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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology
CHAPTER II: THE SPECIAL CHARACTER OF SCRIPTURE.
126. Subject of Chapter. – In this chapter we shall show that Jews and heathens have agreed with Christians in recognizing that a peculiar character attaches to the Books that we call Scripture. This is shown by the zeal of the heathen for the destruction of these Books, and by the care of believers for their preservation, as also by the laborious study of their contents and by the decisive authority attributed to them.
127. Names given to Scripture. – We have now to see what there is that belongs in common to all the Books of which we have hitherto spoken under the name of Scripture or Scriptures. This name itself occurs some fifty times in the New Testament, to denote the writings that make up the Old Testament. Examples will be found in St. Matt. xxi. 42; xxii. 29; St. John ii. 22; Acts i. 19; Romans i. 2; I St. Peter ii. 6. This word means simply Writings. In 2 Timothy iii. 15, another word is employed both in the Greek and in the Latin (τὰ ἰερὰ γρἀμματα, sacræ literæ, instead of ἠ γραθἠ, or ἄγται γραθαἰ, scriptura), but the sense is the same. Various reasons have been found for these books being called Holy: they come from the Spirit of Holiness, the matter they teach is holy, and it makes holy those who are guided by it. Other names are, the Book of the Lord (Isaias xxxiv. 16), and the Book of the Law of God. (2 Esdras viii. 8.) The word Bible is nothing but the Greek word, βιβλια, meaning "Books." St. Jerome, and others in imitation of him, use Bibliotheca, which is properly Library. It occurs in a gossiping letter on literary subjects (Epist. 5 al 6, ad Florentium; P.L. 22, 336); numerous examples from later writers will be found in Ducange, Gloss. Med. et Inf. Latin, s.v.
The word Testament which we apply to the two collections, Old and New, properly signifies the last will, which is to take effect after the death of him that made it; and St. Paul uses it in this sense, and founds an argument upon the mutable nature which it retains so long as the testator lives. (Hebrews ix. 15 − 17.) But the same word is used in the Vulgate in the sense of “covenant” (St. Matt. xxvi. 28), where it represents the διαθἠκη of the Septuagint, which Greek word is elsewhere translated fœdus, or covenant, in the Vulgate. (Exodus xxiv. 7.) From "covenant" to "instrument testifying to a covenant," the transition is easy, and this explains our English use of the word Testament for the collection of Books which contain the particulars of the covenant entered into by God, first with the Israelitish nation, and then with the Christian people. Tertullian uses Instrument in the same sense. See, for instance, Adv. Marcionem, 4, 1; P.L. 2, 361.
The name Canonical Book will be more conveniently explained in the fourth chapter of this Treatise, (n. 148.)
128. Mode of citation. – A peculiar form is used whenever one of these Books is cited in another. "It is written," is the formula in the Synoptic Gospels and St. Paul (St. Matt. iv. 4; Romans i. 17), and the slightly different form of the verb employed by St. John (γεγραμμἐνον ὲστἰν instead of γἐγραπται) can scarcely be distinguished in translation. (St. John ii. 17.) From the New Testament the same usage passed to the Fathers, so that when any early writer employs this formula in citing a Book, we have an accepted proof that he regarded this Book as forming a part of the Holy Scriptures. Much is made of this text by writers on the Canon, and we shall have occasion to employ it in our chapter on the subject.
129. Decisiveness. – It may be observed that when a Book of Scripture is cited, it is treated as a decisive authority, against which there is no appeal. A good instance is seen in the narrative of the Temptation of our Lord (St. Matt. iv. 4; St. Luke iv. 4); but the examples are very frequent, such as Acts xxiii. 5; Romans xiv. 11. Naturally, the Scriptures are not quoted in discourses addressed to the heathen, but Jews and Christians alike admitted their authority as decisive.
130. Manuscripts and Versions. – It will be sufficient to remind the reader of what was said in our first Treatise (nn. 49, 50), concerning the multitude of manuscripts of the Scriptures, in a great variety of languages. This evidence of care suffices to show the esteem in which these Books were held, far above any other writings.
131. Laborious Study. – The same high esteem for these books above all other books is shown by the diligence with which they were studied. They were constantly read in the assemblies of Christians, and were the basis of argument and exhortation. And to this use corresponded the assiduous toil at their study and interpretation which occupied so large a part of the lives of the great writers of the Church, with results of which their works are full. No books approach these of which we are speaking in the number of commentaries which have been written upon them, and men of the highest intellectual ability, such as St. Augustine, have thought their time well spent in searching out the meaning of each phrase of this text; a labour which they would have disdained to employ in the case of any other book. The result has been that in all Catholic countries the minds of men are filled with the phraseology of the Holy Scripture, and the more so in proportion as religion flourishes among them; and they find this familiarity to be perfectly consistent with a dutiful submission to the teaching of the Church. The men who lived in those centuries which are sometimes called the "Dark Ages” and sometimes the “Ages of Faith,” were certainly not lacking in the spirit of humble acceptance of whatever came to them by the tradition of the Church; yet their minds were altogether saturated with Holy Scripture, as will be easily seen by any one who, being himself familiar with the version in use in those days, will study a page of their writings with the view of noting the ideas and phrases that are borrowed from the Scripture.
