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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology
CHAPTER IV: THE CANON.
148. Subject of the Chapter. – Having seen that the peculiar character of the Books of Scripture is found in their Divine authorship, we must now proceed to consider what are the Books to which this character attaches, or what books are canonical. The Canon of Scripture is the authentic list of the Books of Scripture; hence the subject of the present chapter is the determination of the Canon. On theological principles this determination presents no difficulty; we have an express declaration of the Church, which is clear and unmistakeable, and gives rise to no controversies; but the justification of this declaration from the accustomed sources, Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, presents no small difficulty. Scripture is silent as to its own extent, and Reason has no place in the discussion of a positive matter of this kind ; there remains Tradition, and this has not always spoken with clear voice, for there was a period, corresponding more or less to the latter part of the fourth century, when some doubt existed within the Church; a doubt which, as we shall see, arose from scholars deserting the teachings of Tradition which had not yet been authentically declared by the Church, and following the leadings of their own scholarship. Some of these men, as St. Jerome, were in the front rank for sanctity as well as learning, but they adopted a faulty method, and they fell into error.
The full discussion of the matter must be sought elsewhere. It properly belongs to Introductions to Holy Scripture to justify the inclusion of each Book in the Canon, and the reader must be referred to Father Cornely's, or similar works. An historical question of this kind, turning on the opinion of various Fathers, would require copious citations from their works, together with such explanation as is necessary to show the true meaning ; and these would occupy more space than we can afford. We can do no more than endeavour to point out the nature of the existing controversy, and indicate the line of reasoning which justifies the decision to which the Church has come.
149. The rival Canons. – The list of canonical writings, as given at the beginning of our Bibles, contains seventy-three Books, of which forty-six belong to the Old Testament and twenty-seven to the New. Besides these, it is not unusual to print in editions of the Vulgate three other Books, called the Prayer of Manasses and the Third and Fourth Books of Esdras. The matter of these belongs to Old Testament times, but they are no part of inspired Scripture; the custom of printing them along with the inspired Books probably comes down from the days when the Canon was as yet unsettled, and is retained for convenience; their inferior position is marked by their being placed at the end, after the New Testament. In what follows we shall not be concerned with them.
The great bulk of Protestants, if not all their sects, agree in accepting a less extensive list of canonical Books. They reject seven of the Books of the Old Testament which we receive, as well as large portions of two other Books: in the New Testament the two lists are in perfect agreement. The Books that they reject are Judith and Tobias, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom, the Prophet Baruch, and the First and Second Books of Machabees.
The Protestants give the name of Apocrypha to the Books of the Old Testament that they reject. But this word, by ecclesiastical usage, denotes what is of no authority, mere forgeries, the work of unknown authors who falsely assumed the names of Prophets and Apostles. The seven disputed Books are not of this nature, for even they who deny that they are inspired Scripture, acknowledge that these Books had a respectable origin, and that they may be read for example of life and instruction of manners. But although the name Apocrypha is not fairly applicable to this group of Books, it is certainly necessary to have some name by which to distinguish them; for they stand apart from the other inspired Books in this, that at one time there was doubt in the Church concerning their authority. They might, if usage allowed, conveniently be termed the Disputed Books, as distinguished on the one hand from the Acknowledged Books and on the other from the Spurious. These classes are discussed by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3, 25; P.G. 30, 268–272), and were perhaps first established by him; the terms which he employs are: ὀμολογοὐμενοι for the Books that were always acknowledged; ἀντιλεγὀμενοι for those to which objections were raised; and νὀθοι for those which found no defenders. He is speaking of the New Testament, but his terminology is also applied to the Old. The terms at present in most use for the Books of the first class is to say that they are protocanonical, while the second class are deuterocanonical; these cumbrous and meaningless words were first used by Sixtus of Siena, a converted Jew who lived in the sixteenth century, and became first a Franciscan friar, but afterwards a Dominican. He was one of the first writers who treated Scripture in what would now be call a “critical” spirit, and his works, brought out under the patronage of St. Pius V., had wide circulation, and his language passed into common use. We may say then that Catholics admit to the Canon, and Protestants reject, the seven deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament.
In the New Testament also there are seven deuterocanonical Books: the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Second Epistle of St. Peter, the Second and Third of St. John, the Epistles of St. James and St.Jude, and the Apocalypse; also, three passages from the Gospels fall into the same class; the last twelve verses of St. Mark, the history of the Agony and Bloody Sweat in St. Luke xxii. 43, 44, and the history of the woman taken in adultery, St. John vii. 53 — viii. 11. All these were at one time doubted in the Church, and therefore cannot be called protocanonical; the history of the controversy in their regard is however quite different from that which treats of the Old Testament. Catholics and Protestants alike receive the deuterocanonical parts of the New Testament, their Canons being identical.
150. The Canon. How determined. – We will now compare the principles on which Catholics and Protestants go in determining the list of Books that they receive.
