THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | |< | << | Table: The Antonine Emperors | Antoninus Pius, A.D. 138-61 | The Legacy of Hermas | Spirit theology | Persecution and apologia | The Apology of Aristides, before A.D. 147 | The third race | Justin comes to Rome, about A.D. 150 | The Syntagma of heresies | Semo Sancus | The school of Justin | The Western Text of the Gospels | Textual variations | >> |


The Antonine Emperors


from to    
96 98 Nerva 
98 117` Trajan  
117 138 Hadrian Publius Aelius Hadrianus
  138   Lucius Ceionius Commodus Verus (renamed Lucius Aelius Verus and given the title of Caesar). Died 1 Jan.138. Known as 'the older Verus'.
138 161 Antoninus Pius Titus Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Antoninus. Adopted on death of the older Verus. Renamed Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus, and known as Antoninus Pius. Married to Faustina. Adopted by order of Hadrian, the younger Verus and his nephew and son-in-law (married to the younger Faustina.)
131 169   Lucius Ceionius Commodus Verus. Known as 'the younger Verus'. Aged about 7 in 138. Augustus, with Marcus Aurelius, from 161 to his death in 169.
161 180 Marcus Aurelius Marcus Annius Verus, aged about 17 in 138. Renamed Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus, known as Marcus Aurelius. Co-emeror in 147.
180 192 Commodus Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus. Co-emperor with his father in 177, murdered in 192.

The dynastic principle was introduced into the adoptive system inaugurated by Nerva by the action of Hadrian, who directed Antoninus Pius to adopt the son of the dead 'Caesar' Verus, and also his own nephew. Hadrian thought highly of young Marcus, whom he called Verissimus. Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, all came of Spanish stock.
Furthermore, it was by Hadrian's direction that Marcus was married to his first cousin Faustina (the younger), whose mother (the Empress Faustina) was his aunt.
On adoption into the imperial family, a new name was conferred. The adopted son took a name or names from his adoptive father. It is this practice that made it so difficult for the fourth-century fathers to identify correctly the names which they found in their sources. Eusebius, for instance, states that Aristides addressed his Apology to Hadrian, but the Syriac text reads 'Caesar Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius'.
|90 Justin Martyr addressed his to the emperor 'Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Caesar and to Verissimus his son, and to Lucius a philosopher, natural son of a Caesar and adopted son of Pius.'

Antoninus Pius


On the slope of a hill overlooking the Roman forum, the visitor to Rome may still see the temple which the Emperor Antoninus Pius erected in memory of his wife Faustina, and Marcus his successor dedicated in memory of both. Antoninus succeeded Hadrian in the summer of 138 and reigned for twenty-three years. He was an excellent administrator, quite tireless in the duties of government, and his twenty-three years were years of comparative peace and prosperity, perhaps the best years the Roman empire ever saw. He was of Gallic descent, but his family was Italianized, and he owned rich estates in many parts of Italy. So far as we know, he never left the country after his accession. He was no philosopher, but he encouraged the philosophers. Literary men of the Latin and Greek traditions flocked to his court and were well rewarded. His two adopted sons, Lucius and Marcus, received the best training in both traditions that could possibly be given to them. His name 'Pius' implies not only devotion to the gods, but also an affectionate respect for the old traditions of domestic and civil life. The strong family feeling of the Antonine family was an integral part of the imperial system, and therefore had its place in the divine order. It became a religious cult.

Antoninus himself was a broad-minded and liberal man within these limits. He is said to have disliked shedding blood. There is good evidence that he discouraged the persecution of the Christians, or at least the savage popular outbursts which his predecessor Hadrian had also disapproved.

Temple ofAntoninus and Faustina. 2nd cent. Rome.

Antoninus was the central figure in a succession of able rulers who gave good government to the empire for the best part of a century. They carried on the imperial administration under the old Roman forms; but their conception of government was also influenced by Stoic monotheism, and its belief in a divine reason or intelligence directing the universe. All races and all religions might have their place in the world, if only they would get along with one another and obey the emperor. The reign of these philosopher-kings was certainly a remarkable period in human history and did much to form the mind |91 of Europe. Their dynasty was a proud one, but it did not last so long as that of the other Pius, the one who became the bishop of the Christian ecclesia about 140, and counted his succession from the apostles Peter and Paul.


