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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : § 1. How did the Church arrive at a second authoritative Canon in addition to the Old Testament?

The Origin Of The New Testament by Adolf Harnack

§ 1. How did the Church arrive at a second authoritative Canon in addition to the Old Testament?

From the standpoint of the Apostolic Epoch it would be perfectly intelligible if the Church, in regard to written authorities, had decided to be satisfied with the possession of the Old Testament. I need not trouble to prove this. We should, however, have been to a certain extent prepared if, as time went on, the Church had added some other writings to this book to which it held fast. Indeed, in the first century, even among the Jews, the Old Testament was not yet quite rigidly closed, its third division was still in a somewhat fluid condition, and, above all, in the Dispersion, among the Greek-speaking Jews, side by side with the Scriptures of the Palestinian collection, there were in circulation numerous sacred writings in Greek of which a considerable number became gradually and quite naturally attached to the authoritative collection. It would therefore have been in no sense surprising, nor would it have been regarded as extraordinary, if from the Christian side some new edifying works had been added to this collection. This actually happened here and there with Apocalypses; indeed, attempts were even made to smuggle new chapters and verses into some of the ancient books of the Canon. In this fashion Christians might have proceeded in yet bolder style, without doing anything unusual, and so might have been able to satisfy requirements which were not met, or not completely met, by the Old Testament. Lastly, judging from the standpoint of the Apostolic Age, we should not have been surprised if in the near future the Old Testament had been rejected or set aside by the Gentile Churches. When the word had gone forth that one should know nothing else than Christ Crucified and Risen, when it was taught that the Law was abolished and that all had become new, the step was very near to recognise the Gospel of Christ, and nothing else. |I believe nothing that I do not find in the Gospel| (Ignat., Phil., 8) -- what object then was served by the Old Testament? That the Apostle who taught all this nevertheless himself accepted the Old Testament offered no special difficulty. Gentile Christians knew very well that the Apostle, who to Jews became a Jew, for his own person and out of regard to the Jews, had clung to many things that were not meant to be accepted by others or need no longer be accepted. For all these possibilities (the Old Testament alone; an enriched Old Testament; no Old Testament) we should thus have been prepared; but we should have been absolutely unprepared for that which actually happened -- a second authoritative collection. How did this come about? It is true indeed that the fact that an Old Testament existed had the most important part in the suggestion and creation of a New Testament; and yet for decades of years the Old Testament was the greatest hindrance to such a creation, more especially because the Old Testament in a very complete and masterly way was subjected to Christian interpretation, and so Christians already possessed in it a foundation document for that new thing which they had experienced. Still, far down beneath the movements of the time, a more sure preparation was being made for that which was to come, namely the New Testament, than for all the other possibilities. These had their strength in forces which lay on the surface; but under the surface a new spirit was working from the beginning, and was striving to come to light.

Here three questions present themselves: (A) What motives led to the creation of the New Testament? (B) Whence came the authority that was necessary for such a creation? (C) Supposing the necessity of a New Testament, how did it actually come into being?

(A) Here a series of motives increasing in importance were at work; but it was the last of these that demanded a new written authority side by side with the Old Testament (and this without abandonment of the same).

(1) The earliest motive force, one that had been at work from the beginning of the Apostolic Age, was the supreme reverence in which the words and teaching of Christ Jesus were held. I have purposely used the expression |supreme reverence,| for in the ideas of those days inspiration and authority had their degrees. Not only were the spirits of the prophets subject to the prophets, but there were recognised degrees of higher and highest in their utterances. Now there can be no doubt that for the circle of disciples the Word of Jesus represented the highest degree. He Himself had often introduced His message with the words |I am come| (i.e. to do something which had not yet been done), or, |But I say unto you| (in opposition to something that had been hitherto said). This claim received its complete recognition among the disciples in the unswerving conviction that the words and directions of Jesus formed the supreme rule of life. Thus side by side with the writings of the Old Testament appeared the Word of |the Lord,| and not only so, but in the formula graphai kai ho kurios the two terms were not only of equal authority, but the second unwritten term received a stronger accent than the first that had literary form. We may therefore say that in this formula we have the nucleus of the New Testament. But even in the Apostolic Age and among the Palestinian communities it had become interchangeable with the formula hai graphai kai to euangelion for in the |Good News| was comprised what the Messiah had said, taught, and revealed. These two almost identical formulæ, though they do not as yet distinguish the followers of Jesus from ideal Judaism, nevertheless mark a breach with Judaism as it actually existed.

