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The Origins of the New Testament

Chapter IX


WHAT we now proceed to gather up is not a heap of certitudes, but a sheaf of hypotheses which we endeavour to bind together, according to their degree of probability or verisimilitude, in order that we may reconstruct the history of which we directly see the outcome only. The outcome is that, towards the end of the second century, there existed a collection of writings called the New Testament, in use among the congregations of the Church called catholic, and sharply distinguished from the sects which had broken off from it, or formed on its frontiers, this collection being placed side by side with another which the said Church had inherited from Judaism and called Scriptures of the Old Testament. It must be added, however, that the Church's collection of the Old Testament was not completely identical with the official Scriptures of Judaism, for it included certain writings, or fragments of writings, held in honour among the hellenizing Jews of Egypt. Nor was the New Testament collection identically the same in all the churches of the Mediterranean world. There was general agreement on the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul (the Epistle to the Hebrews attributed to Paul in the East was not recognized as apostolic in the West), the First of Peter and the First of John. But the Epistles of James and of Jude, the Second of Peter and the two short Johannine Epistles were not universally accepted, and the Apocalypse of John was long under discredit, in the East, after the beginning of the third century. Indeed there was a group, attacked by Irenaeus, which rejected all the writings attributed to John as apocryphal, and this opposition was active in Rome about the year 200. On the other hand, writings, such as the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians and the Pastor of Hermas, were long read as public lessons in many of the churches.

As to the origins of the New Testament writings and to their collection, they are, as we have seen, very imperfectly documented. Only by faith can the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul's Epistles, the catholic Epistles and the Book of 


Revelation be accepted as apostolic and integrally authentic. The verdict of criticism is otherwise (cf. supra, p. 10).


Jesus, who lived in the time of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilatus was procurator of Judea, was not formally recognized as Messiah or Christ till after his death, when his disciples proclaimed him as the immortal Christ at the right hand of God, whence he would presently come to establish on the earth, more precisely at Jerusalem, that Reign of God whose speedy arrival he had himself announced in his lifetime. The historical existence of Jesus is postulated and implied throughout the entire history of the Christian religion. That is why we abstain from proving it. Such a proof is no business of ours, save in so far as the history of the New Testament origins depends on him who was historically, if not the founder of the Christian religion, at least the initiator of the Christian movement. Moreover the hypotheses of the mythologues, who have recently denied that Jesus ever existed, do not require refutation, seeing that they are all built on air, no positive proof being forthcoming that the particular myths ever existed which, according to these conjectures, are the foundation of the Christian religion. And even if this were the time for criticism of such theories, this is not the place for it.

Our sole business, in our present undertaking, is to determine, by reference to the New Testament literature, what the conditions were under which this human life was lived, a life on which, from the historical point of view, our information is most imperfect; and that for a double reason; first, because the Gospels never were and never pretended to be historical documents for the earthly life of Jesus, but were manuals, in short books, of instruction in the cult of the Lord Jesus Christ; and, second, because these books, which were not otherwise concerned in gathering exact information about Jesus, are later by three-quarters of a century to the time when Jesus, after a very brief period of teaching in Galilee and Jerusalem, ending in his death by crucifixion under sentence of Pontius Pilatus, was proclaimed as alive for ever with God and in readiness to come with God's Kingdom. Nor does the rest of the New Testament tell us any


more of the matter than do the Gospels, since all these writings presuppose the faith as already acquired and give no direct information as to how the faith first came into being. One thing, however, is clearly evident: the name of Jesus and the speedy arrival of God's Kingdom were indissolubly bound together from the furthest point to which Christian memory went back. That is very far from being a fact of no account. But it does not inform us how Jesus himself brought into being the faith of which he soon became the object.

That the time when Jesus made his appearance in history, and faith in Jesus-Messiah was born, was a time of great religious and national excitement is another indisputable fact. The Jewish rising in the year 66 which ended in the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in the year 70, was, in all strictness, a messianic movement, founded on the essential principle of the Jewish national hope, to wit, that Israel owed obedience to one master only, to God, the establishment of whose Kingdom would involve the complete overthrow of foreign rule. So far as we are able to judge, the Galilean prophet Jesus whom his contemporaries called Jesus the Nazorean [1] was possessed by the same idea. According to him, the arrival of the Great Kingdom, the rule of justice and salvation, was on the point of realization; God would erect it on the ruins of the idolatrous government, and repentance was the necessary preparation for that sweeping revolution. A certain John, named the Baptizer, of whom it would seem that Jesus was originally a disciple, had proclaimed the same message before him, baptismal immersion being the sacrament of repentance, of purification and of the right to be admitted to God's Kingdom. From the very beginning Christianity was the religion of a baptist sect, for Jesus himself had not only received baptism after John's manner but sanctioned it in that form. Those who would make out that Jesus repudiated John's baptism are breaking a perceptible link between Jesus and the religious conditions of his time; and such links are rare.

So far as Jesus can be said, in strictness of speech, to have taught, the speedy arrival of God in his Kingdom was the substance of his teaching. Unlike the Zealots, who advocated armed

[1] A personal qualification, with no mythological significance, Nazorean being, so far as we can ascertain, a sect-name which could be applied to individuals.


revolution, [1] Jesus expected that the liberation of his people would be the work of God alone, the firm simplicity of his faith saving him from the fanatical blindness of the hot-heads who imagined that by armed revolt against Rome they would come to the help of God, or force his hand. Nevertheless it was the same faith as theirs that rendered him blind to the inevitable danger of his advance on Jerusalem, where he was certain to find himself immediately confronted with the power whose destruction he was announcing, at least by implication.

It may be affirmed with the minimum risk of error that he was the prophet of a single oracle only, as John the Baptist seems to have been before him. That he speculated at length on the part reserved for him in the coming Kingdom is improbable; nevertheless the place assigned him by his disciples after his death rather suggests that he did not expect that his role in it would be that of an ordinary participant. That his public activity included the part of a healing exorcist is rendered highly probable by the fact that his disciples played the same part after him; indeed the character of a man of God could hardly be conceived, in his time and place, without including that function. When, further, we have admitted the profound and humanely moral character of his message as the dominating feature of its form and nature, we have said all that the historian is able to say about his activity without overpassing the limits of safety.

The above statement is made only as justifying the following conclusion, which concerns the proper subject of our study:

Jesus was a prophet rather than a teacher of doctrine; he did not regard himself as the founder of a new religion; something of his prophetic and humane spirit survived in the sect which claimed him as its head; but he has left on the literature of the New Testament only a faint impression of his personality and the memory of his death. His cult-legend is widely different from a direct and faithful image reflected in a mirror.

Jesus was dead, and almost immediately the belief arose among his followers that he was the Messiah about to return. Their faith in his message of the swiftly coming Kingdom did not change its ground to the extent to which the Gospel stories might

[1] Though the name of a Zealot figures in the list of the Twelve (cf. Luke vi, 15; Acts i, 13. Note also that zealot is the exact translation of the epithet Canaanite applied to the same disciple in Mark iii, 18 and Matthew x, 4).


lead us to suppose, they are stories of much too late invention, and too systematically worked out to represent the travail in the soul of his followers when Jesus' fate overtook him. In the Gospel stories they are presented as receiving material proofs of his resurrection, proofs never received, for they were impossible, and would have been superfluous in any case, because they are without appeal to a mentality such as theirs was at the time. For them, Jesus was not raised from the dead in the gross, almost brutal, manner in which tradition told the story at a later date. Jesus had passed on to God at death in full possession of his selfhood — so said the spirit that was in them. To the fate of his dead body they gave not a thought and asked not a question about it. Him whom God had sent was now with the God who sent him; there he was, alive and glorious at God's right hand, and thence, in life and glory, as the Christ, he would soon be coming to establish the Reign of God upon the earth. Such was their faith; but it was born without a literature, for not a line had yet been written about it in any Christian book.

It would be a mistake to expect from the New Testament authentic information about the catastrophe which ended the earthly life of Jesus, or about the new direction into which his disciples' faith was turned by the catastrophe, though we know very well who was the chief agent in giving it that turn. He was Simon, called Peter. But the third Gospel seems to have retained some traces of the state of mind in which Jesus and his following of Galilean enthusiasts brought the proclamation of the Kingdom to Jerusalem at the stage immediately before the catastrophe fell.

We read in that Gospel that Jesus, after the halt at Jericho, delivered a parable "because he was near to Jerusalem" and because "they all believed that the Kingdom of God was on the point of appearing" (Luke xix, n). This was not a feature imagined after the event, and to be immediately refuted in the sequel. It is a datum of genuine tradition which the evangelist could not wholly eliminate, but which he only thought he would correct by fitting on to it the parable of the talents (12-27), which has no relation to it whatever, though touches added to give it a relation throw a little light on the mentality of Jesus and on the Christian mentality at the time when the Gospel legend was beginning to take shape. These touches are the following: "A man of


noble birth went away into a far country to be made a king and to return" — meaning that Jesus, already dead, has gone to heaven to receive messianic royalty. (All that follows about the money distributed among the prince's officers would be out of keeping with the opening were it not that the Christ is conceived as already appointed the judge of mankind as well as Messiah.) But the final touch (27) corresponds with the opening: "As to these my enemies, who would not that I rule over them, bring them hither and slay them in my presence." Such is the crime which has brought destruction on the Jewish people; him whom God had made Christ in heaven, him whose speedy coming the Christian preachers are announcing, they had refused to recognize. In this way the parable furnishes a sketch, rudimentary enough, of the primitive faith, although it was not put into writing till after the year 70, if not till after 135.

Equally illuminating is the saying, about which Christian tradition became so confused, "I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days" — attenuated in Matthew (xxvi, 61) "I can destroy," etc.; corrected in Mark (xiv, 58) "I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days build another not made with hands"; while Acts (vi, 14) make it appear as a charge against Stephen. This may well have been really alleged against Jesus in the trial before Pilate, as a proof of messianic pretensions. If so, it would indicate a highly exalted state of mind in him who pronounced it, combined with a reforming zeal afraid of nothing — this at the very least.

