Saturday, July 11, 2009

On the Formation of the Canon and the Deuterocanonical Books: Part 1

What follows is a debate that took place at the HCR forum. Someone posted two articles by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon (from the "A Puritan's Mind" website) on the Catholic canon, which includes, as he sees it, certain "apocryphal" books. Both articles very lengthy, and there are in fact 3 more articles that I didn't bother responding to. I just wanted, at least with these two, to expose the errors in them and defend the Catholic canon of the Bible.

Let the games begin! McMahon's words will be indented, mine will be flush to the left.

  • So the RCC argument is this: these councils and these fathers affirm these books to belong to the sacred canon, therefore these books are canonical. This has been the official position since Trent’s dogmas.
That is not the extent of the Catholic argument, just one of many.

  • I deny the whole of the major premise by the RCC for a variety of reasons.
    1) We must never state that fathers and councils speak the truth simply based on what they deem to be true since the Scriptures themselves must stand the test in and of themselves and account for their own veracity (which the Apocrypha will never pass as a test based on its veracity alone)
Neither will the rest of Scripture. The Bible doesn't tell us which books should be in the Bible, so the idea that "the Scriptures themselves must stand the test in and of themselves and account for their own veracity" is pretty silly to me.

  • 2) Trent was no general council, though the RCC esteems it as such. However, Akanus Copus (in Dialog Quint. C. 16.) states that there were fewer bishops at this council that at any other. And the total of those in attendance was less than fifty. If this is a provincial council, fine. But a general ecclesiastical council I in no way accept, nor do many RCC fathers.
First of all, his number of those in attendance is incorrect. On the first day of the Council, there were at least 85 present, but definitely more since the legates of Germany were also present but we don't know how many of these there were. The number fluctuated up and down as the Council progressed, from as low as 68 to as high as 235. 215 signed the final decrees of the final session. So, yea, 50 is a little off.

You have to keep in mind that various wars and Protestant kings and princes threatened the Council from the very beginning, pretty much doing everything they could to disrupt it. This, of course, also accounted for the absences of so many bishops. So, it's not like the number was less than expected b/c bishops were protesting or b/c certain bishops weren't invited. This is also a time before trains, planes, and automobiles, so the trek to Trent was not exactly easy.

That said, I'd like to know who these "many RCC fathers" were who rejected the council b/c it's news to me. The Council of Trent has always been considered a General (or "Ecumenical") Council.

  • 3) The council of Carthage was provincial and composed of a few bishops; there is no authority in them, by themselves, to make a judgment of this kind having been provincial and not general.
No one ever said that the councils of Carthage and of Hippo were initially meant to be General Councils or universal in their authority. These councils are important insofar as they provide for us two of several articulations within the Tradition of the Church of what was considered canonical Scripture. They tell us that, in the late fourth century, the Church in Africa utilized a canon equal to that of the current Catholic canon. To anyone who cares at all about the history of Christianity, that is very significant.

  • Even in their own canons at that council (canon 26.2) states “the bishop of the chief see shall not be called high priest, or chief of the priests, or by any such title.” They cannot bind those by the authority they refuse upon themselves.
Oh, gimmie a break! Why would they convene a council in the first place if they didn't believe that they had authority to do so or that their decrees wouldn't be authoritative for the African people? That's ludicrous. They weren't abrogating their own authority, they were simply defining what was a legitimate title for a bishop.

  • 4) The RCC says the Trullan council of Constantinople (which was a general council) approved the Carthaginian council. But if the decree of the number of canonical books was legitimately approved, then that also concerning the title of high priest was confirmed by the same sanction, which they will never concede, and shows their authority to be false. How will they divide these things? I acknowledge the Trullan council as ecumenical, but the RCC themselves doubt what should be determined of the authority of the canons which are attributed to the council (as I agree with Whitaker). Pighius, in his own writing calls this council “spurious, and by no means genuine.” Melchior Canus too (Lib. V. cap. Ult.) declares the council to have no ecclesiastical authority. There are some things in the canons which they do not approve of - that the bishop of Constantinople is equal with the Roman, canon 36; that priests and deacons are not to be separated from their wives, canon 13, etc. It is a strong objection to the credit and authority of these canons, that the 85 canons of the apostles are approved and received in them (canon 2) – but Pope Gelasius (Gratian, Dist. 15. C. Romana Ecclesia) declares the book of the apostolic canons apocryphal. And Gratian (Dist. 16.5) says, that there are only 50 canons of the apostles, and they are apocryphal, upon the authority of Isidore who says they were composed by heretics under the name of the apostles (and he said there were only 60). More this can be cited, but I stop at wearying you to show you the point that their inconsistencies within the councils are numerous and contradictory to one another, for: If these are true and genuine canons of the apostles, then the RCC is refuted in their opinion of the number of canonical books of the OT and NT by the authority of the canons of the apostles. If they be not, as it is plain that they are not, then the synod of Constantinople erred, when it approved them as apostolical. Yet the RCC denies that a general council can err in its decrees respecting matters of faith. How will the RCC reconcile this except by denial and side stepping?
First of all, it is possible to approve certain decrees of a council without approving the entire council. Secondly, whether or not the Council of Trullo erred in some way is really a non-issue, since this council has never been considered a General Council of the Church. No "side-stepping" is necessary, just about 3 minutes of research. For the woefully ignorant, a list of all 21 General Councils can be found here.

