Monday, July 30, 2007

The Canon: Historical Uncertainty



I had noticed a quote online from the New Catholic Encyclopedia on the canon that read a bit differently than the online Encyclopedia so I checked things out at the library. Here is what the print version of the Catholic Encyclopedia says about the Old Testament Canon:

“St. Jerome (340-420AD) distinguished between “canonical books” and “ecclesiastical books”. The latter, he judged, were circulated by the Church as good “spiritual reading” but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. St. Augustine, however, did not recognize this distinction. He accepted all the books in the LXX as of equal value, noting that those designated as apocryphal by Jerome were of either unknown or obscure origin. Augustine’s point of view prevailed and the deuterocanonical books remained in the Vulgate, the Latin version that received official standing at the Council of Trent.

The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries, although the the tendency to accept the disputed books was becoming all the time more general. In spite of this trend some, e.g. John Damascene, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicholas of Lyra and Tostado, continued to doubt the canoncity of the deuterocanonical books…The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the OT canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.”

New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967
Imprimatur: Patrick A. O’Boyle, D.D.
Archbishop of Washington, August 5, 1966


Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia seems to give a more balanced view of the development of the canon than most Catholic apologists/e-pologists. Up until the time of Trent there was clearly some uncertainty about which OT books were canonical.

If we compare this quotation from the printed Catholic Encyclopedia to the quotation from the online Catholic Encyclopedia, we find a growing list of Catholic theologians who had doubts about the canonicity of the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books.

Online Catholic Encyclopedia:

“In this period [4th-5th century] the position of the deuterocanonical literature is no longer as secure as in the primitive age…Following the precedent of Origen and the Alexandrian tradition, the saintly doctor [Athanasius] recognized no other formal canon of the Old Testament than the Hebrew one; but also, faithful to the same tradition, he practically admitted the deutero books to a Scriptural dignity, as is evident from his general usage. At Jerusalem there was a renascence, perhaps a survival, of Jewish ideas, the tendency there being distinctly unfavourable to the deuteros. St. Cyril of that see, while vindicating for the Church the right to fix the Canon, places them among the apocrypha and forbids all books to be read privately which are not read in the churches…St. Epiphanius shows hesitation about the rank of the deuteros; he esteemed them, but they had not the same place as the Hebrew books in his regard. The historian Eusebius attests the widespread doubts in his time; he classes them as antilegomena, or disputed writings, and, like Athanasius, places them in a class intermediate between the books received by all and the apocrypha….

The influence of Origen's and Athanasius's restricted canon naturally spread to the West. St. Hilary of Poitiers and Rufinus followed their footsteps, excluding the deuteros from canonical rank in theory, but admitting them in practice. The latter styles them "ecclesiastical" books, but in authority unequal to the other Scriptures. St. Jerome cast his weighty suffrage on the side unfavourable to the disputed books…“

Catholic Fathers/Theologians who doubted the deuterocanonical books later canonized by Trent (century): Origen (3rd), Athanasius (4th), Eusebius (4th), Jerome (4th), Epiphanius (4th), Hilary of Poitiers (4th), John Damascene (8th), Gregory the Great (6th), Walafrid (9th), Nicholas of Lyra (14th) and Tostado (15th)…more to come.

29 comments:

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie, I'll give you credit for doing your homework. And I will provisionally accept your results. Well done, and very interesting.

However, I do think that it must be said that uncertainty about the canon necessarily places a greater emphasis upon Sacred Tradition: Both are needed, not just one. Divine revelation is preserved in both.

I also think it worth pointing out that uncertainty about the canon also necessarily undermines sola scriptura, so that doubts about the canon do far more damage to the Protestant's position than to the Catholic's, since the Catholic has never stood solely upon the Bible.

Ellen said...

Reginald, I asked this question before, but it wasn't answered (I'm assuming it got lost in the shuffle).

Why are you Roman Catholic?

Reginald de Piperno said...

I think that I did answer that question, but it may not have survived the transition from Carrie's old blog. Or something.