(2) The second motive, manifested with peculiar force in St Paul, but by no means exclusively in him, is the interest in the Death and Resurrection of the Messiah Jesus, an interest which necessarily led to the assigning of supreme importance to, and to the crystallisation of the tradition of, the critical moments of His history. Under the influence of this motive |the Gospel| came to mean the good news of the Divine plan of Salvation, proclaimed by the prophets, and now accomplished through the Death and Resurrection of Christ; and it would be felt that an account of the critical moments of the life of Christ must take its place side by side with the Old Testament history regarded as prophetic. Then at once there must have arisen among Christians the desire and endeavour to prove the concordance of prophecy and fulfilment in order to establish their own faith and confute the unbelief of the Jews. Thus the Church had just as much need of an historical tradition concerning Jesus as of the Old Testament; and a comparison point by point of prophecy and fulfilment was also an absolute requisite. These requirements were still covered by the formula hai graphai kai ho kurios (or to euangelion), but the concept ho kurios (to euangelion) demanded now, in addition to the moral (and eschatological) sayings of Jesus, an historical record. With this stage of development correspond our Gospels, or rather the many Gospels of which St Luke still speaks. That they were many in itself proves not only the acuteness of the need for them, but also the carelessness that prevailed in the matter of authenticity. It was not the author's authority that at first carried these writings, but their own content. By the historical element of this literature the separation between the Churches and the Synagogue was set in yet stronger relief than by the Didache literature; for the latter could still connect with Jewish ethic, and was as a matter of fact developed from it (cf. |The Two Ways|), whereas the historical literature laid emphasis upon everything that was to the Jews a |scandalon,| and thus established and widened the cleft between them and the Christian bodies. Under the influence of the second motive, together with the first, the formula |The Holy Scriptures and the Lord| was transformed into |The Holy Scriptures and the (written Gospels) or the (written) Gospel,| The historical situation in the Churches that corresponded to this new formula was that which preceded the creation of the New Testament.

(3) The third motive belongs quite essentially to St Paul and to those who learned from him. It finds expression in such words as these: |Christ is the end of the Law,| |The Law is given by Moses, Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ,| and the like. Pauline Christians, and many that were not Pauline, were convinced that what Christ had brought with Him, in spite of its connection with the Old Testament, was something |new| and formed a |New Covenant.| The conception of the |New Covenant| necessarily suggested the need of something of the nature of a document; for what is a covenant without its document? An enthusiast like Ignatius could indeed exclaim: Emoi archeia estin Iesous Christos, ta athikta archeia ho stauros autou kai ho thanatos kai he anastasis autou, but the quite exaggerated paradox of the statement of itself teaches us that it could never become common property. No; if the handwriting that was against us is torn in pieces then there must be a new handwriting which is for us! If the written Law is abolished then the written Grace and Truth must appear in its place. And yet we notice that at first neither with St Paul nor the others is there any demand for a new document. Why not? Just because they thought that they possessed it already in the Old Testament, in those prophetical passages to which they gave the widest compass. By introducing into the ancient Scriptures themselves the distinction, indeed the opposition, between the Law and the Gospel, by finding this distinction in all those passages which speak of something |new,| of a new Covenant, of a First and a Second and the like, of an extension of the Covenant to the Gentiles, they felt that they already possessed the written document of the new message of salvation, the authority they required.

But now a certain ambiguity, or at least an appearance of such, appears on the scene. Even St Paul is grievously affected by it. Where lies the boundary between Law and Prophets? Which is the Old and which is the New? Is it that everything in the Old Testament is new, and that there is only need of a right understanding to spy the |New| everywhere? Is thus the |Old| in the |Old Testament| merely a mischievous phantom that emanates from the stubborn unintelligence of the Jews? Or is it that all in the Old Testament is indeed |New,| but God has, for pedagogic reasons, veiled it with the appearance of the |Old| -- indeed not only with the appearance, but with the |Old| itself, in accommodation with the character of the Jew; and that now, through Christ, all is unveiled for the Christian. Or is a sharp distinction to be drawn between the moral and the ceremonial Law -- the latter is abrogated, the former still in force? Or is the |New| a higher stage of development that does not deny its relationship to the |Old,| but in a sense supplements it, or deepens the meaning and gives greater stringency to the demand, or lightens the yoke of the Old? Or, finally, are all these suppositions false? Is the |Old| absolutely and completely abolished be-cause it was a grievous error ever to have regarded the Old Testament as the Word of God? There never was an |Old Covenant,| and the Old Testament is thus unmasked: it is the work of Jews and, as such, is to be despised or even condemned.

