Forerunners and Rivals of the New Testament
Those collections of authoritative Christian works that, according to early indications in the course of the development of the New Testament, might have come into existence but have not come down to us, call for thorough investigation; here let it suffice to give a list of them accompanied by some words of explanation. Something has already been said about them in the text of this book. I count seven of these embryonic collections:
1. A collection of late Jewish and Christian prophetic-messianic or prophetic-hortatory books inserted in the Old Testament -- thus an expanded and corrected Old Testament.
2. A collection of (late Jewish and) Christian prophetic books standing independently side by side with the Old Testament.
3. A simple collection of Sayings of the Lord, like the common source of St Matthew and St Luke (Q), standing side by side with the Old Testament.
4. A written Gospel, or a collection of several Gospels containing the history of the Crucified and Risen Lord, together with His teaching and commands, standing side by side with the Old Testament.
5. A Gospel (or several), with in addition a more or less comprehensive collection of inspired Christian works of the most different character and graded prestige, standing side by side with the Old Testament.
6. A systematised |Teaching of the Lord| administered by the |Twelve Apostles| of the character of the |Apostolic Canons, Constitutions, etc.,| which also included |Injunctions of the Lord,| side by side with the Old Testament and the Gospel.
7. A book of the synthesis or concordance of prophecy and fulfilment in reference to Jesus Christ, the Apostles, and the Church, standing side by side with the Old Testament.
It can still be shown that in the second century each of these |New Testaments,| or additions to the Old Testament, not only were possible, but were already actually present in embryo; and further it can be shown why they did not come to full life, or perished.
1. Still, even at the end of the second century, Tertullian was of the opinion that the Book of Enoch must be included in the Old Testament; this book as well as the Apocalypse of Ezra, the Assumpsion of Moses and others were not only read by Jewish Christians, but had also penetrated to Gentile Christians, and were reverenced by them as books of revelation, as is proved by numerous quotations from these works (first and second centuries). Christians took upon themselves to correct the Old Testament and even to interpolate whole verses (vide Justin, Dial. c. Trypho). Christian Apocalypses attained the highest prestige as soon as they were published. It was accordingly to be expected that, as the simplest way of developing the litera scripta given in the Old Testament, the ancient Canon would be enlarged by the addition of new works, and that thus in the most obvious way the whole Canon might have been declared to be the property of Christians and not of Jews. This was, indeed, very nearly being done, and the inclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas in many (Western) exemplars of the Old Testament, even in the Middle Ages, may count as an important relic of this tendency. The possibility of giving the Shepherd a place in the Old Testament is considered even in the Muratorian Fragment, but is rejected because the Old Testament is closed. From the fact that this reason is stated so emphatically, we may probably conclude that it was not yet clear to everyone. The growing demand for books of the |New Covenant| -- corresponding to the increasing perception in the Church of the limitations of the Old Covenant -- and the new attitude that the Church was compelled to adopt towards prophecy since the middle of the second century, repressed the tendency that would have realised itself in No.1.
2. It was also conceivable that the prophetic books to be added to the Old Testament should form a Canon of their own. The difference from No.1 would not have been very great, yet it would have been considerable; for the idea of a second Canon would have been formed and realised -- an idea that implied an enhanced Christian self-consciousness. The new Canon would have expressed the feeling that Christians found themselves living in a new epoch (vide Acts ii.17 f.), wherein |the Spirit was poured upon all flesh, even upon the servants and handmaids.| The Book of Revelation makes the strongest claim to be regarded as an authoritative prophecy and presupposes that it would be read by the Churches; but one cannot imagine that its author ever intended that his book should be inserted in the Old Testament; he surely meant that it should stand side by side with that book. Tertullian's attitude towards the Montanist collection of prophecies is very significant. The New Testament was already in existence for him, and yet he wishes the Montanist collection to be attached to the |Instrumentum| of the Church: the thought of a new prophetic Canon is to him not repellent, but simply natural. (More details will be given in Appendix III.) If he had not had to reckon with a New Testament already in existence, it follows that he would have wished the new prophetic collection to be added to the Old Testament as a second Canon. A foundation for this idea, therefore, must have existed from primitive times. The same considerations and influences that made No.1 impossible have prevented us from receiving the new Canon in the form of No.2: prophecy as such had fallen in value when compared with what was historic and apostolic.
