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The Canon of the Scripture

Brownson's Quarterly Review, January, 1851
Art. III. - 1. Sessio Quarta Concilii Tridentini vindicata, seu Introductio in Scripturas Deutero-canonicas Veteris Testamenti, per Aloisium Vincenzi Sammaurensem, in Romano Archigymnasio Litterarum Hebraicarum Pro-fessorem.    Romae.    1842.
The Holy Scriptures, their Origin, Progress, Transmis­
sion, Corruptions, and True Character.   London : Charles
Dolman.    1850.
The Church of Rome self-convicted of Error, with Regard to the Canon of the Scripture, and Tradition.    Church Review, New Haven, October, 1850, Art. VI.
The last publication on our list is that which deter­mines us to introduce to our readers the learned Professor in the Roman University, author of the work first men­tioned, who, with immense erudition, has vindicated the canon of Scripture sanctioned by the Council of Trent. As the work is rarely to be seen on this side of the Atlan­tic, we shall freely avail ourselves of its contents to meet the objections so recently put forward by the Reviewer, but which Vincenzi found in the pages of Home, and which have been repeated by a thousand pens from the days of Luther and Calvin. It is the privilege of Protestants to acknowledge no final judgment, and consequently to press on our attention, with the freshness of novelty, difficulties which had been fully weighed before any definitive action was taken by the Church tribunals. " Even though van­quished they can argue still," and, like defeated litigants, they are ready to state anew the reasons in their favor, to produce their witnesses, and to prove the injustice of the verdict and sentence pronounced against them. We ven­ture to invite attention, at the same time, to the second work on our list, which has no pretensions to originality, but pre­sents a considerable amount of useful information on a most interesting topic. It should be circulated as widely as possible, in order to bring before all the evidences on which the Bible is received, and the means by which its study may be made a source of instruction and improve­ment. For Protestants no question is more perplexing than these : - On what grounds do yoii hold the Bible to be the word of God ? How do you know with certainty its meaning, even in regard to the chief mysteries and doctrines? They indeed, with apparent confidence, allege that its pages bear the impress of inspiration, and that the whole Christian world acknowledges it, and add, that its meaning in all necessary things is plain to the sincere in­quirer ; but this is a mere begging of the question, an implied appeal to the authority of the Church, which is haughtily rejected. Their own endless divisions and their uncertainty prove to demonstration that its meaning is not easy to be ascertained.
They seek to make a diversion by reproaching us with adding to the ancient Jewish canon a number of books wholly destitute of any Divine character. The adherents of the Church of England left these books in the undis­turbed possession of canonical authority during the reign of Edward the Sixth, as the Homilies set forth in his time plainly show, since they quote them as Holy Scripture, and ascribe them to the Hoy Ghost; but, strange to say, the Articles, which approve of the Homilies as containing " a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times," give those books only this very qualified praise: - " The 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." This reserve might be very wise in the days of Jerome, when­ever a doctrine was to be proved against those who did not recognize those books as divine ; but it is unnecessary in regard to those who believe them to be dictates of the Holy Ghost, such as the Homilies proclaim them. The rule laid down in the Articles to discriminate Scripture is most unfortunate in its application :-" In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." Yet at the close of the same Article it is said, - " All the books of the New Tes­tament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account them canonical." Now it is notorious that doubt was long entertained in the Church, by large and influential portions of it, regarding several books thus commonly re­ceived in the sixteenth century, namely, the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the Epistles of James and of Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse. How, then, could the authors of the Articles reconcile this fact with their rule to acknowledge as ca­nonical those only of which there never was any doubt ? Mr. Newman, when writing Tract No. XC, contended that the doctrine of the Church of England in regard to the books called by her Apocryphal, by us Deutero-canonical, could be made to harmonize with that of Trent, by the aid of the strong expressions of the Homilies ; but. it would puzzle even him to reconcile the Homilies with the Arti­cles, or the sixth Article with itself. Yet, with such con­tradictions staring him in the face, the Reviewer under­takes to convict Rome of inconsistency.
