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The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter I


ALL indications point to the conclusion that the Christian religion, though an offspring of Judaism, did not issue from any of the great currents then dominant in Jewish thought and known under the name of Pharisee, Sadducee and Essene. It sprang from small eccentric circles and stood out so little in the history of Palestinian Judaism before the year 70 that Josephus thought himself dispensed from mentioning it in his writings. [1] Christianity was not a contagious movement of organized asceticism, still less a form of legalist pietism and least of all a school of traditional conservatism. It was distinctly a Messianist movement, carried on in conditions peculiar to itself and without the sanguinary fanaticism of the Zealots. It invoked as its head a Christ who, after dying on earth, was living at the right hand of God; his return would proceed from the higher world, that is, from his own being and nature, and in this sense it soon became a salvation-mystery of which the Christ was life and soul, the coming of this Christ progressively shifting its position to a new point and becoming realized, so to speak, in the faith of his Church. A mystery of this nature could not fail to get denned in a theology. In the beginning, however, Christianity was a religion of humble folk. Men of learning, dogmatizing theologians, contemplative dreamers were not its originators.

The Christian religion was not founded on doctrine formulated in a book. It formed its own doctrine as it grew, and the books distinctively its own, known among us as the literature of primitive Christianity, are the products and the historic witnesses of its doctrinal elaboration as this was achieved during the first hundred or hundred and fifty years in the life of the new religion. It may be said with confidence that Christianity, at its point of departure, had no other literature than that of the Judaism from which it sprang. This literature it began to interpret in a manner all its own, with reference to its Christ and in the interests of Christian propaganda, while reserving till later the creation of its own literature in answer to the needs which arose in the course of


its experience. This specifically Christian literature is the principal and almost the only source at our disposal for understanding Christianity in the first age of its evolution. The direct evidence of Jewish -writers is relatively late, scanty, of mediocre scope and value, while that of pagan writers concerns only the outside of Christian propaganda and informs us chiefly of the impression it made on the "enlightened" opinion of that age.

In a sense very true, the history of primitive Christianity is a kind of pre-history which has to be reconstructed—one might almost say to be guessed—from documents which reflect it but were not originally conceived, nor later edited, for the purpose of putting it on record. The labours of criticism are therefore indispensable, and so much the more in need of cautious handling as the scientific examination of these documents is far from having spoken its last word.

From about the year 180 onwards the history of the Christian religion is no longer beset by great obscurity. With the writings before us of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus we have enough daylight to make visible the interior organization, the exterior relations and the characteristic doctrines of the new religion. As for the earlier period, we are bound to admit that information is far from complete, indeed almost fragmentary, and too often untrustworthy and difficult to interpret. The present chapter will oner a kind of inventory of the documents in question. The chapters to follow will unfold the meaning we find in them for reconstructing the history of the Christian religion in the earliest period of its life.


To the books comprised in what is known as the New Testament, which forms a pendant to the collection of the Old, inherited from the Synagogue and from hellenizing Judaism, tradition assigns a place of their own as books divinely authorized and the work of apostles. In reality the apostolic elements in these books are not very numerous. They were canonized by and for their employment in the Christian communities for public reading in preference to others of similar character which the Church thought well, as occasion called for it, to set aside or


to condemn. We may recall that the collection of the Old Testament was also fixed in Jewish tradition, derived from synagogal usage, to the depreciation of a literature, apocalyptic or otherwise, and partly more recent, of which the disqualification was judged desirable. In both cases, Old and New, the authenticity of the canonized writings, relative to those excluded from the canon, is artificial and based on theological convention; in both cases the authorship of books is falsely assigned, or partly falsified, for the purpose of guaranteeing the exceptional credit claimed for all parts alike of a collection of books thenceforth to be regarded as sacred.

Although the writings comprised in the New Testament constitute our chief source for the history of primitive Christianity, they carry no privilege in the eyes of the scientific historian, save what may be derived from their relative value as evidence, when compared with non-canonical writings. All the documents of ancient Christianity, canonical and non-canonical, will be classed in this chapter according to their kind, though not according to their literary kind precisely, since the greater number do not fall into any of the accepted classes of literature. We shall deal first with those documents which affect, more or less distinctly, the form of epistles; second, with those in the form of apocalypse; third, with those, known as Gospels, which present the sacred legend of Jesus and the apostles; fourth and last, with the sharply defined group of second century apologists. Had the writings of the second century gnostics come down to us, them also we should have to consider; but little more is known of them than what can be gathered from ecclesiastical authors who placed these writings on their list of heresies or laboured to refute them.

Pauline Epistles

Fourteen Epistles appear in the New Testament under the name of Paul. Few critics have had the hardihood to class them all as literary forgeries, and those who have done so, Bruno Bauer and the Dutch school of Van Manen, seem to have taken insufficient account of the great variety of elements which have found their way into the two Epistles to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Romans.


To begin with, the Epistle to the Hebrews stands apart as one whose origin was matter of debate in the ancient Church. The Roman Church, while not ignoring it, long refused to recognize it as Paul's and attributed to him thirteen Epistles only. The heretic Marcion (140-150) knew, or recognized, only ten, not knowing, or rejecting, the two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus; he accepted the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians under the name of the Epistle to the Laodiceans, a name he can have had no reason to invent. This, however, does not prove the complete authenticity of the ten. That Marcion put much of his own into them is neither proved nor even probable; he did not force his system into them any more than he put it into his Gospel; contenting himself with cutting down or retouching in the Gospel of Luke whatever was in conflict with his system, he would do the same in the Epistles with passages that displeased him. The fact remains that the ten, the thirteen, or the fourteen, whatever their connexion with Paul, were not preserved for themselves as epistles, but as providing catechetical matter and passages to be read in public for the instruction and edifying of congregations. If some of them are fictitious, as seems certain, it cannot be a priori improbable that compilations like the Epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians contain considerable additions to their authentic elements.


The First to the Thessalonians, if authentic, as it seems to be, would date from the year 51, the oldest document of Christian literature to which an approximate date can be assigned. It is not free from editorial surcharges [2] and the long passage on the ressurrection (iv, i3-v, n) must be a late insertion. [3]

Imitated from the First Epistle and specially co-ordinated with the insertion on the resurrection of the dead, the Second to Thessalonians is, for the most part, a theological dissertation on the conditions of the Second Advent. It is not written for the instruction of a particular community but aims rather to dissipate the general uneasiness of Christian thought in regard to the Parousia, impatiently expected and continually postponed. The author enlarges on the apocalyptic theme of the Antichrist,


perhaps identified with Nero risen from the dead, whose manifestation was to cause the ruin of the Roman Empire. The document is conceived in the spirit of the synoptic Gospels and is probably not earlier than the first quarter of the second century. Since Marcion accepted it as authentic, we can hardly place it as late as 130-135. The pains taken by the author at the end (in 17) to declare his signature genuine render it the more suspect.


The two Epistles contain elements bearing on the relations of Paul with the community of Corinth, during the years 50-56 approximately, which cannot be explained on any other hypothesis than that of their authenticity. But the two Epistles in their traditional form are not pieces of written correspondence. They are two discourses made up of letters and instructions of various kinds at a date considerably later than the years in which epistolary relations existed between Paul and his Corinthian converts.

We gather from the first Epistle that Paul, while at Ephesus in 54 or 55, wrote to these converts with the aim of healing divisions of whose existence in the community he had been informed (i, i-i6); [4] the final recommendations (xvi) are coordinated with this opening and the interval between them filled with ill-assorted matter of various kinds. We begin with an eloquent outburst on the mystery of the Cross, hidden from the heavenly powers appointed to govern the world, who crucified the Lord in their ignorance (i, i7-ii, 8); [5] of this mystery, Paul, taught by the Spirit, is the herald (ii, 10-16); if he has not spoken to the Corinthians as spiritual, that is because they are carnal, as they are proved to be by their quarrels (iii, 1-4); following this, a sublime conception of the apostolate and the consideration of Paul's unique relation to the Corinthians. All of which is pitched on so high a level that we cannot but ask whether the point of view may not be that of polemical theory rather than that of the modest reality. To the latter belongs what we go on to read about Timothy's preliminary errand, of Paul's impending visit to Corinth and the incestuous man whose excommunication he decrees. Moral lessons come next, grouped


by a certain analogy of subject, but without real cohesion. Then follow a mystic couplet about the old leaven, the Christian azyme and Christ the pascal victim of the faithful (v, 6-8); a remark on keeping bad company awkwardly adjusted to what has been said about the incestuous man, which again is disastrously cut up and surcharged in a passage against lawsuits between believers; and then a moral lesson against impurity (vi, 12-20). From this point the document before us ceases to be a letter and becomes an assemblage of miscellaneous instructions: further rules of discipline later in origin than the beginning of apostolic preaching; rules on marriage and virginity (vii); [6] on the eating of meat that comes from pagan sacrifices, the passage cut in two by an editor (viii; x, 23-xi, i) [7] and doubled by mystic instruction on the same subject (x, 1-22) which contradicts the disciplinary rule first given; in the space between, an apology, mainly retro- spective, for the action Paul has taken to avoid being a charge to his converts, especially to the Corinthians (ix); [8] further on (xi, 3-16) two rulings on the holding of assemblies; the first, enjoining the women to keep veiled when they prophesy in course of the meeting, inserted into the framework of the second which has to do with the good order and especially the high signification of the Eucharist (xi, 2, 17-34); [9] another instruction on spiritual gifts divided into two parts, the theory of the charismata, their role in the life of the community, and rules for speaking with tongues and prophesying in the assembly of the faithful (xii, xiv), [10] with the Song of Love (xiii, 1-12) intercalated between the two parts and coming in as a corrective to the foregoing decree; [11] followed up by a dissertation on the bodily resurrection of the Christ, type of a general resurrection of the dead and especially of believers (xv), in which there is revealed a certain development of the evangelical tradition and of the Christian gnosis. The conclusion of the original letter (xvi) then follows without further preparation.

