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The scope of this article takes in those compositions which profess to have been written either by Biblical personages or men in intimate relations with them. Such known works as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache (Teaching) of the Twelve Apostles, and the Apostolic Canons and Constitutions, though formerly apocryphal, really belong to patristic literature, and are considered independently. It has been deemed better to classify the Biblical apocrypha according to their origin, instead of following the misleading division of the apocrypha of the Old and New Testaments. Broadly speaking, the apocrypha of Jewish origin are coextensive with what are styled of the Old Testament, and those of Christian origin with the apocrypha of the New Testament.
The subject will be treated as follows:
Etymologically, the derivation of Apocrypha is very simple, being from the Greek apokryphos, hidden, and corresponding to the neuter plural of the adjective. The use of the singular, "Apocryphon", is both legitimate and convenient, when referring to a single work. When we would attempt to seize the literary sense attaching to the word, the task is not so easy. It has been employed in various ways by early patristic writers, who have sometimes entirely lost sight of the etymology. Thus it has the connotation "uncanonical" with some of them. St. Jerome evidently applied the term to all quasi-scriptural books which in his estimation lay outside the canon of the Bible, and the Protestant Reformers, following Jerome's catalogue of Old Testament Scriptures one which was at once erroneous and singular among the Fathers of the Church applied the title Apocrypha to the excess of the Catholic canon of the Old Testament over that of the Jews. Naturally, Catholics refuse to admit such a denomination, and we employ "deuterocanonical" to designate this literature, which non-Catholics conventionally and improperly know as the "Apocrypha". (See CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.)
The original and proper sense of the term apocryphal as applied to the pretended sacred books was early obscured. But a clue to it may be recognized in the so-called Fourth Book of Esdras, which relates that Estrus (Era) by divine inspiration composed ninety-four books. Of these, twenty-four were restorations of the sacred literature of the Israelites which had perished in the Captivity; they were to be published openly, but the remaining were to be guarded in secret for the exclusive use of the wise (cf. Daniel 12:4, 9, where the prophet is bidden to shut up and seal an inspired book until an appointed time). Accordingly it may be accepted as highly probable that in its original meaning an apocryphal writing had no unfavorable import, but simply denoted a composition which claimed a sacred origin, and was supposed to have been hidden for generations, either absolutely, awaiting the due time of its revelation, or relatively, inasmuch as knowledge of it was confined to a limited esoteric circle. However, the name Apocrypha soon came to have an unfavourable signification which it still retains, comporting both want of genuineness and canonicity. These are the negative aspects of the modern application of the name; on its positive side it is properly employed only of a well defined class of literature, putting forth scriptural or quasi-scriptural pretensions, and which originated in part among the Hebrews during the two centuries preceding Christ and for a space after, and in part among Christians, both orthodox and heterodox, in the early centuries of our era.
Ancient literature, especially in the Orient, used methods much more free and elastic than those permitted by our modern and Occidental culture. Pseudographic composition was in vogue among the Jews in the two centuries before Christ and for some time later. The attribution of a great name of the distant past to a book by its real author, who thus effaced his own personality, was, in some cases at least, a mere literary fiction which deceived no one except the ignorant. This holds good for the so-called "Wisdom of Solomon", written in Greek and belonging to the Church's sacred canon. In other cases, where the assumed name did not stand as a symbol of a type of a certain kind of literature, the intention was not without a degree of at least objective literary dishonesty.
The most important and valuable of the extant Jewish apocrypha are those which have a large apocalyptic element; that is, which profess to contain visions and revelations of the unseen world and the Messianic future. Jewish apocalyptic literature is a theme which deserves and has increasingly received the attention of all interested in the development of the religious thought of Israel, that body of concepts and tendencies in which are fixed the roots of the great doctrinal principles of Christianity itself, just as its Divine Founder took His temporal generation from the stock of orthodox Judaism. The Jewish apocalypses furnish the completing links in the progress of Jewish theology and fill what would otherwise be a gap, though a small one, between the advanced stage marked by the deuterocanonical books and its full maturity in the time of Our Lord; a maturity so relatively perfect that Jesus could suppose as existing in the popular consciousness, without teaching de novo, the doctrines of future retribution, the resurrection of the body, and the existence, nature, and office of angels. Jewish apocalyptic writing is an attempt to supply the place of prophecy, which had been dead for centuries, and it has its roots in the sacred oracles of Israel. Hebrew prophecy on its human side had its springs, its occasions, and immediate objects in the present; the prophets were inspired men who found matter for comfort as well as rebuke and warning in the actual conditions of Israel's theocratic life. But when ages had elapsed, and the glowing Messianic promises of the prophets had not been realized; when the Jewish people had chafed, not through two or three, but many generations, under the bitter yoke of foreign masters or the constantly repeated pressure of heathen states, reflecting and fervent spirits, finding no hope in the actual order of things, looked away from earth and fixed their vision on another and ideal world where God's justice would reign unthwarted, to the everlasting glory of Israel both as a nation and in its faithful individuals, and unto the utter destruction and endless torment of the Gentile oppressors and the unrighteous. Apocalyptic literature was both a message of comfort and an effort to solve the problems of the sufferings of the just and the apparent hopelessness of a fulfilment of the prophecies of Israel's sovereignty on earth. But the inevitable consequence of the apocalyptic distrust of everything present was its assumption of the guise of the remote and classic past; in other words, its pseudonymous character. Naturally basing itself upon the Pentateuch and the Prophets, it clothed itself fictitiously with the authority of a patriarch or prophet who was made to reveal the transcendent future. But in their effort to adjust this future to the history that lay within their ken the apocalyptic writers unfolded also a philosophy of the origin and progress of mundane things. A wider view of world-politics and a comprehensive cosmological speculation are among the distinctive traits of Jewish apocalyptic. The Book of Daniel is the one book of the Old Testament to which the non-inspired apocalypses bear the closest affinity, and it evidently furnished ideas to several of the latter. An apocalyptic element existing in the prophets, in Zacharias (i-vi), in Tobias (Tobias, xiii), can be traced back to the visions of Ezechiel which form the prototype of apocalyptic; all this had its influence upon the new literature. Messianism of course plays an important part in apocalyptic eschatology and the idea of the Messias in certain books received a very high development. But even when it is transcendent and mystic it is intensely, almost fanatically, national, and surrounded by fanciful and often extravagant accessories. It lacks the universal outlook of some of the prophets, especially the Deutero-Isaias, and is far from having a uniform and consistent physiognomy. Sometimes the Messianic realm is placed upon the transfigured earth, centering in a new Jerusalem; in other works it is lifted into the Heavens; in some books the Messias is wanting or is apparently merely human, while the Parables of Henoch with their pre-existent Messias mark the highest point of development of the Messianic concept to be found in the whole range of Hebrew literature.
(a) The Book of Henoch (Ethiopic)
See the separate article under this title.
(b) Assumption of Moses
Origen, "De Principiis", III, ii, 1, names the Assumption of Moses Analepsis Mouseos as the book cited by the Epistle of Jude, 9, where there is an allusion to a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses. Aside from a few other brief references in patristic literature, nothing more was known of this apocryphon until the Latin manuscript containing a long portion of it was discovered by Ceriani in the Ambrosian Library, at Milan, and published by him in 1861. Its identity with the ancient work is established by a quotation from the latter in the Acts of the Nicene Council. The book purports to be a series of predictions delivered in written form to the safe-keeping of Josue (Joshua) by Moses when the latter, in view of his approaching death, appointed Josue as his successor. The ostensible purpose of these deliverances is to confirm the Mosaic laws and the admonitions in Deuteronomy. The entire history of Israel is outlined. In a vehement and glowing style the book delineates under its prophetic guise the impiety of Israel's Hasmonean rulers and Sadducean priests. The historical allusions come down to the reign of an insolent monarch who is plainly Herod the Great, and a powerful ruler who shall come from the West and subjugate the people a reference to the punitive expedition of Quintilius Varus, 4 B.C. But the Messias will intervene and execute Divine wrath upon the enemies of the nation, and a cataclysm of nature, which is depicted with truly apocalyptic sublimity, will forerun the beginning of the new era. Strangely there is no mention of a resurrection or a judgment of individuals. The book then returns to the doings of Moses and Josue. The manuscript breaks off abruptly at chapter xii, and the portion cited by Jude must have belonged to the lost conclusion. This apocalypse has with solid reasons been assigned to the early years after Herod's death, between 4 B.C. and A.D. 10. It is evident that neither of Herod's sons, Philip and Antipas, had yet reigned thirty-four years, since the writer, hazarding a prediction that proved false, says that the sons should enjoy shorter reigns than their father. Thus the latest possible date of composition is fixed at A.D. 30. The author was a Jew, and in all likelihood a Palestinian one. He belonged neither to the Pharisees of the type of Christ's epoch, nor to the Sadducees, since he excoriates both alike. He must have been either a Zealot, that is an ultra-Nationalist and Messianist, or a fervid Essene. He wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic. The Latin text is translated from a Greek version.
