William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, Doctrine of the Canon

William Whitaker on the Canon – Part 2

By | 2018-01-22T20:49:25+00:00 January 22nd, 2018|Categories: The Canon, William Whitaker|Tags: , , |0 Comments


Having now premised a brief explanation of these matters, we will come to the discussion of the cause and question proposed. And first, we shall have to treat of the six entire books, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and the two books of Maccabees, all together; and then, of those several books taken separately, as likewise of those fragments and parts of books, Esther, Baruch, &c.

Our adversaries have but one argument in behalf of these books, which is derived from the authority of certain councils and fathers. They allege, in the first place, the third council of Carthage, (in which Augustine himself bore a part,) can. 47, wherein all these books are counted canonical. Should any one object, that this council was only provincial, not general, and that its judgment is, therefore, of less consequence; our antagonists proceed to shew, that this council was confirmed by pope Leo IV. (Dist. 20. C. de libellis), and also in the sixth general council held at Constantinople, which is called Trullan, can. 2. Hence they argue, that although the decree of the council of Carthage might not, perhaps, be strong enough of itself to prove this point, yet, since it is confirmed by the authority of this pope and of a general council, it hath in it as much efficacy as is required to be in any council. Besides, they adduce the council of Florence under Eugenius IV. (in Epistol. ad Armenos), that of Trent under Paul HI. (sess. 4), and pope Gelasius with a council of seventy bishops. Of fathers, they cite Innocent I., who was also a pope, in his third Epistle to Exuperius of Tholouse ; Augustine, Lib. ii. c. 8. De Doctrina Christiana ; Isidore of Seville, Etymolog., Lib. VI. c. 1. So that the argument of our opponents runs thus: these councils and these fathers affirm these books to belong to the sacred canon; therefore, these books are canonical. In order to make this argument valid, we must take as our medium this proposition : whatsoever these councils and these fathers determine is to be received without dispute. We may then add to it, But these councils and these fathers receive these books as canonical; therefore these books are truly canonical and divine : otherwise there will be no consequence in the reasoning. Now let us answer somewhat more clearly and distinctly.

In the first place, we deny the major proposition of this syl logism. We must not concede that whatever those councils determine, and whatever those fathers affirm, is always true: for it is the special prerogative of scripture, that it never errs. There fore, it is manifest that nothing can be concluded from these testi monies which hath the force of a certain and necessary argument.

In the second place, the council of Florence was held one hundred and fifty years ago, and the council of Trent in our own times, and this latter for the express purpose and design of establishing all the errors of the popish church. These both were no legitimate councils of christian men, but tyrannous conventicles of antichrist, held for the object of opposing the truth of the gospel. How general that of Trent was, in its fourth session, may be appreciated from the number of the bishops who were present in that session. The legates, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, who were then present, and who published this decree concerning the number of the canonical books, made in all about fifty; and those, almost to a man, Italians and Spaniards. Where the attendance was so thin, it was impossible that any general council could be held. Yet Alanus Copus (in Dialog. Quint, c. 16.) says, that there were fewer bishops in many famous councils than at Trent. I allow this to be true of provincial synods; but no ecumenic council can be named, in which there was such a paucity and penury of prelates. These two councils, therefore, are to be wholly set aside from the dispute.

Thirdly, the council of Carthage was merely provincial and composed of a few bishops; and therefore hath no authority sufficiently strong and clear for confirming the point in question. Besides, our adversaries themselves do not receive all the decrees of this council. For the papists vehemently and contemptuously blame the injunction most solemnly expressed in can. 26, that “the bishop of the chief see shall not be called high priest, or chief of the priests, or by any such title.” They cannot then bind us by an authority to which they refuse to be tied themselves.

But, they say, this Carthaginian synod was approved by the Trullan council of Constantinople, which was universal. Be it so. But, if this decree of the number of the canonical books was legi timately approved, then that also concerning the title of high priest was confirmed by the same sanction, which yet they will by no means concede. How, then, will they divide these things? I acknowledge, indeed, that this Trullan synod was oecumenical. But the papists themselves doubt what should be determined of the authority of the canons which are attributed to this council. Pighius, in a treatise which he wrote upon this subject, calls the acts of this council spurious, and by no means genuine; which he seeks to prove by some arguments. Melchior Canus too (Lib. v. cap. ult.) declares that the canons of that council have no ecclesiastical authority: which is also the opinion of others. For there are some things in those canons which the papists can by no means approve; namely, that the bishop of Constantinople is equalled with the Roman, can. 36; that priests and deacons are not to be separated from their wives, can. 13 ; that the law of fasting is imposed on the Roman church, can. 55 ; and others of the same kind. There is one rule, also, which truth itself disapproves; that which forbids the eating of blood and things strangled, can. 67. It is, besides, a strong objection to the credit and authority of these canons, that eighty-five canons of the apostles are approved and received in them, can. 2. For pope Gelasius (in Gratian, Dist. 15. C. Romana Ecclesia) declares the book of the apostolic canons apocryphal. And Gratian (Dist. 16s) says, that there are only fifty canons of the apostles, and they apocryphal, upon the authority of Isidore, who hath related that they were composed by heretics under the name of the apostles. But this synod receives and confirms eighty-five canons of the apostles ; whereas pope Zephyrinus, who was five hundred years older than that synod, recognises, as appears in Gratian, no more than sixty. Pope Leo IX2., who was three hundred and fifty years later than the synod, receives the same number exactly, as Gratian writes in the place just cited. The thing itself, indeed, shews that the canons ascribed to the apostles are spurious. For in the last canon the gospel of John is enumerated amongst the scriptures of the new Testament; which all agree to have been written when all or most of the apostles were dead. Yet they affirm that these canons were not collected by others, but published by the assembled apostles themselves. Thus Peiresius determines in the third part of his book concerning traditions; and so others. For, can. 28, Peter himself says, “Let him be removed from communion, as Simon Magus was by me Peter.” If this canon, therefore, be true, Peter was present at the framing of it. But how could Peter, who was put to death in the time of Nero, have seen the gospel of John, which was first written and published in the time of Domitian? For the figment which some pretend, that Peter and the rest foresaw that gospel which John was afterward to write, is merely ridiculous. So in the last chapter all the apostles are made to speak, and the phrase occurs “the Acts of us the Apostles.”

