Thursday, 28 January 2010

Early Canon - canonised or not canonised

In the last blog post John discussed the possible canonisation of Mary MacKillop as an Australian saint. As I write this in Cambridge I wonder if the proclamation has taken place, on Australia Day, and here in the UK I missed all the excitement. In any event, we had our own kind of excitement here yesterday.

Last night in the Cambridge University Divinity School, Judith Lieu gave her inaugural lecture as Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity - a chair that dates back to 1502, so that is quite something. Judith Lieu, whose husband Sam is a professor at Macquarie University (but naturally enough here for the big event last night) formerly taught in Sydney at Macquarie.

It was a particularly skillful, and very carefully argued lecture on the topic of 'Conflict and Convergence'. In particular we considered the extent to which Christianity was i) a distinctive religious movement in the second century, say from Judaism, and ii) coherent or disparate within 'itself' whatever 'it' means? (my words, not the professors.) In particular, is the idea of a monolithic 2nd century Great Church based on apostolic doctrine (as we now hold it) a myth forged in the fires of 4th and 5th century controversy? As I understood it, that was certainly the well nuanced thesis the Lady Margaret Professor was presenting (far better nuanced than any blog post could be!)

In one section of the lecture - which you can download on;jsessionid=F8F60B863A85E20DFA5673CB7F45DF68 - she suggests that Christianity was quite fragmented. As to N.T. 'canonisation'(!),she presented a picture of the 2nd C where the Canon was not only unformed but no-one had even thought putting together a canon. Thus, when Melito of Sardis (died 180?) refers to the "Old Testament", [ta palaia biblia] we shouldn't take this to imply that he considered there to be any "New Testament".

David Instone-Brewer one of the Research Fellows here at Tyndale House, reminded us here this morning of the words of Tertullian - in my understanding only a decade or two after Melito - where he refers to vetus and novum instrumentum ['old and new testament']. That certainly looks (in the late 2nd century) like Tertullian had something like a New Testament in his mind, as distinct from an Old one - whatever instrumentum means.

As you can see I may have missed out on the lamingtons and BBQed lamb yesterday, but there were still interesting things to do here in Cambridge.

(Australia Day even got a mention in Judith Lieu's lecture!)