(c) Book of the Secrets of Henoch (Slavonic Henoch)
In 1892 attention was called to Slavonic manuscripts which on examination proved to contain another Henoch book differing entirely from the Ethiopic compilation. "The Book of the Secrets of Henoch" contains passages which satisfy allusions of Origen to which there is nothing corresponding in the Ethiopic Henoch. The same may be said about citations in the "Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs". Internal evidence shows that the new Henoch was composed by an Alexandrian Jew about the beginning of our Era, and in Greek. The work is sharply marked off from the older book by the absence of a Messias and the want of reference to a resurrection of the dead. It mingles many bizarre details concerning the celestial realm, the angels, and stars, with advanced ideas on man's destiny, moral excellence, and the punishment of sin. The patriarch is taken up through the seven heavens to the very throne of the Eternal. Some of the details throw interesting light on various obscure allusions in the Bible, such as the superimposed heavens, the presence of evil powers "in heavenly places", Ezechiel's strange creatures full of eyes.
(d) Fourth Book of Esdras
The personage serving as the screen of the real author of this book is Esdras (Ezra), the priest-scribe and leader among the Israelites who returned from Babylonia, to Jerusalem. The fact that two canonical books are associated with his name, together with a genuine literary power, a profoundly religious spirit pervading Fourth Esdras, and some Messianic points of contact with the Gospels combined to win for it an acceptance among Christians unequalled by any other apocryphon. Both Greek and Latin Fathers cite it as prophetical, while some, as Ambrose, were ardent admirers of it. Jerome alone is positively unfavourable. Notwithstanding this widespread reverence for it in early times, it is a remarkable fact that the book never got a foothold in the canon or liturgy of the Church. Nevertheless, all through the Middle Ages it maintained an intermediate position between canonical and merely human compositions, and even after the Council of Trent, together with Third Esdras, was placed in the appendix to the official edition of the Vulgate. Besides the original Greek text, which has not survived, the book has appeared in Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions. The first and last two chapters of the Latin translation do not exist in the Oriental ones and have been added by a Christian hand. And yet there need be no hesitation in relegating the Fourth Book of Esdras to the ranks of the apocrypha. Not to insist on the allusion to the Book of Daniel in xii, 11, the date given in the first version (iii, 1) is erroneous, and the whole tenor and character of the work places it in the age of apocalyptic literature. The dominant critical dating assigns it to a Jew writing in the reign of Domitian, A.D. 81-96. Certainly it was composed some time before A.D. 218, since it is expressly quoted by Clement of Alexandria. The original text, iii-xiv, is of one piece and the work of a single author. The motive of the book is the problem lying heavily upon Jewish patriots after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. The outlook was most dark and the national life seemed utterly extinguished. In consequence, a sad and anxious spirit pervades the work, and the writer, using the guise of Esdras lamenting over the ruin of the first city and temple, insistently seeks to penetrate the reasons of God's apparent abandonment of His people and the non-fulfilment of His promises. The author would learn the future of his nation. His interest is centered in the latter; the universalism of the book is attenuated. The apocalypse is composed of seven visions. The Messianism of Fourth Esdras suffers from the discouragement of the era and is influenced by the changed conditions produced by the advent of Christianity. Its Messias is mortal, and his reign merely one of happiness upon earth. Likewise the eschatology labours with two conflicting elements: the redemption of all Israel and the small number of the elect. All mankind sinned with Adam. The Fourth Book of Esdras is sometimes called by non-Catholics Second Esdras, as they apply the Hebrew form, Ezra, to the canonical books.
(e) Apocalypse of Baruch
For a long time a Latin fragment, chapters lxxviii-lxxxvii, of this pseudograph had been known. In 1866 a complete Syriac text was discovered by Monsignor Ceriani, whose researches in the Ambrosian Library of Milan have so enriched the field of ancient literature. The Syriac is a translation from the Greek; the original was written in Hebrew. There is a close relation between this apocalypse and that of Fourth Esdras, but critics are divided over the question, which has influenced the other. The probabilities favour the hypothesis that the Baruch apocryphon is an imitation of that of Esdras and therefore later. The approximate dates assigned to it range between A.D. 50 and 117. The "Apocalypse of Baruch" is a somewhat artificial production, without the originality and force of Fourth Esdras. It deals in part with the same problems, viz., the sufferings of the theocratic people, and their ultimate triumph over their oppressors. When certain passages are freed from evident Christian interpolations, its Messianism in general is earthly, but in the latter part of the book the Messias's realm tends unmistakably towards a more spiritual conception. As in Fourth Esdras, sin is traced to the disobedience of Adam. Greater importance is attached to the law than in the related composition, and the points of contact with the New Testament are more striking. The author was a Pharisee, but one who, while adopting a distinctly Jewish view, was probably acquainted with the Christian Scriptures and freely laid them under contribution. Some recent students of the "Apocalypse of Baruch" have seen in it a composite work, but the majority of critics hold with better reason to its unity. The book is lengthy. It speaks in the person of Baruch, the secretary of Jeremias. It opens with a palpable error of chronology. Baruch announces the doom of the city and temple of Jerusalem of the Babylonian epoch. However, not the Chaldeans, but angels, will bring about the destruction. Another and pre-existent Holy City is reserved by God, since the world cannot exist without a Jerusalem. The artificiality and tediousness of the apocalypse are redeemed by a singular breadth of view and elevation of doctrine, with the limitation noted.
(f) The Apocalypse of Abraham
The Apocalypse of Abraham has recently been translated from Slavonic into German. It relates the circumstances of Abraham's conversions and the visions thereupon accorded him. His guide in the a celestial realms is Jael, an angel distinct from God, but possessing divine powers in certain regards. The work has affinities with Fourth Esdras and the "Apocalypse of Baruch". The origin of evil is explained by man's free will. The Elect, or Messias, will gather the dispersed tribes, but God alone will punish the enemies of Israel. Particularism and the transcendence of the last cosmic stage are the notes of this apocalypse. Its data, however, are so vague that it is impossible to fix the time of its composition.
(g) The Apocalypse of Daniel
The Apocalypse of Daniel is the work of a Persian Jew of the twelfth century, and is unique in foretelling two Messiases: one, the son of Joseph (Christ), whose career ends in his failure and death; the other the son of David, who will liberate Israel and reign on earth gloriously.
(a) Book of Jubilees or Little Genesis
Epiphanius, Jerome, and others quote a work under the title "The Jubilees" or "The Little Genesis". St. Jerome testifies that the original was in Hebrew. It is cited by Byzantine authors down to the twelfth century. After that we hear no more of it until it was found in an Ethiopic manuscript in the last century. A considerable Latin fragment has also been recovered. The Book of the Jubilees is the narrative of Genesis amplified and embellished by a Jew of the Pharisee period. It professes to be a revelation given to Moses by the "Angel of the Face". There is a very systematic chronology according to the years, weeks of years, and jubilees. A patriarchal origin is ascribed to the great Jewish feasts. The angelology is highly developed, but the writer disbelieved in the resurrection of the body. The observance of the Law is insisted on. It is hard to fix either the date or the religious circle in which the work arose. Jerusalem and the Temple still stood, and the Book of Henoch is quoted. As for the lowest date, the book is employed by the Jewish portion of the "Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs". Estimates vary between 135 B.C. and A.D. 60. Among the lost Jewish apocrypha, the one worthy of special notice here is;
(b) The Book of Jannes and Mambres
2 Timothy 3:8 applies these names to the Egyptian magicians who reproduced some of the wonders wrought by Moses. The names are not found in the Old Testament. Origen remarks that St. Paul does not quote "from public writings but from a sacred book which is called Jannes and Mambres". The names were known to Pliny, and figure in the Talmudic traditions. Recently R. James in the "Journal of Theological Studies", 1901, II, 572-577, claims to have found a fragment of this lost apocryphon in Latin and Old English versions.
(c) Third Book of Esdras
This is also styled by non-Catholics the First Book of Esdras, since they give to the first canonical Esdrine writing the Hebrew form Ezra. Third Esdras is one of the three uncanonical books appended to the official edition of the Vulgate. It exists in two of the oldest codices of the Septuagint, viz., Vaticanus and Alexandrinus, where it precedes the canonical Esdras. The same is true of manuscripts of the Old Latin and other versions. Third Esdras enjoyed exceptional favour in the early ages of the Church, being quoted as Scripture with implicit faith by the leading Greek and Latin Fathers (See Cornely, Introductio Generalis, I, 201). St. Jerome, however, the great minimizer of sacred literature, rejected it as apocryphal, and thenceforward its standing was impaired. The book in fact is made up for the most part of materials taken from the inspired books of Paralipomenon, Esdras, and Nehemias, put together, however, in great chronological confusion. We must suppose that it was subsequent to the above Scriptures, since it was evidently composed in Greek and by an Alexandrian Jew. The only original part of the work is chapters iii-v, 6. This recounts a contest between three young Hebrews of the bodyguard of King Darius, each striving to formulate the wisest saying. The victory is awarded to Zorobabel (Zerubbabel), who defends Truth as the strongest force, and the audience shouts: "Great is Truth and powerful above all things!" (Magna est veritas et proevalebit.) The date of composition is not ascertainable except within very wide limits. These are on one side c. 300 B.C., the latest time assigned to Paralipomenon-Esdras-Nehemias, and on the other, c. A.D. 100, the era of Josephus, who employed Third Esdras. There is greater likelihood that the composition took place before our Era.