It is no less easy to refute the answer which others make, that Clemens published these apostolic canons. For how could Clemens, whom Damasus and Onuphrius testify to have died in the time of Vespasian, have seen the gospel of John, which he wrote after his return from Patmos, during the reign of Trajan? For almost all authors say very plainly, that the gospel was written by John after his exile. So Dorotheus in the Life of John, the Prologue to John, Simeon Metaphrastes, Isidorus in his book of the parts of the new Testament, Gregory of Tours (Glor. Plurim. Mart. c. 30.), Huimo (Lib. in. de rerum Christianarum Memorabil.), Alcuin upon John, and innumerable other writers of great authority.

But the matter is clear enough of itself. For these canons of the apostles approve the constitutions of Clement and his two epistles. Yet the council of Constantinople, which hath received the canons of the apostles, condemns the constitutions of Clemens, as, indeed, many others do also ; concerning which book we shall speak hereafter. Besides, these canons of the apostles damage the papal cause : for they set down three books of Maccabees, and omit Tobit and Judith, and direct young persons to be instructed in the Wisdom of Sirach, and make no mention of the Wisdom of Solomon. If these are the true and genuine canons of the apostles, then the papists are refuted in their opinion of the number of the canonical books of the old and new Testaments by the authority of the canons of the apostles, If they be not, as it is plain they are not, then the synod of Constantinople erred, when it approved them as apostolical. Yet these men deny that a general council can err in its decrees respecting matters of faith. Let the papists see how they will answer this. Certainly this Trullan synod approved the canons of the council of Carthage no otherwise than it approved the canons of the apostles. But it is manifest, and the papists themselves will not deny, that the canons of the apostles are not to be approved. Hence we may judge what force and authority is to be allowed to the canons of this council of Constantinople; and what sort of persons the papists are to deal with, who both deny that these canons have any legitimate authority, and yet confirm the sentence of the council of Carthage by the authority of these very canons. For so Canus (Lib. n. cap. 9) proves that the authority of the council of Carthage, in enumerating these books, is not to be despised, because it was approved by the general Trullan synod; yet the same man elsewhere (Lib. v. cap. 6. ad argument. 6.) makes light of the authority of these canons, and brings many arguments to break it down.

Fourthly, Gelasius with his council of seventy bishops recites but one book of Maccabees, and one of Esdras. Thus he rejected the second book of Maccabees, which is apocryphal, and Nehemiah, which is truly canonical. Isidore, too, confesses that there are but two and twenty books found in the Hebrew canon: and that their canon is the true one will be proved hereafter.

Lastly, before they can press us with the authority of councils, they should themselves determine whether it is at all in the power of any council to determine what book is to be received as canoni cal. For this is doubted amongst the papists, as Canus confesses, Lib. ii. c. 8.

Let us come now to the minor premiss of the proposed syllogism. -We allow that the council of Carthage, and Gelasius with his seventy bishops, and Innocent, and Augustine, and Isidore call these books canonical. But the question is, in what sense they called them canonical. Now, we deny that their meaning was to make these books, of which we now speak, of equal authority with those which are canonical in the strict sense; and the truth of this we will prove from antiquity, from Augustine, and from the papists themselves.

For, in the first place, if it had been decreed by any public judgment of the whole Church, or defined in a general council, that these books were to be referred to the true and genuine canon of the sacred books, then those who lived in the Church after the passing of that sentence and law would by no means have dissented from it, or determined otherwise. But they did dissent, and that in great numbers; and amongst them some of those whom the Church of Rome acknowledges as her own children.

Therefore, there was no such judgment of the Church publicly received.

Secondly, Augustine, in that same place, plainly indicates that he did not consider those books of equal authority with the rest. For he distinguishes all the books into two classes; some which were received by all the churches, and some which were not. Then he lays down and prescribes two rules: one, that the books which all the churches receive should be preferred to those which some do not receive; the other, that those books which are received by the greater and more noble churches should be preferred to those which are taken into the canon by churches fewer in number and of less authority. It will bo best to listen to Augustine himself, whose words are these (Lib. n. c. 8. de Doct. Christ.): “Now, with respect to the canonical scriptures, let him follow the authority of the greater number of Catholic Churches; amongst which those indeed are to be found which merited to possess the chairs of the apostles, and to receive epistles from them. He will hold this, therefore, as a rule in dealing with the canonical scriptures, to prefer those which are received by all catholic churches to those which only some receive. But, with respect to those which are not received by all, he will prefer such as the more and more dignified churches receive, to such as are held by fewer churches, or churches of less authority.” Then follows immediately, “Now the whole canon of scripture, in which we say that this consideration hath place,” &c.