As to Peter's initial vision, it may be said that, while it is everywhere spoken of in the New Testament, it is nowhere described. The reason is that it was not of the same order, and could not be made to fit, with the imaginary experiences by which at a much later date it was sought to prove the resurrection of Jesus as a fact materially verified and verifiable. The message of Jesus was not, in substance, of the kind which lends itself to argumentative polemic or needs long discourses for its delivery, and the same may be said of the message which the Galilean disciples carried back to Jerusalem after his death. Peter's faith is fairly well summed up in the formula given to it by Acts (ii, 36): "Let all the house of Israel, then, know for a certainty that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified into Lord and


Christ" — except perhaps that Peter and his companions clothed it with rather less solemnity. As to the supporting arguments drawn from the Old Testament, they Were only gradually discovered as the need arose for them, and by persons more learned than Peter and his band.

Who was the first preacher of the new faith to carry the name of Jesus into the Jewish synagogues and publicly argue for his faith? Exegetes cannot be reminded too often that this preacher was Stephen, a hellenist convert of great daring and enterprise, and doubtless the most learned in that category. To those who consider the matter calmly and without prejudice it will be clear that this critical step could not have been taken otherwise.

It is obvious that our information as to the particulars of Stephen's preaching is extremely imperfect. We can only say with confidence that he was filled with the spirit of his group, the group which was soon to admit uncircumcised pagans into the community of believers, and that his trial implies that his preaching had the appearance of being more or less subversive of the Law — for example, that certain rules, held to have been laid down by Moses, would be abrogated in the Kingdom of God. For with Stephen, as with the others, the one question on which everything turned was the coming Kingdom which the Christ would establish at his speedy return. The same holds true of Stephen's former companions who escaped to Antioch, and there founded the first Christian community which admitted Gentiles to the messianic hope without imposing on them the rite of circumcision.

The conditions being such as we now see them to have been, there is no room for astonishment that Paul has nothing whatever to say about the earthly existence of Jesus nor of his characteristic teachings. Paul, like the other believers, knew Jesus as the founder of the Christian hope, as the Messiah to come, but not as Messiah already come and revealer of the Christian mystery. If we consider Paul to be the real author of everything written in the Epistles, and Jesus as the real author of every teaching ascribed to him in the Gospels, even in the Synoptics, Paul's relation to Jesus, as we might gather it from the Epistles, then becomes not only passing strange and at bottom indefinable, but essentially unintelligible. But, in the light we have now gained upon the


matter, the relation of Paul to Jesus drops its former character of an unreadable enigma and an insoluble problem. Paul did not teach everything ascribed to him in the Epistles, nor Jesus everything ascribed in the Gospels. With that in mind Paul's eschatological preaching becomes perfectly clear. What, then, was it?

The Real Teaching of Paul

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (i, 9-10): "You have been converted from idols to God, to serve the true and living God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he has raised from the dead, Jesus, who saves us from the wrath to come," it is certain that he was not recalling any particular teaching of Jesus;

he. is proclaiming Jesus as the Christ to come, not as the Christ already come; he is declaring that the conversion of the pagans consists in recognizing the one and only God and Jesus, his Son, who will rescue believers in the day of "the wrath." Paul's catechesis thus implies both moral and eschatological teaching combined with Jewish monotheism and the conception of Jesus raised from death to become the living Christ. In like manner he writes to the Romans (x, 9): "If thou confesses! with thy mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if thou believest in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be rescued." Fundamentally it is the same doctrine as in Thessalonians, and in neither case is there the faintest reference to anything Jesus did or taught before he came to die. But let not the mythologues suppose for one moment that this pleads in favour of their thesis that Jesus never existed. In the same Epistle Paul states explicitly (ix, 5) that the Christ, like the patriarchs, is of Israel's seed; and Paul was a contemporary of Jesus.

Elsewhere, the argumentation by which Paul proves the universality of the messianic rescue is worked out without the slightest dependence on what we are in the habit of calling Gospel tradition. He abstains, for a good reason, from quoting any teaching of Jesus in support of his argument. The story of the centurion of Capernaum and the universalist propositions which the Christ is made to emit on that occasion (Matthew viii, 5-13; Luke vii, 9-10; xiii, 28-29) are entirely ignored by him, and the personality of his Christ derives its significance solely from the Great Event in store for the world. For proof of his thesis he goes


indeed to the Scriptures, but the only Scripture he knows and reveres as divine are the Jewish Scriptures which he submits to a wholly irresponsible exegesis, following methods practised by the Rabbis of his time.

It is in these Scriptures that he finds the universal principle laid down of justification by faith, and he not only finds it there but proves it by juggling with words. In the Book of Habakkuk (ii, 4) it is written: "the pious man finds the assurance of his existence in his fidelity to God"; this Paul understood as meaning that by faith alone in God and his Christ any man may become qualified for the messianic rescue from the "wrath" (salvation) without any works of the Law being needed for his qualification; and he pursues the demonstration by bringing forward other texts, although he has begun by announcing, as though it were some trifling commonplace, a principle of plain common sense, namely (Romans iii, 29-31) that God is the God of all men and not only of Jews, to recognize which is not to abolish the Law, but the contrary. But on that he does not dwell; he is only concerned to prove how the scheme of universal salvation by faith was instituted in Abraham, father of all the Jews according to the flesh, father of all believers according to the spirit. The proof is that Abraham was as yet an uncircumcised man when his faith was imputed to him for righteousness — and so on. The imperturbable logic of the apostle, advancing from one absurdity to another, finally comes to this conclusion: that not only to Abraham was faith imputed for righteousness "but also to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead."

As the argument proceeds we learn what it was that God promised to Abraham and to his posterity. This was not exactly eternal life, the "blessed immortality" of the theologians, but "the heritage of the world" (iv, 13), Genesis having said (xxii, 17) "thy posterity shall inherit the enemies' cities," which Paul understands as promising universal domination over the people of the earth. This shows us that, in the mind of the apostle, the idea of the Kingdom of God and his Christ had not taken the spiritual form. It was still the triumph of God over all nations as predicted by the prophets. Thus the Gospel is still, as it previously was, the proclamation of the coming Reign of God on


earth, except for the clause which now offers salvation to pagans who adhere to the saving faith.

Paul added nothing to that belief beyond moral counsels, administered as a cooling draught to the fever of expectation. We have already heard him exhorting the Thessalonians, and that severely, to practise conjugal chastity (iv, 1-8; supra, p. 241), and again charging them (iv, 11-12) not to sit idly with crossed arms waiting for the parousia, but "study to be quiet and do your own business and work with your hands . . . that ye may walk honestly towards outsiders and may have need of no man."

The motives which led the apostle to charge his Thessalonian converts to earn their own living and be a burden to nobody becomes clear when we consider the collection he organized for the poor "saints" in Jerusalem. On this affair Paul explains himself rather cautiously in Romans xv, 26-27: "Macedonia and Achaia," he says, "have decided to make a contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem; sharing their spiritual blessings, they ought to help them with material blessings." It is not correct to give the Christians of Hellas the credit of initiating the matter, for we know that Paul had organized the collection at Galatia before calling upon Macedonia and Achaia to put it into effect. The truth must have been that the missionaries to the countries of the dispersion pledged themselves to make the collection when they were at Jerusalem about the year 43-44 on the question of the legal observances.

The question has sometimes been asked whether "the saints" at Jerusalem were really so poor, and, if so, why? The answer is that the saints in question were probably remnants of the little group of earliest Galilean believers which returned with Peter to Jerusalem when the faith that Jesus had risen from death as the Christ was first established and affirmed. We know that they gathered a few recruits, but we know also that their dominant interest was not in propaganda; they had come to Jerusalem to await the second coming of the Lord and to be on the spot where it was due to take place immediately. Their resources were of the scantiest and, the parousia not arriving, were soon exhausted. Thus our saints, whose professed occupation was waiting for the expected event, were really "poor." Their mere existence reveals what faith in the Christ was in its very earliest form. There


could be no greater misconception of their mentality than that •which takes them to have been the first depositaries and witnesses of what is commonly called the gospel tradition. They were on the watch for the coming of the Lord Jesus and had no other care.


Eschatological teaching could not remain, and did not remain for long, confined to the simple terms professed by the apostle Paul, although it had already received some enlargement from the activity of the hellenist converts and of Paul himself, who together had adapted it to the conversion of uncircumcised pagans. But all these acquisitions became crystallized, so to say, round the original theme of the coming Kingdom. Meanwhile, under the influence of the gnoses which sprang up spontaneously among the recruits to the new faith, the notion of a divine Christ, Saviour of mankind in virtue of his death, in whom the mystery was at once typified and revealed in the course of his earthly career, was gradually leading on to the transformation of the eschatological into the Gospel form of teaching.

Let us note at the outset and never lose sight of the fact that this evolution, from beginning to end, and especially in the early stages, was effected in an atmosphere of superheated mysticism in which there was little room for reflection and none at all for criticism. Christianity was born under the rule of vision and prophecy. Jesus himself, so far as we are able to estimate him, was an ardent visionary, although the worse than meagre information we have about it is hardly sufficient to fix the character of his visions. But what we do know is that he saw the Kingdom of God preparing to come by his ministry, and that after him his disciples saw the Kingdom ready to come by his act, and himself now living with God as anointed Lord and Christ. These visionaries were of necessity prophets also. We might conjecture as much even if we were not plainly informed of it. Moreover, it is a priori certain that these Christian prophets delivered oracles, if not always in Jesus' name, at least about him, and as animated by his spirit.

A few examples of contributions by Christian prophets will


suffice to show how their insertion was effected. What we are about to say is independent of the credit unquestionably due to the statement in Acts xiii, 1 about the five prophet-teachers who presided over the Antioch community before two of them, Barnabas and Paul, were chosen for regular missionary work in that region. We simply assume as a fact beyond question that at an early hour these prophet-teachers, or masters in prophecy, made their appearance in the Christian communities and that they played a great part in the enrichment of the gospel catechesis.

