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The Canon Or The Authoritative N

The Gnostics used in support of their doctrines writings which they
attributed to the Apostles, thus having a direct apostolic witness to
these doctrines. This they did in imitation of the Church's practice of
using apostolic writings for edification and instruction. Marcion drew up
a list of books which were alone to be regarded as authoritative among his
followers [v. supra, 23, a]. The point to be made by the champions
of the faith of the great body of Christians was that only those books
could be legitimately used in support of Christian doctrine which could
claim actual apostolic origin and had been used continuously in the
Church. As a fact, the books to which they appealed had been in use
generation after generation, but the Gnostic works were unknown until a
comparatively recent time and were too closely connected with only the
founders of a sect to deserve credence. It was a simple literary argument
and appeal to tangible evidence. The list of books regarded as
authoritative constituted the Canon of Scripture. The state of the Canon
in the second half of the second century, especially in the West, is shown
in the following extracts.

Additional source material: See Preuschen, Analecta, II,
Tuebingen, 1910; Tatian, Diatessaron, ANF, IX; The Gospel of Peter,

(a) The Muratorian Fragment. Text, B. F. Westcott, A General Survey
of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, seventh ed., Cambridge,
1896. Appendix C; Kirch, n. 134; Preuschen, Analecta, II, 27. Cf.
Mirbt, n. 20.

The earliest list of canonical books of the New Testament was
found by L. A. Muratori in 1740 in a MS. of the eighth century. It
lacks beginning and end. It belongs to the middle or the second
half of the second century. It cannot with certainty be attributed
to any known person. The obscure Latin text is probably a
translation from the Greek. The fragment begins with what appears
to be an account of St. Mark's Gospel.

but at some he was present, and so he set them down.

The third book of the gospels, that according to Luke. Luke, the
physician, compiled it in his own name in order, when, after the ascension
of Christ, Paul had taken him to be with him like a student of law. Yet
neither did he see the Lord in the flesh; and he, too, as he was able to
ascertain events, so set them down. So he began his story from the birth
of John.

The fourth of the gospels is John's, one of the disciples. When exhorted
by his fellow-disciples and bishops, he said, "Fast with me this day for
three days; and what may be revealed to any of us, let us relate to one
another." The same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the Apostles,
that John was to write all things in his own name, and they were all to

And therefore, though various elements are taught in the several books of
the gospels, yet it makes no difference to the faith of the believers,
since by one guiding Spirit all things are declared in all of them
concerning the nativity, the passion, the resurrection, the conversation
with His disciples, and His two comings, the first in lowliness and
contempt, which has come to pass, the second glorious with royal power,
which is to come.

What marvel, therefore, if John so firmly sets forth each statement in his
epistles, too, saying of himself: "What we have seen with our eyes and
heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have
written to you"? For so he declares himself to be not an eye-witness and a
hearer only, but also a writer of all the marvels of the Lord in order.

The acts, however, of all the Apostles are written in one book. Luke puts
it shortly, "to the most excellent Theophilus," that the several things
were done in his own presence, as he also plainly shows by leaving out the
passion of Peter, and also the departure of Paul from the city [i.e.,
Rome] on his journey to Spain.

The epistles, however, of Paul make themselves plain to those who wish to
understand what epistles were sent by him, and from what place and for
what cause. He wrote at some length, first of all, to the Corinthians,
forbidding schisms and heresies; next to the Galatians, forbidding
circumcision; then to the Romans, impressing on them the plan of the
Scriptures, and also that Christ is the first principle of them,
concerning which severally it is necessary for us to discuss, since the
blessed Apostle Paul himself, following the order of his predecessor John,
writes only by name to seven churches in the following order: to the
Corinthians a first, to the Ephesians a second, to the Philippians a
third, to the Colossians a fourth, to the Galatians a fifth, to the
Thessalonians a sixth, to the Romans a seventh; and yet, although for the
sake of admonition there is a second to the Corinthians and to the
Thessalonians, but one Church is recognized as being spread over the
entire world. For John, too, in the Apocalypse, though he writes to seven
churches, yet speaks to all. Howbeit to Philemon one, to Titus one, and to
Timothy two were put in writing from personal inclination and attachment,
to be in honor, however, with the Catholic Church for the ordering of the
ecclesiastical mode of life. There is current, also, one to the
Laodiceans, another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul's name to
suit a heresy of Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received
into the Catholic Church; for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with

The Epistle of Jude, no doubt, and the couple bearing the name of John are
accepted in the Catholic [Church], and the Wisdom written by the friends
of Solomon in his honor. The Apocalypse, also, of John and of Peter only
we receive; which some of us will not have read in the Church. But the
Shepherd was written quite lately in our times by Hermas, while his
brother Pius, the bishop, was sitting in the chair of the church of the
city of Rome; and therefore it ought to be read, indeed, but it cannot to
the end of time be publicly read in the Church to the people, either among
the prophets, who are complete in number, or among the Apostles.

