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§ 5. Though the New Testament brought to an end the production of authoritative Christian writings, yet it cleared the way for theological and also for ordinary Christian literary activity.

Whatever authorities might arise in the Church and whatever books might be written after the creation of the New Testament, they could no longer attain to the absolute prestige possessed by the New Testament.142142We here do not take account of the development of General Councils and of the Papacy. They could be “inspired,” but they could not longer become “canonical” in the sense of the New Testament.143143Not even the works of Cyprian. Taken all in all, this was a blessing. The literature of enthusiasm now either ceased or was forced to confine itself within the narrow bounds which now restricted its significance and therefore its influence. Naturally the early belief that every Christian who wrote with a view to edification did this by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, now faded away. It was a belief that had placed the primitive Church in positions of terrible perplexity and afflicted conscientious authors with qualms of anxiety as to whether they were not guilty of presumption in taking up the pen. Clement of Alexandria still shows this anxiety—so also the anti-Montanist of Euseb., H.E., v. 16, 3 (vide supra, p. 37). But 139now this anxiety was no longer felt, and the way was free for the development of theological and ordinary Christian literature. Churchmen could at last with free conscience do what heretics had long done—compose theological treatises, write commentaries, publish edifying stories, and so forth. If only they made up their minds to be “true to Scripture,” and in all due humility to serve the Church, no objection could be taken to their work. Indeed the New Testament itself created a demand for the most important part of this literature, for every sacred document must be explained and must be defended against false interpretations. Hence this form of literary activity became at once a matter of duty, and the corresponding literary productions as “Science of the New Testament,” if we may use the expression, thus as “Bible-Science” at once acquired the freedom of the Church. Thus the New Testament, which as we saw in § 4 exercised in one particular direction a strongly cramping influence upon literature, in another direction promoted it and opened a new path for it. And what was there that did not come within the scope of the science of the Bible! If the Bible was a cosmos, like the universe, it needed for its interpretation simply every form of Science! And so since the beginning of the third century grew up, attached to the New Testament, the multiform Science of the Church, 140which began to compete with the Science of the Gnostics and drove it out of the field. In company with this there appeared a multitude of ecclesiastical treatises dealing with every possible problem of the Christian life. There was also a development of practical religious literature that raised no claim to stand on a level with the New Testament, but rather extracted from the New Testament the edifying teaching that it offered to the Churches. Lastly, the way was now opened even for a light literature with religious colouring; for the idea of literature was no longer objectionable, and one could make use of it in every direction so long as one paid due homage to the Holy Scriptures. All this had been brought about by the creation of the New Testament!

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