Hermas was an old man now, pottering about among his elms and vines if indeed he was still living. In any case he lived on in his books, which were highly influential not only in Rome but in Egypt and the east too. It falls to few authors to bring out corrected editions of their books forty-five or fifty years after their first appearance; but it does occur. Its occurrence in the case of Hermas is the only hypothesis which does justice to all the evidence. His successive revisions have left their mark on his text. He had a way of adding to his Commandments and Parables subsidiary morals and precepts which were never intended to be drawn from them in the first place; and when this is done, we can sometimes infer that he is dealing with changed conditions; and this draws our attention to new problems in the church life of his time.

One of these is the question of marriage and divorce, which is dealt with in an appendix to his fourth commandment, the subject of which is chastity. This commandment condemns adultery not only in act but even in desire. 'The very thought of it, for a servant of God, is a great sin; and if anyone were to work this evil work, he would be working his own death.' A question is then asked of a very curious nature. A man has a wife who is faithful in the Lord, and he finds her 'in adultery' does he sin if he continues to live with her? The answer is that he does sin; he must separate from her; and he may not marry another woman. The decision was in line with Jewish jurisprudence, which made divorce compulsory under certain circumstances; but the prohibition of remarriage was based on words of Jesus (or Paul); and the reason which Hermas gives for this prohibition is that the erring partner may repent and ought to be received if she does.

The discussion calls to mind an uncanonical story of Jesus which was current at this time and found its way eventually into the text of the official Bibles. It is the story of the woman who was taken' in adultery', and was brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. 'He that is without sin among you,' said Jesus, 'let him cast the first stone'; and when her accusers disappear from the scene in confusion, he says to |92 the woman, 'Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.' This story, the origin of which is unknown, draws attention to two conflicting elements in the church tradition which were to cause increasing difficulties to the authorities. One was the doctrine of absolute morals, or even of utter sinlessness in thought and word and deed; the other was the doctrine of unlimited forgiveness.

This dilemma is brought forward by Hermas in a new question. There were teachers in the Roman ecclesia who had laid it down that there was no repentance for Christians after their baptism, when they went down into the water and took forgiveness of their former sins. This doctrine had powerful support, and something very like it is to be found in the Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Epistle of St John. It would appear that it was now hardening into a principle of church order; and Hermas defers to it. He is determined, however, to find a place for repentance in spite of it. He had done so once before by producing a document which had heavenly authority; but this special indulgence had been tied to a given date and was no longer operative. It was not intended for those who were now making their profession of faith; it was intended for those who were called before these days. Nevertheless, at that time the Lord did provide a place for repentance, and had given authority over it to the shepherd-angel who was the spiritual control of Hermas himself; and by that authority given unto him he was prepared to assert that Christians who had fallen into sin after severe temptation from the devil might be allowed one repentance; but if they sinned off hand and then repented, it would be unfortunate for them; they would with difficulty live.

This decision, equivocal as it seems to be, was of great importance in the church. It was widely adopted, and its repercussions continued into the early third century. The dilemma was not removed; but a way was found by which the two principles could both be respected. It may be added that we have no idea how this 'repentance' was administered: Hermas may be claiming that he administered it himself as the bearer of the spiritual revelation.


The moral perfectionism of the tradition to which Hermas belonged was not based on legalism. It was based on an intense faith in the Holy Spirit as a living power in the heart. The baptized Christian |93 had the Spirit in him, and therefore ought to sin no more. He ought not even to desire to sin. It was unfortunate for him if he did, for the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in the heart along with the evil desire; it will abandon that man and intercede against him.

