By Adolf Jülicher
§ 42. The Final Settlement of the New Testament in the Latin Church
1. The settlement was brought about in the West by means of a small concession to the Greek Church. To the Greek Church, not to its theology; for Rufinus,1 the faithful friend of the Alexandrian school, found no one in the Latin world to follow his attempt to establish three classes: Canonical, Ecclesiastical, and Apocryphal books. More important than this attempt is the fact that all the twenty-seven books of our New Testament of to-day were even then to be found in his first class. Indeed, it was then, about 400, that the incorporation of the Epistle to the Hebrews into the body of Pauline writings was finally accomplished. About the year 390, Philastrius of Brescia, confuter of heretics, could name2¯ in the list of ʽScripturesʼ of the New Testament, authenticated (!)by the blessed Apostles and their followers, thirteen Pauline beside the seven Catholic Epistles, passing over the Epistle to the Hebrews and even the Apocalypse in absolute silence. But, as he elsewhere recognised Hebrews as Pauline and the Apocalypse as Apostolic, this list only shows that he was not yet accustomed to speak of fourteen Epistles of Paul. The decision in this case is brought about by Jerome and Augustine, the latter being to a certain extent influenced by Jerome, who for his part had not made a study of Greek theology in vain.. Jerome knew from Eusebius how many books of the New Testament had been considered ʽdoubtfulʼ; he knew that even then, in the East, some writings of the early Church, such as Hermas and 1. Clement, stood very close to the New Testament; but he makes no practical use of this knowledge. When, however, he could advantageously quote the Apocalypse or one of the Catholic Epistles as an authority, he did so; and, although he often used some cautious formula in introducing passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews, he soon began to quote it more and more frequently, with the utmost solemnity, as ʽThe Epistle of the Apostle Paul.ʼ Augustine, too, still used the older and more reserved expression, ʽthe Epistle with the title: to the Hebrews,ʼ but in the official list in his De Doctrina Christiana, ii. 8, he reckoned fourteen Epistles. of Paul, and among them, the last in the list, the Epistle to the Hebrews. Most important of all, the African Synods, inspired by Augustine, published at Hippo Regius in the year 393, and at Carthage in 397 and 419, lists of the Scriptures as Church Laws, which give the New Testament in its present compass, with this noticeable difference, that, while the lists before 400 ran: thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul and one to the Hebrews by the same Apostle; in 419 the fourteen Epistles of Paul are simply bracketed together. On this point the example of the Bishop of Rome was followed—for Africa was very careful to make sure that Rome agreed with her decisions—for in 405 Innocent I. had issued a rescript addressed to the Bishop of Toulouse, in which he briefly specified the fourteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul among the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The ʽEpistolae Johannis III.ʼ follows immediately upon this, so that the Apostolic authorship of the three Epistles of John was positively enunciated from Rome, and the distinction founded on individual erudition and accepted by Pope Damasus,3 between the Apostle, author of the First Epistle of John, and the presbyter, author of the Second and Third Epistles, was abandoned. The Apostolic inheritance was completely included. in those twenty-seven books. From that time onward the watchword was: ʽNothing more and nothing less.ʼ Rome and Africa alike were vigilant to secure its universal acceptance, and the more rapid the success of the ʽnothing less,ʼ the stronger the logical necessity to insist upon the ʽnothing moreʼ; hence from now onwards the Catalogue of the ʽRejected,ʼ the pseudo-Apostolic and pseudo-Scriptural books of the New Testament, became a form of literature in great request. Innocent, indeed, mentions to his Gallican friend the more important issues, which the latter must not only avoid, but condemn.4¯
2. However, it would be a great mistake to represent the question of the Canon as finally settled in all Western Christian communities by about the year 400. The Church has made her decision, Augustineʼs authority in Latin Christendom being so overwhelming that there can be no further official debate as to the legal boundaries of the New Testament; but the written law is far from having managed to extinguish at one stroke the opposing rights of custom. I am not referring here to learned traditions among the literary historians touching ʽdisputedʼ and ʽrecognisedʼ Scriptures; Junilius, with his three classes of authorities,5 belongs least of all, language notwithstanding, to the representatives of the Western Church. But the manuscripts of the Epistles of Paul (and of entire Bibles also) which did not include the Epistle to the Hebrews were not so quickly enlarged, or rather replaced by complete copies, as to enable this Epistle actually and everywhere to take the place which was officially recognised as its own. We shall not be surprised to find that many ʽFathersʼ of the next age are not yet fully acquainted with it, and that a Catalogue of the ʽold translationʼ accessible to Cassiodorius only sets forth the twenty-Six books of the New Testament; the Epistle to the Hebrews being probably the one omitted, as the full number of the seven Catholic Epistles is given. On the other hand, the German tribes, especially the West-Goths, had brought Bibles with them from the East to Spain and the south of France, and when they went over to the orthodox church they did not at once lightly abandon their traditions; thus in the Spanish Synod the opponents of the Apocalypse were still being combated after the year 600! Again, books which the Greek and Latin Churches abhorred were still retained through individual affection in particular communities. Not to mention Priscillianʼs predilection for the Apocrypha, we know of one such case from Augustine, who reproaches6 a certain presbyter because writings not included in theʼ ecclesiastical Canon were publicly read in his community. No doubt similar cases often occurred of which we have no record. The history of the Epistle to the Laodiceans offers the most remarkable example of the long-continued elasticity of the limits of the New Testament, even in the Western Church, in spite of all the Rescripts of Bishops and the decrees of Councils. The Epistle in question is short, unimportant and colourless. It was supposed to be written by Paul to the Church of Laodicea7; Priscillian undoubtedly made use of it, and in the so-called pseudo-Augustinian ʽSpeculum,ʼ? which is certainly later than Augustine, it takes the place of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is wanting; numerous manuscripts of the Vulgate include it; and the Greek Church, which had been offered the Epistle in its own tongue, took occasion to issue a decree condemning such folly. It is not so much the energy of the Church as the growth of historical judgment through the study of Jeromeʼs and Augustineʼs writings, which again banished this intruder from the Latin Bible before the end of the Middle Ages.
1) † 410.
2) Chap. lxxxviii.
3) † 386.
4) See pp. 563 fol.
5) See p. 9.
6) Epistolę, lxiv. 3.
7) Col. iv. 16.
8) § ii. Liber de Divinis Scripturis.