Defense of the Deuterocanonical Books

Certain individuals have doubted concerning the deuterocanonical works; the Church never doubted. In quoting the book as Scripture, Origen follows the Church. This can be said in general; the Fathers, in their practical use of Scripture, reflect the belief of the Church. If they put forth, at times, speculative doubts, they are then speaking as fallible individuals. This principle has been recognized by the protestant Davidson.

“It is sometimes said that the history of the Canon should be sought from definite catalogues, not from isolated quotations. The latter are supposed to be of slight value; the former to be the result of deliberate judgment. This remark is more specious than solid. In relation to the Old Testament, the catalogues given by the Fathers, as by Meliton and Origen, rest solely on the tradition of the Jews; apart from which, they have no independent authority. As none except Jerome and Origen knew Hebrew, their lists of the Old Testament books are simply a reflection of what they learned of others. If they deviate in practice from their masters by quoting as Scripture other than canonical (protocanonical) books, they show their judgment, overriding an external theory.

“The very men who give a list of the Jewish books, evince an inclination to the Christian and enlarged Canon. Thus the Fathers, who give catalogues of the Old Testament, show the existence of a Jewish and a Christian Canon in relation to the Old Testament ; the latter wider than the former, their private opinion more favorable to the one, though the other was historically transmitted.” [Davidson, Canon of the Bible, p. 132]

This last clause is not well said. It is not the private opinions of the Fathers that constitute the basis of traditional proof of our complete Canon. It is the universal usage of the Churches of the Christian people, which subjugated even those who theoretically were disposed to doubt. It is the belief identical with the life of the Church which manifests itself in the use which these Fathers made of Scripture. As individuals they could err and doubt; as faithful witnesses of the belief of the Church, they hand down to us the faith which was the same in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. This capacity they fulfill, as Davidson rightly says, when quoting the Scriptures as they were familiar to the Christian people. Neither is Davidson correct in saying that the curtailed canon of the Jews was historically transmitted. If he means by this that the restricted canon was transmitted to us by the Jews, it is well; but it is utterly false to say that the existing, recognized Canon of Christians were such Canon. Impartial historians, such as Eusebius, record the doubts of isolated churches concerning several books, but these doubts never could be said to have pervaded the whole Church. Such a critical mind, as was that of Origen, would have more readily tended to reject the deuterocanonical books, had he not been convinced by the belief and usage of the universal Church.


[A general introduction to the study of Holy Scriptures, A. E. Breen, pp. 300-301]



Finally, the fourth and fifth centuries were an age fertile in heresies, apocryphal productions, absurd fables, and fictitious revelations, and in their caution against what was spurious, the Fathers sometimes erred in slowness to receive those books which have in their favor all the evidence that is necessary, and that we have a right to expect. It was by them judged safer to refuse the quality of canonicity to an inspired book, than, by excessive credulity, to approve an Apocryphal work. These causes operated principally in the East, and thence the most of the opposition came. The status of the deuterocanonical books might be compared to the growth of a healthy tree. It lost now and then a branch, in whose stead it acquired new ones, and grew to perfection because there was in it a Divine vigor, which came not from the branches, nor was impaired by their occasional dropping off. There never was any conflict between the Fathers on this point, for in practice, they were, a unit. The lists they drew up were mere disciplinary opinions, which never entered to change their practical use of the Scripture.

We find at first the most doubt in the East. This line of thought was brought into the West by Jerome; and while the doubt gradually passed away in the East, we find the influence of Jerome, in the subsequent centuries, engendering some doubts in the minds of Fathers and theologians of the Westen Catholic world. We shall pass in brief review the centuries from the fifth down to the Council of Trent.

The Canon of the Old Testament from the End of the Fifth Century to the End of the Twelfth Century. 

Dionysius, surnamed the Little, approved the catalogue of Scriptures promulgated by the Council of Carthage in 419, which embraced all the deuterocanonical works.

Cassiodorus, writing for his monks a sort of introduction to the Holy Scriptures, sets forth three catalogues of Holy Books.

The first list is that of Prologus Galeatus, the helmeted prologue of Jerome. The second list is the Canon of St. Augustine from his Doctrina Christiana, which we have already reproduced in full. The third list of Cassiodorus is identical with the catalogue of the Vulgate, except a slight variation in the order of the books.

Cassiodorus was more reverential than critical. He plainly received all the deuterocanonical books, and failed to see any repudiation of them in the celebrated Prologue of Jerome. He certainly can be claimed as a witness of a tradition in the sixth century, which accorded to the deuterocanonical books the quality of divinity.

It is evident that, in the East, in the sixth and seventh centuries, the deuterocanonical books were held to be canonical, since the schismatic churches of the Chaldean Nestorians, the Jacobite Monophysites, Syrians, Ethiopians, Armenians and Copts, all have the deuterocanonical Scriptures in equal place with the other divine books.

It is needless to attend to the absurd catalogue of Junilius Africanus, an obscure bishop of Africa in the sixth century. This list places Chronicles, Job, and Ezra with Tobias, Judith, Esther, and Maccabees among the non-canonical books.

His opinion represents the tradition of no church or sect, nor is it found in any writer of note, and is rejected by everybody.

