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The Biblical Canon of the 5th-6th Centuries

The following excerpt is taken from William Webster’s article The Canon: Why the Roman Catholic Arguments for the Canon are Spurious ( All bold and underline emphasis mine.

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.

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).

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 sycophantThe 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).

Rufinus who was a contemporary of Jerome’s, a fellow student with him at Rome. He dies shortly after 410 A.D. He writes these comments on the Canon AFTER the Councils of Hippo and Carthage:

“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.).

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 Carthage under Augustine:

“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 St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.” (In ult. Cap. Esther. Taken from A Disputation on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker (Cambridge: University, 1849), p. 48. See also Cosin’s A Scholastic History of the Canon, Volume III, Chapter XVII, pp. 257-258 and B.F. Westcott’s A General Survey of the Canon of the New Testament, p. 475.)

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 Western Church as is seen in the testimony of Cajetan. The following is a brief documentation of some of the leading theologians and doctors of the Church throughout the centuries as confirmation of Cardinal Cajetan’s views:

6th Century:

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.)

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