Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Appendix containing Canons and Rulings not having Conciliar Origin but Approved by Name in Canon II. of the Synod in Trullo.: The Apostolical Canons. Introduction.
p. 591 The Apostolical Canons.
To affirm that the “Apostolical Canons” were a collection of canons made by the Apostles would be about as sensible as to affirm that the “Psalterium Davidicum” 559 was a collection of his own psalms made by David, or that the “Proverbs of Solomon” was a collection of proverbs made by Solomon.
Many of the Psalms had David for their composer; many of the Proverbs had Solomon for their originator; but neither the book we call “The Psalter” nor the book we call “The Proverbs” had David or Solomon for its compiler. The matter contained in the one is largely, many think chiefly, of Davidic origin, the matter contained in the other is no doubt Solomonic; and just so “The Apostolical Canons” may well be to a great extent of Apostolic origin, committed to writing, some possibly by the Apostles themselves, others by their immediate successors, who heard them at their mouth; and these at some period not far removed from the date of the Nicene Council (a.d. 325), probably earlier than the Council of Antioch, were gathered together into a code which has since then been somewhat enlarged and modified. This is the view of the matter to which the general drift of the learned seems to be moving, and it is substantially the view so ably defended by Bishop Beveridge in his Synodicon, and in his remarkably learned and convincing answer to his French opponent, 560 entitled Codex Canonum Ecclesiæ Primitivæ vindicatus ac illustratus. (This last volume, together with the “Preface to the Notes on the Apostolical Canons” has been reprinted in Vol. XII. of Bishop Beveridges Works in the “Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.”) 561
In thus accepting in the main the old conclusions I am far from intending to imply that more recent research has not shewn some of the details of the bishops view to be erroneous. In brief, the proposition which seems to be most tenable is that in the main the Apostolic Canons represent the very early canon-law of the Church, that the canons which make up the collection are of various dates, but that most of them are earlier than the year 300, and that while it is not possible to say exactly when the collection, as we now have it, was made, there is good reason for assigning it a date not later than the middle of the fourth century. With regard to the name “Apostolic Canons” there need be no more hesitation in applying it to these canons than in calling Ignatius an “Apostolic Father,” the adjective necessarily meaning nothing more than that the canons set forth the disciplinary principles which were given to the early Church by the Apostles, just as we speak of the “Apostles Creed.”
While this is true there can be no question that in the East the Apostolic Canons were very generally looked upon as a genuine work prepared by the Holy Apostles. I proceed now to quote Bishop Hefele, but I have already (Cf. Council in Trullo) expressed my own opinion that there is not contained in the Quinisext decree any absolute definition of what is technically known as the “authenticity” of the Canons of the Apostles.
(Hefele. Hist. of the Councils, Vol. I., p. 451 et seqq.).
The Synod in Trullo being, as is well known, regarded as ecumenical by the Greek Church, the authenticity of the eighty-five canons was decided in the East for all future time. It was otherwise in the West. At the same period that Dionysius Exiguus translated the collection question for Bishop Stephen, Pope Gelasius promulgated his celebrated decree de libris non recipiendis. Drey mentions it, but in a way which requires correction. Following in this the usual opinion, he says that the Synod at Rome in which Gelasius published this decree was held in 494; but we shall see hereafter that this synod was held in 496. Also Drey considers himself obliged to adopt another erroneous opinion, according to which Gelasius declared in the same decree the Apostolic Canons to be apocryphal. This opinion is to be maintained only so long as the usual text of this decree is consulted, since the original text as it is given p. 592 in the ancient manuscripts does not contain the passage which mentions the Apostolic Canons. 562 This passage was certainly added subsequently, with many others, probably by Pope Hormisdas (514–543) when he made a new edition of the decree of Gelasius. As Dionysius Exiguus published his collection in all probability subsequently to the publication of the decree of Gelasius, properly so called, in 496, we can understand why this decree did not mention the Apostolical Canons. Dionysius did not go to Rome while Gelasius was living, and did not know him personally, as he himself says plainly in the Præfatio of his collection of the papal decrees. It is hence also plain how it was that in another collection of canons subsequently made by Dionysius, of which the preface still remains to us, he does not insert the Apostolic Canons, but has simply this remark: Quos non admisit uniniversalitas, ego quoque in hoc opere prætermisi. Dionysius Exiguus in fact compiled this new collection at a time when Pope Hormisdas had already explicitly declared the Apostolic Canons to be apocryphal.