The Council professed to follow the examples of the orthodox fathers, which plainly meant the primitive and general tradition of Christian antiquity. The Church takes no individual father as a guide, although she some­times confirms by her sanction the doctrine which has been vindicated successfully by some individual. In professing reverence for the fathers generally, she acknowledges that what they taught with unanimity as the faith originally delivered, was such in reality ; and that the great facts on which the transmission of doctrine depends, may safely be admitted on their testimony. They are competent wit­nesses as to the books generally read in the churches as Divine Scripture, and their judgment, when unanimous, or nearly such, is entitled to great deference. Far greater im­portance is ascribed to them as prelates of the Church, in Council, declaring doctrine, or facts connected with doc­trine, than as writers composing doctrinal treatises, or in­terpreting Scripture ; since the combination of views and concurrence of testimonies necessarily carry with them greater weight, to say nothing of the promises of Divine assistance to those who are gathered together in the name of Christ.
The fidelity and simplicity with which the Council of Trent acted on these principles, in determining the canon of Scripture, are manifest. The fathers did not stop to in­quire what bearing any particular book might have on the controversies of the day; but, as a preliminary measure for all doctrinal investigation and judgment, they declared what books had been transmitted in the Church as sacred and canonical. They opened the archives of the Apostolic See and of the local churches, and drew forth the cata­logues which were composed by Popes and Councils in the fifth and fourth centuries, to republish them as authen­tic lists of the sacred books. A Roman Council, consisting of seventy bishops, under Gelasius, at the close of the fifth century, had published a canon of Scripture, conformable to a list given by Innocent the First at the commencement of that century, with a mere verbal discrepancy in some manuscripts as to one book of Esdras, omitting Nehemias, and one book of the Macchabees. In the year 397, an African Council, held at Carthage, consisting of very many bishops, among whom Augustine was preeminent, promul­gated a canon exactly the same as that which Innocent, a few years afterwards, communicated to the Bishop of Tou­louse. The same list of books is recorded by St. Augustine himself, in his book on Christian doctrine, with this pre­liminary remark : - " The whole canon of Scripture con­sists of these books." Here, then, was a canon approved of by the prelates of Africa and Italy in two numerous Councils, at an interval of a century, confirmed by two illustrious Pontiffs, and published anew in the fifteenth century to the Jacobites, at the time of the Council of Florence. It had the support of Augustine, truly a host in himself, who, in his writings as well as in the assembly of his colleagues, declared it to be conformable to primitive tradition. No other canon was known to have been pub­lished by the authority of any Pope or Council, unless, perhaps, at Laodicea, in Phrygia, by an assembly of twenty or thirty bishops, in 363, or about that period. Of the au­thenticity of this canon there was reasonable doubt, since it is wanting in some manuscripts, and it seems to have exercised no influence on the judgment of subsequent Councils, or on the minds of Christian writers generally. It is untrue that it was confirmed by the Fourth General Council, as the Reviewer most strangely affirms; for the mere mention of a collection of canons is not equivalent to confirmation, and in the judgment of the learned, those of Laodicea were not comprised in that collection. Paley more candidly acknowledges that its authority does not seem to have extended any farther than the province, and that Christian writers after that time treated of the sacred books without any reference to the decision at Laodicea. In this catalogue, which we think was added to the decrees by some one more attentive to Jewish sentiments than to the general usage of the churches, the books styled Deutcro-canonical are omitted, with the exception of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremias, which found favor with many who did not recognize the other writings. Whatever may be thought of the authenticity of the canon, it could not in­duce a moment's hesitation on the part of the fathers of Trent, who had before them several concordant lists framed by numerous Councils, approved by Popes, and confirmed by the general usage of the whole Church from the re­motest antiquity. Accordingly, they published anew the canon of the Council of Carthage, and hurled anathema against the man who would  dare deny the sacred and canonical character of the books which it contained. Will any one pretend that this proceeding was not in accord­ance with the examples of the orthodox fathers ? Were not the prelates of these two great Councils of Italy and Africa orthodox ? Were not Augustine, Innocent, Gelasius, eminently worthy of this character ? Even the Oriental schismatics have not ventured to dispute the correctness of the judgment of the Council of Trent on this point, since in 1672 a Greek synod held at Jerusalem under the Patri­arch Dositheus acknowledged the same books as canonical Scripture, conformably to ancient usage and primitive tra­dition.
