Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers in Controversies (John Daillé) – Chapter III

The following is the third chapter of Daillé’s excellent work on the right use of the fathers.  (see the contents post for more background)


Reason III. — Those writings which bear the names of the ancient Fathers, are not all really such; but a great portion of them supposititious, and forged, either long since or at later periods.

I now enter upon more important considerations; the two former, though they are not in themselves to be despised or neglected, being yet but trivial ones compared with those which follow. For there is so great a confusion in the most part of these books of which we speak, that it is a very difficult thing truly to discover who were their authors, and what is their meaning and sense. The first difficulty proceeds from the infinite number of forged books, which are falsely attributed to the ancient Fathers; the same having also happened in all kinds of learning and sciences; insomuch that the learned at this day are sufficiently puzzled to discover, both in philosophy and humanity, which are forged and supposititious pieces, and which are true and legitimate. But this abuse has not existed any where more grossly, and taken to itself more liberty, than in the ecclesiastical writers. All men complain of this, both on the one side and on the other, and labor to their utmost to deliver us from this confusion, oftentimes with little success, by reason of the warmth of their feelings by which they are carried away; ordinarily judging of books according to their own interest rather than the truth, and rejecting all those that any way contradict them, but defending those which speak on their side; how good or bad soever they otherwise chance to be. So that, to say the truth, they judge not of their own opinions by the writings of the Fathers, but of the writings of the Fathers by their own opinions. If they speak with us, it is then Cyprian and Chrysostom; if not, it is some ignorant modern fellow, or else some malicious person, who would fain cover his own impurity under the rich garment of these excellent persons.

Now, were it mere partiality that rendered the business obscure, we should be able to quit our hands of it, by stripping it and laying it open to the world; and all moderate men would find enough to rest satisfied with. But the worst of it is, that this obscurity oftentimes happens to be in the things themselves; so that it is a very difficult and sometimes impossible thing to elucidate them, whether it be by reason of the antiquity of the error, or by reason of the near resemblance of the false to the true. For these forgeries are not new, and of yesterday; but the abuse has existed above fourteen hundred years. It is the complaint of the greatest part of the Fathers, that the heretics, to give their own dreams the greater authority, promulgated them under the names of some of the most eminent writers in the Church, and even of the Apostles themselves. [Hegesippus apud Euseb. Book 4, chapter 22] Amphilochius bishop of Iconium, who was so much esteemed by the great Basil archbishop of Csesarea, wrote a particular tract on this subject,[Concil. 7, Act. 5, tom. 3, p. 552] alleged by the Fathers of the seventh council against a certain passage produced by the Iconoclasts out of I know not what idle treatise, entitled, “The Travels of the Apostles.” And I would that that Tract of this learned prelate were now extant! If it were, it would perhaps do us good service in discovering the vanity of many ridiculous pieces, which now pass current in the world under the names of the primitive and most ancient Christians. Jerome rejects divers apocryphal books, [Jerome l. de scrip. Eccles. Tom. 1, p. 346 and 350] which are published under the names of the Apostles, and of their first disciples; as those of St. Peter, of Barnabas, and others. The gospel of St. Thomas, and the epistle to the Laodiceans, are classed in the same category by the seventh council. [Concil. 7, Act. 6.]