3. Very soon -- indeed during Apostolic times and in Palestine -- the primitive formula of authority the |Scriptures and the Lord| was recast so that |the Lord| found expression in a loosely ordered collection of Injunctions and Sayings of the Lord (Q). For a time the Churches were satisfied with this. But though the simple conception of |The Scriptures and the Lord,| as the final appeal, was very tenacious of life -- it can be traced even into the fourth century as if no New Testament were in existence -- yet it very soon became manifest that the expression of the term |the Lord| in the form of a single collection of Sayings was insufficient, and it was soon displaced by No.4.
4. |The Old Testament and the (written) Gospel,| or |the Old Testament and the written (four) Gospels|: for a time it seemed as if such an arrangement would have sufficed for all. Most probably all Churches passed through this stage, and, according to the |Didaskalia| preserved in Syriac, it lasted in certain Eastern Churches up to the middle of the third century. In the |Gospel| or the |Gospels| was included the story of the Crucified and Risen Lord together with His teaching and injunctions (in some also with a preliminary history). This arrangement of the litera scripta seemed to satisfy all needs, and from many points of view we can regret that the Churches did not abide by it. We have already shown (pp.42 ff.) what were the requirements and considerations that urged the Churches to a further step. From these we also learn that the advance was not by any means altogether detrimental.
5. The characteristic of this form is that although the idea of a collection of books of the |New Covenant| in addition to the Gospel (the Gospels) has at last been realised, yet no clearness prevails as to the principle according to which further authoritative books are to be added to the Gospels. The second half of the collection is still quite formless and is therefore destitute of boundaries, nor is it closed against other works. So long, however, as it was formless it was in an insecure and dangerous position. The principle of the Apostolic is not yet accepted or is not yet applied strictly. This is the condition of things presupposed by Clement of Alexandria and also by the Catalogus Claramontanus ; like all amorphous things it could not last and was defenceless against all kinds of questionable additions, and so the formless was gradually replaced everywhere by the formed New Testament.
6. The idea that led to this form of an authoritative Christian litera scripta is the most daring, most independent, and most interesting of all. It continued to assert itself in the Church even after the creation of the New Testament, indeed it experienced a still further development, and up to the present day has not been disavowed in the Catholic Churches. Accordingly even to-day the New Testament has a rival at its side, a rival that now, indeed, (and for a long time past) must be contented with a more modest rôle, yet a recognised rival. This rival is older than the New Testament, for already at the beginning of the second century or somewhat later it appeared on the stage in the |Didache,| i.e. |The Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles| (which some say dates from the end of the first century). This Apostolic Teaching of the Lord professes to give the ethical commands of the Lord and His authoritative directions for the ordering of the life and worship of the Church. The author depends partly upon the Gospel, partly upon late Jewish forms of catechetical instruction interpreted in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount, and for the rest he ventures to trace back the ordinances, that had taken form in the Churches, to the Lord through the Apostles, because he is convinced of their authenticity. An undertaking, indeed, that was as practical as it was daring! But, unfortunately, further developments became infected by the spirit of deceit, indeed of falsehood. All these were codified by the Church in the firm conviction that her principles, all that she had, all that she required, had been granted and would be granted to her by the Lord through the Apostles. At that time and for centuries afterwards the Churches did what is now done only by the Pope! This procedure -- it was in fact nothing else than the codification of Tradition -- if it had been everywhere accepted might have rendered the New Testament, or at least the |Apostolus,| quite superfluous. This literature did, indeed, gain increasing acceptance; but because it never could give the same impression of unassailable authenticity as did works Apostolic in form and title, and because it, for some unknown reason, never found its way into public lection, it could not hinder the development of the New Testament or, rather, of the |Apostolus.| And yet it kept a place side by side with the New Testament, and thus from the Didache, or rather from the idea that lay at the root of the Didache, arose that great body of pseudonomous Apostolic literature of Canons and Constitutions. In this literature -- the history of which and of its varying prestige in the Church has not yet been sufficiently investigated -- the Apostolic Canons then attained such a prominent position that they were recognised in due form as Apostolic by the Catholic Churches, and actually took their place beside the New Testament; while the ancient Didache, at first included in the formless second division of the Holy Scriptures in Egypt, was since the time of Origen and under his influence thrust ever nearer to the edge of the precipice. At last it was pushed over after it had for some time lasted as a textbook in the religious instruction of catechumens (according to the direction of Athanasius).