As a type of this teaching-prophecy we choose first the short apocalypse, or allegory of the eschatological Christ, now inserted in Mark xii, 1-11, where it is presented as a specimen of the teaching given by Jesus at Jerusalem, but which, as we have already seen (p. 95), he never gave there, nor could have given.

A man had planted a vineyard; he had surrounded it with a hedge; he had dug a cellar there for his winepress and built a tower; he leased it to vine-dressers, and went out of the country.

The description of the vineyard is borrowed from Isaiah v, 1-2; the vineyard is Israel and the owner of it is God. The great simplicity of the imagery is remarkable: after miraculously establishing his people in their home, God returns to his.

And in due season he sent a servant to the vine-dressers to receive part of the produce of the vineyard; but they seized him, beat him and sent him back empty-handed. Thereupon he sent them another servant; to him they gave insults and beat him on the head. He sent them yet another, and this one they killed; and so with many others, of whom some they flogged and some they killed.

Obviously this refers to the sending of the prophets, to whom Israel is supposed to have turned a deaf ear.

He had still somebody else to send, a well beloved son; he sent him last of all saying "they will respect my son."

Observe that this "son" arrives under the same conditions as the servants; he, no more than they, comes direct from heaven, and he is called "son" in his quality of the Messiah promised to Israel.

But these vine-dressers said one to another: " 'Tis the heir! Up, let us kill him and ours will be the heritage."


Jesus is "the heir," as having authority to set up the reign of God in the holy land.

And laying hands on him they killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard. [1] What then will the master of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-dressers and will give the vineyard to others.

It is obvious that, when this was conceived and put into form, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Gospel preached outside of Palestine, and it is to these believers beyond its borders that "the heritage" will revert; to them will the Kingdom belong, when Christ appears.

Have you not read this Scripture (Psalm cxviii, 22-23):

The stone which the builders threw aside has become the corner stone. It is the Lord who has made it so, and the stone is a wonder to gaze upon.

The Son, killed by the Jews, is none the less the Lord Jesus Christ. Plainly this short prophetic allegory is a fragment of anti-Jewish polemic drawn up towards the end of the first Christian century by way of complement to the eschatological catechesis. Thrown back into the earthly life of Jesus it was at first intended to serve as his last discourse at Jerusalem, to be received later into the gospel catechesis. Later still it has been thrown back a stage in Mark's catechesis and placed after the question of the priests about his authority (xi, 27-33) where it stands with nothing logically leading up to it. The other two Synoptics found it there and borrowed it from Mark (Matthew xxi, 33-43; [2] Luke xx, 9-18). But the pushing back of our allegory in Mark's catechesis from its first intended position as the last discourse of Jesus was brought about by the intercalation of a more considerable piece of eschatology, to wit the great apocalypse of the Synoptics, which first came into existence as teaching delivered by the risen Jesus, that is as the utterance of a Christian prophet speaking on his behalf and in his name.

We have already seen that the history of this apocalyptic document is older than that of the allegory of the wicked husbandmen in Mark; but the case requires closer study for its

[1] Hardly in keeping with the story of an honourable burial.

[2] Where Jesus, after the final citation from Psalm cxviii, is made to add: "Therefore I say unto you, the Kingdom of Heaven shall be taken from you and given to a nation that will produce the fruits of it."


bearings on the evolution of the Christian catechesis. The kernel of it, as we have remarked above (p. 97) is a short Jewish apocalypse, earlier than the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70. But the adaptation of it to Christian teaching is later than that event. Moreover it seems clear that the first draft of Mark was ignorant of it as an element of Christian teaching. This conclusion results, not only from the use made of the allegory of the wicked husbandmen in the conditions we have just described, but also from the fact that Mark represents Jesus as delivering the Great Apocalypse almost in secret before the four principal disciples. Mark has the prophecy delivered on the Mount of Olives, the reason being that the source from which he drew it presents it as delivered there by the risen Christ when about to ascend into heaven, that is to say, in the exact condition in which the Apocalypse of Peter presents an analogous revelation. We have equal ground for believing that the artificial introduction to the Book of Acts contains the rudiments of a similar discourse with the scene set exactly as in the Apocalypse of Peter. Thus our hypotheses are not groundless imaginations; they are inductions as solid as the matter permits of, and based upon texts whose form was under continual alteration until finally fixed in the canonical edition of the New Testament books.

Another point needing careful consideration and easily established, though this is not the place to enter into details, lies in the fact that the revelations about the End in the synoptic apocalypse are accompanied by moral precepts concerning the right attitude, not only in presence of the final catastrophe, but also in meeting the persecutions in store for believers. These precepts are to be found, expressed in almost exactly the same terms, in the instructions given in earlier passages to preachers of the Gospel. The truth is that both the moral instructions and the commission of the apostles were conceived with an outlook to the Second Coming and originally formed part of the teaching about the end of the world. They, also, are instructions given by the risen and immortal Christ. Before the death of Jesus no apostles were in existence to receive commission. Strictly speaking apostolic activity did not come into being until the great outbreak of propaganda was let loose by the hellenist believers. All this advice to apostles and victims of persecution, when closely


studied, will be seen to have no raison d'etre in the personal message of Jesus. Most assuredly it does not come from him. It is an utterance of Christian prophecy spoken after Jesus' death in the name of the immortal Christ and with an outlook strictly eschatological.

The Apocalypse of John — a typical Christian Prophecy

That is not all. There is one whole book to attest the long persistence of the view which interpreted the providential mission of Jesus with predominant reference to the coming Reign of God. It is the Apocalypse of John (circa A.D. 90). This Apocalypse has only a faint and fugitive allusion (xi, 8) to the crucifixion of Jesus at Jerusalem and refers to nothing else in his earthly career. From beginning to end the figure on which attention is focussed is the Christ-about-to-come; and this whether he speaks himself or by the mouth of his prophet. In the first part of the book the Christ writes to the churches, addressing them directly as the true head of them all; in the body of it he makes his prophet write a kind of eschatological summary concluding with his own triumph. Though doubtless he is mystically the sacrificed Lamb, he never ceases to be the One-who-is-coming. In telling the myth of his own birth (xii) he makes his birth of one piece with the myth of his final exaltation, inasmuch that, for him, being born and being carried up to God, preparatory to his coming triumph over the Beast and Satan, are virtually the same event (xii, 5). In plain truth the author of the Apocalypse would seem to be totally ignorant of the gospel presentation. Is not that significant?

The Mystery of the Lamb

Though the Apocalypse is wholly eschatological in substance, it must not be forgotten that a well-characterized mystery pervades it throughout and brings it into close contact with those whom it attacks so bitterly in the letters to the seven churches. This is the mystery of the Lamb, a Jewish figure. The eschatological character of the book also comes in pact from its sources and these, in the body of the work, are purely Jewish, the Christian elements being an added embroidery.

In the letters to the seven churches, written in imitation of the


Epistles, the reward promised to the faithful Christian is as follows: "to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (ii, 7); to be untouched by "the second death," that is, to escape the eternal fire (ii, n); to eat "the hidden manna" and to possess "a white stone, on which a new name is engraved, known only to him who receives it" — a feature in the mysteries borrowed from paganism (ii, 17); to have the Gentiles in his power "shepherding them with an iron flail and shattering them like a potter's jars" ... and to possess "the morning star" — this last a feature of astrological magic (ii, 26-29); to be "clothed in white raiments," symbol of purity and of immortality (iii, 5); to be "a pillar in God's temple" and to have inscribed on him "God's name, the name of the new Jerusalem and the new name" (of the Christ) — all features of mystery cults (iii, 12); "to sit with" the Christ "on his throne" as the Christ "sits with his Father on his throne" — a. strange enlargement in the perspective of the believer's reward, and hardly in keeping with the idea of the new Jerusalem as coming down to earth (iii, 21). Parallel to this conception of the Christ as enthroned with God is the conception of him as pre-existent, in the preamble to the same letter, where he is entitled "the beginning of the creation of God," which is what the Old Testament says of the Divine Wisdom (Proverbs viii, 23) and is not far removed from "the Logos of God," the name given later on to the conquering Christ (xix, 13). However, it is not impossible that this transcendent mysticism was introduced into the book at the time when the Apocalypse was edited for inclusion in the canon. None the less true is it that the Apocalypse in its earliest form was strongly coloured by astral mysticism.

But here there is another mysticism which is not astral, and has nothing to do with the Ram of the Zodiac. This is the Christ-Lamb, early substituted, as we know, for the Jewish paschal lamb in the quartodeciman Easter, observed to the second century by the Christians of Asia and consecrated by the Johannine Gospel. The Lamb appears as the chief figure in the vision of the book with the seven seals, the book of destiny, which the Lamb only may open. He is first announced (v, 5) as "the lion of Judah" and "stock of David" (Isaiah xi, 1-10) — which reveals the gospel catechesis, at least in process of formation. The description then follows:


And I saw in the midst of God's throne a lamb standing upright as with a cut throat (Isaiah liii, 7) ... and he came and laid hold on the book . . . and when he had taken the book, the four Living Ones and the four-score Aged Ones fell down before the Lamb, chanting a new canticle, saying:

Thou art worthy to take the book and break its seals, because thou hast been cut with the knife And by thy blood thou hast ransomed for God men of every tribe, tongue, people and nation, And hast made them a Kingdom and priests for God, and they shall be rulers over the earth.

In this passage we have before us a myth of salvation by the Lamb as the redeeming victim. But this is not the mystic gnosis of the Epistle to the Romans. It is a myth of the Christ as the paschal lamb, attached, for consistency with prophecy, to the description of the suffering servant in Isaiah. This Christ-Lamb opens and explains the Book of Destiny, all that is due to happen before the end of the age. The revelation is closely framed in the primitive eschatology, redemption and the revealing of salvation coming to pass by this Kingdom of priests, who are to rule over the earth. It is true that, later on, the elect are represented as standing in heaven "before the throne and before the Lamb" (vii, 14-17); but that description refers to a provisional stage of the glorified martyrs before the final triumph to be realized on the regenerated earth.

