Marie Debates the 73 Book Bible
I saw an interesting post on a Facebook managed by a very anti-Catholic preacher from Texas. The post talked about how amazing the Bible is. I agreed and replied to it. After about a day, Marie took issue with my post and began a long string of long posts in an effort to refute what I had said. This blog is my response to her posts. Trying to do a point by point response to 20 separate posts on a facebook page is just not practical. So here it is (so far).
My first post said: We all owe the Catholic Church great appreciation for the fact that the Bible is known to us today. The Catholic Church put the canon together in 382 AD, consistent with St. Athanasius’ list of the 27 New Testament books 15 years earlier and Origen’s 46 Old Testament books 132 years before that. Those 73 books were continuously accepted and ratified by all Christian until the 16th century. Luther tried to change the canon at that point and some Christians followed him, but not the Catholic Church (see Rev. 22-19 as to why Luther was leading Protestants down the wrong path on this in addition to many other very bad ideas). Luther’s version of the canon showed 66 books, but now we are even seeing non-Catholic Bibles that are including the books that Luther tried to eliminate. Without the faithfulness of St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, St. Augustine (all were Catholic priests by the way) we may not have an inerrant and totally inspired canon today. And thanks to the faithful Catholics and Councils over the centuries, the wisdom of Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine, Pope Innocent I, and many other saints was ratified, confirmed and formalized by the Councils of Rome, Hippo, Carthage, Florence and Trent. All Christians pay a great compliment to the Catholic Church when they venerate the Bible (whether they realize it or not). And for that, the Catholic Church can have only one response (on behalf of the Holy Spirit of course): “You’re Welcome”. Please continue to venerate the Word as the Catholic Church has always done. Just don’t skip over the challenging parts.
After this post, Marie began to post disagreement with my statement. As I read through Marie’s responses, I could tell that she wasn’t really responding to my statement as much as she was responding to what she thought my statement meant. There is a difference. My words are above for you to review anytime you like. Below is an analysis of Marie’s replies to my first post.
Marie said it is false to claim that the Catholic Church was consistent on the question [the 73 book canon] from the time the canon was first determined, and remains consistent today.
But the Church’s consistency on the 73 book canon is very true (and a very evident truth at that). First, we have to speak the same language. When I speak of the Church, it is the visible Church on earth, the one with priests, bishops, a pope, councils, documents, etc… It is this Church that first adopted any canon of any kind and lo and behold, it is the same books that the Church continued to accept time after time after time and it is the same list of books that are in my Bible today. More on this as we go.
I’ll go through Marie’s comments piece by piece in order to address each question, statement and observation. Marie’s comments are italicized and verbatim quotes. My responses are boldfaced.
“If an infallible ruling on the inspiration of the apocryphal books was made in the 4th century, the leading theologians who wrote after the 4th century would certainly have unquestionably accepted them as a part of the canon, wouldn’t they?”
The Councils of Rome, Hippo, Carthage and Florence did not declare the 73 book canon by infallible declaration. Since none of these Councils were Ecumenical Councils, they did not have the authority to make an infallible declaration. What these councils do demonstrate is that when large numbers of leaders, including theologians, gathered, they always ratified Athinasius’ canon. This wasn’t just “usually” or “often”, it was “always”, as in each and every time. Yet, even this is not adequate to be a formal and infallible declaration by the Church, which says a lot for the study and care the Church has always employed when dealing with important theological and liturgical matters. Therefore, individuals were perfectly free to consider alternative ideas if they wished to do so. But people did not question the canon set forth by Athanasius as a concerted rejection of Church authority, but out of individual curiosity, study and opinion. And such questioning was rare. Don’t get hung up on finding comments from 20, 50 or 100 Catholics regarding a doubt about the canon. You have to remember that there have been an astounding number of Catholics in the 2000 year history of the Church. And of those who wrote any sort of disagreement regarding the canon, many if not most of them eventually accepted the canon first set forth by Athanasius and later infallibly declared at Trent.
So let’s look at your examples:
- “Pope Gregory the Great” – He cited Deuterocanonical books in his writings, right along with the other Scriptures. Still, he was influenced by St. Jerome’s initial belief that the Deutero books should not be included in the Canon. And as pope, he had the authority to make a formal declaration that the canon should not include certain books. But he never made such a move. Instead, he consented to the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books throughout his priesthood, including his papacy.