  • 5) Thus, I can judge what force and authority is to be allowed to the canon of this council of Constantinople; and what sort of persons the RCC are to deal with, who both deny that these canons have any legitimate authority, and yet confirm the sentence of the Council of Carthage by the authority of these very canons. Canus (Lib. II. Cap. 9) proves the authority of the council of Carthage, in enumerating the number of books because of Trullan, yet the same man in Lib. V. cap. 6. ad argument. 6., makes light of the authority of these canons, and brings many arguments to break them down. Consistency?
For one, we don't confirm the authority of the Council of Carthage based on the authority of the Council of Trullo. I have never seen a single theologian or apologist do this, nor any Catholic textbook, encyclopedia, or dictionary. Whoever this "Canus" guy is, his unique defense of Carthage is his own. Secondly, just b/c we say that the Council of Trullo does not have universal authority, it does not follow from this that we also reject the canon of Carthage that Trullo approved. In other words, Trullo's affirmation of the canon of Carthage was correct, but their authority to make this or any other affirmations was not universal in nature.

  • 6) Gelasius in his council with 70 bishops receive 1st Maccabees, and one Esdras, rejecting 2nd Maccabees (which is apocryphal) and Nehemiah, which is canonical.
I tried to look this up, but was unable to find anything, so I'm not quite sure what he's talking about here. At any rate, if this took place within the first 5 centuries of the Church then it exists along the other arguments that comprise the debate over what was canonical. No one denies that these books were debated in the early Church. My point is that, once we emerge from the early Church period, Christianity had settled upon the canon as it exists in the Catholic bible.

  • 7) Before the RCC can press all men with the authority of these councils, they should themselves determine, as Whitaker says, whether it is at all in the power of any council to determine what books should or should not be received (which they have not done consistently). For this is doubted among many RCs, as Canus confesses in Lib. II. C. 8. The major premise stated as the RCC proposition does not hold.
Doubted by many RC's? That's ridiculous. It is Catholic doctrine that General Councils are binding upon the whole Church.

My response to point #6 works for points 8, 9, and 11 as well, which is really just more of the same (McMahon pointing out that there was disagreement in the early Church). There's no point in repeating myself [see the article if you want to read what those points were].

  • 10) Let it also be noted that Carthage deemed 5 books of Solomon where only 3 are Solomon’s. Augustine once thought the book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus was Solomon but later retracted this. “Learned men have no doubt that they are not Solomon’s; (Ubi supra, 765.) He also testifies they were not received in all the churches (De Civit. Dei. Lib. XVII. C. 20.)
The "Five Books of Solomon" that the council is referring to are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach (or "Ecclesiasticus"). The author of these books is actually a separate topic all together (I don't really see how it bears upon this debate), but it should be noted that, at one time or another, all five were attributed to Solomon.

  • 12) Cajetan, the Jesuit, a champion of the RCC who was sent to rebuff Luther, says, “Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the OT. For the rest (that is Judith Tobit, and the books of Macabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed among the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Pologus Galeatus. Not be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldst find any where, either in sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. According to his judgment…these books (and any other like books in the canon of the Bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith.” (See his commentary on the History of the OT)

    13) See from Cajetan himself that Jerome is the final word on these books, and Jerome counted them as apocryphal and not Scriptural. (Which will be seen in greater depth in another email)

    14) There are two kinds of “canonical” books – some contain both the rule of faith and morals; these are properly called Scripture – canonical in the strict sense. Others are helpful by way of moral alone, but no rules. Any book I read which spiritually edifies my soul is helpful as far as morality is concerned, but does not bind my conscience. The Scripture is Porto-canonical, the apocrypha may be deemed Deutero canonical because they do not combine both a bind upon faith and morals. Here Jerome stands, as well a Cajetan. The RCC is greatly angered by these men and their view – but they are Rome’s champions.
The following paragraph from George Reid's New Advent encyclopedia entry on the Canon of the Old Testament provides the answer to anyone who quotes Cajetan and other theologians of the Middle Ages who debated the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books:
  • The prevailing attitude of Western medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers. The chief cause of this phenomenon in the West is to be sought in the influence, direct and indirect, of St. Jerome's depreciating Prologus. The compilatory "Glossa Ordinaria" was widely read and highly esteemed as a treasury of sacred learning during the Middle Ages; it embodied the prefaces in which the Doctor of Bethlehem had written in terms derogatory to the deuteros, and thus perpetuated and diffused his unfriendly opinion. And yet these doubts must be regarded as more or less academic. The countless manuscript copies of the Vulgate produced by these ages, with a slight, probably accidental, exception, uniformly embrace the complete Old Testament Ecclesiastical usage and Roman tradition held firmly to the canonical equality of all parts of the Old Testament. There is no lack of evidence that during this long period the deuteros were read in the churches of Western Christendom. As to Roman authority, the catalogue of Innocent I appears in the collection of ecclesiastical canons sent by Pope Adrian I to Charlemagne, and adopted in 802 as the law of the Church in the Frankish Empire; Nicholas I, writing in 865 to the bishops of France, appeals to the same decree of Innocent as the ground on which all the sacred books are to be received.
It is no small thing that these deuterocanonical books were being read in the liturgy. "Lex orendi, lex credendi" -- The law of prayer is the law of belief. One of the best ways to learn what the Church believed at any particular time is to look at how she prayed, how she worshipped, how she structured her liturgy. Certain academics and theologians may have revived the debate on the deuterocanonical books, but, "on the ground" so to speak -- where people were teaching, learning, reading, praying, living -- these books were considered canonical.

  • 15) Thus, the arguments so far are weak at best, crumbling to the ground based on the history of the RCC alone, its contradictory councils and its own theologians.

  • I shall write next on why the apocryphal books cannot be included because they have not been written by any prophet, and show the importance of this.
I look forward to it, and intend to write a point-by-point rebuttal of the last part of McMahon's article as soon as time permits.

Pax Christi,

PS: From here you may proceed to Part 2.

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