Now, if these knaves have thus taken such liberty with the Apostles as to make use of their names; how much more likely is it, that they would not hesitate to make as free with the Fathers? And indeed this kind of imposture has always been common. Thus we read that the Nestorians sometime published an epistle under the name of Cyril of Alexandria,[Concil. 5, Collat. 5.] in the defense of Theodorus bishop of Mopsuestia, who was the author and first broacher of their heresy: and likewise that the Eutychists also circulated certain books of Apollinaris, under the title of “The Orthodox Doctors,” namely, to impose on the simplicity of the people.[Marian. ep. ad Mon. Alex. ad calcem Concil. Chalc. t. 2. p. 450. E.] Leontius has written an express Tract on this subject; [Leontius lib. extat Bibl. SS. PP. t. 4. par. 2.] wherein he shows that these men abused particularly the names of Gregory of Neocsesarea, of Julius bishop of Rome, and of Athanasius bishop of Alexandria; and he also says particularly, that the book intitled, Ἠ κατα μερος Πιστις (A particular Exposition of the Faith,) which is delivered to us by Turrianus the Jesuit, Gerardus Vossius, and the last edition of Gregorius Neocaesariensis, for a true and legitimate piece of the said Gregory [Gregory the Wonderworker op. Par. An. 1622, p. 97, ubi vide Voss.] is not truly his, but the bastard issue of the heretic Apollinaris. The like judgment do the publishers of the Bibliotheca Patrum give of the twelve Anathemas, which are commonly attributed to the same Gregory. [Bibl. SS. PP. t. 1. Gr. Lat.] The Monothelites also, taking the same course, forged an oration under the name of Menas patriarch of Constantinople, and directed to Vigilius bishop of Rome:[Concil. 6, Act 3, and Act 14. t. 3. Concil.] and two other books under the name of the same Vigilius, directed to Justinian and Theodora; wherein their heresy is in express terms delivered; and these three pieces were afterwards inserted in the body of the fifth council, and kept in the library of the Patriarch’s palace in Constantinople.[Ibid.] But this imposture was discovered and proved in the sixth council: for otherwise, who would not have been deceived by it, seeing these false pieces in so authentic a copy?
I bring but these few examples, to give the reader a sample only of what the heretics not only dared but were able also to do in this particular: and all these things were done before the end of the seventh century, that is to say, above nine hundred years ago. Since which time, in all the disputes about the images in churches,[Concil. 7, Act. 6, Refut. Iconoclast. tom. 5.] and in the differences betwixt the Greek and Latin Churches, and indeed in the most part of all other ecclesiastical disputations, you shall find nothing more frequent than the mutual reproaches that the several parties cast at each other,[Concil. Florent. Sess. 20. t. 4.] accusing one another of forging the pieces of authors which they produced each of them in defense of their own cause. Judge you, therefore, whether or not the heretics, using the same artifice and the same diligence, now for the space of so many centuries since, though in different causes, may not in all probability have furnished us with a sufficient number of spurious pieces published under the names of the ancient Fathers by their professed enemies. And only consider whether or no we may not chance to commune with a heretic sometimes, when we think we have a Father before us; and a professed enemy disguised under the mask of a friend. Thus it will hence follow that it may justly be feared, that we sometimes receive and deliver for maxims and opinions of the ancient church, no better than the mere dreams of the ancient heretics. For we must suppose that they were not so foolish as to discover their venom at the first, in their heretical writings; but rather that they only cunningly infused here and there some sprinklings of it, laying the foundation of their heresy as it were a far off only; which makes the knavery the more difficult to be discovered, and consequently the more dangerous. But supposing that this juggling deception of the heretics may have very much corrupted the old books; yet notwithstanding, had we no other spurious pieces than what had been forged by them, it would be no very hard matter to distinguish the true from the false. But that which renders the evil almost irremediable is, that even in the Church itself this kind of forgery has both been very common and very ancient.

I impute a great part of the cause of this mischief to those men who, before the invention of printing, were the transcribers and copiers of manuscripts: of whose negligence and boldness, in the corrupting of books, Jerome very much complained even in his time: “Scribunt non quod inveniunt, sed quod intelligunt; et dum alienos errores emendare nituntur, ostendunt suos;” [Jerome, Letter 28 , to Lucin. tom. 1.] that is, “they write not what they find but what they understand: and whilst they endeavour to correct other men’s errors they show their own.”

We may very well presume, that the liberty these men took in corrupting, they also took the same in forging, books: especially since this last course was beneficial to them, while the other was not. For, by altering or corrupting the books they wrote, they could not make any advantage to themselves: whereas, in forging new books, and disposing of them under great and eminent names, they sold them more readily and dearer. So likewise, if there came to their hands any book that either had no author’s name; or having any, it was but an obscure or a tainted one; to the end that these evil marks might not prejudice the selling of it, they would erase it without any more ado, and inscribe it with some one of the most eminent and venerable names in the Church; that thus the reputation and favor, which that name had found in the world, might be a means for better passing off their false wares. As for example, the name of Novatianus, who was the head of a schism against the Roman Church, became justly odious to Christian ears: as that of Tertullian was the more esteemed, both for the age, wit, and learning of the person. Now the transcriber, considering this, without any other design or end than that of his own private gain, has, in my judgment, made an exchange, attributing to Tertullian that book of the Trinity which is in reality the production of Novatianus; as we are also given to understand by Jerome.[Jerome, Apology 2 against Ruffinius] And I am of opinion, that both the birth and fortune of that other piece, “De Poenitentia,” have been, if not the very same, yet at least not much unlike that of the other. So likewise the book, entitled ” De Operibus Cardinalibus Christi” [Auctor operis, De Operibus Card. Christi, inter Cyprian. Oper. p. 444.] (which was composed and sent by its author to one of the Popes, without giving his name, as he there testifies,) has been circulated abroad under the name of Cyprian, merely because by this means it was the more profitable to the manuscript-monger; and has always passed, and does pass, for his: notwithstanding that, in my judgment, it is clear enough that it cannot be his, as is ingenuously confessed by many of the learned of both parties.[Erasmus in edit. Cyp. sua. Sixtus Senens. Biblioth. l. 4. Bellar. de Euchar. l. 2. c. 9. De amiss, grat. l. 6. c. 2. Possevin. in Apparat. Scult. Medulla Patr. Andr. Rivet. l. 2. c. 15. Crit. Sacr. Aubert de Euchar. l. 2. ch. 8.] Ruffinus had some name in the Church, though nothing near so great as Cyprian had: and this is the reason why the afore-named merchants have inscribed with Cyprian’s name that Treatise upon the Apostles’ Creed, which was written by Ruffinus.

