Vol. 2, Chapter XII. The Development of Catholic Theology in Conflict with Heresy

137. Catholic Orthodoxy

I. Sources: The doctrinal and polemical writings of the ante-Nicene fathers, especially Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alex., and Origen.

II. Literature: The relevant sections in the works on Doctrine History by Petravius, Münscher, Neander, Giesler, Baur, Hagenbach, Shedd, Nitzsch, Harnack (first vol. 1886; 2d ed. 1888).

Jos. Schwane (R.C.): Dogmengeschichte der vornicänischen Zeit. Münster, 1862.

Edm. De Pressensé: Heresy and Christian Doctrine, transl. by Annie Harwood. Lond. 1873.

The special literature see below. Comp. also the Lit. in Ch. XIII.

By the wide-spread errors described in the preceding chapter, the church was challenged to a mighty intellectual combat, from which she came forth victorious, according to the promise of her Lord, that the Holy Spirit should guide her into the whole truth. To the subjective, baseless, and ever-changing speculations, dreams, and fictions of the heretics, she opposed the substantial, solid realities of the divine revelation. Christian theology grew, indeed, as by inward necessity, from the demand of faith for knowledge. But heresy, Gnosticism in particular, gave it a powerful impulse from without, and came as a fertilizing thunder-storm upon the field. The church possessed the truth from the beginning, in the experience of faith, and in the Holy Sscriptures, which she handed down with scrupulous fidelity from generation to generation. But now came the task of developing the substance of the Christian truth in theoretical form fortifying it on all sides, and presenting it in clear light before the understanding. Thus the Christian polemic and dogmatic theology, or the church’s logical apprehension of the doctrines of salvation, unfolded itself in this conflict with heresy; as the apologetic literature and martyrdom had arisen through Jewish and heathen persecution.

From this time forth the distinction between catholic and heretical, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the faith of the church and dissenting private opinion, became steadily more prominent. Every doctrine which agreed with the holy scriptures and the faith of the church, was received as catholic; that is, universal, and exclusive. Whatever deviated materially from this standard, every arbitrary notion, framed by this or that individual, every distortion or corruption of the revealed doctrines of Christianity, every departure from the public sentiment of the church, was considered heresy.

Almost all the church fathers came out against the contemporary heresies, with arguments from scripture, with the tradition of the church, and with rational demonstration, proving them inwardly inconsistent and absurd.

But in doing this, while they are one in spirit and purpose, they pursue two very different courses, determined by the differences between the Greek and Roman nationality, and by peculiarities of mental organization and the appointment of Providence. The Greek theology, above all the Alexandrian, represented by Clement and Origen, is predominantly idealistic and speculative, dealing with the objective doctrines of God, the incarnation, the trinity, and christology; endeavoring to supplant the false gnosis by a true knowledge, an orthodox philosophy, resting on the Christian pistis. It was strongly influenced by Platonic speculation in the Logos doctrine. The Latin theology, particularly the North African, whose most distinguished representatives are Tertullian and Cyprian, is more realistic and practical, concerned with the doctrines of human nature and of salvation, and more directly hostile to Gnosticism and philosophy. With this is connected the fact, that the Greek fathers were first philosophers; the Latin were mostly lawyers and statesmen; the former reached the Christian faith in the way of speculation, the latter in the spirit of practical morality. Characteristically, too, the Greek church built mainly upon the apostle John, pre-eminently the contemplative “divine;” the Latin upon Peter, the practical leader of the church. While Clement of Alexandria and Origen often wander away into cloudy, almost Gnostic speculation, and threaten to resolve the real substance of the Christian ideas into thin spiritualism, Tertullian sets himself implacably against Gnosticism and the heathen philosophy upon which it rests. “What fellowship,” he asks, “is there between Athens and Jerusalem, the academy and the church, heretics and Christians?” But this difference was only relative. With all their spiritualism, the Alexandrians still committed themselves to a striking literalism; while, in spite of his aversion to philosophy, Tertullian labored with profound speculative ideas which came to their full birth in Augustin.

Irenaeus, who sprang from the Eastern church, and used the Greek language, but labored in the West, holds a kind of mediating position between the two branches of the church, and may be taken as, on the whole, the most moderate and sound representative of ecclesiastical orthodoxy in the ante-Nicene period. He is as decided against Gnosticism as Tertullian, without overlooking the speculative want betrayed in that system. His refutation of the Gnosis, written between 177 and 192, is the leading polemic work of the second century. In the first book of this work Irenaeus gives a full account of the Valentinian system of Gnosis; in the second book be begins his refutation in philosophical and logical style; in the third, he brings against the system the catholic tradition and the holy, scriptures, and vindicates the orthodox doctrine of the unity of God, the creation of the world, the incarnation of the Logos, against the docetic denial of the true humanity of Christ and the Ebionitic denial of his true divinity; in the fourth book he further fortifies the same doctrines, and, against the antinomianism of the school of Marcion, demonstrates the unity of the Old and New Testaments; in the fifth and last book he presents his views on eschatology, particularly on the resurrection of the body — so offensive to the Gnostic spiritualism — and at the close treats of Antichrist, the end of the world, the intermediate state, and the millennium.

His disciple Hippolytus gives us, in the “Philosophumena,” a still fuller account, in many respects, of the early heresies, and traces them up to, their sources in the heathen systems of philosophy, but does not go so deep into the exposition of the catholic doctrines of the church.