Such were the difficulties which oppressed with ever-increasing weight the Christian in his controversy with the Jew and the Gnostic, and, above all, were a source of irritation to the life of the Churches and dominated the thought of their intellectual leaders (between A.D.60 and 160). What way of deliverance from these perplexities was open? They needed an authoritative document, a document which, because it gave a priori the right standpoint, decided these questions once and for all. But where was such a document to be found? The |correct| standpoint between Jew and Jewish Christian on the one hand and Marcion and Gnosticism on the other was given, in the firm determination of the important Churches to abide, with the original Apostles and St Paul, faithful to the Old Testament, and yet at the same time to appeal to written fundamental writings that testified to the transcendent claim of the New Covenant, and gave written authority to the |legisdatio in libertatem| in contrast to the |legisdatio in servitutem| of the same God. No one that reads Justin's Dialogue with Typho but can receive the liveliest impression that the author is simply crying for a New Testament; but, seeing that he cannot produce it directly as a fundamental document he is compelled to write endless chapters and laboriously to construct it himself from the Old Testament and the history of Jesus (the Gospels)! If he could have quoted as the Word of God in strict sense one only of the dozens of appropriate passages in St Paul, and could have been able to refer to books of the |New Covenant| -- how much simpler and shorter his whole task would have become!

(4) The fourth and last motive derives from the problem presented to the Church since the second century by the presence of a considerable Christian literature. A mass of Christian works had come into existence of extremely varied content (especially the Gnostic writings), some of which advanced high claims to authority and often afforded grievous scandal to simple believers. What is admissible, what is not admissible? What corresponds to Orthodoxy (|Orthognomy,| Justin)? what contradicts it? What is |Catholic,| and what not? -- These were questions which became ever more burning, and necessitated an authoritative selection of what was trustworthy and good. And, besides, the more time advanced the more one was driven to distinguish between the |New| and the |Old|; for the Christian religion experienced what every religion -- and every religious community -- experiences -- it began to worship its own past. The more perplexing, troublous, and feeble its present appeared, the more precious and sacred became its own past, the time of creative energy, with all that belonged thereto. Necessarily, therefore, the process of selection was governed, not only by the criterion |Catholic,| but also by the criterion |Old,| to which the more definite name |Apostolic| came to be attached. But what had been selected as orthodox and |Catholic| possessed as such a certain authority, which was still further enhanced if the additional predicate |Apostolic| (|old |) could be attached to it. The result of the working out of this fourth motive would therefore quite necessarily combine with what was demanded by the third motive: in the |Catholic| and |Apostolic| would be found fundamental, authoritative documents of the New Covenant.

We have now sketched the embryonic history of the New Testament in its leading motives. This history led to written gospels on the one hand, and on the other hand to the demand for a fundamental document of the New Covenant that would confute both Jewish Christian and Gnostic alike. Moreover, it led also to the demand that the orthodox (Catholic) writings should be separated from the mass of upstart, misleading works, and that at the same time special honour should be paid to all that was |old| (Apostolic). These needs and requirements would of themselves suggest the standard by which such books were chosen; but the task must have been easier in places where |Apostolic| articles of faith had become firmly established, and so a fixed standard for selection had been set up. Thus an Old Testament with Christian interpretation or an enriched Old Testament no longer sufficed; for neither the one nor the other fulfilled the needs that had grown up and now imperiously asserted themselves. In the motives which we have described the New Testament exists in embryo.

(B) But whence came the authority which was necessary for such a production? Three points are here to be considered.

