Why the Roman Catholic Arguments for the Canon are Spurious
By William Webster
A Catholic Response
By Scott Windsor
The Catholic Response to this article will be in Verdana font and green to differentiate from the original article by Wm. Webster.
It is often asserted by Roman Catholic apologists that Protestants must rely on their tradition in order to know which books ought to be included in the Biblical Canon. The argument says that since there is no “inspired table of contents” for the Bible, then we are forced into relying upon tradition to dictate which books belong in the Bible, and which books do not. It was the church of Rome, these apologists alledge, which determined the canon at the Councils of Hippo (393 A.D.) and
It was not "only due to this" that we have the canon we have today – for the Holy Ghost working through the Catholic Church is what led to today's infallible Canon of Sacred Scriptures – AND – an "inspired table of contents!"
The argument of Roman Catholics for the Canon is spurious on a number of counts.
First of all, the Councils of Carthage and Hippo did not establish the canon for the Church as a whole. The New Catholic Encyclopedia actually affirms the fact that the Canon was not officially and authoritatively established for the
Yes, the Council of Trent was the first time the canon was dogmatically defined. The wording of the above paragraph itself is a bit spurious. It seems to be lending credence to the non-canonical status of the deuterocanonicals – yet this encyclopedic article (which is an encyclopedia – not an official church document) was written LONG AFTER the Council of Trent – where the Canon of Sacred Scripture was declared and defined dogmatically. Whether or not the definition came 1500 years into Christendom or not, is NOT the point here! The point is – IT CAME and for any Catholic to now doubt it or cast doubt upon it is scandalous. Whether or not there was uncertainty prior to
There are major fathers in the Church prior to the North African Councils who rejected the judgment of these councils such as Origen, Melito of Sardis, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Hilary of Poitiers, Epiphanius, Basil the Great, Jerome, Rufinus and a host of others. They hold to the view, generally speaking, that the Old Testament books were 22 in number or sometimes listed as 24 depending on how the books were grouped together. This corresponds to the Jewish canon which did not accept the books of the Apocrypha as being canonical. Jerome, who spent many years in
In a logical debate, assuming Mr. Webster would like us to consider his argumentation as logical, one does not make assertions without documentation and citing the documentation. All we have here is a bunch of name-dropping and assertion – but absolutely no supporting evidence to back up what Webster is alleging. If Mr. Webster wishes to amend his article and add some validation to his assertions – I will be happy to come back and answer, but I am not going to do his homework for him.
No disagreement here, and I know of no Catholic apologist attempting to affirm they were ecumenical councils.
In addition, those councils actually contradict the Council of Trent on an important point. Firstly, Hippo and
We must grant that the situation surrounding the books of Esdras and Nehemiah is a bit confusing. However, we must also remind the reader that whatsoever confusion there was – this is to be ended for faithful Catholics with the dogmatic decree of
Secondly, Hippo and
Well, the 5 attributed to Solomon are: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom and Sirach. All of these are part of the Catholic canon, listed by both
A second major point that proves the Roman Catholic claims to be spurious is the fact that the universal practice of the Church as a whole up to the time of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome who rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha on the grounds that these books were never part of the Jewish canon. Those books were permissable to be read in the Church for the purposes of edification but were never considered authoritative for the establishing of doctrine. This is why I believe that the term canonical in the early Church had 2 meanings, one broad in the sense that it encompassed all the books which were permissable to be read in the Church and another narrow which included only those books which were authoritative for the establishment of doctrine.
With all due respect, what Mr. Webster believes does not account for valid argumentation, again, assuming he wishes his article to be taken as a logical defense. The fact of the matter is not only were these declared permissible, but they were also declared "canonical" by both
The Council of Hippo in 393 reaffirmed the canon put forth by Pope Damasus I...
Council of Hippo. "It has been decided that besides the canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.
But the canonical Scriptures are as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon (included Wisdom and Ecclesiastes (Sirach)), the twelve books of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books."
(canon 36 A.D. 393).
The Third Council of
(canon 47 A.D. 397). http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/canon.htm
So, again, Mr. Webster has falsely represented what was actually stated in the canons of these councils in saying ANY of these books were not seen as authoritative – when there is NO DISTINCTION between them in the lists provided by these councils – and ALL of the books are decreed to be "canonical" and "Scripture."