Elsewhere (xiii, 8) the reprobates, worshippers of the Beast, are described as "those whose names are not written in the book of the sacrificed Lamb, since the foundation of the world." The book of the Lamb is the book of the elect, which has existed since the beginning of all things. But this does not mean that the Lamb has been immolated since the world's foundation (cf. i Peter i, 18-21, written in the same spiritual atmosphere as our passage).

Further on (xiv, 1-5) we next find the Lamb on Mount Sion, with the hundred and forty-four thousand of the elect (from vii). They are those "who have been ransomed from the earth" and "have not defiled themselves with women"; they "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes." We are again told that the kings who fight for the Beast "will fight against the Lamb, and he will


overthrow them" (xvii, 12-14). "The marriage of the Lamb" is announced to follow the destruction of the Beast (xix, 7); but the wife of the Lamb does not appear till after the last judgment. She is the Church of the Blessed (xxi, 2, 9-10), new Jerusalem, where will be the throne of God and of the Lamb (xxii, i, 3); God and the Lamb will be its temple and its light (xxi, 22-23; xxii, 5). Conclusion (xxii, 16):

I, Jesus, have sent my angel, to give you this testimony in the churches. I am the stock and the offspring of David, the bright star of the morning.

This can hardly be the star which Balaam predicted would rise out of Jacob (Numbers xxiv, 17). Far more probably it is the planet Venus in her character of a great astral power, so that here, in the concluding note, the element of astral mythology is still present, complicating the Jewish eschatology. On the other hand, the insistence on the Davidic descent of the Christ turns us towards the gospel catechesis, which we must suppose to be now sufficiently developed to make the forms and influence of the gnoses revealed^ in Gospels and Epistles sensibly felt in the Apocalypse also.

In dating the Apocalypse back to the reign of Domitian (81-96), Irenaeus must have placed it somewhat too early, a consequence of the thesis which attributes its authorship to the apostle John. The last retouching of the book may well be not much earlier than 140. The allusion to "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (xxi, 14) not only proves that the author cannot himself have been one of the Twelve, but further, and above all, that the myth of Twelve Apostles, founders of the universal Church, and preachers of the Gospel to the whole world, was completely formed at the time this allusion was made. This confirms the remark just made regarding the relatively late date of the Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse of Peter: another Christian Prophecy

Coming now to the Apocalypse of Peter we recall that while, like the Apocalypse of John, it is a revelation delivered by the Risen Christ, it is not dominated to the same extent by preoccupation with the approaching parousia. After giving instruc-


tion parallel to that of the synoptic apocalypse, which seems to prolong the perspective to the time of Barkochba, it describes at length the pains in store for the damned and the blessedness of the elect, coming to an end in the exaltation of the Christ carried up to heaven. This Apocalypse, like most of the others, is a compilation. In the first part it gives us eschatological instruction by the Risen Christ parallel to that of the synoptic apocalypse, of which it reproduces certain elements, and also parallel to the brief summary found at the end of Luke and in the beginning of Acts. But it has certain peculiarities of its own, such as the eschatological explanation of the allegory of the barren fig-tree, of a kind which turns this part of the book into confirmation of our thesis that teachings originally attributed to the Risen Christ speaking through Christian prophets have been transposed into the Gospel story, and there presented as given by Jesus before his death, when preaching in Galilee or at Jerusalem. Another peculiarity is that our Apocalypse, in the last part, and especially in its account of the pains of the damned and the bliss of the elect, describes them as going on in the actual present, as though the fate of men were decided immediately after death by a judgment which classed them for ever as lost or saved. This indicates a point of view entirely different from that of either Jewish or Christian eschatology, but is rather in line with the pagan mysteries, Orphic and Egyptian, in which there was no general resurrection.

As to the appearance of Moses and Elijah and the assumption of the Christ to heaven in their company, it is quite clear that our Apocalypse is the original source of the scene which, thrown back into the earthly life of the Christ, became the miracle of the Transfiguration. This explains why the miracle, narrated only in the Synoptics, is said to have been witnessed only by three leading disciples and the injunction laid upon them, according to Mark (ix, 9) and Matthew (xvii, 9), to say nothing about it until the Son of Man be risen from the dead, while, according to Luke, they did keep silence at the time. This is tantamount to saying that the transposition is avowed by the evangelists themselves.

From all this it follows that the gospel legend, as well as the gospel teaching of Jesus, were constructed, in important parts, by a process of transposition and anticipation of elements


borrowed from the eschatological catechesis. The fact is significant and by no means lacking in importance. Nor is it in the least surprising, because, however it be explained, it only shows that the teachings of the catechesis, mystic doctrine or seeming narrative, were not dominated by historical considerations but by its own catechetical aim. And this aim, through all its manipulations of the material utilized, which seem so irresponsible to us, was ever one and the same — to exalt the Christ in such manner as to draw men of goodwill to worship him. Had the Gospels been offered as historical tradition one would have to say that those who fixed the form of it were audaciously making sport both of the tradition and of those to whom they would transmit their work.


Viewing the New Testament literature in its totality, we have now seen how the Christian catechesis, at first eschatological, took the form, in the Epistles regarded as apostolic, of a mystical' gnosis before it assumed, in the Gospels, the form of a sacred legend by means ,of which the eager catechumen was initiated into the Christian cult. We have now to consider a little more closely the fortunes of this gnosis before it passed into legend.

For example, we have seen how, in the Epistle to the Romans, a mystical gnosis was hitched on, so to say, to the eschatological theory of salvation expounded by Paul in his original letter to the Christians of Rome. Not only are the two theses (setting aside a few glosses) developed in mutual independence, but each is complete in itself and in contradiction with the other. If, instead of being thus independent and contradictory, the final text presented them as reconciled and fused into one, the mind of the author having thus fused them, then indeed we should have to maintain that this arrangement of the two doctrines was the outcome of spiritual forces at work in Paul himself. But this is not a case of fusion but of juxtaposition, in other words of editorial combination, as anyone who is willing to see what is under his eyes will discover at once on literary analysis of the text.

This is also the right place to recall the further fact that the duality of these two doctrines, the eschatological and the gnostic, is admitted, in principle, by the Epistles themselves. When Paul,


that is the pretended Paul, is made to write (1 Corinthians iii, 1-2): "As for me, brethren, I could not address you as spiritual, but as carnal, as babes in Christ; I have given you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not able to bear it" — when he writes thus about milk and solid food, "milk" can only mean some teaching regarded as elementary, to wit, the eschatological catechesis, while "solid food" is the gnosis of salvation which the author himself is actually in process of addressing to his readers, after having artificially hitched it on to what the real Paul has said about the baptism conferred by him on certain Corinthians (i, 14-16). Now the fact is that the "wisdom" which the mystic or pseudo-Paul declares to be reserved "for them that are perfect," for the fully initiated, wisdom which he teaches "in mystery," because it is "hidden" and which even "the rulers of the world have not known, because if they had known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (ii, 6-9) — the fact is that we have here the very doctrine which he proceeds to expound to the very people whom he declares incapable of understanding it. It would be impossible to avoid the most absurd of contradictions if we remained blind to the double perspective created by this pretended Paul, who now expounds a gnosis in regard to which the teaching formerly given by the real Paul, to wit, the eschatological catechesis, is described as only milk for babes. "Whoso is willing to understand, let him understand!

The case of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is exactly the same, except that this author gives us explicit information about the elementary catechesis to which he claims that his own gnosis is superior. We have already studied the text which establishes the distinction between the two (vi, 1-2) and made our commentary {supra, p. 34). What the author calls "the initial theme of the Christ" is the common catechesis of his time; what he calls "perfection" is gnostic initiation; "the foundation of repentance" is the moral teaching which urges the catechumen to be sorry for the sins of which he will be cleansed by baptism. What is this but the eschatological catechesis, and in a form in which not the least place can be found for the evangelical catechesis of the Gospel story? But, in making this distinction between his own mysticism and the elementary catechism of


Christianity, the author professes the very principle of gnosis and, in proceeding to impart his mystical poetry to people whom he declares to be incapable of understanding it, he falls into the same contradiction as the gnostic who introduces his doctrine into First Corinthians. The sole difference between the two is that the author of Hebrews avows the contradiction. If he really intended to pass himself off as Paul, that is, if it was he who wrote xiii, 19, 23-24, the position of the two gnostics would be exactly the same. In any case, that is the position of the writer who, at the end of the Epistle, speaks in the name of Paul.

The great gnosis developed in the middle part of the Epistle to the Romans (v-viii; see supra, p. 253) may have been conceived with no reference to the eschatological theory, and the author does not himself pretend to be Paul. But, by incorporation with the Epistle, it is presented as coming from the apostle, and whoever so incorporated it intended it to confront the eschatological Christianity as a higher fulfilment and rectification of its eschatology, just as it is presented in First Corinthians and as the author to the Hebrews presents the gnosis peculiar to his Epistle. The same holds true of the gnostic parts of the Epistle to the Galatians and of Second Corinthians where pretended Paul, Paul the mystic, is represented as the unique depositary of a gospel uniquely true, this gospel being no other than the salvation gnosis preached by him. In the Epistle to the Galatians he prides himself on owing nothing to those who were apostles before him, meaning by that the Elders at Jerusalem. But how often must we repeat that the Twelve, in their lifetime, were never apostles and that the real Paul never knew them as such? He also prides himself on having, in a revelation given to himself in particular, received the gospel which he preaches among the Gentiles, to wit, the salvation gnosis summarily taught in the Epistle to the Galatians and, with all the amplitude it merits, in that to the Romans. In Second Corinthians our pseudo-Paul goes as far as to say that since the Christ died "that the living should live no more for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again, henceforth he knew no man after the flesh, and if ever he had known the Christ after the flesh, now he knew him no more." Commentators have been much embarrassed in their attempt to understand what our author means by "the Christ after the


flesh." Certainly it was not precisely the Christ of history — for that conception was not in existence at the time. It can only have been the Christ-man of the eschatological catechesis announced by those whom pseudo-Paul condemns as Judaizers — Jesus made Christ by his death and Lord in his immortality. The Christ of Paul the mystic, on the other hand, is the spiritual Man, made flesh to effect redemption by his death and live again as the Lord of his mystery. In this conception, that of the Epistle to the Romans, the revelation of the mystic Christ stands as clearly opposed to the primitive eschatology as in First Corinthians and Hebrews.

