CLAUDIUS APOLLINARIS, bishop of Hierapolis, was a contemporary of Melito, but apparently a younger man, though only by a very few years. His date is fixed approximately by the extant notices. He addressed an Apology to the Emperor M. Aurelius, who reigned from A.D. 161-180; and as in this work he mentioned the incident of the so-called Thundering Legion, which happened between A.D. 172-174, it cannot have been written before that date [238:1]. At the same time there are some reasons, though not conclusive, for thinking that it should not be placed much later [238:2]. On the other hand, when Serapion writes towards the close of the century, he speaks of Apollinaris as no longer living; and judging from the language used, we may infer that his death had not been very recent [238:3].
Like Melito, he was a voluminous writer. Eusebius indeed only gives the titles of four works by this father, the Apology (already mentioned), Against the Greeks (five treatises or books), On Truth (two books), Against the Jews (two books), besides referring to certain writings Against the Montanists [Greek: kata tes Phrugon haireseos], which he places later than the others. But he is careful to say that his list comprises only those works which he had seen, and that many others were extant in different quarters [238:4]. Photius mentions reading three works only by this father, of which one, the treatise On Godliness, is not in Eusebius' list; but he too adds, 'Other writings of this author also are said to be notable, but I have not hitherto met with them' [238:5]. Besides these, the author of the Paschal Chronicle quotes from a treatise of Apollinaris On the Paschal Festival [238:6], and Theodoret speaks of his writing against the Severians or Encratites [238:7]. As in the case of Melito, the character and variety of his works, so long as they were extant, must have afforded ample material for a judgment on his theological views. More especially his writings against the Montanists and on the Paschal Festival would indicate his relations to the Canonical books of the New Testament. His orthodoxy is attested by Serapion, by Eusebius, by Jerome, by Theodoret, by Socrates, and by Photius [239:1], from different points of view.
Besides a reference in Eusebius to his Apology, which hardly deserves the name of a quotation, only two short extracts remain of these voluminous writings. They are taken from the work on the Paschal Festival, and are preserved, as I have already stated, in the Paschal Chronicle.
The first runs as follows:—
There are persons who from ignorance dispute about these questions, acting in a way that is pardonable; for ignorance is no proper subject for blame, but needs instruction. And they say that on the fourteenth the Lord ate the lamb ([Greek: to probaton]) with His disciples, but Himself suffered on the great day of unleavened bread, and they affirm that Matthew represents it so, as they interpret him. Thus their interpretation is out of harmony with the law ([Greek: asumphonos nomo]), and on their showing the Gospels seem to be at variance with one another ([Greek: stasiazein dokei kat' autous ta euangelia]).
The second fragment is taken from the same book, and apparently from the same context.
The fourteenth was the true passover of the Lord, the great sacrifice, the Son of God substituted for the lamb, the same that was bound and Himself bound the strong man, that was judged being judge of the quick and dead, and that was delivered into the hands of sinners to be crucified; the same that was lifted on the horns of the unicorn, and that was pierced in His holy side; the same that poured forth again the two purifying elements, water and blood, word and spirit, and that was buried on the day of the passover, the stone being laid against His sepulchre.
If the publication of this work was suggested by Melito's treatise on the same subject, as seems probable, it must have been written about A.D. 164-166, or soon after. The references to the Gospels are obvious. In the first extract Apollinaris has in view the difficulty of reconciling the chronology of the Paschal week as given by St John with the narratives of the Synoptic Evangelists; and he asserts that the date fixed for the Passion by some persons (the 15th instead of 14th) can only be maintained at the expense of a discrepancy between the two accounts; whereas, if the 14th be taken, the two accounts are reconcilable. At the same time he urges that their view is not in harmony with the law, since the paschal lamb, the type, was slain on the 14th, and therefore it follows that Christ, the antitype, must have been crucified on the same day. I am not concerned here with the question whether Apollinaris or his opponents were right. The point to be noticed is that he speaks of 'the Gospels' (under which term he includes at least St Matthew and St John) as any one would speak of received documents to which the ultimate appeal lies. His language in this respect is such as might be used by a writer in the fourth century, or in the nineteenth, who was led by circumstances to notice a difficulty in harmonizing the accounts of the Evangelists. The second extract bears out the impression left by the first. The incident of the water and the blood is taken from the Fourth Gospel; but a theological interpretation is forced upon it which cannot have been intended by the Evangelist. Some time must have elapsed before the narrative could well be made the subject of a speculative comment like this. Thus both extracts alike suggest that the Fourth Gospel was already a time-honoured book when they were written.
But the author of Supernatural Religion meets the inference by denying the genuineness of the extracts. I hardly think, however, that he can have seen what havoc he was making in his own ranks by this movement. He elsewhere asserts very decidedly (without however giving reasons) that the Quartodeciman controversy turned on the point whether the 14th Nisan was the day of the Last Supper or the day of the Crucifixion, the Quartodecimans maintaining the former [240:1]. In other words, he believes that it was the anniversary, not of the Passion, but of the Last Supper, which the Quartodecimans kept so scrupulously on the 14th, and that therefore, as they pleaded the authority of St John for their practice, the Fourth Gospel cannot have been written by this Apostle, since it represents the Passion as taking place on the 14th. As I have before intimated, this view of the Paschal dispute seems to me to be altogether opposed to the general tenor of the evidence. But it depends, for such force or plausibility as it has, almost solely on these fragments from ancient writers quoted in the Paschal Chronicle, of which the extracts from Apollinaris are the most important. If therefore he refuses to accept the testimony of the Paschal Chronicle to their authorship, he undermines the very foundation on which his theory rests.
On this inconsistency however I need not dwell. The authorship of these extracts was indeed questioned by some earlier writers [241:1], but on entirely mistaken grounds; and at the present time the consensus among critics of the most opposite schools is all but universal. 'On the genuineness of these fragments, which Neander questioned, there is now no more dispute, writes Scholten [242:1]. Our author however is far too persistent to let them pass. Their veracity has once been questioned, and therefore they shall never again be suffered to enter the witness-box.
It may be presumed that he has alleged those arguments against their genuineness which seemed to him to be the strongest, and I will therefore consider his objections. They are twofold.
1. He urges that the external testimony to their authorship is defective. His reasoning is as follows [242:2]:—
Eusebius was acquainted with the work of Melito on the Passion, and quotes it, which must have referred to his contemporary and antagonist, Apollinaris, had he written such a work as this fragment denotes. Not only, however, does Eusebius know nothing of his having composed such a work, but neither do Theodoret, Jerome, Photius, nor other writers, who enumerate other of his works; nor is he mentioned in any way by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, nor by any of those who took part in the great controversy.
Here is a tissue of fallacies and assumptions. In the first place, it is a petitio principii, as will be seen presently, that Apollinaris was an antagonist of Melito. Even, if this were so, there is not the smallest evidence, nor any probability, that Apollinaris would have written before Melito, so that the latter could have quoted him. How, again, has our author learnt that Eusebius 'knows nothing of his having composed such a work'? It is certain, indeed, that Eusebius had not seen the work when he composed his list of the writings of Apollinaris; but it nowhere appears that he was unaware of its existence. The very language in which he disclaims any pretension of giving a complete list seems to imply that he had observed other books quoted in other writers, which he had not read or seen himself. Theodoret does not 'enumerate other of his works,' as the looseness of the English would suggest to the reader. He only mentions incidentally, when describing the sects of the Severians and Montanists respectively, that Apollinaris had written against them [243:1]. There is not the smallest reason why he should have gone out of his way in either passage to speak of the work on the Paschal Festival, supposing him to have known of it. And if not, where else does our author find in Theodoret any notice which can be made to yield the inference that he was unacquainted with this treatise? Nor again does Jerome, in the passage to which our author refers in his note [243:2], allude to a single work by this writer, but simply mentions him by name among those versed in profane as well as sacred literature. Elsewhere indeed he does give a catalogue of Apollinaris' writings [243:3], but there he simply copies Eusebius. With regard to Photius again, the statement, though not so directly inaccurate, is altogether misleading. Photius simply mentions three works of Apollinaris, which he read during his embassy, but he does not profess to give a list; and he says distinctly that there were other famous works by the same author which he had not seen. Who the 'other writers' may be, who 'enumerate other of his works,' I am altogether at a loss to imagine. But the last sentence, 'Nor is he mentioned in any way by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, etc.,' is the most calculated to mislead the reader. Of the treatise of Clement on the Paschal Festival only two short fragments are preserved. He does not mention any person in these, nor could he have done so without going out of his way. For the rest, Clement is reported by Eusebius to have stated in his work that he was prompted to write it by Melito's treatise on the same subject [243:4]. Eusebius is there discussing Melito, and any mention of Apollinaris would have been quite out of place. What ground is there then for the assumption that Clement did not mention Apollinaris, because Eusebius has not recorded the fact? When at a later point Eusebius comes to speak of Clement, he says of this father that in the treatise of which we are speaking he 'mentions Melito and Irenaeus and certain others, whose explanations also he has given' [244:1]. Why may not Apollinaris have been included among these 'certain others' whom Clement quoted? The same fallacy underlies our author's reference to Irenaeus. The work of Irenaeus is lost. Eusebius, it is true, preserves some very meagre fragments [244:2]; but in these not a single writer on either side in the Quartodeciman controversy is mentioned, not even Melito. Irenaeus may have quoted Apollinaris by name in this lost treatise, just as he quotes Papias by name in his extant work on heresies, where nevertheless Eusebius does not care to record the fact. All this assumed silence of writers whose works are lost is absolutely valueless against the direct and explicit testimony of the Paschal Chronicle.