Jerome's views are as follows:
These instances have been just touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the holy scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to shew you the way...Genesis ... Exodus ... Leviticus ... Numbers ... Deuteronomy ... Job ... Jesus the son of Nave ... Judges ... Ruth ... Samuel ... The third and fourth books of Kings ... The twelve prophets whose writings are compressed within the narrow limits of a single volume: Hosea ... Joel ... Amos ... Obadiah ... Jonah ... Micah ... Nahum ... Habakkuk ... Zephaniah ... Haggai ... Zechariah ... Malachi ... Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel ... Jeremiah also goes four times through the alphabet in different metres (Lamentations)... David...sings of Christ to his lyre; and on a psaltry with ten strings (Psalms) ... Solomon, a lover of peace and of the Lord, corrects morals, teaches nature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), unites Christ and the church, and sings a sweet marriage song to celebrate that holy bridal (Song of Songs) ... Esther ... Ezra and Nehemiah.
(Interjecting here – note –
You see how, carried away by my love of the scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter...The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ... The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle - that to the Hebrews - is not generally counted in with the others) ... The Acts of the Apostles ... The apostles James, Peter, John and Jude have published seven epistles ... The apocalypse of John ...I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953, Volume VI, St. Jerome, Letter LIII.6-10).
As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two volumes (Wisdom of Solomon and Eccesiasticus) for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church...I say this to show you how hard it is to master the book of Daniel, which in Hebrew contains neither the history of Susanna, nor the hymn of the three youths, nor the fables of Bel and the Dragon...(Ibid., Volume VI, Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome's Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs; Daniel, pp. 492-493).
Yet, in the end,
Let her treasures be not silks or gems but manuscripts of the holy scriptures...Let her begin by learning the psalter, and then let her gather rules of life out of the proverbs of Solomon...Let her follow the example set in Job of virtue and patience. Then let her pass on to the gospels...the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles...let her commit to memory the prophets, the heptateuch, the books of Kings and of Chronicles, the rolls also of Ezra and Esther. When she has done all these she may safely read the Song of Songs...Let her avoid all apocryphal writings, and if she is led to read such not by the truth of the doctrines which they contain but out of respect for the miracles contained in them; let her understand that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that many faulty elements have been introduced into them, and that it requires infinite discretion to look for gold in the midst of dirt (Ibid., Letter CVII.12).
What the Savior declares was written down was certainly written down. Where is it written down? The Septuagint does not have it, and the Church does not recognize the Apocrypha. Therefore we must go back to the book of the Hebrews, which is the source of the statements quoted by the Lord, as well as the examples cited by the disciples...But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant...The apostolic men use the Hebrew Scripture. It is clear that the apostles themselves and the evangelists did likewise. The Lord and Savior, whenever He refers to ancient Scripture, quotes examples from the Hebrew volumes...We do not say this because we wish to rebuke the Septuagint translators, but because the authority of the apostles and of Christ is greater..."(The Fathers of the Church (Washington: Catholic University, 1965), Volume 53, Saint Jerome, Against Rufinus, Book II.27, 33, pp. 151, 158-160).
It would seem that Mr. Webster is reading "apocryphal writings" through the glasses of a 21st century Protestant – whom
Rufinus who was a contemporary of Jerome's, a fellow student with him at
"And therefore it seems proper in this place to enumerate, as we have learnt from the tradition of the Fathers, the books of the New and of the Old Testament, which according to the tradition of our forefathers, are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and have handed down to the churches of Christ. Of the Old Testament, therefore, first of all there have been handed down five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; then Jesus Nave, (Joshua the son of Nun), the Book of Judges together with Ruth; then four books of Kings (Reigns), which the Hebrews reckon two; the book of Omissions, which is entitled the Book of Days (Chronicles), and two books of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), which the Hebrews reckon one, and Esther; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; moreover of the twelve minor Prophets, one book; Job also and the Psalms of David, each one book. Solomon gave three books to the Churches, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. These comprise the books of the Old Testament.
