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evidence, if given to such a fact, what wonder that many should fall into the snare? The experience of every age justifies the great historian of Greece, in the conclusion to which he was led, by his attempt to ascertain the grounds on which so much idle fable had been received as truth by his countrymen. Men will not take the trouble to search after truth, if any thing like it is ready provided to their hands; and from this fate religious truth itself is not exempted.
127 Lib. I. C. 20.
AGE OF THE APOSTOLICAL FATHERS.
From A.D. 100—167.
With the removal of God's inspired servants from the scene, Ecclesiastical History assumes a widely different character from that which belongs to it during the record of their ministry. As long as their agency is employed, we look on with pious confidence in the wisdom of the measures pursued, and presume not to question the reasonableness of the objects effected. But, from the moment at which a transfer of authority is made to fallible rulers and teachers, these become amenable for the discharge of their trust to posterity, as well as to God; and it is our duty to inquire into the fidelity with which they have discharged it.
In no part of the Christian scheme is the Divine wisdom more change from Inspired to apparent than in this transfer. It was begun early, long before Uninspired the removal of the apostles ; and was so gradually accomplished, Government that even the death of St. John occasioned no such dismay in the
Church, as might have been expected at the extinction of the last star by which its course was to be directed. In the first instance, too, this transfer of authority was made to those who, for a season, had exercised it under the instruction of the apostles, and whom the loss of their inspired guides left, therefore, engaged in a routine of duty no longer new or doubtful. The change, immense as it was, came almost imperceptibly both on the Church and on its rulers.
No portion of the Christian scheme awakens a more anxious
inquiry, than the interesting experiment which was thus made in change.
first intrusting Christianity to uninspired guardians. For, although this was done under circumstances which approach the nearest to extraordinary Divine assistance, and the abruptness of leaving the Church at once to the ordinary help of the Spirit was thereby prevented; although, unlike succeeding rulers of the various Christian societies, the first uninspired authorities had received instruction immediately from the apostles, had acted for a time under their superintendence, and were, accordingly, trained in the practices, and taught the doctrines of their religion, in a way which might seem to have precluded the possibility of misapprehension,--still, they were liable to error; and error so near the source of Divine truth, seems the more likely to mingle and to flow on with it, and to pollute its remotest streams.
Difficulties attendant on such a
Of the primitive worthies, on whom this weighty responsibility Apostolical devolved, the most conspicuous are known by the title of the Fathers. APOSTOLICAL FATHERS, a term obviously derived from the peculiarity of character and circumstances to which I have been adverting. Others, indeed, may have been equally serviceable by their lives, and equally important to the age in which they flourished; but these have become eminently so to us by their writings, or, rather, the writings which have been transmitted to us as theirs.
In the catalogue of the apostolical Fathers we usually find the names of BARNABAS, HERMAS, CLEMENT, IGNATIUS, and POLYCARP. Barnabas. Why the first of these, himself an apostle of no small note, should be classed among the Fathers, it is difficult to understand. Among the works of the apostolical Fathers, is an Epistle claiming to be his Epistle. the production of Barnabas the apostle. Now, obviously, the only ground for classing this Epistle with these works, and not with the Scriptures, is that Barnabas did not write it; whilst the only reason for calling him an apostolical Father, is that he did write it. It is, in short, to suppose him at once, the author, and not the author.
One view alone can be at all compatible with this arrangement; which is, that the Epistle was originally his, but became so corrupted as to forfeit its scriptural character. This is possible ; but this is not the view taken by the several disputants who from time to time have either advocated or condemned it in toto. then, although this solution might make the catalogue of the writings of these Fathers a convenient place for the degraded Scripture, it would not bring down the author to the level of the Fathers. His history, therefore, can only be placed properly where it has been already noticed, with that of the other apostles.
HERMAS is another apostolical Father, whose title is doubtful. Hermas. If his claim be good, he is the same with him whom St. Paul names at the close of his Epistle to the Romans; and he is so described Rom. xvi.i4. by most of the early authorities. Many learned men of later times, however, offended at the character of his singular work, The Shepherd, His
Shepherd. have anxiously sought for external evidence against this identity; nor have they been unsuccessful. There is strong ground for supposing that The Shepherd was a production of the second century, and that the Hermas who wrote it was a brother of Pius, bishop of Rome. Nevertheless, as the point is not quite incontrovertible, and as this extraordinary performance was once so famous as by some to be accounted Scripture, Hermas may still, perhaps, be allowed to keep his place among the apostolical Fathers, subject to such a protest as the evidence against his claim may seem to require.