Hence, then, I draw an easy and ready answer. We, with Jerome and many other fathers, deny these books to be canonical. Augustine, with some others, calls them canonical. Do, then, these fathers differ so widely in opinion? By no means. For Jerome takes this word “canonical” in one sense, while Augustine, Innocent, and the fathers of Carthage understand it in another. Jerome calls only those books canonical, which the church always held for canonical; the rest he banishes from the canon, denies to be canonical, and calls apocryphal. But Augustine calls those canonical which, although they had not the same perfect and certain authority as the rest, were wont to be read in the church for the edification of the people. Augustine, therefore, takes this name in a larger sense than Jerome. But, that Augustine was not so minded as to judge the authority of all these books to be equal, is manifest from the circumstance that he admonishes the student of theology to place a certain difference between the several books, to distinguish them into classes, and to prefer some to others. If his judgment of them all was the same, as the papists contend, such an admonition and direction must appear entirely superfluous. Would Augustine, if he held all the books to have an equal right to canonicity, have made such a distribution of the books ? Would he have preferred some to others? Would he not have said that they were all to be received alike ? But now, Augustine does prefer some to others, and prescribes to all such a rule for judging as we have seen. Therefore Augustine did not think that they were all of the same account, credit, and authority; and, consequently, is in open opposition to the papists. All this is manifest. It makes to the same purpose, that this same Augustine (de Civit. Dei, Lib. xVIi. c. 20.) concedes, that less reliance should be placed upon whatever is not found in the canon of the Jews. Whence it may be collected that, when Augustine observed that some books were not received by all, or the greatest and most noble churches, his remark is to be understood of those books which are not con tained in the Hebrew canon: and such are those which our churches exclude from the sacred canon.

Let it be noted too, that in the council of Carthage, and in the epistle of pope Innocent, five books of Solomon are enumerated ; whereas it is certain that only three are Solomon’s. So, indeed, Augustine himself once thought that the book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus were Solomon’s, though he afterwards changed (but without correcting) that opinion. For in the same place of his City of God he thus speaks of those books: “Learned men have no doubt that they are not Solomon’s.” This was one error in Augustine. Another, and no less one, was supposing that the book of Wisdom was written by Jesus the son of Sirach (de Doct. Christ. Lib. n. c. 8.) ; which error he retracts, Retract. Lib. ii. c. 4. Yet he allegeth an excuse, which is neither unhandsome nor trifling, for attributing five books to Solomon; that “these books may be all called Solomon’s, from a certain likeness which they bear.” Hence, however, it appears that Augustine was in a great mistake when he thought, first, that these two books were written by Solomon, and then, that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Indeed, Augustine himself testifies that these books were by no means received in all churches (De Civit. Dei. Lib. xVIi. c. 20.) ; where he says that these books were especially received as authoritative by the Western church. To this Western church Augustine and Innocent belonged. For the oriental church never allowed to these books such great authority. But the mistake of counting Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus amongst the books of Solomon, although it is a very gross one, was yet, as we read, entertained and received by many. For pope Marcellinus, in an epistle to Solomon, adduces a testimony from Ecclesiasticus, as from Solomon; and likewise pope Sixtus II. in an epistle to Gratus: which shews sufficiently that these persons must have thought that Solomon was the author of this book. I know, indeed, that these epistles were not really written by Marcellinus or Sixtus, but are falsely attributed to them: yet still, by whomsoever written, they indicate that this opinion was a common error.

Thirdly, the papists themselves understand and interpret Augustine and the rest in the same manner as we do. For so many persons after Augustine and after those councils would never have denied these books to be canonical, if they had not perceived the reasonableness of this interpretation. If then they blame our judgment, let them at least lend some credit to their own companions and masters. I will bring forward no man of light esteem, no mean or obscure doctor, but a distinguished cardinal,—that special pillar of the popish church, Cajetan, who as suredly excelled all our Jesuits in judgment, erudition, and authority. I will recite his words, because they are express and should always be in remembrance. Thus, therefore, writes Cajetan at the end of his commentary upon, the History of the old Testament : ” Here,” says he, “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 any where, 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.” Thus far Cajetan; in whose words we should remark two things. First, that all the statements of coun cils and doctors are to be subjected to the correction of Jerome. But Jerome always placed these books in the apocrypha. Secondly, that they are called canonical by some councils and Fathers, and customarily received in the canon of the bible, because they pro pose a certain rule of morals. There are, therefore, two kinds of canonical books: for some contain the rule both of morals and of faith; and these are, and are called, truly and properly canonical: from others no rule, but only of morals, should be sought. And these, although they are improperly called canonical, are in truth apocryphal, because weak and unfit for the confirmation of faith. We may use, if we please, the same distinction which I perceive some papists themselves to have used, as Sixtus Senensis (Bibliothec, Lib. i.), and Stapleton (Princip. Fid. Doctrin. Lib. ix. c. 6), who call some books Proto-canonical, and others Deutero-canonical. The proto-canonical are those which are counted in the legitimate and genuine canon, i. e. of the Hebrews. These Jerome’s accurate judgment hath approved; these our churches acknowledge as truly canonical. The Deutero-canonical are they which, although they be sometimes called canonical in the sense just now explained, are yet in reality apocryphal, because they do not contain the combined rule of faith and morals. The papists are greatly incensed against their partner Cajetan, on account of this most solid sentence; and some even vituperate him. Canus says, that he was deceived by the novelties of Erasmus. Let us leave them to fight with their own men. This is certain, that there never was a papist of more learning and authority than Cajetan, whom the pope sent into Germany to oppose Luther. This testimony should be a weighty one against them. Let them shake it off as they best can: and yet they never can shake it off, since it is confirmed by solid reason.

Thus we have seen how weak their argument is. They have none better: for they have none other. Now, since we have answered them, we will proceed to the confirmation of our own cause.


I form the first argument thus: These books, concerning which we contend, were not written by prophets: therefore they are not canonical. The entire syllogism is this. All canonical books of the old Testament were written by prophets: none of these books was written by any prophet: therefore none of these books is canonical. The parts of this syllogism must be confirmed.

