CANONS OF THE APOSTLES.
"Let Thy Thummim and Thy Urim be with Thy holy one, whom Thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom Thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed Thy word and kept Thy covenant."
Such is the testimony borne in different ways by Origen, Eusebius, and Cyril, Aerius, Jovinian, and Vigilantius, to the immemorial reception, among Christians, of those doctrines and practices which the private judgment of this age considers to be unscriptural. Let the object with which they have been adduced be clearly understood: not thereby directly to prove the truth of those doctrines and practices; but, the hypothesis having been hazarded in some quarters, that perhaps those doctrines and practices were an early corruption, and the burden of proving a negative being thrown upon us by men who are better pleased to suggest doubts than to settle anything, we, in our excess of consideration, are going about from one quarter to another, prying and extravagating beyond the beaten paths of orthodoxy for the chance of detecting some sort of testimony in favour of our opponents. With this object I have fallen upon the writers aforesaid, and since they have been, more or less, accused of heterodoxy, I thought there was a chance of their subserving the cause of Protestantism, which the Catholic Fathers certainly do not subserve; but they, though differing from each other most materially, and some of them differing from the Church, do not any one of them approximate to the tone or language of the movement of 1517. Every additional instance of this kind goes indirectly to corroborate the testimony of the Catholic Church.
The more we can vary our witnesses, the better. The consent of Fathers is one sort of witness to Apostolical truth; the accordance of heretics is another; received usage is a third. I shall now give, at some length, an instance of this last-mentioned, as afforded in the existence of the Apostolical Canons1; and, with that view, I must beg indulgence once in a way, to engage myself in a dry and somewhat tedious discussion. These Canons were once supposed to be, strictly speaking, Apostolical, and published before A. D. 50. On the other hand, it has been contended that they were composed by some heretic after 450. Our own divines maintain that they were published before 325, and were undoubtedly the digest of Catholic authorities in the course of the second and third, or at the end of the second century, and were received and used in most parts of Christendom. This view has since been acquiesced in by the theological world, so far as this, to suppose the matter and the enactment of the Canons of the highest antiquity, even though the
1 The following account is principally from Bishops Beveridge and Pearson.
edition which we possess was not published so early as Bishop Beveridge, for instance, supposes. At the same time, it is acknowledged by all parties that they, as well as some other early documents, have suffered from interpolation, and perhaps by an heretical hand.
They are in number eighty-five, of which the first fifty are of superior authority to the remaining thirty-five. What has been conjectured to be their origin will explain the distinction. It was the custom of the early Church, as is well known, to settle in council such points in its discipline, ordinances, and worship, as the Apostles had not prescribed in Scripture, as the occasion arose, after the pattern of their own proceedings in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts; and this, as far as might be, after their unwritten directions, or their practice, or, at least, their mind, or, as it is called in Scripture, their "minding" or " spirit1." Thus it decided upon the question of Easter, upon that of heretical baptism, and the like. And after the same precedent in the Acts, it recorded its decisions in formal decrees, and "delivered them for to keep " through the cities in which its members were found. The Canons in question are supposed to be some of these decrees, of which, first and nearest to the Apostles' times, or in the time of their immediate successors, were published fifty; and in the following age, thirty-five more, which had been enacted in the interval. They claim, then, to be, first, the recorded judgment of great portions of the Ante
Nicene Church, chiefly in the eastern provinces, upon certain matters in dispute, and to he of authority so far as that Church may be considered a representative of the mind of the Apostles; next, they profess to embody in themselves positive decisions and injunctions of the Apostles, though without clearly discriminating how much is thus directly Apostolical, and how much not. I will here attempt to state some of the considerations which show both their antiquity and authority, and afterwards use them for the purpose which has led me to mention them.
1. In the first place, it would seem quite certain that, as, on the one hand, councils were held in the primitive Church, so, on the other, they enacted certain Canons. When, then, a collection presents itself professing to consist of the Ante-Nicene Canons, there is nothing at all to startle us; it only professes to set before us that which we know any how must have existed. We may conjecture, if we please, that the fact that there were Canons may have suggested and encouraged a counterfeit. Certainly; but though the fact that there were such will account for a counterfeit, it will not account for the original being lost; on the contrary, what is known to have once existed as a rule of conduct, is likely to continue in existence, except under particular circumstances. Which of the two this collection is, the genuine or the counterfeit, must depend on other considerations; but if these be in favour of its genuineness; then this antecedent probability will be an important confirmation.