An unfavorable testimony is found in the work “De Sectis” of Leontius of Byzantium, a priest of Constantinople in the sixth century. He drew up a canon of only the protocanonical books excepting Esther, and declared that, “hese are the books which are held canonical in the Church.” Leontius lived many years in the monastery of St. Saba, near Jerusalem, and the ideas of the Church of Jerusalem are reflected in his works. It can be said of him, as of Cyril, that exclusion from canonicity was not with him exclusion from divinity. With them the divine books of the Old Testament were arranged in two classes canonical and non-canonical. They used the latter as divine Scripture without according them the pre-eminence of canonicity. Leontius used in several places quotations from deuterocanonical works as divine Scripture.

The opponents of our thesis cite at this juncture St. Gregory the Great In the Moral Treatises XIX. 21, citing a passage from Maccabees, he prefaces the citation by saying: “We shall not act rashly, if we accept a testimony of books, which, although not canonical, have been published for the edification of the Church.”

In the phraseology of St. Gregory canonical signified something over and above divine. It signified those books concerning which the whole world, with one accord, united in proclaiming the word of God. The other books were divine, were used as sources of divine teaching by the Church, but there was lacking the authoritative decree of the Church making them equal to the former in rank. The Jews of old made such distinction regarding the Law and the Hagiographa. All came from God, but the Law was pre-eminent. The influence of St. Jerome was strong upon St. Gregory. The tradition of the Church drew him with it to use freely, as divine Scripture, the deuterocanonical books; while the doubts of Jerome moved him to hesitate in his critical opinion to accord to these books a prerogative of which Jerome doubted. Had the Church not settled the issue in the Council of Trent, there would, doubtless, be many Catholics yet who would refuse to make equal the books of the first and second Canons. Christ established a Church to step in and regulate Catholic thought at opportune times, and her aid was needed in settling, once for all, the discussion of the Canon of Scripture. This isolated doubt from St. Gregory reflects merely a critical opinion, biased by Gregory’s esteem for St. Jerome. To show what was St. Gregory’s opinion as a witness of tradition, we need only examine the following references:


It is needless to go through the entire works of St. Gregory. These passages, taken from the books of his Exposition of Job, are a good specimen of his use of deuterocanonical Scripture. And no man can say that Gregory considered these books as merely pious treatises. He introduces his frequent quotations from them by the solemn formulas:

“It is written.” etc., and oft declares them the Scripture of God. Gregory received the Scriptures, where he learned his faith, from the Catholic Church; hence, in drawing from his fund of Scriptural knowledge, he made no distinction in practice between the books of the first and second Canon. The fact that Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus are most used by him, results from the richness of their moral teaching; they were adapted to his scope. Quotations from all the deuterocanonical books except Judith and Baruch are found in his works; but the proving force of these quotations covers all these books, because it gives evidence that he received the edition of Scripture, in which they all stood on equal footing. The question of canonicity was to him more of a question of discipline. He was willing to receive all the books since the Church used them; but he did not essay to decide the exact degree of inspiration of the several books.

In the seventh century, three celebrated Fathers flourished in Spain. First among these is St. Isidore of Seville.

We find the following valuable testimony in the sixth book of the Etymologies of St. Isidore, 3-9 : “The Hebrews, on the authority of Ezra, receive twenty-two books of the Old Testament, according to the number of their letters; and they divide them into three orders, The Law, The Prophets, and The Hagiographa. The first order, The Law, is received in five books, of which the first is Beresith, that is, Genesis; the second is Veelle Semoth, that is, Exodus; the third is Vaicra, that is Leviticus; the fourth is Vajedabber, that is Numbers; the fifth is Elle hadebarim, that is Deuteronomy. The second order is that of The Prophets, in which is contained eight books, of which the first is Josue ben Nun, which is called in Latin, Jesus Nave; the second is Sophtim, that is Judges; the third is Samuel, that is the first of Kings; the fourth is Melachim, that is the second of Kings ; the fifth is Isaiah; the sixth, Jeremiah; the seventh, Ezechiel; the eighth, Thereazar, which is called the twelve prophets, who on account of their brevity are joined to one another, and considered as one book. The third order is of the Hagiographers, that is the writers of holy things, in which order are nine books, of which, the first is Job; the second, the Psalter ; the third, Misle, that is the Proverbs of Solomon ; the fourth is Coheleth, that is Ecclesiastes ; the fifth is Sir Hassirim, that is the Canticle of Canticles; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dibre hajamim, that is the Words of the Days, that is Paralipomenon; the eighth is Ezra; the ninth is Esther. These taken together, five, eight, and nine, make twenty-two books, as were computed above.

“Some enumerate Ruth, and Cinoth which is called in Latin, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, with the Hagiographa, and make twenty-four books, according to the twenty-four Ancients, who assist before the Lord.”

There is a fourth order with us of those books of the Old Testament, which are not in the Hebrew Canon. The first of these is Wisdom; the second, Ecclesiasticus; the third, Tobias; the fourth, Judith; the fifth and sixth, the Maccabees. Although the Jews separate these and place them among the Apocrypha, the Church of Christ honors them and promulgates them as divine books.” In this list Baruch is not explicitly mentioned, being considered a part of Jeremiah.


[ibid. pp. 466-475]