JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Records of the Christian Revelation.

25. All the details of this history are clearly stated in the four Gospels and some of the Epistles of St. Paul. Four of his Epistles are practically admitted on all hands to be authentic and genuine: namely, his Epistle to the Romans, that to the Galatians, and the two to the Corinthians. Viewing these Gospels and Epistles only as historical documents, we find in them the clear statement of many of the facts just referred to. For instance, the main fact, that of Christ's Resurrection, is most emphatically appealed to by the Apostle in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (XV), in which he says that Christ died, and was buried, and rose again on the third day, and was seen by the Apostles, and by more than five hundred brethren at once, some of whom still survived when he wrote the Letter. His preaching, he says, is vain if Christ be not risen; and he claims to have himself seen the risen Christ, and to have received instructions directly from Him. The Letters show St. Paul to have been a man of conspicuous ability; he had been a persecutor, he was now persecuted; his sincerity is undoubted.

26. We will next consider the reliability of the Gospels. The word "Gospel" means "good tidings;" from the Anglo-Saxon "god," good, and "spell," tidings. The exact equivalent of Greek origin is "Evangel". Each Gospel is a biography of Christ; the "good news" narrated is the Redemption of the world by our Blessed Saviour, together with His saving doctrine, and the establishment of His Church, which is to last until the end of time. The first Gospel was written by the Apostle St. Matthew, probably about thirteen years after Christ's Ascension, amid for the evident purpose of showing that Jesus was the expected Messias. It was first written in Hebrew, or Aramaic, and later translated in Greek, perhaps by St. Matthew himself. The second Gospel is by St. Mark, the companion of St. Peter, and is therefore often called the Gospel of St. Peter. The third is by St. Luke, the companion of St. Paul. These three are styled the Synoptic Gospels (sunoptikos, that can be seen together), because they can easily be arranged in parallel columns. St. John, the Apostle, wrote the fourth Gospel to supplement the others, and in particular to prove time Divinity of Christ. St. Mark and St. Luke are simply styled "Evangelists," as they were not Apostles.

Now the four Gospels, viewed as historical documents, -- we are not yet viewing them as inspired, -- are more fully reliable than any profane writings of the ancients. What writings, argues St. Augustine, will have the weight of authority if those of the Evangelists and Apostles have not? "No assertion seems to me more foolish," he writes, "than that the Sacred Scriptures have been falsified (esse corruptas)" (De Util. Cred. 2). A book is reliable if it has these three qualities : 1. If it is genuine, written by the person to whom it is attributed, or at least by one of equal authority. 2. If its text is incorrupt, that is not falsified by changes or interpolatIons. 3. If it is a trustworthy narrative, composed by well informed and sincere men. Now the four Gospels have these three qualities.

1. They are genuine. For their authorship was never questioned till the latter part of the nineteenth century; and it is not now questioned on historical grounds, but only on account of the mniraculous events related in them. Not only was their authorship never questioned, but it was openly acknowledged in all ages, even the earliest, by both Catholics and heretics, and accepted by pagan adversaries, such as Celsus, Lucian, and Julian the Apostate. St. Irenaeus wrote: "Such is the certainty regarding the Gospels that the heretics themselves render testimony to them." His contemporary Tertullian, in tIme second century, names the four Evangelists, while Saints Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement, disciples of the Apostles, quote from the Gospels in their letters and other writings. St. Iranaeus in his work "Against Heresies" quotes from them about four hundred times.

2. That the text of the Gospels has remaimmed incorrupt, free from changes of importance, is evident from the fact that there existed from the earliest times manuscript copies, not only of the Greek text, in which three of the Gospels were originally composed, but also of numerous versions made into various languages in Apostolic or subapostolic times. These copies were in time hands of reverend friends and vigilant foes, so that falsification of the sacred Books was impossible. Besides, quotations made by early writers agree with the present copies of the Gospels.

3. That the four Evangelists had full knowledge of the facts narrated is not disputed. Besides, all Jerusalem knew of the events; and so did all the nations from which Jews flocked to Jerusalem every year; converts accepted the facts as unquestioned truth, for which they willingly gave their lives. Of the writers' sincerity there can be no doubt, since they had nothing to gain by their labors but persecutions and death. Their very style shows the uprightness of their characters; for they tell with perfect simplicity of their low birth, their dulness of apprehension, their timidity and childish vanity. No one familiar within their style can suspect them of being cunning impostors. Besides, the religious doctrines they teach are superior to the speculations of time greatest philosophers, and could not have originated with themnselves Lastly, the Evangelists all agree with one another in substance and imi a mnultitude of details ; amid yet they differ from one another sufficiently to show that they are independent witnesses.

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