Canons, I say, must have existed, whether these
be the real ones' or no; and the circumstance that there were real ones, must have tended to make it difficult to substitute others. It would be no easything in our own Church to pass off another set of articles for the Thirty-nine, and obliterate tbe genuine: Canons are public property, and have to be acted upon by large bodies. Accordingly, as might be expected, the Nicene Council, when enacting Canons of its own, refers to certain Canons as already existing, and speaks of them in that familiar and indirect way which would be natural under the circumstances, and as we speak of our Rubrics or Articles. The Fathers of the Council mention certain descriptions of persons whom " the Canon admits into holy orders;" they determine that a certain rule shall be in force, "according to the Canon which says so and so;" they speak of a transgression of the Canon, and proceed to explain and enforce it. Nor is the Nicene the only Council which recognises the existence of certain Canons, or rules, by which the Church was at that time bound. The Councils of Antioch, Gangra, Constantinople, and Carthage, in the same century, do so likewise: so do individual Fathers, Alexander, Athanasius, Basil, Julius, and others.
Now here we have lighted upon an important circumstance, whatever becomes of the particular collection of Canons before us. It seems that, at the Nicene Council, only two centuries and a quarter after St. John's death, about the distance of time we are from the Hampton Court Conference, all Christendom confessed, that from time immemorial it had been guided by certain ecclesiastical rules, which it considered of authority, which it did not ascribe to any particular persons or synods, (a sign of great antiquity,) and which writers of the day assign to the Apostles. I suppose we know pretty well, at this day, what the customs of our Church have been since James the First's time, or the Reformation;" and if respectable writers at present were to state some of them,—for instance, that it is the rule of the Protestant Church that the king should name the bishops, that convocation should not sit without his leave, or that Easter should be kept according to the Roman rule,—we should think foreigners very unreasonable who doubted their word. Now, in the case before us, we find the Church Catholic, the first time it had ever met together since the Apostles' days, speaking as a matter of course of the rules to which it had ever been accustomed to defer. If we knew no more than this, and did not know what the rules were, or if, knowing what they were, we yet decide, as we well may, that the particular rules are not of continual obligation, yet, in knowing that rules of some kind were in force, we shall possess a fact incompatible with that freeand-easy mode of religion in which ultra-Protestants' glory. They glory in being independent; they think it a beauty to be all pulling different ways, and to have as many various rites and regimens as there are tastes and likings in the world. They can be quite sentimental and poetical on the subject; expatiate on the excellence of " agreeing to differ;" descant on the variety of nature, and insist, as philosophers, upon the immateriality of "differences in Church government," while what they call " doctrine" is pre
served, or while hearts are one. There is a popular story of a woman fainting on a Sunday, as the whole town was coming from worship, and an Anabaptist providing a chair, and a Quaker a smelling-bottle, and a Roman Catholic a handkerchief, and a Churchman running for a doctor, and the doctor turning out to be a Swedenborgian. It is something of this kind; and then a sagacious father, who seems to have been leading his son round the town instead of taking him fo divine service anywhere, points it out to his notice thus :—" See, my boy, what mankind were made to agree in, and what to differ in!" What would the stern old fathers of Nicsea have said to this ?—with their notions of "the Canon," what would they have said to a mixed set of religionists, zonis solutis, who glory in having nothing external in common, and who prate about "the superiority of unanimity to uniformity?" Or, as I should rather put it, what do our religionists say to it? or do they get themselves to contemplate the fact, of a vast number of leading men, (to put the matter at the lowest,) from all parts of Christendom, witnessing to the existence of a state of things which they must have known as perfectly as we know what has happened ever since the Reformation, nay, which occupies a less period, and' describing circumstances which are quite irreconcilable with modern notions, in the same unhesitating and quiet tone which we should use in speaking of the last three centuries? I believe, when they get themselves to consider it, they are obliged,—they do not scruple,—to say, that an universal corruption, a » sudden lapse of the Church, took place immediately after the Apostles; though how they can support this hypothesis, when it is narrowly considered, does not appear.
