Canon of the Old Testament
The word canon as applied to the Scriptures has long had a special and consecrated meaning. In its fullest comprehension it signifies the authoritative list or closed number of the writings composed under Divine inspiration, and destined for the well-being of the Church, using the latter word in the wide sense of the theocratic society which began with God's revelation of Himself to the people of Israel, and which finds its ripe development and completion in the Catholic organism. The whole Biblical Canon therefore consists of the canons of the Old and New Testaments. The Greek kanon means primarily a reed, or measuring-rod: by a natural figure it was employed by ancient writers both profane and religious to denote a rule or standard. We find the substantive first applied to the Sacred Scriptures in the fourth century, by St. Athanasius; for its derivatives, the Council of Laodicea of the same period speaks of the kanonika biblia and Athanasius of the biblia kanonizomena. The latter phrase proves that the passive sense of canon -- that of a regulated and defined collection -- was already in use, and this has remained the prevailing connotation of the word in ecclesiastical literature.
The terms protocanonical and deuterocanonical, of frequent usage among Catholic theologians and exegetes, require a word of caution. They are perhaps not the best words to use because they could lead the uninformed to infer from them that the Church successively possessed two distinct Biblical Canons. Only in a partial and restricted way may we speak of a first and second Canon. Protocanonical (protos, "first") is a conventional word denoting those sacred writings which have been always received by Christendom without dispute. The protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants.
The deuterocanonical (deuteros, "second") are those whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters, but which long ago gained a secure footing in the Bible of the Catholic Church, though those of the Old Testament are classed by Protestants as the "Apocrypha". These consist of seven books: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Machabees; also certain additions to Esther and Daniel. It should be noted that protocanonical and deuterocanonical are modern terms, not having been used before the sixteenth century. As they are of cumbersome length, the latter (being frequently used in this article) will be often found in the abbreviated form deutero.
The scope of an article on the sacred Canon may now be seen to be properly limited regarding the process of what may be ascertained regarding the process of the collection of the sacred writings into bodies or groups which from their very inception were the objects of a greater or less degree of veneration; the circumstances and manner in which these collections were definitely canonized, or adjudged to have a uniquely Divine and authoritative quality; the vicissitudes which certain compositions underwent in the opinions of individuals and localities before their Scriptural character was universally established.
It is thus seen that canonicity is a correlative of inspiration, being the extrinsic dignity belonging to writings which have been officially declared as of sacred origin and authority. It is antecedently very probable that according as a book was written early or late it entered into a sacred collection and attained a canonical standing. Hence the views of traditionalist and critic (not implying that the traditionalist may not also be critical) on the Canon parallel, and are largely influenced by, their respective hypotheses on the origin of its component members.
A. THE CANON AMONG THE PALESTINIAN JEWS (PROTOCANONICAL BOOKS)
It has already been intimated that there is a smaller, or incomplete, and larger, or complete, Old Testament. Both of these were handed down by the Jews; the former by the Palestinian, the latter by the Alexandrian, Hellenist, Jews.
The Jewish Bible of today is composed of three divisions, whose titles combined from the current Hebrew name for the complete Scriptures of Judaism: Hat-Torah, Nebiim, wa-Kéthubim, i.e. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This triplication is ancient; it is supposed as long-established in the Mishnah, the Jewish code of unwritten sacred laws, reduced to writing, c. A.D. 200. A grouping closely akin to it occurs in the New Testament in Christ's own words, Luke 24:44 "All things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me". Going back to the prologue of Ecclesiasticus, prefixed to it about 132 B.C., we find mentioned "the Law, and the Prophets, and others that have followed them". The Torah, or Law, consists of the five Mosaic books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Prophets were subdivided by the Jews into the Former Prophets [i.e. the prophetico-historical books: Josue, Judges, Samuel, (I and II Kings), and Kings (III and IV Kings)] and the Latter Prophets (Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and the twelve minor Prophets, counted by the Hebrews as one book). The Writings, more generally known by a title borrowed from the Greek Fathers, Hagiographa (holy writings), embrace all the remaining books of the Hebrew Bible. Named in the order in which they stand in the current Hebrew text, these are: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Esdras, Nehemias, or II Esdras, Paralipomenon.