The Catholic Canon is found in the Decree on the subject adopted in the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent. This Decree gives the list of Books which, it says, have been preserved in the Church, and reverenced, and treats this as in itself sufficient reason for receiving them ; the adoption and approbation of the Decree was in itself proof that in the year 1546 this was the list which the Church of the time received ; and on the principles explained in our Treatise on Tradition, and which will be more fully developed in the Treatise on the Church, this consent is conclusive upon the point: the Church cannot agree in error as to a point of revealed doctrine.
The Protestant Canon, as received by almost all the various sects, is found in the Sixth of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which are part of the law binding on members of the Established Church of England. It is introduced as follows: "In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." Then after the list of the protocanonical Books of the Old Testament, the Article goes on: "And other books, as Hierome saith, the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine." These are the deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament. Then: "All the Books of the New Testament as they are commonly received we do receive and account them Canonical." No list is given.
It will be observed that this Article sets up different standards for the Old and New Testaments. In both cases it rests on the general acceptance of the Books by the Church. This is the true Catholic principle, but it is totally inconsistent with the teaching of another clause in the same Article, which insists on the sufficiency of Scripture as the Rule of Faith. (Ante, n. 78.) In the application however of this rule to the Old Testament, it is required that there should never have been any doubt, while for the New, the actual consent of the Church in the year 1571, when the Articles were finally put into their present form, is held to be sufficient; and no account is taken of the grave doubts which once existed as to the authority of the seven deuterocanonical Books. 151. The Canon. When established. – As before remarked (n. 148), we cannot attempt to give the history of the Canon in this place. The first authoritative enumeration appears to have been that put forth by the Council of Carthage in 397 (Denz. 49), which contains all the Books both protocanonical and disputed. This Council was not ecumenical, but its decree was accepted by the Church at large, especially after the decrees of Innocent I. and that of Gelasius in 494. (Denz. 59, 139; see n. 297.) By this time all doubt had died out of the Church, and as regards the seven disputed Books of the New Testament it has never been revived. To prove that such doubt once existed, it will be enough to quote St. Jerome: "The Latins do not commonly receive the Epistle to the Hebrews as canonical Scripture, and the Greeks similarly reject the Apocalypse of John” (Epist. 129, ad Dardan, 3; P.L. 22, 1003), and similar expressions are used concerning the other five Books which we have mentioned as being disputed. St. Jerome himself accepted these Books, and the reason he gives is worthy of attention; in the passage just quoted he goes on: "For my part I receive both, being led to do so, not by the usage of the present day, but by the practice of the ancients." He recognized that if there had ever been consent in the Church, the fact that there had at another time been doubt was of no account.
There are other words in this same weighty passage which should be noticed. St. Jerome has been saying that there was some doubt as to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and he relates various opinions, assigning St. Paul, St. Barnabas, or St. Clement as the author; but, says St. Jerome, it matters not who is the author, for he is a Catholic, and his Book is constantly read in the churches. This passage shows that St.Jerome was far from regarding Apostolic authorship as coextensive with inspiration; thus giving the weight of his authority against one of the theories current among Protestants.
152. The Old Testament. – As to the Old Testament, the claim of the protocanonical Books is established beyond a doubt by the fact that far the greater number of them are quoted as authoritative by Christ and His Apostles, as is shown by the Table of Citations which is to be found in most copies of the New Testament; and it is known historically that the whole collection was held in honour by the Jews of Palestine in the days of our Lord, so that no one seriously disputes the right to a place in the canon of those few Books which are not expressly quoted. But as to the deuterocanonical Books there is some difficulty, and we must try to explain how the matter stands.
These seven Books are not found in the Hebrew Scriptures as they are preserved among the Jews, which the Jews esteem so highly and preserve so carefully (n. 132); and there is no reason to think that they were known, or at any rate held in honour in Palestine, during the years when our Lord was preaching; we may safely admit that they may have been unknown. On the other hand, they are found in the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures made about two hundred and fifty years before Christ, and said to be the work of Seventy Interpreters, and hence called the Septuagint: those Books which were written after the date of the version, being associated with the rest. This Septuagint, as it now exists, containing the seven disputed Books, represents the Scriptures as they were received by those Jews who had adopted the Greek language and the centre of whose learning was at Alexandria. This is indicated by the fact that the writers of the New Testament, Jews themselves, and in many cases writing primarily for Jews, but writing in Greek, habitually used the Septuagint version, which is the source of three hundred out of the three hundred and fifty citations from the Old Testament that are found in the New; and in many of the remaining fifty cases it is easy to see that the deviation from the Septuagint was rendered necessary by the particular purpose for which the citation was made. (See Michaelis, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. i. p. 215.) It is clear, therefore, that the Apostles regarded the Septuagint as being the standard Greek version of the Scriptures.