(d) Third Book of Machabees
Third Book of Machabees is the title given to a short narrative which is found in the Alexandrine codex of the Septuagint version and various private manuscripts. It gives an account of an attempted desecration of the Temple at Jerusalem by the Egyptian king, Ptolemy IV (Philopator) after his victory over Antiochus the Great at Raphia, 217 B.C., and the miraculous frustration of his endeavour to wreak vengeance upon the Egyptian Jews through a massacre with elephants. This apocryphon abounds in absurdities and psychological impossibilities, and is a very weak piece of fiction written in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew, and probably designed to encourage its countrymen in the midst of persecutions. It rests on no ascertainable historical fact, but apparently is an extravagant and varying version of the occurrence related by Josephus, "Against Apion", 1I, 5. The date cannot be determined. Since the book shows acquaintance with the Greek additions to Daniel, it cannot be earlier than the first century B.C., and could scarcely have found such favour among Christians if composed later than the first century after Christ. The Syrian Church was the first to give it a friendly reception, presumably on the strength of its mention in the Apostolic Constitutions. Later, Third Machabees was admitted into the canon of the Greek Church, but seems never to have been known to the Latins.
(a) Psalms of Solomon
This is a collection of eighteen psalms composed in Hebrew, and, as is commonly agreed, by a Pharisee of Palestine, about the time of Pompey's capture of Jerusalem, 63 B.C. The collection makes no pretensions to authorship by Solomon, and therefore is not, strictly speaking, apocryphal. The name of the wise king became associated with it later and doubtless was the means of preserving it. The spirit of these psalms is one of great moral earnestness and righteousness, but it is the righteousness of the Pharisees, consisting in the observance of the legal traditions and ceremonial law. The Hasmonean dynasty and the Sadducees are denounced. A Messianic deliverer is looked for, but he is to be merely human. He will reign by holiness and justice, and not by the sword. Free will and the resurrection are taught. The Psalms of Solomon are of value in illustrating the religious views and attitudes of the Pharisees in the age of Our Lord. The manuscripts of the Septuagint contain at the end of the canonical Psalter a short psalm (cli), which, however, is "outside the number", i.e. of the Psalms. Its title reads: "This psalm was written by David himself in addition to the number, when he had fought with Goliath." It is based on various passages in the Old Testament, and there is no evidence that it was ever written in Hebrew.
(b) Prayer of Manasses (Manasseh)
A beautiful Penitential prayer put in the mouth of Manasses, King of Juda, who carried idolatrous abominations so far. The composition is based on II Paralipomenon, xxxiii, 11-13, which states that Manasses was carried captive to Babylon and there repented; while the same source (18) refers to his prayer as recorded in certain chronicles which are lost. Learned opinion differs as to whether the prayer which has come down to us was written in Hebrew or Greek. Several ancient manuscripts of the Septuagint contain it as an appendix to the Psalter. It is also incorporated in the ancient so-called Apostolic Constitutions. In editions of the Vulgate antedating the Council of Trent it was placed after the books of Paralipomenon. The Clementine Vulgate relegated it to the appendix, where it is still to be found in reprints of the standard text. The prayer breathes a Christian spirit, and it is not entirely certain that it is really of Jewish origin.
(a) Fourth Book of Machabees
This is a short philosophical treatise on the supremacy of pious reason, that is reason regulated by divine law, which for the author is the Mosaic Law. In setting up reason as the master of human passion, the author was distinctly influenced by Stoic philosophy. From it also he derived his four cardinal virtues: prudence, righteousness (or justice), fortitude, temperance; phronesis, dikaiosyne, andreia, sophrosyne, and it was through Fourth Machabees that this category was appropriated by early Christian ascetical writers. The second part of the book exhibits the sufferings of Eleazar and the seven Machabean brothers as examples of the dominion of pious reason. The aim of the Hellenistic Jewish author was to inculcate devotion to the Law. He is unknown. The work was erroneously ascribed to Josephus by Eusebius and others. It appears to have been produced before the fall of Jerusalem, but its date is a matter of conjecture.
(a) Sibylline Oracles
See the separate article under this title.
(b) Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. This is an extensive pseudograph, consisting of;
The body of the work is undoubtedly Judaic, but there are many interpolations of an unmistakably Christian origin, presenting in their ensemble a fairly full Christology, but one suspected of Docetism. Recent students of the Testaments assign with much probability the Jewish groundwork to the Hasmonean period, within the limits 135-63 B.C. Portions which extol the tribes of Levi and Juda are interpreted as an apology for the Hasmonean pontiff-kings. The remaining ten tribes are supposed to be yet in existence, and are urged to be faithful to the representatives of the priestly and royal power. In this defence of the Machabean dynasty, and by a writer with Pharisaic tendencies, probably a priest, the Testaments are unique in Jewish literature. True, there are passages in which the sacerdotal caste and the ruling tribes are unsparingly denounced, but these are evidently later insertions. The eschatology is rather advanced. The Messias is to spring from the tribe of Levi (elsewhere, however, from Juda); he is to be the eternal High-Priest a unique feature of the book as well as the civil ruler of the nation. During his reign sin will gradually cease. The gates of paradise are to be opened and the Israelites and converted Gentiles will dwell there and eat of the tree of life. The Messianic kingdom is therefore to be an eternal one on earth, therein agreeing with the Ethiopic Henoch. The Testaments exist complete in Greek, Armenian, Latin, and Slavonic versions. Aramaic and Syriac fragments are preserved.
(c) The Ascension of Isaias
The Ascension of Isaias consists of two parts:
This purports to be the description by Isaias of a vision in which he was rapt up through the seven heavens to the presence of the Trinity, and beheld the descent of the Son, "the Beloved", on His mission of redemption. He changes his form in passing through the inferior celestial circles. The prophet then sees the glorified Beloved reascending. The Martyrdom is a Jewish work, saving some rather large interpolations. The rest is by Christian hands or perhaps a single writer, who united his apocalypse with the Martyrdom. There are tokens that the Christian element is a product of Gnosticism, and that our work is the same with that much in favour among several heretical sects under the name of the "Anabaticon", or "Ascension of Isaias". The Jewish portion is thought to have appeared in the first century of our era; the remainder, in the middle of the second. Justin, Tertullian, and Origen seem to have been acquainted with the Martyrdom; Sts. Jerome and Epiphanius are the earliest witnesses for the Ascension proper. The apocryphon exists in Greek, Ethiopic, and Slavonic manuscripts.
(d) Minor Jewish-Christian Apocrypha
Space will permit only an enumeration of unimportant specimens of apocryphal literature, extant in whole or part, and consisting of
Probably with this second class are to be included the "Testaments of Job" and "Zacharias", the "Adam Books", the "Book of Creation", the "Story of Aphikia" (the wife of Jesus Sirach). These works as a rule appeared in the East, and in many cases show Gnostic tendencies. Further information about some of them will be found at the end of articles on the above personages.
The term Christian here is used in a comprehensive sense and embraces works produced both by Catholics and heretics; the latter are chiefly members of the various branches or schools of Gnosticism, which flourished in the second and third centuries. The Christian apocryphal writings in general imitate the books of the New Testament and therefore, with a few exceptions, fall under the description of Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses.
The term apocryphal in connection with special Gospels must be understood as bearing no more unfavourable an import than "uncanonical". This applies to the Gospel of the Hebrews and in a less degree to that of the Egyptians, which in the main seem to have been either embodiments of primitive tradition, or a mere recasting of canonical Gospels with a few variations and amplifications. It is true, all the extant specimens of the apocryphal Gospels take the inspired evangelical documents as their starting-point. But the genuine Gospels are silent about long stretches of the life of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph. Frequently they give but a tantalizing glimpse of some episode on which we would fain be more fully informed. This reserve of the Evangelists did not satisfy the pardonable curiosity of many Christians eager for details, and the severe and dignified simplicity of their narrative left unappeased imaginations seeking the sensational and the marvellous. When, therefore, enterprising spirits responded to this natural craving by pretended Gospels full of romantic fables and fantastic and striking details, their fabrications were eagerly read and largely accepted as true by common folk who were devoid of any critical faculty and who were predisposed to believe what so luxuriously fed their pious curiosity. Both Catholics and Gnostics were concerned in writing these fictions. The former had no other motive than that of a pious fraud, being sometimes moved by a real though misguided zeal, as witness the author of the Pseudo-Matthew: Amor Christi est cui satisfecimus. But the heretical apocryphists, while gratifying curiosity, composed spurious Gospels in order to trace backward their beliefs and peculiarities to Christ Himself. The Church and the Fathers were hostile even towards the narratives of orthodox authorship. It was not until the Middle Ages, when their true origin was forgotten even by most of the learned, that these apocryphal stories began to enter largely into sacred legends, such as the "Aurea Sacra", into miracle plays, Christian art, and poetry. A comparison of the least extravagant of these productions with the real Gospels reveals the chasm separating them. Though worthless historically, the apocryphal Gospels help us to better understand the religious conditions of the second and third centuries, and they are also of no little value as early witnesses of the canonicity of the writings of the four Evangelists. The quasi-evangelistic compositions concerning Christ which make no pretensions to be Gospels will be treated elsewhere. They are all of orthodox origin. (See AGRAPHA.)