1. Traditional view of the Canon of the Palestinian Jews Proto-Canon
In opposition to scholars of more recent views, conservatives do not admit that the Prophets and the Hagiographa represent two successive stages in the formation of the Palestinian Canon. According to this older school, the principle which dictated the separation between the Prophets and the Hagiographa was not of a chronological kind, but one found in the very nature of the respective sacred compositions. That literature was grouped under the Ké-thubim, or Hagiographa, which neither was the direct product of the prophetical order, namely, that comprised in the Latter Prophets, nor contained the history of Israel as interpreted by the same prophetic teachers--narratives classed as the Former Prophets. The Book of Daniel was relegated to the Hagiographa as a work of the prophetic gift indeed, but not of the permanent prophetic office. These same conservative students of the Canon--now scarcely represented outside the Church--maintain, for the reception of the documents composing these groups into the sacred literature of the Israelites, dates which are in general much earlier than those admitted by critics. They place the practical, if not formal, completion of the Palestinian Canon in the era of Esdras (Ezra) and Nehemias, about the middle of the fifth century B.C., while true to their adhesion to a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, they insist that the canonization of the five books followed soon after their composition.
Since the traditionalists infer the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch from other sources, they can rely for proof of an early collection of these books chiefly on Deuteronomy, 31: 9-13, 24-26, where there is question of a books of the law, delivered by Moses to the priests with the command to keep it in the ark and read it to the people on the feast of Tabernacles. But the effort to identify this book with the entire Pentateuch is not convincing to the opponents of Mosaic authorship.
The Remainder of the Palestinian-Jewish Canon
Without being positive on the subject,
the advocates of the older views regard it as highly probable that several
additions were made to the sacred repertory between the canonization of the
Mosaic Torah above described and the Exile (598 B.C.). They cite especially
Isaias, xxxiv, 16; II Paralipomenon, xxix, 30; Proverbs, xxv, 1; Daniel, ix, 2.
For the period following the Babylonian Exile the conservative argument takes a
more confident tone. This was an era of construction, a turning-point in the
But the Catholic Scripturists who admit an Esdrine Canon are far from allowing that Esdras and his colleagues intended to so close up the sacred library as to bar any possible future accessions. The Spirit of God might and did breathe into later writings, and the presence of the deuterocanonical books in the Church's Canon at once forestalls and answers those Protestant theologians of a preceding generation who claimed that Esdras was a Divine agent for an inviolable fixing and sealing of the Old Testament To this extent at least, Catholic writers on the subject dissent from the drift of the Josephus testimony. And while there is what may be called a consensus of Catholic exegetes of the conservative type on an Esdrine or quasi-Esdrine formulation of the canon so far as the existing material permitted it, this agreement is not absolute; Kaulen and Danko, favoring a later completion, are the notable exceptions among the above-mentioned scholars.
2. Critical views of the formation of the Palestinian Canon Its three constituent bodies, the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa, represent a growth and correspond to three periods more or less extended. The reason for the isolation of the Hagiographa from the Prophets was therefore mainly chronological. The only division marked off clearly by intrinsic features is the legal element of the Old Testament, viz., the Pentateuch.
The Torah, or Law
Until the reign of King Josias, and the
epoch-making discovery of "the book of the law" in the
The Nebiim, or Prophets
There is no direct light upon the time or manner in which the second stratum of the Hebrew Canon was finished. The creation of the above-mentioned Samaritan Canon (c. 432 B.C.) may furnish a terminus a quo; perhaps a better one is the date of the expiration of prophecy about the close of the fifth century before Christ. For the other terminus the lowest possible date is that of the prologue to Ecclesiasticus (c. 132 B.C.), which speaks of "the Law", and the Prophets, and the others that have followed them". But compare Ecclesiasticus itself, chapters xlvi-xlix, for an earlier one.
The Kéthubim, or Hagiographa Completes of the Jewish Canon Critical opinion as to date ranged from c. 165 B.C. to the middle of the second century of our era (Wildeboer). The Catholic scholars Jahn, Movers, Nickes, Danko, Haneberg, Aicher, without sharing all the views of the advanced exegetes, regard the Hebrew Hagiographa as not definitely settled till after Christ. It is an incontestable fact that the sacredness of certain parts of the Palestinian Bible (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles) was disputed by some rabbis as late as the second century of the Christian Era (Mishna, Yadaim, III, 5; Babylonian Talmud, Megilla, fol. 7). However differing as to dates, the critics are assured that the distinction between the Hagiographa and the Prophetic Canon was one essentially chronological. It was because the Prophets already formed a sealed collection that Ruth, Lamentations, and Daniel, though naturally belonging to it, could not gain entrance, but had to take their place with the last-formed division, the Kéthubim.