But to return. Even though the Canons we possess were not genuine, and though the Fathers and the Councils which refer to Canons did not mention what was the subject of them, yet the very fact, I say, that there were Canons from time immemorial, would be a sufficient confutation of the antithesis now so popular between unanimity and uniformity—it establishes the principle of uniformity as being Apostolical. But we do know, from the works of the Fathers, the subjects of these Canons, and that to the number of thirty or forty of them; so that we might form a code, as far as it goes, of primitive discipline, quite independent of the particular Collection which is under discussion. However, it is remarkable that all of these thirty or forty are found in this collection, being altogether nearly half the whole number, so that the only question is, whether the rest are of the same value of which we know a great proportion of them to be. Further, it is remarkable that no Ecclesiastical Canon is mentioned in the historical documents of the primitive era which is not found in the Collection; which shows that, whoever compiled it, the work was done with considerable care. The opponents to its genuineness bring, indeed, several exceptions, as they wish to consider them; but these admit of so satisfactory an explanation as to illustrate the proverb, that exceptio probat regulam.
Before going on, however, to consider the whole Collection, let us see in what terms the ancient writers referred to speak of those particular Canons which they cite.
Athanasius speaks as follows :—" Canons and forms," he says, when describing the extraordinary violences of the Arians, "were not given to the Churches in this day, but were handed down from our fathers well and securely. Nor again, has the faith had its beginning in this day, but has passed on even to us from the Lord through His disciples. Rouse yourselves, then, my brethren, to prevent that from perishing unawares in the present day which has been observed in the Churches from ancient times down to us, and ourselves from incurring a responsibility in what has been intrusted to us."—Ep. Encycl. 1. It is remarkable, in this extract, that St. Athanasius accurately distinguishes between the Faith which came from Christ, and the Canons received from the Fathers of old time: which is just the distinction which our divines are accustomed to make. , Again: the Arians, by simoniacal dealings with the civil power, had placed Gregory in the see of Alexandria. Athanasius observes upon this—" Such conduct is both a violation of the Ecclesiastical Canons, and forces the heathen to blaspheme, as if appointments were made, not by Divine ordinance, but by merchandise and secular influence." Ibid. 2.
Arsenius, bishop of Hypsela, who had been involved in the Meletian 1 schism, and had acted in a
1 The Egyptian Meletius, from which this schism has its name, must not be confounded with Meletius of Antioch.
hostile way towards Athanasius, at length reconciled himself to the Church. In his letter to Athanasius he promises "to be obedient to the Ecclesiastical Canon, according to ancient usage, and never to put forth any regulation, whether about bishops, or any other public ecclesiastical matter, without the sanction of his metropoliian, but to submit to all the established Canons."—Apol. contr. Arian. 69.
In like manner, St. Basil, after speaking of certain crimes for which a deacon should be reduced to lay communion, proceeds, "for it is an ancient Canon, that they who lose their degree should be subjected to this kind of punishment only."—Ep. 188. Again— "The Canon altogether excludes from the ministry those who have been twice married."
When Arius and his abettors were excommunicated by Alexander of Alexandria, they betook themselves to Palestine, and were re-admitted into the Church by the bishops of that country. On this, Alexander observes as follows:—" A very heavy imputation, doubtless, lies upon such of my brethren as have ventured on this act, in that it is a violation of the Apostolical Canon."—Theod. Hist. i. 4.
When Eusebius declined being translated from the see of Csesarea to Antioch, Constantine complimented him on his "observance of the commandments of God, the Apostolical Canon, and the rule of the Church ;"—Vit. Constant, iii. 61—which last seems to mean the regulation passed at Nicsea.
In like manner, Julius, bishop of Rome, speaks of a violation of "the Apostles' Canons;" and a Council held at Constantinople, A. D. 394, which was attended by Gregory Nyssen, Amphilochius, and Flavian, of a determination of "the Apostolical Canons."
It will be observed, that in some of these instances the Canons are spoken of in the plural, when the particular offence which occasions their mention is only against some one. This shows they were collected into a code, if, indeed, that need be proved; for, in truth, for various Canons to exist, and to be in force, and yet not to be put together, is just as unlikely as that no collection should be made of the statutes passed in a session of parliament.
With this historical information about the existence, authority, and subject matter of certain Canons in the Church from time immemorial, we should come to many anti-ultra-Protestant conclusions, even if the particular code we possess turn out to have no intrinsic authority. And now let us see how the matter stands as regards this code of eighty-five Canons.