In the first place, in primitive Christendom, though every Christian was believed to have received the Spirit, certain members were regarded as being specially inspired, as being |bearers of the Spirit| kat' exochen. The directions of these |Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers| could not but be simply accepted and obeyed. Though, on the one hand, their existence and activity might mean a hindrance to the formation of an authoritative written canon -- for what need was there of Scriptures when one had living authorities? -- yet, on the other hand, they might act as promoters; for if they gave any directions concerning written works, these also could not but be obeyed. In these |bearers of the Spirit| the Churches thus possessed, until far into the second century, authorities that could create what was new and could give to the new the seal of prescription. If in later days the bishop was asked what ought to be read in public, there is no doubt that at earlier times the same question was addressed to the |Apostle| or the |Prophet| or the |Teacher,| and that their authority sufficed.

In the second place, every circle of Christians that met together in the name of Jesus Christ and gave a direction or made a decision, felt and knew that it had the Holy Spirit or, in other words, the power of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. v.4) as leader and supporter. The formulæ: |The Holy Spirit and we have decided| (Acts xv.28), or |What we have said, God has said through us| (1 Clem. ad Cor.59), or |We have spoken or written through the Holy Spirit| (1 Clem. ad Cor.63), were in constant use. But the Church in its solemn assembly was especially an organ of the Holy Spirit; and Sohm in his Kirchenrecht (vol. i.) is right in making this conception the source of the absolute powers of the |Synods,| which indeed had developed from the Church assembly. These powers extended also to the determination of what writings were to be accepted or rejected, publicly read or excluded. From this standpoint we can comprehend the peremptory expressions of the Muratorian Fragment (|recipi non potest|; |recipimus|; |legi oportet|; |se publicare in finem temporum non potest|; |nihil in totum recipimus|; [|rejicimus|]); or the similar statements of Tertullian: |non recipitur| (Apoc. Enoch); |a nobis quidem nihil omnino rejiciendum est quod pertineat ad nos|; |penes nos [istæ scripturæ] apocryphorum nomine damnantur|; |certi sumus nihil recipiendum quod non conspiret germanæ paraturæ|; |receptior apud ecclesias epistola Barnabæ| -- they are intended to be taken as decisions of the Churches. That, moreover, the judgment of the Churches concerning the admissibility of books to the sacred canon depended in some cases at least upon direct synodical decisions, is baldly stated by Tertullian (De Pudic., 10): |Sed cederem tibi, si scriptura Pastoris non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum, etiam vestrarum, inter apocrypha et falsa indicaretur.| The Community, therefore, in solemn assembly, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was felt to have the power to accept or not to accept into the Canon, and this power was also consciously exercised.

Thirdly and lastly, there is another circumstance that must not be overlooked. The greater became the distance in time from the Apostolical Age the more sacred became the series of writings that had Catholic character and Apostolic title, just because of these properties and the distance. They thus acquired such inward and outward authority that the Churches could not bring themselves to believe that they had the power either to accept or to reject them. We have already touched upon the concept |Catholic|; in the next paragraphs we shall deal in more detail with the concept |Apostolic.| Here we need only state the fact that the importance which everything |Apostolic-Catholic,| either in content or in title, had acquired during the second century because of the Gnostic controversy was so great that in face of it the Churches felt that they had lost all right to decision and could only adopt a purely passive attitude. The decision is decision no longer, but mere acquiescence; they accept with all the consequences. Even in the case of Acta Pauli in Carthage, which Tertullian mentions, it cannot have been otherwise. When this book, which claimed to bring from the Apostolic Age a description of the history and teaching of St Paul, reached Carthage, it was as a matter of course accepted as having authority for the Church, and this practically meant that it was attached to the second collection of sacred writings that at that time already existed. One could only succeed in removing it from the Canon if one could unmask it and prove that it was a late and therefore a misleading work, and this is what Tertullian does. Naturally all would have been over with the book if it could have been convicted of heresy, but in this case that was not so easy.

To sum up: At first, in the period when foundations were being laid, men were living who had the power to determine books as authoritative and who made use of their power as the need for such books arose. Then came a moment after which the collection of sacred books could only, so to speak, itself create or, rather, extend itself -- namely, the moment when the conviction arose that every work that was Apostolic and Catholic belonged to an authoritative group. Other authorities could now have scarcely any voice in the matter, for once the Apostolic-Catholic character of a work was established the only right left to Christians was that of acquiescence. Nevertheless, in practice, this principle by no means established itself quite securely and absolutely. In the first place, the concept |Apostolic| was by no means clear. Did it imply the Twelve Apostles alone? or the Twelve and other Apostolic persons? or the Apostolic Age generally? And, secondly, as we shall see immediately, another and an incommensurable factor was involved, namely, the factor of Custom.