Besides the avarice of these Librarii, their own ignorance, or at least of those whom they consulted, has in like manner produced no small number of these spurious pieces. For when either the likeness of the name, or of the style, or of the subject treated of, or any other seeming reason, gave them occasion to believe that such an anonymous book was the work of such or such an ancient author, they presently copied it out, under the said author’s name; and thus it came from thenceforth to be received by the world for such, and by them to be transmitted for such to posterity.

All the blame, however, is not to be laid upon the transcribers only in this particular: the authors themselves have contributed very much to the promoting of this kind of imposture; for there have been found in all ages some so sottishly ambitious; and so desirous, at any rate, to have their conceptions published to the world; that, finding they should never be able to please, and get applause abroad of themselves, they have issued them under the name of some of the Fathers; choosing rather to see them received and honored under this false guise, than disguised and slighted under their own real name. These men, according as their several abilities have been, have imitated the style and sentiments of the Fathers either more or less happily; and have boldly presented these productions of their own brain to the world under their names. The world, of which the greatest part has always been the least reflecting, has very readily collected, preserved, and cherished these fictitious productions, and has by degrees filled all their libraries with them. Others have been induced to adopt the same artifice, not out of ambition, but some other irregular fancy; as those men have done, who, having had a particular affection, either to such a person, or to such an opinion, have undertaken to write of the same, under the name of some author of good esteem and reputation with the world, to make it pass the more currently abroad: precisely as that priest did, who published a book, entitled “The Acts of St. Paul, and of Tecla;”[Jerome de Script. Eccl. tom. 1. p. 350. ex Tertul. lib. de Baptisma. cap. 17.] and being convicted of being the author of it, in presence of the Apostle John, he plainly confessed, that the love that he bare to Paul was the only cause that incited him to do it. Such was the boldness also of Ruffinus, a priest of Aquileia, (whom Jerome justly reprehends so sharply, and in so many places,[Jerome, l. 2. Apol. contr. Ruffin. tom. 2. p. 334. et Ep. 69. t. 2. et Apol. contr. Ruff, ad Pammach. et Marc. tom. 2. 40]) who, to vindicate Origen’s honour, wrote an apology for him, under the name of Pamphilus, a holy and renowned martyr; although the truth of it is, he had taken it, partly out of the first and sixth books that Eusebius had written upon the same subject, and partly made use of his own inven tion in it. Some similar fancy it was that moved him also to put forth the life of one Sextus, a Pythagorean philosopher, under the name of St. Sixtus the martyr, [Jerome, in Ierem. Com. 4. tom. 4.] to the end that the work might be received the more favourably. What can you say to this? namely, that in the very same age there was a personage of greater note than the former; who, disliking that Jerome had translated the Old Testament out of the Hebrew, framed an epistle under his name, wherein he represents him as repenting of having done it; which epistle, even in Jerome’s life time, though without his knowledge, was published by the said author, both at Rome and in Africa? Who could believe the truth of this bold attempt, had not Jerome himself related the story, and made complaint of the injury done him therein? [Jerome, l. 2. Apol. contra Ruff. tom. 2.] I must impute also to a fancy of the same kind, though certainly more innocent than the other, the spreading abroad of so many predictions of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and his kingdom, under the names of the Sibyls; which was done by some of the first Christians, only to prepare the Pagans to relish this doctrine the better; as it is objected against them by Celsus in Origen.[Orig. contra Cels. Lib. 7.] But that which is yet of greater consequence is, that even the Fathers themselves have sometimes made use of this artifice, to promote either their own opinions or their wishes. Of this we have a notable example, which was objected against the Latins by the Greeks, above two hundred years since, of two Bishops of Rome, Zosimus and Boniface;[Concil. Flor. Sess. 20, p. 457.] who, to authorize the title which they pretended to have, of being universal bishops, and heads of the whole Christian Church, and particularly of the African, forged, about the beginning of the fifth century, certain canons in the council of Nice, and frequently quoted them as such in the councils in Africa; [Concil. Afric. 6, cap. 3.] which, notwithstanding, after a long and diligent search, could never yet be found in any of the authentic copies of the said council of Nice, although the African bishops had taken the pains to send as far as Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch, to obtain the best and most genuine copies they could. Neither indeed do the canons and acts of the council of Nice at this day, though they have since that time passed through so many various hands, contain any such thing; no, not even the editions of those very men who are the most interested in the honor of the Popes, as that of Dionysius Exiguus, who published his Latin collection of them about the year of our Savior 525: nor any other, either ancient or modern.

