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ON THE EARLY FATHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
"Ην ανήρ αγαθός, και πλήρης Πνεύματος αγίου και πίστεως.-Act. Apost. xi. 24.
UPON the acknowledged principle that the nearer we approach the divine fountain of revelation, our acquaintance with the doctrines and discipline of the Church of Christ, as constituted by himself and his Apostles, will be more accurate and well-defined, the Fathers of the first century after the Ascension, commonly called the APOSTOLICAL Fathers, as being the contemporaries of the Apostles, are, of course, entitled to our first attention and regard. It is to be remarked, however, that the title of Apostolic Fathers has been applied in a more or less extended signification by different ecclesiastical writers. By some it has been made to include all the companions of the Apostles, ---Joseph of Arimathæa, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Dionysius the Areopagite, and others mentioned by the sacred historians, none of whose writings, if they wrote at all, have come down to modern times. Others have applied to these the distinguishing and more appropriate appellation of Apostolic Men, confining the former designation to three individuals, - Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp, - whose writings, still extant, have been almost unanimously received as genuine and authentic. But, besides these, there are two others, Barnabas and Hermas,-to whom certain writings are very generally, though not universally, attributed ; and who are consequently not uncommonly classed with the three already mentioned. Whether genuine or spurious, the Epistle, which passed under the name of the former, and the rhapsody, entitled the “Shepherd,” and currently assigned to the latter, are both productions of a very early date, and certainly not later than the second century. It is but reasonable, therefore, to give them the benefit of probable genuineness; and, upon this consideration, to follow in the paths of those who include them in the list of APOSTOLICAL FATHERS. Under this head, then, we class, in chronological order, Barnabas, HermaS, CLEMENT, IGNATIUS, and POLYCARP, and proceed forthwith to give a brief account of their lives, writings, and opinions.
Of the life of BARNABAS little is known beyond what is related of him in the New Testament. We learn from Acts iv. 36, that he was a Levite, and a native of the island of Cyprus. His name was originally Josés, but changed by the Apostles into Barnabas, which St. Luke interprets viòs napakAngewc, the Son of Consolation. This change, it should seem, was an honourable testimony to the Christian fellowship and disinterested charity, by which he was led to dispose of his whole estate, and to lay the proceeds at the Apostles' feet, for the consolation and support of the more necessitous brethren. Some, however, have supposed that the name was rather intended to
denote the Son of Exhortation, and that it was given in allusion to the earnestness and eloquent style of the Apostle's preaching. Thus Chrysostom on the Acts; Hom. XI.-Bapváßaç dokei por árò tñs åperñs ειληφέναι το όνομα, ως προς τούτο ίκανος ών και επιτήδειος. That παράkinoic will admit of this explanation is undoubtedly true: but it is no less so, that the other is far more natural and appropriate.
In the opinion of Clemens Alexandrinus, Barnabas was one of the seventy disciples; and he is supported in this conjecture by Eusebius, (Hist. Eccl. Î. 12. II. 1.), Epiphanius, (Hær. I.), and some other writers. Bede, on the other hand, maintains that the proffer of his goods first introduced him to the Apostles. Such, indeed, seems to be the natural inference from the relation of the occurrence in the Acts, where he is spoken of simply as a Levite, though he would have been more honourably designated as one of the Seventy. It has been said also that he was educated, with St. Paul, at the feet of Gamaliel. Upon what authority this statement is founded, we have not been able to ascertain ; but their close companionship in the work of the Gospel may give some colour to the notion of an early acquaintance. It was to Barnabas that Paul applied, after his conversion, to confirm him in the confidence and fellowship of the Apostles; and their joint labours were afterwards exercised in various parts of the world. Together they proceeded to Antioch, where they preached for a whole year, and taught much people (Acts xi. 26); and after discharging, for some time, a subordinate ministry, they were at length, by the imposition of hands, together admitted to the Apostolic office and dignity. At Antioch their endeavours were crowned with considerable success; and it was here that their disciples were first called CHRISTIANS. From this scene of their labours they proceeded to Cyprus, taking with them Mark, the nephew of Barnabas; from thence to Perga in Pamphylia ; and, after three years of incessant toil and severe persecution, returning to Antioch, they found the Church torn by dissensions between the Jewish and Gentile converts. To settle the question in dispute, they went up, at the head of a deputation of the brethren, to the Apostolic council at Jerusalem. Soon after their return with the decree which liberated the Gentile converts from the observance of the Mosaic ritual, a circumstance occurred, which was destined, under a wise Providence, to separate Barnabas and Paul for ever. It seemed advisable to visit those Churches which they had planted in Asia some years before ; whereupon a contention arose between them as to the propriety of taking Mark, who had timidly deserted them during their former journey, as their companion on the present occasion. With respect to the objections which infidels have not failed to ground upon this Apostolical dispute, this is not the place to prove their futility. Suffice it to say, that the disputants were men, and subject to the infirmities of men ; and the Almighty Disposer of events was at hand to improve their weakness to the rising strength and stability of his Church. Both persisted in their determinations; and Paul proceeded with Silas into Syria and Cilicia; while Barnabas, attended by Mark, set out for the place of his nativity.