The Protoevangelium Jacobi, or Infancy Gospel of James
It purports to have been written by "James the brother of the Lord", i.e. the Apostle James the Less. It is based on the canonical Gospels which it expands with legendary and imaginative elements, which are sometimes puerile or fantastic. The birth, education, and marriage of the Blessed Virgin are described in the first eleven chapters and these are the source of various traditions current among the faithful. They are of value in indicating the veneration paid to Mary at a very early age. For instance it is the "Protoevangelium" which first tells that Mary was the miraculous offspring of Joachim and Anna, previously childless; that when three years old the child was taken to the Temple and dedicated to its service, in fulfilment of her parents' vow. When Mary was twelve Joseph is chosen by the high-priest as her spouse in obedience to a miraculous sign a dove coming out of his rod and resting on his head. The nativity is embellished in an unrestrained manner. Critics find that the "Protoevangelium" is a composite into which two or three documents enter. It was known to Origen under the name of the "Book of James". There are signs in St. Justin's works that he was acquainted with it, or at least with a parallel tradition. The work, therefore, has been ascribed to the second century. Portions of it show a familiarity with Jewish customs, and critics have surmised that the groundwork was composed by a Jewish-Christian. The "Protoevangelium" exists in ancient Greek and Syriac recensions. There are also Armenian and Latin translations.
Gospel of St. Matthew
This is a Latin composition of the fourth or fifth century. It pretends to have been written by St. Matthew and translated by St. Jerome. Pseudo-Matthew is in large part parallel to the "Protoevangelium Jacobi", being based on the latter or its sources. It differs in some particulars always in the direction of the more marvellous. Some of its data have replaced in popular belief parallel ones of the older pseudograph. Such is the age of fourteen in which Mary was betrothed to Joseph. A narrative of the flight into Egypt is adorned with poetic wonders. The dragons, lions, and other wild beasts of the desert adore the infant Jesus. At His word the palm-trees bow their heads that the Holy Family may pluck their fruit. The idols of Egypt are shattered when the Divine Child enters the land. The "Gospel of the Nativity of Mary" is a recast of the Pseudo-Matthew, but reaches only to the birth of Jesus. It is extant in a Latin manuscript of the tenth century.
Arabic Gospel of the Infancy
The Arabic is a translation of a lost Syriac original. The work is a compilation and refers expressly to the "Book of Joseph Caiphas, the High-Priest", the "Gospel of the Infancy", and the "Perfect Gospel". Some of its stories are derived from the Thomas Gospel, and others from a recension of the apocryphal Matthew. However there are miracles, said to have occurred in Egypt, not found related in any other Gospel, spurious or genuine, among them the healings of leprosy through the water in which Jesus had been washed, and the cures effected through the garments He had worn. These have become familiar in pious legend. So also has the episode of the robbers Titus and Dumachus, into whose hands the Holy Family fell. Titus bribes Dumachus not to molest them; the Infant foretells that thirty years thence the thieves will be crucified with Him, Titus on His right and Dumachus on His left and that the former will accompany Him into paradise. The apocryphon abounds in allusions to characters in the real Gospels. Lipsius opines that the work as we have it is a Catholic retouching of a Gnostic compilation. It is impossible to ascertain its date, but it was probably composed before the Mohammedan era. It is very popular with the Syrian Nestorians. An originally Arabic "History of Joseph the Carpenter" is published in Tischendorf's collection of apocrypha. It describes St. Joseph's death, related by Our Lord to His disciples. It is a tasteless and bombastic effort, and seems to date from about the fourth century.
Gospel of Gamaliel
Dr. A. Baumstark in the Revue Biblique (April, 1906, 253 sqq.), has given this name to a collection of Coptic fragments of a homogeneous character, which were supposed by another Coptic scholar, Reveillout, to form a portion of the "Gospel of the Twelve Apostles" (q.v. inf.). These fragments have been referred to a single Gospel also by Lacau, in "Fragments d'apocryphes coptes de la bibliothèque nationale" (Cairo, 1904). The narrative is in close dependence on St. John's Gospel. The author did not pose seriously as an evangelist, since he explicitly quotes from the fourth canonical Gospel. He places the relation in the mouth of Gamaliel of Acts 5:34. Baumstark assigns it to the fifth century. The writer was evidently influenced by the "Acta Pilati".
The Transitus Mariæ or Evangelium Joannis
The Transitus Mariæ or Evangelium Joannis, which is written in the name of St. John the Apostle, and describes the death of Mary, enjoyed a wide popularity, as is attested by the various recensions in different languages which exist. The Greek has the superscription: "The Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God". One of the Latin versions is prefaced by a spurious letter of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, explaining that the object of the work was to counteract a heretical composition of the same title and subject. There is a basis of truth in this statement as our apocryphon betrays tokens of being a Gnostic writing worked over in an orthodox interest. A "Transitus Mariæ" is numbered among the apocrypha by the official list of the "Decretum of Gelasius" of the fifth or sixth century. It is problematic, however, whether this is to be identified with our recast Transitus or not. Critics assign the latter to the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century. The relation of the Transitus to the tradition of Mary's Assumption has not yet been adequately examined. However, there is warrant for saying that while the tradition existed substantially in portions of the Church at an early period, and thus prepared the way for the acceptance of mythical amplifications, still its later form and details were considerably influenced by the Transitus and kindred writings. Certainly the homilies of St. John Damascene, "In Dormitionem Mariæ", reveal evidence of this influence, e.g. the second homily, xii, xiii, xiv. Going further back, the "Encomium" of Modestus, Bishop of Jerusalem, in the seventh century (P.G., LXXXVI, 3311), and the Pseudo-Dionysius of the fifth (De divinis nominibus, iii), probably suppose an acquaintance with apocryphal narratives of the Death and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. These narratives have a common groundwork, though varying considerably in minor circumstances. The Apostles are preternaturally transported from different quarters of the globe to the Virgin's deathbed, those who had died being resuscitated for the purpose. The "Departure" takes place at Jerusalem, though the Greek version places Mary first at Bethlehem. A Jew who ventures to touch the sacred body instantly loses both hands, which are restored through the mediation of the Apostles. Christ accompanied by a train of angels comes down to receive His mother's soul. The Apostles bear the body to Gethsemani and deposit it in a tomb, whence it is taken up alive to Heaven. (See ASSUMPTION; MARY.)
Gospel according to the Hebrews
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Eusebius, and St. Epiphanius speak of a "Gospel according to the Hebrews" which was the sole one in use among the Palestinian Judeo-Christians, otherwise known as the Nazarenes. Jerome translated it from the Aramaic into Greek. It was evidently very ancient, and several of the above mentioned writers associate it with St. Matthew's Gospel, which it seems to have replaced in the Jewish-Christian community at an early date. The relation between the Gospel according to the Hebrews and our canonical Matthew Gospel is a matter of controversy. The surviving fragments prove that there were close literal resemblances. Harnack asserts that the Hebrew Gospel was entirely independent, the tradition it contained being parallel to that of Matthew. Zahn, while excluding any dependence on our Greek canonical Matthew, maintains one on the primitive Matthew, according to which its general contents were derived from the latter. This Gospel seems to have been read as canonical in some non-Palestinian churches; the Fathers who are acquainted with it refer to it with a certain amount of respect. Twenty-four fragments have been preserved by ecclesiastical writers. These indicate that it had a number of sections in common with the Synoptics, but also various narratives and sayings of Jesus, not found in the canonical Gospels. The surviving specimens lack the simplicity and dignity of the inspired writings; some even savour of the grotesque. We are warranted in saying that while this extra-canonical material probably has as its starting-point primitive tradition, it has been disfigured in the interests of a Judaizing Church. (See AGRAPHA.)
Gospel According to the Egyptians
It is by this title that Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius describe an uncanonical work, which evidently was circulated in Egypt. All agree that it was employed by heretical sects for the most part Gnostics. The scanty citations which have been preserved in the Fathers indicate a tendency towards the Encratite condemnation of marriage, and a pantheistic Gnosticism. The Gospel according to the Egyptians did not replace the canonical records in the Alexandrian Church, as Harnack would have us believe, but it seems to have enjoyed a certain popularity in the country districts among the Coptic natives. It could scarcely have been composed later than the middle of the second century and it is not at all impossible that it retouched some primitive material not represented in the canonical Gospels.
Gospel of St. Peter
The existence of an apocryphal composition bearing this name in Christian antiquity had long been known by references to it in certain early patristic writers who intimate that it originated or was current among Christians of Docetic views. Much additional light has been thrown on this document by the discovery of a long fragment of it at Akhmîn in Upper Egypt, in the winter of 1886-87, by the French Archæological Mission. It is in Greek and written on a parchment codex at a date somewhere between the sixth and ninth century. The fragment narrates part of the Passion, the Burial, and Resurrection. It betrays a dependence, in some instances literal, on the four inspired Gospels, and is therefore a valuable additional testimony to their early acceptance. While the apocryphon has many points of contact with the genuine Gospels, it diverges curiously from them in details, and bears evidence of having treated them with much freedom. No marked heretical notes are found in the recovered fragment, but there are passages which are easily susceptible of a heterodox meaning. One of the few extra-canonical passages which may contain an authentic tradition is that which describes Christ as placed in mockery upon a throne by His tormentors. Pseudo-Peter is intermediate in character between the genuine Evangels and the purely legendary apocrypha. Its composition must be assigned to the first quarter or the middle of the second century of the Christian era. C. Schmidt thinks he has found traces of what is perhaps a second Gospel of Peter in some ancient papyri (Schmidt, Sitzungsberichte der königlichen preuss. Akademie zu Berlin, 1895; cf. Bardenhewer, Geschichte, I, 397, 399).
