Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Silence and the Problem of Catholic Canon Certainty
04/09/2007 - James SwanCatholic Apologist Gary Michuta asserts the Council of Trent chose to pass over in silence the status of the Septuagint book of 1 Esdras (or what Trent called, 3 Esdras). Michuta says,
"Both White and Webster take the position that the absence of a book called Esdras in the Council of Trent's definition of the canon constitutes, not mere silence on the issue, but a clear and explicit rejection of the book without the slightest ambiguity.This is a big deal for them because, if it is true, then a case could be made that Trent contradicted the Councils of Carthage and Hippo which they understand to have explicitly included Esdras (no doubt without the slightest possible ambiguity there either). My position is that, whatever we want to make of the status of Esdras, the question of a contradiction between Trent and Carthage cannot arise because the bishops at Trent explicitly avoided answering the question. White and Webster seem to be under the impression that this idea is my own 'novel' interpretation of the decree of the Fourth Session. It is nothing of the kind."
"Let me be perfectly clear. My assertion that the Council of Trent passed over the question of the canonicity of Esdras in silence is not a matter of my own or anyone else's interpretation of the decree. It is a historical fact."
What are the the implications of such a view? I think Gary Michuta may have cornered himself by his own argumentation. While he solved one problem, he created another. Let's grant Michuta's assertion that Trent passed over in silence on the book of Esdras in question. This means in the Roman system, as interpreted by Michuta, the possibility exists that the book in question is canonical, but not currently in the canon. Therefore, it is possible that the Bible is missing a book, in which case, Roman Catholics cannot be certain they have an infallible list of all the infallible books. In which case, their arguments stating they have canon certainty crumbles. It would also possibly mean, the canon is still open. Michuta notes that 42 people at Trent voted to pass over the book in silence. If Michuta is correct on his interpretation of Trent, these 42 people solved the problem of the contradiction between Hippo, Carthage, and Trent, but created the problem of an unclosed canon, and thrust Catholics into uncertainty.
Even more troubling for Michuta's position are the statements put forth on the closed canon from the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Catechism states, "It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New." Notice the words, complete list. If a book is passed over in silence, and may in fact be canonical, the list is not complete.
Or consider this statement from the Council of Trent:
"...(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 Testamentseeing 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."
How is it possible to know with certainty one is venerating with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books of the Old and New Testament, if one was passed over in silence?
Michuta notes 3 people at Trent voted to reject the book of Esdras in question. These three people uphold Catholic argumentation on Canon certainty: yes, the book of Esdras in question is not canonical. The canon is closed. Catholics have a complete infallible list of infallible books. In this answer, the earlier councils of Hippo and Carthage deemed Esdras canonical, but these three men at Trent say it's not. In other words, if these men were followed, it would prove councils are not infallible. The councils contradicted themselves.
Go ahead, argue Trent passed over in silence. It proves again Catholic arguments for canon certainty are empty. The argument shows clearly that sophistry is at work. The argument is like trying to scotch tape together a structure that needs to be demolished. The epistemological foundation of Roman Catholicism is top heavy from its weak foundation, one that is built on sand.