With his separation from St. Paul concludes the history of Barnabas, as related in the Acts; and all beyond is inauthentic tradition and vague conjecture. There exists an old monkish document, referred to by Baronius, containing some marvellous stories touching the invention of his relics, and the appearance of the saint himself to Anthemius, Bishop of Salamis, which led to their discovery. Upon the same authority we are informed that he suffered martyrdom at Salamis, at the hands of certain Jews, who stoned him to death, while disputing with them in a synagogue.
Whatever credit we may attach to this relation, it is more than probable that his labours, after parting from Paul, were chiefly confined to Cyprus, which was inhabited by a considerable number of Jews. (See Dion. Cass. lib. Ixviii.) It has been said, however, though with little probability, that he travelled into Italy, and preached at Rome even before St. Peter; and the foundation of the Church at Milan has also been assigned to him. If, however, he quitted Cyprus at all, Asia Minor or Egypt was the farthest limit of his travels. There is a tradition that he consecrated his nephew, St. Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria.
Of the writings which have been ascribed to Barnabas, the Catholic Epistle is the only one to which he has the slightest claim. By some indeed he has been regarded as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Tertullian (de Pudicit. c. 20.) quotes him positively as the writer of it; and Jerome leaves the claim to it unsettled between Barnabas, Luke, Clement, and St. Paul. It should seem that the omission of the true author's name at the head of the Epistle gave rise to the doubt which prevailed on the subject. An Apocryphal Gospel has also been attributed to Barnabas ; but the most cursory inspection of its contents is sufficient to satisfy the reader, that it is spurious. Whether the Epistle which bears his name was really written by him, may fairly be doubted ; and yet, at the same time, it has never been satisfactorily proved to be a forgery. Pearson, Cave, Du Pin, Hammond, Voss, Bull, Wake, and Lardner, contend strongly for its genuineness; and though Cotelerius had his doubts respecting it, he does not hesitate to ascribe it to a contemporary of the Apostle's, and one of the same name. The testimony of antiquity is decidedly in favour of its genuineness. It is quoted, and expressly ascribed to the “ Apostle Barnabas,” by Clemens Alexandrinus, who himself wrote before the close of the second century. Origen (c. Cels. lib. i. p. 49.) refers to it under the title of the Catholic Epistle of Barnabas. Eusebius in one place (Hist. Eccl. VI. 14.) places it in connexion with the “ Epistle of Jude and the other Catholic Epistles," among the Canonical Scriptures; though in another place, (Hist. Eccl. III. 25.) he speaks of it as spurious; meaning perhaps, contradicted. Jerome (de Vir. Ill. c. 6.) classes it among the Apocryphal Scriptures; but ascribes it to the authorship of Barnabas. On the other hand there is no express testimony of the ancients, which attributes it to any other writer; nor are the internal arguments alleged against it sufficient in themselves to prove it spurious. It has been urged that if Barnabas were really the author of it, it would have been received as canonical; and that the fanciful and allegorical interpretations of Scripture with which it abounds could not have proceeded from the pen of an inspired Apostle. Now both these objections clearly assume, that Barnabas must necessarily have written under the
influence of inspiration. It would clearly be irrelevant in this place to enter into the question respecting the formation of the Scripture Canon, which was doubtless conducted under adequate means for a work of such importance: but it by no means follows that the work of every Apostolic writer necessarily came within the limits of canonical authority. If, however, allegorical interpretations of Scripture are to be received as evidence against the genuineness of the Catholic Epistle, the same objection will apply against the Epistle of Clement, which is universally received; and indeed against almost every extant writing of primitive antiquity. At the same time it must be acknowledged, that the manifest marks of interpolation, and the diversity of style in several parts of the Epistle, seem to indicate a composition founded upon one of Barnabas, rather than a genuine production of Barnabas himself.