Of the New there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke; fourteen Epistles of the apostle Paul, two of the Apostle Peter, one of James, brother of the Lord and Apostle, one of Jude, three of John, the Revelation of John. These are the books which the Fathers have comprised within the Canon, and from which they would have us deduce the proofs of our faith.
But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not 'Canonical' but 'Ecclesiastical:' that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas (and that) which is called the Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named 'Apocrypha.' These they would not have read in the Churches. These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken" (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), Rufinus, Commentary on the Apostles' Creed 36, p. 557-558.).
Emphasis added above was mine – noting again that Rufinus includes two books of Ezra – just as we have been saying all along!
Pope Gregory the Great, writing at the end of the 6th century states that the book of 1 Maccabees is NOT canonical. I give the exact quote below. And Cardinal Cajetan, the leading scholar in the Church of Rome at the time of the Reformation affirms that the Church of his day followed the authority of Jerome and he suggests that there were 2 concepts of the term canon as I have just explained. He gives the following counsel on how one is to properly interpret the Councils of Hippo and
"Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by
These statements by Catejan are a fair summary of the overall view of the Church in both the East and West from the time of Athanasius and Jerome up through the 16th Century. Jerome's opinion completely dominated that of the ensuing centuries in the
Gregory the Great - "With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edification of the Church, we bring forward testimony. Thus Eleazar in the battle smote and brought down an elephant, but fell under the very beast that he killed" (1 Macc. 6.46). (Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, (Oxford: Parker, 1845), Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, Volume II, Parts III and IV, Book XIX.34, p.424.)
Junilius - North African Bishop - States that the books that are canonical are those according to the Hebrew Canon - He follows Jerome.
Primasius - North African Bishop - Follows Jerome in his evaluation of the canonical OT books.
Leontius - Follows the Hebrew Canon
Let this be clear – since at this time we did not have a dogmatic definition from an ecumenical council – individual bishops could indeed decree some variation for their jurisdiction.
6th Ecumenical Council - "It has also seemed good to this holy Council, that the eighty-five canons, received and ratified by the holy and blessed Fatliers before us, and also handed down to us in the name of the holy and glorious Apostles should from this time forth remain firm and unshaken for the cure of souls and the hearing of disorders. And in these canons we are bidden to receive the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles written by Clement. But formerly through the agency of those who erred from the faith certain adulterous matter was introduced, clean contrary to piety, for the polluting of the Church, which obscures the elegance and beauty of the divine decrees in their present form. We therefore reject these Constitutions so as the better to make sure of the edification and security of the most Christian flock; by no means admitting the offspring of heretical error, and cleaving to the pure and perfect doctrine of the Apostles. But we set our seal likewise upon all the other holy canons set forth by our holy and blessed Fathers, that is, by the 318 holy God-bearing Fathers assembled at Nice, and those at Ancyra, further those at Neocesarea and likewise those at Gangra, and besides, those at Antioch in Syria: those too at Laodicea in Plirygia: and likewise the 150 who assembled in this heaven-protected royal city: and the 200 who assembled the first time in the metropolis of the Ephesians, and the 630 holy and blessed Fathers at Chalcedon. In like manner those of Sardica, and those of
Roman Catholics apologists often assert that the canons of the council of
The point here would seem to be that the 6th ecumenical council accepted the Athanasian and Amphilocian canons as well as the wider Carthagian canon – thus not really helping Mr. Webster case again!
There are also the Panaretus, that is the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Jesus, which was published in Hebrew by the father of Sirach, and afterwards translated into Greek by his grandson, Jesus, the son of Sirach. These are virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark" (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicene and Post-NiceneFathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), Series Two, Volume IX, John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chapter XVII).
The logic of John of Damascus is questionable and not tenable. To claim the Jewish canon (a term foreign to them, by the way) is based on a code of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is a bit absurd – this would mean there was no "canon" for the Jews until the number of books reached 22? Still, it must be noted from our earlier discussion of Esdras/Ezra – John of Damascus includes these.
Bede - In his Commentary on Revelation he gives the number of OT Books in conformity with that given by Jerome.