2. But secondly; our author considers that the contents of these fragments are inconsistent with their attribution to Apollinaris. His argument is instructive [244:3].
It is stated that all the Churches of Asia, including some of the most distinguished members of the Church, such as Polycarp, and his own contemporary Melito, celebrated the Christian festival on the 14th Nisan, the practice almost universal, therefore, in the country in which Claudius Apollinaris is supposed to write this fragment. How is it possible, therefore, that this isolated convert to the views of Victor and the Roman Church could write of so vast and distinguished a majority as 'some who through ignorance raised contentions' on this point, when notably all the Asiatic Churches at that time were agreed to keep the fourteenth of Nisan, and in doing so raised no new contention at all, but, as Polycrates represented, followed the tradition handed down to them from their fathers, and authorized by the practice of the Apostle John himself?
with more to the same effect.
I will hand over this difficulty to those who share our author's views on the point at issue in the Quartodeciman controversy. Certainly I cannot suggest any satisfactory mode of escape from the dilemma which is here put. But what, if the writer of these fragments was not an 'isolated convert to the views of Victor,' but a Quartodeciman himself? What, if the Quartodecimans kept the 14th, not as the commemoration of the last Supper, but of the Passion, so that Melito himself would have heartily assented to the criticisms in these fragments? [245:1] This is the obvious view suggested by the account of the controversy in Eusebius, and in Irenaeus as quoted by Eusebius; and it gains confirmation from these fragments of Apollinaris. It seems to me highly improbable that Apollinaris should have been an exception to the practice of the Asiatic Churches. So far I agree with our author. But this is a reason for questioning the soundness of his own views on the Quartodeciman controversy, rather than for disputing the genuineness of the fragments attributed to Apollinaris.
After this account of Melito and Apollinaris, the two chief representatives of the later school of St John, it will be worth while to call attention to a statement of Irenaeus in which he professes to record the opinion of the Asiatic elders on a point intimately affecting the credibility of the Fourth Gospel, the chronology of our Lord's life and ministry [245:2].
The Valentinians, against whom this father is arguing, sought for analogies to the thirty aeons of their pleroma, or supra-sensual world, in the Gospel history. Among other examples they alleged the thirty years' duration of our Lord's life. This computation of the Gospel chronology they derived from the notices in St Luke as interpreted by themselves. At the commencement of His ministry, so they maintained, He had completed His twenty-ninth and was entering upon His thirtieth year, and His ministry itself did not extend beyond a twelve-month, 'the acceptable year of the Lord' foretold by the prophet. Irenaeus expresses his astonishment that persons professing to understand the deep things of God should have overlooked the commonest facts of the evangelical narrative, and points to the three passovers recorded in St John's Gospel during the term of our Lord's ministry. Independently of the chronology of the Fourth Gospel, Irenaeus has an a priori reason of his own, why the Saviour must have lived more than thirty years. He came to sanctify every period of life—infancy, childhood, youth, declining age. It was therefore necessary that He should have passed the turn of middle life. From thirty to forty, he argues, a man is still reckoned young (juvenis).
But from his fortieth and fiftieth year he is already declining into older age, which was the case with our Lord when he taught, as the Gospel and all the elders who associated with John the disciple of the Lord in Asia testify that John delivered this account. For he remained with them till the times of Trajan. But some of them saw not only John, but other Apostles also, and heard these same things from their lips, and bear testimony to such an account.
Irenaeus then goes on to argue that the same may be inferred from the language of our Lord's Jewish opponents, who asked: 'Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?' This, he maintains, could not properly be said of one who was only thirty years of age, and must imply that the person so addressed had passed his fortieth year at least, and probably that he was not far off his fiftieth.
On this passage it must be remarked that the Valentinian chronology was derived from a prima facie interpretation of the Synoptic narrative; whereas the Asiatic reckoning, which Irenaeus maintains, was, or might well have been, founded on the Fourth Gospel, but could not possibly have been elicited from the first three Gospels independently of the fourth.
On this question generally I have spoken already in a former paper [247:1]. Though it seems probable that our Lord's ministry was confined to three years, yet there is not a single notice in any of the four Gospels inconsistent with the hypothesis that it extended over a much longer period, and that He was some forty years old at all events at the time of the Passion. The Synoptic narratives say absolutely nothing about the interval which elapsed between the Baptism and the Passion. St John mentions three passovers, but he nowhere intimates that he has given an exhaustive list of these festivals. The account of Irenaeus therefore is not so unreasonable after all; and we need not have hesitated to accept it, if there had been any definite grounds for doing so.
It will be seen however, that Irenaeus, while maintaining that our Lord was forty years old, grounds his opinion mainly on a false inference from John viii. 57. At the same time he adduces the testimony of the Gospel and 'all the elders,' not for this particular view of our Lord's age, but for the more general statement that He was past middle life; and this vagueness of language suggests that, though their testimony was distinctly on his side as against the Valentinians, it did not go beyond this. It is very far from improbable indeed, that he borrowed this very interpretation of John viii. 57 from one of these Asiatic elders, just as we have seen him [247:2] elsewhere borrowing an interpretation of another passage of this Gospel (xiv. 2) from the same source. But, as he has here forced the testimony of the Fourth Gospel to say more than it really does say, so also he may have strained the testimony of 'all the elders' in the same direction. Yet the broad fact remains that he confidently appeals to them in support of a chronology suggested by the Fourth Gospel, but certainly not deducible from the Synoptic narratives.
And the extant remains of this school support the appeal so qualified. We have seen that its two most famous authors, Melito and Apollinaris, distinctly follow the chronology of the Fourth Evangelist, the one in the duration of the Lord's ministry, the other in the events of the Paschal week [248:1].
Of the special references to these fathers of the Asiatic Church, which appear elsewhere in Irenaeus, it is sufficient to say that in one instance an elder is represented as quoting a saying of our Lord contained only in the Gospel of St John [248:2] while the words ascribed to another are most probably suggested by the language of the same Evangelist [248:3]. This latter elder, whose speculations are given at great length, also introduces two direct quotations from St Paul's Epistles, and treats the Apostle's authority throughout as beyond dispute [248:4].
The last father of the Asiatic school, whom it will be necessary to mention, is POLYCRATES, bishop of Ephesus. When Victor of Rome in the closing years of the second century attempted to force the Western usage with respect to Easter on the Asiatic Christians, Polycrates wrote to remonstrate. The letter is unhappily lost, but a valuable extract is preserved by Eusebius [248:5]. In this the writer claims to speak authoritatively on the subject of dispute, owing to the special opportunities which he had enjoyed. He states that he had received the observance of the 14th by tradition from his relations, of whom seven had been bishops; he says that he had conferred with the brethren from all parts of the world; and he adds that he had 'gone through every holy scripture.' When we remember the question at issue, and recall the language of Apollinaris respecting the Gospels, in writing on the same subject, we see what is implied in this last sentence. The extract, which is short, contains only two references to the writings of the New Testament. The one is to the Fourth Gospel; St John is described in the very words of this Gospel, as 'he that leaned on the bosom of the Lord' ([Greek: ho epi to stethos tou Kuriou anapeson]) [249:1]. The other is to a book of the Pauline cycle, the Acts of the Apostles; 'They that are greater than I,' writes Polycrates, 'have said, We must obey God rather than men' [249:2].