The Second to the Corinthians was written from Macedonia in the autumn of the year 55; but this Epistle, though less complicated than the first by editorial treatment, also contains elements of various date and origin. The opening (i-ii, 13) appears to belong to a letter of reconciliation or of consolation written by Paul after experiencing a great affliction while in Asia, from


which he had been delivered by the good news that Titus had brought him of better conditions in Corinth. The affliction in question was less probably persecution undergone at Ephesus than the anguish of mind into which Paul had fallen after making a visit to Corinth, which had rather aggravated the difficulties between him and the community, difficulties which the intervention of Titus had subsequently smoothed over. But even in this part of the letter certain additions tinged with mystical gnosis may have been made (i, 3-7; 12-14, 2i, 22). Suddenly the flow of the original is arrested to make room for a long dithyramb in praise of the true apostleship which belongs solely to Paul, herald of the new convenant in the spirit, triumphant in weakness and suffering while waiting for eternal glory, knowing no man after the flesh, not even Christ, and announcing with unwearied zeal the message of the reconciliation of the world to God by faith in Christ risen from the dead; at this point he beseeches the Corinthians to be faithful to the grace of God and to enlarge their heart towards him, now straitened on his account (ii, i4-vi, 13). Then comes a new insertion into the flow of this fine utterance, which resumes its course a little later on (vii, 2—3) but only to lose itself immediately in a forced transition to the letter of reconciliation (vii, 4). The inserted passage is an in- struction about keeping company with pagans (vi, i4-vii, i) which connects with nothing in the Second to the Corinthians and must be a quotation from elsewhere. What follows (vii, 5-16) concerns the happy issue of the mission to the Corinthians undertaken by Titus: it forms the original conclusion of the letter. The two pieces about the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (viii, ix) hang loose from the context and cannot have been written at the same time; the older of the two (ix) has been placed second by the compiler. [12] The greater part of the last chapter is conceived in the same spirit and tone as the earlier eulogium of Paul's apostleship, except for several passages of a distinctly personal character which seem to come from the severe letter, written after Paul's second stay in Corinth, to which the letter of reconciliation makes allusion (vii, 8). The most important of these personal passages is a fighting apology against "the very chiefest of the apostles" (xi, 5) [13]—who are the elder apostles of Jerusalem and not any kind of missionaries—


to whom Paul boasts of being inferior in nothing. Here is another insertion about the disinterested conditions of Paul's Corinthian mission (xi, 6b-I2a). [14] Whereupon the denunciation of the super-apostles is resumed with increased vigour, Paul sounding his own praises in abundance by recalling his labours and tribulations, nay even his visions, especially the most important which carried him up to the third heaven; [15] "a thorn in the flesh" warns him not to be overproud; but for all that he will yield in nothing to the highest of them; and his apostleship has been made plain by many a prodigy. Then, suddenly, the tone changes and the question turns to the disinterestedness Paul has shown among the Corinthians; he will not change that attitude; if he now seems to be defending himself that is because he is on the point of coming to Corinth for the third time and is unwilling to find himself in the midst of their quarrels and disorders; let them mend their ways that he may not have to employ severity. But the grandiloquent apology preceding, which shows a very precise knowledge of Paul's career, would perhaps be better understood as coming from a distance in time and from the pen of an empassioned disciple. It flows in the same current of thought and style as the praise of the apostolate in the first part of the Epistle.


There is a question whether this Epistle, written towards the end of the year 55, before the Second to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Romans, was addressed to the communities of Pisidia and Lycaonia [16] or rather to those of Galatia proper. Perhaps it concerned all of them. But the capital question is that of its authenticity. Paul would seem to have written to justify his apostleship against Judaizing propaganda which was meeting with success in the communities. Fundamentally, the issue concerned a matter quite other than the uselessness of the Jewish observances. Paul presents himself as an apostle sent direct from God and from Christ the redeemer (i, 1-7) and anathematizes those who would turn the Galatians from the true Gospel (i, 5-9); describes the conditions in which the revelation of this Gospel was directly imparted to him (i, 10-12); how he fulfilled his vocation of apostle to the Gentiles up to


the moment when he got his doctrine and practice recognized by the Jerusalem apostles and the admission made that he was to preach to the Gentiles while the other apostles occupied themselves with the Jews; which form of the compact Peter is said to have broken at Antioch (i, i3-ii, 14). [17] But the rebuke which Paul boasts of having administered to Peter face to face is lost sight of in a formal announcement of the thesis of salvation by faith in the Christ without the works of the law (ii, 15-20). To the demonstration of this thesis by diverse arguments, all inspired by the mystic gnosis already met in certain parts of Corinthians and methodically developed in Romans, the rest of the Epistle is thenceforward devoted. Entangled with these arguments are speculations about the faith of Abraham, type of the justified man, who received the saving benediction due to faith on behalf of all believers, Jews and Gentiles (iv, 21-31). Throughout all this there is only one small fragment that bears a genuinely personal accent (iv, 11-20), where Paul describes his present anxiety and the special circumstances in which he had preached the Gospel to the Galatians. The moral counsels of the last two chapters are, for the most part, in the customary vein of mystical gnosis. [18] It is in conformity with this gnosis that the origin of Paul's career is here interpreted, a mode of interpretation under which his conversion and apostolic activity become almost unintelligible to the historian, and the authenticity of the Epistle, taken as a whole, is gravely compromised. There cannot be a doubt that Paul, in becoming converted, adhered to a gospel preached before he took it up. As a matter of fact the conversion of Paul was not the absolute beginning of hellenic Christianity, and the division of the world to be converted, Jews to Peter and Gentiles to Paul, was not realized. Whence we may infer that the division was never agreed on.


The document called the Epistle to the Romans, so far as it comes from Paul's hand, probably dates from the year 56, having been written at Corinth a little before Paul left that city to carry to Jerusalem the collection made in the communities. Whatever value we may assign to it, the Epistle, like the two to


the Corinthians, is a compilation. In the preamble (i, 1-17) Paul announces an explanatory apology for his ministry to pagans. Connected with this explanation is the discussion of Abraham's righteousness realized in his faith (iii, 28-iv), a line of thought already encountered in Galatians, and here completed by the discussion of prophetical texts which the author interprets as foretelling the conversion of the Gentiles and the reprobation, at least temporary, of the Jews. The passages at the end of the Gospel, describing the projects of Paul (xv, 8-38), are equally authentic. [19] But the theory of sin and grace, of salvation by the death of Christ, which is expounded at great length (v-viii) is clearly detached from these passages, has a style peculiar to itself and makes no attempt to support the argument in detail by scriptural texts. [20] On the other hand, certain developments [21] seem to have been inserted to soften the rigour of this theory (i, i8-iii, 20) and to prevent its abuse in practice by conclusions that might be drawn from it. The moral part of the Epistle must in like manner be secondary, since it was not for Paul to offer such lessons to a community of which he had no personal knowledge; these lessons moreover were not all inserted at the same time (xii-xv, y). [22] The formulas of conclusion, which multiply towards the end (xv, 13, 33; xvi, 16, 25), bear witness to surcharges and retouchings.

Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians

The Epistles to the Colossians and Philippians, which some critics would attach to a hypothetical captivity at Ephesus, seem rather to have been written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome between 59 and 61. But the authenticity of Colossians is contestable. In it there is developed a mystical gnosis in affinity with that in Romans, though sensibly different in its formulas, [23] and akin to the Epistle to the Hebrews (cf. Hebrews i, 1-4). This gnosis has the appearance of being affirmed in opposition to another of Judaizing tendency which may possibly be the cult of Zeus Sabazios (ii, 16-23). Certain incoherences in the editing of the Epistle lead us to think that a document of Christian gnosis was attributed to Paul, as an afterthought, by means of the additions concerning his captivity, an authentic letter being utilized at


the end for establishing a close relation between the Epistle to the Colossians and that to Philemon, as we now have them (iv 7-11, 14). The authenticity of the latter, as a whole, presents no great difficulty. But the Epistle to the Colossians should rather be referred to the beginning of the second century.

The Epistle to the Ephesians figures in Marcion's collection as the Epistle to the Laodiceans. Imitated, though in a manner more servile, from the Epistle to the Colossians, as the Second to Thessalonians was imitated from the First, it was probably presented originally as the letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Colossians (iv, 16). [24] The style of this spurious Epistle is turbid and obscure. As to the foundation of it, the author replaces the cosmological and soteriological gnosis of Colossians by a gnosis which might be called mainly ecclesiological, integrating the myth of salvation by the Christ into his own myth of the Church. Since it was known to Marcion the composition goes back to the first third of the second century. [25]

Though of mediocre compass, the Epistle to the Philippians has the appearance of being a compilation of two letters. Towards the middle we find a clean cut, following on a vehement outburst against Judaism which recalls the fiery apology of Paul in Second Corinthians (iii, i-iv, i, 8-9). Moreover in the first part of the Epistle (ii, 25-30) we read that Epaphroditus, Paul's messenger to the Philippians, has just left the Apostle after being long at his side, while in the second part (iv, 18) we are told that this same Epaphroditus is just come to him, bringing the help for which Paul thanks the Philippians. Plain proof that the Epistle is a compilation made up of two short letters placed in inverted order, the first belonging approximately to 59, the second to 60. To the two letters thus brought together were added, about the beginning of the second century, certain elements of Christian gnosis and anti-Jewish polemic. [26]

Pastoral Epistles

The term "pastoral" is commonly applied to the two Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus on the ground that they are chiefly concerned with the institution of pastors and with church discipline. Conceived with the purpose of checking the growth


of gnosticism, they are much later than the apostolic age. It may well be that these apocryphal compositions were not divulged in the communities till after the explosion of Marcion's heresy: Timothy vi, 20 seems aimed directly at his Antitheses. As to their place of origin, the Roman souvenirs apparently contained in the Second to Timothy are not decisive for preferring Rome to the East. The hypothesis of short authentic letters embedded in a later commentary applies only to the Second (iv, 10-20) and is not exempt from question. Moreover the First does not seem to have been written continuously. [27] It is possible that a body of rules claiming to be apostolic has been drawn upon by the editor of our two Epistles, which probably have a common origin.