The short answer is that after more than twenty years as a Protestant student of the Bible and theology, I realized that Protestant epistemology does not work. In consequence I soon afterwards began investigating the claims of the Catholic Church: not because I particularly wanted to become Catholic (I emphatically didn't) but because what little I did know of Catholic claims with respect to truth (not their distinctive doctrines, mind you, but their understanding of how we may know the truth of divine revelation) appeared to be consistent with what seemed to be essential characteristics of a well-founded Christian epistemology.

As a result of my research, I eventually became convinced of Rome's claims and was received into the Church.

More details - particularly with regard to why I finally rejected Protestant epistemology - may be found in a variety of posts on my own blog. See the tags related to Apologetics, Protestantism, Authority, etc.

Carrie said...

And I will provisionally accept your results. Well done, and very interesting.

Thanks but there is still more to come.

With that in mind, let me get back to your assertion about undermining sola scriptura at a later date.

Ellen said...

Reginald, you're saying that you came upon your convictions in exactly the same way I came my mine - research and study.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Ellen, is your purpose only to make an observation, or is there some other meaning you intend that you have not shared?

Ellen said...

Just an observation of, not only similarities, but differences.

your trust in the knowledge of knowledge lies in Rome, my trust in the knowledge of knowledge lies in my faith in God to be a good steward of His Word (that He wrote, that He inspired, that He delivered).

Question: what books are in the Vulgate, but were not affirmed as part of the Canon at Trent?

Carrie said...

ELLEN!!!

That is the topic of an upcoming post.

You guys need to be patient!

Carrie said...

Reginald, you're saying that you came upon your convictions in exactly the same way I came my mine - research and study.

Also called "personal interpretation".

But let's not get that topic started now - once I finish with the canon I hope to move on to authority.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Ellen -

In point of fact, if it was only an observation, it was only an observation of similarities. Unless "exactly the same way" has some meaning of which I am unaware :-)

*After* your statement of the similarities, you write concerning what you perceive as our differences:

your trust in the knowledge of knowledge lies in Rome, my trust in the knowledge of knowledge lies in my faith in God to be a good steward of His Word (that He wrote, that He inspired, that He delivered).

That sounded gloriously fideist :-) However, if Christianity is a rational religion - and it is - you will have to do better than that.

Perhaps you should read my blog to understand what I mean. I'm not going to repeat it all here :-)

Protestant epistemology fails on its own terms to deliver certainty about revealed truth. This is why I had to abandon my former principles. It was nothing more than God's gracious providence that led me to the Catholic Church.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie, there's personal interpretation, and there's personal interpretation. And if you don't want this topic brought up in this combox, then ... *you* should not have brought it up. :-)

On the one hand, no Catholic would deny that a man must be persuaded before he will become a Christian. That means he must make a judgment.

Once that decision has been made, however, the Catholic freely surrenders his personal authority to make decisions about what is true with regard to faith and morals. Why? Because he knows that God has not made him a judge of such things. Rather, God has entrusted the Deposit of Faith to the Church, and so works by his Holy Spirit in her that matters of faith and morals are absolutely safeguarded by her. A man who presumes after becoming Catholic to decide the truth for himself in these areas has ceased to that extent to be Catholic.

This is a "private interpretation" which terminates absolutely in a faith in what the Church teaches. It's gone thereafter.

In rather stark contrast, you have the Protestant principle of private interpretation, where a man's conscience is the ultimate arbiter of what the truth is in matters of faith and morals, always. At no time is a man understood to be subject to anyone or anything else when it comes to these questions.

The Catholic denies this.

The Protestant insists upon it.

And if you don't want to discuss this here, kindly refrain from potshots :-)

Carrie said...

And if you don't want to discuss this here, kindly refrain from potshots

It wasn't meant as a potshot. You are a bit more honest than most Catholics - they try to completely deny private interpretation.

But yes, we can go over this in the future.

All I will say is that I disagree with your conclusion. Deciding that the RCC is going to interpret/dictate all of your faith and morals is THE biggest faith issue there is. That pivotal point is gotten to by your own fallible private interpretation. The fact that you submit after that is almost irrelevant.

Carrie said...

In rather stark contrast, you have the Protestant principle of private interpretation, where a man's conscience is the ultimate arbiter of what the truth is in matters of faith and morals, always. At no time is a man understood to be subject to anyone or anything else when it comes to these questions.