Notwithstanding this, these canons, and particularly the fifty mentioned by Dionysius, did not entirely fall into discredit in the West; but rather they came to be received, because the first collection of Dionysius was considered of great authority. They also passed into other collections, and particularly into that of the pseudo-Isidore; and in 1054, Humbert, legate of Pope Leo IX., made the following declaration: Clementis libel, id est itinerarium Petri Apostoli et Canones Apostolorum numerantur inter apocrypha, Exceptis Capitulis Quisquaginta, quæ decreverunt regulis orthodoxis adjungenda. Gratian also, in his decree, borrowed from the fifty Apostolic Canons, and they gradually obtained the force of laws. But many writers, especially Hincmar of Rheims, like Dionysius Exiguus, raised doubts upon the apostolical origin of these canons. From the sixteenth century the opinion has been universal that these documents are not authentic; with the exception, however, of the French Jesuit Turrianus, who endeavoured to defend their genuineness, as well as the authenticity of the pseudo-Isidorian decrees. According to the Centuriators of Magdeburg, it was especially Gabriel dAubespine, Bishop of Orleans, the celebrated Archbishop Peter de Marca, and the Anglican Beveridge, who proved that they were not really compiled by the Apostles, but were made partly in the second and chiefly in the third century. Beveridge considered this collection to be a repertory of ancient canons given by synods in the second and third centuries. In opposition to them, the Calvinist Dallæus (Daillé) regarded it as the work of a forger who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries; but Beveridge refuted him so convincingly, that from that time his opinion, with some few modifications, has been that of all the learned.
Beveridge begins with the principle, that the Church in the very earliest times must have had a collection of canons; and he demonstrates that from the commencement of the fourth century, bishops, synods, and other authorities often quote, as documents in common use, a κανὼν αποστολικὸς, or ἐκκλησιαστικὸς, or ἀρχαῖος; as was done, for instance, at the Council of Nice, by Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and by the Emperor Constantine, etc. 563 According to Beveridge, these quotations make allusion to the Apostolic Canons, and prove that they were already in use before the fourth century.
In opposition to Beveridge Dr. von Drey wrote with profound learning; 564 and Bickell, in his work just quoted, to a great degree accepts his conclusions as being well-founded.
These conclusions in short are that the so-called “Apostolic Canons” are a patchwork taken from the “Apostolic Constitutions,” which are said to have been of Eastern origin and to date from the latter part of the third century, and from the canons of various synods, notably Nice, Antioch, and Chalcedon.
But this last reference to Chalcedon is too much for Bickell to stomach; and for many reasons he makes the date of the collection earlier.
Hefele points out a rather significant document which he says both “Drey and Bickell have overlooked. In 1738 Scipio Maffei published three ancient documents, the first of which was a Latin translation of a letter written on the subject of Meletius by the Egyptian bishops Hesychius, Phileas, etc. This letter was written during the persecution of Diocletian, that is, between 303 and 305: it is addressed to Meletius himself, and especially accuses him of having ordained priests in other dioceses. This conduct, they tell him, is contrary to all ecclesiastical rule (aliena a more divino et regula ecclesiastica), and p. 593 Meletius himself knows very well that it is a lex patrum et propatrum…in alienis paræciis non licere alicui episcoporum ordinationes celebrare. Maffei himself supposes that the Egyptian bishops were here referring to the thirty-fifth canon (the thirty-sixth according to the enumeration of Dionysius), and this opinion can hardly be controverted.”
After Bickell and Drey about ten years passed and then Bunsen and Ültzen wrote on the subject. Of these Bunsen renewed Beveridges arguments, and considers the “Apostolic Canons” as a reflex of the customs of the Primitive Church, if not in the Johannean age, at latest in that which immediately succeeded; and he is of opinion that the legend attributing them to the Apostles is earlier in date than the Council of Nice. Ültzen does not express himself definitely on the point, but in a note to p. xvj. of the Preface to his book regrets that Bunsen should have renewed Beveridges argument with regard to the relative age of the Apostolic Canons and those of Antioch because in his judgment “all the more recent judges of this matter had refuted it.”