But the Reviewer alleges that many fathers adhered to the Hebrew canon. Granting for argument's sake that they so adhered before Councils had drawn up an authoritative catalogue, or given it a solemn sanction, surely it was con­sistent on the part of the Tridentine fathers to prefer the judgment of ancient Councils to the opinions of individual fathers. Councils in all ages have professed to be guided by primitive tradition, and to declare with authority what was taught by the fathers, and what is contained in the sacred writings. "This," they cried, " is the faith of the fathers: we all believe this." The judgment of a Council freely assembled, whose decrees are acknowledged through­out the Church, is justly presumed to afford the best evi­dence of the previous teaching of the fathers, which is ex­amined, compared, and summed up, to prepare for the decision. It is a verdict of the assembled prelates, pro­nounced after a patient hearing of the witnesses. Those who object some passages of the fathers apparently incon­sistent with the judgment of the Council are like persons judging of the merits of the case from desultory and vague statements, without that full knowledge which the com­parison of testimony alfords. With the same show of rea­son with which the Episcopalian alleges testimonies against the authority of the sacred books, the Arian objects the un­guarded expressions of the ante-Nicene fathers, to over-throw the Divinity of Christ.
We must beg the indulgence of our readers, whilst we treat somewhat diffusely of the Hebrew canon. It is very commonly supposed that the inspired writings of the Old Testament were collected together by Esdras, after the re­turn of the people from captivity, and solemnly proposed to public veneration. This belief rests chiefly on some statement in an apocryphal book bearing his name, but which the Church has rejected. No evidence can be fur­nished that the Jews had a canon in its modern accepta­tion, although they certainly had a number of books which they venerated as composed under Divine inspiration. The law of Moses was publicly read for their instruction; the history of God's dealings with their fathers, as traced by the pencil of inspired historians, was presented to them ; the psalms, which celebrated the mercies and wonders of the Deity, were chanted in their religious assemblies ; the record was carefully preserved of predictions which the in­spired seers had uttered; in a word, the oracles of God were intrusted to them. It is not improbable that Esdras collected together all the sacred books which were to be found ; but it is utterly unlikely that he undertook to seal the collection, as if God had bound himself to add no new manifestation of his Spirit. Josephus, indeed, assigns as a reason why the works subsequently written did not obtain the same high degree of veneration, that the succession of prophets was not maintained; but the testimony and judg­ment of the Jewish historian can scarcely be deemed conclu­sive whilst the books themselves afford intrinsic evidence of the outpouring of the Divine Spirit, and our Lord himself warrants us in believing a succession of prophetic teachers down to John.*(footnote:  * Matt. xi. 13.) Certain it is that the books in question were received with high reverence among the Hellenistic Jews, of whom a hundred and twenty thousand lived at Alexandria under Ptolemrcus Philadelphus. The Greek version of the Scriptures, called the Septuagint, is believed to have been made for their use ; and the books styled Deutero-canonical were composed chiefly for their instruc­tion. During more than three centuries before the coming of Christ the Hebrew language had declined, and Chaldean and Greek had become familiar even to the Jews of Pales­tine, whilst their brethren scattered abroad lost almost all knowledge of their ancient tongue. Together with the ver­sion of the Hebrew books, they kept the more recent works written in Chaldean or in Greek, read them in their religious assemblies, and bound them up in the same collection, as Beveredge testifies, - " publice legi, et eodem quo libri vere volumine scribi solebant." Walton, in the Pro­legomena to his Polyglot, states that they passed from the Hellenistic Jews to the Christian Church.