The leading effort in this polemic literature was, of course, to develop and establish positively the Christian truth; which is, at the same time, to refute most effectually the opposite error. The object was, particularly, to settle the doctrines of the rule of faith, the incarnation of God, and the true divinity and true humanity of Christ. In this effort the mind of the church, under the constant guidance of the divine word and the apostolic tradition, steered with unerring instinct between the threatening cliffs. Yet no little indefiniteness and obscurity still prevailed in the scientific apprehension and statement of these points. In this stormy time, too, there were as yet no general councils to, settle doctrinal controversy by the voice of the whole church. The dogmas of the trinity and the person of Christ, did not reach maturity and final symbolical definition until the following period, or the Nicene age.


Notes on Heresy

The term heresy is derived from αἵρεσις which means originally either capture (from αἱρέω), or election, choice (from αἱρέομαι), and assumed the additional idea of arbitrary opposition to public opinion and authority. In the N. Test. it designates a chosen way of life, a school or sect or party, not necessarily in a bad sense, and is applied to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the Christians as a Jewish sect (Act_5:17; Act_15:5; Act_24:5,Act_24:14; Act_26:5; Act_28:22); then it signifies discord, arising from difference of opinion (Gal_5:20; 1Co_11:19); and lastly error (2Pe_2:1, αἱρέσεις ἀπωλείας destructive heresies, or sects of perdition). This passage comes nearest to the ecclesiastical definition. The term heretic (αἱρετικὸς ἄνθρωπος) occurs only once, Tit_3:10, and means a factious man, a sectary, a partisan, rather than an errorist.

Constantine the Great still speaks of the Christian church as a sect, ἡ αἵρεσις ἡ καθολική, ἡ ἁγιωτάτη αἵρεσις (in a letter to Chrestus, bishop of Syracuse, in Euseb, H. E. X. c. 5, § 21 and 22, in Heinichen’s ed. I, 491). But after him church and sect became opposites, the former term being confined to the one ruling body, the latter to dissenting minorities.

The fathers commonly use heresy of false teaching, in opposition to Catholic doctrine, and schism of a breach of discipline, in opposition to Catholic government. The ancient heresiologists — mostly uncritical, credulous, and bigoted, though honest and pious, zealots for a narrow orthodoxy — unreasonably multiplied the heresies by extending them beyond the limits of Christianity, and counting all modifications and variations separately. Philastrius or Philastrus, bishop. of Brescia or Brixia (d. 387), in his Liber de Haeresibus, numbered 28 Jewish and 128 Christian heresies; Epiphanius of Cyprus (d. 403), in his Πανάριον. 80 heresies in all, 20 before and 60 after Christ; Augustin (d. 430), 88 Christian heresies, including Pelagianism; Proedestinatus, 90, including Pelagianism and Nestorianism. (Pope Pius IX. condemned 80 modern heresies, in his Syllabus of Errors, 1864.) Augustin says that it is “altogether impossible, or at any rate most difficult” to define heresy, and wisely adds that the spirit in which error is held, rather than error itself, constitutes heresy. There are innocent as well as guilty errors. Moreover, a great many people are better than their creed or no-creed, and a great many are worse than their creed, however orthodox it may be. The severest words of our Lord were directed against the hypocritical orthodoxy of the Pharisees. In the course of time heresy was defined to be a religious error held in wilful and persistent opposition to the truth after it has been defined and declared by the church in an authoritative manner, or “pertinax defensio dogmatis ecclesiae universalis judicio condemnati.” Speculations on open questions of theology are no heresies. Origen was no heretic in his age, but was condemned long after his death.

In the present divided state of Christendom there are different kinds of orthodoxy and heresy. Orthodoxy is conformity to a recognized creed or standard of public doctrine; heresy is a wilful departure from it. The Greek church rejects the Roman dogmas of the papacy, of the double procession of the Holy Ghost, the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and the infallibility of the Pope, as heretical, because contrary to the teaching of the first seven ecumenical councils. The Roman church anathematized, in the Council of Trent, all the distinctive doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. Evangelical Protestants on the other hand regard the unscriptural traditions of the Greek and Roman churches as heretical. Among Protestant churches again there are minor doctrinal differences, which are held with various degrees of exclusiveness or liberality according to the degree of departure from the Roman Catholic church. Luther, for instance, would not tolerate Zwingli’s view on the Lord’s Supper, while Zwingli was willing to fraternize with him notwithstanding this difference. The Lutheran Formula of Concord, and the Calvinistic Synod of Dort rejected and condemned doctrines which are now held with impunity in orthodox evangelical churches. The danger of orthodoxy lies in the direction of exclusive and uncharitable bigotry, which contracts the truth; the danger of liberalism lies in the direction of laxity and indifferentism, which obliterates the eternal distinction between truth and error.

The apostles, guided by more than human wisdom, and endowed with more than ecclesiastical authority, judged severely of every essential departure from the revealed truth of salvation. Paul pronounced the anathema on the Judaizing teachers, who made circumcision a term of true church membership (Gal_1:8), and calls them sarcastically “dogs” of the “concision” (Phi_3:2, βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας … τῆς κατατομῆς). He warned the elders of Ephesus against “grievous wolves” (λύκοι βαρεῖς) who would after his departure enter among them (Act_20:29); and he characterizes the speculations of the rising gnosis falsely so called (ψευδώνυμος γνῶσις) as “doctrines of demons” (διδασκαλίαι δαιμονίων, 1Ti_4:1; Comp. 1Ti_6:3-20; 2Ti_3:1 sqq.; 2Ti_4:3 sqq.). John warns with equal earnestness and severity against all false teachers who deny the fact of the incarnation, and calls them antichrists (1Jo_4:3; 2Jo_1:7); and the second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude describe the heretics in the darkest colors.

