Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

Trinitarian party triumphed numerically, and decreed, by a large majority, that Christ was one with God-coeval and co-extensive with him in nature and existence; and by an edict of the Emperor, Arius and two others, who had refused to sign this decision of the Council, were banished. Whether the books of the New Testament, in connection with the other writings which constitute our Bible, were pronounced authentic and canonical by this convocation, or not, is (as far as I can learn) a matter which cannot now be ascertained with certainty. On this point, the learned are divided in opinion; the different conclusions at which they have severally arrived, being, at best, but conjectures. It is, however, the concurrent testimony of Church-historians, that previous to this time, there were, besides the writings composing the New Testament, many other books in existence, claiming to be more or less authoritative, and which were so regarded, and held in no small degree of veneration, by some of the early Christian fathers. A distinguished German critic, and standard Ecclesiastical Historian, (whose work is highly commended for its accuracy, by Prof. STUART, Orthodox; Prof. SEARS, Calvanistic Baptist; and the late Prof. WARE, Unitarian;) informs us that the compilation and arrangement of the present canonical New Testament was commenced during the first half of the second century-probably about A. D. 120. Still, for some time after this pe

*GIESELER "Text-Book of Eccl. Hist." Cunningham's translationpublished in Philadelphia, 1836, by Carey, Lea & Blanchard. Vol 1, p. 98.

riod, other writings continued to be cherished with veneration and regarded as authority, in all the organized churches of that age: among them were the "Gospel of the Hebrews" and the "Gospel of the Egyptians," so called. Many of the books which were in vogue at that time, and for an indefinite period afterwards, are now included in the collection usually styled "The Apocryphal New Testament"-such as, The First Epistle of Clemens Romanus; The Epistles of Ignatius, seven in number; The Epistle of Polycarp; The Epistle of Barnabus; and the Shepherd of Hermas. At what time these and other books now reckoned as Apocryphal, were generally discarded by the chief branches of the early Church, it is exceedingly difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to determine at least, with anything like certainty. Though it will perhaps be superfluous, as far as most of you are concerned, yet it may be serviceable to the younger portion of the audience, for me to remark, in passing, that the word Apocryphal, (in its conventional, though not exactly its primary, usage) signifies of doubtful authority; considered as unworthy of credence, or (viewed in the most favorable aspect) not to be relied on implicitly. It is an adjective, essentially synonymous with the noun Apocrypha, which those deeply versed in the analysis and origin of languages tell us, was derived from a Greek phrase signifying to hide or conceal, it being the practice of ecclesiastics, when acting, in the capacity of a council, or as individuals, for the purpose of forming a scriptural canon, to conceal, as

far as possible, those writings which they had pronounced spurious or questionable. It is stated by the learned Dr. Buck, in his Theological Dictionary, that there were in existence, during some of the first centuries after the Christian era, thirty or forty books, since rejected, the larger number of which were designated by the name Gospel. The titles of some of these are as follows:-The Acts of Andrew; The Gospel of Andrew; The Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles; The Gospel of Barnabas; The Gospel of Bartholomew; An Epistle of Christ; The Gospel of Matthias; The Gospel according to the Nazarenes; The Acts of Paul; The Revelation of Paul; The Gospel of Perfection; The Acts of Peter; The Gospel of Peter; The Revelation of Peter; The Acts of Philip; The Gospel of Philip; The Revelation of Stephen; The Gospel of Thaddeus; The Gospel of Thomas; The Gospel of Truth and several other Gospels, Epistles and Revelations, to enumerate which would unnecessarily consume our time, as I have adduced a sufficient number to give you a tolerably comprehensive idea of the variety of Apostolic writings,-real or pretended, or both, which were extant, and respected more or less, in the early days of the Christian Church.

As I have heretofore observed, it is not, and cannot be, definitely settled, at what specific time, or by what council, (if by any,) the present Biblical canor, as a whole, was recognized and established. For aught that appears to the contrary, the Old Testament Scriptures, without

the Apocrypha, were generally received and accredited, without much controversy, among the early Christians; this ready acceptance, on their part, being attributable, no doubt, in some measure, to the fact, that those writings had been revered by the Jewish people, as an established canon, for many centuries. Why it is that such a cloud of historical uncertainty envelopes the compilation and arranging of the New Testament books, I know not; and I can account for the obscurity only on the supposition, that material facts have either been intentionally suppressed, or (not having been scrupulously recorded, and faithfully preserved) have long since passed into oblivion. Some have supposed that the Apocryphal books were separated from those regarded as canonical, at the celebrated Nicene Council, of which I have spoken; others are of opinion that this labor was accomplished at some other council, of a later period; while others still have concluded, (to me the most probable view of the subject) that it was not at any one time merely, nor altogether by any one assembly,-but gradually, and as much by common consent among the leaders in ecclesiastical affairs, as otherwise, that the present collection came to be recognized as genuine and authentic; although it is by no means improbable, that, earlier and later, the decisions of councils and synods have had an important connection with the matter,among which may be mentioned the transactions of the famous Council of Trent, which assembled as late as the year 1545, and prolonged its existence by adjournments

till the year 1563; which, however, was summoned mainly for deliberation upon other subjects. It was a convocation of Roman Catholics, called together some time after the commencement of the great Reformation under Luther, and while the contest between the Papists and Protestants was daily waxing more and more fierce and unyielding. Of course, its decisions and edicts were not regarded, by Protestants, as in any degree binding upon them; they spurned these regulations, in connection with all other assumptions of the Papal power. And consequently, although at that council, the VULGAte, [i. e. the ancient Latin translation of the Bible] with the addition of most if not all the Apocrypha, was declared to be the standard version of the Catholic Church, and of equal authority with the original Scripture; yet the exact, identical collection received by Protestant sects in general, now, as the sacred inspired oracles, could not then have been established: for, as I have intimated, the version approved at that time comprised the Apocrypha, which Protestants generally reject. But of this, I shall say more, in another part of this lecture.

Omitting all mention of the Apocrypha, for the present, we will now take a concise view of the origin, and the history up to the present time, (as respects their literature) of the Old and New Testaments,-which names are applied to the collective books they represent, as a matter of convenience, to distinguish the one class of writings from the other; their several authors having

« AnteriorContinua »