The Epistle "to the Hebrews" known in Rome at an early date, is earlier than the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians which stands to it in a relation of dependence. [28] The attribution of the authorship to Paul, long unknown at Rome, seems to have been first made in Alexandria. Keeping the date commonly assigned to the letter of Clement (about 95) the Epistle to the Hebrews could not be later than 80. If the dates be postponed to the second century it would have to be admitted that the last two verses (xiii, 23-25) are a fictitious addition intended to support the attribution of the Epistle to Paul. In the same way the title "to the Hebrews" is no more than an ancient conjecture, perhaps originally connected with the said attribution. The attribution of authorship to Barnabas professed by Tertullian (De Pudicitia, 20), and perhaps current at Rome in his time, cannot be sustained, since the author places himself outside the apostolic age (ii, 3, 4). [29] A treatise rather than a letter, consisting of doctrinal and moral instruction, the document is addressed to a community of converted pagans nourished on the Old Testament as the only authorized scripture. [30] But the display of quotations serves only to support a Christian gnosis of salvation by the mediation of Christ, unique priest and victim, distinguished in express terms from the elementary catechesis in which the common teaching of Christianity was summed up (vi, 1-2). The conclusions which the author draws from the


Mosaic ritual are derived from texts, not from observances then flourishing, while the moral teaching is addressed to believers already tried by persecution and liable to lose their confidence in the mystery of salvation here presented as the true fulfilment of Jewish scripture. Earlier than the explosion of the gnostic crisis and the canonization of the Gospel, the Epistle is probably of Alexandrian origin.

Incidentally, this Epistle affords a striking example of the freedom with which primitive gnosis developed the conception of the Christ, and of its independence of what is commonly called the Gospel tradition. We find it especially in the parallel instituted in chapter vii between Melchisedec and Jesus, in which the Christ, without father or mother, without beginning or end of life in this world, "rose up," like a star—allusion to the star of Numbers xxiv, 17—"from Judah," whose descendant he certainly was not in the Gospel tradition.

Peter and Jude

The first of the Epistles named after Peter would be placed under the patronage of that apostle at a time when he had become recognized as the founder of the Roman community: it is a catechism or homily in which baptism is made much of, but with a theme of wider range than baptismal instruction. Rome is here spoken of under its mystic name of Babylon (v, 13) and perhaps the mention of Mark (v, 13) is intended to promote his claim to the authorship of the second Gospel. But this writing contains little sign of influence by Gospel tradition, the sole feature, on which the writer insists complacently, as though it were well known, being the descent of the Christ into hell (iii, 19-20; iv, 6), a feature hardly hinted at in the canonical Gospels. The document is almost contemporary with the Epistle to the Hebrews, but of Roman origin, at least in its canonical edition.

The second Epistle attributed to the same apostle is perceptibly of a later date. The central part of it (ii, iii) which corresponds with the Epistle of Jude, is an attack on the gnostic movement then in full life and vigour. In the preambles [31] it refers not, as commonly supposed, to the Gospel story of transfiguration,


but to the Apocalypse of Peter—which we shall discuss later on. In the conclusion (iii, 15, 16) it mentions a collection of Paul's Epistles of which certain heretics are making abusive employment; this doubtless is the collection of the ten Epistles known to Marcion. The Epistle therefore must be later than the birth of Marcionism and was most probably composed in the East, about 150 at the earliest.

Apart from its superscription (1-2) and doxology (24-25), the Epistle named after Jude embodies, in a form at least relatively primitive, the anti-gnostic writing, or fragment, which is paraphrased in Second Peter. The original writing may be dated as far on as about 130, and its working up into an Epistle to 150. The relative antiquity of this composition appears in the quotations from the Apocrypha, Enoch and the Assumption of Moses (14, 15 and 9), which Second Peter has not retained.


The so-called Epistle of James is a piece of simple moral instruction drawing its inspiration from a catechism rather Jewish than Christian. It makes a lively attack on the idea of faith without works which suggests that its editing took place before the time when the four Gospels, and the writings attributed to Paul, were advanced to canonical authority, that is, before 150. [32] The fictitious address to the Twelve Tribes, which transforms a collection of moral maxims into an Epistle, is symbolic, like that of 1 Peter to the "dispersed" Jews of Asia Minor. A certain affinity in tone with the Pastor of Hermas suggests that its place of origin was Rome.


Of the three Epistles attributed to the apostle John, the first, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, does not affect the form of a letter. It consists of instruction, dogmatic and moral, perhaps originally founded on a rhythmical discourse like those found in the Fourth Gospel. The successive editions of the Epistle seem to have been co-ordinate with those of the Gospel itself; whence it would follow that the last edition, directed against gnosticism,


cannot be earlier than the middle of the second century. [33] This would also be the date of the two smaller Epistles, which have only the appearance of letters, the designation of the author being deliberately vague, as well as that of the recipients. The two were intended to act as convoy to the first in its final form, the second condemning the Docetic Christology, perhaps especially that of Marcion, while the third blasts those leaders of the community who oppose the Johannine writings. All three Epistles, like the fourth Gospel, were worked into their present form in Ephesian surroundings.


The Epistle "of Barnabas," also anonymous in itself, presents a certain analogy to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and must belong to nearly the same period, to a time, that is, when the Gospel legend was in process of formation. [34] The Epistle of Barnabas has no dependence on any of the canonical Epistles. In the moral part it reproduces instruction about the "two ways," the way of light and the way of darkness, a kind of Jewish catechism also made use of in the Didache. It was probably composed, therefore, at Alexandria in the first third of the second century.


Addressed in the name of "the community of God living in Rome to the community of God living in Corinth," the Epistle attributed to Clement is a long piece of moral teaching composed on the occasion of troubles which had broken out in the Corinthian community and intended for their remedy. The document itself is one of the most authentic, but the date commonly assigned to it, about 95, seems open to question. Although it quotes the First to the Corinthians it is more indebted for its Christology to the Epistle to Hebrews than to Paul. It speaks of Peter and Paul as founders of the Roman Church, but seemingly more on the strength of the legend to that effect than of recent memories, [35] and conceives the organization of the communities after the pattern common to the Pastoral Epistles. An elder of the Roman community writing in 95, only some thirty years


after the persecution of Nero, could hardly have said that the disciples of Christ set out to preach everywhere immediately after the resurrection, instituting bishops and deacons and even laying down rules for their succession and life-long tenure of office. The indications rather are that the author of the letter is the Clement mentioned by Hermas and that he wrote towards 130-135.

Of different origin and less ancient date is the homily named in tradition as the second Epistle of Clement. This composition presupposes a great development of the Gospel literature; some of its quotations appear to come from the so-called Gospel of the Egyptians. In all probability the homily is of Alexandrian origin and belongs to the second half, if not to the end, of the second century.

Ignatius and Polycarp

The authenticity of the letters attributed to Ignatius of Antioch martyred under Trajan (98-117), was at one time strongly denied, then recognized, but has recently become the object of a new attack. The fact is that these letters lose their historical background if placed in the time of Trajan, since the seven in question inculcate a system of belief and discipline which correspond to the conditions of the later period when the gnostic crisis was at its height. Moreover the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians seems to have been interpolated into the collection of the Ignatian letters, by their author or editor, for the purpose of recommending them; this alone would seem to prove them apocryphal and later, at least in publication, than the death of Polycarp. Irenaeus quotes the Ignatian letter to the Romans, which we must suppose in existence about 170, but without naming the author whom he seems not to know as a quasi-apostolic person connected with Polycarp. Neither can Polycarp's Epistle; when freed from its artificial attachment to the Ignatian letters, be dated in the reign of Trajan; it belongs to the last years of its author's life. [36] In this way we can explain this author's apparent knowledge of the collection of the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, First Peter, the synoptic tradition of Jesus' discourses, the Epistles of John and his reproval, without theological reasoning, of Marcion's Docetic gnosis


by utilizing 1 John iv, 2-3. The Johannine writings, whose existence we find him attesting, have but a very slight influence on his thought and style, which would be extremely surprising if the fourth Gospel were the work of an apostle or of an apostolic person of whom Polycarp himself is said to have been the disciple.

The Didache

Here it will be in place to call attention to the type of catechesis which has come down to us under the name of Doctrine (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles, a work of moral and disciplinary instruction highly esteemed in the first Christian age, which seems to have been composed in Syria or in Egypt at the beginning of the second century. As already pointed out, the moral part reproduces a body of Jewish teaching on "the two ways," eternal life and eternal death, intermingled with Gospel sentences corresponding to the tradition in Matthew. The second part has to do with baptism and the communion, the good order of assemblies and the choice of ministers, overseers (bishops) and deacons. The baptismal formula and the Lord's Prayer are identical with the canonical text of Matthew (vii, i; viii, 2). In the ordering of the communion the prophets have liberty to render thanks in their own terms (10), as an exercise outside the indicated formulas. From this we are led to assign a rather early date to the rule, seeing that, in the time of Justin, the Supper has a president who alone may pronounce the eucharistic prayers. The prayers of the Didache, moreover, do not give the impression that the Supper, as understood by the author, is the mystic commemoration of the death of Christ indicated in First Corinthians and in the Gospels.


The imminent return of Christ Jesus to the earth had been proclaimed for many years before the story was told, in oral preaching and in evangelical writings, of what in detail Jesus had done, taught and suffered before ascending into heaven to prepare the day of God. The Gospel was the announcement of this coming Day before it became an account of the Christ's teaching and of his saving death. For that reason the documents


of Christian apocalyptic will here be considered before we come to those of the literature known as "the Gospels."

