Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Underwhelming Vote at Trent



Here is something on the surface level that just doesn’t make sense.

“The Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, by vote (24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain) approved the present Roman Catholic Bible Canon including the Deuterocanonical Books.”
-Wiki, Metzger


If the ratification of the biblical canon at Trent was just a formality, why such an underwhelming vote? If the Council of Trent was simply affirming the same canon that had been held by the Church since the 4th century, wouldn’t you expect a better consensus than 44% yea, 27% nay, and 29% abstaining?

From a strictly human perspective, a 44% majority is far from convincing me that the council members at Trent were sure of the historical witness to the exact nature of the canon. From a divine perspective, a 44% majority is a weak testament to a supposedly “holy-spirit guided”, infallible council.

21 comments:

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie, you ask: wouldn’t you expect a better consensus than 44% yea, 27% nay, and 29% abstaining?

Expectations are irrelevant. An ecumenical council like Trent is guided by the Holy Spirit so that its decrees, canons, confessions, etc - when confirmed by the Pope - are true and binding.

The Catholic does not believe that individual bishops who attend an ecumenical council are given a special charism of infallibility as part of their participation in the council. He believes "'the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,' above all in an Ecumenical Council" (CCC 890). It is an error to suppose that the Holy Spirit would demonstrate his guidance of an ecumenical council solely by unanimity amongst the commissioners of the council.

You say: a 44% majority is far from convincing me that the council members at Trent were sure of the historical witness to the exact nature of the canon.

But you don't know what their reasons for voting "nay" were. Perhaps some of the nays suffered from the uncertainty that you assume must have afflicted all of them, but others may have believed that the definition was pastorally unnecessary. Others may have objected to word choice. Who knows? Some of them might possibly have been afraid of the consequences of the definition in their own dioceses, if Protestants were an especially volatile force there (and they were infamous in at least certain quarters for burning churches).

But such human factors are ultimately irrelevant. The Holy Spirit's guidance of an ecumenical council will not be thwarted by human foibles.

Reginald de Piperno said...

I might also add that even if there had been 100% unanimity, Protestants would poo-poo it as mere kowtowing to the Pope, or as a consequence of political maneuvering perpetrated by those wicked papists to make themselves look better. In any case, you would not be satisfied even with unanimity, either. Catholics can't win with some folks, no matter what they do.

Carrie said...

It is an error to suppose that the Holy Spirit would demonstrate his guidance of an ecumenical council solely by unanimity amongst the commissioners of the council.

I didn't even imply that unanimity was necessary - but 44% is a pretty weak majority.

But you don't know what their reasons for voting "nay" were.

Neither do you. All of your possibilties are everything but the actual nature of the canon - perhaps the nays all sided with Jerome.

But we don't need to speculate too much, I will be posting on some of the individual opinions at Trent.

I might also add that even if there had been 100% unanimity, Protestants would poo-poo it as mere kowtowing to the Pope,

My point is simply that the facts of an obvious, consistent Church teaching on the nature of the canon is untrue. Perhaps if Catholics would be more honest about the uncertainty of the canon throughout Church history we wouldn't have to bicker over the particulars.

kmerian said...

If it is on wikipedia it must be true right? I notice the article on wikipedia cites no source for this fact. I have edited the wikipedia page to show this and would ask you if you have any independent verification of these numbers?

Carrie said...

kmerian,

No, I don't have a second source for those numbers. Do you have reason to be suspicious of those numbers?

Reginald de Piperno said...

Okay, we'll play "let's pretend."

Let's say that the canon was "uncertain throughout Church history."

What's your point? What terrible consequences would result for the hapless Catholic Church?

Or - what particular benefits do you expect to enjoy yourself?

kmerian said...

Carrie said...
kmerian,

No, I don't have a second source for those numbers. Do you have reason to be suspicious of those numbers?


Yes, I have reason to be suspicious, it appears someone pulled them out of thin air. You cannot quote statistics without a citation of some kind

Carrie said...

You cannot quote statistics without a citation of some kind

Can you tell that to all the Catholics that quote the fictitious "30,000 denominations" statistic, please.

I did see the same vote numbers quoted on other sites, but none seem to give a primary source. I will look into it.

Carrie said...

Okay, the vote stats may be from here:

B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, op cit., p. 246.

I'll look into it some more.

Carrie said...

Okay, I have confirmed the reference by Metzger:

I got the data from
Bruce Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 1987 page 246.

Metzger cites:
Maichle, Albert
Der Kanon der biblischen Bucher und das Konzil von Trent (1929)
and
Jedin, Hubert
A History of the Council of Trent (1961)

Carrie said...

What's your point? What terrible consequences would result for the hapless Catholic Church?

Or - what particular benefits do you expect to enjoy yourself?


I already explained this in the clarification post.

I expect to enjoy Catholic e-pologists no longer perpetuating the fable that "the Catholic Church gave the world the Bible" or that "Luther removed books from the established canon" and all those other types of misrepresentations.

Carrie said...