Many Forms of Gnosis in the Epistles

Though "the gnosis of Paul" is a phrase freely used, it would be more exact to speak of the gnoses that have been put out under his name. For it is far from true that one and the same gnostic system is professed in all the Epistles, or in all parts of the same Epistle, which have their origin in gnostic mysticism. While there is no ground for making all these gnoses into reflections of Marcion's system, no less unfounded is the fault found with the author of The Birth of the Christian Religion for representing them as distinct, since that is precisely what they are when interpreted in the sense conveyed by their own language.

What, for example, is the meaning of the gnostic poem inserted into the Epistle to the Philippians (ii, 6-11; supra, p. 264)? Is it not the odyssey of a divine Being, a panegyric of the spiritual Christ, lodged in a moral exhortation penetrated by gnosis, and conceived in complete independence both of the gospel catechesis and the eschatological?

What, again, is the gnostic poem which has got itself enshrined and paraphrased in the Epistle to the Colossians (i, 15-20; cf. supra, p. 265) but another definition of the mystery of salvation, analogous to that elaborated in Hebrews as well as to that which underlies the fourth Gospel and, like the foregoing, independent of both catecheses, and perhaps used in the Epistle to counter a pagan mystery with a Jewish colour (ii, 16-23; cf. The Birth of the Christian Religion, p. 265).

And is there not yet another gnosis in the Epistle to the Hebrews? And is not this one of the most original, and not the


less so because its author presents it as the climax of the revelations made to Israel, apparently lodging it in the frame of the primitive catechesis and giving us a glimpse, through some of its features, of the gospel catechesis in process of formation (cf. supra, p, 266).

Finally, we have the brief gnostic poem in the First to Timothy (iii, 16), there offered as a definition of "the mystery of godliness," in which we find a proclamation of the very principle of the gospel catechesis, to wit, "the appearance of the Christ in the flesh." Though of later date than the preceding, does it not seem, in saying that the Christ was "justified in spirit," to retain the original conception of the resurrection as purely spiritual, which is certainly not that of the gospel story in its canonical forms?

In addition to all this, we know how the epistolary teaching made acquisitions of many kinds; how it was not only a depositary for various gnoses, with or without adaptation to the primitive eschatology, but became charged with doctrinal enlargements and compromises, and especially with moral teaching and exhortation, even with rules of church discipline, all this being done by those who believed they had the right to make the apostles give answers on these points whenever conditions in the churches suggested that a ruling was called for.

But, first and foremost, we have only to confront the Epistles attributed to Paul with the seven letters which the Christ of the Apocalypse addresses to the churches of Asia by his prophet-spokesman to satisfy ourselves that in these churches, and chiefly at Ephesus, there were Christian groups which claimed Paul's authority and ascribed it to those whom we may call his literary successors. To such circles as these we owe the creation of the fictitious gnostic Paul who, especially in the Epistle to the Galatians and in Second Corinthians, puts forth the altogether preposterous claim to be, by the special choice and revelation of the Christ, the unique depositary of a unique Gospel, to wit, the revelation of the mystery, under the diverse forms or definitions it assumes in the great epistles and in the lesser. Opposing this fictitious Paul stands the fiction of the Twelve Apostles and that of Peter, the pretended source, original and also unique, of the Christian apostolate. And, combined with this in Asia, we have the fiction of the beloved disciple' who, like Paul, is author of a small library, Apocalypse, Gospel and three Epistles. All this in


preparation for the final stage when these more or less contradictory theses will be brought to a synthesis, and their divergences somewhat smoothed over and apparently reconciled in the gospel catechesis and the canonical collection of the New Testament.

The Real Paul and the Fictitious

We have now reached what is, perhaps, the most important result of this part of our study. This consists in the radical dissimilation of the Paul who really spoke and the Paul who was represented as speaking. The first, the historic Paul, was the preacher of the primitive eschatological catechesis, enlarging it only, as it had already been enlarged by the Antioch missionaries, with a view to bringing pagans into the fold by sparing them the constraint of the legal observances. The second was Paul the mystic, with his audacious pretensions, his perpetual and tiresome boastfulness, his gross abuse of the old disciples whom he makes out to be Judaizers. As a personality having a place in primitive Christian history this second Paul would be wholly inexplicable, but is intelligible enough as the mouthpiece of Christian groups which believed themselves heirs of the Pauline tradition. They it was who, in reality, brought into the tradition, not indeed the principle of universal salvation by faith in the risen Christ — from the beginning there had been not great difficulty in admitting that — but the mystery of salvation by mystic union with a Saviour who had come down from heaven and returned to it in glory — a Saviour to whom the ardent believer was united, not only by knowledge of the mystery, but in an intimate communion effected by sacraments, with their ritual of probation, participation and final vision. This point is reached in the baptismal hymn quoted in the Epistle to the Ephesians (v, 14) and by Clement of Alexandria: [1]

Awake, thou sleeper,
rise up from among dead men, And Christ the Lord shall enlighten thee,
the sun of the resurrection, Begotten before the morning star (Psalm ex, 3)
giving life by his beams.

[1] Protrepticos, viii, 84, i, 2. See The Birth of the Christian Religion, p. 318.


As, on the one hand, the mystery retained in substance the ethic of the primitive eschatology and even tended, in certain parts, to improve upon it; as, on the other, it had its own way of understanding the Last Things as the inward and spiritual Reign of God, so it was inevitable that the mystic Paul would be made to deliver oracles on the problems thrown up by the state of the churches and the course of events, and also, when the mounting extravagances of the gnostic Christians made it necessary, on the compromises and the discipline needed to prevent the Church dissolving in a fermentation of sects. Our analysis has already shown the place in the evolution of nascent Christianity which belongs to the documents pretending to be Epistles, and we shall not repeat the exposition here. It is easy enough to understand why Paul was made to deliver oracles on marriage and virginity, on joining pagans in their sacrifices, on the ordering of the Supper, on spiritual gifts, on faith in the resurrection. All that was done spontaneously and under the pressure of circumstances. This it is that explains the differences we encounter in regard both to doctrine and practice, to be found among these lucubrations which, in the view of their authors, seemed required by the needs of the moment.

What could throw a more revealing light on this matter than die intrusion of the Song of Love in i Corinthians xiii? If there is one point in the criticism of the Epistles that admits of no doubt, it is that the Song of Love in its primitive form [1] is nothing else than the spontaneous reaction of some highly gifted mystic, of a Christian mind that soared aloft beyond the gnoses and the vulgar eschatology, in presence of the 'poor display of "spiritual gifts" spread before him in the preceding chapter. We can see how this noble poem got slipped into the Pauline dossier: some scribe or editor, finding it to hand, undertook to place it there as best he could. He has not placed it very happily, but his interpolation has saved it for us, and Christians have good reasons for the profoundest gratitude to its author, who has here bequeathed to us the true "essence of Christianity." How is it that our critics are not impressed by this evident interpolation? The answer is only too plain: if they allowed themselves to recognize it our cause would be won all along the line. The respectable

[1] See Remarques, 60-74.


limitations of their approach to these questions will long prevent them making that admission.

The authoritative pronouncement on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians xv reveals an attempt to adapt eschatology to gnosis, the material idea of the resurrection to the spiritual, the historic Paul and the mystical Paul to the conventional Paul, who already has almost become the Paul of orthodoxy, full of respect for the Twelve, like the Paul of Acts, and willing to accept the subordinate position imposed upon him by the interest of the Christian communities then in process of unification as the Catholic Church. Here we shall not repeat the detail of what we have said elsewhere on the small retouches and late interpolations this chapter has undergone.

The Remaining Epistles

We have already named the various stages of the Christian movement to which the Pastoral Epistles, the Epistle of James, the two of Peter, Jude's and the three of John, severally correspond. The whole of this literature is as completely fictitious, from the literary point of view, as any writings could be; none of it goes back to the apostolic age; every part of it originated at a moment when it seemed required for the service of a Christianity now established or in process of establishment. The catechesis attributed to James shows that a well-intentioned believer had come to the conclusion that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, as it had been announced in certain pages of the Pauline dossier, might have results reprehensible from the moral point of view. The Pastorals, confronting the gnostic crisis, are concerned with the organization of government in the churches and the crystallization of the traditional deposit of faith. The First of Peter does not look so far ahead; its main interest is in the gnosis which the author finds in the Pauline dossier and in the moral consequences it seems to involve, and this is the case of all the other Epistles occasioned or penetrated by gnostic influence. For example, at a given moment between the years 110 and 130 the duty of submission to the established powers became a commonplace with these moralists. The Epistle of Jude betrays a horror of gnostic excesses. The Second of Peter, boldly taking its stand

[1] Op. cit., 74-84.


on the last products of eschatological teaching, also denounces the gnostic peril, but seems mainly preoccupied in presenting a total debacle of the primitive catechesis by explaining that the delay of the End is a breathing-space of which profitable use should be made, and, strangely enough, points to Paul's Epistles as likely to lead, unless care be taken, to wrong conclusions in this matter. But this pretended Epistle of Peter proves, by the allusion just named, that there existed at the time it was written a collection of letters attributed to Paul, and that these formed part of a body of Scripture, and that it was then possible to speak of a New Testament Canon. As to the Johannine Epistles we have already seen that they shared the fortune of the major writings in that category, the Apocalypse and the Gospel, especially the latter, to which they were intended to serve as convoy. And this leads us to summarize our conclusions regarding the gospel catechesis of which we have already seen glimpses but await a full view.