Reference has already been made to the more or less considerable elements of apocalyptic to be found in the epistolary, or rather catechical, literature we have just been considering, such as chapter xv of First Corinthians, the dissertation on the resurrection of the dead included in First Thessalonians (iv, i3-v, 11), and the central passage in Second (ii, 1-12). The Didache, the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, while containing no summary of the Gospel story, terminates in a short apocalypse closely related to the discourse on the end of the world common to the three Synoptics (16). And this discourse is itself the Christian adaptation of a Jewish apocalypse contemporary with the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. All that Christian apologetic did was to co-ordinate and interpret the elements of the Jewish apocalypse in application to the second coming of Jesus, impatiently expected and always postponed, and this it did not only with the apocalypse current before the preaching of the Gospel but with that of later date, which uttered its last cries of anguish and hope amid the death throes of nationalist Judaism. [37]

Thus it was that apocalyptic found its way into the Gospel tradition, which originally had no more of it than is contained in its general idea of the speedy coming of the Reign of God. But the Great Coming seeming ever to be further off, the delay was explained as a providential ordering of events prophesied as due to happen first. Jewish eschatology and Jewish apocalyptic contained a rich mine of allusions, no better understood, and of predictions not yet fulfilled. All this was now regarded as due to happen before the Day of God and his Christ, "the sorrows" naturally preceding the "coming." The synoptic apocalypse accordingly marks out three stages, the beginning of the sorrows, the climax of the sorrows, and then the "end." They are expressly distinguished in Mark xiii, 8, 14, 24.

The Apocalypse of John has the appearance of a methodical exposition of Jewish hopes interpreted in a Christian sense, and is conceived on the model of the Jewish apocalypses then current, which in turn professed to interpret ancient prophecies. In its groundwork the Johannine Apocalypse would seem to be a


compilation, but there is an almost mathematical regularity in its logical structure and literary arrangement. The traditional date of it is probably correct; it saw the light among the communities of Asia to which it was originally addressed, most likely at Ephesus towards the end of the first Christian century. The author was probably a Jewish Christian who had fled from Palestine during the Jewish war; certainly not the apostle John; nor can he have been "John the elder" known to Papias as a witness to the Gospel tradition. To that tradition the Apocalypse pays scant attention, knowing only that Christ, as the first to be raised up, is "the first-born of the dead" (i, 5, 18); incidentally it mentions that he was crucified at Jerusalem (xi, 8). Some time must have elapsed between the publication of the Apocalypse in the Asiatic communities by the act of the prophet himself and what may be called the final edition of it for general circulation throughout all the communities as an apostolic work by the same author as the fourth Gospel and the three Epistles. This identification and the constitution of the Johannine collection of books took place towards the middle of the second century.

The Apocalypse of Peter and the Pastor of Hermas are also books of Christian prophecy, which failed however to get admission into the collection of the New Testament. But mention must first be made of other writings more closely related to the Johannine Apocalypse. These are the Christian parts of the Ascension of Isaiah, the Christian oracles annexed to the Jewish Apocalypse called the Fourth Book of Esdras and the Christian elements in the Sibylline Books.

In the Ascension of Isaiah we can recognize three writings originally distinct, of which the oldest is the Jewish legend of the prophet's martyrdom under Manasseh. The other two are Christian. The longer of these is an ecstatic vision of the Ascension of Isaiah to the seventh heaven in which he sees God and the Christ, "the Lord of all Glory," and hears the Most High dictate to the Christ the programme of his earthly manifestation and of his return. [38] The third piece, inserted into the legend of martyrdom, is a vision concerning the coming of Christ and of Antichrist, in which the resurrection of Jesus is described as in the Gospel of Peter and allusion made to Peter's martrydom in the persecution by Nero, who is Antichrist. The two Christian fragments are


relatively old, probably of the second century, the part attributed by both to the earthly life of Jesus being in harmony with the development of the Gospel literature. The author of the Ascension, who knew the substance of Matthew's Gospel, may have been a Syrian and must have written between 130 and 150: the author of the other fragment is more recent and, in virtue of its almost certain dependence on the Gospel of Peter, cannot have been written before 170-175.

Almost of the same date is the fragment of apocalypse represented by the first two chapters of the Fourth Book of Esdras in editions of the Latin Bible, a self-contained prophecy originally in Greek, but, like the book of Hermas, composed in the West when Greek was still the liturgical and literary language of the Christian communities. It consists of an indictment of the Jews and a vision of the eternal Jerusalem. The prophecy contained in the last two chapters of the same Book of Esdras is more recent and may have been originally conceived as an appendix to the book to which we find it annexed. It contains an exhortation to persecuted Christians which tells us almost nothing about the evolution of apocalyptic beliefs in the early Christian age.

The third of the Sibylline Books contains a Christian interpolation set in a Jewish context. In this interpolation Beliar, or Satan-Antichrist, appears to be identified with Simon Magus. The eighth book, wholly Christian, was composed in the last years of Marcus Aurelius; like the Johannine Apocalypse, it centres round the Antichrist Nero. The Jewish Sibyl, in the fourth of the Books, written shortly after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, exhibits Nero, "the fugitive from Rome," crossing the Euphrates with a great army and goes on to speak of him in the fifth book. But in that book Nero is introduced as still a living man and in hiding among Parthians, whereas, in the Christian apocalyptic, Nero, still supported by the Parthians, and in the character of Antichrist, appears as a ghost or as risen from the dead.

Less ancient than these, the Apocalypse of Peter is also less preoccupied with revelation about the end of the world, and seems to aim rather at instructing believers as to the respective fates that will fall after the judgment on the wicked and on the righteous. In its treatment of that topic it comes near not only to the Ascen-


sion of Isaiah and the first two chapters of Fourth Esdras but also to the Egyptian mysteries and to the Orphic tradition. It is connected with the Gospel of Peter by the place it assigns to the cross in the second coming of the Lord. (In the Gospel the cross comes forth from the tomb behind the Christ as he rises from the dead; in the Apocalypse Jesus says that the cross will go before him when he comes in his glory.) In the Second Epistle of Peter formal reference is made to the Apocalypse in the opening chapter. It is therefore earlier than 150, and perhaps was written about 135. A Greek fragment of the apocalypse, with a passage from Enoch and a part of the Gospel of Peter, was found at Akhmim in Egypt, while the whole text, perhaps a little touched up and interpolated, has been preserved in an Ethiopian version. [39]

The scene depicted in this apocalypse presents the critic of the New Testament with a problem that demands the most careful handling. Jesus, having risen from the dead, is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples who question him about his second coming and the end of the world; Jesus answers by a short discourse which corresponds to the synoptic apocalypse, especially to Luke xvii, 20-27, and to the preliminaries of the Ascension as told in Acts; the discourse finishes with an allegorical declaration connected with the fig tree; on the request of Peter, Jesus comments on what he has just said by a paraphrase, not of the comparison with a fig tree in the synoptic apocalypse (Mark xiii, 28; Luke xxi, 29-30), but of the parable of the barren fig tree in Luke xiii, 6-9; the tree which must be cut down is Judaism with a false Jewish Messiah, a persecutor of Christians—probably Barkochba—whom the two messengers of God, Enoch and Elias, will unmask; follows a description of the Second Coming and the Last Judgment; the Christ then reveals to Peter in great detail how the wicked will be punished after the judgment; [40] the elect will be witnesses of their chastisements and will be able to obtain from the Lord pardon for those among the damned whom they have known; [41] Peter is then warned of the fate that awaits him in the capital of the West; finally Jesus and his disciples repair to the holy mountain [42] where two luminous beings, Moses and Elias, make their appearance; on Peter asking where the patriarchs are, Jesus causes him to behold the dwelling place of the blessed; Peter then declares his intention to set up three tents, for Jesus,


Moses and Elias, for which the Christ rebukes him severely (in terms corresponding to Mark viii, 33); whereupon the voice of the Father is heard saying "this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased"; a bright cloud envelopes Jesus, Moses and Elias, who are carried to heaven in the cloud; the heavens open to receive them, and then close; the disciples descend the mountain "praising God who has written the names of the righteous in the book of life in heaven."

Here then we have gathered into one picture the transfiguration of Jesus and the apocalyptic discourse reported in the first three Gospels (Mark xiii; Matthew xxiv; Luke xxi), together with the scene of the Ascension described in Acts, not to mention the prediction of Peter's martyrdom found in the Fourth Gospel. The problem to be solved by the critic is this; how was pseudo-Peter able to dispose, apparently at his own will, of elements utilized in a manner so different by the Gospel tradition and the Acts of the Apostles? Perhaps we may answer that the arrangement of elements in the Apocalypse of Peter is no more arbitrary than that to be found in the canonical writings. The apocalyptic discourse in Mark is an extract brought in from elsewhere and substituted for another conclusion to the Jerusalem ministry—the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, originally conceived as the end of Jesus' teaching in Jerusalem. The discourse itself may very well have been drawn up at first in the form of a revelation made by the Christ after rising from the dead, a hypothesis supported by the preamble to the Ascension in Acts (i, 6-8). In the same way it has long been suspected that the transfiguration of Jesus was originally a manifestation of the risen Christ which Mark has thrown back into the Galilean ministry. [43] What may be taken as certain is that, before the canonization of the New Testament, a great liberty was used in the dealings of tradition with the manifold material at its disposal for constructing the legend of Jesus and his ministry—material messianic, eschatological, apocalyptic and theosophic. The Apocalypse of Peter belongs to this precanonical age when the literature of the Christian religion had no stereotyped form, the religion itself being still amorphous; Marcion had not yet become active and the reaction against him and against gnosticism in general had yet to come. It is moreover evident that the second Epistle of Peter,


in all it says about the revelation made to Peter on the mountain about the glory of the Christ (i, 12-19), is not based on the story of the transfiguration as told in the Synoptics, nor on Acts for what it says of the Ascension, nor on the Fourth Gospel for the prediction of the apostle's death, but entirely and exclusively on our apocryphal book. This book seems to have been written at Alexandria and Clement was making great use of it in 135, citing it largely in his Hypolyposes. Be it noted that Alexandria, towards 135, was using its Gospel of the Egyptians. Our pseudo-Peter in writing his apocalypse would therefore be unrestrained in breaking up and arranging at his pleasure a mass of material which the canonical Gospels and Acts arranged in a different pattern. We can well understand why in the process of definitely canonizing the Gospels and Acts, there would be no long delay in excluding a document which doubled their stories and contradicted them too plainly. We may note, however, that towards the year 200 Rome still kept the Apocalypse of Peter in its collection of the Scriptures, although there were some who contested it, along with the Apocalypse of John (Canon of Muratori).


