Early Writings:

Introduction for Muratorian Canon

Muratorian Fragment, a very ancient list of the books of N.T. first pub. in 1740 by Muratori (Ant. Ital. Med. Aev. iii. 851) and found in a 7th or 8th cent. MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. The MS. had come from the Irish monastery of Bobbio, and the fragment seems to have been a copy of a loose leaf or two of a lost volume. It is defective in the beginning, and breaks off in the middle of a sentence, and the mutilation must have taken place in the archetype of our present copy. This copy was made by an illiterate and careless scribe, and is full of blunders; but is of the greatest value as the earliest-known list of N.T. books recognized by the church. A reference to the episcopate of Pius at Rome ("nuperrime temporibus nostris") is usually taken to prove that the document cannot be later than c. 180, some 20 years after Pius's death (see infra). This precludes Muratori's own conjecture as to authorship, viz. that it was by Caius the presbyter, c. 196; and Bunsen's conjecture that Hegesippus wrote it has nothing to recommend it. It is generally agreed that it was written in Rome. Though in Latin, it bears marks of translation from the Greek, though Hesse (Das. Mur. Frag., Giessen, 1873) and others maintain the originality of the Latin.

The first line of the fragment evidently concludes its notice of St. Mark's Gospel; for it proceeds to speak of St. Luke's as in the 3rd place, St. John's in the 4th. A notice of St. Matthew's and St. Mark's must have come before, but we have no means of knowing whether the O.T. books preceded that notice. The document appears to have dealt with the choice of topics in the Gospels and the point where each began (cf. Iren. iii. 11). It is stated that St. Luke (and apparently St. Mark also) had not seen our Lord in the flesh. For its story as to the composition of St. John's Gospel see LEUCIUS. The document goes on to say that by one and the same sovereign Spirit the same fundamental doctrines are fully taught in all concerning our Lord's birth, life, passion, resurrection, and future coming. At the date of this document, therefore, belief was fully established in the pre-eminence of the four Gospels, and in their divine inspiration. Next comes the Acts, St. Luke being credited with purposing to record only what fell under his own notice, thus omitting the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul's journey to Spain. Thirteen epistles of St. Paul are then mentioned. (a) epistles to churches, in the order: I. and II. Cor., Eph., Phil., Col., Gal., I. and II. Thess., Rom. It is observed that St. Paul addressed (like St. John) only seven churches by name, 1 shewing that he addressed the universal church. (b) Epistles to individuals: Philemon, Titus, and two to Timothy, written from personal affection, but hallowed by the Catholic church for the ordering of ecclesiastical discipline. Next follow words which we quote from Westcott's trans.: "Moreover there is in circulation an epistle to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, bearing on [al. 'favouring'] the heresy of Marcion, and several others, which cannot be received into the Catholic church, for gall ought not to be mingled with honey. The epistle of Jude, however, and two epistles bearing the name of John, are received in the Catholic [church] (or, are reckoned among the Catholic [epistles]). And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour [is acknowledged]. We receive, moreover, the Apocalypses of St. John and St. Peter only, which latter some of our body will not have read in the church." Marcion entitled his version of Eph. "to the Laodiceans," and there is a well-known pseudo-Pauline epistle with the same title. It has been generally conjectured that by the epistle "to the Alexandrians," Hebrews is meant; but it is nowhere else so described, has no Marcionite tendency, and is not "under the name of Paul." The fragment may refer to some current writing which has not survived, or the Ep. of Barnabas might possibly be intended. Though only two Epp. of John are mentioned, the opening sentence of I. John had been quoted in the paragraph treating of the Gospel, and our writer may have read that epistle as a kind of appendix to the Gospel, and be here speaking of the other two. The mention of Wisdom in a list of N.T. books is perplexing. Perhaps we should read "ut" for "et"; and the Proverbs of Solomon and not the apocryphal book of Wisdom may be intended. There may be an inaccurate reference to Prov. xxv. 1 (LXX). The fragment next says that the Shepherd was written "very lately, in our own time" in the city of Rome, his brother-bishop Pius then occupying the chair of the Roman church; that, therefore, it ought to be read, but not in the public reading of the church. The text of the last sentence of the document is very corrupt, but evidently names writings which are rejected altogether, including those of Arsinous, Valentinus, and Militiades, mention being also made of the Cataphrygians of Asia.