The major rests upon plain testimonies of scripture. Peter calls the scripture of the old Testament, “The prophetic word,” 2 Pet. i. 19, (for it is evident from Luke iii. 4, that λόγος means scripture,) and ” prophecy,” ibid. ver. 20. Paul calls it, ” the scriptures of the prophets.” Rom. xvi. 26. Zacharias the priest says, ” As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began.” Luke i. 70. Where he means that God had spoken in the prophetic scriptures. So Abraham says to the luxurious man, ” They have Moses and the prophets,” that is, the books of scripture. Luke xviii. 39. And elsewhere Luke says: ” Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke xxiv. 27 ; so Rom. i. 2. Here we see that all the scriptures are found in the books of Moses and the prophets. The apostle to the Hebrews says : ” God spake in divers manners by the pro phets.” Heb. i. 1. Therefore the prophets were all those by whom God spake to His people. And to this refers also the assertion of the apostle, that the Church is built ” upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Eph. ii. 20. This foundation denotes the doctrine of the scriptures, promulgated by the prophets and apos tles. Christ says : ” All things must be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, con cerning me :” and then follows immediately, ” Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” Luke xxiv. 44, 45. Paul asks king Agrippa, ” Believest thou the prophets?”—that is, the scriptures. Acts xxvi. 27. And when he dealt with the Jews at Rome, he tried to convince them ” out of the law of Moses and the prophets.” Acts xxviii. 23.

From these testimonies we collect that the assertion in the major is most true;—that the whole scripture of the old Testa ment was written and promulgated by prophets. And there are many other similar passages from which it may be concluded, that there is no part of the old Testament which did not proceed from some prophet. But we must remark, that the entire old canonical Bcripture is sometimes signified by the name of the prophets, some times of Moses and the prophets, sometimes of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. So Augustine, in his discourse against Cresconius the grammarian : ” Not without cause was the canon of the church framed with so salutary a vigilance, that certain books of the prophets and apostles should belong to it.” Lib. ii. cap. 31. And in another place : ” Let them shew us their church, not in the rumours of the Africans, but in the injunction of the law, in the predictions of the prophets, in the songs of the Psalms ; that is, in all the canonical authorities of the sacred books.” De Unit. Eccles. c. 16. And elsewhere: ” Read this in the law, in the prophets, in the Psalms.” We have said enough in confirmation of the major; let us now proceed to the minor.

That these books, against which we are disputing, were not written, or set forth to the church, by prophets, is exceedingly-clear and certain. For, in the first place, all confess that Malachi was the last prophet of the Jews, between whom and John the Baptist no prophet whatever intervened. But most’ of the authors of these books undoubtedly lived after Malachi. ‘ This is manifest in the case of the writers of Ecclesiasticus and the Maccabees ; and even our adversaries themselves are not able to deny it. Besides, those books were not written in the prophetic tongue, which was the language of Canaan and the proper language of the church. But if prophets, who were the teachers and masters of the Israelitish church, had written those books, they would have used, in writing them, their native and prophetic language, not a language foreign and unknown to the church ; which no right-minded person will deny. Now that most of them were written not in Hebrew but in Greek, the Fathers affirm, and the papists concede, and the thing itself proves fully : concerning the rest, we shall see in the sequel. Finally, if these books had been written by prophets, then Christ would have used them as his witnesses. But neither Christ nor his apostles ever made any use of their testimony. This is what Augustine says of the books of Maccabees: ” The Jews do not esteem this scripture as the Law and the Prophets, to which the Lord bears testimony as his witnesses.” (Contra Gaudent. Epist. Lib. n. cap. 23.) Christ bears no testimony to these books as his witnesses. Therefore they are not sufficient or fully credible wit nesses of Christ. But this they would be if they were prophetic. For all the canonical and prophetic scriptures testify of Christ; and to them as his witnesses Christ bears distinguished testimony, when he says, ” Search the scriptures,” and when he cites so many testimonies from those books. So Jerome: ” We must have recourse to the Hebrews, from whose text both the Lord speaks, and his disciples choose their examples.” But that these books are not prophetical, we shall hereafter prove still more clearly.

The second argument. These books were not received by the church of the Israelites ; therefore they are not canonical. The syllogism may be framed thus : The ancient church of the Hebrews re ceived and approved all the books of the old Testament. That church did not receive these books ; therefore they are not canonical.

The major proposition is certain, and may be easily demonstrated. For, first, if that church had rejected a part of the Lord’s Testament,—especially so large a part, —she would have been guilty of the highest crime and sacrilege, and would have been charged with it by Christ or his apostles. For, since the Jews were blamed for putting wrong senses upon the scripture, they would never have escaped still greater and sterner reprehension, if they had taken away the scripture; forasmuch as it is much more wicked and impious to take away books of scripture than to interpret them ill in certain passages. But neither Christ, nor his apostles, nor any others, ever accused the Jews of mutilating or tearing to pieces their canon of the sacred books. Nay, the ancient Israelitish church both received all the canonical books, and preserved them with the greatest care and faithfulness. On which point read what Josephus writes, in Eusebius, Lib. iii. cap. 10. This is also confirmed by the authority of scripture itself. For the apostle says, that to the Jews were committed and delivered in charge the oracles of God,—that is, the scriptures. Rom. iii. 2. Whence we learn, that the excellent treasure of the sacred scripture was deposited by God with the church of the Jews, and by it received and guarded : which diligence and fidelity of the Jews, in preserving the sacred books, Augustine (Ep. 3, and 59.) and all the other Fathers celebrate. Besides, if so many canonical books had been (not only not received, but) rejected by the ancient church of the Jews, it would follow that many canonical books were never received by any church : for before Christ there was no other church but that of the Jews. If then we grant that that church, which was the whole and sole church at that particular time, could have rejected canonical books, then it is evident that the church may err, which the papists will not be willing to allow. Yet is it not a great error, not only not to acknowledge and receive sacred books, but to repudiate and eject them from the canon of the inspired writings ? But the whole Jewish church rejected these books : which was our assumption in the minor, and may be confirmed by the confession of all the fathers, and even of the papists themselves. For every one understands that these books were never received into the Hebrew canon.

