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and unwritten, as the work of the writer whose name it bears? Such was the mode which, we know from the remaining works of Irenæus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Cyril, and Augustine, was employed in their days, and in all times of the primitive church. 66 The books of the canonical Scriptures,” says Augustine, “established in the times of the apostles, and confirmed by the testimony of the succession of bishops and churches in all following times, are placed in a peculiar degree of authority, to which the judgment and understanding of all pious men are subject.”
The numerous catalogues which have descended to us from the early centuries, are sufficient evidence of the care with which the canon of the New Testament was settled. In primitive times, when, from a variety of causes, spurious books abounded, and the distant and scattered churches, incapable of much intercourse with those near the centre of Christian light, were most liable to be deceived, these catalogues were of the greatest importance. How numerous they must have been may be, in some wise, conceived from the fact, that although but a very small portion of the works of the first four centuries are extant, there are among them no less than thirteen independent catalogues, all of them composed by authors scattered over a period of not more than one hundred and eighty, out of the first four hundred years after the birth of Christ.
The same care is seen in the pains that were taken to obtain the most exact information as to the authenticity of the books bearing apostolic names; and also from the decisive censure and aversion with which an attempt to pass a spurious work upon the church was visited. Pious and learned heads of the churches used to journey to Palestine, and reside there for a considerable length of time, for the express object of obtaining whatever valuable knowledge might be found there as to the New Testament writings. And of the treatment bestowed upon attempted forgeries, we have an example in the case of a certain presbyter of Asia, soon after the death of St. John, who published a book, which is still extant, under the title of the "Acts of Paul and Thecla." The attempt at imposition was charged upon the author, and confessed. Whereupon he was degraded from his office, and the whole matter was notified to the churches, that they might feel the need of the strictest care thereafter.*
The gradual steps by which the books of the New Testament were multiplied to their present number, afforded the best opportunity for a careful and accurate determination of their authenticity. Had they all appeared at once, claiming in their collective form to be received by the churches as inspired Scripture, the attention of Christians being thus divided among twenty-seven independent writings which professed to have been written by eight different authors, the diligence of their investigation would have been also divided; its accuracy would have been endangered, and the opportunity of imposition greatly increased. But such was not the case. The books of the New Testament were published singly. They came before
Lardner, vol. 1, p. 435.
the churches one by one, with considerable intervals between them; thus giving time for the claims of each to be deliberately and singly examined. The epistle to the Romans appeared at the bar of the church in the city of Rome, and had its authority as a writing of St. Paul determined, without embarrassment from any question as to the authenticity of the epistle to the Ephesians. The Ephesians received the epistle directed to them, and could sit in judgment upon its claims, without any necessity of deciding at that time upon the authenticity of the epistle to the Romans, or Corinthians, or Philippians. Thus were there several years between the beginning and completion of the canon of the New Testament For a little while, a portion of the church might possess an additional book, which a distant region, on account of the difficulty of multiplying and transmitting copies, would not have received. It may have been a period of some years before a church in the distant parts of Asia received and was enabled satisfactorily to authenticate the epistle to the Romans. Meanwhile, the canon of Scripture might have been composed of more books at Rome, than at that distant church.
How long this state of things continued, or when precisely the canon was closed, is a question rather of curiosity than of importance, the authenticity and canonical character of any particular book being independent of its determination. We know that the principal parts of the New Testament were collected before the death of St. John, or at least not long subsequent to that event. But what individual, or what assemblage of persons collected them-where and precisely when the work was done, we may indulge in plausible conjecture, but cannot certainly ascertain. But what connection have such matters with the question of apostolic origin? If the epistle to the Romans or the gospel of Matthew was written by the disciple whose name it bears, it surely matters little that we should know when it became the companion of other authentic books in the formation of a separate volume, or who arranged its place in that volume, or when an assemblage of Christian fathers inserted its name in a catalogue, and published it to the churches as a canonical writing. It was canonical as soon as it was composed. It was a part of the New Testament from the moment of its birth. Had the books of Scripture never been collected into a volume, but kept in separation, as they were first published, to the present time, although their preservation would have been more difficult, their authority would have been the same, and the canon of the New Testament complete. Had no father of the church, nor any ecclesiastical council ever issued a declaration of opinion as to what writings should be included in the list of canonical scriptures, we should have wanted indeed much valuable testimony now possessed from such sources; but the essential claim of each inspired book to a place in the canon would have remained unaltered. To substantiate the title of any portion of the New Testament to so honorable a place, we need only the proof that it was written by the apostle or evangelist to whom it is ascribed. For this we require the testimony of primitive antiquity. So far as the opinion of ancient councils or authors is deserving of attention as a matter of testimony, it is of value in the settlement of the canon; and in this view, such opinion is unquestionably of the highest importance; and what we have already exhibited of this kind deserves the greatest consideration. But the point to be especially noted is, that the proof of authenticity in the subject before us, is the proof of canonical authority; that the canon began when the first gospel or epistle was published; that it increased with every additional publication by inspired men, and was complete and closed the moment the last writing of the New Testament was issued to the churches; though at the same time but few of them may have been acquainted with it, though no ecclesiastical assembly may have sanctioned it, and no union had been made with other inspired books, so as to present them to the churches as a collection of canonical writings under the general name of the New Testament.
As to the arrangement of these books in a single volume, it must have been a work of time, according to the relative situation and intercourse of any particular region of Christianity. 66 Those churches which were situated nearest to the place where any particular books were published, would of course obtain copies much earlier than churches in remote parts of the world. For a considerable period the collection of these books in each church must have