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The Origin Of The New Testament by Adolf Harnack


The Beginnings of the Conception of an Instrumentum Novissimum; the Hope for the Evangelium Aeternum; the Public Lection, and the quasi-Canonical Recognition, of the Stories of the Martyrs in the Church.

In the first section of his Kanonsgeschichte (Bd. i., S.3-22) Zahn has tried to show that when Montanism arose in Phrygia the New Testament was already in existence; that the Montanists, however, added to it a third Canon in which a kind of Gospel (the Logia of the Paraclete), analogies to the Pauline Epistles, and an apocalypse were to be found. Zahn's thesis, in spite of all the learning that has been lavished upon it, is untenable in this form -- especially in what concerns the contents of this |Scriptura novissima| -- as I have shown in my work, |Das Neutestament um d. J.200| (1889). It is, however, quite true that the Montanists very soon set up a collection of the Sayings of the Paraclete (spoken by Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscilla) and assigned to it a status of the highest honour corresponding to the final character of the mission of the Paraclete. Also the conception that the Paraclete stands to the revelation given in Christ and His Apostles as Moses stands to Abraham is earlier than Tertullian, and belongs to earlier Phrygian Montanism; in both cases Grace precedes and is followed after a certain period by the giving of a Law. Seeing, however, that the Revelation in Christ and His Apostles was for the Church represented in a written work, was |Scripture,| it became a problem for Montanist Catholics like Tertullian what status they were now to assign to the prophecy of the Paraclete. In his later treatises Tertullian, in controversy with heretics and psychics, is accustomed always first to argue from the Old Testament and New Testament as |Scripture,| and then to appeal to an oracle of the Paraclete as an instance of the clearest and most conclusive character; but he neither treats nor quotes the collection of oracles as |Scriptura.| He therefore -- in spite of his reverence for the sayings of the Paraclete, and although they were embodied in a collection -- felt himself compelled to refrain from formally adding them to the |Scriptura.| It was not expedient to create a |third| Testament; for then the importance of the first coming of Christ would have been depreciated in a fashion that would have offended Tertullian's Christian conscience (the Paraclete belongs to Christ and is sent by Him). But even the natural solution, the adding of the new collection as a second part to the New Testament would have had its own great difficulties; seeing that the New Testament consisted already of two divisions, and that the collection of oracles could neither be included in the Apostolus nor could be treated as a third part of the New Testament (in the former case it would have lost something of its own peculiar significance, even in the latter case this would have been obscured). Accordingly Tertullian seems to have been satisfied with treating the oracles of the Paraclete, taken as separate sayings, as in a formless and indefinite way equal to or even superior to Holy Scripture.

And yet he was not quite satisfied. The collection of oracles could not be produced as |Testamentum| -- for there were only two Covenants and two Testaments, the old and the new -- yet the collection of oracles belongs to the |Instrumentum ecclesiæ.| The Old Testament and the New Testament are the |instrumenta pristina| (De Monog., 4; De Resurr., 63), but |noster auctor| (the Paraclete) has his |instrumenta| and the Church ought to acknowledge them. And these |instrumenta| include not only the oracles in which the Christian Law has now first come to clearer expression, but also the famous deeds of the faithful who have submitted to the direction of the Paraclete, the visions they have received, and the martyrdoms they have endured through His power. The commands of Christ and of the Apostles do not yet in every sense stand on the topmost heights -- of this Tertullian had no doubt -- because they are still affected by a certain spirit of accommodation, and therefore the deeds of Christians before the time of the Paraclete were as a rule infected by a certain imperfection; but now through the Paraclete the Church has arrived at the time of perfection. All that had made this time what it was, all that this time had brought forth, must ever be shown forth to the Church in public lection and must be received into her |instrumentum.|

This is the position that Tertullian takes up in the preface to the Acta Perpet. et Felic., which has been already referred to (p.28, note 2): |Si vetera fidei exempla in literis sunt digesta, ut lectione eorum et deus honoretur et homo confortetur -- cur non et nova documenta æque utrique causæ convenientia et digerantur? . . . Viderint qui unam virtutem spiritus unius sancti pro ætatibus indicent temporum, cum maiora reputanda sunt novitiora quæque ut novissimiora secundum exuperationem gratiæ in ultima sæculi spatia decretam (here follows the passage from Joel). itaque et nos qui sicut prophetias ita et visiones novas pariter repromissas et agnoscimus et honoramus, ceterasque virtutes spiritus sancti ad instrumentum ecclesiæ deputatas necessario et digerimus et ad gloriam dei lectione celebramus . . . et nos itaque quod audivimus et contractavimus, annuntiamus et vobis.|