Gospel of St. Philip
Gospel of St. Thomas
There are two Greek and two Latin redactions of it, differing much from one another. A Syriac translation is also found. A Gospel of Thomas was known to many Fathers. The earliest to mention it is St. Hippolytus (155-235), who informs us that it was in use among the Naasenes, a sect of Syrian Gnostics, and cites a sentence which does not appear in our extant text. Origen relegates it to the heretical writings. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says it was employed by the Manichæans; Eusebius rejects it as heretical and spurious. It is clear that the original Pseudo-Thomas was of heterodox origin, and that it dates from the second century; the citations of Hippolytus establish that it was palpably Gnostic in tenor. But in the extant Thomas Gospel there is no formal or manifest Gnosticism. The prototype was evidently expurgated by a Catholic hand, who, however, did not succeed in eradicating all traces of its original taint. The apocryphon in all its present forms extravagantly magnifies the Divine aspect of the boy Jesus. In bold contrast to the Infancy narrative of St. Luke, where the Divinity is almost effaced, the author makes the Child a miracle-worker and intellectual prodigy, and in harmony with Docetism, leaves scarcely more than the appearance of humanity in Him. This pseudo-Gospel is unique among the apocrypha, inasmuch as it describes a part of the hidden life of Our Lord between the ages of five and twelve. But there is much that is fantastic and offensive in the pictures of the exploits of the boy Jesus. His youthful miracles are worked at times out of mere childish fancy, as when He formed clay pigeons, and at a clap of His hands they flew away as living birds; sometimes, from beneficence; but again from a kind of harsh retribution.
Gospel of St. Bartholomew
The so-called Decretum of Gelasius classes the Gospel of St. Bartholomew among the apocrypha. The earliest allusion to it is in St. Jerome's works. Recently scholars have brought to light fragments of it in old Coptic manuscripts. One of these Orientalists, Baumstark, would place its composition in the first part of the fourth century. A Gospel of Matthias is mentioned by Origen and Eusebius among the heretical literature along with the Peter and Thomas Gospels. Hippolytus states that the Basilidean Gnostics appealed to a "secret discourse" communicated to them by the Apostle Matthias who had received instruction privately from the Lord. Clement of Alexandria, who was credulous concerning apocryphal literature, quotes with respect several times the "Tradition of Matthias".
Gospel of the Twelve Apostles
A Gospel of the Twelve Apostles was known to Origen (third century). Other patristic notices give rise to some uncertainty whether the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles of antiquity was really distinct from that of the Hebrews. The greater probabilities oppose their identity. Recently the claim has been made by M. Reveillout, a Coptic scholar, that the lost Gospel has been in a considerable measure recovered in several Coptic fragments, all of which, he asserts, belong to the same document. But this position has been successfully combated by Dr. Baumstark in the in the "Revue Biblique" (April, 1906, 245 sqq.), who will allow at most a probability that certain brief sections appertain to a Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, written originally in Greek and current among Gnostic Ebionites as early as the second century. There exists a late and entirely orthodox Syriac "Gospel of the Twelve Apostles", published by J. Rendel Harris (Cambridge, 1900).
It is enough to note the existence of other pseudo-Gospels, of which very little is known beside the names. There was a Gospel of St. Andrew, probably identical with the Gnostic "Acts of Andrew" (q.v., inf.); a Gospel of Barnabas, a Gospel of Thaddeus, a Gospel of Eve, and even one of Judas Iscariot, the last in use among the Gnostic sect of Cainites, and which glorified the traitor.
While Christianity was struggling against the forces of Roman paganism, there was a natural tendency to dwell upon the part which a representative of the Roman Empire played in the supreme events of Our Lord's life, and to shape the testimony of Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea, even at the cost of exaggeration and amplification, into a weapon of apologetic defence, making that official bear witness to the miracles, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ. Hence arose a considerable apocryphal Pilate literature, of which the Gospel of Gamaliel really forms a part, and like this latter apocryphon, it is characterized by exaggerating Pilate's weak defence of Jesus into strong sympathy and practical belief in His divinity.
Report of Pilate to the Emperor.
In the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul there is embodied a letter purporting to have been sent by Pontius Pilate to the Emperor Claudius. This briefly relates the fatuous crime of the Jews in persecuting the Holy One promised to them by their God; enumerates His miracles and states that the Jews accused Jesus of being a magician. Pilate at the time believing this, delivered Him to them. After the Resurrection the soldiers whom the governor had placed at the tomb were bribed by the leaders to be silent, but nevertheless divulged the fact. The missive concludes with a warning against the mendacity of the Jews. This composition is clearly apocryphal though unexpectedly brief and restrained. It is natural, to attempt to trace a resemblance between this pseudograph and certain references of ecclesiastical writers to Acta or Gesta of Pilate. Tertullian (Apologia, xxi) after giving a sketch of the miracles and Passion of Christ, subjoins: "All these things Pilate . . . announced to Tiberius Cæsar." A comparison between this pericope and the Pseudo-Pilate report reveals a literary dependence between them, though the critics differ as to the priority of these documents. In chapters 35, 38, and 48 of Justin's Apologia, that Father appeals confidently as a proof of the miracles and Passion of Jesus to "Acts" or records of Pontius Pilate existing in the imperial archives. While it is possible that St. Justin may have heard of such a report, and even probable that the procurator transmitted some account of the events at Jerusalem to Rome, it is on the other hand admissible that Justin's assertion was based on nothing more than hypothesis. This is the opinion of the majority of the experts. During the persecutions under Maximin in the fourth century spurious anti-Christian Acts of Pilate were composed in Syria, as we learn from Eusebius. It is probable that the pseudographic letter was forged as an offset to these.
Acta Pilati (Gospel of Nicodemus)
See the separate article under this title.
The Minor Pilate Apocrypha
The minor Pilate apocrypha, the Anaphora Pilati, or "Relation of Pilate", is frequently found appended to the texts of the Acta. It presupposes the latter work, and could not have been composed before the middle of the fifth century. It is found in manuscripts combined with the Paradoseis or "Giving up of Pilate", which represents the oldest form of the legend dealing with Pilate's subsequent life. A still later fabrication is found in the Latin Epistola Pilati ad Tiberium. There exists a puerile correspondence consisting of a pretended Letter of Herod to Pilate and Letter of Pilate to Herod. They are found in Greek and Syriac in a manuscript of the sixth or seventh century. These pseudographs may be as old as the fifth century.
The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea
The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea furnishing imaginary details of the two thieves crucified with Christ, and the begging of the body from Pilate seems to have enjoyed popularity in the Middle Ages in the Byzantine East, judging from the number of Greek manuscripts which remain. The oldest of those published belongs to the twelfth century. The relation is appended to some Latin texts of the Acta Pilati, under the title "Historia Josephi". It may be read in English in Walker's and the Ante-Nicene Father.' collection of the apocrypha.
The Legend of Abgar
The oldest form of the Pseudo-Correspondence of Jesus and Abgar, King of Edessa, is found in Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, I, xiii), who vouches that he himself translated it from the Syriac documents in the archives of Edessa, the metropolis of Eastern Syria. The two letters are accompanied by an introduction which probably is an excerpt from the same source. According to this, Abgar V, Toparch or King of Edessa, suffering from an incurable disease, and having heard the fame of Christ's miracles sends a courier to Jerusalem, bearing a letter to Jesus, in which he declared Him to be a god, or the son of a god, and invites Him to Edessa, justifying the request partly by his desire to be cured, partly by his wish to offer to Jesus an asylum against the malignant Jews. Our Lord replied as follows:
Blessed are you because you have believed in Me without seeing Me. For it is written that those who have seen Me, will not believe Me; and that those who have not seen Me will believe and love Me. But as to your prayer that I come to you, it is necessary that I fulfil here all that for which I have been sent, and that after I have fulfilled it, that I be taken up to Him who has sent Me. But after my taking up I shall send you one of My disciples, who will heal your pains, and keep life for you and yours.
Accordingly, after the Ascension, "Judas Thomas" an Apostle, despatches to Edessa Thaddeus, one of the seventy Disciples, who cures the King of his disease, and preaches Christ to the assembled people. This, adds Eusebius, happened in the year 340, i.e. of the Seleucid era; corresponding to A.D. 28-29. The pleasing story is repeated with variations in later sources. The "Teaching of Addai", a Syrian apocryphon (q.v. infra), reproduces the correspondence with additions.