We have now reached the close of the second century, and it is not necessary to pursue the history of the School of St John in their Asiatic home beyond this point. But in the meantime a large and flourishing colony had been established in the cities of southern Gaul, and no account of the traditions of the school would be adequate which failed to take notice of this colony. This part of the subject however must be left for a subsequent paper. Meanwhile the inferences from the notices passed under review cannot, I think, be doubtful. Out of a very extensive literature, by which this school was once represented, the extant remains are miserably few and fragmentary; but the evidence yielded by these meagre relies is decidedly greater, in proportion to their extent, than we had any right to expect. As regards the Fourth Gospel, this is especially the case. If the same amount of written matter—occupying a very few pages in all—were extracted accidentally from the current theological literature of our own day, the chances, unless I am mistaken, would be strongly against our finding so many indications of the use of this Gospel. In every one of the writers, from Polycarp and Papias to Polycrates, we have observed phenomena which bear witness directly or indirectly, and with different degrees of distinctness, to its recognition. It is quite possible for critical ingenuity to find a reason for discrediting each instance in turn. An objector may urge in one case, that the writing itself is a forgery; in a second, that the particular passage is an interpolation; in a third, that the supposed quotation is the original and the language of the Evangelist the copy; in a fourth, that the incident or saying was not deduced from this Gospel but from some apocryphal work, containing a parallel narrative. By a sufficient number of assumptions, which lie beyond the range of verification, the evidence may be set aside. But the early existence and recognition of the Fourth Gospel is the one simple postulate which explains all the facts. The law of gravitation accounts for the various phenomena of motion, the falling of a stone, the jet of a fountain, the orbits of the planets, and so forth. It is quite possible for any one, who is so disposed, to reject this explanation of nature. Provided that he is allowed to postulate a new force for every new fact with which he is confronted, he has nothing to fear. He will then "gird the sphere With centric and eccentric scribbled o'er, Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb,"
happy in his immunity. But the other theory will prevail nevertheless by reason of its simplicity.
VIII. THE CHURCHES OF GAUL.
In the preceding papers I have investigated the testimony borne by the Churches of Asia Minor to the Canonical Gospels, and more especially to the Fourth Evangelist. The peculiar value of this testimony is due to the close personal relations of these communities with the latest surviving Apostles, more particularly with St John. At the same time I took occasion incidentally to remark on their attitude towards St Paul and his writings, because an assumed antagonism between the Apostle of the Gentiles and the Twelve has been adopted by a modern school of critics as the basis for a reconstruction of early Christian history. I purpose in the present paper extending this investigation to the Churches of Gaul. The Christianity of Gaul was in some sense the daughter of the Christianity of Asia Minor.
Of the history of the Gallican Churches before the middle of the second century we have no certain information. It seems fairly probable indeed that, when we read in the Apostolic age of a mission of Crescens to 'Galatia' or 'Gaul' [251:1], the western country is meant rather than the Asiatic settlement which bore the same name; and, if so, this points to some relations with St Paul himself. But, even though this explanation should be accepted, the notice stands quite alone. Later tradition indeed supplements it with legendary matter, but it is impossible to say what substratum of fact, if any, underlies these comparatively recent stories.
The connection between the southern parts of Gaul and the western districts of Asia Minor had been intimate from very remote times. Gaul was indebted for her earliest civilization to her Greek settlements like Marseilles, which had been colonized from Asia Minor some six centuries before the Christian era; and close relations appear to have been maintained even to the latest times. During the Roman period the people of Marseilles still spoke the Greek language familiarly along with the vernacular Celtic of the native population and the official Latin of the dominant power [252:1]. When therefore Christianity had established her head-quarters in Asia Minor, it was not unnatural that the Gospel should flow in the same channels which had already conducted the civilization and the commerce of the Asiatic Greeks westward.
At all events, whatever we may think of the antecedent probabilities, the fact itself can hardly be disputed. In the year A.D. 177, under Marcus Aurelius, a severe persecution broke out on the banks of the Rhone in the cities of Vienne and Lyons—a persecution which by its extent and character bears a noble testimony to the vitality of the Churches in these places. To this incident we owe the earliest extant historical notice of Christianity in Gaul. A contemporary record of the martyrdoms on this occasion is preserved in the form of a letter from the persecuted Churches, addressed to 'the brethren that are in Asia and Phrygia' [252:2]. The communities thus addressed, it will be observed, belong to the district in which St John's influence was predominant, and which produced all the writers of his school who have been discussed in the preceding papers—Polycarp, Papias, Melito, Apollinaris, Polycrates. Of the references to the Canonical Scriptures in this letter I shall speak presently. For the moment it is sufficient to say that the very fact of their addressing the communication to these distant Churches shows the closeness of the ties which connected the Christians in Gaul with their Asiatic brethren. Moreover, in the body of the letter it is incidentally stated of two of the sufferers, that they came from Asia Minor—Attalus a Pergamene by birth, and Alexander a physician from Phrygia who 'had lived many years in the provinces of Gaul;' while nearly all of them bear Greek names. Among these martyrs the most conspicuous was Pothinus, the aged bishop of Lyons, who was more than ninety years old when he suffered. A later tradition makes him a native of Asia Minor [253:1]; and this would be a highly probable supposition, even if unsupported by any sort of evidence. Indeed it is far from unlikely that the fact was stated in the letter itself, for Eusebius has not preserved the whole of it. But whether an Asiatic Greek or not, he must have been a growing boy when St John died; and through him the Churches of Southern Gaul, when they first appear in the full light of history, are linked directly with the Apostolic age.
Immediately after this persecution the intimate alliance between these distant parts of Christendom was manifested in another way. The Montanist controversy was raging in the Church of Phrygia, and the brethren of Gaul communicated to them their views on the controverted points [253:2]. To this communication they appended various letters of the martyrs, 'which they penned, while yet in bonds, to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia.' About the same time the martyrs sent Irenaeus, then a presbyter, as their delegate with letters of recommendation to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome, for the sake of conferring with him on this same subject [253:3].
Some twenty years later, as the century was drawing to a close, another controversy broke out, relating to the observance of Easter, in which again the Asiatic Churches were mainly concerned; and here too we find the Christians of Gaul interposing with their counsels. When Victor of Rome issued his edict of excommunication against the Churches of Asia Minor, Irenaeus wrote to remonstrate. The letter sent on this occasion however did not merely represent his own private views, for we are especially told that he wrote 'in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided.' Nor did he appeal to the Roman bishop alone, but he exchanged letters also with 'very many divers rulers of the Churches concerning the question which had been stirred' [254:1].
Bearing these facts in mind, and inferring from them, as we have a right to infer, that the Churches of Gaul for the most part inherited the traditions of the Asiatic school of St John, we look with special interest to the documents emanating from these communities.
The Epistle of the brotherhoods in Vienne and Lyons, already mentioned, is the earliest of these. The main business of the letter is a narrative of contemporary facts, and any allusions therefore to the Canonical writings are incidental.
But, though incidental, they are unequivocal. Of the references to St Paul, for instance, there can be no doubt. Thus the martyrs and confessors are mentioned as 'showing in very truth that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,' where a sentence containing fourteen words in the Greek is given verbatim as it stands in Rom. viii. 18. Thus again, they are described as 'imitators of Christ, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God,' where in like manner a sentence of twelve words stands verbatim as we find it Phil. ii. 6. No one, I venture to think, will question the source of these passages, though they are given anonymously and without any signs of quotation. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that when Attalus the martyr is called 'the pillar and ground' ([Greek: stulon kai hedraioma]) of the Christians at Lyons, the expression is taken from 1 Tim. iii. 15; or that when Alcibiades, who had hitherto lived on bread and water, received a revelation rebuking him for 'not using the creatures of God, in obedience to which he 'partook of all things freely and gave thanks to God,' there is a reference to 1 Tim. iv. 3, 4. These passages show the attitude of the author or authors of this letter towards St Paul; but I have cited them also as exhibiting the manner of quotation which prevails in this letter, and thus indicating what we are to expect in other cases.