3. The Protocanonical Books and the New Testament
The absence of any citations from Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles may be reasonably explained by their unsuitability for New Testament purposes, and is further discounted by the non-citation of the two books of Esdras. Abdias, Nahum, and Sophonias, while not directly honored, are included in the quotations from the other minor Prophets by virtue of the traditional
unity of that collection. On the other hand, such frequent terms as "the Scripture", the "Scriptures", "the holy Scriptures", applied in the New Testament to the other sacred writings, would lead us to believe that the latter already formed a definite fixed collection; but, on the other, the reference in St. Luke to "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms", while demonstrating the fixity of the Torah and the Prophets as sacred groups, does not warrant us in ascribing the same fixity to the third division, the Palestinian-Jewish Hagiographa. If, as seems certain, the exact content of the broader catalogue of the Old Testament Scriptures (that comprising the deutero books) cannot be established from the New Testament, a fortiori there is no reason to expect that it should reflect the precise extension of the narrower and Judaistic Canon. We are sure, of course, that all the Hagiographa were eventually, before the death of the last Apostle, divinely committed to the Church as Holy Scriptures, but we known this as a truth of faith, and by theological deduction, not from documentary evidence in the New Testament The latter fact has a bearing against the Protestant claim that Jesus approved and transmitted en bloc an already defined Bible of the Palestinian Synagogue.
4. Authors and Standards of Canonicity among the Jews
Though the Old Testament reveals no
formal notion of inspiration, the later Jews at least must have possessed the
idea (cf. II Timothy, iii, 16; II Peter, i, 21). There is an instance of a
Talmudic doctor distinguishing between a composition "given by the wisdom
of the Holy Spirit" and one supposed to be the product of merely human
wisdom. But as to our distinct concept of canonicity, it is a modern idea, and
even the Talmud gives no evidence of it. To characterize a book which held no
acknowledged place in the divine library, the rabbis spoke of it as
"defiling the hands", a curious technical expression due probably to
the desire to prevent any profane touching of the sacred roll. But though the
formal idea of canonicity was wanting among the Jews the fact existed.
Regarding the sources of canonicity among the Hebrew ancients, we are left to
surmise an analogy. There are both psychological and historical reasons against
the supposition that the Old Testament Canon grew spontaneously by a kind of
instinctive public recognition of inspired books. True, it is quite reasonable
to assume that the prophetic office in
As a touchstone by which uncanonical and
canonical works were discriminated, an important influence was that of the
Pentateuchal Law. This was always the Canon par excellence of the Israelites.
To the Jews of the Middle Ages the Torah was the inner sanctuary, or Holy of
Holies, while the Prophets were the
These criteria are negative and exclusive rather than directive. The impulse of religious feeling or liturgical usage must have been the prevailing positive factors in the decision. But the negative tests were in part arbitrary, and an intuitive sense cannot give the assurance of Divine certification. Only later was the infallible voice to come, and then it was to declare that the Canon of the Synagogue, though unadulterated indeed, was incomplete.
B. THE CANON AMONG THE ALEXANDRIAN JEWS (DEUTEROCANONICAL BOOKS)
The most striking difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles is the presence in the former of a number of writings which are wanting in the latter and also in the Hebrew Bible, which became the Old Testament of Protestantism. These number seven books: Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, I and II Machabees, and three documents added to protocanonical books, viz., the supplement to Esther, from x, 4, to the end, the Canticle of the Three Youths (Song of the Three Children) in Daniel, iii, and the stories of Susanna and the Elders and Bel and the Dragon, forming the closing chapters of the Catholic version of that book.
Of these works, Tobias and Judith were written originally in Aramaic, perhaps in Hebrew; Baruch and I Machabees in Hebrew, while Wisdom and II Machabees were certainly composed in Greek. The probabilities favor Hebrew as the original language of the addition to Esther, and Greek for the enlargements of Daniel.
