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St Jerome QUESTION from Mark Ford June 7, 2000 My question to y'all is I've been talking to a friend that states Jerome argued against the inclusion of the apocrypha in the canon of the bible and the Church has covered this up. He doesn't believe that the Councils of Hippo and Carthage actually resolved these issues. Is there any truth to his claims? Your web site is excellent, keep the Faith.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on June 11, 2000 Dear Mr. Ford,
St. Jerome's objections against the inclusion of the deutero-canonicals (which Protestants call Apocrypha) are widely known because he included them in the prologue to the Vulgate. So how could the Church have covered it up?
St. Jerome's argument against the use of the deutero-canonicals was that there existed no Hebrew version of these writings, and that the Jews did not recognize them as inspired. A number of writers subsequent to Him—notably St. John Damascene and St. Thomas Aquinas, also objected to the use of the deutero-canonicals. St. Jerome, however, bowing to the wishes of the pope, included them in the Vulgate, the official Bible of the Western Church.
The Church's argument in favour of the inclusion of the deutero-canonicals was that they were included in the Septuagint, the version of the Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Jews outside of Israel. There are over 300 quotations of the Septuagint in the New Testament, which indicates that this is the version of the Bible the Gospel writers used. It is also to be noted that the most ancient of Church writers such as Clement, Polycarp and St. Justin Martyr make use of the Septuagint.
The Councils you cite did not set the canon in a universal fashion. As they were not ecumenical, their authority was only local. However, the Church's universal Magisterium has always upheld the inclusion of the deuteros. Pope Innocent I and Pope Gelasius, in particular. Many Fathers, did not consider them inspired, or considered them less inspired. But in practice, they often did not make any distinction between the deuteros and the books whose inspiration was undisputed.
One of the most widely used tactics to corner Fundamentalists is to ask them where in the Bible they find a list of books in the Bible. Obviously there is none, so the doctrine of Sola Scriptura falls apart. While this tactic counters Fundamentalist doctrine, it DOES NOT establish the Catholic case about Revelation and the necessity of a Magisterium. It merely shows that one is needed, not that the Church has fulfilled that role. Many Catholics think that the councils of Carthage, Hippo, Laodicea, etc settled the issue infallibly, but that's not the case. I've asked around on the issue of the level of authority of papal teachings on the canon. I would hold that since the popes affirmed the canon from the fourth century without ever going back on this teaching, that the papal declarations on the canon were binding on all the faithful by virtue of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium.
However, there is a big problem with my opinion. If the teachings were binding, how come folks like St. Thomas Aquinas, a theological genius if there ever was one, did not stick to church teaching on this matter? Was St. Thomas such a rebel that he would go against the Magisterium of the Church? I haven't been able to resolve the question.
One solution to this thorny problem is to not try to establish that the canon was infallibly defined from the fourth century. Rather, it is better to argue from a historical standpoint, that the Church was handed the Deposit of Faith from God, and that Jesus commissioned the Church to be the commissioner of this Deposit. This bypasses the theological question of the biblical canon. The objection that will be brought up is this: how could the Church know what to teach if she wasn't sure about which books were in the canon? The answer is that the Church does not know the entire body of the Deposit of Faith in a conscious manner. If such were the case, we wouldn't need a teaching office—everything would be available to us. But in fact, our understanding of Revelation has evolved through the centuries.
Another argument that could be made is that many books were unquestionably included in the canon since apostolic times; therefore, by Sacred Tradition, we know that a number of books were always known to be divinely inspired, such as the Four Gospels. Both Catholic writers and the Magisterium always recognized them universally. This shows that we are one up on the Fundamentalists: their concept of Revelation, that is the Bible alone, does not point out what the canon is, but ours, that is Bible and Sacred Tradition, indicates most of the canon.
Thanks for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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