From the third and fourth Gospels then we find quotations analogous to these.
Of Vettius Epagathus, one of the sufferers, we are told, that though young he 'rivalled the testimony borne to the elder Zacharias ([Greek: sunexisousthai te tou presbuterou Zachariou marturia]), for verily ([Greek: goun]) he had walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.' Here we have the same words and in the same order, which are used of Zacharias and Elisabeth in St Luke (i. 6). Moreover, it is stated lower down of this same martyr, that he was 'called the paraclete (or advocate) of the Christians, having the Paraclete in himself, the Spirit more abundantly than Zacharias.' This maybe compared with Luke i. 67, 'And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Ghost.'
The meaning of the expression 'The testimony of Zacharias' ([Greek: te tou Zachariou marturia]) has been questioned. It might signify either 'the testimony borne to Zacharias,' i.e. his recorded character, or 'the testimony borne by Zacharias,' i.e. his martyrdom. I cannot doubt that the former explanation is correct; for the connecting particle ([Greek: goun]) shows that the assertion is intended to find its justification in words which immediately follow, 'he walked in all the commandments,' etc. I need not however dwell on this point, for the author of Supernatural Religion himself adopts this rendering [255:1]. Yet with an inconsistency, of which his book furnishes not a few examples, though he not only adopts this rendering himself, but silently ignores the alternative, he proceeds at once to maintain a hypothesis which is expressly built upon the interpretation thus tacitly rejected.
An early tradition or conjecture identified the Zacharias, who is mentioned in the Gospels as having been slain between the temple and the altar (Matt. xxiii. 35), with this Zacharias the father of the Baptist. And in the extravagant romance called the Protevangelium, which is occupied mainly with the birth, infancy, and childhood of our Lord, the Baptist's father is represented as slain by Herod 'at the vestibule of the temple of the Lord' [256:1]. Our author therefore supposes that these Christians of Gaul are quoting not from St Luke, but from some apocryphal Gospel which gave a similar account of the martyrdom of Zacharias.
Whether this identification which I have mentioned is true or false it is unnecessary for my purpose to inquire. Nor again do I care to discuss the question whether or not the authors of this letter accepted it, and so believed the Baptist's father to have fallen a martyr. I am disposed on the whole to think that they did. This supposition, which however must remain uncertain, would give more point to the parallelism with Vettius Epagathus. But it is a matter of little or no moment as regards the point at issue. The quotation found in St Luke's Gospel has (according to the interpretation which our author rightly receives) no reference whatever to the martyrdom; and therefore affords no ground for the assumption that the document from which it is taken contained any account of or any reference to the death of the Baptist's father.
But, granting that the writers of this letter assumed the identification (and this assumption, whether true or false, was very natural), our Third Gospel itself does furnish such a reference; and they would thus find within the limits of this Gospel everything which they required relating to Zacharias. The author of Supernatural Religion indeed represents the matter otherwise; but then he has overlooked an important passage. With a forgetfulness of the contents of the Gospels which ought surely to suggest some reflections to a critic who cannot understand how the Fathers, 'utterly uncritical' though they were, should ever quote any writing otherwise than with the most literal accuracy, he says, 'There can be no doubt that the reference to Zacharias in Matthew, in the Protevangelium, and in this Epistle of Vienne and Lyons, is not based upon Luke, in which there is no mention of his death' [257:1]. Here and throughout this criticism he appears to have forgotten Luke xi. 51, 'the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple.' If the death of the Baptist's father is mentioned in St Matthew, it is mentioned in St Luke also.
But, if our author disposes of the coincidences with the Third Gospel in this way, what will he say to those with the Acts? In this same letter of the Gallican Churches we are told that the sufferers prayed for their persecutors 'like Stephen the perfect martyr, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' Will he boldly maintain that the writers had before them another Acts containing words identical with our Acts, just as he supposes them to have had another Gospel containing words identical with our Third Gospel? Or will he allow this account to have been taken from Acts vii. 60, with which it coincides? But in this latter case, if they had the second treatise which bears the name of St Luke in their hands, why should they not have had the first also?
Our author however does not stop here. He maintains that these same writers quoted not only from a double of St Luke, but from a double of St John also [258:1]. 'That was fulfilled,' they write, 'which was spoken by the Lord, saying, There shall come a time in which whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service,' where the words of St John (xvi. 2) are exactly reproduced, with the exception that for 'There cometh an hour when' ([Greek: erchetai hora hina]) they substitute 'There shall come a time in which' ([Greek: eleusetai kairos en ho]. This substitution, which was highly natural in a quotation from memory, is magnified by our author into 'very decided variations from the Fourth Gospel.' He would therefore assign the quotation to some apocryphal gospel which has perished. No such gospel however is known to have existed. Moreover this passage occurs in a characteristic discourse of the Fourth Gospel, and the expression itself is remarkable—far more remarkable than it appears in the English version ([Greek: latreian prospherein to Theo]), not 'to do God service,' but 'to offer a religious service to God'). I may add also that the mention of the Spirit as the Paraclete, already quoted, points to the use of this Gospel by the writers, and that the letter presents at least one other coincidence with St John. Our author certainly deserves credit for courage. Here, as elsewhere, he imagines that, so long as he does not advance anything which is demonstrably impossible, he may pile one improbability upon another without endangering the stability of his edifice.
But even if his account of these evangelical quotations could survive this accumulation of improbabilities, it will appear absolutely untenable in the light of contemporary fact. Irenaeus was the most prominent and learned member of the Church from which this letter emanated, at the very time when it was written. According to some modern critics he was the actual composer of the letter; but for this there is no evidence of any kind. According to our author himself he was the bearer of it [259:1]; but this statement again is not borne out by facts. There can be no doubt however, that Irenaeus was intimately mixed up with all the incidents, and he cannot have been ignorant of the contents of the letter. Now this letter was written A.D. 177 or, as our author prefers, A.D. 178, while Irenaeus published his third book before A.D. 190 at all events, and possibly some years earlier. Irenaeus in this book assumes that the Church from the beginning has recognized our four Canonical Gospels, and these only. The author of Supernatural Religion maintains on the other hand that only twelve years before, at the outside, the very Church to which Irenaeus belonged, in a public document with which he was acquainted, betrays no knowledge of our Canonical Gospels, but quotes from one or more Apocryphal Gospels instead. He maintains this though the quotations in question are actually found in our Canonical Gospels.
Here then the inference cannot be doubtful. But what must be the fate of a writer who can thus ride roughshod over plain facts, when he comes to deal with questions which demand a nice critical insight and a careful weighing of probabilities?
From this letter relating to the martyrdoms in Vienne and Lyons, we are led to speak directly of the illustrious Gallican father, whose name has already been mentioned several times, and who is the most important of all witnesses to the Canonical writings of the New Testament.
The great work of Irenaeus is entitled Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge falsely so called, and consists of five books. The third book was published during the episcopate of Eleutherus, who was Bishop of Rome from about A.D. 175 to A.D. 190; for he is mentioned in it as still living [260:1]. It must therefore have been written before A.D. 190. On the other hand it contains a mention of Theodotion's version of the LXX [260:2]; and Theodotion's version is stated not to have been published till the reign of Commodus (A.D. 182-190). Unfortunately Epiphanius, the authority mainly relied on by our author and others for this statement, contradicts himself in this same passage, which is full of the grossest chronological and historical blunders [260:3]. No stress therefore can be laid on his statement; nor indeed can we regard its truth or falsehood as of any real moment for our purpose. It is immaterial whether the third book dates from the earlier or later years of Eleutherus. As the several books were composed and published separately, the author of Supernatural Religion has a right to suppose, though he cannot prove, that the fourth and fifth were written during the episcopate of Victor (A.D. 190-198 or 199). But in his partiality for late dates he forgets that the weapon which he wields is double-edged. If the fourth and fifth books 'must,' as he confidently asserts, have been written some years after the third, it follows by parity of reasoning, that the first and second must have been written some years before it. Yet, with a strange inconsistency, he assumes in the very same sentence that the two first books cannot have been written till the latest years of Eleutherus, because on his showing the third must date from that epoch [261:1].