The Jews of Palestine, who were not so well acquainted with most of these works as their brethren of Alexandria, seemed to cling more exclusively to the Hebrew books, which came down to them with the seal of venerable an­tiquity. By a special mode of counting them, they dis­covered a conformity in number to the twenty-two letters of their alphabet, and scrupled to admit any more, as if God had bound himself to limit the number of inspired works to that of the Hebrew alphabet! Josephus did not disdain to notice this fancy, which has served to many as a pretext for rejecting the Deutero-canonical books.
The earliest Christian writers, Barnabas, Clemens llo-manus, Polycarp, Irenceus, freely quoted these books as Scripture, in the same manner as the other books. Several passages from Wisdom are found in the celebrated letter of Clemens to the Corinthians, which was for a long series of years read publicly in the churches, in testimony of its great excellence. He dwelt especially on the heroism of Judith, the subject of one of these books. St. Polycarp warns the Philippians " not to procrastinate when it is in their power to do good," enforcing the admonition by the words of Tobias, " Alms deliver from death." St. Irenams uses the words of Wisdom, - "The just shall shine like the sun in the sight of their Father." He quotes a passage of Baruch as of Jeremias, with whom he was often identi­fied, because he was his scribe; he numbers Tobias among the prophets; and in other instances he employs these books as sacred Scripture. Hippolytus Romanus, Arno-bius Lactantius, Julius Maternus Finnicus, and Plnubadius, writers of the third and fourth centuries, are brought for­ward by Vincenzi as witnesses of the acknowledged au­thority of those books, which they quote in the same man­ner as the other inspired writings. These establish satis­factorily the primitive tradition of the Church, which in­cluded them in the canon.
We cannot deny that some mist of doubt was raised by the well-meant zeal of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, who, in the decline of the second century, undertook a journey to Palestine to ascertain what books were commonly received as inspired by the Jews of those parts.    The omission of the books known chiefly to their brethren of Alexandria was calculated to perplex the minds of those who might not be fully informed of the Apostolic tradition on the sub­ject; and the distinction, being once made, was observed by many with a view to mark those l>ooks whose authority might be urged successfully against the Jews. Most, if not all, of the fathers who admitted this distinction quoted the works at other times as Divine Scripture, which warrants us in interpreting their statements elsewhere in harmony with the general tradition, whereof they themselves furnish evidence. The books continued to be read publicly in the churches, as had been customary from time immemorial, and to be quoted as of Divine authority.
Origen, in his commentary on the first Psalm, expressly states that he gives the Hebrew canon, without at all inti­mating that he denies the authority of the books which are not contained in it. His sentiments on this subject admit of no ambiguity, since throughout his works he cites them as Holy Scripture. To mention only one passage in his third book against Celsus (cap. 72), he quotes, as a defi­nition given in the Divine Word, a passage from Wisdom, vii. 25. The curious may find numerous quotations from his works in the learned treatise of the Roman Professor. His letter to Africanus, who was somewhat perplexed by the omission of the history of Susanna, and other facts, in the Hebrew text of Daniel, shows his unwillingness to regulate the Christian Scriptures by Jewish authority. He asks indignantly, - "Did not Providence, which gave the sacred Scriptures to the Christian churches for their edifi­cation, take care that they should be incorrupt?"
Kusebius, as an historian, stated after others the Hebrew canon, but he himself freely used the Deutero-canonical books, as Divine Scripture, to prove the coming of Christ. Thus he quotes " the Divine words" of Barueh, in his Evan­gelical Demonstration, Lib. VI. cap. 19. He also quotes as Scripture the prayer of Susanna (Lib. VI. cap. 1, Prcep. Eva-ng'.), and numbers among the prophecies a passage of Wisdom (Lib. X. cap. 14.)
Hilary of Poictiers, following Origen, gave the Hebrew canon in his Preface to the Psalms, but certainly without meaning to detract from the authority of the other books, which he expressly quoted as Divine Scripture. Thus, on Psalm cxxv. he quotes as witnesses the Three Children singing in the furnace, Daniel in the lion's den, Eleazar faithful to the law despite of his persecutors, and the seven Mac-chabees with their mother, martyrs, who gave thanks to God when suffering unheard-of torments. lie quotes the words of Wisdom, as of a prophet, Psalm cxviii. He em­ploys the testimony of Susanna against the Arians, and quotes the prophetic words of Wisdom and of Baruch, to enforce the Divine doctrine against the Arians (De Trin., Lib. I. et V.) The son of Sirach is also brought forward by him, and the language of the martyr Macchabee is ad­dressed to the impious Emperor Constantius. " From his testimony," to use the words of the Reviewer, " we may perceive in what estimation the Apocrypha [Deutero-canonieal writings] were held in the western part of the Roman Empire." Catholics and Arians alike acknowledged their Divine inspiration.