As to Bellarmine’s pretence (Lib. i. cap. 10), that these books have the testimony of the apostolic church, and that the apostles declared these books canonical, whence does its truth appear ? The apostles never cite testimonies from these books, nor can anything be adduced to shew that any authority was attributed to them by the apostles. Indeed when Cajetan affirmed, in his commentary on 1 Cor. xii., that only to be sacred and divine scripture which the apostles either wrote or approved, he was blamed by Catharinus (Annot. Lib. i.) on that account ; and Catharinus lays it down in that place, that the church receives certain books as canonical which certainly were neither written nor approved by the apostles. The allegation of Canus, that these books were neither received nor rejected, is merely ridiculous. For, surely, if the Jews did not receive these books, what else was this but rejecting them utterly ? He who does not receive God rejects him : so not to receive the word of God, is to refuse and reject it. ” He that is not with me is against me ; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” Luke xi. 23. Besides, how could that church either receive or rather not reject books written in a foreign tongue ?

The sum of both arguments is this : These books are not written by prophets, nor received by the Israelitish church. There fore they are not canonical.

The third argument. Certain things may be found in these books which prove them not to be canonical. This argument is very strong, as derived from the nature and genius of the books themselves : and the conclusion will appear with fuller evidence in the sequel of this discourse, when we come to the particular examination of the several books; whence it will be sufficiently manifest that none of those now called in question have any just claims to be considered as canonical.



Lastly, it is clear from the testimonies of councils, fathers and writers, that these books deserve no place in the true canon of scripture. Which argument, though it be merely human, yet may have force against them who themselves use no other in this cause.

The synod of Laodicea (c. 59) forbids the reading of any non-canonical books in the church, and allows only ” the canonical books of the old and new Testament” to be used for that purpose. Then those are enumerated as canonical, which our churches receive; not Tobit, nor Judith, nor the rest. There is, indeed, a clear error in this council. For Baruch is coupled with Jeremiah, (which former perhaps they thought to be a part of the latter,) and the epistles of the prophet Jeremiah are mentioned, whereas there is but one epistle of Jeremiah in the book of Baruch :—unless, perhaps, there may here be a fault in the Greek book, since these words are omitted in the Latin. There is another error with respect to the Apocalypse, which these fathers have not placed in the catalogue of the books of the new Testament. And it is certain that many in the church doubted for a long time concerning that book. However, in the judgment of those fathers, these books of the old Testament, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and the two books of Maccabees, are not canonical. We form the same judgment of those books. The papists object, that the canon of scripture was not then settled; consequently, that they might leave these books out of the canon of scripture, but we cannot claim a similar right after this canon of scripture hath been denned by the church. But this is too ridiculous. For who can, without great impudence, maintain that there was no certain canon even of the old Testament for four hundred years after Christ; until, forsooth, the time of the council of Carthage? Was the church so long ignorant what books pertained unto the canon of scripture? A pretence at once false and impious! On the contrary, the fathers who lived before that council testify that they very well knew and understood what books were divine and canonical, as shall presently appear. Besides, that council of Carthage could not determine anything about the canon of scripture, so as to bind the whole church, since it was only a provincial one.

But (it will be said) the universal Trullan synod determined that these books should be received into the canon, and defined this matter by its authority. If we ask, how we are to understand that this is so? they answer, from its approving the acts of the council of Carthage. But that is not enough to make this a clear case. For (besides that we have already sufficiently obviated the force of this argument), in the first place, the Trullan synod does, in the very same place and canon, approve also the acts of the council of Laodicea. If that canon, therefore, of the Trullan synod be genuine, the Laodicene and Carthaginian decrees concerning the canonical books do not contradict each other. Consequently, although these books be called in a certain sense canonical by the council of Carthage, yet they are in strictness uncanonical, as they are pronounced to be by the council of Laodicea. But if the judgments of these councils be contradictory, the Trullan synod failed in prudence when it approved the acts of both.

Secondly, the Trullan synod was held six hundred years after Christ. Now, was the canon of scripture unknown, or uncertain, or unapproved for so many ages? Who in his right senses would choose to affirm this?

Thirdly, the later church did not judge that the canon of scripture was in this way determined and defined by these councils; which may easily be understood from the testimonies of those writers who flourished in the church after those councils, as you shall hear presently. First of all, therefore, I will adduce the testimonies of the ancient fathers, then of the later, from which, the constant judgment of the church concerning these books may be recognised. And although it may be somewhat tedious to go through them all, yet this so great multitude of witnesses must needs possess the greater authority in proportion to their numbers.

Melito of Sardis, as Eusebius tells us, (Lib. iv. cap. 26) testifies that he went into the East and learned with exact accuracy all the books of the old Testament. He, therefore, considered the matter by no means doubtful; which would have been impossible without a fully ascertained knowledge of the canon. Now this Melito, who took so much pains in determining these books, recites precisely the same books of the old Testament as we do, with the single exception of the book of Wisdom. There are some, indeed, who think that this Wisdom of Solomon, which Melito mentions, is the book of Proverbs itself: but I do not agree with them, for no cause can be given why the same book should be twice named. But though he might have mistaken in one book, he could not have mistaken in all, especially when using such diligence as he professes himself to have used. The error arose from the circumstance, that this book was in the hands of many, and was more read and had in greater esteem than the rest. Indeed, I acknowledge that of all Apocryphal books most respect was always exhibited towards this one: and this is the reason why Augustine seems to defend its authority (Lib. de Praed. Sanct. c. 14); from which defence it is evident that this book was publicly read in the church, and that the church thought very honourably of its character.