Hermas lived at Rome during the first half and wrote in the second quarter of the second century. [44] The tradition of the Roman community made him a brother of the bishop Pius; the rest of our knowledge of him is derived from what he says of himself in his book. He was not without learning, but is generally not regarded as a man of genius. Like the Apocalypse of John, but with fewer repetitions and incoherences, his book has an almost mathematical arrangement. It is divided into three: visions, to the number of four; commandments, to the number of twelve; similitudes or parables, to the number of eight—the ninth being a summary of what has been said in the visions, and the tenth serving for conclusions. The whole book has the character of a vision, both the precepts and the parables being dictated or shown to Hermas by an angel garbed as a shepherd. The significance of the book of Hermas lies chiefly in its relation to the history of Christian discipline.

To the Epistles attributed to Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews


and the first Epistle of John, the idea of the Christian as a sinner is repugnant; they regard baptism as a final regeneration by means of which the saints acquire at once the sinlessness of the redeemed. But as the parousia came not and the Church continued its life, the question of the Christian sinner began to present itself and became urgent. Hermas, inspired to declare that God will give pardon, once but no more, to the Christian who has sinned gravely after his baptism, was the first to administer a corrective to the notion that the believer became the unconditional heir of immortality on undergoing the rite of Christian initiation. What we encounter in Hermas is no longer a vision of the Eternal Jerusalem ready to come down to earth, but the church in process of organizing itself on earth. The prophet, confronted with growing abuses, here sets out to bring them remedy by giving utterance first to the angel of the Church itself, and then to the mystical Shepherd changed into an angel of penitence. [45]

In his knowledge of the Gospel tradition Hermas seems little better informed than the author of the Johannine Apocalypse or Clement of Rome who, as mentioned above, was probably a contemporary of Hermas and identical with the person named in his Vision (ii, 4). With some of the Gospel writings he was certainly acquainted; on occasion he is inspired by their sayings and he consciously imitates the parables. But it cannot be said that the Gospel legend was his favourite theme of meditation. The salvation-myth he reduces to its simplest form of expression. All the evidence points to the conclusion that the outbreak of the gnostic crisis, with its lawless flood of speculation and fiction, compelled the church to go back on its steps, to sift its archives, to catalogue and guarantee them and to define the right faith. Hermas brings us to the eve of that decision, which he did not foresee and which finally was to turn against him.

About half a century after Hermas the author of the Canon of Muratori expounded and defended the New Testament catalogue of the Roman Church. Having closed the list with the Apocalypses of John and of Peter, and before mentioning the works of the heretics reproved by the Church, he wrote as follows: "As to the Pastor, it was written recently in our time at Rome by Hermas, his brother the bishop then occupying the chair of the Roman community. Therefore we ought indeed to read it"—for private


edification—"but it may not be publicly read to the people in the church"—because it would be held of no account—"nor among the prophets, of which the number is complete"—the prophets of the Old Testament of whom the full list was long since established—"nor among the apostles, to the end of the ages"— Hermas not having been an apostle nor one of their disciples as the author believed the New Testament writers to have been. We may read between the lines that the Pastor had for some time figured on the margin of the apostolic collection and that the reaction against the Montanists may have done him as much harm in Rome as did the definition of the Canon in opposition to the gnostics. In the fourth century the book was still used for public reading by congregations in the East, but only for the instruction of catechumens and without decisive authority in matters of faith.


The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are traditionally regarded as the most important part of the New Testament. On first inspection they would seem to contain the history of the very beginnings of the Christian religion. Nevertheless they are far from being books of history proper, far from having been originally conceived by their authors as history, or selected by the Church, from among many other writings of similar character, on account of their historical value.

A distinction has to be made between the Gospel and the Gospels. The word "Gospel" in the New Testament is not a name given to books about the life and death of Jesus; it signifies "the good news," that is, the message of salvation won by the Christ. Even in our canonical Gospels the word is applied to this salvation, as made real by Jesus, and not to what seems to have been the theme of his preaching, the theme, namely, of the imminent coming of the Reign of God and the need of repentance for those who would share in its blessedness. In the end "Gospel" came to refer to the life and teachings of Jesus, but only so far as the life and the teachings were integral parts of the saving work which reached its climax, so to say, in the death and resurrection of the Christ. Moreover, when the word came to be applied to a plurality of books, the fact that only one Gospel was involved,


or had ever existed, -was indicated in the titles used to denote their authors, which titles ran, not the Gospel of Matthew or of Mark but according to Matthew and according to Mark. This "according to" implied no doubt or attenuation of the authorship attributed to the book. As expressly stated by Irenaeus {Heresies, iii, 1) it was intended to emphasize the oneness of the Gospel under the four authorized forms of its text. Each of the communities began the use of books with one short book only; this, for the community using it, was "the Gospel." Many of the gnostic sects, Marcion's for example, did the same.

Justin is the oldest author to employ the word "Gospels" in the plural, to designate the books of the Good News; [46] their use in liturgical reading would lead to them being so named. The oldest author to affirm that there were four, and only four books so authorized, is Irenaeus. [47] The tone he assumes leaves no doubt as to the unique and exclusive authority of these writings; but the insistence displayed both by him and by the author of the Canon of Muratori in defending their authority rouses a suspicion that the fixing of the fourfold collection was not so primitive nor so natural as their tone of assurance might suggest to the incautious reader.

From our examination of the epistolary and apocalyptic literature it seems that the Gospel literature did not acquire importance till after the close of the first century. It is evident, moreover, that the legend of Jesus and the tradition of his teaching were not fixed at the outset of the Christian movement, and that for a long time the writings to which they were consigned continued to be produced without much restraint and without being authorized or commended otherwise than by their content. It is also certain that the practice began at an early date of putting forward, under the name of the Christ, teaching about the end of the world which had been borrowed from the apocalyptic tradition of Judaism; and, further, that many a lesson reflecting the needs of the infant communities or their propaganda was ascribed to him, together with revelations about his own transcendent personality and mission. By the visionary and fervid temper of the first generations acquisitions of all kinds were made easy. The imagination of the believer was constantly in search of anything which would exalt the Christ beyond comparison with


the pagan gods and leave no doubt as to his relations to Judaism, whose sacred books it turned into witnesses to Jesus. There is no difficulty in perceiving, in the documents of primitive Christianity how theories of salvation, mystical interpretations of the messianic role attributed from the first to Jesus, though not logically deduced from the Scriptures, were artificially supported by them, and how even the legend of the Christ was similarly constructed by attaching it to messianic texts, real or supposed, in the Old Testament. We can understand how, under these conditions, Gospel writings began to multiply from an early date. They would have continued to multiply indefinitely had not the Church laid down a rule in the matter.

It is, however, important to remark that the use of these books by congregations in meetings for worship tended to fix their theme and give authority to certain writings. The Gospels when closely examined are far less the echoes of a tradition zealous to keep intact the memories of Jesus than a didactic instrument, we might even say, a catechism of the worship rendered to the Lord Christ. Those which the Church decided to retain are small books, very sober in style, not overcharged with matter but made up of selected elements, of stories brief and full of meaning, of teachings concise and sententious. Two cycles, or centres, are discernible, the cycle of the preaching in Galilee and the cycle of the passion in Jerusalem; the instruction of catechumens and the revelation of a mystery; the baptismal catechism and the eucharistic. The whole is thus brought into co-ordination with the great rites of Christian initiation and with the Christian mystery. It is no effect of chance that the Fourth Gospel, in the story of the passion as given in its source document, is found to justify the Easter observance of the "quartodeciman" congregations of Asia, while the first three conform to the common practice of Sunday observance ordained by the Roman Church. Our Gospels were originally conceived as ritual books for both observances, and were subsequently corrected at a few points to cover up the difference between them on this. Their literary form, their liturgical and oracular style, are in keeping with the purpose they are intended to serve. The question of the New Testament style is still under examination. It is certain that the discourses in the Gospels, even those in the fourth, were originally short writings composed in the rhythmic form peculiar


to the poetic writings of the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and the discourses in Job. It is equally certain that some parts at least of the Epistles and the entire Apocalypse were put out at first in rhythmic form. The same may well be true of the Gospel stories.

Both the history and the fortunes of the Gospels are thus explained. Originally they were anonymous writings belonging to the communities which used them. The third Gospel seems an exception, offering itself to the reader as a personal work and with a dedicatory preface in the form then customary with profane writers. But this laicization of the Gospel theme hardly goes beyond the preface; moreover the editorial elaboration of Luke and Acts reduces them to the common level of biblical historiography. At the height of the gnostic crisis Marcion, opposing the common Christianity with a Gospel which, according to him, was the one Gospel and the only true, depersonalized Luke and further lightened it of everything that he found of Judaizing tendency. Then it was that the Church replied by canonizing the Gospels most in honour among the chief communities, disdaining the others and setting them aside, especially those which the gnostic themselves had fabricated or arranged. The reason why the Church did not limit its choice to one Gospel and only one, as Marcion had done, probably lay in the fact that the canon of the four Gospels resulted from a compromise between the influential communities. These came more easily to agreement in mutual recognition of the texts they were severally familiar with than they would have done in elaborating a single Gospel and securing its acceptance by them all.