With the respective dates of the several books however we need not concern ourselves; for they all exhibit the same phenomena, so far as regards the attitude of the author towards the Canonical writings of the New Testament. On this point, it is sufficient to say that the authority which Irenaeus attributes to the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of St Paul, several of the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse, falls short in no respect of the estimate of the Church Catholic in the fourth or the ninth or the nineteenth century. He treats them as on a level with the Canonical books of the Old Testament; he cites them as Scripture in the same way; he attributes them to the respective authors whose names they bear; he regards them as writings handed down in the several Churches from the beginning; he fills his pages with quotations from them; he has not only a very thorough knowledge of their contents himself, but he assumes an acquaintance with and a recognition of them in his readers [262:1].
In the third book especially he undertakes to refute the opinions of his Valentinian opponents directly from the Scriptures. This leads him to be still more explicit. He relates briefly the circumstances under which our Four Gospels were written. He points out that the writings of the Evangelists arose directly from the oral Gospel of the Apostles. He shows that the traditional teaching of the Apostles has been preserved by a direct succession of elders which in the principal Churches can be traced man by man, and he asserts that this teaching accords entirely with the Evangelical and Apostolic writings. He maintains on the other hand, that the doctrine of the heretics was of comparatively recent growth. He assumes throughout, not only that our four Canonical Gospels alone were acknowledged in the Church in his own time, but that this had been so from the beginning. His Valentinian antagonists indeed accepted these same Gospels, paying especial deference to the Fourth Evangelist; and accordingly he argues with them on this basis. But they also superadded other writings, to which they appealed, while heretics of a different type, as Marcion for instance, adopted some one Gospel to the exclusion of all others. He therefore urges not only that four Gospels alone have been handed down from the beginning, but that in the nature of things there could not be more nor less than four. There are four regions of the world, and four principal winds; and the Church therefore, as destined to be conterminous with the world, must be supported by four Gospels, as four pillars. The Word again is represented as seated on the Cherubim, who are described by Ezekiel as four living creatures, each different from the other. These symbolize the four Evangelists, with their several characteristics. The predominance of the number four again appears in another way. There are four general covenants, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, of Christ. It is therefore an act of audacious folly to increase or diminish the number of the Gospels. As there is fitness and order in all the other works of God, so also we may expect to find it in the case of the Gospel.
What is the historical significance of this phenomenon? Can we imagine that the documents which Irenaeus regards in this light had been produced during his own lifetime? that they had sprung up suddenly full-armed from the earth, no one could say how? and that they had taken their position at once by the side of the Law and the Psalmist and the Prophets, as the very voice of God?
The author of Supernatural Religion seems to think that no explanation is needed. 'The reasons,' he writes, 'which he [Irenaeus] gives for the existence of precisely that number [four Gospels] in the Canon of the Church illustrate the thoroughly uncritical character of the Fathers, and the slight dependence which can be placed upon their judgments' [263:1]. Accordingly he does not even discuss the testimony of Irenaeus, but treats it as if it were not. He does not see that there is all the difference in, the world between the value of the same man's evidence as to matters of fact, and his opinions as to the causes and bearings of his facts. He does not observe that these fanciful arguments and shadowy analogies are pro tanto an evidence of the firm hold which this quadruple Gospel, as a fact, had already obtained when he wrote. Above all, I must suppose from his silence that he regards this testimony of Irenaeus in the isolated opinion of an individual writer, and is unconscious of the historical background which it implies. It is this last consideration which led me to speak of Irenaeus as the most important witness to the early date and authorship of the Gospels, and to which I wish to direct attention.
The birth of Irenaeus has been placed as early as A.D. 97 by Dodwell, and as late as A.D. 140 by our author and some others, while other writers again have adopted intermediate positions. I must frankly say that the very early date seems to me quite untenable. On the other hand, those who have placed it as late as A.D. 140 have chosen this date on the ground of the relation of Irenaeus to Polycarp in his old age [264:1], and on the supposition that Polycarp was martyred about A.D. 167. Since however it has recently been shown that Polycarp suffered A.D. 155 or 156 [264:2], it may be presumed that these critics would now throw the date of his pupil's birth some ten or twelve years farther back, i.e. to about A.D. 128 or 130. But there is no reason why it should not have been some few years earlier. If the suggestion which I have thrown out in a previous paper deserves attention [265:1], he was probably born about A.D. 120. But the exact date of his birth is a matter of comparatively little moment. The really important fact is, that he was connected directly with the Apostles and the Apostolic age by two distinct personal links, if not more.
Of his connection with POLYCARP I have already spoken [265:2]. Polycarp was the disciple of St John; and, as he was at least eighty-six years old when he suffered martyrdom (A.D. 155), he must have been close upon thirty when the Apostle died. Irenaeus was young when he received instruction from Polycarp. He speaks of himself in one passage as 'still a boy,' in another as 'in early life.' If we reckon his age as from fifteen to eighteen, we shall probably not be far wrong, though the expressions themselves would admit some latitude on either side. At all events, he says that he had a vivid recollection of his master's conversations; he recalled not only the substance of his discourses, but his very expressions and manner; more especially he states that he remembers distinctly his descriptions of his intercourse with John and other personal disciples of Christ together with their account of the Lord's life and teaching; and he adds that these were 'altogether in accordance with the Scriptures' [265:3].
But Irenaeus was linked with the Apostolic age by another companionship also. He was the leading presbyter in the Church of Lyons, of which POTHINUS was bishop, and succeeded to this see on the martyrdom of the latter in A.D. 177 or 178. With Pothinus therefore he must have had almost daily intercourse. But Pothinus lived to be more than ninety years old, and must have been a boy of ten at least, when the Apostle St John died. Moreover there is every reason to believe, as we have already seen [265:4], that like Irenaeus himself Pothinus came originally from Asia Minor. Under any circumstances, his long life and influential position would give a special value to his testimony respecting the past history of the Church; and, whether he was uncritical or not (of which we are ignorant), he must have known whether certain writings attributed to the Evangelists and Apostles had been in circulation as long as he could remember, or whether they came to his knowledge only the other day, when he was already advanced in life.
In one passage in his extant work, Irenaeus gives an account of elaborate discourses which he had heard from an elder who had himself 'listened to those who had seen the Apostles and to those who had been disciples,' i.e. personal followers of Christ [266:1]. It seems most natural to identify this anonymous elder with Pothinus. In this case the 'disciples' whom he had heard would be such persons as Aristion and John the presbyter, who are mentioned in this same way by Papias; while under the designation of 'those who had seen the Apostles' Polycarp more especially might be intended. But, if he were not Pothinus, then he forms a third direct link of connection between Irenaeus and the Apostolic age. Whoever he was, it is clear that the intercourse of Irenaeus with him was frequent and intimate. 'The elder,' writes Irenaeus, 'used to say,' 'The elder used to refresh us with such accounts of the ancient worthies,' 'The elder used to discuss.' Indeed the elaborate character of these discourses suggests, as I have stated in a former paper [266:2], that Irenaeus is here reproducing notes of lectures which he had heard from this person. With the references direct or indirect to the Canonical writings in this anonymous teacher I am not concerned here; nor indeed is it necessary to add anything to what has been said in a previous paper [266:3]. I wish now merely to call attention to these discourses as showing, that through his intercourse with this elder Irenaeus could not fail to have ascertained the mind of the earlier Church with regard to the Evangelical and Apostolic writings.
Nor were these the only exceptional advantages which Irenaeus enjoyed. When he speaks of the recognition of the Canonical writings his testimony must be regarded as directly representing three Churches at least. In youth he was brought up, as we saw, in Asia Minor. In middle life he stayed for some time in Rome, having gone there on an important public mission [267:1]. Before and after this epoch he for many years held a prominent position in the Church of Gaul. He was moreover actively engaged from the beginning to the end of his public career in all the most important controversies of the day. He gave lectures as we happen to know; for Hippolytus attended a course on 'All the Heresies,' delivered perhaps during one of his sojourns at Rome [267:2]. He was a diligent letter-writer, interesting himself in the difficulties and dissensions of distant Churches, and more than one notice of such letters is preserved. He composed several treatises more or less elaborate, whose general character may be estimated from his extant work. The subjects moreover, with which he had to deal, must have forced him to an examination of the points with which we are immediately concerned. He took a chief part in the Montanist controversy; and the Montanist doctrine of the Paraclete, as I have before had occasion to remark [267:3], directly suggested an investigation of the promise in the Fourth Gospel. He was equally prominent in the Paschal dispute, and here again the relation between the narratives of St John and the Synoptists must have entered largely into the discussion. He was contending all his life with Gnostics, or reactionists against Gnosticism, and how large a part the authority and contents of the Gospels and Epistles must have played in these controversies generally we see plainly from his surviving work against the Valentinians.