Hermas summarizes his views on the Christian life in the time-honoured form of commandments; but he is really dealing with ' spirits' or inward dispositions. There is a spirit of holiness which animates the Christian personality and becomes manifest in such graces as faith or innocence or purity, which are therefore thought of as 'spirits'. Every Christian is possessed by a divine spirit. Hermas sometimes speaks of the indwelling spirit as though it were his own spirit or an extension of his own spirit; at other times it is a loan from God, a spirit which is 'made to dwell' in his 'flesh'. This ambiguity is ineradicable. It does not yield to analysis. The mysterious power within the Christian heart is me-and-not-me; it is all my own and yet it is all of God; God-in-me and I-in-God.

If the Spirit worked so powerfully and effectually in the case of the believer, what would be the case with regard to the Saviour? Hermas approaches this subject in one of several extensions which he builds on to his parable of the servant in the vineyard, the proper subject of which was fasting. The servant in the vineyard is called the Son of God, and that is a simple thought; the Holy Spirit which dwells in him is also called the Son of God, and that is a simple thought too; but when we find Hermas speaking of the servant in the parable as the 'flesh' in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, his thinking is far from simple. The identity or personality is not fixed in the servant or in the Holy Spirit. It fluctuates between them.

Hermas was probably quite aware of that. It is probably just how he visualized the inward life of the spirit-possessed Christian. His inward and spiritual life had become identified with the Holy Spirit; and yet there was a distinction; he could talk in terms of one or the other.

He goes on to complicate matters even more by adding still another excursus to his parable. Just as the servant in the parable, who at one point represents the' flesh' in which the Spirit dwelt, was made a fellow-heir with the Spirit, so the 'flesh' of the Christian believer will receive its reward if it is found undefiled and spotless. In simpler words, there will be a resurrection of the body.

One thing is clear about this confused pneumatic theology. It is |94 based on a religion of inward experience in which a divine power or spirit moves the human heart; it may be oriental in origin; it has affinities both with Judaism and with Stoicism; it reminds us of docetism; but it is fundamentally anti-docetic. It is the same answer to docetism that Ignatius gave; spirit in flesh. On the other hand, it has none of the bold clear definition that we find in Ignatius. Many scholars think that Hermas shared the christology of Cerinthus in which the man Jesus receives a heavenly power or spirit at his baptism; Hermas does not say this, but his spirit christology is not altogether incompatible with it. It is an informal imaginative Christology which defies analysis.


During the hundred-and-forties, at the end of the third Christian generation of forty years each, the old type of intuitive, or imaginative, or catechetical writing begins to give way to an analytic, objective, and philosophical literature on the Greek model, written by a new class of convert who had received training in Greek thought. The Christian church appears to have enjoyed comparative peace under the mild rule of Antoninus Pius, at least in his earlier years. The times were tranquil and prosperous; and just as Greek philosophers gravitated to Rome to enjoy the sunshine of imperial favour in a cultivated and literary court, so the Christian teachers flocked to the capital, where they enjoyed patronage or founded schools or carved out schismatic churches. The erroneous idea that the 'bad emperors' were the persecutors, and the 'good emperors' restrained persecution, seems to be based on the experience of the church under Hadrian and Antoninus, and is first found in the Apology of Melito of Sardis about A.D. 165.

Among these Christian teachers were men who thought the time had come to present the case in favour of Christianity to the emperors and to the educated world of which they were the patrons. They penned what were called apologies.

The word apologia is not to be taken in the English sense, but in the Greek. There was nothing apologetic about these documents. The word meant the case for the defence; especially a defence made by an accused person in a law-court. It is the name given by Plato to his report of the speech which Socrates made at his trial before the people of Athens; and there is nothing apologetic about that magnificent |95 account of his life and mission. It is perfectly possible that the first Christian 'apologists' chose the title because of its Socratic connexions; for very soon they were claiming Socrates as one of themselves in his capacity as a martyr and a witness to the truth. The idea of the Christian apology first appears in Athens among men who had absorbed a reverence for Socrates in the course of their literary education. The apologies were addressed to the Antonine Emperors, who claimed to be philosophers.