2. If this collection existed as a collection in the time of the above writers and councils, then, considering they allude to nearly half its Canons, and that no Canons are anywhere produceable which are not in it, and that they do seem to allude to a collection, and that no other collection is produceable, we certainly could not avoid the conclusion that they referred to it, and that, therefore, in quoting parts of it they sanction the whole. If no book is to be accounted genuine except such parts of it as happen to be expressly cited by other writers,—if it may not be regarded as a whole, and what is actually cited made to bear up and carry with it what is not cited,—no ancient book extant can be proved to be genuine. We believe Virgil's ^Eneid to be Virgil's, because we know he wrote an ^Eneid, and because particular passages which we find in it, and in no other book, are contained, under the name of Virgil, in subsequent writers, or in criticisms, or in accounts of it. We do not divide it into rhapsodies, because it exists but in fragments in the testimony of later literature. For the same reason, if the Canons before us can be shown to have existed as one book in Athanasius's time, it is natural to conceive that they are the very book to which he and others refer. All depends on this. Tf the collection was made after his time, of course he referred to some other; but if it existed in his time, it is more natural to suppose that there was one collection than two distinct ones, so similar, especially since history is silent about there being two.
However, I conceive it is not worth while to insist upon so early a formation of the existing collection. Whether it existed in Athanasius' time, or was formed afterwards, and formed by friend or foe, heretic or Catholic, seems to me immaterial, as I shall by and by show. First, however, I will state, as candidly as I can, the arguments for and against its antiquity as a collection.
Now there can be no doubt that the early Canons were formed into one body; moreover, certain early writers speak of them under the name of " the Apostles' Canons," and'' the Apostolical Canons." So far I have already said. Now, certain collectors of canons, of A. D. (more or less) 550, and they no common authorities, also speak of "the Apostolical Canons," and incorporate them into their own larger collections; and these which they speak of are the very body of Canons which we now possess under the name. We know it, for the digest of these collectors is preserved. No reason can be assigned why they should not be speaking of the same collection which Gregory Nyssen and Amphilochius speak of, who lived a century and a half before them; no reason, again, why Nyssen and Amphilochius should not mean the same as Athanasius and Julius, who lived fifty to seventy years earlier than themselves. The writers of A. D. 550 might be just as certain that they and St. Athanasius quoted the same work, as we, at this day, that our copy of it is the same as Beveridge's, Pearson's, or Ussher's.
The authorities at the specified date (a. D. 550) are three,—Dionysius Exiguus, John of Antioch, patriarch of Constantinople, and the Emperor Justinian. The learning of Justinian is well known, not to mention that he speaks the opinion of the ecclesiastical lawyers of his age. As to John of Antioch, and Dionysius, since their names are not so familiar to most of us, it may be advisable to say thus much, —that John had been a lawyer, and was well versed both in civil and ecclesiastical matters; hence he has the title of Scholasticus; while Dionysius is the framer of the Christian era, as we still reckon it. They both made Collections of the Canons of the Church, the latter in Latin, and they both include the Apostolical Canons, as we have them, in their editions; with this difference, however, (which does not at present concern us,) that Dionysius publishes but the first fifty, while John of Antioch enumerates the whole eighty-five.