The ancient Greek Old Testament known as
the Septuagint was the vehicle which conveyed these additional Scriptures into
the Catholic Church. The Septuagint version was the Bible of the
Greek-speaking, or Hellenist, Jews, whose intellectual and literary centre was
However, aside from the absence of Machabees from the Codex Vaticanus (the very oldest copy of the Greek Old Testament), all the entire manuscripts contain all the deutero writings; where the manuscript Septuagints differ from one another, with the exception noted, it is in a certain excess above the deuterocanonical books. It is a significant fact that in all these Alexandrian Bibles the traditional Hebrew order is broken up by the interspersion of the additional literature among the other books, outside the law, thus asserting for the extra writings a substantial equality of rank and privilege.
It is pertinent to ask the motives which
impelled the Hellenist Jews to thus, virtually at least, canonize this
considerable section of literature, some of it very recent, and depart so
radically from the Palestinian tradition. Some would have it that not the
Alexandrian, but the Palestinian, Jews departed from the Biblical tradition.
The Catholic writers Nickes, Movers, Danko, and more recently Kaulen and
Mullen, have advocated the view that originally the Palestinian Canon must have
included all the deuterocanonicals, and so stood down to the time of the
Apostles (Kaulen, c. 100 B.C.), when, moved by the fact that the Septuagint had
become the Old Testament of the Church, it was put under ban by the Jerusalem
Scribes, who were actuated moreover (thus especially Kaulen) by hostility to
the Hellenistic largeness of spirit and Greek composition of our
deuterocanonical books. These exegetes place much reliance on St. Justin
Martyr's statement that the Jews had mutilated Holy Writ, a statement that
rests on no positive evidence. They adduce the fact that certain deutero books
were quoted with veneration, and even in a few cases as Scriptures, by
Palestinian or Babylonian doctors; but the private utterances of a few rabbis
cannot outweigh the consistent Hebrew tradition of the canon, attested by
Josephus--although he himself was inclined to Hellenism--and even by the
Alexandrian-Jewish author of IV Esdras. We are therefore forced to admit that
the leaders of Alexandrian Judaism showed a notable independence of
On their human side these innovations are
to be accounted for by the free spirit of the Hellenist Jews. Under the
influence of Greek thought they had conceived a broader view of Divine
inspiration than that of their Palestinian brethren, and refused to restrict
the literary manifestations of the Holy Ghost to a certain terminus of time and
the Hebrew form of language. The Book of Wisdom, emphatically Hellenist in
character, presents to us Divine wisdom as flowing on from generation to
generation and making holy souls and prophets (vii, 27, in the Greek). Philo, a
typical Alexandrian-Jewish thinker, has even an exaggerated notion of the
diffusion of inspiration (Quis rerum divinarum hćres, 52; ed. Lips., iii, 57;
De migratione Abrahć, 11,299; ed. Lips. ii, 334). But even Philo, while
indicating acquaintance with the deutero literature, nowhere cites it in his
voluminous writings. True, he does not employ several books of the Hebrew
Canon; but there is a natural presumption that if he had regarded the
additional works as being quite on the same plane as the others, he would not
have failed to quote so stimulating and congenial a production as the Book of
Wisdom. Moreover, as has been pointed out by several authorities, the
independent spirit of the Hellenists could not have gone so far as to setup a
different official Canon from that of
II. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE
The most explicit definition of the Catholic Canon is that given by the Council of Trent, Session IV, 1546. For the Old Testament its catalogue reads as follows:
The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Josue, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first and second of Esdras (which latter is called Nehemias), Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter (in number one hundred and fifty Psalms), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets (Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacue, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias), two books of Machabees, the first and second.
The order of books copies that of the Council of Florence, 1442, and in its general plan is that of the Septuagint. The divergence of titles from those found in the Protestant versions is due to the fact that the official Latin Vulgate retained the forms of the Septuagint.
A. THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON (INCLUDING THE DEUTEROS) IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Tridentine decrees from which the above list is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal. Being dogmatic in its purport, it implies that the Apostles bequeathed the same Canon to the Church, as a part of the depositum fedei. But this was not done by way of any formal decision; we should search the pages of the New Testament in vain for any trace of such action. The larger Canon of the Old Testament passed through the Apostles' hands to the church tacitly, by way of their usage and whole attitude toward its components; an attitude which, for most of the sacred writings of the Old Testament, reveals itself in the New, and for the rest, must have exhibited itself in oral utterances, or at least in tacit approval of the special reverence of the faithful. Reasoning backward from the status in which we find the deutero books in the earliest ages of post-Apostolic Christianity, we rightly affirm that such a status points of Apostolic sanction, which in turn must have rested on revelation either by Christ or the Holy Spirit. For the deuterocanonicals at least, we needs must have recourse to this legitimate prescriptive argument, owing to the complexity and inadequacy of the New Testament data.