As to what followed, there can be little doubt that the canonization of the four Gospels as traditional provided the occasion for some retouchings of their already edited text. It may well have had the further effect of giving consistency to the attribution of authorship, by means of which it was hoped to render indisputable a number of books which, in reality, did not come directly from any apostle, and in which the faith, aspirations and prophetic genius of the first Christian generations chiefly found utterance. The statements of John the Elder, reported by Papias of Hierapolis, in regard to Mark and Matthew, were put into words, at the very time when the canonization of the


Gospels was under consideration, with the object of guaranteeing the application of the apostolic names to writings for whose authority that form of recommendation was judged to be indispensable. The situation these statements were intended to justify was one of fact and of right; of fact, in respect of the credit already acquired by the writings in question; of right, in respect of the eminent authority that had to be given to books about whose origin little was known, or whose real origin would not have sustained their prestige at a sufficient height. The fiction of apostolic origin was a necessity for Christian apologetic when at grips with gnosticism. The fixation of the canon, to which the apostolic fiction was linked, was itself a necessity for the same reason—as the argument of the Canon of Muratori in regard to Hermas has already shown us. The fiction is without bearing on the history of the composition of the Gospels, except at the final stage of that history and in regard to the revision of their text in the process of forming them into a canonized group.

The Gospel attributed to Mark, generally regarded as the oldest of the Four, [48] is a shortened manual of Christian catechesis, not all of one piece and not exempt from retouchings. The last of these consisted in the adding of a conclusion (xvi, 9-20) perhaps as recent as the middle of the second century. [49] The basis of Mark seems to have been a document which agreed with John in the date of the passion, that is to say, in implying the coincidence of the Christian with the Jewish Passover. [50] This document has been worked over and surcharged, one part of the alterations betraying the influence of Pauline tendencies and doctrines while others [51] reveal the knowledge of didactic elements expanded in Matthew and Luke and readjustment of tne passion stories to adapt them to the practice of the Sunday Easter. The date of the fundamental document may be earlier than the year 70; the subsequent editorial revision is later than the fall of Jerusalem. The final editings of Luke and of Matthew are founded on Mark as it stands, minus the deuterocanonical conclusion. After the discovery of the empty tomb, which these Gospels take from Mark, their editors artificially introduce completely divergent stories of apparitions of the risen Jesus. Both of them agree in loosening the tongues of the women


whom the editor of Mark (xvi, 8) expressly makes silent, because he was aware that his story of the empty tomb had been unheard of till he told it. This compromising feature in Mark is redressed in Matthew xxviii, 8 and in Luke xxiv, 10-11; but what the two evangelists go on to relate on their own responsibility is no less freely invented and put together than the story of the empty tomb.

Mark seems to have been a Roman Gospel of ancient date. [52] Its attribution to Mark possibly coincides with the final revision of the book and the introduction of the Sunday Easter, when the Roman community ceased to celebrate the festival of salvation on the same day as the Jews. This would be some time before 150-160, when Pope Anicetus was able to cite the tradition of his predecessors in opposing Polycarp on the question of Easter Day. [53] Disparaging references to the Galilean apostles found in Mark are the following: Peter's lack of intelligence, viii, 32, 33; his ridiculous remark, ix, 5-6; ill-judged demand of the sons of Zebedee, x, 35-40; Peter's boasting and denial, xiv, 29-31, 54, 66-72; pitiful attitude of Peter, James and John at Gethsemane. On this we may remark, but only by way of a probable hypothesis, that the revision of Mark thus characterized by ill will to these apostles was the work of parties in Rome devoted to the memory of Paul, and was finally adopted, with the observance of the Sunday Easter, when the Roman community became united towards the beginning of the second century. But the dependence of the other Gospel writings, notably Matthew, revised in the East, on a document of this nature, is enough to prove the original poverty of what we are accustomed to call the Gospel tradition.

The first of our canonical Gospels seems to have circulated to begin with among the hellenic-christian congregations in Syria and Palestine. The narrative parts are mainly founded on Mark, what is added to them being secondary fiction with apologetic bearings and sometimes romantically conceived, as in the role attributed to Pilate's wife in the story of the passion (xxvii, 19). The birth-stories belong to the order of mythical fictions and are studiously elaborated in connexion with texts from the prophets (i, ii). The idea of conception by the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding its superficial resemblance to Isaiah


vii, 14, 1s thoroughly pagan; if it first saw the light in Jewish-Christian circles, they must have been considerably paganized. These birth-stories, however, seem to have come into the text at the last revision of the Gospel, and in any case proclaim themselves clearly enough to be adventitious. The special interest of the Gospel, to which it owed its high credit among the early communities, lies in the place it gives to discourses attributed to Jesus, a mass of teachings not without Jewish-Christian features and bearing, in the total, the mark of their Jewish origin, but adapted under revision to the spirit of universal Christianity. As the greater part of these teachings are repeated in the third Gospel, with variations which affect only their literary form, critics generally admit the dependence of Matthew and Luke, for the discourses, on a common source, but in two different versions both derived from a Semitic original of relatively ancient date. But the evangelical matter in Matthew, so far as it consists of teachings, does not represent a single collection of memories faithfully preserved from the apostolic age, any more than its narratives represent the legend of Jesus preserved in the same way. It contains rather a series of acquisitions successively taken over under the pressure of circumstance, of the progressive needs of Christian propaganda, and as required by the organization of Christian teaching in the communities. The original document was a Didache (a "teaching") afterwards worked up into a Gospel of the canonical type by amalgamation with Mark. The importance attached to the person of Peter, notably in xvi, 13-20, derives from the fact that this Gospel took form in Jewish-Christian circles with a turn for universalism. The same is true of the Peter-legend developed in the first part of Acts.

In the traditional form it now has, the first Gospel cannot be much earlier than the year 125, a date somewhat movable, like all those here indicated for the Gospels, since retouches were always possible up to the final canonization of the books and of their official text. There is no doubt that it existed before Justin and was known in Asia, as Mark also was, in the time of Papias. We are much in the dark as to the reasons for its being attributed to the apostle Matthew; we may recall what has been said above of the originally anonymous character of the Gospel revisions. The substitution of the name Matthew for Levi in


the story of the calling of the publican (ix, 9) must be connected with this attribution; but, if the intention is clear, the motive is not. By a forced interpretation of the evidence of Papias, often adopted since Schleiermacher, but open to question at every point, it has been supposed that the Gospel was judged to be the work of Matthew because this apostle had composed the collection of discourses which is one of its chief sources. But that collection was an impersonal work and not apostolic. [54] Some apostolic name had to be chosen to give authority to the Gospel: the reason for the choice of Matthew the publican lying perhaps in some legend about him which made him a reciter of the Gospel.

The writings of Luke present another enigma. The preface to the third Gospel and that of Acts [55] show that the two books were originally the first and second parts of one work which professed to be composed under conditions common to the issue of books in that time, with a dedication to some eminent personage. But the preface to Acts has been mutilated, the first stage in a process of alteration which seems to have been extended to the whole of the original document; the first part, or Gospel, was apparently recast and completed in a similar manner. It seems impossible to admit the view that the author of this, the original, document was the person who writes "we" in certain narratives in Acts, and who is to be identified with Luke the companion of Paul, and that this man, arriving in Rome with Paul about the year 60, wrote the story of Christian origins about the year 80. The author of the general preface (Luke i, 1-4) does not place himself among the companions and disciples of the apostles; the underlying idea of his preface is that of an apostolic tradition transmitted in good order down to the time of those, who, like himself, have undertaken to describe the institution of the Christian faith. And the writings said to be Luke's, taken in the form in which they have come down to us, cannot go back to the apostolic age, nor even to the end of the first century; they are the prelude to the age of Christian apologetic as practised by Athenagoras and Justin. This Gospel, moreover, is no longer the mixed catechesis of Mark and Matthew, nor is it the gnosis of John. But Luke and Acts are earlier than 140, since Marcion, excommunicated from the Roman church


about 144, furnished his sect with our third Gospel as an authorized version, with the matter omitted that conflicted with the heresiarch's system. The contrary hypothesis, which makes Marcion's Luke the original and our canonical Gospel the derivative, is indefensible. Marcion took the Gospel used by the Roman Church and adapted it in conformity with the needs of his doctrine. In this procedure he took no greater liberty, in principle, than the editors of our Gospel texts were wont to allow themselves.

Luke is a compilation analogous to Mark and Matthew and like them intended for reading aloud in the assemblies. Here again Mark has furnished most of the stories in the body of the book; what does not come from Mark is legendary fiction or mythical construction; examples of these are the preaching of Jesus at Nazareth (iv, 16-30), the mission of the seventy-two disciples (x, i-12), [56] the ascension of the risen Christ (xxiv, 50-53). [57] The birth-stories, though not constructed all at once, are better put together than in Matthew, but with as little basis in tradition; though not independent of ancient prophecy they are not constructed on texts for the purpose of showing their fulfilment. The idea of virgin conception (i, 34-35) is adventitious; it is only in their source that the stories are of earlier date than Matthew's. The evangelical teachings are as abundant as in Matthew but more dispersed. Certain parables, of deeply moving character—the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Publican and others—are peculiar to Luke, where they represent an original development of tradition. By an almost mechanical device of editing the greater part of the discourses attributed to Jesus are lodged between the departure of the Christ for Jerusalem and his arrival in Judea (ix, 51-xviii, 14). The explanation is that the sayings and parables having no attachment to time and place in the traditional souvenirs, the evangelists inserted them as best they could in the course of the narratives, Matthew preferring an arrangement in long discourses and Luke in distributed pieces.

