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The treatise opens with a short statement on the subject of the authority of the evangelists, their number, their order, and the different plans of their narratives. Augustine then prepares for the discussion of the questions relating to their harmony, by joining issue in this book with those who raise a difficulty in the circumstance that Christ has left no writing of His own, or who falsely allege that certain books were composed by Him on the arts of magic. He also meets the objections of those who, in opposition to the evangelical teaching, assert that the disciples of Christ at once ascribed more to their Master than He really was, when they affirmed that He was God, and inculcated what they had not been instructed in by Him, when they interdicted the worship of the gods. Against these antagonists he vindicates the teaching of the apostles, by appealing to the utterances of the prophets, and by showing that the God of Israel was to be the sole object of worship, who also, although He was the only Deity to whom acceptance was denied in former times by the Romans, and that for the very reason that He prohibited them from worshipping other gods along with Himself, has now in the end made the empire of Rome subject to His name, and among all nations has broken their idols in pieces through the preaching of the gospel, as He had promised by His prophets that the event should be.
1. In the entire number of those divine records which are contained in the sacred writings, the gospel deservedly stands pre-eminent. For what the law and the prophets aforetime announced as destined to come to pass, is exhibited in the gospel in its realization and fulfilment. The first preachers of this gospel were the apostles, who beheld our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in person when He was yet present in the flesh. And not only did these men keep in remembrance the words heard from His lips, and the deeds wrought by Him beneath their eyes; but they were also careful, when the duty of preaching the gospel was laid upon them, to make mankind acquainted with those divine and memorable occurrences which took place at a period antecedent to the formation of their own connection with Him in the way of discipleship, which belonged also to the time of His nativity, His infancy, or His youth, and with regard to which they were able to institute exact inquiry and to obtain information, either at His own hand or at the hands of His parents or other parties, on the ground of the most reliable intimations and the most trustworthy testimonies. Certain of them also — namely, Matthew and John — gave to the world, in their respective books, a written account of all those matters which it seemed needful to commit to writing concerning Him.
2. And to preclude the supposition that, in what concerns the apprehension and proclamation of the gospel, it is a matter of any consequence whether the enunciation comes by men who were actual followers of this same Lord here when He manifested Himself in the flesh and had the company of His disciples attendant on Him, or by persons who with due credit received facts with which they became acquainted in a trustworthy manner through the instrumentality of these former, divine providence, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, has taken care that certain of those also who were nothing more than followers of the first apostles should have authority given them not only to preach the gospel, but also to compose an account of it in writing. I refer to Mark and Luke. All those other individuals, however, who have attempted or dared to offer a written record of the acts of the Lord or of the apostles, failed to commend themselves in their own times as men of the character which would induce the Church to yield them its confidence, and to admit their compositions to the canonical authority of the Holy Books. And this was the case not merely because they were persons who could make no rightful claim to have credit given them in their narrations, but also because in a deceitful manner they introduced into their writings certain matters which are condemned at once by the catholic and apostolic rule of faith, and by sound doctrine.
Source. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602101.htm>.
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