Origen (in Eusebius, Lib. VI. c. 25) enumerates the same books as are acknowledged by our churches to be canonical, and says, that the testamentary books of the old Testament are two and twenty, according to the number of the Hebrew alphabet. And many others after him have made the same remark. Now, if the canonical books agree in number with the Hebrew letters, as these fathers determine, then it is certain that no place is left in the sacred canon for those books concerning which we now dispute; otherwise there would be more canonical books than Hebrew letters. But those books which we concede to be truly canonical correspond by a fixed proportion and number to the elements of the Hebrew alphabet.

Athanasius says, in his Synopsis: “Our whole scripture is divinely inspired, and hath books not infinite in number, but finite, and comprehended in a certain canon.” There was, therefore, at that time a fixed canon of scripture. He subjoins: “Now these are the books of the old Testament.” Then he enumerates ours, and no others, and concludes: “The canonical books of the old testament are two and twenty, equal in number to the Hebrew letters.” But, in the meanwhile, what did he determine concerning the rest ? Why, he plainly affirms them to be uncanonical. For thus he proceeds: “But, besides these, there are also other non-canonical books of the old Testament, which are only read to the catechumens.” Then he names the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, the fragments of Esther, Judith, Tobit. ” These,” says he, “are the non-canonical books of the Old Testament.” For Athanasius makes no account of the books of Maccabees. He does not mention Esther in the catalogue, but afterwards remarks, that this book belongs to another volume;—perhaps to Ezra, by whom Isidore and others say that book was written. And some fathers, when enumerating the books of scripture, do not mention this by name, either because they thought it part of some other book, or esteemed it apocryphal on account of those apocryphal additions of certain chapters.

Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, speaks thus in the Prologue to his Exposition of the Psalms: “The law of the old Testament is considered as divided into twenty-two books, so as to correspond with the number of the letters.” By the term “the Law” he denotes the whole scripture of the old Testament.

Nazianzen, in his verses on the genuine books of sacred scripture, fixes the same number of the books of the old Testament. These are the lines of Nazianzen, in which he declares that he counts twenty-two books in the canon,—that is, so many in number as the Hebrew letters:

Αρχαιους μεν εθηκα δυο και εικοσι Βίβλους,
Τοις τον Εβραιον γράμμασιν αντίθετος

He omits mentioning Esther; the reason of which we have before explained.

Cyril of Jerusalem, in his fourth catechetical discourse, hath written many prudent and pious directions upon this matter. “Do thou,” says he, “learn carefully from the church what are the books of the old Testament. Read the divine scriptures, the two and twenty books.” Thus he shews that there were no more than twenty-two divine books. Then he enumerates the same books as are received by us for canonical, save that he includes in that number the book of Baruch, because he took it (though wrongly, as we shall prove anon) for a part of the book of Jeremiah. Now if any shall affirm that nevertheless there are other canonical books besides these, Cyril will refute him with this splendid objurgation : Πολύ σου φρονιμωτεροι ήσαν οι αποστολι και οι αρχαίοι επίσκοποι, οι της εκκλησίας προΐσταται, οι ταυτας παράγοντες. As if he had said, “Who art thou, that thou shouldest make these books canonical? The apostles, the ancient bishops, the governors of the church, were much wiser than thou art, who have commended these books alone to us as canonical, and no others.” What now becomes of those who say, that these books were approved by the apostles and the apostolic churches?

Epiphanius (Haer. vm. contra Epicuraeos) counts twenty-seven books of the old Testament, which he says were delivered by God to the Jews; or rather, as he subjoins, twenty-two: ως τα παρ αυτοις στοιχεία των εβραϊκών γραμμάτων αριθμουμεναι. For so he determines that the genuine books of the old Testament are equal in number to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But some books (as Epiphanius says) are doubled. Hence arises that variety in the sum; being counted when doubled, twenty-two, and, taking each book severally, twenty-seven. Then he adds, “There are also two other books which are doubtful,—the Wisdom of Sirach and that of Solomon, besides some others which are apocryphal.” He calls some dubious, some merely apocryphal. The same author writes, in his book of Weights and Measures, that the Jews sent to king Ptolemy twenty-two books transcribed in golden letters, which he enumerates in a previous passage; although Josephus, in the beginning of his Antiquities, relates that only the five books of Moses were sent. In this place he writes thus of those two books, the Wisdom of Solomon and of Sirach, which he had in the former citation called dubious: “They are indeed useful books, but are not included in the canon, and were not deposited in the ark of the covenant.” Which is as much as to say plainly, that they are not to be counted canonical.

Ruffinus, in his Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, says, that he intends to designate the volumes of the old and new Testaments, which are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost himself; and then he enumerates our books in both Testaments, subjoining: “But it should be known that there are other books also, which were called by the ancients not canonical but ecclesiastical, the Wisdom of Solomon and of Sirach, the book of Tobit, Judith, Maccabees. These,” says he, “they would have to be read in churches, but that nothing should be advanced from them for confirming the authority of faith.” The papist Pamelius praises this book, but blames this single passage in it; which yet did not deserve reprehension, since it is both true and accordant with innumerable judgments of the ancient fathers. He would not even have praised it, if he had not seen it praised by many, who yet are far from blaming that in it which he disapproves. That exposition was really made by Kuffinus, though it was attributed to Cyprian.

