Malankara World



By W. Sanday, M.A.



We are now very near emerging into open daylight; but there are three items in the evidence which lie upon the border of the debateable ground, and as questions have been raised about these it may be well for us to discuss them.

We have already had occasion to speak of the two Gnostics Ptolemaeus and Heracleon. It is necessary, in the first place, to define the date of their evidence with greater precision, and, in the second, to consider its bearing.

Let us then, in attempting to do this, dismiss all secondary and precarious matter; such as (1) the argument drawn by Tischendorf [Endnote 254:1] from the order in which the names of the disciples of Valentinus are mentioned and from an impossible statement of Epiphanius which seems to make Heracleon older than Cerdon, and (2) the argument that we find in Volkmar and 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 254:2] from the use of the present tense by Hippolytus, as if the two writers, Ptolemaeus and Heracleon, were contemporaries of his own in 225-235 A.D. Hippolytus does indeed say, speaking of a division in the school of Valentinus, 'Those who are of Italy, of whom is Heracleon and Ptolemaeus, say' &c. But there is no reason why there should not be a kind of historic present, just as we might say, 'The Atomists, of whom are Leucippus and Democritus, hold' &c., or 'St. Peter says this, St. Paul says that.' The account of such presents would seem to be that the writer speaks as if quoting from a book that he has actually before him. It is not impossible that Heracleon and Ptolemaeus may have been still living at the time when Hippolytus wrote, but this cannot be inferred simply from the tense of the verb. Surer data are supplied by Irenaeus.

Irenaeus mentions Ptolemaeus several times in his first and second books, and on one occasion he couples with his the name of Heracleon. But to what date does this evidence of Irenaeus refer? At what time was Irenaeus himself writing. We have seen that the terminus ad quem, at least for the first three books, is supplied by the death of Eleutherus (c. A.D. 190). On the other hand, the third book at least was written after the publication of the Greek version of the Old Testament by Theodotion, which Epiphanius tells us appeared in the reign of Commodus (180-190 A.D.). A still more precise date is given to Theodotion's work in the Paschal Chronicle, which places it under the Consuls Marcellus (Massuet would read 'Marullus') and Aelian in the year 184 A.D. [Endnote 255:1] This last statement is worth very little, and it is indeed disputed whether Theodotion's version can have appeared so late as this. At any rate we must assume that it was in the hands of Irenaeus about 185 A.D., and it will be not before this that the third book of the work 'Against Heresies' was written. It will perhaps sufficiently satisfy all parties if we suppose that Irenaeus was engaged in writing his first three books between the years 182-188 A.D. But the name of Ptolemaeus is mentioned very near the beginning of the Preface; so that Irenaeus would be committing to paper the statement of his acquaintance with Ptolemaeus as early as 182 A.D.

This is however the last link in the chain. Let us trace it a little further backwards. Irenaeus' acquaintance with Ptolemaeus can hardly have been a fact of yesterday at the time when he wrote. Ptolemaeus represented the 'Italian' branch of the Valentinian school, and therefore it seems a fair supposition that Irenaeus would come in contact with him during his visit to Rome in 178 A.D.; and the four years from that date to 182 A.D. can hardly be otherwise than a short period to allow for the necessary intimacy with his teaching to have been formed.

But we are carried back one step further still. It is not only Ptolemaeus but Ptolemaeus and his party ([Greek: hoi peri Ptolemaion]) [Endnote 256:1]. There has been time for Ptolemaeus to found a school within a school of his own; and his school has already begun to express its opinions, either collectively or through its individual members.

In this way the real date of Ptolemaeus seems still to recede, but I will not endeavour any further to put a numerical value upon it which might be thought to be prejudiced. It will be best for the reader to fill up the blank according to his own judgment.

