« AnteriorContinuar »
It relates to a work of the nature of a harmony of the Four Gospels, which tradition had always ascribed to Tatian, the disciple of St. Justin Martyr. Now as Justin flourished in the middle of the second century, and the author of Supernatural Religion contended that it was impracticable to find ‘a single distinct trace of any of the Synoptic Gospels, with the exception of the third, during the first century and a half after the death of Jesus '*that is to say, before the year 180 A.D.-it was imperative for him to contend that our Gospels were not used by St. Justin. But if Tatian, one of Justin's disciples, composed a kind of harmony out of our four Gospels, and out of those alone, it would be incredible that they were not known to his master, and were not recognized by him as authoritative. Accordingly this author labours in his usual style to explain away the evidence that Tatian's harmony-or Diatessaron, as it was called
was of the character hitherto generally believed. He urged that there is no authority for saying that Tatian's Gospel was a harmony of Four Gospels at all;' and that the natural explanation of the various reports is to be found in the conclusion that Tatian did not compose any harmony at all, but simply made use of the same Gospel as his master Justin Martyr, namely, the Gospel according
* Vol. II. p. 246. Completed edition, 1879.
to the Hebrews.' In short, we were told, it was 'obvious that there is no evidence of any value connecting Tatian's Gospel with those in our Canon.'
The pleas thus advanced were met by Bishop Lightfoot, on the basis of the information then available, with sufficient conclusiveness; † but by the recent discovery to which we have alluded, if we may trust what has hitherto seemed the unanimous consent of scholars, at home and abroad, the author's contention has been still more completely overthrown. Through the agency of the Mechitarist Fathers at Venice a translation was published of a work preserved in the Armenian language, which has been generally recognized, by critics belonging to all schools of thought, as the commentary which a Syrian father of the fourth century-St. Ephraem-was believed to have written on Tatian's Diatessaron. By this commentary, it is generally admitted that we have been placed in possession of the Diatessaron of Tatian, with sufficient fulness, at all events, to judge of its general relations to our Four Gospels. The result is that Tatian's work appears to have been a close welding together of the four Canonical Gospels. For instance, it commences with John i. 1–5, and proceeds to Luke i. 5. John i. 14, Luke i. 5-77, Matt. i. 18-25, and so
* Supernatural Religion, Vol. II. pp. 154–7.
+ Contemporary Review, May, 1877.
One of the leading scholars of Germany, Dr. Harnack, who is entirely unprejudiced in favour of traditional views, says that they are so closely interwoven, so ingeniously spun together, that nowhere, so to say, is any seam visible.* The work, indeed, was not a harmony in the sense of the complete text of all four Gospels being harmonized; it seems to have been designed and used as a concise and convenient summary of them; but it did use all of them, and used no other source. The main fact, accordingly, for which orthodox critics have contended on this subject is now generally acknowledged, even by rationalistic critics abroad. Tatian is admitted as a decisive witness to the acceptance of our Four Gospels in the time of Justin Martyr. other words, our Four Gospels, and only our four, are allowed to have been the recognized authorities respecting the life and ministry of our Lord at a time when their very existence is denied by the author of 'Supernatural Religion.' That book has received so much unwarranted attention in this country that it seemed worth while to notice, in passing, its proved untrustworthiness; and in point of fact the conclusions which its author asserts with such positiveness are as much in conflict with
* In an article in Brieger's Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol. IV. 1881, p. 476.
a great deal of the most unsparing criticism of the present day as they are with Christian traditions.
This, however, is no unusual example of the fate by which, sooner or later, negative criticism is overtaken. In the last work on the life of our Lord, written by one of the most learned of German scholars, Dr. Bernhard Weiss, occurs a striking testimony to this effect. Dr. Weiss, indeed, is an earnest believer in Christian truth; but while the extent and accuracy of his learning is unquestioned, he proclaims, at the outset of his book, that he does not regard his faith as dependent upon the authenticity of the Gospels, and he does not scruple to treat them as occasionally inaccurate. His testimony, therefore, with respect to the actual results of criticism may be accepted as impartial; and this is what he says respecting the objections raised by criticism against the external testimonies to the fourth Gospel :'Baur maintained that before the last quarter of the second century, no traces of the fourth Gospel could be found; but his disciples have been compelled, step by step, to concede one after another of the testimonies against which he contended. Every new discovery since his day-the Philosophumena with their rich Johannine citations out of Gnostic writings, the conclusion of the Clementines with the history of the man born blind, the Syrian Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron-has definitely confuted
contentions of criticism which had been long and obstinately upheld.'*
The lesson to be drawn from such instances of the failure of one critical theory after another is sufficiently obvious. They are but the most recent examples of the general truth that no alternative theory to the traditions of the Christian Church respecting the authorship of the Gospels has ever held its ground, and that no definite fact in opposition to those traditions has ever been established, even to the general satisfaction of negative critics themselves. In view of this result, such traditions remain in possession of the authority which is due to every witness whose statements have never varied, and in whose evidence no inconsistency or untruth has been established, even by the most prolonged crossexamination, or by further enquiry. The uniform testimony of the earliest Christian antiquity is that St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John were the authors of the Gospels which bear their names; and all other explanations of the origin of those Gospels have either destroyed one another, or have been overthrown by new discoveries. This broad fact might alone be sufficient to afford us a practical foundation for our faith. But I propose in the next Lecture to examine more particularly
*Das Leben Jesu, 1882, Vol. I. p. 92.