The authenticity of the alleged letter of Christ has always been strongly suspected when not absolutely denied. As early as the sixth century the Gelasian Decretum brands this correspondence as spurious. Its legendary environment and the fact that the Church at large did not hand down the pretended epistle from Our Lord as a sacred document is conclusive against it. As for the letter of Abgar, its genuineness was formerly favoured by many skilled in this literature, but since the discovery of the "Teaching of Addai", published in 1876, the presumption against the authentic character of Abgar's epistle, owing to the close resemblance of a portion to passages in the Gospels, has become an established certainty. Lipsius, a high authority, is of the opinion that the Abgar correspondence goes back to the reign of the first Christian ruler of Edessa, Abgar IX (179-216), and that it was elicited by a desire to force a link uniting that epoch with the time of Christ
Letter of Lentulus
A brief letter professing to be from Lentulus, or Publius Lentulus, as in some manuscripts, "President of the People of Jerusalem", addressed to "the Roman Senate and People", describes Our Lord's personal appearance. It is evidently spurious, both the office and name of the president of Jerusalem being grossly unhistorical. No ancient writer alludes to this production, which is found only in Latin manuscripts. It has been conjectured that it may have been composed in order to authenticate a pretended portrait of Jesus, during the Middle Ages. An English version is given in Cowper's Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents Relating to Christ (New York, 6th ed., 1897).
The motive which first prompted the fabrication of spurious Acts of the Apostles was, in general, to give Apostolic support to heretical systems, especially those of the many sects which are comprised under the term Gnosticism. The darkness in which the New Testament leaves the missionary careers, and the ends of the greater number of the Apostles, and the meagre details handed down by ecclesiastical tradition, left an inviting field for the exercise of inventive imaginations, and offered an apt means for the insidious propagation of heresy. The Jewish-Christian Church, which early developed un-Catholic tendencies in the form of Ebionitism, seems first to have produced apocryphal histories of the Apostles, though of these we have very few remains outside the material in the voluminous Pseudo-Clement. The Gnostic Acts of Peter, Andrew, John, Thomas, and perhaps Matthew, date from the early portion of the third century or perhaps a little earlier. They abound in extravagant and highly coloured marvels, and were interspersed by long pretended discourses of the Apostles which served as vehicles for the Gnostic predications. Though the pastors of the Church and the learned repudiated these as patently heretical writings, they appealed to the fancy and satisfied the curiosity of the common people. Not only were they utilized by Manichæans in the East and Priscillianists in the West, but they found favour with many unenlightened Catholics. Since it was impossible to suppress their circulation entirely, they were rendered comparatively harmless by orthodox editing which expunged the palpable errors, especially in the discourses, leaving the miracle element to stand in its riotous exuberance. Hence most of the Gnostic Acts have come down to us with more or less of a Catholic purification, which, however, was in many cases so superficial as to leave unmistakable traces of their heterodox origin. The originally Gnostic apocryphal Acts were gathered into collections which bore the name of the periodoi (Circuits) or praxeis (Acts) of the Apostles, and to which was attached the name of a Leucius Charinus, who may have formed the compilation. The Gnostic Acts were of various authorship. Another collection was formed in the Frankish Church in the sixth century, probably by a monk. In this the Catholic Acts have been preserved; it is by no means uniform in its various manuscript representatives. By a misunderstanding, the authorship of the whole, under the title "Historia Certaminis Apostolorum", was ascribed to an Abdias, said to have been the first Bishop of Babylon and a disciple of the Apostles. The nucleus of this collection was formed by the Latin Passiones, or Martyrdoms, of those Apostles who had been neglected by the Gnostic Acts, viz., the two Jameses, Philip (Matthew?), Bartholomew, Simon, and Jude. The literature grew by accretions from heretical sources and eventually took in all the Apostles, including St. Paul. The motive of these non-heretical apocrypha was primarily to gratify the pious curiosity of the faithful regarding the Apostolic founders of the Church; sometimes local interests instigated their composition. After the model of the Gnostic Acts, which were of Oriental derivation, they abound in prodigies, and like those again, they take as their starting-point the traditional dispersion of the Twelve from Jerusalem. Regarding the historical value of these apocryphal narratives, it requires the most careful criticism to extricate from the mass of fable and legend any grains of historical truth. Even respecting the fields of the Apostolic missions, they are self-contradictory or confused. In general their details are scientifically worthless, unless confirmed by independent authorities, which rarely happens. Much of their apocryphal matter was taken up by the offices of the Apostles in the Latin breviaries and lectionaries, composed in the seventh and eighth centuries at an extremely uncritical period.
Acts of St. Peter
There exist a Greek and a Latin Martyrdom of Peter, the latter attributed to Pope Linus, which from patristic citations are recognized as the conclusion of an ancient Greek narrative entitled "Acts, or Circuits of St. Peter". Another manuscript, bearing the name "Actus Petri cum Simone", contains a superior translation with several passages from the original narrative preceding the Martyrdom. The work betrays certain tokens of Gnosticism, although it has been purged of its grossest features by a Catholic reviser. It describes the triumph of St. Peter over Simon Magus at Rome, and the Apostle's subsequent crucifixion. These Acts as we have them are of high antiquity, though it is impossible to always discern whether patristic writers are quoting from them or an earlier tradition. Undoubtedly Commodian (c. 250) employed our extant Acts of Peter.
Acts of St. John
The heretical character imputed to these by certain Fathers is fully confirmed by extant fragments, which show a gross Docetism, and an unbridled phantasy. Doubtless the author intermingled valuable Ephesian traditions with his fables. There are reasons of weight to regard the work as having been composed, together with the Acts of St. Peter, and probably those of St. Andrew, by a single person, in the latter half of the second century, under the name of a disciple of St. John, called Leucius. Clement of Alexandria was acquainted with the pseudograph. The Johannine Acts of the Pseudo-Prochorus (compare the canonical Acts 6:5) are a Catholic working-over of Gnostic material.
Acts of St. Andrew
Pseudographic Acts of St. Andrew are noted by several early ecclesiastical writers, as in circulation among Gnostic and Manichæan sects. The original form has perished except in a few patristic quotations. But we possess three individual Acts under different names, which prove to be orthodox recensions of an original comprehensive Gnostic whole. These are:
The Acts and Martyrdom of St. Matthew
The Acts and Martyrdom of St. Matthew are in literary dependence on the Acts of St. Andrew (q.v., supra), and hence the reading "Matthew" may be an error for "Matthias", since evidently the companion of Peter and Andrew is intended. The work exists in Greek and a later Latin. There is also a Coptic-Ethiopic martyrdom legend of St. Matthew. (See ST. MATTHEW; APOSTLE; APOSTOLIC CHURCHES).
Acts of St. Thomas
No Apostolic apocryphon has reached us in a completeness equal to that of the Thomas Acts. They are found in Greek, Syriac, and Ethiopic recensions. Their Gnostic traits pierce through the Catholic re-touching; in fact, the contents show a conscious purpose to exalt the dualistic doctrine of abstention from conjugal intercourse. Scholars are much inclined to attribute the original to a Syrian origin and an author who was an adherent of Bardesanes. The signs point strongly to the third century as the era. The translation of the remains of St. Thomas to Edessa in 232 may have furnished the inspiration for the composition. The Acts relate the prodigies performed by the Apostle in India, and end with his martyrdom there. They are interspersed with some remarkable hymns; some of real literary beauty but with strong Gnostic colouring. Recent researches have revealed elements of truth in the historical setting of the narrative. The Acts of St. Thomas are mentioned by Epiphanius and Augustine as in use in different heretical circles. St. Ephrem of Syria refers to apocryphal Thomas Acts as in circulation among the Bardesanites (see ST. THOMAS).
Acts of St. Bartholomew
We possess a Greek Martrydom, dating in its present form from the fifth or sixth century; also a Latin "Passio Bartholomæi". Both are tainted with Nestorianism, and seem to have come from a single Bartholomew legend. The Greek text recounts the marvels by which the Apostle overthrew idolatry and converted a king and his subjects in "India". The whole is a legendary tissue. (See ST. BARTHOLOMEW, APOSTLE).
Acts of Sts. Peter and Paul
Lipsius regards the journey section as a ninth-century addition; Bardenhewer will have it to belong to the original document. This section begins with Paul's departure from the island of Mileto, and is evidently based on the canonical narrative in Acts. The Jews have been aroused by the news of Paul's intended visit, and induce Nero to forbid it. Nevertheless the Apostle secretly enters Italy; his companion is mistaken for himself at Puteoli and beheaded. In retribution that city is swallowed up by the sea. Peter receives Paul at Rome with Joy. The preaching of the Apostles converts multitudes and even the Empress. Simon Magus traduces the Christian teachers, and there is a test of strength in miracles between that magician and the Apostles, which takes place in the presence of Nero, Simon essays a flight to heaven but falls in the Via Sacra and is dashed to pieces. Nevertheless, Nero is bent on the destruction of Peter and Paul. The latter is beheaded on the Ostian Way, and Peter is crucified at his request head downward. Before his death he relates to the people the "Quo Vadis?" story. Three men from the East carry off the Apostles' bodies but are overtaken. St. Peter is buried at "The place called the Vatican", and Paul on the Ostian Way. These Acts are the chief source for details of the martyrdom of the two great Apostles. They are also noteworthy as emphasizing the close concord between the Apostolic founders of the Roman Church. The date (A.D. 55) of composition is involved in obscurity. Lipsius finds traces of our Acts as early as Hippolytus (c. 235), but it is not clear that the Fathers adduced employed any written source for their references to the victory over Simon Magus and the work of the Apostles at Rome. Lipsius assigns the kernel of the Martyrdom to the second century; Bardenhewer refers the whole to the first half of the third. The Acts of Peter and Paul undoubtedly embody some genuine traditions. (See ST. PETER; ST. PAUL; SIMON MAGUS).