We make no apology for repeating, what cannot be repeated too often — that the Gospels were not originally understood as a history of Jesus, of which the material had been furnished by those who had known the Christ in the course of his existence on earth. The primitive catechesis turned on the Last Things; it was eschatological and looked on. Jesus not as the Messiah, the Christ, who had come (in which case it would have been led to interpret his earthly career as a messianic epiphany), but believed-in him solely as the Messiah about to come, the effect being to withdraw his earlier existence from the realm of mystical interest and leave the first believers indifferent to it. In consequence, all the interest attaching to the name of Jesus then lay, not in his earthly career, but in his approaching parousia. This in sum was the essential object, if not the unique object, of faith. The Jesus on whom this faith centred was not Jesus as he had lived on earth, but Jesus as the Christ now living with God, and the conditions needed to make sure of a place in the Great Kingdom he would soon bring in. All the teaching of Jesus known to this catechesis on the Last Things, to this eschatological catechesis, was attributed by it to the immortal Christ in heaven; and we have already seen that it


was only at a later period that this teaching -was antedated and thrown back into the life of the Christ on earth, and how his exaltation as Messiah was treated in exactly the same manner.

Whence it results that the messianic interpretation of the earthly life of Jesus is not primordial, is not an experience of the age called apostolic; in all strictness of truth it is a product of the new faith. It was not with a view to retrieving a forgotten story that the gospel catechesis was drawn up. That was bound to happen, and did happen under a kind of inward necessity resulting, not precisely from the theories of salvation — for mystical speculation was first directed to the death of Jesus as the condition of his exaltation to Messiahship — but from the establishment of the Christian mystery as a cult to which initiation was necessary. Of this cult Jesus became, for the faith, not only the divine object, but the founder and master of the mystery, himself the prototype of the salvation which, if we may say so, he had achieved in himself, that he might make it a reality for all who were his. In this way catechesis was transformed into Gospel, into Good News, inasmuch as it showed forth the epiphany of a Saviour, Jesus the Christ. The gospel form of the catechesis, the story form, was non-existent in the first Christian age and cannot go, and does not go, so far back.

This also explains the relative but incontestable poverty of the gospel legend and the perpetual artifice of its construction. Many of our exegetes still speak of it as a selection made from abounding memories. In point of fact, as we have said already and repeat with assurance, neither memory nor selection has anything to do with the matter. The elements of the legend have been taken from various sources; much, and not the least important, has been borrowed, as we have seen, from the eschatological catechesis; and all of it has been adapted, as best might be, to the main object in view, that of setting forth the Christian mystery. The dependence of Matthew and Luke, even of John, on Mark is certainly no indication that a great wealth of material was available; for it is obvious that the Marcan sketch became the base of the other books simply for want of anything better. The workings over and the additions this sketch has undergone, both in Mark's Gospel itself and in the other evangelical writings, have far more the effect upon us of accentuating the artificial


character of the story than of disguising it. On a wide view, the first Gospel and the third are a fusion of the sacred legend, sketched in by Mark, with a mass of teaching, mostly moral, whose original place was the eschatological catechesis, while the fourth Gospel is constructed on the model of the other three.

In like manner the documents which exegetes are wont to call "sources" of the Gospels lack the qualities of historical documents, of which use could be made for a biography of Jesus. But that does not prevent the names of places from belonging to a real geography nor the names of persons being those of men who were once alive on earth. Jesus the Nazorean, John the Baptizer, Pontius Pilate belong to the history of their time; but among the actors in this sacred tragedy it may well be that Pontius Pilate is the one about whom history has the most certain, or the least uncertain, information. When human history goes deep into its subject, it finds the role played by official persons easier to define than that of others which are often more real and of greater influence on the course of events. But wt must not enlarge upon that.

The Catechesis of Mark

Mark's formless sketch is not all of a piece and certainly has been worked over more than once. Memories of Peter? The idea is out of the question. In Mark's Gospel Peter is not a source of information but an object of almost constant abuse. It would seem that the original draft of the Gospel had none of the preliminaries concerning John the Baptist; it began by placing Jesus at Capernaum for the calling of the first disciples, and finished with the exclamation of the centurion on hearing the last outcry of Jesus on the cross: "Verily this man was the Son of God"; at that moment Jesus was deemed to enter upon his eternal life and the tale of his Passion was ended. What follows reflects the relatively late idea of a material resurrection the third day after death, coordinated with the Christian celebration of Easter on Sunday. To search for the lost end of Mark is waste of labour, since all endings beyond the centurion's exclamation are only postscripts. The preliminaries of the Gospel, the mission of the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, are additions borrowed from the source used by Matthew and Luke for the purpose of fixing


John's position as that of forerunner of the Christ, John's role, in the messianic epiphany (antedated, as -we have seen, to the earthly life of Jesus) being the role which the primitive catechesis gave him in regard to the coming Kingdom of God. Then, too, the baptism of Jesus, conceived as the prototype of Christian baptism, served as opening to the catechism of the Christian initiate, and this beginning was the preface to various teachings on the economy of the Christian mystery and its differentiation from Judaism, or what was considered as a Judaizing conception of salvation. For the second part of the Gospel, which begins with Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi, turns on the mystery of the redeeming death, memorialized in the mystic celebration of the Eucharist.

In one current of this mystic gnosis a point was made of emphasizing Peter's complete lack of understanding in presence of the revealed mystery, to the extent that it was thought fitting to make the Christ characterize him as Satan. His incomprehension is not less complete in presence of the Transfiguration, nor at Gethsemane. It was even thought to be a known fact that, at the trial of Jesus, he had found occasion to deny his master thrice. In presence of the third prediction of the Passion, the sons of Zebedee are not less unintelligent than he; their only response to the prophecy is to ask for the two chief thrones right and left of the Christ's in his Kingdom! But we must not forget that the messianic confession of Peter is the throw-back of what was originally a post-resurrection episode; that the miracle of the Transfiguration is another, and that the whole conception of the mystery in like manner anticipates a later stage in the evolution of early Christian thought. The same may be said of the calling of the fishermen whom Jesus is represented as making into apostles on the spot; of everything, also, that is said about the character of the Son of Man, which, in the gospel tradition, is the definition of the Christ dying for the salvation of mankind. This is the mystery in presence of which the disciples, who knew it not, are said to have shown themselves unintelligent with a perseverance that nothing could overcome. Care also has been taken to inform us that they understood nothing at the two miracles of multiplied loaves (vi, 35-44; viii, 14-21). This also is most significant. For the story of these two miracles is nothing


else than the myth of the eucharistic institution at an early stage in the evolution of the mystery at which, without being expressly the symbol of Jesus' saving death, the Supper had come to signify communion in the truth and immortality given by the Christ to his own. This conception has now acquired its mystic character and is no longer purely eschatological.

Lastly we have a feature characteristic of Mark's catechesis and at the same time a revealing light on the general antedating by the Gospels of the divine epiphany: it is as follows.

In the view of the evangelists Jesus is revealed as the Messiah by his miracles, by his own discourses and even by the remarks addressed to him by others. On such occasions the order is given to all to keep silence about what has happened, as if a secret were being violated which ought not to be disclosed until Jesus is dead and risen. Thus we find the demons never fail to cry out that Jesus is the Son of God while Jesus, who continues to drive them out, never fails to bid them hold their peace. The same order is expressly given to the disciples after Peter's confession, and is repeated after the Transfiguration. Nothing could show more clearly that the whole display of messianic signs belongs to a secondary stage in the Christian faith, at which Jesus was consciously invested during his earthly life with a glory originally belonging to him as the Risen Christ.

We conclude, then, that Mark's Gospel, considered as it stands, has a long and complex history. It is impossible to assign precise dates to all the elements it contains. There are details in the compilation which prove a plurality of stages in the drafting of the document. One of these is the note, quite early in Mark .(iii, 6), which terminates the series of Jesus' quarrels with the Pharisees, especially those about the Sabbath: "The Pharisees, having departed, took counsel with the Herodians against him how they might destroy him." This half opens the door on the perspective of the Passion, the story of which it may have originally served to introduce.

The facility of the gospel narrator in improvising miracles — and the remark holds good for all the Gospels, and not only for Mark — for no other purpose than to emphasize his exposition and make the point of it clearer, may well cause us some surprise. But it would be a mistake to think that these writers or editors


enjoy the invention of the marvellous for its own sake and indulge in it as a pastime or, which would be more serious, that they are boldly taking advantage of the credulous age to which their writings were addressed. The truth is that the stories they tell are, for them, true stories in virtue of the meaning they imply in regard to the spiritual work of the Christ. Unless we take account of this we may be tempted to rank their authors as barefaced purveyors of falsehood. There can be no doubt, however, that they regarded their inventions as justified for the above reason, and we have to take the stories accordingly, attaching more importance to the spirit than to the letter.

Taking the book as a whole, the Gospel according to Mark can hardly have assumed its final form before 130-140, the date at which we find the good Papias acquainted with it. The first drafts of it may go back to the beginning of the second century, the period when the conception of the Christian mystery took definite shape, and the need began to be felt for a catechesis in narrative form embodying the mystery. At an indeterminate stage of its compilation the Gospel must have fallen into the hands of some mystic group in which Peter and the Galilean disciples were no better treated than in certain Epistles attributed to Paul. There is nothing extraordinary in this, but we do well to bear it in mind.

We may accept it as probable that whoever slipped into the Gospel the arrangement of the resurrection stories that authorize the Sunday Easter did so in the interest of that arrangement at a time when the Sunday observance had been accepted by all the groups of the Roman Church; for Mark seems to have been mainly elaborated as a Roman Gospel. It is obvious that the book had no other usage in view than that of public reading in the assembled congregation. Those who think it possible to maintain that the book was written as a chronicle and for private edification are under a radical illusion as to the nature of such literature and the objects for which it was written.