Again I remind the readers –
Alcuin - Writing against Elipantus, Bishop of Toledo, who made reference to Ecclesiasticus in defending a doctrine he rebuked him saying: ‘That the prophets of God failed him, whereof he had never a one to bring for the defense of his error; and then, that the book of the Son of Sirach, which he had produced, was, both by Jerome's and Isidore's undoubted testimonies, since it was apocryphal, and therefore a dubious scripture, having not been written in the time of the Prophets, but in the time of the priests only, under Simon and Ptolmey.'
Rabanus Maurus - Archbishop of Mentz - Greatly influenced by Alcuin - followed the teaching of Isisdore and numbered the OT canonical books at 22.
Again, I remind the readers – prior to
Zonaras - Eastern Theologian - Wrote Commentaries upon the Canons that were received in the Greek Church - He states that the best rule for knowing what ought to be read in the Eastern Churches is to have recourse to the Apostles' Canons, the Council of Laodicea, and the canonical epistles of Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen and Amphilochius, who had given their rules as they had received them from the Apostles and their successors.
Rupert of Tuits - Wrote concerning the book of Wisdom that it is not in the canon. In his discourse on the 24 elders in Revelation he makes mention of the 24 canonical books of the OT.
Petrus Mauritius - Abbot of Cluny and friend of Bernard of Clairveaux - In a treatise in which he refutes the writings of certain heretics who wrote against the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments he defends the integrity of each of the books of the Old Testament and lists them as does Jerome. He then mentions the apocryphal books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith and Maccabees as books ‘very useful and commendable in the Church' but then he adds ‘that they are not to be placed in the same sublime and equal dignity with the rest' that he had mentioned before; thereby plainly distinguishing between the Divine canon of Scripture, and those that were merely Ecclesiastical and used for the general edification of the Church.
Hugo of St. Victor - Abbot of St. Victor's in
Richard of St. Victor - Is in complete agreement with the judgment of Hugo.
Peter Comestor - He wrote an abbreviated history of the Bible and called it the Scholastical History. In his preface on Joshua he gives the division of the Canonical OT books as the 5 books of Moses, the 8 books of the Prophets and the 9 books of the Hagiographa following the order of Jerome. When referring to Judith he explicitly states that it was not part of the canon.
John Beleth - Doctor of Divinity in
The Ordinary Gloss upon the Bible known as the Glossa Ordinaria - This became the standard authoritative biblical commentary for the
A designation given during the Middle Ages to certain compilations of "glosses" on the text of a given MS. The earliest glossa ordinaria is that made of the Bible, probably made in the 12th century...Although glosses originally consisted of a few words only, they grew in length as glossators enlarged them with their own comments and quotations from the Fathers. Thus the tiny gloss evolved into a running commentary of an entire book. The best-known commentary of this type is the vast Glossa ordinaria of the 12th and 13th centuries...So great was the influence of the Glossa ordinaria on Biblical and philisophical studies in the Middle Ages that it was called "the tongue of Scripture" and "the bible of scholasticism" (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Glossa Ordinaria; Glosses, Biblical, pp. 515-516).
The Glossa ordinaria states in the Preface that the Church permits the reading of the apocryphal books only for devotion and instruction in manners, but that they have no authority for concluding controversies in matters of Faith. It goes on to state that there are 22 books of the OT. In listing those 22 books it uses the testimonies of Origen, Jerome and Rufinus as support and when commenting on the apocyphal books it prefixes an introduction to them all saying: ‘Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; Here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon' and so forth for Ecclesiaticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc.'
Johannes de Columna - Archbishop of
Nicholas of Lira - He was converted from Judaism to Christianity. He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible which were highly regarded by the Churchmen of his day. In his preface to the Book of Tobit he states that by the favor of God assisting him he had already written upon all the canonical books of Scripture from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. He then declared his further intention to write upon those books which he said were not canonical, namely, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, and the Maccabees. He distinguished the apocrypah from the canonical books in the following way: the canonical books were not only before them in time, but in dignity and authority; while those that are not in the canon, were received into the Church, to be read there for men's instruction in manners, but not for any establishment of their Faith, while the others which were canonical were the prime source of doctrine of the true religion and contained nothing in them but what is true. In his Commentary on Ezra he states that he passed by the histories of Tobit, Judith and the Maccabees because they were not in the canon of Scripture, either with the Jews, or with Christians.