We need not wonder, then, that the ante-Nicene fathers held the gnostic heretics of their days in the greatest abhorrence, and called them servants of Satan, beasts in human shape, dealers in deadly poison, robbers, and pirates. Polycarp (Ad Phil. c. 7), Ignatius (Ad Smyrn. c. 4), Justin M. (Apol. I. c. 26), Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III. 3, 4), Hippolytus, Tertullian, even Clement of Alexandria, and Origen occupy essentially the same position of uncompromising hostility towards heresy is the fathers of the Nicene and post-Nicene ages. They regard it as the tares sown by the devil in the Lord’s field (Mat_13:3-6 sqq). Hence Tertullian infers, “That which was first delivered is of the Lord and is true; whilst that is strange and false which was afterwards introduced” (Praescr. c. 31: “Ex ipso ordine manifestatur, id esse dominicum et verum quod sit prius traditum, id autem extraneum et falsum quod sit posterius inmissum”). There is indeed a necessity for heresies and sects (1Co_11:19), but “woe to that man through whom the offence cometh” (Mat_18:7). “It was necessary,” says Tertullian (ib. 30), “that the Lord should be betrayed; but woe to the traitor.”

Another characteristic feature of patristic polemics is to trace heresy, to mean motives, such as pride, disappointed ambition, sensual lust, and avarice. No allowance is made for different mental constitutions, educational influences, and other causes. There are, however, a few noble exceptions. Origen and Augustin admit the honesty and earnestness at least of some teachers of error.

We must notice two important points of difference between the ante-Nicene and later heresies, and the mode of punishing heresy.

1. The chief ante-Nicene heresies were undoubtedly radical perversions of Christian truth and admitted of no kind of compromise. Ebionism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism were essentially anti-Christian. The church could not tolerate that medley of pagan sense and nonsense without endangering its very existence. But Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Quartodecimanians, and other sects who differed on minor points of doctrine or discipline, were judged more mildly, and their baptism was acknowledged.

2. The punishment of heresy in the ante-Nicene church was purely ecclesiastical, and consisted in reproof, deposition, and excommunication. It had no effect on the civil status.

But as soon as church and state began to be united, temporal punishments, such as confiscation of property, exile, and death, were added by the civil magistrate with the approval of the church, in imitation of the Mosaic code, but in violation of the spirit and example of Christ and the apostles. Constantine opened the way in some edicts against the Donatists, a.d. 316. Valentinian I. forbade the public worship of Manichaeans (371). After the defeat of the Arians by the second Ecumenical Council, Theodosius the Great enforced uniformity of belief by legal penalties in fifteen edicts between 381 and 394. Honorius (408), Arcadius, the younger Theodosius, and Justinian (529) followed in the same path. By these imperial enactments heretics, i.e. open dissenters from the imperial state-religion, were deprived of all public offices, of the right of public worship, of receiving or bequeathing properly, of making binding contracts; they were subjected to fines, banishment, corporeal punishment, and even death. See the Theos. Code, Book XVI. tit. V. De Haereticis. The first sentence of death by the sword for heresy was executed on Priscillian and six of his followers who held Manichaean opinions (385). The better feeling of Ambrose of Milan and Martin of Tours protested against this act, but in vain. Even the great and good St. Augustin, although he had himself been a heretic for nine years, defended the principle of religious persecution, on a false exegesis of Cogite eos intrare, Luk_14:23 (Ep. 93 ad Vinc.; Ep. 185 ad Bonif., Retract. II. 5.). Had he foreseen the crusade against the Albigenses and the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, he would have retracted his dangerous opinion. A theocratic or Erastian state-church theory — whether Greek Catholic or Roman Catholic or Protestant — makes all offences against the church offences against the state, and requires their punishment with more or less severity according to the prevailing degree of zeal for orthodoxy and hatred of heresy. But in the overruling Providence of God which brings good out of every evil, the bloody persecution of heretics — one of the darkest chapters in church history — has produced the sweet fruit of religious liberty. See vol. III.


138. The Holy Scriptures and the Canon

The works on the Canon by Reuss, Westcott, (6th ed., 1889), Zahn, (1888). Holtzmann: Kanon u. Tradition, 1859. Schaff: Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version. N. York and London, 1883; third ed. 1888. Gregory: Prolegomena to Tischendorf’s 8th ed. of the Greek Test. Lips., 1884. A. Harnack: Das N. Test. um das jahr 200. Leipz., 1889.

The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology. We therefore notice it here before passing to the several doctrines of faith.

1. This source and this rule of knowledge are the holy scriptures of the Old and New Covenants. Here at once arises the inquiry as to the number and arrangement of the sacred writings, or the canon, in distinction both from the productions of enlightened but not inspired church teachers, and from the very numerous and in some cases still extant apocryphal works (Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses), which were composed in the first four centuries, in the interest of heresies or for the satisfaction of idle curiosity, and sent forth under the name of an apostle or other eminent person. These apocrypha, however, did not all originate with Ebionites and Gnostics; some were merely designed either to fill chasms in the history of Jesus and the apostles by fictitious stories, or to glorify Christianity by vaticinia post eventum, in the way of pious fraud at that time freely allowed.

The canon of the Old Testament descended to the church from the Jews, with the sanction of Christ and the apostles. The Jewish Apocrypha were included in the Septuagint and passed from it into Christian versions. The New Testament canon was gradually formed, on the model of the Old, in the course of the first four centuries, under the guidance of the same Spirit, through whose suggestion the several apostolic books had been prepared. The first trace of it appears in 2Pe_3:15, where a collection of Paul’s epistles is presumed to exist, and is placed by the side of “the other scriptures.” The apostolic fathers and the earlier apologists commonly appeal, indeed, for the divinity of Christianity to the Old Testament, to the oral preaching of the apostles, to the living faith of the Christian churches, the triumphant death of the martyrs, and the continued miracles. Yet their works contain quotations, generally without the name of the author, from the most important writings of the apostles, or at least allusions to those writings, enough to place their high antiquity and ecclesiastical authority beyond all reasonable doubt. The heretical canon of the Gnostic Marcion, of the middle of the second century, consisting of a mutilated Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles, certainly implies the existence of an orthodox canon at that time, as heresy always presupposes truth, of which it is a caricature.