As to that authentic copy of the council of Nice, which one Friar John, at the council of Florence, pretended to have been the only copy that had escaped the corruptions of the Arians,[Concil. Flor. Seess 20.] and which had for this cause been always kept under lock and key at Rome, with all the safety and care that might be, (out of which copy they had transcribed the said canons,) I confess it must needs have been kept up very close, under locks and seals, seeing that three of their Popes namely, Zosimus, Boniface, and Celestine, could never be able to produce it for the justification of their pretended title against the African Fathers, though in a case of so great importance. And it is a strange thing to me that this man, who came a thousand years after, should now at last make use of it in this cause; whereas those very persons who had it in their custody never so much as mentioned one syllable of it: which is an evident argument that the seals of this rare book were never opened, save only in the brains of this Doctor, where alone it was both framed and sealed up; brought forth, and vanished all at the same instant; the greatest part of those men that have come after him being ashamed to make use of it any longer, having laid aside this chimerical invention. To say the truth, that which these men answer, by way of excusing the said Popes, is not any whit more probable, namely, that they took the council of Nice and that of Sardica, in which those canons they allege are really found, for one and the same council. For whom will these men ever be able to persuade, that two Ecclesiastical Assemblies, (between which there passed nearly twenty -two whole years, called by two several emperors, and for matters of a far different nature — the one of them for the explanation of the Christian faith, and the other for the reestablishing of two Bishops on their thrones; and in places very far distant from each other — the one at Nicsea in Bithynia, the other at Sardica a city of Illyricum — the canons of which two councils are very different, both in substance, number, and authority — the one of them having always been received generally by the whole Church, but the other having never been acknowledged by the Eastern Church,) should yet, notwithstanding, be but one and the same council? How can they themselves endure this, who are so fierce against the Greeks, for having offered to attribute (which they do, notwithstanding, with more appearance of truth) to the sixth council, those one hundred and two canons, which were agreed upon ten years after at Constantinople, in an assembly wherein one party of the Fathers of the sixth council met? How came it to pass, that they gave any credit to the ancient Church, seeing that in the Greek collection of her ancient canons, those of the council of Sardica are entirely omitted; and in the Latin collection of Dionysius Exiguus, compiled at Rome eleven hundred years since, they are placed, not with those of the council of Nice, or immediately after, as making one entire collection with them; but after the canons of all the general councils that had been held till that very time he lived in?[Codex Can. Ec. Un. Dionys. Exig. p. 99.] And how comes it to pass that these ancient Popes, who quoted these canons, if they believed these councils to be both one, did not say so?

The African bishops had frequently declared that these canons, which were by them referred to, were not at all to be found in their copies. Certainly therefore, if those who had cited them had thought the council of Nice and that of Sardica to have been both but one council, they would no doubt have made answer, that these canons were to be found in this pretended second part of the council of Nice, among those which had been agreed upon at Sardica; especially when they saw that these careful Fathers, for the clearing of the controversy between them, had resolved to send, for this purpose, as far as Constantinople and Alexandria. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they do not utter a word on the subject.

Certainly if the canons of the council of Sardica had been in those days reputed as a part of the council of Nice, it is a very strange thing, that so many learned and religious prelates as there were at that time in Africa, (as Aurelius, Alypius, and even Augustine, that glorious light, not of the African only but of the whole ancient Church,) should have been so ignorant in this particular. But it is strange beyond all belief, that three Popes and their Legates should leave their party in ignorance so gross, and so prejudicial to their own interest; it being in their power to have relieved them in two words. We may safely then conclude that these Popes, Zosimus and Boniface, had no other copies of the council of Nice than what we have; and also, that they did not believe that the canons of the council of Sardica were a part of the council of Nice; but that they rather purposely quoted some of the canons of Sardica, under the name of the canons of the council of Nice. And this they did, according to that maxim which was in force with those of former times, and is not entirely laid aside even in our own, that for the advancing of a good and godly cause, it is lawful sometimes to use a little deceit, and to have recourse to what are called pious frauds. As they therefore firmly believed that the supremacy of their see over all other Churches, was a business of great importance, and would be very profitable to all Christendom, we are not to wonder if, for the establishing this right to themselves, they made use of a little legerdemain, in adducing Sardica for Nice: reflecting that if they brought their design about, this little failing of theirs would, in process of time, be abundantly repaired by the benefit and excellency of the thing itself.