From the Apostles the same version passed to the Christian Church. Other Greek versions of the Scriptures existed, but the Septuagint was the version in common use, and it naturally followed that all the Books which it contained were esteemed to be Holy Scripture. Here we have the first stage in the history of the question (n. 113); general acceptance undisturbed by doubts. Difficulties, it is true, arose; for Christian disputants who engaged in argument with Palestinian Jews were surprised to find that some passages cited by them as from the Scripture were not acknowledged to be of binding authority. This would occur as often as a passage was taken from one of the deuterocanonical Books, for these do not occur in the Hebrew Canon, which alone the Palestinians recognized. It was felt to be necessary to avoid rebuffs of this kind, and every one who wished to equip himself for controversy with the Jews took pains to ascertain which were the Books from which he It was for this reason that might safely quote. It was for this reason that about the year 160, Melito, Bishop of Sardis in Asia Minor, undertook a journey into Palestine in order to learn what books were received by the Jews of that country. It is inconceivable that he undertook this labour as the only means for learning what were the Christian Scriptures, for as to this he could have learned the tradition of his own Church of Sardis; besides which, Palestine was no longer a great Christian centre, and this consideration is our guide in interpreting the letter in which he gives the result of his investigations: it is preserved by Eusebius. (Hist. Eccl. 4, 26; P.G. 5, 1215, 20, 396; Routh, Reliq. Sacr. 1, 120.) The catalogue which he gives omits the deuterocanonical Books, but it does not undertake to show more than the list of Books which the Jews acknowledged.
In the course of the third century, however, doubts began to find their way even into the Church. Thus, not far from the year 240, a man of learning, named Africanus, an historian, wrote to Origen, a famous Christian professor, to inquire as to the deuterocanonical part of the Book of Daniel which contains the history of Susannah and the Elders. Origen's reply sets forth clearly the way in which all such questions are to be treated: much of what he says applies to all the deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament. The two letters will be found in the works of Origen. (P.G. 11, 41–85.) The difficulty brought by Africanus was two-fold. First, he adduces certain intrinsic difficulties which seem to him to show that this portion of the Book cannot be Divine; and secondly, he argues, as of most importance, that the history is not found in the Daniel which is in use among the Jews. In modern language, Africanus thinks that criticism and antiquity are both against the history. Origen, in his reply, takes the objections in an inverse order: from the alleged witness of antiquity, he appeals to the undeniable witness of the Church of his own and having established his point by the day; authority of tradition, he proceeds with confidence to deal with the critical difficulties. This is exactly the Catholic procedure. After adducing various instances in which there is a difference between the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures, he ventures to speak ironically of his correspondent's objection. (P.G. 11, 57.) "So then it comes to this: we must make no account of all the copies that are current in the churches, and lay it down as a law to Christians to do away with their own Sacred Books, and go, cap in hand, to the Jews, begging them to share with us their pure and unpolluted Scriptures. Can it be," he proceeds, "that the Providence which by the Holy Scripture gives edification to all the churches of Christ had no heed for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died?" It is plain that Origen made more account in this matter of the living Church than of dead antiquity.
Nevertheless, this same Origen was engaged on a work which gave rise to a controversy which lasted for more than a century. This was the compilation of his Hexapla, the Six-fold, an immense undertaking in which he exhibited the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures in six distinct forms, arranged in parallel columns. Only fragments of this great work have survived: they occupy vols. xv. And xvi. of the Patres Græci. The first column exhibits the Hebrew text: the second gives the same in Greek letters; the remaining four are occupied by as many Greek versions: those of the servilely literal Aquilas, made about the year 128 after Christ; of the Septuagint (B.C. 250); of Theodotion, somewhat earlier than 176, founded upon the preceding, with changes which were not always for the worse, so that this version is still used in the Eastern Church, in place of the Septuagint, for the Book of Daniel; and lastly, that of Symmachus, who was somewhat free in his rendering of difficult passages. (See Lamy, Introductio, I, 148–154.)
This work became widely known, and brought to the minds of all interested in the matter that the seven Books were not extant in the Hebrew; and doubts as to their authority arose in the minds of many, who had not Origen's grasp of principles. The extent, however, to which these doubts prevailed has been much exaggerated, and they seem never to have led to anything like fixed opinion against the authority of these disputed Books. It was felt that so long as doubt existed these Books could not be used in controversy : this is a sound principle, and the time of uncertainty constituted the second stage in the history. A discussion of the relevant passages will be found in Comely, Introductio, I, 90—111, where it is shown that the difficulty felt by St. Jerome himself was speculative rather than practical: it was not so much that he rejected the authority of the disputed Books, as that he failed to see how their authority was to be defended.
This period of doubt and dispute led to the third and final stage of universal acquiescence: the consentient voice of Christendom made itself heard, and the Decree passed at Carthage in 397 being universally accepted, controversy was at an end. (Ante, n. 151.)
153. Recapitulation. – In this chapter we have told what are the Canons of Scripture accepted by the Catholic Church and by the various sects of Protestants, and we have shown what is the principle alleged by the supporters of each. We have shown that the Protestant principle would require them to reject seven Books of the New Testament which they accept; while the objections which they allege from antiquity against seven Books of the Catholic Old Testament Canon are not conclusive.