Whether genuine or spurious, however, the Epistle is unquestionably of very early date. It is quoted by Clement in the second century: and it bears internal marks of being written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. In c. 16. speaking of the Jews, the writer says ; διά γάρ το πολεμείν αυτούς καθερήθη υπό των εχθρών. And in c. 4. Adhuc et illud intelligite, cum videritis tanta signa, et monstra in populo Judæorum, et sic illos derelinquit Dominus, &c. A comparison of these two passages clearly intimates that the city had been but recently destroyed ; and the afflictions alluded to were probably those which immediately followed that calamitous event. Hence Mill (Proleg. N. T. 144.) fixes its date to the year 70, and Lardner to the year 71 or 72. Moreover, a perusal of the Epistle gives the reader an idea of an author who had himself conversed with the Apostles, rather than of one who had merely read their writings. There are many passages similar in substance to others which occur in St. Paul's Epistles ;. but they seem to be rather the original sentiments of one writing in the same mind and for the same purpose, as that Apostle, than express quotations from him. We meet also with a precept in ch. 4. said to have been delivered by our blessed Lord, which is not to be found in any of the Gospels: “ Sicut dicit filius Dei; Resistamus omni iniquitate, et odio habeamus eam.” This is clearly analogous to the passage in Acts xx. 35. and amounts to a fair presumption that the writer had either conversed with Christ himself, or had received the precept from some of his constant followers.
The entire Epistle has not come down to us in the Greek, the four first chapters and part of the fifth being lost: but there is a Latin translation which has preserved the whole of it. It consists of two parts : the first, doctrinal; the second, practical. It was addressed, as some suppose, to the Jews; or, according to others, to Christians generally ; with nearly the same design as that of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians. The first part comprises seventeen chapters ; the second part contains four ; in all twenty-one. We subjoin a brief abstract of its contents:
Chap. I. The Preface.
CHAP. IV. Expositions of the Prophecies in Dan. vii. ix.
V. VI. Prophecies respecting Christ's Sufferings.
the heart. .
applied. . XI. XII. Baptism, and the Cross of Christ, figuratively represented under
the Law. XIII. XIV. The promise of God included Gentiles as well as Jews, and was
fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
attain to the kingdom of God.
Immortality. . As a specimen of the writer's manner, we give the 20th chapter at length in the original ; selecting it rather than the 19th, simply because it is shorter.
Η δε του μέλανος οδός έστι σκολιά, και κατάρας μεστή. "Έστι γαρ οδός του θανάτου αιωνίου μετά τιμωρίας εν ή έστι τα απολούντα την ψυχήν αυτών, ειδωλολατρεία, θρασύτης, ύψος δυνάμεως, υπόκρισις, δειπλοκαρδία, μοιχεία, φόνος, αρπαγή, υπερηφανία, παράβασις, δόλος, κακία, αυθαδεία, φαρμακεία, μαγεία, πλεονεξία, αφοβία θεού. Διώκται των αγαθών, μισούντες αλήθειαν, αγαπώντες,* ου γινώσκοντες μισθών δικαιοσύνης, ου κολλώμενοι αγαθώ, ού κρίσει δικαία, χήρα και ορφανώ, προσέχοντες, αγρυπνούντες ούκ είς φόβον θεού, αλλ' επί το πονηρόν ων μακράν και πόρρω, πραύτης, και υπομονή αγαπώντες μάταια, διώκοντες ανταπόδομα, ουκ έλεούντες πτωχών, ου πονούντες επί το καταπονουμένω, ευχερείς εν καταλαλία, ου γινώσκοντες των ποιήσαντα αυτους, φονείς τέκνων, φθορείς πλάσματος θεού, αποστρεφόμενοι τον ενδεόμενον, καταπονούντες τον θλιβόμενον, πλουσίων παράκλητοι, πενήτων άνομοι κριται, πανταμάρτητοι.
In point of doctrine we have several express testimonies, in the course of the Epistle, to the divinity of Christ : from which we select the following, as including an evident allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity. The words of Genesis are quoted as spoken by the Father to the Son :
“ Et ad hoc Dominus sustinuit pati pro anima nostra, cum sit orbis terrarum Dominus ; cui dixit die ante constitutionem sæculi : “Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram.
Other illustrations of the doctrines and discipline of Christianity will strike the reader as he proceeds. The simple citation which we have made will suffice to prove, that, however incorrect some of his interpretations of Scripture may be, this writer was rigidly orthodox in the fundamentally Christian doctrine of the Divinity of Christ.
* There is somme inaccuracy here. Either ψεύδος, or some such word, has been lost ; or we should read αγαπώντας, and join μισούντες αληθείαν αγαπώντας.
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