Heracleon will to a certain extent go with Ptolemaeus, with whom he is persistently coupled, though, as he is only mentioned once by Irenaeus, the data concerning him are less precise. They are however supplemented by an allusion in the fourth book of the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria (which appears to have been written in the last decade of the century) to Heracleon as one of the chief of the school of Valentinus [Endnote 257:1], and perhaps also by a statement of Origen to the effect that Heracleon was said to be a [Greek: gnorimos] of Valentinus himself [Endnote 257:2]. The meaning of the latter term is questioned, and it is certainly true that it may stand for pupil or scholar, as Elisha was to Elijah or as the Apostles were to their Master; but that it could possibly be applied to two persons who never came into personal contact must be, I cannot but think, very doubtful. This then, if true, would throw back Heracleon some little way even beyond 160 A.D.

From the passage in the Stromateis we gather that Heracleon, if he did not (as is usually inferred) write a commentary, yet wrote an isolated exposition of a portion of St. Luke's Gospel. In the same way we learn from Origen that he wrote a commentary upon St. John.

We shall probably not be wrong in referring many of the Valentinian quotations given by Irenaeus to Ptolemaeus and Heracleon. By the first writer we also have extant an Epistle to a disciple called Flora, which has been preserved by Epiphanius. This Epistle, which there is no reason to doubt, contains unequivocal references to our first Gospel.

Epistle to Flora. Epiph. Haer. 217 A.

[Greek: oikia gar ae polis meristheisa eph' heautaen hoti mae dunatai staenai [ho sotaer haemon apephaenato].]

Ibid. 217 D.

[Greek: [ephae autois hoti] Mousaes pros taen sklaerokardian humon epetrepse to apoluein taen gunaika autou. Ap' archaes gar ou gegonen houtos. Theos gar (phaesi) sunezeuxe tautaen taen suzugian kai ho sunezeuxen ho kurios, anthropos (ephae) mae chorizeto.]

Ibid. 218 D.

[Greek: ho gar Theos (phaesin) eipe tima ton patera sou kai taen maetera sou, hina eu soi genaetai; humeis de (phaesin) eiraekate (tois presbuterois legon), doron to Theo ho ean ophelaethaes ex emou, kai aekurosate ton nomon tou Theou, dia taen paradosin humon ton presbuteron. Touto de Haesaias exephonaesen eipon; ho laos houtos tois cheilesi me tima hae de kardia auton porro apechei ap' emou. Mataen de sebontai me, didaskontes didaskalias, entalmata anthropon.]

Ibid. 220 D, 221 A.

[Greek: to gar, Ophthalmon anti ophthalmou kai odonta anti odontos ... ego gar lego humin mae antistaenai holos to ponaero alla ean tis se rhapisae strepson auto kai taen allaen siagona.]

Matt. xii. 25 (Mark iii. 25, Luke xi. 17).

[Greek: pasa polis ae oikia meristheisa kath' heautaes ou stathaesetai.]

Matt. xix. 8, 6 (Mark x. 5, 6, 9).

[Greek: legei autois; Hoti Mousaes pros taen sklaerokardian humon epetrepsen humin apolusai tas gunaikas humon' ap' archaes de ou gegonen houtos. ... ho oun ho theos sunezeuxen anthropos mae chorizeto.]

Matt. xv. 4-8 (Mark vii. 10, 11, 6, 9).

[Greek: ho gar theos eneteilato legon, Tima ton patera kai taen maetera ... humeis de legete; hos an eipae to patri ae tae maetri; Doron ho ean ex emou ophelaethaes,... kai aekurosate ton nomon tou Theou dia taen paradosin humon. Hupokritai, kalos eprophaeteusen peri humon Haesaias legon; Ho laos houtos tois cheilesin me tima, hae de kardia auton porro apechei ap' emou; mataen de sebontai me didaskontes didaskalias entalmata anthropon.]

Matt. v. 38, 39 (Luke vi. 29).

[Greek: aekousate oti erraethae, Ophthalmon anti ophthalmou kai odonta anti odontos ego de lego hymin mae antistaenai to ponaero all hostis se rapizei eis taen dexian siagona sou, strephon auto kai taen allaen.]

