Canon and the Council of Trent

One of the most enduring Protestant Myths is that in 1546, at the Council of Trent added to the Sacred Canon the books which are commonly termed the Apocrypha, or more recently, the Deuterocanon. In fact, contrary to this myth, what the Council did was to affirm what had been the Traditional Canon since the early Church.

The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,–lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic Sec presiding therein,–keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second. Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according  to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church. (read the rest here)

If you read the early canon lists of Christianity, you will note that it varied from time to time, including the books which Protestants usually dismiss as ‘Catholic.’

  1. The Muratorian Fragment (c. 170).
  2. Melito (c. 170).
  3. Origen (c. 240).
  4. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 324).
  5. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350).
  6. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 360).
  7. The Cheltenham List (c. 360).
  8. Council of Laodicea (c. 363).
  9. Letter of Athanasius (367).
  10. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 380).
  11. Amphilocius of Iconium (c. 380).
  12. The “Apostolic Canons” (c. 380).
  13. Epiphanius (c. 385).
  14. Jerome (c. 390).
  15. Augustine (c. 397).
  16. Third Council of Carthage (397).
  17. Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 400).
  18. Codex Claromontanus (c. 400).
  19. Letter of Innocent I (405).
  20. Decree of Gelasius (c. 550).
  21. Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae (c. 550).
  22. John of Damascus (c. 730).
  23. Others

Further, you will note that a wide range of Christian branches, use the Deuterocanon,

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It is mainly the American church which no longer has a place for the Deuterocanon,

The bibles used by many European Protestants, as well as the Anglican Church, still include the Apocrypha. Most other English-speaking Protestant churches have bibles without the Apocrypha.

One of the greatest errors that we can do to these books is to ascribe to them ‘Catholic.’ It prevents them from being read by many, and being used for many more. There is deep value in some of these books, spiritual and theological, and in others, historical and moral. For some, they will never carry the same weight as the Common Canon. For others, it builds up their faith. These are not Catholic books, but Christian books.

Two of the silliest notions about these books are:

  1. The Jews don’t accept them
  2. They teach unChristian doctrines

To number one, I say, and? The Jews don’t accept the New Testament books either. Further, the Jewish canon wasn’t settled until after the New Testament was written – until after the Temple was destroyed.

And number two? So does Leviticus.

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107 Replies to “Canon and the Council of Trent”

  1. “But the righteous live for ever,
    and their reward is with the Lord;
    the Most High takes care of them.
    Therefore they will receive a glorious crown
    and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord,
    because with his right hand he will cover them,
    and with his arm he will shield them.
    The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor,
    and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
    he will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
    he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
    and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
    and creation will join with him to fight against the madmen.”

    –Wisdom of Solomon 5.16-20 RSV

    Go ahead. Try to convince me Paul did not have this in mind when dictating the words to 1 Thessalonians 5.

    1. Robert, you couldn’t convince me that John didn’t look at Tobit for his picture of Revelation, Paul didn’t make much use of the Solomon Corpus, including the Psalms, and Luke didn’t base his theologia crucis on the entire book of Wisdom.

        1. Robert, for me, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch and even the Psalms of Solomon are simply missing from our canon, and those the Christology contained therein is too. The moral stories of Judith, Tobit, Daniel & Esther +, etc… add to understanding Jewish life during that time, and often contain great historical inaccuracies, but those other books, well, my goodness, how can anyone not see the connection to the New Testament?

          1. These scriptures aren’t used only those churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome (wanted to include Roman and other Rites in communion with Rome). The Orthodox use them.

            The only reason we have a separate Jewish canon separate and smaller than the Septuagint is that the Jewish scholars wanted to leave out those books some call Apocrypha today. Why did they want to leave them out? These books contained much of the support for the Way, which came to be known as Christianity.

            In other words, they wanted to discredit Christianity.

          2. Now, Robert, why don’t you give me some room to argue with you? If you keep stating in truth my arguments, all I can do is agree.

            We know for a fact that Sirach was wrestled with for a long time, but in the end, it was discarded. So too Wisdom (although not as much). Why in the world, do you think, Luke said that the centurion called Christ ‘Righteous’ instead of the ‘Son of God.’?

          3. “We are one in the Spirit
            We are one in the Lord”

            Well, we could always talk about that book of straw, James. What about Mark 16.9-20?

            People today act like the lines of the canon of Scripture (for the Hebrew and the Christian books) have always been clear-cut and well-defined. Yea, right. If we had a perfect understanding of what constituted Scripture, we might worship scripture instead of the God it talks about.