Notwithstanding the opposition made by the African Fathers against the Church of Rome, Pope Leo, not many years after, writing to the emperor Theodosius,[Leo, Letter to Emperor Theodosius, tom. 2 Concil.] omitted not to make use of the old forgery, citing one of the canons of the council of Sardica, for a legitimate canon of the council of Nice; which was the cause, that the emperor Valentinian also, and his empress Galla Placidia, writing in behalf of the said Pope Leo to the emperor Theodosius,[Valentinian Letter to Theodosius tom. 2, Concil. Galla Placid. in ep. ad Theodos. Tom. 2.] affirmed to him for a certain truth, that both all antiquity, and the canons of the council of Nice also, had assigned to the Pope of Rome the power of judging of points of faith, and of the prelates of the Church; Leo having before allowed that this canon of the council of Sardica was one of the canons of Nice. And thus, by a strong perseverance in this pious fraud, they have at length so fully persuaded a great part of Christendom, that the council of Nice had established this supremacy of the Pope of Rome, that it is now generally urged by all of them whenever this point is controverted.
I must request the readers pardon for having so long insisted on this particular; and perhaps somewhat longer than my design required: yet, in my judgment, it may be of no small importance to the business in hand; for (will the Protestants here say) seeing that two Popes, Bishops, and Princes, which all Christians have approved, have notwithstanding thus foisted in false wares, what ought we to expect from the rest of the Bishops and Doctors? Since these men have done this, in the beginning of the fifth century, an age of so high repute for its faith and doctrine, what have they not dared to do in the succeeding ages? If they have not forborne so foully to abuse the sacred name of the council of Nice, (the most illustrious and venerable monument of Christianity next to the Holy Scriptures,) what other authors can we imagine they would spare? And if, in the face of so renowned an assembly, (and in the presence of whatever Africa could show of eminency, both for sanctity and learning, and even under the eye of the great Augustine too,) they had no compunctions of conscience in making use of so gross a piece of forgery; what have they not since, in these later times, while the whole world for so many ages lay covered with thick darkness, dared to do? But as for my part, I shall neither accuse nor excuse at present these men’s proceedings, but shall only conclude, that, seeing the writings of the Fathers, before they came to us, have passed through the hands of those who have sometimes been found to use these juggling tricks, it is not so easy a matter, as people may imagine, to discover, out of those writings which now pass under the names of the Fathers, what their opinions were.

Similar motives produced the very same effects in the fifth council;[Concil. 5, Act. 5, tom. 2, Concil.] where a letter, forged under the name of Theodoret, respecting the death of Cyril, was read, and by a general silence approved by the whole assembly; which, notwithstanding, was so evidently spurious, that those very men, who caused the body of the general councils to be printed at Rome, have convicted it of falsehood, and branded it as spurious.

Such another precious piece is that foolish story of a miracle, wrought by an image of our Saviour Christ in the city Berytus, which is related in very ample manner in the seventh council,[ Concil. 7, Act. 4, tom. 3, Concil.] and bears, forsooth, the name of Athanasius; but is indeed so tasteless a piece, and so unworthy the gallantry and clearness of that great wit, that he must not be thought to have common sense who can find in his heart to attribute it to him. Therefore we see that, notwithstanding the authority of this council, both Nannius, Bellar mine, and Possevine have plainly confessed that it was not written by Athanasius.[Nanni. in edit. op. Athan. Bellar. de imag. l. 2. c. 10. et lib. de Script. Eccles. in Athan. Possevin. in appar. in Athan.]
I shall place in this rank the so much vaunted deed of the donation of Constantine, which has for so long a time been accounted as a most valid and authentic evidence, and has also been inserted in the decrees, and so pertinaciously maintained by the Bishop of Agobio, against the objections of Laurentius Valla.[D. 96. C. Constantino nostro. 14. Augusti. Steuchius de Dona. Constant.] Certainly those very men, who at this day maintain the donation, do notwithstanding disclaim this evidence as a piece of forgery.
Of the same nature are the epistles attributed to the first Popes,[Baron, in annal. Melchior Canus locor. Theolog. 1. 11. p. 511.] as Clemens, Anacletus, Euaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, and others, down to the times of Siricius; that is to say, to the year of our Saviour 385, which the world read, under these venerable titles, at the least for eight hundred years together; and by which have been decided, to the advantage of the Church of Rome, very many controversies, and especially the most important of all the rest, that of the Pope’s monarchy. This shows plain enough the motive, (shall I call it such!) or rather the purposed design of the trafficker that first circulated them. The greatest part of these are accounted forged by men of learning, as Henricus Kaltheisen, Nicolas Cusanus, Jo. de Turrecremata (both cardinals,) Erasmus, Jo. Driedo, Claudius Espensaeus, Cassander, Simon Vigor, Baronius, and others:[ Hen. Kaltheis. ap. Magdeb. cent. 2. Nic. Cusan. Cone. Cath. l. 2. c. 34. Io. de Turrecr. de Eccl. lib. 2. c. 101. Io. Driedo de dogm. et Scrip. Eccl. l. 1. c. 2. CI. Espens. de Contin. l. 1. c. 2. G. Cassand. defens. lib. de officio pii viri, p. 843. Sim. Vig. ex resp. Syn. Basil. &c. en la lettre contr. Durand. Baron. Annal. t. 2. an. 102, et an. 805.] for indeed their forgery appears clear enough from their barbarous style, the errors met with at every step in the computation of times and history, the pieces they are patched up of, stolen here and there out of different authors, whose books we have at this day to show; and also by the general silence of all the writers of the first eight centuries, among whom there is not one word mentioned of them.