All the books of the Hebrew Old Testament are cited in the New except those which have been aptly called the Antilegomena of the Old Testament, viz., Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles; moreover Esdras and Nehemias are not employed. The admitted absence of any explicit citation of the deutero writings does not therefore prove that they were regarded as inferior to the above-mentioned works in the eyes of New Testament personages and authors. The deutero literature was in general unsuited to their purposes, and some consideration should be given to the fact that even at its Alexandrian home it was not quoted by Jewish writers, as we saw in the case of Philo. The negative argument drawn from the non-citation of the deuterocanonicals in the New Testament is especially minimized by the indirect use made of them by the same Testament. This takes the form of allusions and reminiscences, and shows unquestionably that the Apostles and Evangelists were acquainted with the Alexandrian increment, regarded its books as at least respectable sources, and wrote more or less under its influence. A comparison of Hebrews, xi and II Machabees, vi and vii reveals unmistakable references in the former to the heroism of the martyrs glorified in the latter. There are close affinities of thought, and in some cases also of language, between I Peter, i, 6, 7, and Wisdom, iii, 5, 6; Hebrews, i, 3, and Wisdom, vii, 26, 27; I Corinthians, x, 9, 10, and Judith, viii, 24-25; I Corinthians, vi, 13, and Ecclesiasticus, xxxvi, 20.
Yet the force of the direct and indirect employment of Old Testament writings by the New is slightly impaired by the disconcerting truth that at least one of the New Testament authors, St. Jude, quotes explicitly from the "Book of Henoch", long universally recognized as apocryphal, see verse 14, while in verse 9 he borrows from another apocryphal narrative, the "Assumption of Moses". The New Testament quotations from the Old are in general characterized by a freedom and elasticity regarding manner and source which further ten to diminish their weight as proofs of canonicity.
But so far as concerns the great majority of the Palestinian Hagiographa--a fortiori, the Pentateuch and Prophets--whatever want of conclusiveness there may be in the New Testament, evidence of their canonical standing is abundantly supplemented from Jewish sources alone, in the series of witnesses beginning with the Mishnah and running back through Josephus and Philo to the translation of the above books for the Hellenist Greeks. But for the deuterocanonical literature, only the last testimony speaks as a Jewish confirmation. However, there are signs that the Greek version was not deemed by its readers as a closed Bible of definite sacredness in all its parts, but that its somewhat variable contents shaded off in the eyes of the Hellenists from the eminently sacred Law down to works of questionable divinity, such as III Machabees.
This factor should be considered in
weighing a certain argument. A large number of Catholic authorities see a
canonization of the deuteros in a supposed wholesale adoption and approval, by
the Apostles, of the Greek, and therefore larger, Old Testament The argument is
not without a certain force; the New Testament undoubtedly shows a preference
for the Septuagint; out of the 350 texts from the Old Testament, 300 favor the
language of the Greek version rather than that of the Hebrew. But there are
considerations which bid us hesitate to admit an Apostolic adoption of the
Septuagint en bloc. As remarked above, there are cogent reasons for believing
that it was not a fixed quantity at the time. The existing oldest
representative manuscripts are not entirely identical in the books they
contain. Moreover, it should be remembered that at the beginning of our era,
and for some time later, complete sets of any such voluminous collection as the
Septuagint in manuscript would be extremely rare; the version must have been
current in separate books or groups of books, a condition favorable to a
certain variability of compass. So neither a fluctuating Septuagint nor an
inexplicit New Testament conveys to us the exact extension of the pre-Christian
Bible transmitted by the Apostles to the
B. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE CHURCH OF THE FIRST THREE CENTURIES
The sub-Apostolic writings of Clement, Polycarp, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, of the pseudo-Clementine homilies, and the "Shepherd" of Hermas, contain implicit quotations from or allusions to all the deuterocanonicals except Baruch (which anciently was often united with Jeremias) and I Machabess and the additions to David. No unfavorable argument can be drawn from the loose, implicit character of these citations, since these Apostolic Fathers quote the protocanonical Scriptures in precisely the same manner.