            Oh, wait. That has happened anyway, hasn’t it?

            For those people who have memorized scriptures the Navigator way, 2 Timothy 3.16 puts an aura on Scripture something like the aura Moses had when he came down from the mountain after talking with God. (Some of us rebels have been known to memorize verse 17 in order to complete the sentence.) We have to remember that Scripture has no value without the Spirit, the Christian Community, and Sacred Tradition. And, with many things about our infinite God, not so easily defined or put into a box.

          4. I would agree, Robert, I believe.

            The issues with inerrancy, as I see it, is that people place the Trust in Scriptures, good, but also the text, bad. Look what it has done to the KJV and to textual criticism. I completely Trust the Scriptures as the Word of God, however, the text….

          5. Robert, I know of people who raise ten kinds of cane if you place a notebook on top of it, but they never crack it open.

  2. The “un-Christian doctrine” is (1) purgatory and (2) prayers to and for the dead. That is, if those two items are un-Christian.

    CS Lewis had a take on purgatory the could possibly make some Protestants happy. (Enough wiggle words in that sentence?) Purgatory is not a place for paying for sins, but for the removal of what remaining sins we have before entering Paradise. Any pain would be like the pain of going to the dentist to have one’s teeth fixed: not necessarily punishment, but necessary to fix the problems. Considering how painful our sanctification can be while living, Lewis has a point.

    With regards to prayers to and for the dead (in Christ), don’t we pray for living people who have problems? Don’t we ask living people with specific skills for help? With the Communion of the Saints, the dead in Christ still have their ministries for God. Do you think it is going to be one long game of beach volleyball and a banquet?

    1. Dealing with the likes of the KJVO crowd, there are more than just those to consider. I feel like the prayers that Judas made were more political in nature, than any lasting religious ideal. I mean, it was during this time that a Resurrection was coming into vague.

          1. Oh, come on. You know you want to.

            Just remember you will sully the memory of St. Clive of Oxbridge, Doctor of the Church, in doing so. Along with Michael Ramsey and a few other people.

  3. We should quote what the Anglican Article VI does say here about “the other Books” … “And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine..”
    Fr. R.

        1. Has the Church of Ireland come up the candle a bit? “Irish Anglican” and the use of “Father”?

          The Article about the canonical books can be fudged as much as the Article prohibiting the reservation of the sacrament. This Article has been fudged by allowing reservation of the sacrament for the sick and who were not present for good reason. You still end up with reserved sacrament.

          If the Apocrypha takes a part of our worship when it is read as lessons (which this Article permits), it becomes a part of our beliefs. Lex orandi, Lex credindi, and all that stuff.

          It is another great Anglican fudge.

          1. Give me the clouds. Sometimes, when I apply myself, I wonder if I would either go East or West. The East has a better doctrine on the Scriptures than the West, but I like the Western view of God’s unity a whole lot more. But, no worries, I’m still cloudy.

          2. It was not so with the Puritan and Evangelical Anglican’s, thus as I made reference to the Low Church. (I am irish and anglican, but I don’t live or work in or out of Ireland anymore).
            Fr. R.

    1. Ahh, yes, but Jerome followed Melito in accepting only the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired. But, that was not so for a large amount of early Christians.

        1. I know, scary right?

          But, Wisdom and Sirach enjoyed a wide spread acceptance, much more than Shepard. Plus, the DC books come from pre-Christian Jews, while Hermes comes a generation or two after the Apostles.

          1. Note, “faith” but not every thought, teaching or even doctrine! As in Jude 20, “building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” And here also we “keep yourselves in the love of God..” (verse 21). Here we pray in that other “parakletos”, but toward “the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ..”
            Fr. R.

    1. I would assume those in use by Peter’s community. I think we have to assume that ‘inspiration’ and ‘holy writings’ while not extending to everything read, was a fixed ideal.

  4. You both have missed the context, in verse 15, “just as our beloved brother Paul wrote to you”. St. Paul’s writings were also considered Scripture, (NT times). The Greek, “graphe” translated “Scriptures” comes up 51 times in the NT, and every time it refers to the OT canon, or save here, and 1 Tim.5:18, perhaps Luke 10:7.
    Fr. R.

    1. No, Fr. Robert, I said that it was the writings used by Peter’s community. Clearly, since he spoke of Paul’s writings, Scriptures included Paul’s writings.

      Never once does graphe refer to the Old Testament Canon. Not once.