I come now to Jerome, who most plainly of all rejects these books from the canon, and argues strenuously against their canonical authority, and shews himself a most vehement adversary of these books. It would be tedious to review all his testimonies. In the Prologus Galeatus to Paulinus, ” As,” says he, “there are two and twenty letters, so there are counted two and twenty books.” Then he adds: “This Prologue to the scriptures may serve as a sort of helmed head-piece for all the books which we have translated from the Hebrew into Latin, to let us know that whatever is out of these is to be placed amongst the Apocrypha. Therefore the Wisdom of Solomon, and Jesus, and Judith, and Tobit, are not in the canon.” Testimonies of the same sort occur everywhere in his books.

Gregory the Great, in his Commentaries on Job (Lib. xix. cap. 16), expressly writes that the books of Maccabees are not canonical; and there is no doubt that he thought the same of the other books also.

To these authorities of the ancient fathers, I will subjoin the testimony of Josephus, which exactly agrees with them, as it lies in his first book against Apion the grammarian, and is transcribed by Eusebius in the tenth chapter of the third book of his Ecclesiastlcal History : ” We have not innumerable books, inconsistent and conflicting with each other ; but two and twenty books alone, containing the series of our whole history, and justly deemed worthy of the highest credit. Of these, five are by Moses ; em bracing the laws, and delivering down a narrative from the origin of the human race until his own death; which is a period of nearly three thousand years. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, the prophets after Moses have written accounts of the events of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four contain hymns to God and moral admonitions to man. It is true, that from the time of Artaxerxes to our own particular accounts have been written of the various events in our history : but these latter have not been deemed worthy of the same credit, because the succession of the prophets has not been regularly and exactly maintained in that interval.”

Assuredly it is plain enough from this testimony of Josephus, what was the judgment of the Israelitish church concerning these books; and the testimonies which have been alleged from so many fathers, distinguished both by antiquity and sanctity, evince with the highest certainty that the opinion of the Christian church also could not have been different.

Hitherto, therefore, we have proved by the clearest testimonies of the fathers that these books, about which we contend, are not canonical, but apocryphal; for so they are expressly called. Therefore these fathers plainly agree with us, and confirm our sentiments by their suffrages.

But perhaps the papists may have an answer to allege sufficient to shew that these testimonies avail us nothing. Indeed I will not dissemble their answer, nor conceal any thing from you that I know. Well then, in order to break the force of these testimonies and overturn our argument, some of them bring two objections : the first, that these fathers spoke of the Jewish, not of the Christian canon : the second, that the canon was not yet fixed ; wherefore those fathers are not to be blamed for determining otherwise con cerning the canon than the church afterwards defined, while we, nevertheless, are precluded from a similar liberty. Let us briefly obviate both objections.

First of all, these fathers whom I have cited do speak of the canon of Christians, as any one who looks at their words themselves will readily perceive. The synod of Laodicea prescribes what books should be read as canonical in the churches. Melito declares that he had taken pains to find out what books should be received; and this he did surely not for the sake of the Jews, but for his own. Athanasius says that those books which he calls uncanonical were wont to be read only to the catechumens. Now the catechumens were Christian catechumens. Cyril forbids the reading of those books which he calls apocryphal, and says that the apostles and old bishops and masters of the church had taken no other books into the canon than those which are received by us. Who does not see that he is speaking of the Christian canon? Although perhaps Cyril was too vehement in forbidding these books to be even read : for the other fathers, although they determine them to be apocryphal, yet permit their perusal. Ruffinus says, that those only which our churches also receive were received into the canon by the ancients (who doubtless were Christians), but that the rest were called by those same ancients, not canonical, but ecclesiastical. So Jerome, writing to Paulinus a Christian bishop, makes none others canonical than we do, and briefly describes the contents of these books, and of no others. Therefore he acknowledged no other canon of the sacred books than we do now. In his preface to the books of Chronicles he writes in these plain words : ” The church knows nothing of apocryphal writings ; we must therefore have recourse to the Hebrews, from whose text the Lord speaks, and his disciples choose their examples.” “What is not extant with them is to be flung away from us,” says Jerome, in his preface to Ezra and Nehemiah. And elsewhere, in his pre face to the books of Solomon, he hath these words : ” As therefore the church, while it reads Judith and Tobit and the books of Mac cabees, yet receives them not amongst the canonical scriptures ; so she may read these two volumes also [the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach] for the edification of the people, not for confirming the authority of articles of faith.” Plainly Jerome speaks of the Christian church, and determines that the canon of the old Testament is no other with Christians than it was with the Hebrews. They are absurd, therefore, who imagine a double canon. Again, in his first book against the Pelagians, he blames a heretic for citing testimonies from the Apocrypha, when proposing to prove something about the kingdom of heaven.

In the next place, whereas they say that the canon of scripture was not then fixed, it is but fair that they should speak out, and teach us when afterwards it was fixed. If it be said, in the council of Florence or of Trent, these are but modern; and, I am very sure, they will not affirm that it was fixed so late. If in the council of Carthage, that council of Carthage was not general. If in the Trullan, those canons are censurable in many respects, even in the opinion of the papists themselves, as we have shewn clearly above. Will they concede then, either that there was no definite canon of scripture for six hundred years after Christ, or that these books were not received into the canon for so many ages? This in deed would be sufficient to overturn the authority of the books. Let them answer, therefore, and mark the precise time, that we may understand when the canon of scripture was at length defined and described. If they can name any general council in which is extant the public judgment of the church concerning the canonical books, let them produce it. Except this Trullan council, they have ab solutely none at all. And this Trullan does not precisely affirm these books to be canonical, but only confirms the council of Carthage; which is of no consequence, since it also confirms the council of Laodicea, and the papists themselves deny all credit to the Trullan canons. Thus they are left without defence on any side. However, that you may the better see how empty that is which they are wont to urge about the Trullan synod ; I will now shew, by the most illustrious and certain testimonies of those men who have governed and taught the church of Christ in more recent times, that since that council these books were nevertheless not held to be canonical in the church.