Coming down to the next age, that of the
apologists, we find Baruch cited by Athenagoras as a prophet. St. Justin Martyr
is the first to note that the Church has a set of Old Testament Scriptures
different from the Jews', and also the earliest to intimate the principle
proclaimed by later writers, namely, the self-sufficiency of the Church in
establishing the Canon; its independence of the Synagogue in this respect. The
full realization of this truth came slowly, at least in the Orient, where there
are indications that in certain quarters the spell of Palestinian-Jewish
tradition was not fully cast off for some time. St. Melito, Bishop of
St. Irenćus, always a witness of the first rank, on account of his broad acquaintance with ecclesiastical tradition, vouches that Baruch was deemed on the same footing as Jeremias, and that the narratives of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon were ascribed to Daniel. The Alexandrian tradition is represented by the weighty authority of Origen. Influenced, doubtless, by the Alexandrian-Jewish usage of acknowledging in practice the extra writings as sacred while theoretically holding to the narrower Canon of Palestine, his catalogue of the Old Testament Scriptures contains only the protocanonical books, though it follows the order of the Septuagint.
Nevertheless Origen employs all the
deuterocanonicals as Divine Scriptures, and in his letter of Julius Africanus
defends the sacredness of Tobias, Judith, and the fragments of Daniel, at the
same time implicitly asserting the autonomy of the Church in fixing the Canon
(see references in Cornely). In his Hexaplar edition of the Old Testament all
the deuteros find a place. The sixth-century Biblical manuscript known as the
"Codex Claromontanus" contains a catalogue to which both Harnack and
Zahn assign an Alexandrian origin, about contemporary with Origen. At any rate
it dates from the period under examination and comprises all the
deuterocanonical books, with IV Machabees besides. St. Hippolytus (d. 236) may
fairly be considered as representing the primitive Roman tradition. He comments
on the Susanna chapter, often quotes Wisdom as the work of Solomon, and employs
as Sacred Scripture Baruch and the Machabees. For the
(With regard to the employment of apocryphal writings in this age see under APOCRYPHA.)
C. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT DURING THE FOURTH, AND FIRST HALF OF THE FIFTH, CENTURY
In this period the position of the
deuterocanonical literature is no longer as secure as in the primitive age. The
doubts which arose should be attributed largely to a reaction against the
apocryphal or pseudo-Biblical writings with which the East especially had been
flooded by heretical and other writers. Negatively, the situation became
possible through the absence of any Apostolic or ecclesiastical definition of
the Canon. The definite and inalterable determination of the sacred sources,
like that of all Catholic doctrines, was in the Divine economy left to
gradually work itself out under the stimulus of questions and opposition.
All others are apocrypha and the
inventions of heretics (Festal Epistle for 367). Following the precedent of
Origen and the Alexandrian tradition, the saintly doctor recognized no other
formal canon of the Old Testament than the Hebrew one; but also, faithful to
the same tradition, he practically admitted the deutero books to a Scriptural
dignity, as is evident from his general usage. At
The influence of Origen's and
Athanasius's restricted canon naturally spread to the West. St. Hilary of
But while eminent scholars and theorists
were thus depreciating the additional writings, the official attitude of the
Latin Church, always favorable to them, kept the majestic tenor of its way. Two
documents of capital importance in the history of the canon constitute the
first formal utterance of papal authority on the subject. The first is the
so-called "Decretal of Gelasius", de recipiendis et non recipiendis
libris, the essential part of which is now generally attributed to a synod convoked
by Pope Damasus in the year 382. The other is the Canon of Innocent I, sent in
405 to a Gallican bishop in answer to an inquiry. Both contain all the
deuterocanonicals, without any distinction, and are identical with the
Its ancient version, the Vetus Latina
(less correctly the Itala), had admitted all the Old Testament Scriptures.
D. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE FIFTH TO THE CLOSE OF THE SEVENTH CENTURY
This period exhibits a curious exchange
of opinions between the West and the East, while ecclesiastical usage remained
unchanged, at least in the Latin Church. During this intermediate age the use
E. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT DURING THE MIDDLE AGES
The Greek Church
The result of this tendency among the Greeks was that about the beginning of the twelfth century they possessed a canon identical with that of the Latins, except that it took in the apocryphal III Machabees. That all the deuteros were liturgically recognized in the Greek Church at the era of the schism in the ninth century, is indicated by the "Syntagma Canonum" of Photius.