William Occham - He states that ‘neither Judith, nor Tobit, nor the Macabees, nor Wisdom nor Ecclesiasticus, are to be received ‘into any such height of honour' (as compared to Scripture), since the Church did not number them among the canonical Scriptures.'
Antoninus - Archbishop of
Alphonsus Tostatus - Bishop of Avila - He follows the judgment of Jerome in excluding the apocrypha from the canon of the Old Testament stating that the Church of his day did not receive these books as canonical but allowed them merely to be read in the Churches for the purpose of edification.
Francis Ximenius - Cardinal and Archbishop of Toledo - Was responsible for producing an edition of the Bible called the Biblia Complutensia. In producing this work he collaborated with the leading theologians of his day. In the Preface of this work there is an admonition given regarding the apocrypha. It states that the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Maccabees, the additions to Esther and Daniel (which were given there in Greek only), were not canonical Scripture. The Preface goes on to say that the Church did not receive the apocryphal books for confirming the authority of any fundamental points of doctrine, though the Church allowed them to be read for purposes of edification. This Bible and its Preface was published by the authority and consent of Pope Leo X, to whom the whole work was dedicated.
Again, I remind the readers – prior to
Jacobus Faber Stapulensis - Doctor at the
Erasmus - In his Explication of the Apostles' Creed, and the Decalogue he deals with the question as to the number of canonical books in the Old Testament. He states that the number is precisely that as given by Rufinus in which he enumerates the specific books listed by him and he concludes by saying that ‘the ancient Fathers admitted no more, of whose authority it was not lawful for any man to doubt.' He goes on to say that the Church did not grant the same authority to books like Tobit, Judith and Wisdom which it did to the canonical Scriptures.
Personal opinions of individual theologians are not relevant for defining the Faith.
In light of this history it is understandable how BF Westcott could make the following judgment regarding the decree of
‘This fatal decree in which the Council...gave a new aspect to the whole question of the Canon, was ratified by fifty-three prelates, among whom there was not one German, not one scholar distinguished for historical learning, not one who was fitted by special study for the examination of a subject in which the truth could only be determined by the voice of antiquity. How completely the decision was opposed to the spirit and letter of the original judgments of the Greek and Latin Churches, how far in doctrinal equalization of the disputed and acknowledged books of the Old Testament it was at variance with the traditional opinion of the West, how absolutely unprecedented was the conversion of an ecclesiastical usage into an article of belief, will be seen from the evidence which has already been adduced' (BF Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (MacMillan: Cambridge, 1889), p. 478).
The opinion of B.F. Westcott, a 19th century Anglican, is not really relevant to Mr. Webster's defense as his view in this matter is anachronistic.
The claims of
Actually, Jesus told His followers that with regard to the Pharisees, He said: John 8:2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." So, by the standard Mr. Webster just laid out – we should be receiving the Church's authority! Now, the Church does not have this authority "because of this issue of the canon," that's a misstatement, but rather we have the canon because of the authority of the Church! The "historical bankruptcy" here is Mr. Webster's lack of comprehension of Church authority and how, prior to
The teachings of
Whether or not the Church has contradicted Scripture (which I maintain she has not) is not relevant to the thesis of Mr. Webster's article. This is a diversion from the subject at hand – and purely a statement of ignorant anti-Catholic bigotry. I would be happy to answer his charges here in another response or in one of the forums I run – if he has the courage to venture beyond his own website and challenge Catholic teachings in a Catholic forum. I won't hold my breath for that to happen though.
Again, this statement is irrelevant to Mr. Webster's thesis on the Canon of Sacred Scripture. Again, I would be willing to address him on these matters and invite him to the Locutus Webboard: http://www.catholicresponse.org/locutus - or the ACTS email group on Yahoo! Groups: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/acts - again, if he has the courage to meet in a Catholic forum. However – I will even extend this invitation – pick a forum, Mr. Webster! I will join you there and answer you there, reserving the right to echo our discussion to one or more of my forums to preserve and/or ensure their integrity.