Acts of St. Paul
Origen and Eusebius expressly name the praxeis Paulou; Tertullian speaks of writings falsely attributed to Paul: "Quod si Pauli perperam inscripta legunt." He is cautioning his readers against the tale of Thecla preaching and baptizing herself. Hitherto it was supposed that he referred to the "Acts of Paul and Thecla". The "Acta Pauli", presumed to be a distinct composition, were deemed to have perished; but recently (1899) a Coptic papyrus manuscript, torn to shreds, was found in Egypt, and proves to contain approximately complete the identical Acts of Paul alluded to by a few ecclesiastical writers. This find has established the fact that the long-known Acts of Paul and Thecla and the apocryphal correspondence of St. Paul with the Corinthian Church, as well as the Martyrdom of St. Paul, are really only excerpts from the original Pauline Acts. The newly-discovered document contains material hitherto unknown as well as the above-noted sections, long extant. It begins with a pretended flight of St. Paul from Antioch of Pisidia, and ends with his martyrdom at Rome. The narrative rests on data in the canonical books of the New Testament, but it abounds in marvels and personages unhinted at there, and it disfigures traits of some of those actually mentioned in the Sacred Writings. The Acts of Paul, therefore, adds nothing trustworthy to our knowledge of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Fortunately the above-cited passage of Tertullian (De Baptismo, xvii) informs us of its authorship and aim. The African writer observes that the pseudo-history was the work of a priest of Asia Minor, who on the discovery of the fraud, was deposed from an ecclesiastical charge, and confessed that he forged the book out of love for St. Paul. Experts ascribe its composition to the second century. It was already known when Tertullian wrote, and during the first centuries enjoyed a considerable popularity, both East and West. In fact Eusebius classes it among the antilegomena, or works having locally quasi-canonical authority.
Acts of Paul and Thecla
The early detachment of these as well as the Martyrdom from the Acts of St. Paul may be accounted for by ecclesiastical use as festal lections. Despite Tertullian's remark regarding this pseudograph, it enjoyed an immense and persistent popularity through the patristic period and the Middle Ages. This favour is to be explained mainly by the romantic and spirited flavour of the narrative. Exceptional among the apocryphists, the author kept a curb upon his fertile imagination, and his production is distinguished by its simplicity, clearness, and vigour. It deals with the adventures of Thecla, a young woman of Iconium, who upon being converted by St. Paul's preaching, left her bridegroom and lived a life of virginity and missionary activity, becoming a companion of St. Paul, and preaching the Gospel. She is persecuted, but miraculously escapes from the fire and the savage beasts of the arena. The relief into which abstention from the marriage-bed is brought in these Acts makes it difficult to escape from the conclusion that they have been coloured by Encratite ideas. Nevertheless the thesis of Lipsius, supported by Corssen, that a Gnostic Grundschrift underlies our present document, is not accepted by Harnack, Zahn, Bardenhewer, and others. The apocryphon follows the New Testament data of St. Paul's missions very loosely and is full of unhistorical characters and events. For instance, the writer introduces a journey of the Apostles, to which there is nothing analogous in the Sacred Books. However, there are grains of historical material in the Thecla story. A Christian virgin of that name may well have been converted by St. Paul at Iconium, and suffered persecution. Gutschmid has discovered that a certain Queen Tryphena was an historical personage (Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, X, 1864). (See THECLA.)
Acts of St. Philip
The extant Greek fragments supply us with all but five (10-14) of the fifteen Acts composing the work. Of these 1-7 are a farrago of various legends, each, it would seem, with an independent history; 8-14 is a unit, which forms a parasitic growth on the ancient but somewhat confused traditions of the missionary activity of an Apostle Philip in Hierapolis of Phrygia. Zahn's view, that this document is the work of an ill-informed Catholic monk of the fourth century, is a satisfactory hypothesis. The largest fragment was first published by Batiffol in "Analecta Bollandiana", IX (Paris, 1890). A Coptic "Acts of Philip" is also to be noted. (See ST. PHILIP, APOSTLE)
There are Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Armenian histories of the missions and death of St. James the Greater, the son of Zebedee. Lipsius assigns the Latin to about the third century. Coptic and Armenian Acts and Martyrdom of St. James the Less depend mostly on the Hegesippus tradition, preserved by Eusebius (Church History IV.22).
Acts of St. Matthew
The Apostolic Acts of the Pseudo-Abdias contain a Latin "Passio Sancti Matthæi", which preserves an Abyssinian legend of St. Matthew, later than the Coptic Martyrdom noticed in connection with the Gnostic Acts of that saint. The correct historical setting indicates that the recension was the work of an Abyssinian of the sixth century, who wished to date the establishment of the Abyssinian Church (fourth century) back to the Apostolic times. However, the kernel of the narrative is drawn from older sources. The Abdias Passio places St. Matthew's martyrdom in Abyssinia. (See ST. MATTHEW, APOSTLE)
Teaching of Addai (Thaddeus)
In 1876 an ancient Syriac document, entitled "The Teaching of Addai, the Apostle", was published for the first time. It proved to closely parallel the Abgar material derived by Eusebius from the Edessa archives, and indeed purports to have been entrusted to those archives by its author, who gives his name as Labubna, the son of Senaak. It is full of legendary but interesting material describing the relations between Jesus and King Abgar of Edessa. Thaddeus, or Addai, one of the seventy disciples, is sent, after the Resurrection, in compliance with Christ's promise, to Abgar, heals the ruler and Christianizes Edessa with the most prompt and brilliant success. Notable is the story of the painting of Jesus made at the instance of Abgar's envoy to the former. Since the narrative of a Gaulish pilgrim who visited Edessa about 390 contains no allusion to such a picture, we may reasonably conclude that the Teaching of Addai is of later origin. Critics accept the period between 399-430. The Thaddeus legend has many ramifications and has undergone a number of variations. There is a Greek "Acts of Thaddeus", which identifies Addai with Thaddeus or Lebbæus, one of the Twelve. (See ABGAR; EDESSA).
Acts of Simon and Jude
A Latin Passio, which Lipsius attributes to the fourth or fifth century, narrates the miracles, conversions, and martyrdoms of these Apostles. It is found in the Abdias collection. The scene is Persia and Babylonia. It has been recognized that the historical setting of these Acts agrees remarkably with what is known of the conditions in the Parthian empire in the first century after Christ.
The Acts of St. Barnabas
The Acts of St. Barnabas appear to have been composed toward the end of the fifth century by a Cypriot. They are ascribed to St. Mark the Evangelist, and are historically worthless. They are extant in the original Greek and in a Latin version. The narrative is based upon the mutual relations and activities of Barnabas, Mark, and Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
This is the latest of the pseudo-Acts, having been composed by a monk of Trèves, in the twelfth century, as a prelude to an account of the translation of the sacred relic, and the body of St. Matthias to that city, and their subsequent rediscoveries. It pretends to have derived the history of the Apostle's career from a Hebrew manuscript. (See ST. MATTHIAS, APOSTLE)
It must suffice to mention "Acts of St. Mark", of Alexandrian origin, and written in the fourth or fifth century; "Acts of St. Luke", Coptic, not earlier than end of fourth; "Acts of St. Timothy", composed by an Ephesian after 425; "Acts of St. Titus", of Cretan origin, between 400-700; "Acts of Kanthippe and Polyxena", connected with the legends about St. Paul and St. Andrew.
Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu
It was known that a Syriac work of this name existed, and an extract was published in 1856. In 1899 Monsignor Rahmani, Patriarch of the United Syrians, published from a late manuscript the Syriac text, a Latin introduction and translation. The work is in two books. It begins with an apocalypse of the approaching day of Antichrist alleged to have been uttered by Our Lord after His Resurrection. Between this and the body of the work there is a very loose connection, as the main portion represents Christ as enacting, even to small details, laws for the governance and ritual of the Church. The writer places on Our Lord's lips descriptions of liturgical observances prevalent in his own and earlier periods. There are evident points of contact between the Testament and the ancient ecclesiastico-liturgical Canones Hippolyti, Apostolic Constitutions, and Apostolic Canons. Monsignor Rahmani assigns the Testament to the second century, and places the above works in the relation of dependence on it. But critics unanimously refuse to accord a high antiquity to the Testament, dating it in the fourth or fifth century, and inverting the dependence mentioned. On the ground that there is no indication of an acquaintance with the book outside the Orient, and that Arabic and Coptic recensions of it are known, Dr. A. Baumstark regards the work as a compilation originating in Monophysite circles, and current in the national Churches of that sect in Syria and Egypt. The apocalyptic opening has been found in a Latin manuscript of the eighth century, and published by M. R. James, "Apocrypha Anecdota" (Cambridge, 1893).
The Preaching of Peter or Kerygma Petri.