I think I should here interrupt my narrative to warn the reader that Beveridge has been often misunderstood and misrepresented. For example he expressly says that according to his theory 565 “these canons were set forth by various synods, so too they seem to us to have been collected by different persons, of whom some collected more, some fewer.…And these canons, thus collected, some called ecclesiastical and some called them Apostolical; not that they believed them to have been written by the very Apostles, for they had made the collection themselves, but because they were consonant to the doctrine and traditions of the Apostles, and they were persuaded that they had been originally established at least by apostolic men.” This is Beveridges position in his own words.
I come now to the most recent writings upon the subject. Harnack has developed a theory which is partly his own with regard to the Apostolical Constitutions, in his edition of the “Didache,” and has also considered the question of the Apostolic Canons. The fullest discussion however of the matter is in a work entitled, Die Apostolischen Konstitutionem, Eine Litteran-historische Untersuchung, von Franz Zaver Funk. Rottenburg am Neckar. 1891.
Funk gives the history of the controversy, and refuses to allow that Hefeles citation of the Letter of the Egyptian bishops throws any light upon the point. In most matters he agrees with Bickell, and declares (p. 188) that “the Synod of Antioch is certainly to be regarded as the source of the Apostolic Canons,” and that thus by comparing the canons, it is manifest that the Apostolic “are certainly to be regarded as the dependent writing” (p. 185). And after considering their relation to the Apostolical Constitutions, Funk states his conclusion as follows (p. 190): “The drawing up of the canons falls therefore not earlier than the interpolation of the Didaskalia and the preparation of the two last books of the Constitution, hence not before the beginning of the fifth century. On the other hand there is no ground for fixing the writing at a later period, not a single canon bears the mark of a later time.”
Such was the state of things until Mgr. Rihmani, the Syrian Archbishop of Aleppo, gave notice that he had found in a codex at Mossul a Syrian version of the Apocryphal book known as the Testamentum Jesu Christi. It is stated that in the discoverers opinion the Testamentum is earlier in date than the Apostolic Canons, than the Canons of Hippolytus, and than the VIIIth Book of the Apostolic Constitutions; and further that it was the direct source of the Apostolic Canons. As I know nothing further of this matter, I must simply note it for the guidance of the reader in his further study of the subject.
Having now traced the history of the discussion, I need only add that Mr. Turner has just issued a very critical text of the version of Dionysius Exiguus, the full title of which is as follows:
Ecclesiæ Occidentalis Monvmenta Jvris Antiqvissima Canonvm et Conciliorvm Gräecorum, Interpretationes Latinæ. Edidit Cvthbertvs Hamilton Turner, A.M. Fascicvli Primi Pars Prior Canones Apostolorvm Nicaenorvm Patrvm Svbscriptiones. And that I have taken, except where noted to the contrary, Hammonds translation.
The reader may remember that when it was proposed in a first draft to the Council of Trent to say the “Psalms of David,” the Fathers refused to pass it as proposed, because the Psalter contained Psalms not by David, and substituted the expression “The Davidic Psalter” (Psalterium Davidicum).591:560
Matthieu de Larroque. Observationes…et in Annot. Bev. in Can. Apost. 1674.591:561
It is most unfortunate that the Rev. A. B. Grosart, LL.D., in the article “Beveridge” in that usually accurate and learned work, the Dictionary of English Biography, should have written “regretting” this republication of the Vindicatio, on the ground that Bp. Beveridge in its pages “demonstrates that he lacked the instincts of the genuine scholar as distinguished from the merely largely read man!” There seem to be a great many soidisant “genuine scholars” who lack all sense of humour!592:562
Cf. Ballerini, Opp. S. Leon. M., Vol. III. p. 158; Mansi, Conc., Tom. VIII., 170.592:563
Cf. (for catena) Bickell, Geschichte des Kirchenrechts, S. 82.592:564
Neue Untersuchungen über die Const. und Canones der Apostel. Tübing., 1832.593:565
Bev. Præfatio ad Annotat. in Can. Apost., § xiii.
Next: The Canons of the Holy and Altogether August Apostles.
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