Since the Apology of Quadratus has not survived, it remains that the Apology of Aristides is our earliest document of this kind. It was addressed to Antoninus Pius without the mention of any colleague, and was therefore composed before the year 147 in which Marcus Aurelius became joint-emperor. It is sometimes questioned whether the apologies were actually presented to the emperors; but there hardly seems to be room for literary fiction in such a matter. The emperor's name could hardly be affixed to them for decorative purposes. They look like genuine appeals to the highest legal authority, who was known to cultivate a humane and liberal policy and to extend his favour to philosophers in general. It is probable that Aristides found his way, with other gowned and bearded intellectuals, into the imperial halls on the Palatine Hill; for there is no recorded visit of this emperor to Greece, and the fact that the apologist calls himself Marcianus Aristides, a philosopher of Athens, suggests that he was not in Athens when he presented it. The opening paragraph sounds an objective and dispassionate, but rhetorical note.

By the providence of God, O King, I came into this world; and when I gazed upon the heaven and the earth and the sea, with the sun and the moon and everything else, I wondered at its beautiful order; and when I saw how the universe and everything that is in it, moved in accordance with a determined law, I realized that its mover and controller was God.

I maintain that this is the God who framed the universe. He is without beginning, invisible, immortal, in need of nothing, and above all passions and defects, such as anger and forgetfulness and ignorance and so forth. He needs no sacrifices or libations or anything else from this visible world. He stands in need of nothing, and everything stands in need of him.
(Apology of Aristides, I.)



There was nothing new in this. It sounded like Greek philosophy, but there was nothing that the Jewish Hellenists had not already said. He was following in the same lines as the Preaching of Peter. He also followed this pseudo-Petrine work in dividing mankind into three races, or four if we follow the Syriac and Armenian versions. The first of these were the barbarians, and particularly the Chaldeans who worshipped created things instead of the creator and made images to put in temples. He exposes the folly of worshipping the physical elements, which are subject to defilement and dissolution; or the dead idols, which have to be guarded so carefully for fear they may be stolen.

The Greeks were wiser than the Chaldeans, but their wisdom had betrayed them into greater follies. He runs through a number of the myths, and points out that they are full of violent and comic scenes in which the gods commit adultery and murder, and suffer injury or death. He adds an appendix on the Egyptian worship of animals. This material was not new either, for Jewish and Greek philosophers had both pointed out these absurdities. He goes on to condemn the worship in the temples, and asserts, as other apologists do, that human sacrifices still went on in them. He is amazed that the Greeks, who had advanced so far in many respects, should not have advanced beyond an obscene, cruel, and superstitious polytheism. Their laws are just, he says, but their gods are unjust.

His second race (or third according to the Syriac and Armenian versions) was the Jews, but he does not devote much space to them. He commends them for worshipping the one true God, and praises their compassionate and philanthropic social life; but he follows the Preaching of Peter in asserting that their liturgical tradition was really a worship of angels, and not of God, since they observed sabbaths and new moons and the passover and the great fast and circumcision, and rules of purity with regard to food. His third (or fourth) race was the Christians.


The confusion in the textual authorities about the number of races and the arrangement of the material about the Christian faith might be explained very simply if we assume that Aristides was making use of |97 a Christianized version of a Jewish tractate against idolatry which spoke of three races of mankind, the barbarians, the Greeks and the Jews. There might have been two ways of accommodating the old document to the new material, and the new material to the old document.

The Apology is fundamentally a defence of a Jewish proselyte piety as the best monotheism and the best moralism. It has been Christianized to a certain extent by the introduction of a paragraph based on the creed, which comes quite at the beginning of the document in the Syriac and Armenian versions and serves to introduce the Christians as the fourth race. In the Greek version it comes later, after the Gentile and Jewish forms of worship have been criticized and thus leads on to the account of the wonderful moral and social life of the Christians at this later point as the Third Race. This account of the Christian life and manners is little more than a Judaeo-Christian catechism put into the third person. In addition to this the author refers the emperor to a written Gospel, probably Matthew.