Epiphanius of Salamis " does not sanction," if we believe the Reviewer, "a single book of the Apocrypha," because, forsooth, he gives the Hebrew canon, and explains how the Jews contrive to make twenty-seven books count as twenty-two, in order to suit the number of letters in their alphabet! Yet he quotes Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom, and the Canticle of the Three Children, as Divine Scripture. (In Ancorato, cap. 12, cl contra Basilidianos Ilccr. VL cap. 6, et Lib. II. con­tra Orig'cncm liter. XLIV. cap. 36.) He recites the history of Susanna, alleges the prophecy of Baruch, numbers Ju­dith among the prophetesses, and extols the seven mar­tyr Macchabecs.
Jerome is the last hope of the Reviewer. He indeed states that the Church does not receive those books among the canonical Scriptures, or use them for the establishment of doctrine, although she reads them for the edification of the faithful. This can imply no more than that as yet no solemn definition of their canonical authority had been pro­nounced. He, however, translated the book of Judith, be­cause it was on record that the Nicene Council had num­bered it among the Sacred Scriptures, incidentally we sup­pose, rather than by an express declaration. He yielded to the request of some prelates, who urged him to translate Tobias, judging it right to gratify Christian bishops, al­though he should thereby incur the censure of haughty Pharisees. When blamed by RulRnus for rejecting the portions of Daniel and Esther which were wanting in the Hebrew text, he repelled the charge as a calumny, and al­leged that he had stated the objections of the Jews, rather than his own sentiments. In fact, he expressly quotes Ecclcsiasticus as Divine Scripture.*(footnote: * Eju XXXIV. ad Julian.)
We could multiply quotations, furnished us by Vincenzi and other authors, besides many which we ourselves have culled from the orthodox fathers, which prove that the Divine inspiration of those books was admitted even by those writers who, as critics or historians, gave the Hebrew canon. If any spoke of them with reserve, or quoted them less frequently, it was because they could not safely be urged against the Jews, or because their authority had not been solemnly defined and proclaimed. They were every­where read in the churches, and " listened to," as St. Au­gustine testifies, " by all Christians, from the bishops down to the humblest of the faithful laity, by penitents and cate­chumens, with the veneration due to Divine authority." (footnote: De Pricd- Sand., cap. XVI.) This illustrious father strongly insisted that the Christian canon should not be regulated by that of the Jews of Pales­tine, since the Church of Christ was led into all truth by the Spirit given for her guidance. " We must not omit those books which we know to have been written before the coming of Christ, and which are received by the Church of the Saviour himself, although they be not re­ceived by the Jews." (footnote: In Speculo.)
If any one wish for an unprejudiced and early witness of the regard which was had to the books in question, let him take 4n hand the works of St. Cyprian, who quotes them indiscriminately with the other Divine Scriptures, and expressly designates them as words of prophecy and inspiration. The writings of Chrysostom, Ambrose, Basil, will answer the same purpose.