To be sure, no attempt was made to incorporate into Mark the mass of moral instructions more or less closely bound up with the eschatological catechesis. This is what the compilers of Matthew and Luke set themselves to do, for the greater enrichment and efficiency of Christian teaching. The two Gospels, in


their traditional form, bear witness to equal concern in a direction opposite to that in which the teaching on the Last Things was turned — that of going back to the terrestrial birth of the Christ. This Mark's Gospel had not dared to attempt, the integration it presents of the public life of Jesus with his messianic epiphany being already more than enough to characterize the Gospel as innovating. Preoccupation with this subject would first show itself in Judaizing circles, which had to answer awkward Jewish questions about the person of their pretended Messiah who had no visible claim to be descended from David, as the Messiah must needs be. By some believers this objection had been met by denying that Davidic descent was an essential qualification of the Messiah, quoting Psalm ex as their authority, in which David was said to address the Christ as his "Lord." Mark, Matthew and Luke all record this way of meeting the objection. But the compilers of Matthew and Luke seem to have overlooked the fact that, in this denial of the necessity of Davidic descent recorded by both of them, the genealogies they produce to prove it are rendered superfluous. The compiler who inserted the denial in Mark (xii, 35-37) may have thought it was enough that the Christ should be Son of God. Two genealogies were then invented, both fictitious, and contradictory, as we have seen, to the point of being quite worthless, were it not for the light they throw on other things. Moreover they have not come through without being neutralized and put out of court by the myth of Virgin Conception, from which it would follow that Jesus was only the putative descendant of David by Joseph, who was not his real father, as intermediary. In addition to this, the birth-stories in Matthew are built up on the Virgin Conception, whereas in Luke the Virgin Conception has been interpolated and surcharged (i, 34-35). This divergence, as we have pointed out, is far from furnishing an argument for the priority of Matthew.

The Catechesis in Matthew

The first Gospel may well be of less ancient date than is commonly supposed, not only because its birth-stories are dominated by the Virgin Conception, but also because it has been constructed on Mark in the form given to that Gospel by the oldest manuscripts, and must therefore be later than the literary work which


produced the second Gospel. At certain points it may be, and doubtless is, later than Luke, though certainly not dependent on it. Some of the materials collected in it have a Judaizing tendency, though that is not true of its general spirit. Its liking for Old Testament prophecy, of which it never tires of showing the fulfilment, is evidence that this form of argument was of present force with the audience for which it was intended; indeed, the critics are agreed that this Gospel was composed in the East — to be more precise, in Syria. Its dependence on Mark is the more significant on that account; so, too, is the facility with which it has absorbed all that Mark adduces to the discredit of Peter and the Galilean disciples. The reason doubtless is that this part of the story had already taken the form of an accepted tradition.

The remarkable fact remains to be noted that in the solemn episode of the messianic confession the compilers of the Gospel have exalted Peter beyond anything to be read about him elsewhere in the New Testament. To the question propounded by Jesus (xvi, 15): "Who say ye that I am?" Peter not only replies as in Mark (viii, 29): "Thou art the Christ," but "Thou art the Christ, son of the living God." To which Jesus makes answer:

Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jona,
because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee,
but my father who is in heaven. But I also say to thee, thou art Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church,
and hell's gates shall not prevail against it. I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,
and what thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and what thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Placed beside the "Back, Satan!" etc., by which Peter is crushed in xvi, 23, copied from Mark (viii, 33), these words are simply stupefying. We are told that the play of words on Kepha, "Peter," is possible only in Aramean. That is so; these magnificent propositions were born in the East. Moreover, they are aimed at the mystic Paul with an eye to Galatians i, 11, 15-17: "The Gospel I announce is not according to man ... I received it by revelation of Jesus Christ . . . When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, without regard to flesh and Hood, without going to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me," etc. In our


text, he who receives the revelation of Jesus Christ is Peter; he who owes it not to any man is Peter; he who has been appointed foundation of the Church is Peter. But this solemn declaration is no invention of the gospel compiler; he found it complete and ready to his hand. The piece is only the more precious to us for that, but not more authentic nor more ancient. Briefly, it corresponds to the position attributed to Peter in the Book of Acts, and found its way into the first Gospel about the year 140. It would be superfluous to repeat at this point the evidence which forbids us to assign a much earlier date to the canonical edition of the whole Gospel, though it was known to Papias along with Mark.

The Catechesis in Luke and Acts

The case of the third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles is more complicated than that of Matthew, seeing that the two original books addressed to Theophilus have undergone a process of elaboration of which our two canonical books are the result. It is certain that the writer to Theophilus, like Matthew, knew Mark without further ending than the discovery of the empty tomb by the Galilean women, if indeed he knew it thus, for in that case it could only be the canonical edition of the Gospel. But it is neither certain nor probable that he knew the section of Mark comprised, in the canonical version, between the two miracles of multiplied loaves (vi, 45-viii, 26). In all probability he had no story to tell about the birth of Jesus and began his gospel narrative with the account of John's baptizing. He seems to have known Mark at a stage when it lacked the symbolism of the mystic Supper and of the bread-body and wine-blood of the Christ. Similarly, in the second book (Acts) he seems to have known nothing of the Ascension and its' preliminaries nor of the miraculous descent of the Spirit on the first believers at Pentecost. We may infer from this that a long time elapsed between the original composition of the two books and their canonical edition in the form they now have, with its contrivances in favour of the Ephesian legend about John, its set purpose of subordinating Paul to the Galilean apostles (falsely called apostles) and especially to Peter, its grossly material conception of the resurrection and its deliberate reticence about


Simon the Magician, about what happened to Peter after his flight from Jerusalem and, at the end the book, about the fate of Paul.

If we assume that the two books to Theophilus, in their original form as they came from the writer's hand, were earlier than canonical Mark, we might then place their compilation in the first quarter of the second century, between no and 120. It is true that the writer to Theophilus supposes that many writings analogous to his own were already in existence. But we must not conclude from this that numerous bipartite expositions of the catechesis, like his, were then in circulation; enough that there were many and varied specimens whether of the eschatological type, which was not yet out of date, and concerned in substance with the origins of the faith and of Christian propaganda, or of sketches more or less rudimentary of the gospel catechesis, such as that which we may continue to call proto-Mark.

As to the date of the canonical edition of the third Gospel and of Acts we may (as indicated above, p. 192) fix it between 135 and 140, with this reservation, that while the third Gospel had, to all seeming, acquired its final form before Marcion, who must have known the corpus of the Gospel almost in the form it now has, we have not the same evidence for the date of Acts, though it is certain that one and the same editor gave the two books their characteristic form of apologies for Christianity as the authentic heir of Judaism and the messianic fulfilment predicted in Jewish scripture. It is certain also that features peculiar to the third Gospel and Acts were acquired before Marcion, these features are the symbolic anticipation of Jesus' preaching at Nazareth and of the miraculous draught in the vocation story; the symbolic mission of the seventy or seventy-two forerunners; the representation of the Twelve and chiefly of Peter as the depositaries and authentic apostles of Christian truth. Moreover, Marcion seems to have held that Luke was not free from Jewish contamination. It remains to add that the first edition of this Gospel, like the first of Mark, was adapted to the quartodeciman Easter, and the final edition to the Sunday observance, as was also the final edition of Mark. It would be of great value to the historian if the date could be ascertained when the devices were practised which altered the chronology of the Passion so as to


make it support the Roman observance on Sunday; the documentary evidence is lacking that would enable us to fix it with precision (cf. supra, p. 75). We know only that between 150 and 160 die Roman bishop Anicetus pretended to authorize the Sunday observance of Easter by citing the practice of his predecessors. We must be resigned, at least provisionally, to be ignorant about certain matters on which our documents were not intended to enlighten us, but rather to keep us in the dark.

The Catechesis in the Fourth Gospel

We have already discussed the origin of the fourth Gospel and seen that the documents on which it rests expound a mystic doctrine which, strictly speaking, is not a gospel doctrine in the sense of the synoptic catechesis, nor strictly eschatological in the sense of the primitive teaching; pieces of gnosis rather, in keeping with the idea of the Christ's continual presence in those who are his own and their participation in his immortal life. The adaptation of it to gospel type sprang from the desire to accommodate mystic gnosis to the teaching pattern of the synoptic catechesis, which was also mystico-gnostic in its own way, though not in its literary form. Nevertheless, the Johannine adaptation remained in keeping with the Easter observance known as quartodeciman, and sublimated into mystic gnosis, as was everything that its catechesis had to borrow from the earlier Gospels, not for the purpose of completing their account, but with a view to displacing them and becoming their substitutes. We have already studied in chapter iii the grandiose and daring fiction that was constructed to invest the new Gospel with the apostolic authority of John. But it arrived too late to supplant the others completely. In the beginning it seems to have had no acceptance beyond the frontiers of the Asiatic province where it saw the light, and where, doubtless, it was at first not unopposed from the side of those who still clung to the synoptic catechesis previously known.

The development of the gnostic crisis seems to have had a great influence in determining the modifications that were soon introduced into this Asiatic Gospel. They were mainly as follows: account was taken of John the Baptist, and even a large use made of his personality; the attempt was made to conform the


document to the general framework of the Synoptics, while retaining its own chronology; due respect was paid to the traditional eschatology, which the fundamental doctrine of the book seemed rather to exclude; lastly, without abandoning the fiction of Johannine authorship nor the somewhat equivocal personality of the beloved disciple, considerable prerogative was accorded to Peter, the same that he receives in Matthew and in Acts, 1:0 wit, the charge and function of chief shepherd of Christ's flock. It follows that, if we date the first writing of the Gospel at approximately 135, the last working over of its catechesis may certainly be placed between 150 and 160, that is to say, at the time when we have good grounds for supposing that the negotiations took place between the chief Christian churches with a view to fixing the canon of authorized Gospels as a defence against the dangers of the oncoming gnostic tide.