132. Esteemed by the Jews. – The esteem in which the Scriptures were held by the Jews is testified by the care with which the Hebrew copies were made, as may be seen in any book on the usages of the people. It is proved too by the elaborate machinery of points and accents by which their learned men strove, with dubious success, to keep alive the traditional pronunciation. They preserved the text with sacred care; and for this object they went through the labour of counting the verses in each book and noting which verse held the middle place. And a still stronger proof of their almost excessive reverence for the letter is found in this, that they invented an immense science, called the Cabbala, which set about the task of deducing secret meanings from the numerical value of the letters composing a word. In the Hebrew, as in many other alphabets, each letter represents a number, and the numerical value of a word is that obtained by adding together the numerical values of the letters. The fundamental principle of the Cabbalistic science was that when two words had the same numerical value, their meanings must have some secret connection which it was the business of the student to discover. It was pretended, without an atom of proof, that the bases of this science had been revealed to Moses, and the knowledge of them was handed down by secret tradition. Of course, in skilful hands it led to very remarkable results; but its only interest to us lies in the fact that it proves how thoroughly the Jews were imbued with the conviction that the Books of Scripture were in some way different from all other books.
Their reverence, carried to such excess, raises a presumption that they did not tamper with the text, and it is certain that they have not done so. In proof, we must distinguish the time that went before the preaching of Christ and His Apostles from the years that followed. For the first period the proof is negative; there is no trace of any such corruptions, although the Old Testament contains much matter which redounds to the discredit of the Israelitish nation: and in the New Testament nothing of the sort is laid to the charge of the Jews, but they are congratulated on the honour of being custodians of the words of God (Romans iii. 2): for the second period, we have positive proof, for the Greek, Latin, and Syriac versions were in the hands of the Christians; and comparing these with the Hebrew text as preserved by the Jews, we find substantial identity, and in particular the great Messianic prophecies are read in the Hebrew as clearly as in those copies which the Gentiles used. The innocence of the Jews in this respect seems to be established beyond doubt; nevertheless, it is no great matter of surprise that the charge of corrupting the Scriptures was made against them. References to several authors of ancient and comparatively modern times, who have made the charge, will be found in Cornely’s Introductio, i. 270. Some of these passages do not seem to impute corruption of the text, but unfair translation under the influence of what would now be called dogmatic prejudice: as when damsel is put instead of virgin in Isaias vii. 14. (St. Irenæus, c. Hær. 3, 21; P.G. 7, 946.) St. Justin Martyr (c. Tryphon. 71; P.G. 6, 641) speaks of authorities existing in the Books which the Jews still hold to, implying that he believed them to have suppressed some Books: Tertullian says roundly that the Jews reject almost all passages that speak of Christ (De Cultu Feminarum, 3; P.L. i, 1308), and Origen accuses them of keeping and issuing garbled copies for the use of the people, while their learned men had perfect copies for their own use. (Epist. ad Africanum, 9; P.G. 11, 65.) These accusations seem to have been baseless: they were due to mistakes which are excusable when we remember the difficulty which was experienced in procuring correct copies. St. Jerome (In Isaiam 3, 7; P.L. 24, 99) quotes Origen as defending the Jews against these charges by pretty much the same arguments as we used above; and St. Augustine (De Civit. Dei, 15, 13; P.L. 41, 452) makes the remark that if the copies of the Hebrew used by the Jews throughout the world are found to differ from the Septuagint, it is most probable that this last is in error; for a mistake made accidentally in an early transcript of the Greek may well have been transmitted, but it would have been impossible to alter the multitude of Hebrew copies in all countries of East and West.
133. Heretics and Heathens. – We have a further proof of the special esteem in which these books were held in early times, as a sign that they were believed to differ essentially from all other books, in the use made of them by heretics, who sometimes rejected particular Books of Scripture or added to the list, but who never ventured to deny the authority of the collection as a whole: the only exception being perhaps the case of those sects who regarded the Old Testament as the utterance of a Being inferior to the God of the New Testament, or perhaps opposed to Him: but even these acknowledged the Old Testament as not being a merely human utterance. And lastly, the same point is illustrated by the course adopted by the Emperor Diocletian in 303, when he began his final attempt to suppress the Christian religion, and ordered that the Sacred Books should be delivered up to be burnt. (Eusebius, H.E. 3, 2; P.G. 20, 745.) God's providence watched over the preservation of the precious deposit that He had committed to His Church, and the Emperor's will was not carried out to the full: nevertheless, a large number of the then existing copies were destroyed, and this may be the reason why no fragment has survived which can be supposed to have been written before the fourth century. To deliver up the Scriptures to the emissaries of the Government was esteemed a form of apostasy: up to this time three classes of Lapsi had been recognized; the Sacrificati, who had actually sacrificed; the Thurificati, who had offered incense to the idols: and the Libellatici, who procured by bribery a false certificate that they had complied with the law: the fourth class, who had delivered up the books, were called Traditores. (See St. Augustine, De Baptismo contra Donatum, lib. 7, c. 2, n. 3). The accusation of being Traditores, or of having communion with them, and being thus partakers in their guilt, was freely handed to and fro in the beginning of the Donatist controversy.
134. Recapitulation. – In this chapter we have illustrated the truth that a special character was believed to belong to the Books of Holy Scripture as shown by the names given to the collection, by the mode in which they were cited and their decisive authority; by the care taken in multiplying copies and versions and in studying them, and by the conduct of the Jews, Heretics, and Heathen, in their regard.