Thus Irenaeus does not present himself before us as an isolated witness, but is backed by a whole phalanx of past and contemporaneous authority. All this our author ignores. He forecloses all investigation by denouncing, as usual, the uncritical character of the fathers; and Irenaeus is not even allowed to enter the witness-box.
The truth is that, speaking generally, the fathers are neither more nor less uncritical on questions which involve the historical sense, than other writers of their age. Now and then we meet with an exceptional blunderer; but for the most part Christian writers will compare not unfavourably with their heathen contemporaries. If Clement of Rome believes in the story of the phoenix, so do several classical writers of repute. If Justin Martyr affirms that Simon Magus received divine honours at Rome, heathen historians and controversialists make statements equally false and quite as ridiculous with reference to the religion and history of the Jews [268:1]. Even the credulity of a Papias may be more than matched by the credulity of an Apion or an AElian. The work of the sceptical Pliny himself abounds in impossible stories. On the other hand individual writers may be singled out among the Christian fathers, whom it would be difficult to match in their several excellences from their own or contiguous generations. No heathen contemporary shows such a power of memory or so wide an acquaintance with the classical literature of Greece in all its branches as Clement of Alexandria. No heathen contemporary deserves to be named in the same day with Origen for patience and accuracy in textual criticism, to say nothing of other intellectual capacities, which, notwithstanding all his faults, distinguish him as the foremost writer of his age. And again, the investigations of Theophilus of Antioch, the contemporary of Irenaeus, in comparative chronology are far in advance of anything which emanates from heathen writers of his time, however inadequate they may appear in this nineteenth century, which has discovered so many monuments of primeval history. There are in fact as many gradations among the Christian fathers as in any other order of men; and here, as elsewhere, each writer must be considered on his own merits. It is a gross injustice to class the authors whom I have named with such hopeless blunderers as Epiphanius and John Malalas, for whom nothing can be said, but in whom nevertheless our author places the most implicit confidence, when their statements serve his purpose.
Now Irenaeus is not one whose testimony can be lightly set aside. He possessed, as we have seen, exceptional opportunities of forming an opinion on the point at issue. His honesty is, I think, beyond the reach of suspicion. He is a man of culture and intelligence. He possesses a considerable knowledge of classical literature, though he makes no parade of it. He argues against his opponents with much patience. His work is systematic, and occasionally shows great acuteness. His traditions, no doubt, require sifting, like other men's, and sometimes dissolve in the light of criticism. He has his weak points also, whether in his interpretations or in his views of things. But what then? Who refuses to listen to the heathen rhetorician Aristides or the apostate Emperor Julian on matters of fact because they are both highly superstitious—the one paying a childish deference to dreams, the other showing himself a profound believer in magic? In short, Irenaeus betrays no incapacity which affects his competency as a witness to a broad and comprehensive fact, such as that with which alone we are concerned.
And his testimony is confirmed by evidence from all sides. The recognition of these four Gospels from a very early date is the one fact which explains the fragmentary notices and references occurring in previous writers. Moreover his contemporaries in every quarter of the Church repeat the same story independently. The Old Latin Version, already existing when Irenaeus published his work and representing the Canon of the African Christians, included these four Gospels, and these only. The author of the Muratorian fragment, writing a few years before him, and apparently representing the Church of Rome, recognizes these, and these alone. Clement, writing a few years later, as a member of the Alexandrian Church, who had also travelled far and wide, and sat at the feet of divers teachers, in Greece, in Asia Minor, in Palestine, in Italy, doubts the authenticity of a story told in an apocryphal writing, on the ground that it was not related in any of the four Gospels handed down by the Church [270:1]. What is the meaning of all this coincidence of view? It must be borne in mind that the Canon of the New Testament was not made the subject of any conciliar decree till the latter half of the fourth century. When therefore we find this agreement on all sides in the closing years of the second, without any formal enactment, we can only explain it as the convergence of independent testimony showing that, though individual writers might allow themselves the use of other documents, yet the general sense of the Church had for some time past singled out these four Gospels by tacit consent, and placed them in a position of exceptional authority.
One other remark on the testimony of Irenaeus suggests itself before closing. Irenaeus is the first extant writer in whom, from the nature of his work, we have a right to expect explicit information on the subject of the Canon. Earlier writings, which have been preserved entire, are either epistolary, like the letters of the Apostolic Fathers, where any references to the Canonical books must necessarily be precarious and incidental (to say nothing of the continuance of the oral tradition at this early date as a disturbing element); or devotional, like the Shepherd of Hermas, which is equally devoid of quotations from the Old Testament and from the New; or historical, like the account of the martyrdoms at Vienne and Lyons, where any such allusion is gratuitous; or apologetic, like the great mass of the extant Christian writings of the second century, where the reserve of the writer naturally leads him to be silent about authorities which would carry no weight with the Jewish or heathen readers whom he addressed. But the work of Irenaeus is the first controversial treatise addressed to Christians on questions of Christian doctrine, where the appeal lies to Christian documents. And here the testimony to our four Gospels is full and clear and precise.
If any reader is really in earnest on this matter, I will ask him to read Irenaeus and judge for himself. He will find many things for which perhaps he is not prepared, and which will jar with his preconceived ideas; but on the one point at issue I have no fear that I shall be accused of exaggeration. Indeed it is impossible to convey in a few paragraphs the whole force of an impression which is deepened by each successive page of a long and elaborate work.
IX. TATIAN'S DIATESSARON [272:1].
All that is known of the life of Tatian can be soon told. He was an Assyrian by birth, as he himself distinctly states. If other writers call him a Syrian, the discrepancy may be explained by the common confusion between the two nationalities; or possibly it should be accounted for by his place of residence during the later years of his life. As a heathen he exercised the profession of a sophist, and in this capacity travelled far and wide. His mind was first turned towards Christianity by reading the Scriptures, which impressed him greatly. As a Christian he became the hearer—in some sense the disciple—of Justin Martyr, doubtless at Rome; and when Crescens, the cynic, succeeded in bringing about his master's death, Tatian's life also was imperilled by the plots of this machinator. While he remained in the metropolis he had among his disciples Rhodon, who in later years undertook to refute one of his heretical works. Subsequently he left Rome, and seems to have spent the remainder of his life in the East, more especially in Syria and the neighbouring countries.
After the death of Justin Martyr—how soon after we do not know—his opinions underwent a change. Hitherto he had been regarded as strictly orthodox; but now he separated himself from the Church, and espoused views closely allied to those of the Encratites. A leading tenet of his new ascetic creed was the rejection of marriage as an abomination. But he is stated also to have adopted opinions from Gnostic teachers, more especially the doctrine of AEons, which he derived from the Valentinian school [273:1]. The author of Supernatural Religion further says that, 'although Tatian may have been acquainted with some of his (St Paul's) Epistles, it is certain that he did not hold the Apostle in any honour, and permitted himself the liberty of altering his phraseology' [273:2]. Where did he learn this 'certain' piece of information that Tatian thought lightly of St Paul? Assuredly not from any ancient writer. It is quite true that Tatian is stated to have mutilated some of St Paul's Epistles and rejected others. But so did Marcion, who held the Apostle in extravagant honour. And the motive was the same in both cases. The Apostle's actual language did not square with their favourite tenets in all respects, and therefore they assumed that his text must have been corrupted or interpolated. So far from its being at all doubtful, as our author seems to suggest, whether Tatian was acquainted with any of St Paul's Epistles, we have positive evidence that he did receive some [273:3]; and moreover one or two coincidences in his extant work point to an acquaintance with the Apostle's writings. His leanings, like those of Marcion and Valentinus, were generally in the opposite direction to Judaism. His tendency would be not to underrate but to overrate St Paul. At the same time such passages as 1 Tim. iv. 3, where the prohibition of marriage is denounced as a heresy, were a stumbling-block. They must therefore be excised as interpolations, or the Epistles containing them must be rejected as spurious.