Westcott has shewn that no argument can be built upon the omissions (Ep. of James, both Epp. of Peter, and Hebrews) of our fragment, since it shews so many blunders of transcription, and some breaks in the sense. Certainly I. Peter held, at the earliest date claimed for the fragment, such a position in the Roman church that entire silence in respect to it seems incredible. Of disquisitions on our fragment we may name Credner, N. T. Kanon, Volkmar's ed. 141 seq. 341 seq.; Routh, Rell. Sac. i. 394; Tregelles, Canon Muratorianus; Hesse, op. cit.; Westcott, N. T. Canon, 208 seq. 514 seq.; and esp. Zahn, Gesch. der N.T. Kanons, ii. 1 (1890), pp. 1-143; also Lietzman's Das Mur Frag. (Bonn, 1908), besides countless arts. in journals, e.g. Harnack, in Text und Unters. (1900); Overbeck, Zur Geschichte des Kanons (1880); Hilgenfeld, Zeitschrift (1881), p. 129. Hilgenfeld (Kanon, p. 44), and Bötticher (De Lagarde) in Bunsen's Hippolytus i. 2nd ed. Christianity and Mankind, attempted its re-translation into Greek; an ed., with notes and facsimile by S. P. Tregelles, is pub, by the Clar. Press. The present writer expressed in 1874 (Hermathena i.) an opinion which he now holds with more confidence that the fragment was written in the episcopate of Zephyrinus. The words "temporibus nostris" must not be too severely pressed. We have no evidence that the writer was as careful and accurate as Eusebius, who yet speaks (iii. 28, cf. v. 27) of a period 50 or 60 years before he was writing as his own time. There are also indications from the history of the varying position held by the Shepherd that the publication of our fragment may have been between Tertullian's two tracts de Oratione and de Pudicitia (see D. C. B. 4-vol. ed. s.v.); and if it be true that MONTANISM only became active in the Roman church in the episcopate of Zephyrinus, the date of the Muratorian document is settled, for it is clearly anti-Montanist. If we regard it as written in the episcopate of Zephyrinus, Muratori's conjecture that Caius wrote it becomes possible; and we know from Eusebius that the disputation of Caius with Proclus, written at that period, contained, in opposition to Montanist revelations, a list of the books reverenced by the Catholic church.


Roberts-Donaldson Translation: Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5
III.-Canon Muratorianus.22 (In Muratori, V. C. Antiq. Ital. Med. oev., vol. iii. col. 854.)

I. ...those things at which he was present he placed thus.23 The third book of the Gospel, that according to Luke, the well-known physician Luke wrote in his own name24 in order after the ascension of Christ, and when Paul had associated him with himself25 as one studious of right.26 Nor did he himself see the Lord in the flesh; and he, according as he was able to accomplish it, began27 his narrative with the nativity of John. The fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, "Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to each of us." On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind.28 And hence, although different points29 are taught us in the several books of the Gospels, there is no difference as regards the faith of believers, inasmuch as in all of them all things are related under one imperial Spirit,30 which concern the Lord's nativity, His passion, His resurrection, His conversation with His disciples, and His twofold advent,-the first in the humiliation of rejection, which is now past, and the second in the glory of royal power, which is yet in the future. What marvel is it, then, that John brings forward these several things31 so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, "What we have seen with our eyes, and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled, that have we written."32 For thus he professes himself to be not only the eye-witness, but also the hearer; and besides that, the historian of all the wondrous facts concerning the Lord in their order.

2. Moreover, the Acts of all the Apostles are comprised by Luke in one book, and addressed to the most excellent Theophilus, because these different events took place when he was present himself; and he shows this clearly-i.e., that the principle on which he wrote was, to give only what fell under his own notice-by the omission33 of the passion of Peter, and also of the journey of Paul, when he went from the city-Rome-to Spain.

3. As to the epistles34 of Paul, again, to those who will understand the matter, they indicate of themselves what they are, and from what place or with what object they were directed. He wrote first of all, and at considerable length, to the Corinthians, to check the schism of heresy; and then to the Galatians, to forbid circumcision; and then to the Romans on the rule of the Oid Testament Scriptures, and also to show them that Christ is the first object35 in these;-which it is needful for us to discuss severally,36 as the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans. Moreover, though he writes twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians for their correction, it is yet shown-i.e., by this sevenfold writing-that there is one Church spread abroad through the whole world. And John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes only to seven churches, yet addresses all. He wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey.