In A general and critical introduction to the study of Holy Scripture, A.E. Breen, a biblical scholar (who has devoted more time and effort to this than I have and with greater skill and wisdom) wrote:
“In the phraseology of St. Gregory “canonical” signified something over and above divine. It signified those books concerning which the whole world, with one accord, united in proclaiming the Word of God. The other books were divine, were used as sources of divine teaching by the Church, but there was lacking the authoritative decree of the Church making them equal to the former in rank. The Jews of old made such distinction regarding the Law and the Hagiographa. All came from God, but the Law was preeminent. The influence of St. Jerome was strong up on St. Gregory. The tradition of the Church drew him with it to use freely, as divine Scripture, the deuterocanonical books; while the doubts of Jerome moved him to hesitate in his critical opinion to accord to these books a prerogative of which Jerome doubted. Had the Church not settled the issue in the Council of Trent, there would, doubtless, be many Catholics yet who would refuse to make equal the books of the first and second Canons. Christ established a Church to step in and regulate Catholic thought at opportune times, and her aid was needed in settling, once and for all, the discussion of the Canon of Scripture. This isolated doubt from St. Gregory reflects merely a critical opinion, biased by Gregory’s esteem for St. Jerome.”
“This is significant, coming as it does from a bishop of Rome, who denied canonical status to 1 Maccabees long AFTER the 4th century. If Pope Gregory thought the canon of Scripture had been infallibly defined in the 4th century, surely he would have regarded I Maccabees as canonical, would he not?”
Actually, no. First, Gregory likely wrote this before he was elected Bishop of Rome. Secondly, the debate was not that some books were something less than divinely inspired. For Gregory, it was the universal application of the books in the Liturgy. Being accepted as divinely inspired is not the same as being infallibly included in the canon and approved for official use in the Liturgy. As we know, the infallible declaration came in the 1500’s through the Council of Trent. But by then, the fact was that the Church had always accepted and used the 73 books listed by St. Athanasius in its Liturgy (i.e. the Mass) even though there had not been an official declaration by an Ecumenical Council. I’ll repeat: After he was elected Bishop, he did not have the books removed, which he could have tried to do and he may have been successful if only for a time. They had not yet been infallibly declared, so it would not have taken much for him to declare that the books were to be removed. But based on what we know after Gregory, it is likely that later Councils and popes would have put them right back in the canon.
- The online New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals.”Why would there be hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals all through the Middle Ages if the canon of Scripture had been infallibly defined in the 4th century? Wouldn’t they have been infallibly certain instead?
Hesitation is not rejection and the full paragraph that contains that partial quote shows that the Church did accept and use the Deuterocanonicals. Since an Ecumenical Council had not yet taken the matter up, the 73 books of Athanasius remained the canon of the Church, used in all Bibles and used in the official Liturgy of the Church. Nobody could have claimed to be infallibly certain of anything until the Ecumenical Council met and made certain that the canon of Athanasius, the Councils of Rome, Hippo, Carthage, etc…, was correct. Trent did that.
- The Ordinary Gloss, known as the Glossa Ordinaria, is an important witness to the position of the Western Church on the status of the Apocrypha because it was the standard authoritative biblical commentary for the whole Western Church during the Middle Ages. The Glossa Ordinaria introduced each book of the apocrypha with the assertion that it was not a part of the canon. When commenting on the Apocryphal books, it prefixes an introduction to them 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 Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc.
Surely, if the whole Western Church during the Middle Ages believed the Apocryphal books to be inspired of God due to an infallible ruling from the 4th century, they would not have included this prefix, would they?
Actually, I don’t believe your representation is completely accurate, especially when you say, “The Glossa Ordinaria introduced each book of the apocrypha with the assertion that it was not a part of the canon. When commenting on the Apocryphal books, it prefixes an introduction to them 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 Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc.”
Take for instance the Glossa’s Prologue (by St. Jerome) to Judith which actually starts: “Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa, the authority of which toward confirming those which have come into contention is judged less appropriate. Yet having been written in Chaldean words, it is counted among the histories. But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request …”
The Council of Nicea was an Ecumenical Council which took place in the year 325 A.D. As a loyal son of the Church, Jerome included it in the Vulgate. As I look at the other prologues to the Deuterocanonical books, I don’t see any that say the book is “not in the canon”. Is your source on this William Webster?
- John Cosin, in his work “The Scholastical History of the Canon”, cites 52 major ecclesiastical writers from the 8th to 16th centuries who affirmed the view of Jerome. Why would all of these writers, after the 4th century, affirm the view of Jerome in his denial of the apocryphal books as canonical if, in fact, an infallible decision had been made on the canon in the 4th century?
This helps highlight hou you have been looking at this incorrectly. You think I said that the canon had been infallibly declared in the 4th century (see the beginning of this blog). I never said that the canon was infallibly declared in the 4th century. My point is and has always been that when the Council of Trent did infallibly declare the canon in the 1500’s, it was the very same canon that Athanasius had set forth over 1,000 years earlier and it was the same canon consistently used by the Church up until Trent. And that same canon is used by Catholics and several non-Catholic Christians today.
