Chief differences between canonical and apocryphal gospels

Question: What is the chief differences between canonical and apocryphal gospels?

Answer: From the outset, the four Gospels, the sacred character of which was thus recognized very early, differed in several respects from the numerous uncanonical Gospels which circulated during the first centuries of the Church. First of all, they commended themselves by their tone of simplicity and truthfulness, which stood in striking contrast with the trivial, absurd, or manifestly legendary character of many of those uncanonical productions. In the next place, they had an earlier origin than most of their apocryphal rivals, and indeed many of the latter productions were directly based on the canonical Gospels. A third feature in favour of our canonical records of Christ’s life was the purity of their teachings, dogmatic and moral, over against the Jewish, Gnostic, or other heretical views with which not a few of the apocryphal gospels were tainted, and on account of which these unsound writings found favour among heretical bodies and, on the contrary, discredit in the eyes of Catholics. Lastly, and more particularly, the canonical Gospels were regarded as of Apostolic authority, two of them being ascribed to the Apostles St. Matthew and St. John, respectively, and two to St. Mark and St. Luke, the respective companions of St. Peter and St. Paul. Many other gospels indeed claimed Apostolic authority, but to none of them was this claim universally allowed in the early Church. The only apocryphal work which was at all generally received, and relied upon, in addition to our four canonical Gospels, is the “Gospel according to the Hebrews“. It is a well-known fact that St. Jerome, speaking of this Gospel under the name of “The Gospel according to the Nazarenes“, regards it as the Hebrew original of our Greek canonical Gospel according to St. Matthew. But, as far as can be judged from its fragments which have come down to us, it has no right to originality as compared with our first canonical Gospel. At a very early date, too, it was treated as devoid of Apostolic authority, and St. Jerome himself, who states that he had its Aramaic text at his disposal, does not assign it a place side by side with our canonical Gospels: all the authority which he ascribes to it is derived from his persuasion that it was the original text of our First Gospel, and not a distinct Gospel over and above the four universally received from time immemorial in the Catholic Church.

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