The text of Aristides is not free from uncertainty, but comparison shows that his creed or kerugma included in it the declarations that Jesus Christ was the Son of the most high God, that he descended from heaven and was born of a Hebrew virgin, that he had twelve disciples in order to fulfill a certain dispensation, that he was pierced by the Jews, that he died and was buried, that he rose again after three days and ascended into heaven, and that his disciples went out into all parts of the world; a credal outline which is closely related to the 'testimony' theology.

The account of the unworldly life of the Christians has a certain charm, though its catechetical origin makes it distressingly conventional. ' They do not commit adultery or fornication; they do not bear false witness'; and so forth. It emphasizes the social virtues within the brotherhood. They fast two or three days so as to provide the needy with food. They provide for those who are imprisoned on account of the name of their Messiah. They pray every morning and at all hours; they give thanks to God over their food and drink. They take special care over the burial of the dead. The Syriac and Armenian versions rather extend these references to the self-denying other-worldly piety of the third race.

In conclusion Aristides affirms that he is a believer; he urges the emperor to read the Christian writings; he emphasizes their innocence |98 and the injustice of the persecutions which they suffer; and he invites all who do not know God to approach the gateway of light and to receive the incorruptible words. And let them anticipate the dread judgement which is to come by Jesus Christ upon the whole race of men.

The Apology may have made some impression, since it seems to have been known to the philosopher Celsus, who wrote his attack on Christianity some twenty years afterwards. It was valued in the Christian church and was still current in the fourth century. After that it was lost until fairly recently, when the Armenian and Syriac translations of it were discovered. It was then recognized that the Greek text still existed in a strange form, the popular medieval romance called Barlaam and Joasaph (or Josaphat), which is a Christianized version of the life of Buddha. A long speech put into the mouth of one of the characters is nothing but the Apology of Aristides in a slightly edited form; or of course a slightly different form of the tractate which Aristides composed or used. This tractate in turn bore some relation to the Preaching of Peter.


The First Apology (so-called) of Justin Martyr is addressed to Antoninus Pius 'and his son Verissimus a philosopher, and Lucius a philosopher, natural son of a Caesar and adopted son of Pius'. Verissimus is Marcus Aurelius, who was given the title of Augustus in 147; and it is strange that it does not appear here, since the book was almost certainly written after that date. It mentions a certain Munatius Felix, who was prefect of Egypt, whose term of office came to an end between 151 and 154. It states that it was written about a hundred and fifty years after the birth of Christ. Altogether the years 150-2 may be taken as a likely date for this book.

How long before this date Justin came to Rome we do not know. When we last saw him, some fifteen years earlier, he was debating with Trypho at Ephesus, and his boat was leaving for some other place, perhaps another Greek city on the shores of the Aegean Sea. We should not think of the great Christian teachers of this period as fixing their residence permanently in any one city. Justin states in his so-called Second Apology that he had resided at Rome twice. We should not assume, for instance, that Marcion or Valentine remained in Rome all the time; Marcion's nickname, the 'sea-captain', rather suggests a |99 number of sea-voyages; and Valentine had connexions with Cyprus as well as with Rome and Egypt. Greek philosophers like Lucian of Samosata tried their luck in province after province. Rome and Athens were among the most tempting fields of contest; and Justin modelled his way of life on that of the philosopher. In his philosopher's gown, he must have been a familiar figure in more than one city. We can hardly doubt that he visited Athens, where the tradition of Socrates was maintained in several schools; for he remained to the end a pupil and admirer of the old rebel who had been put to death for bringing in new gods and saying that the gods of the city were not gods at all.


When Justin came to Rome he had two books to his credit. One was the Dialogue with Trypho in its original form, with many notes, no doubt, of additional anti-Jewish arguments drawn from the prophets. The other was his Syntagma or collection of heresies, a work to which he alludes in his Apology. The word Syntagma means an orderly arrangement or collection; and this Syntagma was a catalogue of the principal heresiarchs of the day, with a short sketch of the origin and errors of each; an indispensable handbook, one would think, for the bishops and elders of the period. It was very widely used, as is shown by its incorporation into the more extended heresiological works of Irenaeus and Hippolytus. The original has not come down to us; we only know it in these secondary forms; but it is not hard to identify some of the passages which have been taken from it, even though no acknowledgement has been made. We have drawn on it in our accounts of Simon Magus, Menander, Saturninus (as Justin spelt the name), Cerinthus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Valentine, and Marcion.