Isidore, who lived almost in those very times, says (in Lib. de Offic.) that the old Testament was settled by Ezra in two and twenty books, ” that the books in the law might correspond in number with the letters.”’ John Damascene (Lib. iv. c. 18.) says : ” It must be known that there are two and twenty books of the old Testament, according to the alphabet of the Hebrew language.'” Thus Damascene agrees with those ancient doctors concerning the number of the canonical books of the old Testament. The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach he praises indeed, but puts them out of the canon: the rest he does not even mention. Yet he lived, as every one knows, after the Trullan Synod. So Nicephorus (apud Cyrum Prodromum in versibus) :

Της μεν παλαιας εισιν είκοσι δυο

” There are two and twenty books of the old Testament.” Like wise Leontius determines, in his book of Sects (Act. 2), that there are no more canonical books of the old Testament than the twenty-two which our churches receive. Thus he speaks : ” Of the old Testament there are twenty-two books.” Then he goes through all the books of the old and new Testaments in order, and finally subjoins, ” These are the books, old and new, which are esteemed canonical in the church.” Eabanus Maurus (De Inst. Cler. c. 54) says, that the whole old Testament was distributed by Ezra into two and twenty books, ” that there might be as many books in the law as there are letters.” Radulphus (Lib. xiv. in Lev. c. 1.) : ” Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees, although they be read for instruction in the church, yet have they not authority5.” Therefore they are not canonical. Hugo S. Victoris (Prolog. Lib. i. de Sa-cram. c. 7) says, that ” these books are read indeed, but not written in the body of the text or in the authoritative canon ; that is, such as the book of Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus.” Again, (Didascal. Lib. iv. c. 8) ” As there are twenty-two alphabetic letters, by means of which we write in Hebrew, and speak what we have to say, and the compass of the human voice is included in their elementary sounds ; so twenty-two books are reckoned, by means of which, being as it were the alphabet and elements in the doctrine of God, the yet tender infancy of our man is instructed, while it still hath need of milk.” Twenty-two letters form the language, and twenty-two books the faith. The same is the opinion of Richardus de S. Victore, (Exception. Lib. ii. c. 9). For, after telling us that there are twenty-two canonical books of the old Testament, he presently subjoins : ” There are besides other books, as the Wisdom of Solomon, the book of Jesus the son of Sirach, and the book of Judith and Tobit, and the book of Maccabees, which are read indeed, but not written in the canon.” In which words he plainly denies them to be canonical. And presently after, in the same place : ” In the old Testament there are certain books which are not written in the canon, and yet are read, as the Wisdom of Solomon, &c.” So Lyra, (Prolog, in libros Apocryph.) ; Dionysius Carthusianus, (Com ment, in Gen. in princip.) ; Abulensis, (in Matt. c. 1) ; Antoninus, (3 p. Tit. xVIii. c. 5). Cardinal Hugo, in his Prologue to Joshua, calls Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus, apocryphal ; and says that the church does not receive them for proof of the faith, but for instruction in life. These are his lines ; in metre, poor enough ; in sense, excellent.

Restant apocryphi, Jesus, Sapientia, Pastor, Et Machabseorum libri, Judith atque Tobias :

Hi, quod sunt dubii, sub canone non numerantur; Sed quia vera canunt, ecclesia suscipit illos.

But, in what sense the church always received them, the same author explains elsewhere (in Prol. Hieron. in Lib. Regum): ” Such the church receives not for proof of the faith, but for instruction in morals.” -Which other fathers also had said before him. The Gloss upon Gratian’s decree (Dist. 16) affirms that the Bible has some apocryphal books in it. Erasmus in many places maintains the same opinion, and Cardinal Cajetan most expressly. Now all these nourished after the Trullan synod, and some of them after the Florentine ; and the church of Rome acknowledges them all as her sons and disciples ; except perhaps Erasmus, whom she hath expelled, as he deserves, from her family : although Leo the Tenth called even him, in a certain epistle, his most dearly beloved son. Antonio Bruccioli, an Italian, translated the old Testament into the Italian language, and wrote commentaries upon the canonical books, but omitted the apocryphal. Even since the council of Trent, Arias Montanus, who was himself present in that synod, and published that vast biblical work, and is called by Gregory XIII. his son, in an edition of the Hebrew Bible with an interlinear version declares that the orthodox church follows the canon of the Hebrews, and reckons apocryphal the books of the old Testament which were written in Greek.

Thus, therefore, I conclude: If these books either were canonical, or so declared and defined by any public and legitimate judgment of the church; then these so numerous fathers, ancient and modern, could not have been ignorant of it, or would not have dissented, especially since they were such as desired both to be, and to be esteemed, catholics. But these fathers, so numerous, so learned, so obedient to the godly precepts of the church, were not aware that the church had decreed any such thing concerning the canon of scripture, and openly pronounced these books to be apocryphal. Therefore these books are not canonical, and were never inserted in the sacred canon of scripture by any legitimate authority or sanction of the church. Whence it follows that our church, along with all other reformed churches, justly rejects these books from the canon; and that the papists falsely assert them to be canonical. If they demand testimonies, we have produced them. If they ask for a multitude, they ought to be content with these which are so many, and may well satisfy their desires with them.

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