The date of Tatian is a matter of some uncertainty. He was a hearer, as we have seen, of Justin Martyr in Rome; and if the chronology of this father had been established beyond the reach of doubt, we should be treading on firm ground. On this point however there has been much variety of opinion. The prevailing view is, or was, in favour of placing Justin's death as late as A.D. 163-165, on the authority of Eusebius; but the most careful investigations of recent criticism have tended towards a much earlier date [274:1]. The literary activity of Tatian seems to have begun about the time of Justin Martyr's death; and after this we have to allow for his own career, first as an orthodox Christian, and then as a heretic. When Irenaeus wrote his first book, Tatian was no longer living, as may be inferred from the language of this father [274:2]: and this book must have been written before A.D. 190, and may have 'been written as early as A.D. 178 [274:3]. Again, if we may assume that the 'Assyrian,' whom the Alexandrian Clement mentions among his teachers [274:4], was Tatian, as seems highly probable, we have another indication of date. The first book of the Stromateis, in which this fact is recorded, was itself written about A.D. 194 or 195; and Clement there speaks of the Assyrian as one of his earlier masters, whom he had met with in the East, before he settled down under the tuition of Pantaenus at Alexandria. In like manner Tatian's connection with Rhodon would point roughly to the same conclusion. On the whole, we shall perhaps not be far wrong if we place the literary activity of Tatian at about A.D. 155-170. It may have begun some few years earlier, or it may have extended some few years later.
Tatian was a voluminous writer; but of several writings mentioned by the ancients only one has come down to us, his Apology or Address to the Greeks. It was written after the death of Justin, but apparently not very long after. At all events it would seem to have been composed before he had separated from the Church and set himself up as a heretical teacher. Its date therefore is dependent on the uncertain chronology of Justin. The author of Supernatural Religion speaks of it as 'generally dated between A.D. 170-175,' and seems himself to acquiesce in this view. Though I think this date probably several years too late, the point is not worth contending for.
As a rule, the early Apologies abstain from quotations, whether from the Old Testament or from the New. The writers are dealing with Gentiles, who have no acquaintance with and attribute no authority to their sacred books, and therefore they make little or no use of them [275:1]. Thus the Apologeticus of Tertullian does not contain a single passage from the New Testament, though his writings addressed to Christians teem with quotations from our Canonical books. Hence it is not in this extant work that we should expect to obtain information as to Tatian's Canon of the Scriptures. Any allusion to them will be purely incidental. As regards our Synoptical Gospels, the indications in Tatian's Apology are not such that we can lay much stress on them. But the evidence that he knew and accepted the Fourth Gospel is beyond the reach of any reasonable doubt.
The passages are here placed side by side:—
TATIAN. ST JOHN. 'God is a Spirit' ([Greek: pneuma ho 'God is a Spirit' ([Greek: pneuma Theos]), Sec. 4. ho Theos]), iv. 24. 'And this then is the saying 'And the light shineth in the ([Greek: to eiremenon]); The darkness, and the darkness darkness comprehendeth not the light' comprehended it not' ([Greek: he skotia to phos ou ([Greek: kai he skotia auto ou katalambanei]), Sec. 13. katelaben]), i. 5. 'Follow ye the only God. All things 'All things were made through have been made by Him, and apart Him, and apart from Him was from Him hath been made no one thing' made no one thing' ([Greek: panta ([Greek: panta hup' autou kai choris di' autou egeneto kai choris autou gegonen oude hen]), Sec. 19. autou egeneteo oude hen]), i. 3.
In the last passage from St John I have stopped at the words [Greek: oude hen], because the earliest Christian writers universally punctuated in this way, taking [Greek: ho gegonen k.t.l.] with the following sentence, 'That which hath been made was life in Him.'
Besides these passages there are other coincidences of exposition, with which however I need not trouble the reader, as they may fairly be disputed.
It is difficult to see how any one can resist coincidences like these; and yet the author of Supernatural Religion does resist them.
The first passage our author has apparently overlooked, for he says nothing about it. If it had stood alone I should certainly not have regarded it as decisive. But the epigrammatic form is remarkable, and it is a characteristic passage of the Fourth Gospel.
Of the second passage it should be noticed that Tatian introduces it with the expression ([Greek: to eiremenon]), which is used in the New Testament in quoting the Scriptures (Luke ii. 24, Acts ii. 16, xiii. 40, Rom. iv. 18); that in the context he explains 'the Word' (Logos) to be 'the light of God,' and 'the darkness' to be 'the unintelligent soul;' that this use of [Greek: katalambanein] is very peculiar, and has caused perplexity to interpreters of St John, being translated variously 'comprehended' or 'surprised' or 'overcame;' that the passage in the Fourth Gospel here again is highly characteristic, and occurs in its most characteristic part; and lastly, that the changes made by Tatian are just such as a writer would make when desiring to divest the saying of its context and present it in the briefest form. On the other hand, the author of Supernatural Religion has nothing to allege against this coincidence; he can produce nothing like it elsewhere; but he falls back on 'the constant use of the same similitude of light and darkness,' and other arguments of the kind, which are valueless because they do not touch the point of the resemblance.
On the third passage he remarks that, unlike the author of the Fourth Gospel, 'Tatian here speaks of God, and not of the Logos.' Just so; but then he varies the preposition accordingly, substituting [Greek: hupo] for the Evangelist's [Greek: dia] to suit his adaptation. Our author also refers to 'the first chapters of Genesis;' but where is there any language in the first chapters of Genesis which presents anything like the same degree of parallelism? Here again, he is unable to impugn the coincidence, which is all the more remarkable because the words are extremely simple in themselves, and it is their order and adaptation which gives a character of uniqueness to the expression.
So much for the individual coincidences. But neither here nor elsewhere does our author betray any consciousness of the value of cumulative evidence. It is only necessary to point to the enormous improbability that any two writers should exhibit accidentally three such resemblances as in the passages quoted; and the inference will be plain.
It is not however in this testimony which his extant work bears to the Fourth Gospel, however decisive this may be, that the chief importance of Tatian consists. Ancient writers speak of him as the author of a Harmony or Digest of the four Gospels, to which accordingly he gave the name of Diatessaron. This statement however has been called in question by some recent critics, among whom the author of Supernatural Religion is, as usual, the most uncompromising. It is necessary therefore to examine the witnesses:—
1. In the first place then, Eusebius states definitely [277:1]—'Tatian composed a sort of connection and compilation, I know not how, of the Gospels, and called it the Diatessaron ([Greek: sunapheian tina kai sunagogen ouk oid' hopos ton euangelion suntheis to dia tessaron touto prosonomasen]). This work is current in some quarters (with some persons) even to the present day.'
This statement is explicit; yet our author endeavours to set it aside on the ground that 'not only is it based upon mere hearsay, but it is altogether indefinite as to the character of the contents, and the writer admits his own ignorance ([Greek: ouk oid' hopos]) regarding them' [278:1].
His inference however from the expression 'I know not how' is altogether unwarranted. So far from implying that Eusebius had no personal knowledge of the work, it is constantly used by writers in speaking of books where they are perfectly acquainted with the contents, but do not understand the principles or do not approve the method. In idiomatic English it signifies 'I cannot think what he was about,' and is equivalent to 'unaccountably,' 'absurdly,' so that, if anything, it implies knowledge rather than ignorance of the contents. I have noticed at least twenty-six examples of its use in the treatise of Origen against Celsus alone [278:2], where it commonly refers to Celsus' work which he had before him, and very often to passages which he himself quotes in the context. It is not ignorance of the contents, but disparagement of the plan of Tatian's work, which the expression of Eusebius implies. The Diatessaron was commonly current, as we shall see presently, in the neighbouring districts: and it would be somewhat strange if Eusebius, who took a special interest in apocryphal literature, should have remained unacquainted with it.