In his Apology, Justin speaks of Marcion as 'even now teaching those who have yielded to his persuasions', and says that' he has persuaded a great number in every race, by the aid of the daemons, to deny God who is the Lord of the universe'. He regarded Marcion as the most formidable of the heretics and wrote a separate treatise on him, which has not come down to us, though no doubt its substance is incorporated into later works; for the authors of this period seldom took the trouble to write a thing for themselves if someone else had already done it satisfactorily. He did not pay much attention to Valentine. It is |100 probable that he underestimated the extent of his errors and the danger that he presented to the church. It would seem that he did not sufficiently fortify the Roman church against Valentinianism (see Irenaeus, Ad Haer., Preface).

Pons Fabricius, Rome.


We may trace to Justin the widespread conviction that Simon Magus was the father of all heresy. Simon had first appeared in Samaria, where he was excommunicated by Simon Peter, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles; but Justin does not refer to this record; he was born in Samaria, and had personal knowledge about the Simonian cult as it existed there in his own day. He was sensitive on the subject, and was concerned to distinguish himself from it.

As he was walking about Rome and examining its sacred places, he crossed the Fabrician bridge which leads from a point near the Theatre of Marcellus, to the Island. On the Island he says, he found a statue erected in honour of Simon Magus, with the inscription,

(To Simon the holy god)

He surmised, or was informed, that it had been erected in honour of the father of heresy about a hundred years before, when he had visited the city in the reign of Claudius and had so impressed the senate by his wonderful acts that they allowed the statue to be erected. He is so sure of this in the address to the emperor and senate in his Second Apology, that it is hard to.believe that it was only a conjecture of his own, as many scholars would have us believe.

In 1574 an altar was discovered on the Island which bore an inscription beginning with these words.

(To Semo Sancus the god of good faith)

Semo Sancus was an old Sabine fertility god, who was a guarantor in the case of oaths; and more than one inscription of this sort, with his name in it, has been found. Now Justin may have seen this inscription, which may have had a statue over it; and he may have rashly identified it with Simon Magus and then permitted himself the conjecture that |101 Simon had visited Rome in the days of Claudius and received this honour at that time. But it is hard to see how the sight of the statue would provide him with the name of the emperor in whose time Simon had paid this visit; and it is at least as likely that this conjecture, if it was a conjecture, was corroborated or even suggested by the evidence of others, perhaps of the Samaritan community at Rome, with which Justin would have contacts.

Justin includes the cult of Simon Magus, along with the sects of Valentine and Marcion, as one of the heresies with which Christians had to contend in his time. It is natural to suppose that the Samaritan community in Rome included a group which perpetuated the cult or teaching of Simon. They may even have combined it with the cult of the local fertility god, Semo Sancus, as the Jews of Apameia combined the cult of Jehovah with that of the local fertility god Sabazius. Such identifications were common in Hellenistic circles where various religions met. Justin had no motive for inventing the legend about the statue, if it was a legend; the local Simonians had such a motive, and the legend may have had some basis of truth. Perhaps the senate had permitted their cult; Origen says that the Simonians had no martyrs, which implies that they were a religio licita or legally recognized religion.

The Roman legend about the death of Simon is preserved by Hippolytus, and differs from the Syrian one which is told in the Acts of Peter. What it says is that Simon informed his followers that if they buried him alive he would rise again on the third day, which he failed to do. This could be a perversion of a legend, similar to that of John in the gnostic Acts, that the earth was observed to move above his grave, as if he were still breathing; or even of a fertility myth borrowed from the cult of Semo Sancus. None of the Syrian legends about Simon Magus and Peter appear in any early Roman source. The remarks of Justin about Simon have nothing to do with these legends; he obtained all his information in Samaria and in Rome.