Now I shall not here meddle at all with the last six or seven centuries; where, in regard to various articles of faith, most eagerly professed and established by them, there has been more need than ever of the assistance of the ancients; and whereas, owing to the dark ignorance of those times, and the scarcity of opposers, they had much better opportunity than before, to forge what books they pleased. This abuse the world was never free from, till the time when the light broke forth in the last century; when Erasmus gives us an account, [Erasm. praefat. in Hieron.] how he himself had discovered one of these wretched knaves, whose ordinary practice it was to lay his own eggs in another man’s nest, putting his own fooleries on Jerome particularly, and on Augustine and Ambrose. And who knows what those many books are, that are daily issued out of the self-same shops, that of old were wont to furnish the world with these kind of deceptions? Is it not very probable that both the will and the dexterity in forging and issuing these false wares, will rather in these days increase than abate in the professors of this trade? So that (if besides what the malice of the heretics, the avarice and ignorance of transcribers of manuscripts, and the ambition and affection of men have brought forth of this kind, there have yet so many others turned their endeavors this way, and that in a manner all along for the space of the last fourteen hundred years, although they had their several ends,) we are not to wonder at all if now, in this last age, we see such a strange number of writings falsely fathered upon the ancients; which, if they were all put together, would make little less than a fourth or a fifth part of the works of the Fathers.

I am not ignorant that the learned have noticed a great number of them, and do ordinarily cast them into the later tomes of editions; and that some have written whole books upon this subject; as Ant. Possevine’s Apparatus, Bellarmine’s Catalogue, Scultetus’ Medulla Patrum, Rivet’s Critic, and the like, both of the one and the other religion. But who can assure us that they have not forgotten anything they should have noted? Besides that it is a new labour, and almost equal to the former to read so many books of the moderns as now exist. And when all is done, we are not immediately to rest satisfied with their judgment without a due examination. For each of them having been prepossessed with the prejudices of the party in which they were brought up, before they took this work in hand, who shall assure us that they have not delivered anything, in this case, in favor of their own particular interest, as we have before noticed? The justness of this suspicion is so clear, that I presume that no man, any way versed in these matters, will desire me to prove my assertion. Neither shall I need to give any other reason for it, than the conflicts and disagreement in judgments which we may observe in these men: the one of them oftentimes letting pass for pure metal what the other perhaps will throw by for dross; which differences are found not only between those that are of quite opposite religions, but, which is more, even between those that are of the self-same persuasion.

Those whom we named not long before, who were all of the Roman Church, depreciate, as we have said, the greatest part of the decretals of the first Popes. Franciscus Turrianus, a Jesuit, receives them, and defends them all, in a tract written by him to that purpose. Baronius calls the Recognitions, which are attributed to Clemens Romanus, ” A gulf of filth and uncleanness; full of prodigious lies and frantic fooleries.”[ Baron. Annal. tom. 1. an. 51.] Bellarmine says that this book was written either by Clemens or some other author as learned and as ancient as himself.[ Nos fatemur librum esse corruptum, &c. Sed tamen vel esse dementis Romani, vel alterius aequè docti ac antiqui. — Bellar. de lib. arbit. t. 5. c. 25.] Some of them consider those fragments, published by Nicol. Faber, under the name of St. Hilary, as good and genuine productions; and some others again reject them. Erasmus, Sixtus Senensis, Melchior Canus, and Baronius, are of opinion that the book “Of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, ” is falsely attributed to Jerome. Christophorus á Castro, a Spanish Jesuit, maintains the contrary. Cardinal Cajetan, Laurentius Valla, Erasmus, and some others, hold the books of Dionysius the Areopagite, as suspected and spurious. Baronius, and almost all the rest of their writers, maintain that they are true and legitimate. Turrianus, Bovin, and some others, recommend to us the “Constitutions of the Apostles,” as a genuine production; but Baronius, Possevine, Petavius, and a great many others, speak doubtfully of them.

We find in the writings of those of the Church of Rome an infinite variety of judgments in such cases as these. He that desires to furnish himself with examples of this kind, may have recourse to their books, and particularly to the writings of the late Cardinal Perron, who differs as much from the rest, in this point of criticism, as he does for the most part in the method he observes in his disputations. Now I would willingly be informed what a man should do, amidst these diversities of judgment; and what path he should take, where he meets with such disagreeing guides.

Yet suppose that these authors have done their utmost endeavor in this design, without any particular affection or partiality; how, notwithstanding, shall we be satisfied concerning their capability for the performance of their undertaking? Is it a light business, think you, to bring the whole stock of antiquity to the crucible, and there to purify and refine it, and to separate all the dross from it, which has so deeply, and for the space of so many ages, been not only, as it were, tied and fastened on to it, but even thoroughly mixed, united, and incorporated with it? This work requires the most clear and refined judgment that can be imagined; an exquisite wit, a quick piercing eye, a perfect ear, a most exact knowledge in all history, both ancient and modern, ecclesiastical and secular; a perfect knowledge of the ancient tongues; and a long and continued acquaintance with all kinds of writers, ancient, medieval, and modern, to be able to judge of their opinions, and which way their pulse beats: to understand rightly the manner of their expression, invention, and method in writing: each age, each nation, and each author, having in all these things their own peculiar ways. Now such a man as this is hardly produced in a whole age.