The principal books of the New Testament, the four Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first of John, which are designated by Eusebius as “Homologumena,” were in general use in the church after the middle of the second century, and acknowledged to be apostolic, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, and therefore authoritative and canonical. This is established by the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, of the Syriac Peshito (which omits only Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and the Revelation), the old Latin Versions (which include all books but 2 Peter, Hebrews, and perhaps James and the Fragment of Muratori; also by the heretics, and the heathen opponent Celsus — persons and documents which represent in this matter the churches in Asia Minor, Italy, Gaul, North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. We may therefore call these books the original canon.

Concerning the other seven books, the “Antilegomena” of Eusebius, viz. the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apocalypse, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle of Jude, — the tradition of the church in the time of Eusebius, the beginning of the fourth century, still wavered between acceptance and rejection. But of the two oldest manuscripts of the Greek Testament which date from the age of Eusebius and Constantine, one — the Sinaitic — contains all the twenty-seven books, and the other — the Vatican — was probably likewise complete, although the last chapters of Hebrews (from Heb_11:14), the Pastoral Epistles, Philemon, and Revelation are lost. There was a second class of Antilegomena, called by Eusebius “spurious” (νόθα), consisting of several post-apostolic writings, viz. the catholic Epistle of Barnabas, the first Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, the Shepherd of Hermas, the lost Apocalypse of Peter, and the Gospel of the Hebrews; which were read at least in some churches but were afterwards generally separated from the canon. Some of them are even incorporated in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible, as the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Shepherd of Hermas (both in the original Greek) in the Codex Sinaiticus, and the first Epistle of Clement of Rome in the Codex Alexandrinus.

The first express definition of the New Testament canon, in the form in which it has since been universally retained, comes from two African synods, held in 393 at Hippo, and 397 at Carthage, in the presence of Augustin, who exerted a commanding influence on all the theological questions of his age. By that time, at least, the whole church must have already become nearly unanimous as to the number of the canonical books; so that there seemed to be no need even of the sanction of a general council. The Eastern church, at all events, was entirely independent of the North African in the matter. The Council of Laodicea (363) gives a list of the books of our New Testament with the exception of the Apocalypse. The last canon which contains this list, is probably a later addition, yet the long-established ecclesiastical use of all the books, with some doubts as to the Apocalypse, is confirmed by the scattered testimonies of all the great Nicene and post Nicene fathers, as Athanasius (d. 373), Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), Gregory of Nazianzum (d. 389), Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403), Chrysostom (d. 407), etc. The name Novum Testamentum, also Novum Instrumentum (a juridical term conveying the idea of legal validity), occurs first in Tertullian, and came into general use instead of the more correct term New Covenant. The books were currently divided into two parts, “the Gospel” and “the Apostle,” and the Epistles, in the second part, into Catholic or General, and Pauline. The Catholic canon thus settled remained untouched till the time of the Reformation when the question of the Apocrypha and of the Antilegomena was reopened and the science of biblical criticism was born. But the most thorough investigations of modern times have not been able to unsettle the faith of the church in the New Testament, nor ever will.

2. As to the origin and character of the apostolic writings, the church fathers adopted for the New Testament the somewhat mechanical and magical theory of inspiration applied by the Jews to the Old; regarding the several books as composed with such extraordinary aid from the Holy Spirit as secured their freedom from errors (according to Origen, even from faults of memory). Yet this was not regarded as excluding the writer’s own activity and individuality. Irenaeus, for example, sees in Paul a peculiar style, which he attributes to the mighty flow of thought in his ardent mind. The Alexandrians, however, enlarged the idea of inspiration to a doubtful breadth. Clement of Alexandria calls the works of Plato inspired, because they contain truth; and he considers all that is beautiful and good in history, a breath of the infinite, a tone, which the divine Logos draws forth from the lyre of the human soul.

As a production of the inspired organs, of divine revelation, the sacred scriptures, without critical distinction between the Old and New Covenants, were acknowledged and employed against heretics as an infallible source of knowledge and an unerring rule of Christian faith and practice. Irenaeus calls the Gospel a pillar and ground of the truth. Tertullian demands scripture proof for every doctrine, and declares, that heretics cannot stand on pure scriptural ground. In Origen’s view nothing deserves credit which cannot be confirmed by the testimony of scripture.

3. The exposition of the Bible was at first purely practical, and designed for direct edification. The controversy with the Gnostics called for a more scientific method. Both the orthodox and heretics, after the fashion of the rabbinical and Alexandrian Judaism, made large use of allegorical and mystical interpretation, and not rarely lost themselves amid the merest fancies and wildest vagaries. The fathers generally, with a few exceptions, (Chrysostom and Jerome) had scarcely an idea of grammatical and historical exegesis.