Such is the main argument for the existence of the collection which we possess, at the end of the third century; viz. that a collection being acknowledged at that date, this collection is acknowledged by competent authorities at the end of the fifth. On the other hand, when we inspect the language which Dionysius uses concerning them, in his prefatory epistle, we shall find something which requires explanation. His words are these, addressed to Stephen, bishop of Salona:—" We have, in the first place, translated from the Greek what are called the Canons of the Apostles; which, as we wish to apprise your holiness, have not gained an easy credit from very many persons. At the same time, some of the decrees of the [Roman] pontiffs, at a later date, seem to be taken from these very Canons." Dionysius must mean, that they were not received as the Apostles'; for that they were received, or, at least, nearly half of them, is, as I have said, an historical fact, whatever becomes of the collection as a collection. He must mean, that a claim had been advanced that they were to be received as part of the apostolic revelation; and he must deny that they had more than ecclesiastical authority. The distinction between divine and ecclesiastical injunctions requires little explanation: the latter are imposed by the Church for the sake of decency and order, as a matter of expedience, safety, propriety, or piety. Such is the rule among ourselves, that dissenting teachers conforming must remain silent three years before they can be ordained; or that a certain form of prayer should be prescribed for universal use in public service. On the other hand, the appointment of the Sacraments is apostolic
and divine. So, again, that no one can be a bishop unless consecrated by a bishop, is apostolic; that three bishops are necessary in consecration is ecclesiastical; and, though ordinarily an imperative rule, yet, under circumstances, admits of dispensation. Or again, it has, for instance, in this day, been debated whether the sanctification of the Lord's day is a divine, or an ecclesiastical appointment. Dionysius, then, in the above extract, means nothing more than to deny that the Apostles enacted these Canons; or, again, that they enacted them as Apostles; and he goes on to say, that the popes had acknowledged the ecclesiastical authority of some of them by embodying them in their decrees. At the same time, his language certainly seems to show as much as this, and it is confirmed by that of other writers, that the Latin Church, though using them separately as authority, did not receive them as a collection with the implicit deference which they met with in the East; indeed, the last thirty-five, though two of them were cited at Nicsea, and one at Constantinople, A.d. 394, seem to have been in inferior account. The Canons of the General Councils took their place, and the Decrees of the popes. And this conclusion would be abundantly confirmed by a remarkable decree of Pope Gelasius, if it could be trusted as genuine, and which, any how, shows the feelings of the Latins even at a later date. Gelasius is said to have held a council of seventy bishops at Rome, A. D. 494, and to have passed a decree concerning books received in the Church, which may be made to accord to what Dionysius wrote six years later. In this decree, after enumerating the books of the Old and New Testament, the determinations of the four first General Councils, and the works of certain of the Fathers, as being of authority, he proceeds, "But the compositions or teaching of heretics or schismatics are in nowise received by the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church; of which a few that are extant shall be specified, which are to be avoided by Catholics." Then follows a list of "apocryphal" books, such as the works of Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius's History, Lactantius, and, among them, "the Apocryphal Book of Canons of the Apostles." Perhaps the utmost this could be taken to mean would be, that the Book of Canons had never been received in the Roman Church. That some of the canons were received in it, we know, indeed, from the words of Pope Julius already cited, and from the fact that many of them were incorporated in the decrees of the four General Councils; still the "body of canons" may have been peculiar to the East,—as we know, in fact, the traditions of the East and West varied from each other on certain points, as in the questions of the observance of Easter, and of heretical baptism, in the former of which, at least, Apostles themselves seem to have determined variously. Even if the decree is literally taken to mean, that the Book of Canons is the compilation of heretics, (though, if so, the works of Hermas and of Clement of Alexandria are strangely involved in the same imputation,) no serious conclusion will follow. For though the Canons were put together by heretics, it does not follow that they themselves are heretical; and that a great number are not, we know, from the testimony of the Fathers
in their favour, as above insisted on. If, indeed, the compiler altered, or suppressed, or invented canons, that is another matter; then he was something more than a compiler; but in merely collecting them, he as little impaired the Canons themselves as Bucer or Peter Martyr would have hurt the doctrine of our Prayer Book, had they collected together in one, without altering, the Catholic devotions of the Church before them. At the same time, if heretics did add to the matter of the Canons, then the witness these Canons afford to the primitive religion is still more remarkable. We know, independently of these Canons, what the kind of worship and discipline was which obtained in the Catholic Church; and in these Canons we shall then possess an heretical testimony to it quite in accordance. In that case, ultra-Pro- . testantism will lose the chance even of heretical support, which was all it had from the first to look for.
But, as the fact really is, this decree of Gelasius' is not genuine. It is not mentioned till three hundred years after its supposed promulgation, and there is reason to believe that Gelasius, so far from rejecting, actually did receive and use the Canons in question. But the discussion of this point would be a deviation from the subject before us.
This, then, seems to be the state of the case as regards the collection or edition of Canons, whether fifty or eighty-five, which is under consideration. Speaking, not of the Canons themselves, but of this particular publication of them, I thus conclude about it,—that, whether it was made at the end of the third century, or later, there is no sufficient proof that it was of authority; but that it is not very material that it should be proved to be of authority, nay, or to have existed in early times. Give us the Canons themselves, and we shall be able to prove the point for which I am adducing them, even though they were not formed into a collection in early times.
