragment, since it shews so many blunders of transcription, and some breaks in the sense. Certainly I. Peter held, at the earliest date claimed for the fragment, such a position in the Roman church that entire silence in respect to it seems incredible. Of disquisitions on our fragment we may name Credner, N. T. Kanon, Volkmar's ed. 141 seq. 341 seq.; Routh, Rell. Sac. i. 394; Tregelles, Canon Muratorianus; Hesse, op. cit.; Westcott, N. T. Canon, 208 seq. 514 seq.; and esp. Zahn, Gesch. der N.T. Kanons, ii. 1 (1890), pp. 1-143; also Lietzman's Das Mur Frag. (Bonn, 1908), besides countless arts. in journals, e.g. Harnack, in Text und Unters. (1900); Overbeck, Zur Geschichte des Kanons (1880); Hilgenfeld, Zeitschrift (1881), p. 129. Hilgenfeld (Kanon, p. 44), and Bötticher (De Lagarde) in Bunsen's Hippolytus i. 2nd ed. Christianity and Mankind, attempted its re-translation into Greek; an ed., with notes and facsimile by S. P. Tregelles, is pub, by the Clar. Press. The present writer expressed in 1874 (Hermathena i.) an opinion which he now holds with more confidence that the fragment was written in the episcopate of Zephyrinus. The words "temporibus nostris" must not be too severely pressed. We have no evidence that the writer was as careful and accurate as Eusebius, who yet speaks (iii. 28, cf. v. 27) of a period 50 or 60 years before he was writing as his own time. There are also indications from the history of the varying position held by the Shepherd that the publication of our fragment may have been between Tertullian's two tracts de Oratione and de Pudicitia (see D. C. B. 4-vol. ed. s.v.); and if it be true that Montanism only became active in the Roman church in the episcopate of Zephyrinus, the date of the Muratorian document is settled, for it is clearly anti-Montanist. If we regard it as written in the episcopate of Zephyrinus, Muratori's conjecture that Caius wrote it becomes possible; and we know from Eusebius that the disputation of Caius with Proclus, written at that period, contained, in opposition to Montanist revelations, a list of the books reverenced by the Catholic church.


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