Origen was the first to lay down, in connection with the allegorical method of the Jewish Platonist, Philo, a formal theory of interpretation, which he carried out in a long series of exegetical works remarkable for industry and ingenuity, but meagre in solid results. He considered the Bible a living organism, consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after the Platonic psychology. Accordingly, he attributed to the scriptures a threefold sense; (1) a somatic, literal, or historical sense, furnished immediately by the meaning of the words, but only serving as a veil for a higher idea; (2) a psychic or moral sense, animating the first, and serving for general edification; (3) a pneumatic or mystic, and ideal sense, for those who stand on the high ground of philosophical knowledge. In the application of this theory he shows the same tendency as Philo, to spiritualize away the letter of scripture, especially where the plain historical sense seems unworthy, as in the history of David’s crimes; and instead of simply bringing out the sense of the Bible, be puts into it all sorts of foreign ideas and irrelevant fancies. But this allegorizing suited the taste of the age, and, with his fertile mind and imposing learning, Origen was the exegetical oracle of the early church, till his orthodoxy fell into disrepute. He is the pioneer, also, in the criticism of the sacred text, and his “Hexapla” was the first attempt at a Polyglot Bible.

In spite of the numberless exegetical vagaries and differences in detail, which confute the Tridentine fiction of a “unanimis consensus patrum,” there is still a certain unanimity among the fathers in their way of drawing the most important articles of faith from the Scriptures. In their expositions they all follow one dogmatical principle, a kind of analogia fidei. This brings us to tradition.


Notes on the Canon

I. The Statements of Eusebius

The accounts of Eusebius (d. 340) on the apostolic writings in several passages of his Church History (especially III. 25; comp. II. 22, 23; III. 3, 24; V. 8; VI. 14, 25) are somewhat vague and inconsistent, yet upon the whole they give us the best idea of the state of the canon in the first quarter of the fourth century just before the Council of Nicaea (325).

He distinguishes four classes of sacred books of the Christians (H. E. III. 25, in Heinichen’s ed. vol. I. 130 sqq.; comp. his note in vol. III. 87 sqq.).

1. Homologumena, i.e. such as were universally acknowledged (ὁμολογούμενα): 22 Books of the 27 of the N. T., viz.: 4 Gospels, Acts, 14 Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews), 1 Peter, 1 John, Revelation. He says: “Having arrived at this point, it is proper that we should give a summary catalogue of the afore-mentioned (III. 24) writings of the N. T. (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰς δηλωθείσας τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης γραφάς). First, then, we must place the sacred quaternion (or quartette, τετρακτύν) of the Gospels, which are followed by the book of the Acts of the Apostles (ἡ τῶν πράξεων τῶν ἀποστόλων γραφή). After this we must reckon the Epistles of Paul, and next to them we must maintain as genuine (κυρωτέον, the verb. adj. from κυρόω, to ratify), the Epistle circulated as the former of John (τὴν φερομένην Ἰωάννου προτέραν), and in like manner that of Peter (καὶ ὁμοίως τὴν Πέτρου ἐπιστολήν). In addition to these books, if it seem proper (εἴγε φανείη), we must place the Revelation of John (τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν Ἰωάννου), concerning which we shall set forth the different opinions in due course. And these are reckoned among those which are generally received (ἐν ὁμολογουμένοις).”

In bk. III. ch. 3, Eusebius speaks of “fourteen Epp.” of Paul (τοῦ δὲ Παύλου πρόδηλοι καὶ σαφεῖς αἱ δεκατέσσαρες), as commonly received, but adds that “some have rejected the Ep. to the Hebrews, saying that it was disputed as not being one of Paul’s epistles.”

On the Apocalypse, Eusebius vacillates according as he gives the public belief of the church or his private opinion. He first counts it among the Homologumena, and then, in the same passage (III. 25), among the spurious books, but in each case with a qualifying statement (εἰ φανείη), leaving the matter to the judgment of the reader. He rarely quotes the book, and usually as the “Apocalypse of John,” but in one place (III. 39) he intimates that it was probably written by “the second John,” which must mean the “Presbyter John,” so called, as distinct from the Apostle — an opinion which has found much favor in the Schleiermacher school of critics. Owing to its mysterious character, the Apocalypse is, even to this day, the most popular book of the N. T. with a few, and the most unpopular with the many. It is as well attested as any other book, and the most radical modern critics (Baur, Renan) admit its apostolic authorship and composition before the destruction of Jerusalem.

2. Antilegomena, or controverted books, yet “familiar to most people of the church” (ἀντιλεγόμενα, γνώριμα δ ̓ ὅμως τοΐς πολλοὶς, III. 25). These are five (or seven), viz., one Epistle of James, one of Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John (“whether they really belong to the Evangelist or to another John”).

To these we may add (although Eusebius does not do it expressly) the Hebrews and the Apocalypse, the former as not being generally acknowledged as Pauline, the latter on account of its supposed chiliasm, which was offensive to Eusebius and the Alexandrian school.

3. Spurious Books (νόθα), such as the Acts of Paul, the Revelation of Peter, the Shepherd (Hermas), the Ep. of Barnabas, the so-called “Doctrines of the Apostles,” and the Gospel according to the Hebrews, “in which those Hebrews who have accepted Christ take special delight.”

To these he adds inconsistently, as already remarked, the Apocalypse of John.” which some, as I said, reject (ἥν τινες ἀθετοῦσιν), while others reckon it among the books generally received (τοῖς ὁμολογουμένοις).” He ought to have numbered it with the Antilegomena.

These νόθα, we may say, correspond to the Apocrypha of the O. T., pious and useful, but not canonical.

4. Heretical Books. These, Eusebius says, are worse than spurious books, and must be “set aside as altogether worthless and impious.” Among these be mentions the Gospels of Peter, and Thomas, and Matthias, the Acts of Andrew, and John, and of the other Apostles.