Indeed, it must be confessed, that probability is against this collection having ever been regarded as an authority by the ancient Church. It was an anonymous collection; and, as being anonymous, seemed to have no claim upon Christians. They would consider that a collection or body of Canons could only be imposed by a Council; and since the Council could not be produced which imposed this in particular, they had no reason to admit it. They might have been in the practice of acting upon this Canon, and that, and the third, and so on to the eightyfifth, from time immemorial, and that as Canons, not as mere customs, and might confess the obligation of each; and yet might say, " We never looked upon them as a code," which should be something complete, and limited to itself. The true sanction of each was the immemorial observance of each, not its place in the collection, which implied a competent framer. Moreover, in proportion as General Councils were held, and enacted Canons, so did the vague title of mere custom, without definite sanction, become less influential, and the ancient Canons fell into disregard. And what made this still more natural, was the circumstance that the Nicene Council did re-enact a considerable number of those which it found existing. It substituted then a definite authority, which, in after ages, would be much more in
telligible than what had then become a mere matter of obscure antiquity. Nor did it tend to restore their authority, when their advocates, feeling the difficulty of their case, referred the Collection to the Apostles themselves; first, because this assertion could not be maintained; next, because if it could, it would have seemingly deprived the Church of the privilege of making Canons. It would have made those usages divine which had ever been accounted only ecclesiastical. It would have become a question, whether, under such circumstances, the Church had more right to add to the code of really Apostolic Canons than to Scripture; discipline, as well as doctrine, would have been given by direct revelation, and have been included in the fundamentals of religion.
If, however, all this be so, it follows that we are not at liberty to argue, from one part of this Collection being received, that therefore the other is; as if it were one authoritative work. No number of individual Canons being proved to be of the first age, will tend to prove that the remainder are of the same. It is true; and I do not think it worth while to contest the point. For argument's sake I will grant, that the bond, which ties them into one, is not of the most trustworthy and authoritative description, and will proceed to show, that even those Canons which are not formally quoted by early writers ought to be received as the rules of the Ante-Nicene Church, independently of their being found in one compilation.
3. I have already said, that nearly half of the Canons, as they stand in the Collection, are quoted as Canons by early writers, and thus placed beyond all question, as remains of the Ante-Nicene period: the following arguments may be offered in behalf of the rest:—
(1.) They are otherwise known to express usages or opinions of the Ante-Nicene centuries. The simple question is, whether they had been reflected on, recognised, converted into principles, enacted, obeyed; whether they were the unconscious and unanimous result of the one Christian spiritl in every place, or were formal determinations from authority claiming obedience. This being the case, there is very little worth disputing about; for (whether we regard them as being Christian, or in the light of Christian antiquities) if uniform custom was agreeable to them, it does not matter whether they were enacted or not. If they were not, their universal observance is a still greater evidence of their extreme antiquity, which, in that case, can be hardly short of the Apostolic age; and we shall refer to them in the existing Collection, merely for convenience' sake, as being brought together in a short compass.
Nay, a still more serious conclusion will follow, from supposing them not to be enactments much more serious than any we are disposed to draw. If it be maintained, that these observances did not arise from formal injunctions on the part of the Church, then, it might be argued, the Church has no power over them. As not having imposed, she cannot abrogate, suspend, or modify them. They must be referred to a higher source, even to the inspired Apostles; and their authority is not ecclesiastical, but divine. We are almost forced, then, to consider them as enactments, even when not appealed to by ancient writers as such, lest we should increase the authority of some of them more than seems consistent with their subject-matter.
1 The iKKKrioiaoriKov ^povti/ta.
Again, if such Canons as are not appealed to by ancient writers are nevertheless allowed to have been really enacted, on the ground of our finding historically that usage corresponds to them; it may so be that others, about which the usage is not so clearly known, are real Canons also. There is a chance of their being genuine; for why, in drawing the line, should we decide by the mere accident of the usage admitting or not admitting of clear historical proof?
(2.) Again, all these Canons, or at least the first fifty, are composed in a similar style; there is no reason, as far as the internal evidence goes, why one should be more primitive than another, and many, we know, certainly were in force as Canons from the earliest times.