Justin established a school at Rome exactly as Cerdo and Marcion and Valentine had done. He propagated a philosophy or particular interpretation of Christianity, trained up personal disciples and produced a mass |102 of literature. Unlike his rivals, he won the admiration and affection of the church at large.

One of his pupils was Tatian, an oriental with a brilliant mind and the rudiments of Greek culture, who came from the neighbourhood of Nisibis beyond the Euphrates. He called himself an Assyrian. Another was Irenaeus from Smyrna, a pupil of Polycarp. They serve to illustrate the cosmopolitan nature of Justin's school. It appears from the account of his martyrdom that it was a rallying-point for Asians and Phrygians. It was, in short a college of a non-Roman character, and may have been affiliated with the local community of Asian Christians, of whose existence we already know. The relations between Asia and Rome were still cordial, and the Roman church was strengthened in its contest with heresy by the establishment of an Asian theological school which it could trust.

A word may be said about the literature of Justin's school, of which we can infer something from his writings. He had, of course, the Old Testament in the Septuagint version; or, if he had not the full text of all the books which might be included in it, he had collections of extracts, some of which were made for liturgical or devotional purposes and some for controversy. Next to these he had the 'Apomnemoneumata' the 'Relations' or 'Records' of the apostles, to which he also gave the name of Euangelia, Gospels. These certainly included the three synoptic Gospels, and possibly the fourth Gospel too, which he quotes on at least one occasion without mentioning however the source which he was using. This gospel must also have been one of the sources of his 'Logos' theology. He alludes to the Revelation as the work of the Apostle John. He makes use of the Epistles of St Paul occasionally, though he does not mention his name. The traces of the Acts are faint. An allusion is made to the Sibyl; and also to the Acts of Pilate which may be some extra-canonical book like the Gospel of Peter; or, as some scholars think, the reports of Pilate to the emperor, which Justin assumes the existence of. It would also appear that he knew the Ascension of Isaiah.

This is a peculiar and meagre list, but it must be remembered that a collection of his recognizable references and quotations gives only a meagre view of the books from which an author works. We are bound to assume that Justin's library of sacred books was considerably larger than this. There is also the difficulty that his quotations are never very |103 exact; he has numerous slight variations from the canonical text, which are due to his habit of loose quotation or the influence of the oral tradition. In his classroom work, it would appear that sayings of Jesus from various Gospels were collected together and amalgamated with one another, and sometimes influenced by the catechisms. It is possible, too, that new Gospel texts were still being formed by combining the existing ones with one another and with sayings which were current orally. The school of Justin may also have been a workshop where manuscripts were prepared. It may have provided the literary material out of which Tatian composed his harmony of the four Gospels.


It is unfortunate that no copy of the Gospels or of any other Christian book made at this date actually survives; but the dry science of textual criticism is able to make some inferences of value. The lines of research can be roughly summarized in this way. Whenever manuscripts are copied by hand, minor variations will be introduced into the text; and these minor variations will be transmitted to subsequent copies, and so on. A study of these variations enables one to group the manuscripts (or other authorities) into 'families' the members of which all exhibit the same characteristic variations, which must have had a common ancestor. We thus establish a type of text which was produced in some one channel of transmission, or in related channels; and we think in terms of common ancestors.

One such type of text is the so-called Western Text. It was used by Tatian and Irenaeus, who were both pupils of Justin; and, as far as we can see, something very like it was used by Justin himself. His methods of quotation do not enable us to fix this as precisely as we could wish; but it looks as if it was the kind of text which was used, or even produced in his workshop. Something very like it was produced in the workshop of Marcion, too, since it formed the basis of the text of his mutilated Luke. More interesting still, it was the type of text which was used for the Latin translation, which was made within a very few years, probably while Justin was still in Rome. It is easy to see why it has been called the Western Text. It seems to have been the type of text which was in general use in Rome in the hundred-and-fifties.