Reginald,

If you were a Protestant you should know that this is an exaggeration. There is such a thing as authority in the church and discipline.

In fact, the Ted Haggard case was a good example of church discipline while the clergy abuse scandals (with a hiding of known pedophiles) is an example of something very bad.

Protestants are not lone ranger Christians - at least they aren't suppose to be.

Ellen said...

That sounded gloriously fideist :-) However, if Christianity is a rational religion - and it is - you will have to do better than that.

And yet your faith in the bodies of human beings (called councils) is very much sola fide (in Rome)

For me, faith is essence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for. I'm content with faith in God.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie,

Protestant discipline is functionally meaningless, particularly when it comes to matters of faith.

Problem #1 in this regard is the Protestant insistence that everyone and everything in which humans are involved necessarily may err. But if some institution may err, then it's possible that it erred in regard to the particular thing with which Joe disagrees. So Joe is perfectly within his rights to say, "My denomination says XYZ about doctrine A, but I am completely convinced from the Bible that DEF is what is really true about doctrine A. Therefore my denomination is wrong."

If his denomination happens to be one of the dwindling few among Protestants that actually attempt to enforce some doctrinal conformity, he might be put on trial - depending upon whether his "offense" is deemed serious. He might not choose to show up, though, because he has already refused to submit to the authority of a denomination that (he believes) teaches false things about doctrine A. In any case - whether he is "excommunicated" or not, it will have no effect upon what he believes. He is "convinced from the Bible" and will do what he pleases. He might go down the street to some other denomination where they don't care about doctrine A, or he might even find a different branch of his own denominational stripe where they (contrary to his first denomination) actually believe DEF about doctrine A, or he might even decide to start his own denomination, convinced as he is about his own doctrinal rectitude.

One need go no further than Martin Luther for an example of this sort of thing. He refused to repent of his erroneous beliefs, claimed that they were based on the Bible, and "Here I stand" the rest is history.

The same thing is about to happen in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Its General Assembly has ruled that a particular spectrum of doctrines known generally as Federal Vision (FV) is incompatible with their confessional standards. Do you seriously believe that *any* FV adherent will say, "I guess I was wrong. I repent"?? No way. If it happens even *once* I will eat my head. No, what they are going to do is either hope that their own presbyteries will let them stay, as long as they keep their mouths shut, or they are going to flee the PCA en masse.

This happens all the time in Protestantism. And it's not a "bug"; it's a "feature". It's a feature because of sola scriptura: no thinking Protestant will allow himself to be bound by "human standards" once he has convinced himself of something that he believes the Bible to teach. "Here I stand."

You can try and wish this away all you want. But you can't change it. It is the most fundamental flaw of the entire Protestant enterprise: man as the measure of all things, including the content of revealed truth.

These same criticisms extend also to questions of morals, btw: the only reason the Ted Haggard thing worked/is working is because he himself believed that his behavior was sinful (and let's be glad that he did). Ditto any other instance where the reason for church discipline is grounded in some moral violation. When the man being disciplined thinks his behavior is perfectly consistent with the Bible, he will simply bolt the congregation/denomination if they try to excommunicate him. "Here I stand" once again.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Ellen, you said:

And yet your faith in the bodies of human beings (called councils)

This betrays how little you understand of Catholic ecclesiology.

Ellen said...

You're wrong - I understand what Rome teaches and if you choose to sit under Rome, that is your choice.

Just because I don't agree does not mean I don't understand that you believe that the councils are infallible; I simply disagree.

Back to another question I asked...what was the deal with Esdras III?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Knowing that I believe them to be infallible and understanding why they are infallible are two completely different things. :-)

Maybe you do understand Catholic ecclesiology; but I doubt it. Surely you haven't shown anything here other than a perfect willingness to frame it in terms of Protestantism, which is ludicrous. If you're going to evaluate a belief system, you need to do so on its own terms. It's easy to say Catholics are wrong based upon Protestant principles. But why should any Catholic care about that?

Ellen said...

so...what about Esdras?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Changing the subject won't save you :-)

Ellen said...

(shrugs)
What was the subject? Oh yes...the Canon: historical uncertainty.

