Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Bill Webster Responds to Gary Michuta, Part III
04/01/2007 - James WhiteThe Teaching of Major Western Theologians of the Middle Ages
The perspective of the Glossa ordinaria is reflected in the views of the most influential theologians of the Church throughout the Middle Ages. They separated the Apocrypha from the canon, consistently citing the Hebrew canon and Jerome as authorities. Bruce Metzger affirms this reality:
Subsequent to Jeromes time and down to the period of the reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), p. 180).
A thorough documentation of the views of the Western theologians of the Church from Jerome to the time of the Reformation can be found here.
The majority view is that expressed by Cardinal Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio Gaetani Cajetan), the great opponent of Luther in the sixteenth century. Cajetan wrote a commentary on all the canonical books of the Old Testament which he dedicated to the pope. He stated that the books of the Apocrypha were not canonical in the strict sense, explaining that there were two concepts of the term canonical as it applied to the Old Testament. He gave the following counsel on how to properly interpret the decrees of the Councils of Hippo and Carthage under Augustine:
Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage (Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, In ult. Cap., Esther. Taken from A Disputation on Holy Scripture by William Whitaker (Cambridge: University, 1849), p. 48. See also B.F. Westcott A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (Cambridge: MacMillan, 1889), p. 475.
This is a fair summary of the overall view of the Western Church from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. Jerome's opinion dominated.
In the early sixteenth century, just prior to the Reformation, Cardinal Ximenes, the Archbishop of Toledo, in collaboration with the leading theologians of his day, produced an edition of the Bible called the Biblia Complutensia. There is an admonition in the Preface regarding the Apocrypha, that the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Maccabees, the additions to Esther and Daniel, are not canonical Scripture and were therefore not used by the Church for confirming the authority of any fundamental points of doctrine, though the Church allowed them to be read for purposes of edification.B.F. Westcott comments:
At the dawn of the Reformation the great Romanist scholars remained faithful to the judgment of the Canon which Jerome had followed in his translation. And Cardinal Ximenes in the preface to his magnificent Polyglott Biblia Complutensia the lasting monument of the University which he founded at Complutum or Alcala, and the great glory of the Spanish press separates the Apocrypha from the Canonical books. The books, he writes, which are without the Canon, which the Church receives rather for the edification of the people than for the establishment of doctrine, are given only in Greek, but with a double translation (B.F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1889), p. 478).
This Bible, as well as its Preface, was published by the authority and consent of Pope Leo X, to whom the whole work was dedicated. Bruce Metzger briefly describes the historical situation for the Western Church just prior to the Reformation:
Subsequent to Jerome's time and down to the period of the reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon. Such a judgment, for example, was reiterated on the very eve of the Reformation by Cardinal Ximenes in the preface of the magnificent Complutensian Polyglot edition of the Bible which he edited (151417)...Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome's separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), p. 180).
The Polyglot Bible of Cardinal Ximenes was sanctioned by Pope Leo X. It separated the Apocrypha from the canon of the Old Testament and received papal sanction.
The Council of Trent
When it passed its decree on the canon, the council of Trent confirmed the Latin Vulgate edition of Jerome and raised the Old Testament Apocrypha to the level of canonical scripture. The following is the decree passed by Trent:
It has thought it proper, moreover, to insert in this decree a list of the sacred books, lest a doubt might arise in the mind of someone as to which are the books received by this council. They are the following: of the Old Testament, the five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, two of the Paralipomenon, the first and second of Esdras, the latter of which is called Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter of 150 Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, namely, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habucuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of Machabees, the first and second....If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Translated by H.J. Schroeder (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, The Canonical Scriptures, pp. 1718).
Clearly, when Trent enumerates the books of the Old Testament it explicitly rejects I Esdras from the list and designates I Esdras to be Ezra and 2 Esdras to be Nehemiah in conformity with Jerome and the Hebrew canon. Thus, there is an irreconcilable difference between the canon promulgated by Hippo/Carthage and that authoritatively decreed by Trent.
In commenting on the discrepancies between Trent and Hippo/Carthage, Michuta simply states that Trent elected to pass over the issue of Septuagint I Esdras in silence and not pass any judgment upon the book one way or the other. It should be obvious from the documentation provided from the decree of the Council of Trent, that such is not the case. Trent explicitly omits it from the canon. It says it wanted no doubts to arise in anyones mind as to which books were deemed to be sacred and canonical and which were officially received by the Council. I Esdras is not on the list. The Council did not pass over that book in silence. It spoke quite clearly without the slightest ambiguity. James is not misled in his judgment. It is Gary Michuta who needs to reassess his position.