Clement of Alexandria repeatedly quotes from a kerygma Petrou, concerning whose credibility he obviously has no doubt. On the other hand, Eusebius classes it as apocryphal. A certain "Doctrine of Peter", mentioned by a later writer, was probably identical with the "Preaching". From the scanty remains of this work we can form but a very imperfect idea of it. It spoke in St. Peter's name and represented him above all as a teacher of the Gentiles. The doctrinal parts occur in a framework of an account of the missionary journeys. The pseudograph was probably suggested by the text, II Peter, i, 5. A work which was so well accredited in the days of Clement of Alexandria (c. 140-215), and which was known to the "Gnostic Heracleon" (c. 160-170), must have come from almost Apostolic antiquity. Scholars favour the first quarter of the second century. The fragments which remain betray no signs of heterodox origin. There is a Syriac "Preaching of Simon Peter in the City of Rome."
Two Ways or Judicium Petri
Preaching of Paul
The only witness to this work is the treatise "De Rebaptismo" in the pseudo-Cyprian writings. According to this it represented Christ as confessing personal sins, and forced by His mother to receive baptism.
Pseudo-Epistles of the Blessed Virgin
These are all composed in Latin and at late dates.
Pseudo-Epistle of St. Peter to St. James the Less
The Pseudo-Clementine homilies contain as a preface two letters, the first of which purports to be from Peter to James the Less, beseeching him to keep his (Peter's) preaching secret. (See CLEMENTINE PSEUDO-WRITINGS)
Pseudo-Epistles of St. Paul; Correspondence with the Corinthians
The ancient Syrian (Edessene) Church revered as canonical a Third Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which is accompanied by a letter from the pastors of that Church, to which it is an answer. But about the beginning of the fifth century the Syrian Church fell under the influence of the Greek, and in consequence the spurious letter gradually lost its canonical status. It was taken up by the neighbouring Armenians and for centuries has formed a part of the Armenian New Testament. Latin and Greek writers are completely silent about this pseudograph, although Greek and Latin copies have been found. It was obviously suggested by the lost genuine Pauline letter referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 and 7:1. It was composed by a Catholic presbyter about 160-170, and is a disguised attack on some of the leading errors of Gnosticism. This correspondence long had an independent circulation, but recently it has been proved that the document was incorporated into the Acts of St. Paul (q.v.).
Pseudo-epistle to the Laodiceans
In the genuine Epistle to the Colossians, Paul, after instructing them to send their Epistle to Laodicea, adds: "read that which is from the Laodiceans". This most probably regards a circular letter, the canonical "Ephesians"; but it has been held to be a lost letter to the Laodicean Christians. The apocryphal epistle is a transparent attempt to supply this supposed lost sacred document. It consists of twenty short lines and is mainly made of matter taken from Philippians and other Epistles, and pieced together without sequence or logical aim. Our apocryphon exists only in Latin and translations from the Latin, though it gives signs of a Greek original. It can hardly be the pseudo-Laodicean letter said by the Muratorian Fragment to have been invented by the heresiarch Marcion. Despite its insipid and suspicious character, this compilation was frequently copied in the Middle Ages, and enjoyed a certain degree of respect, although St. Jerome had written of it: ab omnibus exploditur. (See LAODICEA.) The Muratorian Fragmentist mentions together with a spurious epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, one to the Alexandrians, which was forged under the auspices of Marcion. We have no other certain knowledge of this apocryphon.
Pseudo-Correspondence of St. Paul and Seneca
This consists of eight pretended letters from the Stoic philosopher Seneca, and six replies from St. Paul. They are identical with a correspondence alluded to by Jerome (de Viris Illustr., xii), who without passing judgment on their value, notes that they are read by many. These letters, therefore, could not have been composed after the second half of the fourth century. They are based on the early traditions of Seneca's leanings towards Christianity and the contemporary residence at Rome of Paul and the philosopher. We will merely note the existence of a spurious Letter of St. John, the Apostle, to a dropsical man, healing his disease, in the Acts of St. John by the pseudo-Prochorus; one of St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, to Quadratus, in Armenian (Vetter, Litterarische Rundschau, 1896).
Apocalypse of the Testamentum D.N. Jesu Christi.
(See the section on the Testamentum above.)
The Apocalypse of Mary
The Apocalypse of Mary is of medieval origin, and is probably merely the outcome of an extravagant devotion. It describes the Blessed Mother's descent to Limbo, and exists in Greek manuscripts. It has been printed in the Tischendorf collection (Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti).
Apocalypses of St. Peter
The Muratorian Fragment, written at Rome in the latter part of the second century, names the apocalypses of John and Peter side by side as the only ones received in the Church, remarking that some do not acknowledge the latter. There is abundant evidence that the Petrine apocalypse was believed authentic in many quarters of the early Church, and enjoyed in a certain measure canonical authority. Clement of Alexandria always credulous with regard to apocrypha even honoured it with a commentary; Eusebius (Church History VI.14.1), places it almost on an equality with the antilegomena or better class of disputed writings; Jerome rejects it flatly. Notwithstanding this, as late as the middle of the fifth century it was publicly read in some churches of Palestine. The few citations of patristic writers were unable to convey an idea of its contents, but fortunately a considerable fragment of this ancient document was discovered at Akhmîn, Egypt, together with the pseudo-Petrine Gospel in the language of the original, viz., Greek. A quotation of Clement of Alexandria from the recovered parts enables us to identify the manuscript with certainty as a portion of the apocalypse of antiquity. The passage relates to a vision granted by Christ to the Twelve on a mountain, exhibiting the glory of two departing brethren, the splendour of heaven, and a gruesome picture of hell. The language has a Jewish-Christian savour. The apocryphon is attributed by critics to the first quarter of the second century and is therefore one of the earliest specimens of non-canonical literature. There exist under the names Apocalypse of St. Peter, Apocalypse of St. Peter through Clement, Liber Clementis, various Arabic and Ethiopic recensions of an apocalypse which has nothing in common with the ancient Greek one.
The Apocalypse of St. Paul
A prefatory notice pretends that this work was found in a marble case under the house of Paul at Tarsus, in the reign of King Theodosius (A.D. 379-395), and upon intelligence conveyed by an angel. This indicates the date of the apocalypse's fabrication. It purports to reveal the secrets seen by the Apostle in his transport to the third heaven, alluded to in 2 Corinthians 12:2, and was composed in Greek. From this Pauline apocalypse must be distinguished a Gnostic work entitled the "Ascension of Paul", referred to by St. Epiphanius, but of which no remains have survived. There is a spurious "Apocalypse of John", of comparatively late origin. Regarding the so-called Apocalypse of St. Bartholomew see Gospel of St. Bartholomew.
At a very early period orthodox writers and, presumably, ecclesiastical authorities found it necessary to distinguish between the genuine inspired books and a multitude of spurious rivals a fact which is a very important element in the formation of the Christian canon. Thus as early as about A.D. 170, the author of the descriptive Latin catalogue known as the "Muratorian Fragment" mentioned certain works as fictitious or contested. At the same time St. Irenæus called attention to the great mass of heretical pseudographic writings (inenarrabilis multitudo apocryphorum et perperam scripturarum, Adv., Hær., I, xx). Undoubtedly it was the large use heretical circles, especially the Gnostic sects, made of this insinuating literature which first called forth the animadversions of the official guardians of doctrinal purity. Even in the East, already the home of pseudographic literature, Origen (d. 254) exhibits caution regarding the books outside the canon (Comment. in Matth., serm. 28). St. Athanasius in 387 found it necessary to warn his flock by a pastoral epistle against Jewish and heretical apocrypha (P.G., XXVI, 1438). Another Greek Father, Epiphanius (312-403) in "Hæreses", 26, could complain that copies of Gnostic apocrypha were current in thousands. Yet it must be confessed that the early Fathers, and the Church, during the first three centuries, were more indulgent towards Jewish pseudographs circulating under venerable Old Testament names. The Book of Henoch and the Assumption of Moses had been cited by the canonical Epistle of Jude. Many Fathers admitted the inspiration of Fourth Esdras. Not to mention the Shepherd of Hermas, the Acts of St. Paul (at least in the Thecla portion) and the Apocalypse of St. Peter were highly revered at this and later periods. Yet, withal, no apocryphal work found official recognition in the Western Church. In 447 Pope Leo the Great wrote pointedly against the pseudo-apostolic writings, "which contained the germ of so many errors . . . they should not only be forbidden but completely suppressed and burned" (Epist. xv, 15). The so-called Decretum de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris" is attributed to Pope Gelasius (495), but in reality is a compilation dating from the beginning of the sixth century, and containing collections made earlier than Gelasius. It is an official document, the first of the kind we possess, and contained a list of 39 works besides those ascribed to Leucius, "disciple of the devil", all of which it condemns as apocryphal. From this catalogue it is evident that in the Latin Church by this time, apocrypha in general, including those of Catholic origin, had fallen under the ecclesiastical ban, always, however, with a preoccupation against the danger of heterodoxy. The Synod of Braga, in Spain, held in the year 563, anathematizes any one "who reads, approves, or defends the injurious fictions set in circulation by heretics". Although in the Middle Ages these condemnations were forgotten and many of the pseudographic writings enjoyed a high degree of favour among both clerics and the laity, still we find superior minds, such as Alcuin, St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, pointing out their want of authority. An echo of the ancient condemnations occurs in the work De Festis B.M.V. of Benedict XIV, declaring certain popular apocrypha to be impure sources of tradition. (See CANON OF SACRED SCRIPTURE.)
APA citation. (1907). Apocrypha. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01601a.htm
MLA citation. "Apocrypha." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01601a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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