II. Ecclesiastical Definitions of the Canon

Soon after the middle of the fourth century, when the church became firmly settled in the Empire, all doubts as to the Apocrypha of the Old Testament and the Antilegomena of the New ceased, and the acceptance of the Canon in its Catholic shape, which includes both, became an article of faith. The first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea did not settle the canon, as one might expect, but the scriptures were regarded without controversy as the sure and immovable foundation of the orthodox faith. In the last (20th or 21st) Canon of the Synod of Gangra, in Asia Minor (about the middle of the fourth century), it is said: “To speak briefly, we desire that what has been handed down to us by the divine scriptures and the Apostolic traditions should be observed in the church.” Comp. Hefele, Conciliengesch. I. 789.

The first Council which expressly legislated on the number of canonical books is that of Laodicea in Phrygia, in Asia Minor (held between a.d. 343 and 381, probably about 363). In its last canon (60 or 59), it enumerates the canonical books of the Old Testament, and then all of the New, with the exception of the Apocalypse, in the following order:

“And these are the Books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John; Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, One of James, Two of Peter, Three of John, One of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, One to the Romans, Two to the Corinthians, One to the Galatians, One to the Ephesians, One to the Philippians, One to the Colossians, Two to the Thessalonians, One to the Hebrews, Two to Timothy, One to Titus, and One to Philemon.”

This catalogue is omitted in several manuscripts and versions, and probably is a later insertion from the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem. Spittler, Herbst, and Westcott deny, Schrökh and Hefele defend, the Laodicean origin of this catalogue. It resembles that of the 85th of the Apostolical Canons which likewise omits the Apocalypse, but inserts two Epistles of Clement and the pseudo-Apostolical Constitutions.

On the Laodicean Council and its uncertain date see Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, revised ed. vol. I. p. 746 sqq., and Westcott, on the Canon of the N. T., second ed., p. 382 sqq.

In the Western church, the third provincial Council of Carthage (held a.d. 397) gave a full list of the canonical books of both Testaments, which should be read as divine Scriptures to the exclusion of all others in the churches. The N. T. books are enumerated in the following order: “Four Books of the Gospels, One Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Thirteen Epp. of the Apostle Paul, One Ep. of the same [Apostle] to the Hebrews, Two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, Three of John, One of James, One of Jude, One Book of the Apocalypse of John.” This canon bad been previously adopted by the African Synod of Hippo regius, a.d. 393, at which Augustin, then presbyter, delivered his discourse De Fide et Symbolo. The acts of that Council are lost, but they were readopted by the third council of Carthage, which consisted only of forty-three African bishops, and can claim no general authority. (See Westcott, p. 391, Charteris, p. 20, and Hefele, II. 53 and 68, revised ed.)

Augustin, (who was present at both Councils), and Jerome (who translated the Latin Bible at the request of Pope Damasus of Rome) exerted a decisive influence in settling the Canon for the Latin church.

The Council of Trent (1546) confirmed the traditional view with an anathema on those who dissent. “This fatal decree,” says Dr. Westcott (p. 426 sq.), “was ratified by fifty-three prelates, among whom was not one German, not one scholar distinguished for historical learning, not one who was fitted by special study for the examination of a subject in which the truth could only be determined by the voice of antiquity.”

For the Greek and Roman churches the question of the Canon is closed, although no strictly ecumenical council representing the entire church has pronounced on it. But Protestantism claims the liberty of the ante-Nicene age and the right of renewed investigation into the origin and history of every book of the Bible. Without this liberty there can be no real progress in exegetical theology.


139. Catholic Tradition

Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. Lib. I. c. 9, § 5; I. 10, 1; III. 3, 1, 2; III. 4, 2; IV. 33, 7. Tertull.: De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum; especially c. 13, 14, 17-19, 21, 35, 36, 40, 41; De Virgin. veland. c. 1; Adv. Prax. c. 2; on the other hand, Adv. Hermog. c. 22; De Carne Christi, c. 7; De Resurr. Carnis, c. 3. Novatian: De Trinitate 3; De Regula Fidei. Cyprian: De Unitate Eccl.; and on the other hand, Epist. 74. Origen: De Princip. lib. I. Praef. § 4-6. Cyril of Jerus. Κατηχήσεις (written 348).

J. A. Daniel: Theol. Controversen (the doctrine of the Scriptures as the source of knowledge). Halle, 1843.

J. J. Jacobi: Die Kirchl. Lehre von d. Tradition u. heil. Schrift in ihrer Entwicketung dargestellt. Berl. I. 1847.

Ph. Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. p. 12 sqq.; II. 11-44. Comp. Lit. in the next section.

Besides appealing to the Scriptures, the fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Tertullian, refer with equal confidence to the “rule of faith;” that is, the common faith of the church, as orally handed down in the unbroken succession of bishops from Christ and his apostles to their day, and above all as still living in the original apostolic churches, like those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Tradition is thus intimately connected with the primitive episcopate. The latter was the vehicle of the former, and both were looked upon as bulwarks against heresy.

Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, “sine charta et atramento,” written in their hearts.

Tertullian finds a universal antidote for all heresy in his celebrated prescription argument, which cuts off heretics, at the outset, from every right of appeal to the holy scriptures, on the ground, that the holy scriptures arose in the church of Christ, were given to her, and only in her and by her can be rightly understood. He calls attention also here to the tangible succession, which distinguishes the catholic church from the arbitrary and ever-changing sects of heretics, and which in all the principal congregations, especially in the original sects of the apostles, reaches back without a break from bishop to bishop, to the apostles themselves, from the apostles to Christ, and from Christ to God. “Come, now,” says he, in his tract on Prescription, “if you would practise inquiry to more advantage in the matter of your salvation, go through the apostolic churches, in which the very chairs of the apostles still preside, in which their own authentic letters are publicly read, uttering the voice and representing the face of every one. If Achaia is nearest, you have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have Thessalonica. If you can go to Asia, you have Ephesus. But if you live near Italy, you have Rome, whence also we [of the African church] derive our origin. How happy is the church, to which the apostles poured out their whole doctrine with their blood,” etc.