The Acts of the Apostles

This book, in the form it now has, is an amalgamation of primitive data concerning the beginnings of Christian preaching


and the missions of Paul with mythical and legendary notions, and discourses artificially composed in the manner of ancient historiography. Anti-Jewish polemic, perceptible in all the Gospels, is here outstandingly tendentious, the author having set himself the task of proving that Christianity is the most authentic form of Judaism and has the right, in that capacity, to the same tolerance by Roman authority as that enjoyed by official Judaism. Peter and Paul are in the forefront of evangelical activity, and it would seem that the author has taxed his wits to furnish them with the same miracles; each brings a dead person to life, cures a paralytic and performs miscellaneous miracles, the one with his shadow, the other with aprons snatched from his body. But, in all this, Paul is given second place to the elder apostles, especially to Peter whom we find taking the lead in preaching to the Gentiles (x-xi, 18); while every trace of old disputes and rivalries between them is carefully obliterated, and the presentation of the primitive history dominated throughout by the fictitious idea of an apostolic tradition originally guarded by the Twelve.

Both the Gospels and Acts acquired their final form in the first half of the second century—a conclusion which may be taken as guaranteed by the proceedings of Marcion and by the apologist Justin's employment of the third Gospel. The first book "to Theophilus" became, in revision, a cult-book impersonalized and enriched with the latest acquisitions of the faith, while the passion and resurrection stories were retouched and augmented, not only for the demonstration of the Christian message, but to adapt the stories to the Easter usage of the Roman congregation. On the latter point the revision of the third Gospel, like that of the first, was conformed to the revision of the second and then brought to the point by stories of the resurrection which bring the Sunday Easter into plain relief. [58] "While the systematic preoccupation with prophecy betrays a development of Christian belief and apologetic in presence of Judaism and in opposition to it, it is not impossible that the ardour for the Old Testament apparent in Luke and Acts attest a reaction against those gnostics who, like Marcion and Basilides before him, repudiated the Old Testament and the God of the Jews. We have still stronger grounds for supposing that the


materialization of the apparitions of the risen Christ, both in the Gospel and in Acts, is aimed at destroying the influence of the Docetism which denied his material existence, but of which Marcion was not the initiator. It should not be overlooked that, alone among the New Testament writers, the editor of Luke and Acts has had the hardihood to represent the risen Christ as eating material food (Luke xxiv, 42; Acts x, 41) and as remaining among his followers for a longish period afterwards, as some of the gnostics also did. It remains to be said that the dependence of certain passages in Luke and Acts on the so-called Johannine tradition and on the fourth Gospel, [59] in the revision of which the aim at Docetic gnosticism is equally apparent, invites us to place the canonical revision of our two books near the time when the group of four Gospels was canonized as a whole.

Wherever they were composed, the third Gospel and Acts reflect the development of Christian faith and institution between the years 125 and 150. The two books were prepared and revised in a great centre of Christianity which also undertook their general diffusion. The Roman Church itself had perhaps promoted their last revision for the purpose of admitting them into its collection of the Scriptures, and therefore knew what it was about in admitting them. We can easily understand how this Church found the Gospel of Mark, which it already had, inadequate for Christian instruction; and how the original work of Luke failed to make good the inadequacy. For neither Mark, nor, probably, Luke's original related the birth of the Christ; moreover, they lacked the greater part of the sayings which were circulating among the communities at the opening of the second century as discourses of Jesus.

The Fourth Gospel

In the matter forming its groundwork the Fourth Gospel is of later date than the three Synoptics and would seem to have been conceived in another setting and on a different pattern. Perhaps, however, in its original form, the frame was not very different, though the Gospel was wholely unlike the others in spirit and doctrine. Towards the end of the first century there appeared at Ephesus, perhaps from Syria, a mystical prophet,


a master of Christian gnosis rather than a preacher of the Gospel, who conceived and gave form to the sublime discourses and the symbolic visions on which the Gospel was finally built up—the style of the discourses being rhythmic, like that of the sayings and sentences in the Synoptics, but the development of the thought more spacious and the themes perceptibly different. [60] But the mystic Christ of our prophet not being born of the flesh, and his gift to those who were his being simply that of immortal life, it soon became necessary to conform his figure to the Christ of the common tradition in whom the Jewish prophecies were fulfilled and who was soon to appear in his Kingdom and raise the dead from their graves. Had not the Apocalypse, conceived in that strain, just been published at this same Ephesus? Two chief stages can be distinguished in the literary formation of this Gospel: a first official edition, about 135-140, ended by the present conclusion of chapter xx, and characterized by the greater part of the borrowings from the Synoptic tradition and by passages specially conceived to effect the adjustment, probably also by the fixation of the chronological framework and distribu- tion of the material in accordance with it; [61] then a second edition, the canonical, about 150-160, almost contemporary with the last editions of Matthew and Luke. [62] In this second edition chapter xxi is the piece most easily recognizable as a newcomer; but various retouchings and further additions may have been made in the body of the book, notably in regard to the beloved disciple, who is given a prominence of his own as author of the book at the same time as he was being proclaimed the author of the Apocalypse and an apostle of the Lord Jesus. The object aimed at in this edition seems to have been precisely that of procuring the inclusion of the book in the authorized group of Gospels by making it acceptable to the community which apparently had the leading part in fixing the New Testament Canon, to wit, the Roman. It may be said, for example, that chapter xxi was added to make good the legend of Peter as chief shepherd of Christ's sheep, by harmonizing it, as well as might be, with the fiction of the beloved disciple. But it is important to note that during the Montanist crisis towards the end of the second century, in the time of Irenaeus, the canonization of the fourth gospel had opponents. Not only does Irenaeus


mention them in Heresies (iii, 11, 9) but finds it necessary to condemn them at the end of his Exposition of Apostolic Preaching.

The fourth Gospel agrees with the Easter usage of the "Quartodecimans" who celebrated Passover on the same day as the Jews. Their Passover was the festival of a beneficial death, the Christ being thought to have died at the hour when the lamb of the Jewish festival was sacrificed. This being certainly the primitive custom, and implied in the foundation documents of Mark and Luke, we are bound to conclude that our Gospel supplanted one of the others, Luke probably, in Ephesian usage, and in a form not yet adapted to the Sunday observance of Easter, though doubtless the adaptation had by this time already been made in Rome. When the Easter controversy broke out about the year 190 the Roman party did not perceive, or pretended not to perceive, that while the Synoptics, in their last edition, were now supporting the common Sunday observance, the fourth Gospel fully authorized the other, the Asiatic observance. In what followed the discord on this point was at last covered up under borrowings made by the editors of John from the last edition of the Synoptics, notably those taken from the narrative which fix the passion on Friday and the resurrection on the following Sunday. The discord remains none the less, and the ill-disguised contradiction would be enough to prove that the Gospels are, before all else, a catechism of Christian initiation. It shows that even in their most important part, and the part historically the best guaranteed in the essential datum, namely the crucifixion of Jesus, we have clearly the wording of a liturgical drama, rather than a record of accurate memories of the facts commemorated in the liturgy.


In the period when effort was being made to fix the canon of the New Testament, other Gospels and even other Acts of the Apostles, less recommended by church usage, if not positively disqualified by heretical origin or flavour, were offered for the edification of the communities. A certain number of these writings are known to us only by their titles or in fragments, catholic tradition having either neglected or suppressed them.


Some nevertheless exercised an appreciable influence on the evolution of Christianity of which they were also a product.

As the Gospel tradition was more or less Jewish-Christian at its point of departure, it is a disaster that the Jewish-Christian Gospels have not come down to us. The most important of these, if not the oldest, seems to have been the Gospel of the Nazareans (a Jewish-Christian sect), the Gospel of which Jerome says he translated the Aramean text, [63] wrongly making it the original of canonical Matthew. It is at least true that the Gospel in question was somewhat nearly related to Matthew and, as it had a history of its own, may have been earlier than Matthew at some points and dependent on it at others. It was preserved in Jewish-Christian groups which accepted the virgin conception and were still in existence at the end of the fourth century. According to Eusebius (iii, 39, 16) it contained the incident of the woman taken in adultery, a fragment belonging to the synoptic tradition which, passed by in the first three Gospels, fell in time, and as though by chance, into John. According to Jerome {de viris, 2) the first apparition of the risen Christ was accorded by this Gospel to James, [64] which is not surprising in a Jewish-Christian book: after the apparition, Jesus administers the holy sacrament to James who is said to have eaten nothing since the last supper; a trait conforming to the customs of fasting at the Passover, which shows that this Jewish-Christian Gospel, like the four canonicals, was intimately connected with Easter observance. [65] The question is still discussed as to whether the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which seems to have been used by Jewish Christians in Egypt at a very early date, is to be distinguished from the Gospel of the Nazareans, or is only another name for it.

The Gospel according to the Twelve, known as the Gospel of the Ebionites, belonged to Christian groups existing in Transjordania at the time of Epiphanius; the genuine fragments of it are those given by him (Heresies, 30). Denying the virgin birth and professing that Jesus was made Son of God by his baptism, these Jewish-Christians were regarded as heretics; but, Jewish as its colour was, their Gospel prescribed the abolition of the sacrifices, baptism taking its place. The Christ is made to


say "if you cease not your sacrifices, wrath will not cease to smite you." In general pattern the Ebionite Gospel resembles Mark; as to the contents, its affinity is with Matthew, and it professed to have been revised by that apostle. It was originally written in Greek and depended on earlier Gospels, but only on those in the synoptic tradition, chiefly Matthew and Luke. That it owes nothing to John does not prove it earlier and there seems no compelling reason to place it further back than the last quarter of the second century. [66]

The Gospel according to the Egyptians, of which it is to be regretted that we possess only a few fragments, [67] must have been more ancient and more gnostic in character. The Naasseenes quoted it; but Clement of Alexandria cites it after "the four transmitted to us"; so too, and with equal respect, does the homily known as the Second Epistle of Clement. Origen pays it no other honour than to place it at the head of the non-inspired Gospels and supposes that the prologue to Luke refers to this book and to the Gospel according to the Twelve as "attempts" preceding his own. The Gospel according to the Egyptians, so named in Egypt itself, must have been the one in use among Christians of Egyptian origin, the Gospel according to the Hebrews being that of Jewish-Alexandrian converts. The two, if as old as Origen makes them, would be of great value to the historian. It remains to add that the language of the Gospel of the Egyptians had a savour of gnosticism and that it taught a sex-mystery, an encratism, on which fuller information were much to be desired; [68] it is said to have been Sabellian which, however, does not diminish the interest of the problem raised by its existence. It was a Gospel parallel to the Synoptics, but edited independently of them.