    1. They can disagree if they want, but it is an awful faulty position for them to take. There was no such thing as a ‘canon’ during Apostolic times, Fr. Robert.

        1. But, Fr. Robert, what made up the ‘OT?’ That is a matter of debate for even the Jewish communities at this time. There was not one Judaism, as wel know, and not one ‘canon.’

          1. Joel,
            Your missing the point, it was the Jewish Scripture…the arguments were not the issue. Your pressing back what “you” have read, rather than both the history of the Jews, and the Apostolic Church itself.
            Fr. R.

          2. Fr. Robert, can you define Jewish Scripture? I mean, by alluding that it was Jewish Scripture, you exclude Paul and include Enoch among other books from various sects of Judaism. And, regarding the history of the Church, the first bible was the LXX which included the DC’s.

          3. Joel,
            As Jesus himself said, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (St. Lk. 24:27)

            Also you might like William J. Dumbrell’s simple book: The Faith of Israel, A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. (2002, Baker Academic)
            Fr. R.

          4. Fr. Robert, are you willing to say that the 39 book canon of the OT was the canon that the Apostles used?

          5. I will quote Dumbrel from his introduction:

            “It is undeniable that sources in some form preceded the canonical material we now have. The identification of these sources and the dates of the completed works is a subjective process and always subject to dispute. Literary criticism provides no assured results, while the vexing question of the relationship of Israel’s faith to Israel’s history is usaully addressed presuppositionally. I attempt to present the theological movement of each book based on the received Masoretic Text and to indicate how each book’s content contributes to that book’s purpose.”

            It is Law, Prophets, and Writings. The last being what is now canon, not any addition. And besides the others (Ruth thru Lamentations, and the additional history – Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)…that do not reflect on the salvation-historical questions of the Former Prophets are included. We have Daniel, which does not fit the prophetic corpus, finds its place, as does the hymnbook of the Second Temple, Psalms. Chronicles, which functions as an addendum to Genesis.

            Again see what our Lord said in Luke 24:27…”Moses and all the Prophets…in all the Scriptures”. Surely this is what became canon!
            Fr. R.

          6. Wisdom is prophetic, so it should be included in the Prophets. Sirach is a Writing as is 1st Macc.

            Most if not all of the DC books can fit into the 3 categories. We cannot backwards read our Canon into Luke’s words. Further, what canon? the West, the East, the Protestants, the Ethiopians, the Armenians?

            The Theology of Wisdom, Sirach, and Ps of Sol fits easily into the biblical theology, more so than say Eccl.

  5. Well Joel,

    You should go with either Rome or the Orthodox, then. You don’t even see the force of Luke 24:27? Sad, you need to read Dumbrell’s book! What can I say more, I am obviously Low Church Anglican, at least for the most part. But I do see Mary as the Theotokos, as the Council of Ephesus. But so did Calvin, Luther, Bullinger, etc., etc.
    But again, your positions really show every bit of certain development, at least on this subject. Strange indeed for a Monarchianist?
    Fr. R.

    1. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

      The internal evidence of Scripture and early church writings show a broader approach in the early church, not to mention Judaism. The use of “Behold a virgin…” from the Septuagint instead of “Behold a young woman…” from the Hebrew text shows its influence on the early church.

      1. On the whole, I believe we see that not just the Apostles, but their immediate followers, and indeed, much of the Church, quoted from the LXX. Look at the book of Hebrews? Further, the notion that the Canon was in any way fixed would then need one main sect of Judaism, and history, nor the Gospels betray that.

        1. Joel,
          It amazes me that you always seem to lack scripture in your theology and logic. It seems your bound by your historical problems, in almost every area. This is no personal attack either, just an observation to your method.
          If we look at the NT Scripture, it already shows what will become the OT Canon, as Luke 24:25-27. Also note St. Luke 24: 44-45…”the :Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Pslams (Writings).” Here is the OT Canon! And these are the words of Christ. This is that common threefold division.
          Fr. R.

      2. As to the LXX or Septuagint, it would be my view (as many) that it is overplayed with the Church in the first century. Oral tradition in the Church, is very important, etc. We can certainly see in St. Paul’s quotes, he does not use it (the LXX) often, as the Hebrew and gives free hand, (his). And the Virgin Birth, is a revelation to the Church, as well as to the life of Mary the Mother of our Lord. So we should see the force of the Gospel texts themselves…Matt. 1:23, and Lk. 1:34-35, and the Apostolic Church.
        Fr. R.

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