4. The Epistle of Jude, indeed,37 and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John-are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour. We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church. The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Plus sat in the chair of the Church of Rome. And therefore it also ought to be read; but it cannot be made public38 in the Church to the people, nor placed among the prophets, as their number is complete, nor among the apostles to the end of time. Of the writings of Arsinous, called also Valentinus, or of Miltiades, we receive nothing at all. Those are rejected too who wrote the new Book of Psalms for Marcion, together with Basilides and the founder of the Asian Cataphrygians.39

22 An acephalous fragment on the canon of the sacred Scriptures,ascribed by some to Caius. This very important fragment [vol. ii. pp. 4 and 56, this series] was discovered by Muiatori in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and published by him in his Antiquitates Italicaein 1740. This manuscript belongs to the seventh or eighth century. Muratori ascribed it to Caius, Bunsen to Hegesippus; but there is no clue whatever to the authorship. From internal evidence the writer of the fragment is believed to belong to the latter half of the second century. The fragment has been much discussed. For a full account of it, see Westcott's General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 2d ed. p. 184f., and Tregelies' Canon Muratorianus; [also Routh, Rel., i. pp. 394-434].

23 The text is, " quibus tamen interfuit et ita posuit." Westcott omits the " et." Bunsen proposes" ipse non intermit." The reference probably is to the statement of Papias (Euseb., Histor. Eccles., iii. 39) as to Mark's Gospel being a narrative not of what he himself witnessed, but of what he heard from Peter.

24 The text gives " numine suo ex opinione concriset," for which we read " nomine suo ex ordine conscripsit" with Westcott.

25 Reading" secum" for " secundum."

26 The text gives " quasi ut juris studiosum," for which " quasi et virtutis studiosum," = "as one devoted to virtue," has been proposed. Bunsen reads "itineris socium" = "as his companion in the way."

27 " Incepit" for " incipet."

28 Or as they revised them, recognoscentibus.

29 Principia. Principali, leading. [Note this theory of inspiration.]

30 Singula.

31 1 John i. 1.

32 The text is, " semote passionem Petri," etc., for which Westcott reads" semota." [A noteworthy statement.]

33 Reading" epistolae" and " directae" instead of " epistola" and " directe," and " volentibus" for " voluntatibus."

34 Principium.

35 The text is, " de quibus singulis necesse est a nobis disputari cum," etc. Bunsen reads," de quibus non necesse est a nobis disputari cur" = "on which we need not discuss the reason why."

36 Sane.

37 The text is " in catholica," which may be "in the Catholic Church." Bunsen, Westcott, etc., read " in catholicis."

38 Reading "sed publicari" for "se publicare." [ Vol. ii. p. 3.]

39 [For remarks of my own on the Muratorian Canon, see vol. ii. p. 56, this series.]

[[This is the mentioned paragraph in the second volume.]]

To say that there was no evidence to sustain this [[the ascription of Hermas to a brother of Pope Pius]], is to grant that it doubles the evidence when sufficient support for it is discovered. This was supplied by the fragment found in Milan, by the erudite and indefatigable Muratori, about a hundred and fifty years ago. Its history, with very valuable notes on the fragment itself, which is given entire, may be found in Routh's Reliquiae. Or the English reader may consult Westcott's very luminous statement of the case. I am sorry that Dr. Donaldson doubts and objects; but he would not deny that experts, at least his equals, accept the Muratorian Canon, which carries with it the historic testimony needed in the case of Hermas. All difficulties disappear in the light of this evidence. Hermas was brother of Plus, ninth Bishop of Rome (after Hyginus, circ. a.d. 157), and wrote his prose idyl under the fiction of his Pauline predecessor's name and age. This accounts (1) for the existence of the work, (2) for its form of allegory and prophesying, (3) for its anachronisms, (4) for its great currency, and (5) for its circulation among the Easterns, which was greater than it enjoyed in the West; and also (6) for their innocent mistake in ascribing it to the elder Hermas.