As for those men who in our times have taken upon them this department of criticism, who knows, who sees not, that only reads them, how many of the qualifications just enumerated are wanting in them? But suppose that such a man were to be found, and that he should take in hand this discovery, I do verily believe that he would be able very easily to find out the imposture of a bungling fool, that had ill counterfeited the stamp, color, and weight, in the work which he would father upon some other man; or that should, for example, endeavor to represent Jerome or Chrysostom with a stammering tongue, and should make them speak barbarous language, bad Latin, and bad Greek; or else perhaps should make use of such terms, things, or authors, as were not known to the world, till a long time after these men; or should make them treat of matters far removed from the age they lived in, and maintain opinions which they never thought of; or reject those, which they are notoriously known to have held: and of this sort, for the most part, are those pieces which our critics have decried, and noted as spurious. But if a man should chance to bring him a piece of some able master, that should have fully and exactly learned both the languages, history, manners, alliances, and quarrels of the family into which he has boldly obtruded himself, and should be able to make happy use of all these, be assured that our Aristarchus would be here as much puzzled to discover this juggler, as they were once in France, to prove the impostures of Martin Guerre.

Now how can we imagine, but that among so many several persons, that have for their several purposes employed their utmost endeavors in these kinds of forgeries, there must needs have been, in so many centuries, very many able men, who have had the skill so artificially to copy the manner and style of the persons whom they imitate, as to render it impossible to discover them? Especially, if they made choice of such a name, as was the only thing remaining in the world of that author; so that there is no mark left us, either of his style, discourse, or opinions, to guide us in our examination. And therefore in my judgment he was a very cunning fellow, and made a right choice, that undertook to write, under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite; for, not having any true legitimate piece of this author left us, by which we may examine the cheat, the discovery must needs be difficult; and it would have proved so much the more hard, if he had but used a more modest and less swelling manner of expression: whereas for those others, who in the ages following made bold with the names of Jerome, Cyprian, Augustine, and the like, (of whose legitimate writings we have very many pieces left us,) a man may know them at the first sight, merely by their style; those Gothic and rude spirits being no more able to counterfeit the graces and elegances of these great authors, than an ass is to imitate the warblings of the nightingale.

I confess there is another help, which, in my judgment, may better answer our purpose in this particular than all the rest; namely, the light and direction of the ancients themselves: who oftentimes make mention of other writers of the Church, that lived either before or in their own times; Jerome, among the Latins, having taken the pains to make a catalogue of all those with whose names and writings he was acquainted, from the apostles to his own time, which was afterwards continued by Gennadius. To this we may also add that incomparable work of the patriarch Photius, which he calls his Bibliotheca, and which is now published in this our age; where this great person has given us his judgment of most of the authors of the Greek Church. Now this aid we may make use of in two diiferent ways; the one in justifying a book, if it be found mentioned by these authors; the other in rejecting it, if they say nothing of it. As for the first of these, it concludes only according to the quality of the authors who make mention of a suspected book. For some of the Fathers themselves have made use of these kinds of forgeries, as we have formerly said; others have favoured them because they served their turn: some have not been able to discover them; and some others have not been willing to do so, whatsoever their reason has been.
I shall not here repeat the names of any of those who have done these things themselves. As for those that have favoured them, there are numerous examples; as Justin Martyr, Theophilus, and others, who adduce the Sybils’ verses as oracles; the greatest part of which, notwithstanding, are forged. As to Clemens Alexandrinus, the most learned and most polished of all the Fathers, in Jerome’s judgment,[Jerome, Letter 84, to Magn. tom. 2.] how often does he make use of those apocryphal pieces, which go under the names of the Apostles and disciples, to whom they were most falsely attributed; citing, under the name of Barnabas,[Clem. Alex. Strom. l. 2.] and of Hermes,[Clem. Alex. Strom. l. 1. and l. 2. and alibi passim.] such writings as have been forged under their names. And did not the seventh council in like manner make use of a supposititious piece attributed to Athanasius, as we have shown before; and likewise of divers others, which are of the same stamp?