Just as, at the time when there was no New Testament in the strict sense of the word, the Pauline Epistles were added to the Holy Scriptures consisting of the Old Testament and the Gospels, and thus found their place in the |Instrumentum ecclesiæ,| so now Tertullian would have the Church accept the oracles of the Paraclete and the records of the spiritual heroes of the new age into her Instrumentum -- not as an addition to the New Testament, but as a fundamental authority standing side by side with it. The considerations which here influenced Tertullian were by no means wholly and specifically Montanist: I have indeed shown in my article, |Das ursprüngliche Motiv der Abfassung von Märtyrer- und Heilungsakten in der Kirche,| how greatly the Church also was interested in the possession of documents testifying to the present influence of the Holy Spirit. In the Church this interest was satisfied by proving that the same spirit and the same power that once wrought in the Apostolic Age were still at work: nothing to the detriment of the prestige of the New Testament could ever arise from this. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Tertullian thought that the new elements which were to be added to the |Instrumentum ecclesiæ| (not to either of the Testaments) ought to have in a certain sense superior prestige -- the oracles of the Paraclete, because they for the first time contained the Christian Law sine ambiguitatibus and absolutely apart from any tendency to accommodation; the Acts of the Martyrs, like that of Perpetua, because by this heroic story, that had not its peer up to that time in Africa, Tertullian is convinced that Christians of the present day, of the time of the Paraclete, if they followed Perpetua, would transcend the Christians pristinorum temporum and would at last realise genuine Christianity.

Strange indeed! The New Testament was scarcely created, at all events was not yet completed, when the most eminent Christian of the West already perceived its defects! The Canon which was intended to show, and by its very existence to render tolerable the imperfection and the |shadow| of the Old Testament is itself also clouded with a |shadow| and is not yet perfection! And this because it contains ambiguities and is governed by a tendency to accommodation, but above all because it has not been able to show as its credentials that the people of God now stands under laws so unambiguous as to exclude all doubt and weakness. On the contrary it is evident that controversy upon controversy emerges in the Christian life, and that every weakness and laxity could cloak themselves with texts from the New Testament -- often indeed with unreason, but often also unfortunately with good reason! And thus under the influence of the New Testament Christianity so far had arrived at only an imperfect development! Hence there was need of a new Scripture and this was actually in existence: it comprised on the one hand the directions of the Paraclete, and on the other hand documents like the Acts of Perpetua. The Paraclete had now led Christians |into all the Truth,| and has told them |what they could not bear before|; and evident tokens are already present of the enthusiasm of the perfect life that He has now enkindled.

|Pristinæ scripturæ| (Old Testament and New Testament) -- |prophetia nova cum documentis martyrum|: this arrangement of authorities alone answered to what was now at work. A part of Christendom, including the greatest Western theologian, already saw a |Shadow| upon the new-born New Testament, and looked for an Instrumentum Novissimum -- indeed fancied that they already possessed it! The fancy redounded to their honour; for it was the expression of their absolute moral earnestness and sincerity even in the face of the Scripture of the New Testament.

But still more strange! About the same time the most eminent theologian of the East, the obedient son of the Scriptures and their greatest champion and exponent, also notes a |shadow| on the New Testament. It is true that for him this work, which he regards as forming a literary unity with the Old Testament (Pasa he theopneustos graphe hen biblion estin), is exalted above all praise and is the deepest fount of the mysteries of God, yet he cannot but note that it is not in every sense final. In passages like 1 Cor. xiii.9 f.; 2 Cor. xii.4; St John xx.25; Rev. x.4, Scripture itself points beyond itself, thus there is still a promise of an |Everlasting Gospel| for the Spiritual Church. Origen, in his works, often deals with this |Everlasting Gospel| (Rev. xiv.6), contrasted with which the Gospel that we possess belongs to the aistheta and temporalia. In De Princip., iv.13 (25), he writes:

|Sicut in Deuteronomio evidentior et manifestior legisdatio declaratur quam in his, quæ primo scripta sunt, ita et ab eo adventu salvatoris quem in humilitate conplevit, cum formam servi suscepit, clarior ille et gloriosior secundus in gloria patris eius indicetur adventus, et in illo forma Deuteronomii conpleatur, cum in regno cælorum sancti omnes æterni illius evangelii legibus vivent, et sicut nunc adveniens legem replevit eam, quæ umbram habet futurorum bonorum, ita et per illum gloriosum adventum inplebitur et ad perfectum perducetur huius adventus umbra. ita enim dixit propheta de eo (Threni 4, 20): Spiritus vultus nostri Christus dominus, cuius diximus quia in umbra eius vivemus in gentibus,' cum scil. ab evangelio temporali dignius omnes sanctos ad æternum evangelium transferat, secundum quod Joannes in Apocalypsi de æterno evangelio designavit.| The continuation is suppressed by Rufinus, but it is preserved by Jerome and Justinian. In Joh. I.7 (S.12 Preuschen) we read: Touto eidenai echren, hoti hosper esti |nomos skian| periechon |ton mellonton agathon| hupo tou kata aletheian katangellomenou nomou deloumenon, houto kai euangelion skian musterion Christou didaskei to nomizomenon hupo panton ton entunchanonton noeisthai. ho de phesin Ioannes |euangelion aionion,| oikeios an lechthesomenon pneumatikon, saphos paristesi tois noousin |ta panta enopion| peri autou tou huiou tou theou kai ta paristamena musteria hupo ton logon autou ta te pragmata, hon ainigmata esan hai praxeis autou (cf. i.14, p.18).

In Rom. I.4 (T. vi. p.21 Lommatzsch) Origen's note on Rom. i.2, 3, runs: |Utrum simpliciter accipi debeat evangelium per scripturas propheticas a deo repromissum, an ad distinctionem alterius evangelii, quod æternum dicit Joannes in Apocalypsi, quod tunc revelandum est, cum umbra transierit et veritas venerit et cum mors fuerit absorpta et æternitas restituta, considerato etiam tu qui legis! cui æterno evangelio convenire videbuntur etiam illi æterni anni, de quibus propheta dicit: Et annos æternos in mente habui,' eique adiungi potest et ille liber vitæ in quo sanctorum nomina scripta dicuntur, sed et illi libri qui apud Danielem, cum iudicium consedisset, aperti sunt. . . . Si ergo cum apparuit nobis hominibus, non sine evangelio apparuit, consequentia videtur ostendere, quod etiam angelico ordini non sine evangelio apparuerit, illo fortassis, quod æternum evangelium a Joanne memoratum supra edocuimus.|

The idea of a distinct |Everlasting Gospel| was indeed suggested to Origen by the passage in Revelation; but it is no mere devotion to the text of the Bible that is here at work in him. Rather he looks for an Everlasting Gospel (1) because it is absolutely clear to him that Christ must necessarily still have a great work to perform for the cosmic powers (the daemons) and that this will stand in the |Everlasting Gospel|; (2) because the Gospel that we possess refers to this sphere of Time, wherein nothing quite perfect can come to expression and everything must be clouded by the shadow of the transitory, hence we are to look for a final Gospel which will bear the same relation to the New Testament as this to the Old Testament; (3) because he, like Tertullian both in feeling and thought, was forced to confess with sorrow that Christians did not yet live a truly moral life, and that it was not possible in this world so to live, therefore a time must come |quo sancti omnes æterni illius evangelii legibus vivent.| The laws of our Gospel are not yet quite perfect, and, therefore, the life of Christians is not yet quite perfect.

According to Tertullian the Montanist, there is an |Instrumentum Novissimum| transcending the New Testament and containing the final revelation for the Christian life (given by the Paraclete), and also containing records that testify to the actual existence of the perfect life (Acta Perpet.); in this |Instrumentum| the shadow which still lies on the New Testament has vanished away. According to Origen there is for Christians the expectation of the |Everlasting Gospel| -- but only after their departure from this realm of Time -- in which the shadow of the New Testament is removed, and through which the perfect life will first become possible. In this point the Church has not allowed either Tertullian or Origen to prevail; yet she, led by Tertullian's second impulse, but at the same time correcting it, at once began to collect histories of the martyrs and to read them in the public services side by side with Holy Scripture. Through this practice of public lection they acquired a quasi-canonical prestige. Any thought of endangering the authority of Holy Scripture was quite remote from this practice, yet it strengthened in the Church the consciousness that the same spirit that had created the two Testaments was still to-day working powerfully in the Church. |Stupebamus audientes tam recenti memoria et prope nostris temporibus testatissima mirabilia tua in fide recta et catholica ecclesia| (August., Confess., viii.6, 14, in reference to the Vita Antonii) -- this was the feeling of Catholic Christians also in the third century when they read stories of the martyrs. These, too, were to serve as |Canon| for the practice of the Christian Life. |Instrumentum novissimum| -- |Evangelium æternum| -- |Historiæ Canonicæ Martyrum|: more than a century must pass before the Christian came that wrote down the phrase so simple and yet so decisive for the deeper history of Christendom, wrote down, as if it were self-evident: |Homo fide, spe, et caritate subnixus eaque inconcusse retinens non indiget scripturis nisi ad alios instruendos| (August., De Doctr. Christ., i.39 ). This was in truth the message of the Paraclete, and the Everlasting Gospel!

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