(C) The third question which we have yet to consider is the question -- Supposing the necessity in idea of the New Testament, how did it come into actual existence? Motives by themselves do not create, and even if authority is at hand with power to realise motives, still there is always need of practical conditions in order to give life and form to what is possible and desirable. Such practical conditions were, however, present. In the first place, there existed a body of writings that was more or less fitted to satisfy the requirements -- the Gospels at the earlier date, and in the following period every work that was old (Apostolic) and Catholic as well. But this was not enough to make them formally Scriptures of a Second Covenant. Justin, indeed, with a certain Christian assurance, speaks not only of |our doctrines,| but also of |our writings| (Apol., i.28) side by side with the Old Testament, but as yet he knows nothing of Scriptures of the |New Covenant.|

But he knew -- and this is the second point -- of a practice, in use in the Churches, of reading aloud in public worship the |memorabilia of the Apostles| (the Gospels) or the |writings of the prophets.| Here we light upon the fact that was of supreme importance for the realisation of the idea of the New Testament. Above all, it was because Christian writings were in public worship actually treated like the Old Testament, without being simply included in the body of the old Canon, that the idea of a second sacred collection could be realised. This was the case in the first place with the Gospels. In actual practice these writings gradually came to be treated in the same way as the Old Testament, and so for half a century they stood side by side with the ancient Scriptures, and very soon with a dignity practically equal to that of the Old Testament. But we have sure evidence that other writings were likewise read at public worship, though perhaps not at first as a regular practice; for Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth (about A.D.170), tells us that the Corinthian Christians still continued to read in public worship the epistle written by Clement from the Roman Church about A.D.95, and that they would likewise read the new letter which they had just received from Rome. If this happened in the case of important letters between Churches, what doubt can there be that it was so also above all with the epistles of St Paul -- so unique, so incomparable -- in Corinth and Rome, in Philippi and Thessalonica, in Ephesus, Hierapolis, and Colossæ, and not only in these places but wherever collections of Pauline epistles had arrived. They would certainly be read publicly though not with the same regularity as the Gospels, and not as an alternative to the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Johannine Apocalypse too, in its present form, dating from the last days of Domitian, was edited for reading in the Church (i.3) and naturally not for a single reading only, which would have been quite profitless. And though what was read is not indeed yet he graphe, still it could not but gradually come very near to the graphe in the estimation of hearers who heard it again and again read aloud side by side with the Old Testament. This explains how it happens that before the rise of the New Testament isolated instances occur in which the Gospel is quoted with gegraptai, or in which a passage from a Pauline Epistle is adduced, together with passages from the Old Testament, as a quotation from Scripture. On the other hand, it ought not to be overlooked that, through this practice of public lection, usages would necessarily be formed in the separate Churches which, in that they affected the development of the future New Testament, created differences that had necessarily to be overcome if any unity was to be attained. So far as the |lectio| allowed usages to arise side by side with the reading of the Old Testament, it unconsciously prepared the way for a second sacred collection, but it could neither dot the |i| nor lead to unity.