7. There was also a possibility that the Church might have received a book of the synthesis or concordance of prophecy and fulfilment in place of the New Testament. First attempts towards such a work are plainly enough discernible. Consider only those parts of Barnabas, of the writings of Justin (also of the pseudo-Justinian work, De Monarchia), of Tertullian (Adv. Jud. and Adv. Marc., ii., iii.) that deal with such concordance. Such a work could have satisfied, so it seems, all present requirements that were not satisfied by the Old Testament; for if all prophecies referring to Christ, His Apostles, and the Church with her institutions (Baptism, the Lord's Supper, etc.) had been collected from the Old Testament and set side by side with instances of their fulfilment, Christians would have had a book of catechetical instruction together with the necessary historical material. It is a remarkable fact that though such a work did not come into being because no one could put it into form (if a skilful author had appeared and had made such a collection, it would almost certainly have become canonical), nevertheless its opposite, the antitheses of Marcion, did actually come into being, and was accepted as canonical in an heretical Church. This work, which we may imagine to have been a large and comprehensive production, and which accompanied the New Testament of Marcion, aimed at proving the discordance of the Old Testament with Christianity at all points. The Marcionite Church, therefore, is itself a witness of the importance for the Church of proving the concordance, and that it was well within the limits of possibility that a work of this kind with canonical prestige should have been produced.
There were thus seven starting-points of development that could have led to collections of works competing with the growing New Testament, and in part these developments did not only start, but actually took definite form. It is in this connection alone that the full significance of the creation of the New Testament becomes clear. We see that it was not the only possible new Canon and that it developed as the consequence of difficulties, tendencies, and strivings of various kinds. It still remains to discuss briefly what it would have meant for the Church, and especially for the expression of |ius divinum| in the Church, if one of the other forms had established itself instead of the New Testament.
The New Testament, in the form which it attained, at once acquired a threefold significance for the Church. It is (1) the authentic, because Apostolic authority for the history of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and as such, compels belief. (2) It fulfils what was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and while recognising the Divine origin of that book yet assigns to it only a preparatory significance. It is (3) the |instrumentum divinum,| i.e. the authentic codification of the Divine laws and ordinances to be observed by the Church and the individual Christian. From this point of view it gives equal weight to the word of Christ and to the word of the Apostles, but it also exercised a certain sifting criticism on the ordinances of the |instrumentum divinum| of the Old Testament.
Now if No.1 had established itself there would have been only indirect documentary authority for the history of Salvation through Jesus Christ; here prophecy would have continued in the leading position, and only isolated notices and testimonies from the history of Christ, such as are found in early Christian prophetical works (e.g. the Revelation), would have found a place beside prophecy. Moreover, the distinction between the New and the Old Covenant would not have come to clear expression, rather most that is distinctive in the Old Testament would have been obliterated by means of allegorical interpretation. The same consideration would apply to the |ius divinum.| The laws of the Old Testament and the new Christian laws, if such had, indeed, taken form within the enlarged Canon, would have become indiscriminately confused seeing that the former would have been spiritualised where necessary. The New Testament, on the contrary, had the significance, which cannot be too highly valued, that it enabled the Church to set certain limits to the allegorical method of interpretation as applied to the Old Testament, and thus to give a fair opportunity for an historical understanding of the Old Testament. If we had been left simply with an Old Testament enriched with Christian elements everything would have been overwhelmed by a mist of allegory and, besides, a harmful process of Judaising would probably have set in. Lastly, if prophecy had remained the sole form of expression of what was specifically Christian, religion would have inevitably degenerated into a wild and unwholesome emotionalism.