The irreverence with which even Episcopalians speak of these books is contrary to the language, not only of the Homilies, but even of the Articles, which acknowledge them to be serviceable "for example of life and instruction of manners." Every one who reads the books of Ecclesi-asticus and Wisdom must confess that they abound with lessons of virtue. They are, however, commended to our reverence by higher considerations, since they contain remark able predictions of the sufferings of the Son of God. Compare Wisdom xxi. 17 with Matthew xxvii. 40, 42, and you will be forced to acknowledge that scarcely a more remarkable coincidence of fact with prophecy can be met with in any other portion of the sacred writings. The har­mony of the moral teaching is not less striking. Our Lord in directing us to " give to every one that asketh," Luke vi. 20, seems but to repeat the injunction of Tobias, " Turn not away thy face from any poor man." (Tob. iv.) He honored by his presence the Feast of the Dedication, whose institution, as Campbell observes, is recorded in the Books of the Macehabees. Compare John x. 22, 1 Mac. iv. 41, 2 Mac. i. G8. In describing the importunity of the widow soliciting justice from an unjust judge, he used the lan­guage and terms of Ecclesiasticus xxxv. 22. Campbell candidly says,-" To me it appears very probable, consid­ering the allinity of the subject, that the Evangelist had in the expression he employed an allusion to the words of the Jewish sage."
To those who have observed the manner of quoting the ancient Scriptures adopted generally by the sacred writers of the New Testament, the correspondence of sentences and phrases between them and the Deutero-canonical books will appear equivalent to express quotation. " PYom woman," says Ecclesiasticus, " is the beginning of sin, and through her we all die." (xxv. 24.) The account of original sin given by the Apostle is strikingly similar. Roin. v. 12. We must leave our readers to compare his description of the blindness of the philosophers in not recog­nizing God by his works, with the language of the Book of Wisdom on the same subject. The son of Sirach tells us, "In every gift make bright thy countenance"; and Paul proclaims that " God loveth the cheerful giver." The sufferings of the ancients are graphically represented by the Apostle in a manner to mark especially the Macchabee martyrs, the term " tympanum," which he uses (Heb. xi. 35), being expressive of a punishment not elsewhere re­corded. In fine, the attributes of the Son of God, as de­lineated by the Apostle, bear a striking conformity to the description in the Book of Wisdom ; for " she is the splen­dor of eternal light." (Wisdom vii. 26.) The same term imavyaaiM is used Heb. i. 3.
The conduct of the Catholic Church at Trent, in adhering to the canon framed above eleven centuries before at Car­thage, contrasts most favorably with the course pursued by innovators.    Luther treated the  Epistle  of James as of straw, because it stood in the way of his doctrine of justi­fication  by  faith.      The  ingenuity of  Calvin  smoothed away the difficulty, and he felt willing to receive all the books of the New Testament.    The Books of the Maccha-bees, being favorable to the practice of offering prayer and sacrifice  for the  departed, were obnoxious to the  whole body of Reformers.    In  order to rid themselves of their authority, they did not hesitate to fall back on Jewish ground; and although they found these books supported by the Hellenist Jews, they deemed  it enough that they were not received by those of Palestine to authorize their rejection.    Not to appear to make common  cause with Jews, the Church of England availed herself of the doubt which   was   once   entertained   by  some  of their  canoni­cal authority, without considering that by this principle several books of the New Testament must also be aban­doned.    Thus error is in contradiction with itself, whilst the Church, having displayed a wise toleration when there was   any room  for question, decided with solemnity, on mature examination,  in strict conformity with  primitive tradition, usage, and teaching, from  which the doubts or errors of individuals could in no wise derogate.    It is time that all should acquiesce in a decision supported by such evidence, and free from all appearance of bias.    Ecclesias-ticus, which is acknowledged by Home to contain a col­lection of most pure moral precepts, and to have met with general   and   deserved   esteem   throughout   the   Western Church, should be in the hands of our youth, to guard them   against the seductions of pleasure, and stimulate them to the practice of virtue.    Tobias, which he acknowl­edges was cited with respect by the early fathers of the. Christian Church, and which, by the simplicity of its nar­rative and the. pure and moral lessons which it inculcates, has won popularity, should be perused by those about to enter the married state.    " Wisdom " should be studied by all, in order to know the vanity of worldly pursuits, and the different results of a life of virtue or of vice.      The Macchabees should be read to  see the wonderful support vouchsafed to the ancient people of God under cruel per­secution.    In fine, all those books abound with edification, and bear intrinsic characters of inspiration far more strik­ing than many books of the Hebrew canon; so that he who casts them aside irreverently incurs a fearful re­sponsibility.