The Gospel of Peter, known to us in a considerable fragment dealing with the passion and resurrection of the Christ, is an hellenic-christian Gospel of gnostic tendency on much the same line as the Gospel of the Ebionites in its relation to the canonical four, except that it depends on John as well as on the Synoptics. [69] Not without reason did Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, having found it used by a Syrian community towards the end of the second century, reject it as infected with Docetism. [70] It must have been composed about the middle of that century, perhaps


in Syria, and is related to the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter already discussed.

Basilides, a gnostic teaching in Alexandria, about 140 composed a Gospel on which he wrote a commentary. The Gospel was presented as based on the authority of Glaucias, a disciple of Peter—a case analogous to that of Mark—and in it we find the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is no reason to regard this Gospel as more freely composed than the others of which we have spoken, or that of Marcion. Like the Gospels of Valentinus and of Marcion, it was written for the use of the group of believers whom the author had gathered round him. As the church hierarchy was as yet but little organized, there was nothing abnormal in the literary experiments of these doctors and, apart from their particular tendencies in doctrine, they used no greater liberty in their method of composition than did the authors of the canonical Gospels.

Of the Gospel of Truth, used by the Valentinians, we know little more than the name. Valentinus appears to have put it out as derived from a certain Theodas, a disciple of Paul. [71] Marcion's Gospel, entitled simply Evangelion, with no recommending name, was presented by him as the only true, he himself having amended it in conformity to what he believed was the doctrine of Paul. (To Marcion, with his Evangelion and Apostolicon we shall return later.) Other gnostic Gospels made their appearance at the same time, such as the Gospel of Matthias, of Philip, of Judas, of Eve, of Mary, etc. It is easy to understand how, confronted with this inundation of Gospel literature, the leaders in the churches, beginning with the Roman, who had already repudiated Valentinus and Marcion, made up their minds to fix once and for all what Gospels, to the exclusion of all others, were to be retained as apostolic.

Mention must here be made of Tatian's Diatessaron which was in essence a Gospel remodelled by the method generally adopted from the beginning in Gospel literature. The Diatessaron was the first Gospel of the Church of Edessa and for long remained official among the Syrian congregations; an interesting fact as showing how little regardful these congregations were, about 170, of the canon which Irenaeus had just vaunted as fixed, and how they could arrange for themselves a Gospel not in liturgical


use in the congregations of the Roman world. It is however certain that Tatian's work was a harmony of the four canonical Gospels with a small number of secondary features seemingly borrowed from the non-canonical. More significant are the omissions and retouches which reveal Tatian's encratism and anti-semitic bias. [72]

The work of the Christian imagination in dealing with the birth of Jesus was not limited to the stories in Matthew and Luke. Some of the gnostics took part in it, and the idea of the virgin birth, with its mixed savour of encratism and docetism, probably came from that source. [73] Among the gospels of the infancy which have most influenced catholic tradition is the Protoevangel of James, a book written to establish the virginity of Mary ante partum, in partu and post partum, and in which the author has amplified both Luke and Matthew. [74] Although Justin's dependence on it is not proved, the core of the book may be dated as far back as the middle of the second century. It was written outside of Palestine and by a writer ignorant of Jewish affairs.

Very different in character is the Gospel of Thomas which tells of the miracles performed by Jesus in his infancy. The catholic version which has come down to us is apparently based on a gnostic gospel in which the story of Jesus bears a strong resemblance to that of the youth of Krishna, if not really modelled on it. The catholic versions are not very old, but the gnostic Gospel at the base was known to Irenaeus and Hippolytus, and is mentioned by Eusebius. Here, too, the date may go back to the middle of the second century.

The Acts of Pilate (the Gospel of Nicodemus) are of the fourth or fifth century and have no interest for our subject. When Justin refers his readers to the acts of Pilate for information about the passion of the Christ he is not referring to a book any more than when he refers them, for information about the birth, to the registers of the census made by Quirinius. But Tertullian, in his Apology (21), mentions a story told by Pilate at Tiberias about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which seems to have been preserved as an appendix to the Gospel of Nicodemus. This document, fictitious as it is, would thus be earlier than 197. It is based on canonical Matthew.


In the literary class called "Acts" or "Travels," widely known and circulated in Hellenic antiquity (praxeiV, periodoi) [75] canonical Christian literature has produced only the Acts of the Apostles—a book improperly named, since it comprises only the Acts of Peter, stopped short at his imprisonment by Agrippa I and his miraculous escape, and the Acts of Paul in his missions and captivity, but not continued to his martyrdom. Other Acts were written completing the canonical book in matters regarding Peter, Paul and John, or about other apostles less important in the tradition. Needless to say, the object aimed at in recounting the apostolic travels and miracles was to edify the reader in respect of the Christian propaganda and to shed lustre by one means or another on Christian teaching. But these apocryphal Acts, in contrast to the canonical book, do not rest upon a basis having the slightest claim to be historical and inform us only of the spirit and turn of mind of those who wrote them or found them to their taste. [76] They are pious romances more recent in date than the canonical Acts which they feebly imitate. Certain of their apostolic discourses are written in the style of rhythmical chanting, and occasionally we come upon veritable hymns—precious samples of the Christian manner of worship.

Among these apocrypha, the Acts of John, incompletely preserved, seem to be the oldest. They are saturated with Docetism. They contain the Ephesian legend of John fully formed and were probably composed in Asia; in their first form before the end of the second century. In no sense is the book Marcionite, but Docetic in the highest degree: the identification of Christ with God is absolute, his humanity and death mere appearance and the whole symbolic.

The Acts of Paul, known to Hippolytus and to Origen, were widely diffused in the East. Tertullian says that the author, a priest of Asia, was dismissed when his fraud was discovered (De Baptismale, 17). None the less the book, constructed on canonical Acts and starting with Paul's mission to Antioch of Pisidia, continued to be widely read. Only fragments of it have survived, the most considerable and the most in favour being the piece which bears the title Acts of Paul and of Thecla. The mention of it by Tertullian places the composition towards 160-180. The author appears to belong to the region chosen


for the scene of his romance and may have exploited a local tradition along with Acts and the thirteen Epistles attributed to Paul.

The Acts of Peter, which it has been possible to reconstruct from the Clementine apocrypha, [77] and the Catholic Acts, in which the legend of Peter's martyrdom is developed, probably go no further back than the beginning of the third century, but they reflect some traditions and doubtless incorporate older documents.

Of all these unorthodox lucubrations the strangest is the Acts of Thomas, a Syrian work apparently composed in Syriac. It is made up of marvellous stories and liturgical hymns, all strongly impregnated with gnosis and encratism. The Greek version, if it is a version, is hardly less ancient than its Syriac original of which the date may be given about 200, without excluding the possibility of an earlier date for some of its elements.

The vogue enjoyed by all these writings of suspect origin is a point worthy of attention as proof that ancient Christianity was endowed with a singular capacity to receive what was offered to it, and even at a time when it was engaged in the war with Gnosticism.

With the apocryphal Acts we pass beyond the limit of direct witness to the Christian movement before the year 180. It remains to mention those of the Christian apologies which have come down to us from the second century, chiefly the writings of Justin, his Apologies and Dialogue with Trypho. Here we have a Christian teacher not without culture but with a mediocre range of mind, a Hermas but better versed in the Scriptures and with a tinge of philosophy. He was a moral philosopher inclined to take Christianity as moral philosophy and to make it acceptable as such to pagans. His writings enable us to grasp the position of Christianity, about 150-160, surrounded by Judaism, paganism, gnostic heresy, and the first approach of that theory of the Logos which soon, at the hands of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, in preparation for Origen, was to fix the direction of the Christian gnosis. From these doctors themselves, or by inference from their writings, we cannot fail to learn how, during the middle part of the second century, there was forged the mighty power which


the Church invoked at the time, and was to evoke thenceforward, against all innovators, namely the power of tradition, embodied in the collection or canon of scripture, in the symbols of faith (creeds), in the episcopal magistracy—the whole, scripture, symbols and magistracy being held of apostolic origin, or rather as going back, through the apostles, to Jesus himself and his Gospel.

We shall find the testimony of profane writers valuable at certain points, but they cannot make good the insufficiency and clear up the obscurities of the Christian witness to Christian history. At least they convey to us the impression made by the new religion on the men of letters, the statesmen and the philosophers of the time. Thus Celsus, though known to us solely through Origen, gives us the impression made by Christianity on enlightened people in the time of Marcus Aurelius, and shows us how the apparently irreconcilable conflict between Christianity and paganism might have ended by the incorporation of Christianity in the imperial religion, into which all religions were admitted, if hellenized Christianity had not been strong enough to compel its final acceptance as the one religion of the Empire. The genesis of the gnostic sects, of which the Great Church disencumbered itself by condemning them, is in like manner not accessible to us in the original writings of the doctors who founded them; the men and their writings we know only from those who refuted them when the sects had already lost some of their primitive force. Thus we are less well informed about dissenting Christianity than about dominant Christianity. More strictly speaking, the general history of the Christian movement, from its point of departure to the year 180, has to be deduced from documents distinctly non-historical in the proper sense of history, but intended to serve in some way the movement which produced them, and not as a faithful record for posterity of its stages and fortunes. To sum the matter up in a sentence, all the difficulties and gropings in the dark which the interpretation of these documents imposes on the impartial historian proceed from the fact that the documents he is interpreting are something other than history.

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