It is generally known, or ought to be, that the first author of a New Testament canon was none other than the heretic Marcion. Appealing mainly to the authority of the mystic Paul he sets himself to prove that the Jewish scriptures, made much of in the common tradition of Christians — and the more so because they had no recognized scriptures of their own to which appeal could be made — set himself to prove that this Jewish revelation, together with our bad terrestrial world, were the work of a hard-hearted and incompetent demiurge, while the Gospel of the good, transcendent God, who had been unknown to the world till the epiphany of Jesus, had nowhere been preserved in its purity. Nowhere; for the gospel books used in the churches had been contaminated by the Judaizing influences openly denounced by Paul in his Epistles. This was the state of things which Marcion claimed to have demonstrated in his Antitheses. In his great solicitude for the salvation of all men of goodwill, he had determined to publish Christian scriptures, cleansed by him of Jewish poison; to which end he put forth, first, the Gospel {Evangelion) which was our Luke minus the birth stories, with such omissions or retouchings as respect for the true doctrine demanded; and, second, the Apostolicon, the collected ten Epistles


then attributed to Paul, their text purified by the same methods and to the same end as that of the Gospel.

The Canon becomes a Necessity to the Survival of the Church

It was a great innovation, but one which the Church itself also was bound sooner or later to undertake — meaning by the Church the totality of the Christian communities, then scattered about the Mediterranean world, which continued to await the Reign of God and the coming of the Christ Jesus, while continually exalting their Christ in the direction of the Godhead. It was not only in the Church that the production of Gospels went on apace; many gnostic sects had Gospels of their own; Basilides had one; Valentinus had another. Nor was Marcion alone in rejecting the Old Testament. Argument about the interpretation of Old Testament texts no longer yielded any profit except against the Jews, not indeed by converting them, but by meeting their objections. An armament was needed against the uncontrolled insurgence of gnostic heresies, and this could only be found in the documents of the faith, which the Church already had in its hands. It remained only to sift them and bring them to a point. This was done. Towards the year 180 the collection of the four Gospels was definitely constituted. To be convinced of that we have only to read Irenaeus.

How the operation was carried through nobody knows and we can only offer conjectures. We are bound to suppose that certain of the leading churches came to an understanding about the Gospels that were to be received to the exclusion of all the many others; failing this, the anarchy which had reigned in the production of Gospels, up to the middle of the second century, might have continued indefinitely. In particular, and chiefly, Asia had to make her own Gospel of John acceptable to the other churches, and in return to give equal consideration to the synoptic catechesis as represented by the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew and Luke respectively. It was an association of members that leaned different ways, in spite of the various retouchings effected to create a sort of harmony, apparent rather than real, between the fourth Gospel and the other three. The mere fact, therefore, that the four were brought together proves that the fourth was introduced into the group as the result of a


positive agreement between the churches of Asia, which would never abandon their pretended Gospel of John, with the other churches who held to one or more of the three forms of synoptic catechesis.

The solution that would have been most advantageous, had it been practicable, was to publish a single Gospel containing a synthesis of the four. But this, doubtless, could not be thought of. It is easy to understand, in the urgent need for a rule in the matter, how impossible it would have been to bring the various churches to the point of renouncing the particular Gospel used in their liturgical worship in favour of a revised version of the Gospel to which none of them was accustomed. Tatian might succeed in this, on new and limited ground, with his Diatessaron, of which a fragment in the original Greek has lately been discovered at Doura. [1] But an enterprise of that kind for all the churches scattered throughout the Roman empire was quite impossible. The probability is, therefore, that the canon of the four Gospels was fixed, as far as it could be, by positive agreement between the Asiatic church and the Roman.

But when? If we search in the history of the time for an occasion when such transactions may have been set on foot, or the ground prepared for them, the most natural would be that of the conversations which took place in Rome about 150-160 between Polycarp of Smyrna and the bishop Anicetus of Rome. Perhaps we may be permitted to remind apologists of a certain type that Polycarp's journey to Rome was anything but a pious pilgrimage ad limina, and that the four Gospels deemed apostolic were not canonized by the sole fact that their supposed authors, apostles or disciples of apostles, themselves made a present of them to the churches and so secured their acceptance as sacred writings. None of the Gospels is apostolic in this rigorous sense, and none was imposed on church usage in the conditions supposed. At a given moment these catechisms were stamped with the authority of an apostolic name to justify the credit they already enjoyed; but neither their origin nor their text was guaranteed by the names chosen to adorn them. Challenged by the gnostic movement, and especially by Marcion's proceedings, the Church found herself summoned to oppose her

[1] Discovered March 5, 1933. See Lagrange, Revue Biblique, July, 1933, pp. 326-327.


own texts to those of the heretic. The canon was her answer. It is unlikely, one might even say morally impossible, that in the conversations between the Asiatic and the Roman bishops, when the question of Easter observance was carefully avoided, the two being immovably fixed in their respective practice, that the question of the Gospels to be authorized was not discussed. The hypothesis should not be dismissed as altogether groundless, but the question is, in essence, accessory (cf. The Birth of the Christian Religion, p. 342).

The canonization of the four Gospels most in use must have contributed to promote their regular employment in liturgical exercise throughout all the churches, as well as to determine their authority as Scripture by the side of the Old Testament. That is not to say that hitherto they had been regarded as ordinary books and that they were considered as works of the Spirit only in retrospect. All our catecheses had been accepted as works of the Spirit, in this sense, that from the very beginning their content was regarded as animated by the Christ-Spirit. But, for all that, they were not yet official Scriptures in the full and absolute sense in which the term was applied to the sacred books inherited from Judaism. All documents of Christian teaching shared, more or less, in the Spirit. This explains why the writings of certain churchmen, which had found enough credit in the churches to be employed for public reading, enjoyed in their time a sort of provisional canonicity, but lost it when the decision was taken to make apostolicity an indispensable condition for inclusion in the New Testament canon. The Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians and the Pastor of Hermas are cases in point. Certainly these writings were not less worthy of veneration than the Epistles falsely attributed to Peter and to other apostles. But they had no apostolic label, and the door to canonicity was promptly closed against them.

We cannot say what the conditions were under which Alexandria accepted what was soon known as the tetramorphic Gospel. The fact is that she herself made no contribution to the canonical collection and seems to have had no part in the negotiations which prepared it. Nevertheless Clement of Alexandria, who freely quotes the Gospel of the Egyptians, knew the canon of the four Gospels commonly received (cf. Stromata, iii, 92-


93), and the Gospel of the Egyptians soon fell into the complete discredit in store for the writings to be henceforth known as apocryphal. As far as we can judge by the known fragments this Gospel was deeply penetrated by gnosticism, of which Alexandria seems to have been a hot-bed in the second century. A more exact description of the situation there would be that there were in Alexandria at tills time, not a single church more or less organized, but, as formerly in Rome, various Christian groups without central attachment, of which some were deep in gnosis. Not till after the lapse of considerable time was there unification in Alexandria of the more or less traditionalist groups, and clear differentiation of these from the others which fell into heresy. In the third century it was catholic Alexandria that delivered a damaging blow in the East to the fortunes of the Johannine Apocalypse, the true character of which it had clearly perceived. Later, in the Byzantine Church, the Apocalypse regained the confidence in which it was still held by the more massive faith of the West.

The Catholic Epistles

St. Jerome expresses himself rather freely on some of the catholic Epistles. On James he writes as follows (De Viris, 2):

He wrote only one Epistle, which is one of the seven Catholics. It is said that this letter was written by another under his name, although it gradually gained authority with the lapse of time.

This is the best that could be said. On Jude he wrote (De Viris, 4):

Jude, brother of James, has left a short Epistle, which is of the seven Catholics; and because he brings in a quotation from the book of Enoch, which is apocryphal, the letter had been rejected by most people; notwithstanding, it deserved credit by its antiquity and by usage, and was counted among the Holy Scriptures.

On Peter he writes (De f^iris, i):

He wrote two Epistles, which are called Catholic: the majority deny that the second is from him, in view of the difference in style when compared with the first.

These objections soon fell asleep, and the Canon of the New Testament became as solid brass till the time of the Reformation.


But we might almost say of every piece that entered into its composition that it won credit "by antiquity and by usage," not by the real apostolic authorship of its content.


Putting aside all considerations of supernatural magic, and paying no heed to the narrow prejudice of rationalism, which leads to the denial of all human value in whatever is mingled with historical or literary fiction, dismissing all this, it still remains true that the collection of the New Testament, incomplete and incoherent as it may be in many respects, is the everliving witness, to those who have ears to hear, of an extraordinary spiritual movement. [1] That movement was the Christian religion in its early youth.

As to the future, we may rest assured that the vitality of this movement, so stagnant at certain stages, so despised and rejected at others, is far from being exhausted. Of the two parties it is hard to say which falls into the deeper error, that which supposes Christianity to be perfect at every point, miraculous and divinely true both in its beginning and in its development to our own day — a theological myth, a dogmatic puerility, old legends converted into absolute dogmas — or that which thinks itself in the way to destroy Christianity and that soon it will be no more — another myth which fancies itself the last word of science and, from the human point of view, is no less childish, no less sterilizing than the other. The distance between mystic illusion and human truth is not as great as such people imagine.

Nothing in nature, so they tell us, ever perishes. Doubtless the same is true in the life of humanity. In the future remaining to man, a future whose end is yet far off, the food on which humanity will live will be, for the better part, the food on which it has lived hitherto. That which happened in "the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar," and in the first hundred and fifty obscure and tumultuous years of Christian history, will be matter of consequence to the human race to the last day of its existence on earth, because, while man lives not only upon bread, neither does he live only on science. Before all else he lives on the dynamism

[1] The same is true of the Old Testament.


of the spirit, on the moral electricity of devoted love. Therein lies the true fulfilment of his destiny.

Little does the bare letter matter of what Jesus, Peter, Paul or John, and their interpreters, have had to say on that topic. What matters is the fire they kindled, and it is a fire that will never die till mankind is no more. Men pass away, but humanity remains; religions die, but religion shines for ever. Man would have perished long ago, victim of his own folly, had not the religious ideal of humanity rescued him from the edge of the abyss. May he mend his ways and himself establish this law of his progress on an ever firmer foundation!

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