Posted By MSH on April 22, 2009
John is apparently following my re-posting (and that of Ros Clarke) of his canonicity discussions, and posted a clarification/answer to my question this morning on his own blog. He says:
My wording, “establishing a direction of thought or action,” was not meant to set up a contrast between those things and “establishing a point of doctrine.” My bad for being unclear.
This is helpful — John is *not* making a distinction between thought or action and establishing doctrine. But he sticks to his contention that there was no canon in antiquity. The basis of his statement is coherent: Christian thinkers and leaders disagreed on the exact books until a couple centuries after the church began. Through that time (this is me now) we can get closer to what was NOT considered canonical (i.e., the material/books never cited as authoritative by anyone — like the Gnostic Gospels, including Thomas) than what WAS viewed as the canon. That’s coherent, but I think it has weaknesses. For instance, how do we know which church fathers spoke for “the church” at any given time (whatever the “church” was at any given time)? The church was scattered, and it isn’t like church fathers had such celebrity status among the faithful that what they said would be obeyed, or even known (their own writings couldn’t be xeroxed or faxed or emailed to everyone). The logistics of the church and written material argues against there being any monolithic opinion on anything – like what was the canon — INCLUDING the idea that there was any divergence of opinion on the matter. We know that to be true since we have so much data gathered, sifted, arranged, and commented upon. They didn’t.
So what’s the point? It’s curious, given the logistical obstacles to unanimity, that there is such a high degree of similiarity in the material that was considered authoritative. It’s as though there was some sort of divine influence directing believers all over the Mediterranean to certain books as having authority (I’m winking now). The outlier books should stand out as somewhat anomalous or perhaps idiosyncratic in their use. Seems like an “unconscious canonical mindset” was in play.