Some doubt indeed appears to be entertained by the author of 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 259:1] as to whether these quotations are really taken from the first Synoptic; but it would hardly have arisen if he had made a more special study of the phenomena of patristic quotation. If he had done this, I do not think there would have been any question on the subject. A comparison of the other Synoptic parallels, and of the Septuagint in the case of the quotation from Isaiah, will make the agreement with the Matthaean text still more conspicuous. It is instructive to notice the reproduction of the most characteristic features of this text--[Greek: polis, meristheisa] ([Greek: ean meristhae] Mark, [Greek: diameristheisa] Luke), [Greek: hoti Mousaes, epetrepsen apolu[sai] t[as] gunaik[as], ou gegonen oitos, aekurosate .. dia taen p., ophthalmon ... odontos, antistaenai to ponaero, strepson], and the order and cast of sentence in all the quotations. The first quotation, with [Greek: eph eautaen] and [Greek: dunatai staenai], which may be compared (though, from the context, somewhat doubtfully) with Mark, presents, I believe, the only trace of the influence of any other text.

To what period in the life of Ptolemaeus this Epistle to Flora may have belonged we have no means of knowing; but it is unlikely that the writer should have used one set of documents at one part of his life and another set at another. Viewed along with so much confirmatory matter in the account of the Valentinians by Irenaeus, the evidence may be taken as that of Ptolemaeus himself rather than of this single letter.


The question in regard to Celsus, whose attacks upon Christianity called forth such an elaborate reply from Origen, is chiefly one of date. To go into this at once adequately and independently would need a much longer investigation than can be admitted into the present work. The subject has quite recently been treated in a monograph by the well-known writer Dr. Keim [Endnote 260:1], and, as there will be in this case no suspicion of partiality, I shall content myself with stating Dr. Keim's conclusions.

Origen himself, Dr. Keim thinks, was writing under the Emperor Philip about A.D. 248. But he regards his opponent Celsus, not as a contemporary, but as belonging to a past age (Contra Celsum, i. 8, vii. 11), and his work as nothing recent, but rather as having obtained a certain celebrity in heathen literature (v. 3). For all this it had to be disinterred, as it were, and that not without difficulty, by a Christian (viii. 76).

Exact and certain knowledge however about Celsus Origen did not possess. He leans to the opinion that his opponent was an Epicurean of that name who lived 'under Hadrian and later' (i. 8). This Epicurean had also written several books against Magic (i. 68). Now it is known that there was a Celsus, a friend of Lucian, who had also written against Magic, and to whom Lucian dedicated his 'Pseudomantis, or Alexander of Abonoteichos.'

It was clearly obvious to identify the two persons, and there was much to be said in favor of the identification. But there was this difficulty. Origen indeed speaks of the Celsus to whom he is replying as an Epicurean, and here and there Epicurean opinions are expressed in the fragments of the original work that Origen has preserved. But Origen himself was somewhat puzzled to find that the main principles of the author were rather Platonic or Neo-platonic than Epicurean, and this observation has been confirmed by modern enquiry. The Celsus of Origen is in reality a Platonist.

It still being acknowledged that the friend of Lucian was an Epicurean, this discovery seemed fatal to the supposition that he was the author of the work against the Christians. Accordingly there was a tendency among critics, though not quite a unanimous tendency, to separate again the two personalities which had been united. At this point Dr. Keim comes upon the scene, and he asks the question, Was Lucian's friend really an Epicurean? Lucian nowhere says so in plain words, but it was taken as a prim‚ facie inference from some of the language used by him. For instance, he describes the Platonists as being on good terms with this very Alexander of Abonoteichos whom he is ridiculing and exposing. He appeals to Celsus to say whether a certain work of Epicurus is not his finest. He says that his friend will be pleased to know that one of his objects in writing is to see justice done to Epicurus. All these expressions Dr. Keim thinks may be explained as the quiet playful irony that was natural to Lucian, and from other indications in the work he concludes that Lucian's Celsus may well have been a Platonist, though not a bigoted one, just as Lucian himself was not in any strict and narrow sense an Epicurean.