2. Our next witness is overlooked by the author of Supernatural Religion. Yet the testimony is not unimportant. In the Doctrine of Addai, an apocryphal Syriac work, which professes to give an account of the foundation and earliest history of Christianity at Edessa, the new converts are represented as meeting together to hear read, along with the Old Testament, the New (Testament) of the Diatessaron' [278:3]. It seems clear from this notice that, at the time when the writer composed this fiction, the form in which the Evangelical narratives were commonly read in the churches with which he was best acquainted was a Diatessaron, or Harmony of Four Gospels. From internal evidence however it is clear that the work emanated from Edessa or its neighbourhood. The date of the fiction is less certain; but it is obviously an early writing. The St Petersburgh MS containing it is assigned to the sixth century, and the British Museum MSS to the fifth or sixth century [279:1]; while there exists an Armenian version said to have been made as early as the fifth century. The work itself therefore must have been written much earlier than this. There is indeed no good reason for doubting that it is the very Syriac document to which Eusebius refers as containing the correspondence of our Lord with Abgarus, and preserved among the archives of Edessa, and which therefore cannot have been very recent when he wrote, about A.D. 325 [279:2]. At the same time it contains gross anachronisms and misstatements respecting earlier Christian history, which hardly allow us to place it much earlier than the middle of the third century [279:3]. Whatever may be its date, the fact is important that the writer uses Diatessaron, adopted from the Greek into the Syriac, as the familiar name for the Gospel narrative which was read in public. Of the authorship of this work however he says nothing. This information we have to seek from other sources. Nor is it far to seek.
3. We are told that the most famous of the native Syrian fathers, Ephraem, the deacon of Edessa (who died A.D. 373 [280:1]), wrote a commentary on the Diatessaron of Tatian. Our informant is Dionysius Bar-Salibi, who flourished in the last years of the twelfth century, and died A.D. 1207. In his own Commentary on the Gospels, he writes as follows [280:2]:—
Tatian, the disciple of Justin, the philosopher and martyr, selected and patched together from the Four Gospels and constructed a Gospel, which he called Diatessaron, that is Miscellanies. On this work Mar Ephraem wrote an exposition; and its commencement was—In the beginning was the Word. Elias of Salamia, who is also called Aphthonius, constructed a Gospel after the likeness of the Diatessaron of Ammonius, mentioned by Eusebius in his prologue to the Canons which he made for the Gospel. Elias sought for that Diatessaron and could not find it, and in consequence constructed this after its likeness. And the said Elias finds fault with several things in the Canons of Eusebius, and points out errors in them, and rightly. But this copy (work) which Elias composed is not often met with.
This statement is explicit and careful. The writer distinguishes two older works, bearing the name of Diatessaron, composed respectively by Tatian and Ammonius. In addition he mentions a third, composed at a later date by this Elias. Of the work of Ammonius of Alexandria (about A.D. 220) Eusebius, as Bar-Salibi correctly states, gives an account in his Letter to Carpianus, prefixed to his Canons. It was quite different in its character from the Diatessaron of Tatian. The Diatessaron of Tatian was a patchwork of the Four Gospels, commencing with the preface of St John. The work of Ammonius took the Gospel of St Matthew as its standard, preserving its continuity, and placed side by side with it the parallel passages from the other Gospels [281:1]. The principle of the one work was amalgamation; of the other, comparison. No one who had seen the two works could confuse them, though they bore the same name, Diatessaron. Eusebius keeps them quite distinct. So does Bar-Salibi. Later on in his commentary, we are told, he quotes both works in the same place [281:2]. When therefore he relates that Ephraem wrote a commentary on the Diatessaron of Tatian, he is worthy of all credit. From the last witness we have learnt that the Diatessaron was commonly read in the churches of Edessa; and it was therefore most natural that this famous Edessan father should choose it for commenting upon.
It is quite true that other Syrian writers have confused these two Diatessarons [281:3]. But this fact is only valid to show that confusion was possible; it is powerless to impugn the testimony of this particular author, who shows himself in this passage altogether trustworthy. Who would think of throwing discredit on Lord Macaulay or Mr Freeman, because Robertson or Hume may be inaccurate?
4. Our next witness is more important than any. The famous Greek father Theodoret became bishop of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, near the Euphrates, in the year 420 or 423 according to different computations, and held this see till his death, which occurred A.D. 457 or 458. In the year 453 he wrote his treatise on Heresies, in which he makes the following statement:—
He (Tatian) composed the Gospel which is called Diatessaron, cutting out the genealogies [282:1] and such other passages as show the Lord to have been born of the seed of David after the flesh. This work was in use not only among persons belonging to his sect, but also among those who follow the apostolic doctrine, as they did not perceive the mischief of the composition, but used the book in all simplicity on account of its brevity. And I myself found more than two hundred such copies held in respect in the churches in our parts ([Greek: tais par' hemin ekklesiais]). All these I collected and put away, and I replaced them by the Gospels of the Four Evangelists.
The churches to which he refers were doubtless those belonging to his diocese of Cyrrhestice, which contained eight hundred parishes [283:1]. The proportion of copies will give some idea of the extent of its circulation in these parts.
It is vain, in the teeth of these facts, to allege the uncritical character of the father as discrediting the evidence. The materials before Theodoret were ample; the man himself was competent to form a judgment; and the judgment is explicit. Neither can there be any reasonable doubt, considering the locality, that the Diatessaron here mentioned is the same which is named in the Doctrine of Addai, and the same which was commented on by Ephraem Syrus. When the author of Supernatural Religion argues that Theodoret does not here regard this Diatessaron as patched together from the four canonical Gospels, it is unnecessary to follow him. This point may be safely left to the intelligence of the reader.
Here then we have the testimony of four distinct witnesses, all tending to the same result. Throughout large districts of Syria there was in common circulation from the third century down to the middle of the fifth a Diatessaron bearing the name of Tatian [283:2]. It was a compilation of our Four Gospels, which recommended itself by its concise and convenient form, and so superseded the reading of the Evangelists themselves in some churches. It commenced, as it naturally could commence, with the opening words of the Fourth Gospel—a gospel which, as we have seen, Tatian quotes in his extant work. It was probably in the main a fairly adequate digest of the evangelical narratives, for otherwise it would not have maintained its grounds; but passages which offended Tatian's Encratic and Gnostic views, such as the genealogies, were excised; and this might easily be done without attracting notice under cover of his general plan. All this is consistent and probable in itself. Moreover the range of circulation attributed to it is just what might have been expected; for Syria and Mesopotamia are especially mentioned as the scene of Tatian's labours [284:1].
In this general convergence of testimony however, there are two seemingly discordant voices, of which the author of Supernatural Religion makes much use. Let us see what they really mean.
1. Epiphanius was bishop of Constantia, in Cyprus, in the latter half of the fourth century. In his book on Heresies, which he commenced A.D. 374, he writes of Tatian, 'The Diatessaron Gospel is said to have been composed by him; it is called by some according to the Hebrews' [284:2].
Here then our author supposes that he has discerned the truth. This Diatessaron was not a digest of our Four Gospels, but a distinct evangelical narrative, the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Of this Gospel according to the Hebrews he says that 'at one time it was exclusively used by the fathers.' I challenge him to prove this assertion in the case of one single father, Greek or Latin or Syrian. But this by the way. If indeed this Hebrew Gospel had been in its contents anything like what our author imagines it, it would have borne some resemblance at all events to the Diatessaron; for, wherever he meets with any evangelical passage in any early writer, which is found literally or substantially in any one of our Four Gospels (whether characteristic of St Matthew, or of St Luke, or of St John, it matters not) he assigns it without misgiving to this Hebrew Gospel. But his Hebrew Gospel is a pure effort of the imagination. The only 'Gospel according to the Hebrews' known to antiquity was a very different document. It was not co-extensive with our Four Gospels; but was constructed on the lines of the first alone. Indeed so closely did it resemble the canonical St Matthew—though with variations, omissions, and additions—that Jerome, who translated it, supposed it to be the Hebrew original [285:1], of which Papias speaks. Such a Gospel does not answer in any single particular, unless it be the omission of the genealogy (which however does not appear to have been absent from all copies of this Gospel), to the notices of Tatian's Diatessaron. More especially the omission of all reference to the Davidic descent of Christ would be directly opposed to the fundamental principle of this Gospel, which, addressing itself to the Jews, laid special stress on His Messianic claims.