If No.2 (a collection of Christian prophetical works side by side with the Old Testament) had established itself, the unfavourable consequences considered under No.1 would, indeed, have been somewhat weakened -- for the distinction between new and old would have been emphasised -- but they would not have vanished. The historical element so essential to the new Faith would have remained here as weak as in No.1, and, because all that is essentially Christian would have remained confined within the forms of prophecy, the danger of degeneration into emotionalism would have been still to be feared. It is nevertheless imaginable that the sharp distinction of the new Canon from the old might have produced a satisfactory recognition of the independent status of the new Religion.
If the development had come to a stop with No.3 (the Old Testament and a collection of Sayings of the Lord like Q), the commands of Christ would have attained an extraordinary importance as |ius divinum.| Standing alone and independently at the side of the Old Testament they would have acquired enormous force. But in that case the Universal Church could scarcely have come into existence, or at least would not have continued to exist; rather a spirit of strict ascetic moralism would have acquired the upper hand, and Christendom would have probably become a great group of ascetic communities based upon the |ius divinum| given by Christ. Even if this consequence had not followed, it is to be feared that, with the solution of the problem given in No.3, the Old Testament would have still held a position that would have placed Christianity in danger of Judaistic influence.
The latter danger would have been avoided if the development had advanced to the stage of No.4 (the Old Testament and one Gospel or several) and had come to a stop there; for the authoritative history of the Lord wondrously born, crucified, and risen again would have more than held its own against the Old Testament. Neither would there have been any fear of an encroachment of Moralism in the form of the commands of Christ as |ius divinum|; for the Gospel of Salvation and of Faith would have repressed all tendency to mere moralism. And yet the appeal of the new order would still have been wanting in compelling force, because the idea of the New Covenant would not have been firmly seized. Moreover, if the new Canon had been confined to the Gospel (the Gospels), the Church in the course of her development in contact with the philosophic systems and religions of the Empire would have had no guidance as to her behaviour. This guidance was afforded by the |Apostolic| writings, above all by the Epistles of St Paul in spite of other difficulties that they presented. Without such guidance the Church most probably would have fallen into perplexity that might even have overwhelmed her. She would also have been absolutely defenceless against all that falsely pretended to be |Apostolic tradition,| and as such claimed obedience.
If the development had come to a stop with No.5 (the Gospels and a varied collection of Christian writings, Apostolic and otherwise), we might imagine that already almost everything would have been attained that has been attained through the New Testament. But although in this case a large number of sacred books of authoritative and directive character stood side by side with the Gospel (Gospels), still they were not subjected to one uniform principle. It is true that the idea of the Apostolic played an important part in them, but this idea was not yet recognised as the sole guiding principle. Hence unsuitable and disturbing elements could establish themselves in the Canon, which was not yet closed even in idea, to say nothing of actual practice. If this condition had remained final, then not only would the Canon have been liable to continual additions of a questionable character, but there would have been continual uncertainty as to what was |ius divinum|; and the grand weapon against heresy would have lost its edge, for the idea of firm apostolic tradition in the form of litera scripta would have been wanting.
We have already discussed how things would have stood if No.6 (Old Testament, Gospel, and |Teaching of the Lord through the Apostles,| or |Apostolic Canons|) had established itself. The situation, however, which has become actual in the Catholic Churches -- namely, that the New Testament with its |Apostolus,| together with |Apostolic Canons,| count as sources of the |ius divinum| -- is especially suitable for the purposes of these Churches, because these extra-Biblical Canons bridge the gulf between the Bible and unwritten tradition, affording the latter a kind of foothold; and at the same time they make it possible to introduce the same gradation of prestige into the conception of what is canonical in the sphere of the new Covenant, as had been already introduced in the relation of the New Testament to the Old Testament. The idea of degrees of prestige -- an idea which, when applied to the |ius divinum,| is still more paradoxical than when applied to the |ius humanum| -- is quite indispensable to the Catholic Church for her kingdom in which worldly and spiritual elements are so closely intermingled. She needs the idea even for her dogmas, indeed, if she wishes to remain a Church of tradition and yet to dominate the present, if she would be uniform and at the same time give scope to individuality, she cannot manage without it.
In regard to No.7 nothing definite can be said, because we cannot even imagine how things would have shaped themselves, if only a definitely fixed synthesis or concordance of Old Testament prophecy with the history of Christ, of the Apostles, and of the founding of the Church, had stood as the new Canon side by side with the Old Testament.