When once the possibility of the identification is conceded, there are, as Dr. Keim urges, strong reasons for its adoption. The characters of the two owners of the name Celsus, so far as they can be judged from the work of Origen on the one hand and Lucian on the other, are the same. Both are distinguished for their opposition to magical arts. The Celsus of the Pseudomantis is a friend of Lucian, and it is precisely from a friend of Lucian that the 'Word of Truth' replied to by Origen might be supposed to have come. Lastly, time and place both support the identification. The Celsus of Lucian lived under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, and Dr. Keim decides, after an elaborate examination of the internal evidence, that the Celsus of Origen wrote his work in the year 178 A.D., towards the close of the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Such is Dr. Keim's view. In the date assigned to the [Greek: Logos alaethaes] it does not differ materially from that of the large majority of critics. Grštz alone goes as far back as to the time of Hadrian. Hagenbach, Hasse, Tischendorf, and Friedlšnder fix upon the middle, Mosheim, Gieseler, Baur, and Engelhardt upon the second half, of the second century; while the following writers assume either generally the reign of Marcus Aurelius, or specially with Dr. Keim one of the two great persecutions--Spencer, Tillemont, Neander, Tzschirner, Jachmann, Bindemann, Lommatzsch, Hase, Redepenning, Zeller. The only two writers mentioned by Dr. Keim as contending for a later date are Ueberweg and Volkmar, 'who strangely misunderstands both Origen and Baur' [Endnote 263:1]. Volkmar is followed by the author of 'Supernatural Religion.'

At whatever date Celsus wrote, it appears to be sufficiently clear that he knew and used all the four canonical Gospels [Endnote 263:2].


The last document that need be discussed by us at present is the remarkable fragment which, from its discoverer and from its contents, bears the name of the Canon of Muratori [Endnote 263:3].

Whatever was the original title and whatever may have been the extent of the work from which it is taken, the portion of it that has come down to us is by far the most important of all the direct evidence for the Canon both of the Gospels and of the New Testament in general with which we have yet had to deal. It is indeed the first in which the conception of a Canon is quite unequivocally put forward. We have for the first time a definite list of the books received by the Church and a distinct separation made between these and those that are rejected.

The fragment begins abruptly with the end of a sentence apparently relating to the composition of the Gospel according to St. Mark. Then follows 'in the third place the Gospel according to St. Luke,' of which some account is given. 'The fourth of the Gospels' is that of John, 'one of the disciples of the Lord.' A legend is related as to the origin of this Gospel. Then mention is made of the Acts, which are attributed to Luke. Then follow thirteen Epistles of St. Paul by name. Two Epistles professing to be addressed to the Laodiceans and Alexandrines are dismissed as forged in the interests of the heresy of Marcion. The Epistle of Jude and two that bear the superscription of John are admitted. Likewise the two Apocalypses of John and Peter. [No mention is made, it will be seen, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, of that of James, of I and II Peter, and of III John.] [Endnote 264:1]

The Pastor of Hermas, a work of recent date, may be read but not published in the Church before the people, and cannot be included either in the number of the prophets or apostles.

On the other hand nothing at all can be received of Arsinous, Valentinus, or Miltiades; neither the new Marcionite book of Psalms, which with Basilides and the Asian founder of the Cataphryges (or the founder of the Asian Cataphryges, i.e. Montanus) is rejected.