(3.) This argument becomes much more cogent when we consider what that style is. It carries with it evident marks of primitive simplicity, some of which I shall instance. The first remark which would be made on reading them relates to their brevity, the breadth of the rules which they lay down, and their plain and unartificial mode of stating them. A good instance of this will be supplied by a comparison of the thirty-fifth Canon with one of a number of Canons passed at Antioch by an Arian council, held A. D. 341, and apparently using the \ Apostolical Canons as a basis for its own. The former says, simply,—
"The bishops of every nation are bound to acknowledge the principal among them, and to count him as a head, and to do nothing extraordinary without his advice, but to do those things alone individually which relate to the diocese of each respectively and its towns. He, in turn, must not act without the advice of all."
These plain directions are thus amplified in the Canon of Antioch :—
"The bishops in each province are bound to acknowledge the bishop ruling in the metropolitan see, and that he has the care of the whole province, because all who have business have recourse from every quarter to the metropolis. Whence it has seemed good that he should be first in honour also, and that the other bishops should do nothing extraordinary without him, (according to that most ancient canon which has been in force from our fathers' time,) or such things only as relate to the diocese of each and the places under it. For, each bishop has power over his own diocese to administer it according to his own conscience, and to provide for the whole territory subject to his own city, so as to ordain presbyters and deacons, and to dispose all things with consideration, but to attempt no proceedings beyond this without the metropolitan bishop; and he, in turn, must not act without the advice of the rest."
Or, again, take the following instance; which, when read with the words in brackets, agrees, with but slight exceptions, with the Antiochene, and, without them, -with the Apostolical Canon :—
"All who come [to church] and hear the [holy] Scriptures read, but do not remain to prayer [with the people,] and [refuse] the holy communion [of the Eucharist] contumaciously, [these] must be put out of the Church, [until, by confession, and by showing fruits of penitence, and by entreaty, they are able to gain forgiveness."]
Now these instances will serve to illustrate the antiquity of the Apostolical Canons in several ways, besides the evidence deducible from the simplicity of their structure. It will be observed that the word "metropolis" is introduced into the Canon of Antioch; no such word occurs in that from which it is apparently formed. There it is simply said, "the principal bishop;" or, literally, the primus. This accords with the historical fact, that the word metropolitan was not introduced till the fourth century. The same remark might be made on the word "province," which occurs in the Canon of Antioch, not in the other. This contrast is strikingly brought out in two other Canons, which correspond in the two Collections. Both treat of the possessions of the Church; but the Apostolical Canon says simply, "the interests of the Church," "the goods of the Church ;" but the Antiochene, composed after Christianity had been acknowledged by the civil power, speaks of "the revenue of the Church," and "the produce of the land." Again, attempts have been made to show that certain words are contained in the Canons before us which were not in use in the ante-Nicene times, but they have in every case failed, which surely may be considered as a positive evidence in favour of their genuineness. For instance, the word " clergy," for the ministerial body, which is found in the Canons, is also used by Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian. The word "reader," for an inferior order in the clergy, is used by Cornelius, bishop of Rome; nay, by Justin Martyr. "Altar," which is used in the Canons, is the only word used for the Lord's table by St. Cyprian, and, before him, by Tertullian and Ignatius. "Sacrifice" and "oblation," for the consecrated elements, by Clement of Rome, Justin, Irenseus, and Tertullian. This negative evidence of genuineness extends to other points, and surely is of no inconsiderable weight. We know how difficult it is so to word a forgery as to avoid all detection from incongruities of time, place, and the like. A forgery, indeed, it is hardly possible to suppose this Collection to be, both because great part of it is known to be genuine, and because no assignable object would be answered by it: but let us imagine the compiler hastily took up with erroneous traditions, or recent enactments, and joined them to the rest. Is it possible to conceive, under such circumstances, that there would be no anachronisms or other means of detection? And if there are none such, and much more if the compiler, who lived perhaps as early as the fourth century, found none such, (supposing we may assume him willing and qualified to judge of them,) nay, if Dionysius Exiguus found none such, what reasons have we for denying that they are the produce of those early times to which they claim to belong? Yet so it is; neither rite, nor heresy, nor
observance, nor phrase, is found in them which is foreign to the ante-Nicene period. Indeed, the only reason one or two persons have thrown suspicion on them has been, an unwillingness on their part to admit episcopacy, which the Canons assert; a necessity which led the same parties to deny the genuineness of St. Ignatius' epistles. And now I congratulate the reader on having come to the end of a discussion which requires more careful attention than this small work has a right to demand.