The Latin Church
In the Latin Church, all through the
Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the
deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavorable
to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number
of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as
to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are
found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity. The prevailing attitude of
Western medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers. The chief
cause of this phenomenon in the West is to be sought in the influence, direct
and indirect, of
The compilatory "Glossa Ordinaria" was widely read and highly esteemed as a treasury of sacred learning during the Middle Ages; it embodied the prefaces in which the Doctor of Bethlehem had written in terms derogatory to the deuteros, and thus perpetuated and diffused his unfriendly opinion. And yet these doubts must be regarded as more or less academic. The countless manuscript copies of the Vulgate produced by these ages, with a slight, probably accidental, exception, uniformly embrace the complete Old Testament Ecclesiastical usage and Roman tradition held firmly to the canonical equality of all parts of the Old Testament There is no lack of evidence that during this long period the deuteros were read in the churches of Western Christendom. As to Roman authority, the catalogue of Innocent I appears in the collection of ecclesiastical canons sent by Pope Adrian I to Charlemagne, and adopted in 802 as the law of the Church in the Frankish Empire; Nicholas I, writing in 865 to the bishops of France, appeals to the same decree of Innocent as the ground on which all the sacred books are to be received.
F. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE GENERAL COUNCILS
In 1442, during the life, and with the
approval, of this Council, Eugenius IV issued several Bulls, or decrees, with a
view to restore the Oriental schismatic bodies to communion with
The "Decretum pro Jacobitis" contains a complete list of the books received by the Church as inspired, but omits, perhaps advisedly, the terms canon and canonical. The Council of Florence therefore taught the inspiration of all the Scriptures, but did not formally pass on their canonicity.
The Council of
It was the exigencies of controversy that
first led Luther to draw a sharp line between the books of the Hebrew Canon and
the Alexandrian writings. In his disputation with Eck at Leipzig, in 1519, when
his opponent urged the well-known text from II Machabees in proof of the
doctrine of purgatory, Luther replied that the passage had no binding authority
since the books was outside the Canon. In the first edition of Luther's Bible,
1534, the deuteros were relegated, as apocrypha, to a separate place between
the two Testaments. To meet this radical departure of the Protestants, and as
well define clearly the inspired sources from which the Catholic Faith draws
its defence, the Council of Trent among its first acts solemnly declared as
"sacred and canonical" all the books of the Old and New Testaments
"with all their parts as they have been used to be read in the churches,
and as found in the ancient vulgate edition". During the deliberations of
the Council there never was any real question as to the reception of all the
traditional Scripture. Neither--and this is remarkable--in the proceedings is
there manifest any serious doubt of the canonicity of the disputed writings. In
the mind of the Tridentine Fathers they had been virtually canonized, by the
same decree of
The great constructive Synod of Trent had
put the sacredness and canonicity of the whole traditional Bible forever beyond
the permissibility of doubt on the part of Catholics. By implication it had
defined that Bible's plenary inspiration also. The Vatican Council took
occasion of a recent error on inspiration to remove any lingering shadow of
uncertainty on this head; it formally ratified the action of
III. THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
A. AMONG THE EASTERN ORTHODOX
The Greek Orthodox Church preserved its ancient Canon in practice as well as theory until recent times, when, under the dominant influence of its Russian offshoot, it is shifting its attitude towards the deuterocanonical Scriptures. The rejection of these books by the Russian theologians and authorities is a lapse which began early in the eighteenth century. The Monophysites, Nestorians, Jacobites, Armenians, and Copts, while concerning themselves little with the Canon, admit the complete catalogue and several apocrypha besides.
B. AMONG PROTESTANTS
The Protestant Churches have continued to exclude the deutero writings from their canons, classifying them as "Apocrypha". Presbyterians and Calvinists in general, especially since the Westminster Synod of 1648, have been the most uncompromising enemies of any recognition, and owing to their influence the British and Foreign Bible Society decided in 1826 to refuse to distribute Bibles containing the Apocrypha. Since that time the publication of the deuterocanonicals as an appendix to Protestant Bibles has almost entirely ceased in English-speaking countries. The books still supply lessons for the liturgy of the Church of England, but the number has been lessened by the hostile agitation. There is an Apocrypha appendix to the British Revised Version, in a separate volume. The deuteros are still appended to the German Bibles printed under the auspices of the orthodox Lutherans.