Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

GOSPEL.

It is a matter of high importance to ascertain which are the first gospels. It is a decided truth, whatever Abbadie may assert to the contrary, that none of the first fathers of the Church, down to Irenæus inclusively, have quoted any passage from the four gospels with which we are acquainted. And to this it may be added, that the Alogi, the Theodosians, constantly rejected the gospel of St. John, and always spoke of it with contempt; as we are informed by St. Epiphanius in his thirty-fourth homily. Our enemies further observe that the most ancient fathers do not merely forbear to quote anything from our gospels, but relate many passages or events which are to be found only in the apocryphal gospels rejected by the canon.

St. Clement, for example, relates that our Lord, having been questioned concerning the time when His kingdom would come, answered, “That will be when what is without shall resemble that within, and when there shall be neither male nor female.” But we must admit that this passage does not occur in either of our gospels. There are innumerable other instances to prove this truth; which may be seen in the “Critical Examination” of M. Fréret, perpetual secretary of the Academy of Belles Lettres at Paris.

The learned Fabricius took the pains to collect the ancient gospels which time has spared; that of James appears to be the first; and it is certain that it still possesses considerable authority with some of the Oriental churches. It is called “the first gospel.” There remain the passion and the resurrection, pretended to have been written by Nicodemus. This gospel of Nicodemus is quoted by St. Justin and Tertullian. It is there we find the names of our Lord’s accusers — Annas, Caiaphas, Soumas, Dathan, Gamaliel, Judas, Levi, and Napthali; the attention and particularity with which these names are given confer upon the work an appearance of truth and sincerity. Our adversaries have inferred that as so many false gospels were forged, which at first were recognized as true, those which constitute at the present day the foundation of our own faith may have been forged also. They dwell much on the circumstance of the first heretics suffering even death itself in defence of these apocryphal gospels. There have evidently been, they say, forgers, seducers, and men who have been seduced by them into error, and died in defence of that error; it is, at least, therefore, no proof of the truth of Christianity that it has had its martyrs who have died for it.

They add further, that the martyrs were never asked the question, whether they believed the gospel of John or the gospel of James. The Pagans could not put a series of interrogatories about books with which they were not at all acquainted; the magistrates punished some Christians very unjustly, as disturbers of the public peace, but they never put particular questions to them in relation to our four gospels. These books were not known to the Romans before the time of Diocletian, and even towards the close of Diocletian’s reign, they had scarcely obtained any publicity. It was deemed in a Christian a crime both abominable and unpardonable to show a gospel to any Gentile. This is so true, that you cannot find the word “gospel” in any profane author whatever.

The rigid Socinians, influenced by the above-mentioned or other difficulties, do not consider our four divine gospels in any other light than as works of clandestine introduction, fabricated about a century after the time of Jesus Christ, and carefully concealed from the Gentiles for another century beyond that; works, as they express it, of a coarse and vulgar character, written by coarse and vulgar men, who, for a long time confined their discourses and appeals to the mere populace of their party. We will not here repeat the blasphemies uttered by them. This sect, although considerably diffused and numerous, is at present as much concealed as were the first gospels. The difficulty of converting them is so much the greater, in consequence of their obstinately refusing to listen to anything but mere reason. The other Christians contend against them only with the weapons of the Holy Scripture: it is consequently impossible that, being thus always in hostility with respect to principles, they should ever unite in their conclusions.

With respect to ourselves, let us ever remain inviolably attached to our four gospels, in union with the infallible church. Let us reject the five gospels which it has rejected; let us not inquire why our Lord Jesus Christ permitted five false gospels, five false histories of his life to be written; and let us submit to our spiritual pastors and directors, who alone on earth are enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

Into what a gross error did Abbadie fall when he considered as authentic the letters so ridiculously forged, from Pilate to Tiberius, and the pretended proposal of Tiberius to place Jesus Christ in the number of the gods. If Abbadie is a bad critic and a contemptible reasoner, is the Church on that account less enlightened? are we the less bound to believe it? Shall we at all the less submit to it?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/voltaire/dictionary/chapter241.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25