But of Valentinus, the Arsinoite, and his friends, we receive nothing at
all, who have also composed a long new book of Psalms, together with
Basilides and the Asiatic founder of the Montanists.

(b) Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, II:8. (MSG, 7:885.)

The following extract illustrates the allegorical method of
exegesis in use throughout the Church, and also the opinion of the
author that there were but four gospels, and could be no more than
four. It should be noted that the symbolism of the beasts is not
that which has become current in ecclesiastical art.

It is not possible that the gospels be either more or fewer than they are.
For since there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four
principal winds, and the Church is scattered over the whole earth, and the
pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the Spirit of Life, it
is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing forth immortality
on every side, and giving life to men. From this it is evident that the
Word, the Artificer of all, who sitteth upon the cherubim and who contains
all things and was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four
forms, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says when he prayed
for His coming: "Thou that sittest between the cherubim, shine forth"
[cf. Psalm 80:1]. For the cherubim, also, were four-faced, and their
faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For he says, "The
first living creature was like a lion" [cf. Ezek. 1:5 ff.],
symbolizing His effectual working, leadership, and royal power; the second
was like a calf, symbolizing His sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but
"the third had, as it were, the face of a man," evidently describing His
coming as a human being; "the fourth was like a flying eagle," pointing
out the gift of the Spirit hovering over the Church. And therefore the
gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ is seated. For
that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious
generation from the Father, thus declaring, "In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God and the Word was God" [cf. John 1:1 ff.],
and further, "All things were made by Him and without Him was nothing
made." For this reason, also, is that Gospel full of confidence, for such
is His person. But that according to Luke, which takes up His priestly
character, commenced with Zacharias, the priest, who offers sacrifice to
God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the
recovery of the younger son [Luke 15:23]. Matthew, again, relates His
generation as a man, saying, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham" [Matt. 1:1]; and "The birth of Jesus
Christ was on this wise" [Matt. 1:18]. This, then, is the gospel of His
humanity; for which reason the character of a humble and meek man is kept
up through the whole gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with
reference to the prophetical Spirit who comes down from on high to men,
saying, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in
Isaiah the prophet," pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel, and on
this account he makes a compendious and brief narrative, for such is the
prophetical character. And the Word of God himself had intercourse with
the patriarchs, before Moses, in accordance with His divinity and glory;
but for those under the Law He instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical
service. Afterward, having been made man for us, He sent the gift of the
heavenly Spirit over all the earth, to protect it with His wings. Such,
then, was the course followed by the Son of God, and such, also, were the
forms of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living
creatures, such, also, was the character of the Gospel. For the living
creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the
course followed by our Lord. For this reason four principal covenants were
given mankind: one prior to the Deluge, under Adam; the second after the
Deluge, under Noah; the third was the giving of the law under Moses; the
fourth is that which renovates man and sums up all things in itself by
means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the
heavenly kingdom.

(c) Tertullian, Adv. Marcion., IV, 5. (MSL, 2:395.)

Tertullian's work against Marcion belongs to the first decade of
the third century; see above, 23, b. In the following passage
he combines the argument from the apostolic churches with the
authority of the apostolic witness. This is the special importance
of the reference to the connection of St. Mark's Gospel with St.
Peter, and is an application of the principle that the authority
of a book in the Church rested upon its apostolic origin.

If it is evidently true that what is earlier is more true, that what is
earlier is what is from the beginning, that what is from the beginning is
from the Apostles, it will be equally evidently true that what is handed
down from the Apostles is what has been a sacred deposit in the churches
of the Apostles. Let us see what milk the Corinthians drank from Paul; to
what rule the Galatians were brought for correction; what the Philippians,
the Thessalonians, the Ephesians, read; what the Romans near by also say,
to whom Peter and Paul bequeathed the Gospel even sealed with their own
blood. We have also John's nursling churches. For, although Marcion
rejects his Apocalypse, the order of bishops, when traced to their origin,
will rest on John as their author. Likewise the noble lineage of the other
churches is recognized. I say, therefore, that in them, and not only in
the apostolic churches, but in all those which are united with them in the
fellowship of the mystery [sacramenti], that Gospel of Luke, which we
are defending with all our might [cf. 23], has stood its ground from
its very first publication; whereas Marcion's gospel is not known to most
people, and to none whatever is it known without being condemned. Of
course it has its churches, but they are its own; they are as late as they
are spurious. Should you want to know their origins, you will more easily
discover apostasy in it than apostolicity, with Marcion, forsooth, as
their founder or some one of Marcion's swarm. Even wasps make combs; so,
also, these Marcionites make churches. The same authority of the apostolic
churches will afford evidence to other gospels, also, which we possess
equally through their means and according to their usage--I mean the Gospel
of John and the Gospel of Matthew, but that which Mark published may be
affirmed to be Peter's, whose interpreter Mark was. For even the Digest of
Luke men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works
which disciples publish belong to their masters.

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