With a topic of the Canon, you consider a debatable book as "changing the subject"...

that look into history might be an issue.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Ellen,

Your very first comment in this thread was to change the subject from the canon to my reasons for being Catholic.

Trying to change it back to the canon only when you have have been challenged on your knowledge of Catholic ecclesiology is the same as trying to dodge an issue. You're not fooling anyone. If you don't want to deal with the question that's fine, but I feel no obligation whatsoever to answer yours, either.

Ellen said...

I own a few books on roman Catholicism (including ecclesiology). I'm not at home for a couple of weeks so I can't rattle off the titles.

- infallible magisterium
- infallible pope (but only when speaking in ex cathedra)
- the Roman Catholic Church is always (in official doctrine) correct.
- the claim is that the magisterium, Scripture and tradition are equal in authority and infallibility (however, the end result is that Scripture is at the mercy of however the magisterium and tradition chooses to define it, thus rendering it the least authoritative of the three - which is more important to "get right"? It takes a 2/3 majority to elect a new pope - until after a certain number of ballots, yet it only takes (evidently) 44% to "define" the Canon.
- apostolic succession. Just like the Eastern Orthodox Church, Rome claims apostolic succession; an unbroken line of popes from Peter until present day.
- infallible pope, infallible magisterium, infallible tradition = Bible at the mercy of being taught however these men and traditions wish.

- yes. I know that you will say that they do this in harmony with Scripture and they cannot err.

That has yet to be proven to me.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Each of the things in your list (sniping excepted :-) are part of the means or features of infallibility.

None of them address why the Church is said to have a charism of infallibility.

You can list features, but still it seems that you do not understand the why. Why would Catholics say such an astounding thing? Do you even care, or is it enough for you to criticize it that it's not what you believe yourself?

And I'll repeat something I said earlier: If you're going to evaluate a belief system, you need to do so on its own terms. It's easy to say Catholics are wrong based upon Protestant principles. But why should any Catholic care about that?

I say that Protestantism is inherently self-contradictory and incoherent on its own terms, and that is why it is false. If I'm trying to persuade a Protestant to become a Catholic, I wouldn't start by criticizing it on Catholic terms, which would be trivial (and a waste of time).

If you're going to say that the Catholic Church is false, you're going to have to do better than spew Protestant truisms (which are ... ironic ... given the nature of Protestantism's self-contradictions; but I digress).

Ellen said...

Keys to the Kingdom, pillar of truth (and yes, your blog is on my feed list, as is Jimmy Akin's and a few others).

The question I ask is why Rome and not Constantinople? It's not as if the Reformation was the first time that there was a split that involved Rome.

I am in information hound. The fact is, the more I look at Roman doctrines through Scripture, the more convinced I am that the current Roman church is wrong on too many issues for me to embrace infallibility.

The more I read prayers to Mary, the more disgusted I get.

If Rome returned to a Biblical church, I might turn to Rome. That won't happen on this earth.

Carrie said...

Okay, let's try and stay on topic.

It is the most fundamental flaw of the entire Protestant enterprise: man as the measure of all things, including the content of revealed truth.

I disagree. The problem with Protestantism is that despite having God's Word and His spirit, we are still sinful creatures. Catholic's are no better off in this manner.

Catholics are also no better off with an infallible magisterium to tell them what to believe and how to behave because even if the magisterium were correct (which I firmly believe they are not), it is still up to the individuals to follow their teachings. And we know from the surveys that I posted that most Catholics are not submitting to the authority of their church.

So I find it odd that you would blame the supposed anarchy in Protestantism on sola scriptura when Catholics are no better off with an infallible authority. In the end, the dissent in both camps is due to human nature so judging by results really doesn't prove much in this case.

But again, let's save this discussion for later when authority is covered.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie,

I just noticed that your link to the "Online New Catholic Encyclopedia" actually points the online OLD Catholic Encyclopedia, which was published in 1917.

Just FYI.

Carrie said...

Reginald,

Do you do editing or auditing or something? You catch everything.

Thanks, I fixed it.

Reginald de Piperno said...

:-)

Actually, in a past life I was a proofreader by trade. My current employment puts a high premium on attention to details too, though.