To estimate the weight of this argument, we must remember that these fathers still stood comparatively very near the apostolic age, and that the succession of bishops in the oldest churches could be demonstrated by the living memory of two or three generations. Irenaeus in fact, had been acquainted in his youth with Polycarp, a disciple of St. John. But for this very reason we must guard against overrating this testimony, and employing it in behalf of traditions of later origin, not grounded in the scriptures.

Nor can we suppose that those fathers ever thought of a blind and slavish subjection of private judgment to ecclesiastical authority, and to the decision of the bishops of the apostolic mother churches. The same Irenaeus frankly opposed the Roman bishop Victor. Tertullian, though he continued essentially orthodox, contested various points with the catholic church from his later Montanistic position, and laid down, though at first only in respect to a conventional custom — the veiling of virgins — the genuine Protestant principle, that the thing to be regarded, especially in matters of religion, is not custom but truth. His pupil, Cyprian, with whom biblical and catholic were almost interchangeable terms, protested earnestly against the Roman theory of the validity of heretical baptism, and in this controversy declared, in exact accordance with Tertullian, that custom without truth was only time-honored error. The Alexandrians freely fostered all sorts of peculiar views, which were afterwards rejected as heretical; and though the παρὰδοσις ἀποστολική plays a prominent part with them, yet this and similar expressions have in their language a different sense, sometimes meaning simply the holy scriptures. So, for example, in the well-known passage of Clement: “As if one should be changed from a man to a beast after the manner of one charmed by Circe; so a man ceases to be God’s and to continue faithful to the Lord, when he sets himself up against the church tradition, and flies off to positions of human caprice.”

In the substance of its doctrine this apostolic tradition agrees with the holy scriptures, and though derived, as to its form, from the oral preaching of the apostles, is really, as to its contents, one and the same with there apostolic writings. In this view the apparent contradictions of the earlier fathers, in ascribing the highest authority to both scripture and tradition in matters of faith, resolve themselves. It is one and the same gospel which the apostles preached with their lips, and then laid down in their writings, and which the church faithfully hands down by word and writing from one generation to another.


140. The Rule of Faith and the Apostles’ Creed

Rufinus (d. 410): Expos. in Symbolum Apostolorum. In the Append. to Fell’s ed. of Cyprian, 1682; and in Rufini Opera, Migne’s “Patrologia,” Tom. XXI. fol. 335-386.

James Ussher (Prot. archbishop of Armagh, d. 1655): De Romanae Ecclesiae Symbolo Apostolico vetere, aliisque fidei formulis. London, 1647. In his Works, Dublin 1847, vol. VII. p. 297 sqq. Ussher broke the path for a critical history of the creed on the basis of the oldest MSS. which he discovered.

John Pearson (Bp. of Chester, d. 1686): Exposition of the Creed, 1659, in many editions (revised ed. by Dr. E. Burton, Oxf. 1847; New York 1851). A standard work of Anglican theology.

Peter King (Lord Chancellor of England, d. 1733): History of the Apostles’ Creed. Lond. 1702.

Herm. Witsius (Calvinist, d. at Leyden, 1708): Exercitationes sacrae in Symbolum quod Apostolorum dicitur. Amstel. 1700. Basil. 1739. 4°. English translation by Fraser. Edinb. 1823, in 2 vols.

Ed. Köllner (Luth.): Symbolik aller christl. Confessionen. Part I. Hamb. 1837, p. 6-28.

*Aug. Hahn: Bibliothek der Symbole und Glaubensregeln der apostolischkatholischen [in the new ed.] der alten Kirche. Breslau, 1842 (pp. 222). Second ed. revised and enlarged by his son, G. Ludwig Hahn. Breslau, 1877 (pp. 300).

J. W. Nevin: The Apostles’ Creed, in the “Mercersburg Review,” 1849. Purely doctrinal.

Pet. Meyers (R.C.): De Symboli Apostolici Titulo, Origine ei antiquissimis ecclesiae temporibus Auctoritate. Treviris 1849 (pp. 210). A learned defense of the Apostolic origin of the Creed.

W. W. Harvey: The History and Theology of the three Creeds (the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian). Lond. 1854. 2 vols.

*Charles A. Heurtley: Harmonia Symbolica. Oxford, 1858.

Michel Nicolas: Le Symbole des apôtres. Essai historie. Paris, 1867. (Sceptical).

*J. Rawson Lumby: The History of the Creeds (ante-Nicene, Nicene and Athanasian). London, 1873, 2d ed. 1880.

*C. A. Swainson: The Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed. London, 1875.

*C. P. Caspari: (Prof. in Christiania): Quellen zur Gesch. des Tauf, symbols und der Glaubensregel. Christiania, 1866-1879. 4 vols, Contains new researches and discoveries of MSS.

*F. J. A. Hort: Two Dissertations on μονογένης θεός and on the Constantinopolitan Creed and other Eastern Creeds of the Fourth Century. Cambr. and Lond. 1876. Of great critical value.

F. B. Westcott: The Historic Faith. London, 1883.

PH. Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. 3-42, and II. 10-73. (4th ed.) 1884.