CLEMENT is more certainly identified with him whom St. Paul, Clement. in his Epistle to the Philippians, names as one of “his fellow
1 Moshemii De Rebus Christ. ante Const. p. 162. 2 Irenæus apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. Lib. V. C, 8. Origen, too, considered it inspired.
labourers; "3 and from the great number of writings which were made popular by the authority of his assumed name, he may be considered as the most distinguished among the apostolical Fathers. He was bishop of Rome by the appointment of St. Peter; and on the death of Anacletus, he appears to have united in his person the dignity which was before divided between St. Paul's successor and
St. Peter's. Like most of the bishops of that dangerous see, he His Epistles. suffered martyrdom. Of his writings, only one Epistle has come
down to us, the authenticity of which can be clearly made out. It is addressed from the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth. His Second Epistle, as it is called, if originally his, is confessedly very much changed from its original character. But, in truth, there is good reason to believe that no Epistle corresponding to this was ever written by Clement. Irenæus was not acquainted with more than one, and his quotations prove that one to have been the first. Eusebius mentions the second, but expressly states, that he could discover no ancient authority for it, and rejects it. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, all bear testimony to one only, the first. Two more have been found of late years, attached to a Syriac version of the New Testament, and were appended by Wetstein in his folio edition of the sacred volume. Allowing the full force of the evidence in favour of the genuineness of these, arising out of their scriptural language, and the absence of terms and topics which belong to a later period, still, this is counterbalanced by other internal evidence which is no less strong against it; and no trace of them is to be found in ancient writers. About the spuriousness of the other pieces to which his
name has been attached, there is no controversy. Ignatius.
The remains of IGNATIUS are less scanty, and yet these are conBis Epistles. fined to seven Epistles, written during a hasty and harassing
journey from Antioch to Rome, for the purpose of being put to death at a public exhibition. No ancient writings have been more the subject of fraud and corruption than these. Eusebius mentions seven genuine Epistles, which Pearson, in his Vindicice Ignatiance, has very ably identified with that collection which is now called The genuine Epistles. There is another collection of Ignatius's Epistles, of which the former are the basis, but they are most grossly altered and interpolated. A third set appears with his
3 Phil. iv. 3. “ Clement also, and other 3. Clementina. my fellow-labourers, whose names are in 4. Apostolical Constitutions, in eight the book of life.”
books. 4 Adv. Hæres. Lib. III. C. 3.
5. Apostolical Canons. 6 Hist. Eccl. Lib. III. C. 38.
Of these, the Recognitions is the most μηδε τους αρχαίους αυτή κεχρημέ νους ισμεν. .
ancient and the most valuable: it was 6 For all the arguments against their
written, probably, about the middle of authenticity, Lardner's Dissertation on
the second century. the Two Epistles may be consulted.
$ Ignatius's Epistles were first pub1. An Epistle to James, our Lord's
lished in Latin by Archbishop Usher, brother.
and afterwards in Greek by Vossius. 2. Recognitions, in ten books.
9 See Eusebius, Lib, III. C. 36.
7 These are,
name, which are altogether a forgery. After all, too, although no one can deny the force of Bishop Pearson's arguments in disproving the authenticity of the longer Epistles, and establishing the preferable claims of the shorter, still, it is by no means clear, that the imposture practised on what we call the Interpolated Epistles was not an after attempt to carry too far, what had been more sparingly, more skilfully, and more successfully effected in the shorter Epistles; and that the genuine Epistles themselves have been tampered with. The temptation to such a proceeding was strong; and there are certainly not a few internal marks that it was practised. Ignatius was the disciple of St. John, and bishop of Antioch, and suffered martyrdom under Trajan, A.D. 108.
The history of POLYCARP brings us much later into the annals of Polycarp. the Church. He suffered beyond the middle of the second century, A.D. 167. and, like Ignatius, self-devoted for the purpose of diverting persecution from his brethren in Christ. He was that bishop or angel” of the Church of Smyrna, of whom St. John makes so honourable mention in the book of Revelations; and the narrative of his Rev. ii. 8–10. death, which was drawn up by that Church, is peculiarly valuable. According to Irenæus," he left behind him various writings. All that now remains, however, is an Epistle to the Philippians, and even of this the original Greek is imperfect, and the remainder only known through a Latin translation.
However worthy of pious contemplation a more detailed biography Inquiries of these holy men may be, the most important, and the most by the lives interesting object after all, which is to be obtained from the study of the
Apostolical of their lives and writings, is, to ascertain how Christians behaved fathers. when first left to themselves; or, to speak more accurately, when for the first time left without any extraordinary Divine instruction and superintendence. However famous in their generation might be the names of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, to us they are most interesting as specimens of that generation; as representing in their lives and writings the opinions and the manners,
the practice and the faith, which enjoyed the approbation of the primitive Church. Taking this, then, as the main object of inquiry, I shall not confine my view to their individual histories, but enlarge it from all sources of collateral information which may tend to make the sketch of primitive Christianity more complete or more faithful.
The leading questions to which we may expect such an inquiry to furnish replies, are,
I. What parts of the apostolic ministry were intended for the mere foundation of Christianity ?
II. What parts were intended for the preservation of it ?
III. How were these intentions fulfilled in the ministry of the apostolical Fathers and their contemporaries?
10 Cited by Eusebius, Hist. Lib. V. C. 20.