It does not follow, however, that it originated in Rome. The men who used it came from Asia Minor. We have to take into account, too, the fact that the Syriac gospels were translated about the end of the century from a rather similar type of text. It can be distinguished from the Western Texts; but it is, so to speak, a cousin. The textual critics think that this is true even when one has allowed for the influence of Tatian, who took back with him to the east a form of the Western Text as it was known in Rome. It is considered probable, therefore, that the Western Texts used in Rome, and the oriental text used for the Syriac translation, were derived from a common ancestor of still earlier date.

What is the character of the Western Text as compared with the texts of other families? It has a greater amount of free variation. It is not merely that the accidental variations are numerous; it is a question of alterations, assimilation of one Gospel to another, improvements in style or matter, and additions; especially additions, and particularly in Luke and Acts, which underwent a thorough rewriting at some early period. It would seem that scribes or teachers annotated their Gospels; they wrote in the margin, or between the lines, additional material, which might be incorporated into the text by the next copyist. Sometimes this additional material came from another Gospel, and sometimes from uncanonical sources or oral tradition; sometimes we can detect theological motives. Sometimes it was an improvement in the style, or at any rate a change. Sometimes it was an ingenious conjecture. In many western authorities we find the new ending to Mark; in practically all we find the woman taken in adultery.

A few interesting examples may be given. In the baptism of Jesus in Matthew a great light shines on the waters of the Jordan, and in Luke the voice from heaven says, 'This day have I begotten thee', not 'In thee I am well pleased.' When the Ethiopian is baptized in Acts, he is given a creed to say,' I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' In the decree of the Jerusalem Council, the Gentiles are told to abstain from idol-offerings, from fornication and from blood, 'and what you do not wish to be done to yourselves, do not do to others. . .being carried by the Holy Spirit'. In the Last Supper in Luke, the account of the institution of the eucharist is much abbreviated; in the Garden of Gethsemane the sweat of the Lord is like great drops of blood falling to the earth, a reading which is found in Justin, though he omits the words 'of blood'.

|105 Of course each case is carefully examined by the scholars on its merits, and it can be argued in certain cases that the Western Text has preserved the right reading. It may be intrinsically more probable, or it may be supported by other evidence. Its basic text, once the free variations are eliminated, has as much right to consideration as any other. It is argued, for instance, that the omissions of the Western Text are entitled to respect, since its tendency is to add; but any given omission may be due to accident or to theological prepossessions. The omission of the institution of the chalice in Luke, for instance, may be due to the influence of some heretical group which did not use wine in the sacrament. The Marcionites did not, for instance.


In conclusion a few observations may be made. The first is that, numerous as the variations are, they do not make any significant alteration in the substance of the text; the great majority of them are merely superficial. Secondly, it looks as if nearly all the textual variants of any interest must have come into existence by about the year 150; for naturally the amount of free variation was greatest at the beginning, before the books were regarded as scripture. What occurred later was learned amendment. Thirdly, the process had taken a long time, and its analysis is a very complicated business. First came the stage of free variation, when most of the changes were due to the errors of copyists or well-intentioned correction from one motive or another; then came the revision of Luke and Acts, of which something was said in an earlier chapter, thus leaving in existence two texts of these books; then there was the production of the short version of Luke in the school of Mar-cion or his predecessors; and the short version of Romans, which was widely used; and lastly the dissemination of the text and its further development in its different traditions. The textual evidence provides data for the history of these books subsequent to the date of their first dissemination.

It is also an additional illustration of the fact that there was no central organization in the Christian church such as could have imposed a uniform text or a uniform New Testament on the catholic church. The production and distribution of the apostolic literature went on freely in more than one centre. The textual agreement which it possesses is an |106 inheritance from its apostolic origins in the first century. Its diversity is due to its expansion. We do not yet know where the Western type of text originated, or how it reached Rome. We know about its dissemination there, simply because enough evidence comes in from the second half of the second century to prove it. At the end of the second century and the beginning of the third, enough evidence comes in from Alexandria to prove the existence of other independent types of text. This special, rather technical study, has its own very considerable historical value.
<< | top | >>