Additionally, do the 52 writers “affirm” the view of Jerome? Which view is it, that the OT is 46 books as Jerome’s Vulgate contains or his initial reluctance to include the Deuterocanonicals before he agreed to follow the lead of Augustine and the other theologians and bishops? I think you actually mean to say that the 52 writers were influenced by Jerome’s original reluctance. But did any of those 52 promote the publishing of a 66 book Bible? No. And how many of those 52 writers persisted in some sort of belief that the canon was only 66 books? I don’t think either of us know the answer to that last question, but we both know that none of them promoted the printing of a 66 book Bible.
- Cardinal Ximenes, the Archbishop of Toledo, in collaboration with the leading theologians of his day, produced an edition of the Bible called the Biblia Complutensia. There is an admonition in the Preface regarding the Apocrypha, that the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Maccabees, the additions to Esther and Daniel, are not canonical Scripture and were therefore not used by the Church for confirming the authority of any fundamental points of doctrine, though the Church allowed them to be read for purposes of edification. This Bible, as well as its Preface, was published in 1520 by the authority, consent, and sanction of Pope Leo X, to whom the whole work was dedicated. If Cardinal Ximenes and Pope Leo X believed the Apocryphal books to be canonical based on an infallible ruling from the 4th century, they would have omitted this preface stating the books were “not canonical”. Wouldn’t they?
Actually, it appears that you have been severely misled. Look at Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent by John C. Olin (Fordham University Press, 1990). On page 61, you will find the Preface in which the supposed admonition is to be found. It is short and easy to read since it has been translated into English. As you read it, you will discover that the words William Webster references are not there. Did he fabricate them or did he make a mistake and reference the wrong source? Only he knows. But he’s apparently led you down the wrong path on this one. It seems like he led you down the wrong path on the Glossa Ordinaria argument you used earlier as well.
- Cardinal Cajetan –It seems like you are cutting and pasting all your arguments, verbatim, from William Webster, who I have just demonstrated to be highly casual on citing his sources and/or proofreading for accuracy. Therefore, I’m not going to concede that Cajetan actually wrote this. However, if he did, it is evident that he acknowledges the prior Councils and Doctors of the Church who did count them in the canon.
And once again, you need to remember that Cajetan was not the Church. He was a member of the Church, but not THE Church. Therefore, if he held this opinion at one point, even if it were for a long period of his life, it does not de-canonize the Deuterocanonical books.
You ask: So how can you possibly claim that the apocryphal books “were continuously accepted and ratified by all Christians until the 16th century”? But follow up with a statement that once again points to your error in the way you are trying to interpret my post. You say: Such a statement is entirely false, and demonstrably so. If the canon of Scripture had been “infallibly” defined in the 4th century, there would not have been any opposition to the canonical status of the apocryphal books FROM WITHIN THE CHURCH, after the 4th century.
Prior to Luther, there was only one Christianity and it was Catholicism. Now we have thousands and thousands of Christian denominations, but no other Christian faith existed prior to Luther, except for the Catholic Church. So when I say that the Deutero books were continuously accepted and ratified by all Christians, that’s what I mean. When the issue was considered by the Church, which spoke for and represented all Christians, it always settled on the same canon Athanasius set forth. Again, I never said that it was infallibly declared prior to Trent. But Trent infallibly declared the same books that were set out for centuries before Trent… by the Catholic Church.
“Moving on…when you say “remains consistent”, are you not aware that the canon of Scripture that was approved in the 4th century was not the same as that which was “infallibly” determined in the 16th century? ”
I’ll tell you what. Cite your source and I will look at this. My review of Canon 24, which defines the canons of Scripture, does not list anything but the books set forth at the other Church Councils, including Trent. So give me your sources and citations and I’ll look them up. But until you can show me where the Council of Carthage included non-canonical books in its list of the canon, I’m sticking with the opinion that I started with.
“When you say “from the time the canon was first determined”, are you referring to the 16th century at the Council of Trent? Because that is when the canon of the Roman Catholic Church as you know it today was “infallibly” defined.”
No. I’m saying that the canon was long-recognized and accepted by the time of Trent. Trent then formally declared that canon as the canon of Scripture.
You then list some sources that repeat the fact that the canon of Scripture was infallibly declared by the Council of Trent.
We agree. I have never claimed anything to the contrary. You simply fail to recognize that Trent ratified Athanasius and every Council after Athanasius, which considered the canon.
“The Catholic Bible you carry today was not infallibly defined in the 4th century as you have been taught.”
Actually, I have never been taught that the canon was infallibly defined in the 4th century. That is probably the main reason as to why I didn’t make such a claim.