Kmerian,

Since you seem to like history you might be interested this (from the unreliable Wiki article on the CoT):

"The original acts and debates of the council, as prepared by its general secretary, Bishop Angelo Massarelli, in six large folio volumes, are deposited in the Vatican Library and remained there unpublished for more than 300 years and were brought to light, though only in part, by Augustin Theiner, priest of the oratory (d. 1874), in Acta genuina sancti et oecumenici Concilii Tridentini nunc primum integre edita (2 vols., Leipzig, 1874).

Most of the official documents and private reports, however, which bear upon the council, were made known in the sixteenth century and since. The most complete collection of them is that of J. Le Plat, Monumentorum ad historicam Concilii Tridentini collectio (7 vols., Leuven, 1781-87). New materials were brought to light by J. Mendham, Memoirs of the Council of Trent (London, 1834-36), from the manuscript history of Cardinal Paleotto; more recently by T. Sickel, Actenstücke aus österreichischen Archiven (Vienna, 1872); by JJI von Döllinger (Ungedruckte Berichte und Tagebücher zur Geschichte des Concilii von Trient) (2 parts, Nördlingen, 1876); and A. von Druffel, Monumenta Tridentina (Munich, 1884-97)."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_trent

Reginald de Piperno said...

If the Catholic Church didn't "give the world the Bible," as you put it, then where did it come from? I mean: who defined the canon if not the Church?

Ellen said...

Who defined the Canon? I'm thinking that God knew what He was inspiring as He inspired it and really didn't need men to "define" it.

That's the difference. I have faith in God to deliver His Word.

Gojira said...

Ellen, you done tole it like it is! Amen, sister! Amen!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Ellen -

Don't be absurd. Obviously the Catholic Church says that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in its recognition of the canon.

So the question, quite obviously, has to do with the means that the Spirit used.

So: You have now made it clear that you don't believe that the Holy Spirit guided the Church to recognize what the canon is, and that instead we received the canon from God in some other way. It is now up to you to provide a credible alternative. Good luck.

Carrie said...

So the question, quite obviously, has to do with the means that the Spirit used.

Why does it matter so much?

If God used an ass to correct Baalam he can clearly use whatever he wants to accomplish his purpose. That is why in the end (as I said) if the Catholic Church had been involved in the canon process it has no effect on my faith whatsoever.

But history shows that the Catholic Church did not define the canon on a few different levels. So the whole idea is bogus and arrogant on the part of the RCC.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Why does it matter so much?

It matters because if we have a written Word of God (and we do) then we we need to be able to distinguish exactly what the writings are in which that Word consists.

If you believe in sola scriptura, then it absolutely ought to matter: you have to know which writings are God's.

If you say it doesn't matter, then may we substitute a Catholic Bible for whatever version you're using now? :-)

Aahhh...it matters then, doesn't it? :-)

It also matters because Christianity is a rational religion, not a fideistic one. It matters because there are two means by which God governs his creation. The first, and overwhelmingly the most common, is by means of providence. The second is miraculously. Which of these is it when it comes to the canon?

If it was miraculous, then someone ought to be able to point to the spot in the desert (or wherever) where the canon was dropped into someone's hands. Otherwise this is reduced to the status of myth. But there is absolutely no historical reason whatsoever to believe that the canon simply appeared.

Consequently and without question, then, God delivered the canon to us by means of his providence.

Well - what were those providential means?

It would be completely preposterous to say that he delivered the canon to the Church by means of something or someone outside the Church. Joe Pagan, worshipper of Diana of Ephesus, did not stroll up to the doors of the local Christian Church and say, "You know, I've been reading these scrolls of yours that you say are God's Word (which I don't believe anyway, as a faithful worshipper of Diana of Ephesus), and I'm convinced that this set here [hands over a list] are really your God's writings. Have a nice day."

No.

Clearly the discernment of the canon occurred within the walls of the Church.

Which is precisely what Catholics say: "It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books" (CCC 120).

Now, Ellen denies this. So I'd like to know what means she says that God used. And if you deny it (and unfortunately it seems that you do, at least in part), then I'd be interested in your answer as well.

Carrie said...

Reginald,

I really don't want to have this discussion now because I still have more posts to do. So I will answer very briefly.

No one denies the church had a role in the canon process - we just deny that the early church was Roman and that the early church need to be gifted with a sort of infallibility in order to determine the canon.

The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:2) and were able to recognize what was the inspired Word of God without an infallible, visible organization. The same is true with our own canon.

My faith in the reliability of the canon is due to my trust in God to preserve his Word, not in the supposed infallibility of men.

kmerian said...

Can you tell that to all the Catholics that quote the fictitious "30,000 denominations" statistic, please.

I did see the same vote numbers quoted on other sites, but none seem to give a primary source. I will look into it.


You will be happy to know that I don't use that statistic. It is misleading

Ellen said...

Rome has an infallible collection of infallible men, yet claims the Protestants have a fallible collection of infallible books (yet our fallible collection is more similar to the list that Athanasius compiles than Rome's current list is.)

Rome decided the Canon (ok, God played a part, but He couldn't have done anything without Rome - regardless of the fact that there were many different lists of books that were considered Scripture and which were not - consider again Athanasius).

And all of this is okay, simply because Rome is Rome and 1500 years after the Canon closed and the apostles stopped writing, Rome decided the Canon.