In the narrower sense, by apostolic tradition or the rule of faith (κανὼν τῆς πίστεως, regula fidei) was understood a doctrinal summary of Christianity, or a compend of the faith of the church. Such a summary grew out of the necessity of catechetical instruction and a public confession of candidates for baptism. It became equivalent to a symbolum, that is, a sign of recognition among catholic Christians in distinction from unbelievers and heretics. The confession of Peter (Mat_16:16) gave the key-note, and the baptismal formula (Mat_28:19) furnished the trinitarian frame-work of the earliest creeds or baptismal confessions of Christendom.

There was at first no prescribed formula of faith binding upon all believers. Each of the leading churches framed its creed (in a sort of independent congregational way), according to its wants, though on the same basis of the baptismal formula, and possibly after the model of a brief archetype which may have come down from apostolic days. Hence we have a variety of such rules of faith, or rather fragmentary accounts of them, longer or shorter, declarative or interrogative, in the ante-Nicene writers, as Irenaeus of Lyons (180), Tertullian of Carthage (200), Cyprian of Carthage (250), Novatian of Rome (250), Origen of Alexandria (250), Gregory Thaumaturgus (270), Lucian of Antioch (300), Eusebius of Caesarea (325), Marcellus of Ancyra (340), Cyril of Jerusalem (350), Epiphanius of Cyprus (374), Rufinus of Aquileja (390), and in the Apostolic Constitutions). Yet with all the differences in form and extent there is a substantial agreement, so that Tertullian could say that the regula fidei was “una omnino, sola immobilis et irreformabilis.” They are variations of the same theme. We may refer for illustration of the variety and unity to the numerous orthodox and congregational creeds of the Puritan churches in New England, which are based upon the Westminster standards.

The Oriental forms are generally longer, more variable and metaphysical, than the Western, and include a number of dogmatic terms against heretical doctrines which abounded in the East. They were all replaced at last by the Nicene Creed (325, 381, and 451), which was clothed with the authority of ecumenical councils and remains to this day the fundamental Creed of the Greek Church. Strictly speaking it is the only ecumenical Creed of Christendom, having been adopted also in the West, though with a clause (Filioque) which has become a wall of division. We shall return to it in the next volume.

The Western forms — North African, Gallican, Italian — are shorter and simpler, have less variety, and show a more uniform type. They were all merged into the Roman Symbol, which became and remains to this day the fundamental creed of the Latin Church and her daughters.

This Roman symbol is known more particularly under the honored name of the Apostles’ Creed. For a long time it was believed (and is still believed by many in the Roman church) to be the product of the Apostles who prepared it as a summary of their teaching before parting from Jerusalem (each contributing one of the twelve articles by higher inspiration). This tradition which took its rise in the fourth century, is set aside by the variations of the ante-Nicene creeds and of the Apostles’ Creed itself. Had the Apostles composed such a document, it would have been scrupulously handed down without alteration. The creed which bears this name is undoubtedly a gradual growth. We have it in two forms.

The earlier form as found in old manuscripts, is much shorter and may possibly go back to the third or even the second century. It was probably imported from the East, or grew in Rome, and is substantially identical with the Greek creed of Marcellus of Ancyra (about 340), inserted in his letter to Pope Julius I. to prove his orthodoxy, and with that contained in the Psalter of King Aethelstan. Greek was the ruling language of the Roman Church and literature down to the third century.

The longer form of the Roman symbol, or the present received text, does not appear before the sixth or seventh century. It has several important clauses which were wanting in the former, as “he descended into hades,” the predicate “catholic” after ecclesiam, “the communion of saints,” and “the life everlasting.” These additions were gathered from the provincial versions (Gallican and North African) and incorporated into the older form.

The Apostles’ Creed then, in its present shape, is post-apostolic; but, in its contents and spirit, truly apostolic. It embodies the faith of the ante-Nicene church, and is the product of a secondary inspiration, like the Gloria in Excelsis and the Te deum, which embody the devotions of the same age, and which likewise cannot be traced to an individual author or authors. It follows the historical order of revelation of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, beginning with the creation and ending with the resurrection and life eternal. It clusters around Christ as the central article of our faith. It sets forth living facts, not abstract dogmas and speaks in the language of the people, not of the theological school. It confines itself to the fundamental truths, is simple, brief, and yet comprehensive, and admirably adapted for catechetical and liturgical use. It still forms a living bond of union between the different ages and branches of orthodox Christendom, however widely they differ from each other, and can never be superseded by longer and fuller creeds, however necessary these are in their place. It has the authority of antiquity and the dew of perennial youth, beyond any other document of post-apostolic times. It is the only strictly ecumenical Creed of the West, as the Nicene Creed is the only ecumenical Creed of the East. It is the Creed of creeds, as the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers.



The legendary formulas of the Apostles’ Creed which appear after the sixth century, distribute the articles to the several apostles arbitrarily and with some variations. The following is from one of the pseudo-Augustinian sermons (see Hahn, p. 47 sq.):


“Decimo die post ascensionem discipulis prae timore Judaeorum congregatis Dominus promissum Paracletum misit: quo veniente ut candens ferrum inflammati omniumque linguarum peritia repleti Symbolum composuerunt.

Petrus dixit: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem — creatorem coeli et terrae.

Andreas dixit: Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus — unicum Dominum nostrum.

Jacobus dixit: Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto — natus ex Maria Virgine.

Joannes dixit: Passus sub Pontio Pilato — crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus.

Thomas dixit: Descendit ad inferna — tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.

Jacobus dixit: Adscendit ad coelos — sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis.

Philippus dixit: Inde venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos.

Bartholomaeus dixit: Credo in Spiritum Sanctum.

Matthaeus dixit: Sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam — Sanctorum communionem.

Simon dixit: Remissionem peccatorum.

Thaddeus dixit: Carnis resurrectionem.

Matthias dixit: Vitam aeternam.”