Public Lection was unquestionably a particularly strong agent in establishing the second sacred collection however little it was qualified to create inward unity of choice and to determine the limits of a Canon. But when one has mentioned public lection one must also remember another factor, quite remote and different in character, that most probably played a part here. It is well known that the reformer Marcion (scarcely later than A.D.140), who rejected the Old Testament, gave to his Church a collection of sacred writings consisting of a critical edition of the Lucan Gospel and ten Pauline Epistles (likewise critically edited); and that he assigned to this collection the same authority that the Old Testament possessed among the Jews and the Christians of the greater Churches. It is also well known that about the same time Gnostic sects, which likewise rejected the Old Testament, appealed to Gospels and Pauline Epistles as an authentic instrumentum doctrinæ. The idea and the realisation of a new, sacred, specifically Christian collection of writings, in addition to the Gospels, appears first among the Marcionites and the Gnostics -- and quite naturally; for, seeing that they rejected the Old Testament, they were compelled to set up another litera scripta in its place. That which could only arise in the Church as the result of a complicated process of development, because at first the Old Testament was a formidable obstacle, this naturally and necessarily makes its appearance in the heretical sects, because without some such second sacred collection they would have possessed absolutely no instrumentum doctrinæ. Can we think that this step had any influence upon the great Churches? They could hardly have allowed themselves to be consciously influenced; but in history conscious influences are by no means the only influences, nor are they the strongest. The simple and notorious fact that a new sacred collection was in existence among those heretics must have worked upon the Church as effectually as the composition of the Lutherian Catechism and of the articles and other professions of faith of the Reformers influenced the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. In the next sections we shall go more closely into the question of Marcion's Bible; for its inner arrangement and its division into Gospel and Apostles in their significance for the formation of the New Testament of the Church must be considered, and, as we shall see, our conjecture that here also influence has come into play will be confirmed. But stronger than this positive influence must have been the influence of the antagonism to which the Church was aroused by Marcionism. This also would suggest the idea of Apostolic-Catholic. All such writings must be collected and compiled in opposition to what was false and spurious.

The fact that most valuable, important, and primitive Christian writings were at hand, further, the practice of public reading, and, lastly, the examples of the Marcionites and Gnostics, which must have provoked both imitation and opposition, explain how the motives, which suggested the origin of the Church's New Testament, could realise themselves, and how the authorities that could create it came into action. But we must still take another fact into consideration before we can understand how the collection of works came to be the |Canon of the New Covenant.|

A simple |collection| of writings need not be final; rather it can even more or less purposely be left open, especially if it serves ends (such as public reading) which do not forbid enrichment from the stores of the present. And yet a collection of fundamental documents has already the tendency to become final, and certainly a collection of fundamental documents of a Covenant carries in itself the idea of complete finality. It is also certain that a compilation of writings is always in danger of disintegration if it is not in some way limited, in idea at least. A hundred years ago Novalis advanced the very reasonable question: |Who declared the Bible (the Canon of the New Testament) to be closed?| Our answer to the question is: The idea, firmly held, that the new books were fundamental documents of the Second Covenant which God had established through Jesus Christ, was the intellectual originator of the |closed| instrumentum novum. When, then, did the idea of the New Covenant come to be firmly grasped? Now no one could have had a more strongly practical and historical hold upon it than the Apostle Paul (vide supra); yet he never thought of |books| of the Covenant, nor was he in a position to distinguish a classical Covenant-time from the lime that came afterwards. Gradually, however, new |books| appeared, as we have seen, and gradually with the advance of time the idea ever more strongly insinuated itself that the Apostolic Age, with all that belonged to it, was classical; it set up an authoritative model of perfection to which subsequent ages could no longer attain.