“The canonical status of the apocryphal books were opposed by the majority of leading theologians within the Roman Church up until the 16th century.”
Opposed? I think you are interjecting a lot of your own hopes and desires into that, especially since your own prior references describe things such as hesitation. Jerome was certainly hesitant, but after further correspondence with Augustine he acquiesced and after the Vulgate was translated, we don’t hear anything further about any disagreement. In the end, Jerome was obedient to the Church and there is no evidence that he remained doubtful about the Deuterocanonical books. The other Church Fathers, theologians, etc…, also appear to be content with the 73 books in the Catholic canon which were eventually set forth at Trent.
“Were the apocryphal books circulated with the Scriptures prior to the 16th century? Yes. Were they considered by the vast majority of theologians, bishops and cardinals to be the inspired Word of God? No. They were considered by the Church to be good for ecclesiastical reading, nothing more.”
Can you cite your sources for this broad conclusion? I see saints, popes, Councils and theologians who accepted the 73 books eventually declared (infallibly) at Trent. I also know of no Bible prior to Luther, which contained any canon different than the canon first set forth by Athanasius. If there was serious doubt or opposition to the canon before Luther, where are the copies of the 66 book Bibles that existed before the 1500’s? They don’t exist.
What is worse, the apocryphal books contain heresies and historical inaccuracies. It is therefore impossible for them to be inspired by God. No reasonable person, left to make an informed decision, would regard as Scripture any book that contradicted the truly inspired, Holy Word of God or that contained historical errors.
Can you point out a heresy contained in the Deuterocanonicals? Please do the same on any historical inaccuracies that you would like to discuss. I’ll look them up and respond.
“Moreover, no church has the authority to add anything to the OT oracles that were entrusted to the Jews (Rom. 3:2).”
Romans 3:2 is not persuasive on the Christian canon. Isn’t that where we started when you were citing Josephus as the authority on what Christians should have in the Christian Bible, even though Josephus was a Jew?
“I suppose this explains why the 53 prelates at the Council of Trent felt the need to threaten the Roman Catholic faithful under the force of anathema (condemnation to hell) to accept their decision. Incredible.”
Actually, anathema is not a condemnation to hell. Anathema simply means that a person is not a member of the Catholic Church. It is certainly not a condemnation. To the contrary it is a call to repentance. But now that you say that, what would you say to a Christian today, if that Christian told you that the Bible really only contained 59 books? You can pick any 7 you wish and consider those the 7 that this fictional person rejects. Maybe they are in the NT or the OT or both, but they flat reject them as not inspired and inerrant. Are they Christian?
Or maybe you are one of those Christians who think Catholics are not Christian. Is it because we have 73 books in our canon? If you are one of those Christians, you may also think that Catholics are going to Hell.
Food for thought.
But this is what happens, I suppose, when you blindly follow fallible men who only claim infallibility.
Blindly? Not hardly. I’ve researched my faith extensively. And each time, I have found Catholicism to be true or as true as human reason, science, history and all other sources can confirm. As we both know, there are some deep aspects to Christianity that require faith, but that goes for any Christian, not just Catholics.
For you, I suppose your opinions and beliefs are the product of putting your faith in men like William Webster, James White, Lorraine Boettner and Mike Gendron.
While my analysis was the product of reading and reviewing many sources over a long period of time, both before my original reply to Mike’s post and after looking at your posts, a very large portion of your posts were cut and pasted from people like William Webster. And you say I’m the blind follower? I strongly suggest that you actually go to the original source whenever possible. What you have done for a good portion of your argument is to have used Protestant sources in order to debate Catholic history and Catholic doctrine. That isn’t a good practice. If you own a Chevrolet, you should not use the owner’s manual for your neighbor’s Ford. Some of the information will work just fine, but if you try to apply it point for point, you are sure to fail.
If you want to use Mike Gendron’s opinion as a starting point, knock yourself out, but you should not stop there. The same goes for any one person you want to start with, especially if they are commenting on something beyond their expertise.
As for infallibility: What do you think the Church teaches about infallibility Marie?
So with all of this, I’m hopeful that you will dig deeper than you already have. Maybe you will find information that makes you more firm in your opinion, but if you truly research this issue, you will find a lot of information that will change your mind. This is especially true if you include more Catholic sources in your research and if you take the source as a whole and avoid the tendency to take small portions out of it in an effort to mischaracterize what the source actually says. Context matters.
I think it is also very important, if not most important, to consider which OT canon Jesus and the apostles used. As I’ve said before, they used the Septuagint which includes the Deuterocanonical books. If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.
I also like to read really stuff from really smart people that still live and work among us, such as Jimmy Akin. This particular article is excellent.