The importance of this will be seen at a glance. The chief question is here again in regard to the date, which must be determined from the document itself. A sufficiently clear indication seems to be given in the language used respecting the Pastor of Hermas. This work is said to have been composed 'very lately in our times, Pius the brother of the writer occupying the episcopal chair of the Roman Church.' The episcopate of Pius is dated from 142-157 A.D., so that 157 A.D. may be taken as the starting-point from which we have to reckon the interval implied by the words 'very recently in our times' (nuperrime temporibus nostris). Taking these words in their natural sense, I should think that the furthest limit they would fairly admit of would be a generation, or say thirty years, after the death of Pius (for even in taking a date such as this we are obliged to assume that the Pastor was published only just before the death of that bishop). The most probable construction seems to be that the unknown author meant that the Pastor of Hermas was composed within his own memory. Volkmar is doubtless right in saying [Endnote 265:1] that he meant to distinguish the work in question from the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, but still the double use of the words 'nuperrime' and 'temporibus nostris' plainly indicate something more definite than merely 'our post-apostolic time.' If this had been the sense we should have had some such word as 'recentius' instead of 'nuperrime.' The argument of 'Supernatural Religion' [Endnote 265:2], that 'in supposing that the writer may have appropriately used the phrase thirty or forty years after the time of Pius so much licence is taken that there is absolutely no reason why a still greater interval may not be allowed,' is clearly playing fast and loose with language, and doing so for no good reason; for the only ground for assigning a later date is that the earlier one is inconvenient for the critic's theory. The other indications tally quite sufficiently with the date 170-190 A.D. Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, the Marcionites, we know were active long before this period. The Montanists (who appear under the name by which they were generally known in the earlier writings, 'Cataphryges') were beginning to be notorious, and are mentioned in the letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons. Miltiades was a contemporary of Claudius Apollinaris who wrote against him [Endnote 266:1]. All the circumstances point to such a date as that of Irenaeus, and the conception of the Canon is very similar to that which we should gather from the great work 'Against Heresies.' If this does not agree with preconceived opinions as to what the state of the Canon ought to have been, it is the opinion that ought to be rectified accordingly, and not plain words explained away.

I can see no sound objection to the date 170-180 A.D., but by adding ten years to this we shall reach the extreme limit admissible.

I do not know whether it is necessary to refer to the objection from the absence of any mention of the first two Synoptic Gospels, through the mutilated state of the document. It is true that the inference that they were originally mentioned rests only 'upon conjecture' [Endnote 266:2], but it is the kind of conjecture that, taking all things into consideration--the extent to which the evidence of the fragment in other respects corresponds with the Catholic tradition, the state of the Canon in Irenaeus, the relation of the evidence for the first Gospel in particular to that for the others--can be reckoned at very little less than ninety-nine chances out of a hundred.

To the same class belongs Dr. Donaldson's suggestion [Endnote 267:1] that the passage which contains the indication of date may be an interpolation. It is always possible that the particular passage that happens to be important in any document of this date may be an interpolation, but the chances that it really is so must be in any case very slight, and here there is no valid reason for suspecting interpolation. It does not at all follow, as Dr. Donaldson seems to think, that because a document is mutilated therefore it is more likely to be interpolated; for interpolation is the result of quite a different series of accidents. The interpolation, if it were such, could not well be accidental because it has no appearance of being a gloss; on the other hand, only far-fetched and improbable motives can be alleged for it as intentional.

The full statement of the fragment in regard to St. Luke's Gospel is as follows. 'Luke the physician after the Ascension of Christ, having been taken into his company by Paul, wrote in his own name to the best of his judgment (ex opinione), and, though he had not himself seen the Lord in the flesh, so far as he could ascertain; accordingly he begins his narrative with the birth of John.' The greater part of this account appears to be taken simply from the Preface to the Gospel, which is supplemented by the tradition that St. Luke was a physician and also the author of the Acts. As evidence to those facts a document dating some hundred years after the composition of the Gospel is not of course very weighty; its real importance is as showing the authority which the Gospel at this date possessed in the Church. That authority cannot have been acquired in a day, but represents the culmination of a long and gradual movement. What we have to note is that the movement, some of the stages of which we have been tracing, has now definitely reached its culmination.

In regard to the fourth Gospel the Muratorian fragment has a longer story to tell, but before we touch upon this, and before we proceed to draw together the threads of the previous enquiry, it will be well for us first to bring up the evidence for the fourth Gospel to the same date and position as that for the other three. This then will be the subject of the next chapter.

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