That even the Fathers themselves therefore have not been able always to make a true discovery of these false wares, no man can doubt; considering that of those many necessary qualifications, which we enumerated before, as requisite in this particular, they may oftentimes have failed in some. Jerome himself, the most knowing man among all the Latin Fathers, especially in matters of this nature, sometimes lets them pass without examination: as where he speaks of a certain tract against mathematicians, attributed to Minutius Foelix, “If at least (saith he) the inscription represent unto us the right author of the book.”[Jerome, Letter 84 to Magn. tom. 2.] In another place, whatsoever his reason was, he delivers to us, for legitimate pieces, the epistles that go under the name of St. Paul to Seneca, and of Seneca to St. Paul;[Id. In Catal. tom. 1.] which, notwithstanding, Cardinal Baronius holds for suspected and spurious, as doubtless they are. [Baron. Annal. tom. 1. an. 66.] But even those men who have been able to discover these false pieces have not sometimes been willing to do it; either being unwilling to offend the authors of them, or else not daring to cast any disrepute upon those books which, having many good things in them, had not in their judgment maintained any false or dangerous positions. This is the reason why they chose to let such things pass, rather than, out of a little tenderness of conscience, to oppose them: there being, in their apprehension, no danger at all in the one, but much trouble and invidiousness in the other. Therefore I am of opinion, that Jerome, for example, would never have taken the pains, nor have undergone the invidiousness, of laying open the forgeries of Ruffinus, if the misunderstanding that happened to be between them, had not urged him to it. Neither do I believe that the African Fathers would ever have troubled themselves to prove the false allegation of Zosimus, but for their own interest, which was thereby called into question. For wise and sober men are never wont to fall into variance with any without necessity: neither do they quickly take notice of any injury or abuse offered them, unless it be a very great one, and such as has evident danger in it: which was not at all perceived or taken notice of at first, in these forgeries, that have nevertheless at length, by little and little, in a manner borne down all the good and legitimate books.

These considerations, in my opinion, make it clearly appear, that the title of a book is not sufficiently justified by a passage or two being cited out of it by some of the ancients, and under the same name. As for the other way, which renders the authority of a book doubtful, from the ancients not having made any mention of it, I confess it is no more demonstrative than the other: as it is not impossible, that any one, or divers of the Fathers, may not have met with such a certain writer that was then extant: or else perhaps that they might omit some one of those very authors which they knew. Yet this is, notwithstanding, the much surer way of the two: there being less danger in this case, in rejecting a true piece, than in receiving a forged one; the want of the truth of the one being doubtless much less prejudicial than the receiving the opposite falsehood of the other. For as it is a less sin to omit the good, than to commit the evil that is opposed to it; in like manner is it a less error, not to believe a truth than to believe the falsehood which is contrary to it. And thus we see what confusion there is in the books of the ancients, and what defect in the means which is requisite in distinguishing the false from the true: insomuch that, as it often happens, it is much easier to judge what we ought to reject, than to resolve upon what we may safely receive. Let the reader therefore now judge, whether or not, these writings having come down through so many ages, and passed through so many hands, which are either known to have been notoriously guilty, or at least strongly suspected of forgery — the truth in the mean time having made on its part but very weak resistance against these impostures — it be not a very difficult matter to discover, amidst the infinite number of books that are now extant, and go under the names of the Fathers, which are those that truly belong to them, and which, again, are those that are falsely imposed upon them. And if it be so hard a matter to discover in gross only which are the writings of the Fathers, how much more difficult a business will it be to find out what their opinions are, on the several controversies now in agitation. We are not to imagine, that it is no great matter from which of the Fathers such an opinion has sprung, so that it came from any one of them: for there is altogether as much difference amongst these ancient doctors, both in respect of authority, learning, and goodness, as among the modern. Besides that, an age being higher or lower either raises or lessens the repute of these writings, in the esteem both of the one party and of the other, as it were so many grains as years: and certainly not altogether without good reason; it being most evident to any one that has been but the least versed in the reading of these books, that time has by degrees introduced very great alterations, as well in the doctrine and discipline of the ancients, as in all other things.

Our conclusion therefore must be, that if any one shall desire to know what the sense and judgment of the primitive Church has been, as regards our present controversies, it will be first in a manner as necessary for him as it is difficult, exactly to find out both the name and the age of each of these several authors.


TFan’s notes: Obviously, this is a long chapter, so I won’t belabor the points. It’s worth noting that in the 400 or so years since this book was written, generally historians have tended to agree that the forgeries identified above (such as the “Dionysius the Aeropagite” works) are forgeries.

Likewise, it is worth noting the examples JD provides of Roman bishops treating the Sardican council as though it were Nicaea. And these are not necessarily the most ill-reputed Roman bishops, but ancient and relatively well respected ones.

Moreover, JD’s passing reference to the practice of paraphrase bears repeating. Not all of the ancient scribes felt the necessity of preserving the exact words of those who they were copying. In some cases, they seemed to feel free to paraphrase or even epitomize the original author, without telling the reader that this is being done.

Finally, JD’s greater point is worth considering. If we have been able to identify the amatuerish and clumsy forgeries only with great effort over a long time, don’t we suppose that there must be at least some forgeries that are more clever that we haven’t identified?

P.S. I should add that this practice of relying on false writings of the fathers persists to this day.  I’ve identified Steve Ray doing this, and he’s not alone.

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