Then the Montanist movement made its appearance and, with all the force of primitive energy, struggled against the Christian mediocrity that veiled itself in this assumed humility. Far from allowing that the highest lay in the past and was now only inherited as an |objective| legacy, the Montanists proclaimed that the highest both in revelation and in doctrine had now first arrived in the Paraclete, and that no final covenant of unapproachable sanctity had been given in the Apostolic Age, but that continually and increasingly the Novum and Novissimum reveals itself in prophecy, vision, and admonition. It was in opposition to this position that the leaders of the Church first thought out and developed the idea of a covenant established and finally sealed in the manifestation of Christ and in the work of His Apostles, so that they were able to consistently reject every work which did not belong to this primitive epoch. By this procedure the Testamentum Novum (as a collection of the books of the New Covenant) was really first firmly established and forthwith finally limited in conception at least. The era of enthusiasm was closed, and, so far as the present time was concerned, the Spirit -- using Tertullian's words (Adv. Prax., 1) -- was actually chased away -- chased into a book! Naturally it was a long, long time before all was brought to a firm conclusion -- there were too many |usages| and other variations still to be overcome -- but since the end of the Montanist controversy, and entirely as a result of that controversy, the collection of the books of the New Covenant stands complete in idea. In this connection it is therefore not by accident that we first find the expression |the books of the Old Covenant| used by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, about A.D.170-180, a native of Asia Minor and an opponent of the Montanists. We may with the greatest probability conclude that one who used this expression already recognised a collection of works as books of the New Covenant. What books these were cannot be ascertained so long as we must bewail the loss of the works of Melito, yet this is not a matter of the first importance. The one fact of decisive importance is that he does actually know books under such a title. And Melito, with his knowledge of |Books of the New Testament,| does not stand alone in Asia Minor. The anonymous anti-Montanist of Euseb., H.E., v.16, 3 (about A.D.192 -- 193) writes: dedios kai exeulaboumenos me te doxo tisin episungraphein e epidiatassesthai to tes tou euangeliou kaines diathekes logo ho mete prostheinai mete aphelein dunaton to kata to euangelion auto politeuesthai proeremeno. The fear that the publishing of a written work might awaken the suspicion that one wished to add something to the doctrine of the New Covenant as given in the Gospel could not have arisen unless writings of the New Covenant, and these not only Gospels, were already in existence. Of equal importance is the evidence afforded by Tertullian. This writer, who as a Catholic churchman and opponent of heresy and as a Montanist is always in conflict with himself, on the one hand, when he, writing in cool blood, uses the expression Novum Testamentum or libri Novi Testamenti, on the other hand, in all the excitement of controversy he denounces in his prologue to the Passio Perpetuæ those Churchmen who proclaim a New Testament finally closed, and would therefore grant no place in it, or side by side with it, to the contemporary utterances of the novissima prophetia. All goes to show that, though the Gnostic crisis did indeed create the idea of Apostolic-Catholic as applied to writings, and brought about a selection of works which included the whole material of the future New Testament, it was the Montanist, not the Gnostic crisis, that brought the idea of the New Testament to final realisation and created the conception of a closed Canon. The Muratorian Fragment sets the seal as it were to the decision of the Church never to admit a later (non-Apostolic) writing into the New Testament, when it declares that |the Shepherd| of Hermas, who wrote |nuperrime temporibus nostris,| ought not |in finem temporum| to be received into the sacred Canon, and by the almost insulting severity of its rejection of Montanus: |Una cum Basilide (!) Asianum Cataphrygum constitutorem [rejicimus].| Although the author of the Fragment expressly leaves the Canon of Apostolic writings still open -- for him only the writings of the Old Testament prophets form a |completus numerus| (line 79), not the writings of the |Apostles| -- yet in fact he so good as closes it completely; for, according to his theory, acceptance could be granted only to those Apostolic writings that hitherto had been accidentally overlooked.

Thus the second Canon came to take its place beside the first. The first was preserved because the God of Salvation was felt to be also the God of Creation, and because Christians following St Paul held fast to the historical conception that the Covenant given in Jesus Christ was preceded not only by prophecies but also by a Covenant, naturally imperfect because suited to the childhood of mankind. This conception has an artificial touch of which it can only be relieved if one gives it the universal form of the |Education of mankind| and strips it of particularistic traits; and it would probably not have held its ground, and the Old Testament would have perished in the Church as it did among the Gnostics, if the book had not been so indispensable for Apologetics. So long as the truth of religions was measured by their age the apologist simply could not do without the Old Testament. With it he could prove that Christianity went back to the creation of mankind. How could he forgo so great an advantage that was only to be gained through the preservation and recognition of the Old Testament!

Naturally the Old Testament could only continue in force under the condition that, while its essential equality with the new Canon, as shown in prophecy and through the employment of allegorical interpretation, was recognised, yet from a second point of view it was regarded as inferior. This is at once clear from the works of Irenæus the first ecclesiastical author that operates with the two Canons. The Old Testament as |legisdatio in servitutem| has become inferior since the appearance of Christ. The books of the |legisdatio in libertatem| outshine it and throw it into the background. And though Irenæus does not yet know of a closed second Canon and though he does not assign to it the name |the books of the New Covenant,| still in his exposition he proceeds as if it were already closed -- the name only is wanting, the thing itself is practically in existence for him. The books of the new collection are on the one hand the documents of the New Covenant and on the other hand the Apostolic-Catholic books of the Church. Because they are the latter they are also the former and vice versa. With these lofty predicates the New Testament was given in the sense in which it has remained in force unto the present day.

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