The Canon of the Church

There is no trace in writing or tradition of any formal decision rendered by Jesus Christ or his Apostles concerning the Canon of the Old Testament. However, their use of the Alexandrian text of Scripture is equivalent to an express decree. It were incompatible with the character of the teachers of mankind and organizers of the Church, to make use of a collection of Scripture in which profane and inspired books were commingled. That they formulated no decree concerning the Canon of Scripture, proves that the Scriptures are subordinate to the Church. They, in virtue of the power given by the Master, were to found a living teaching body. The institutions of men exist by force of the fixed decrees and constitutions upon which their stability is based. The institution of Christ exists by virtue of the perpetual living vigor that energizes within her. She may pay small heed to human enactments, even though of infallible agents, for her warranty is in her living constitution, which is the almighty power of the Holy Ghost, her vital principle. Hence the Scriptures are only an instrument in the hands of the Church.

Christ and his Apostles founded the teaching body, which should guard the Scriptures, and at the proper time fix the Canon. In all our investigations concerning the Canon, it is the authority of the Church in the background which forms the great complement of the motive of credibility. No man can go securely through the dim vista of those remote times without the beacon light of the Church. It is not by the sole force of historical data, that we believe that the deuterocanonical works have God for their author. We receive them on the authority of the Church, and then trace the conformity between the books’ history and the dogma of the Church. A man would defeat his own purpose, should he attempt to convert one to Catholicity by proving that the deuterocanonical works had equal title to canonicity. Prove first that there is a God; then that there is a Christ; then that there is a Church; and lastly exhort him to humbly ask Christ’s teacher what to believe.

St. Jerome after much hedging was forced to admit that the Alexandrian collection was approved by the Apostles. He would, indeed, have us believe that, where the Septuagint differed from the Hebrew, the Apostles made use of the Hebrew. This is contradicted by the other Fathers, and is disproven by an examination and comparison of the two texts. St. Irenasus’ authority is explicit in favor of our thesis. “The Apostles, being older than all these, (Aquila and the other Greek interpreters) are in accord with the aforesaid (Septuagint) translation, and the translation corresponds with the tradition of the Apostles. For Peter and John and Matthew and Paul and the others and their followers announced the prophetic things according to the Septuagint.'” [Contra Haer. III. 21, 3.] Origin testifies that Paul, in Epist. to Romans, follows the Septuagint in everything, except, perchance, things of minor moment. [Orig. in Rom. VIII. 6.] The Syrian Jacobites, by the testimony of their primate Barhebrasus preferred the Syrian version of Scripture, that had been made from the Septuagint to the earlier one made from the Hebrew, because the one made from the Septuagint was more in consonance with the discourses of Our Lord and his Apostles.

From the sixteenth century down, critical collation has been made of the passages of the Old Testament, quoted in the New. From the labors of Serarius, Morini, Capelli, Kautzsch, and others, it results that, of three hundred and fifty passages of the Old Testament quoted in the New, more than three hundred so agree with the Septuagint that it is evident that the writer was using that text as a source. Sts. Peter, James, Mark, Luke, and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews always quote from the Septuagint; St. Paul, almost always; and Sts. Matthew and John very often quote from it. The reason for such course of action is evident. They were to convert a Greek world. By the Providence of God, a version of Scripture existed in Greek. They were but, following out the great plan of Salvation, by employing the resources of this existing text of Scripture in the evangelization of the world. Had such text been interspersed with spurious books and fragments such line of action would ill fit the teachers of the world. Our adversaries endeavor to enfeeble the force of this argument by alleging that no deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament is expressly quoted in the New. This fact we admit; but we deny that it weakens our position. Davidson, in Canon of the Bible, though not in the least friendly to Catholic opinions rejects this argument against the deuterocanonical books. On page 77: “When Bishop Cosius says that in all the New Testament we find no passage of apocryphal (deuterocanonical) books to have been alleged either by Christ or his Apostles for the confirmation of His doctrine, the argument, though based on a fact, is scarcely conclusive; else, Esther, Canticles, and other works might be equally discredited.”

In the New Testament Obadiah, Nahum, the Canticle of Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah are neither quoted from nor alluded to. It needs not an explicit quotation to approve a book. The approbation of the version which recognized these books was a sufficient warranty for their inspiration. Express quotations in the New Testament are generally taken from the Law or the Prophets; the other books are more oft implicitly cited, and it is only by the general similarity between the passages that we may detect that the writer of the New Testament had in mind any particular book of the Old Testament. Now there are many passages in the New Testament, which, when closely examined, bear evidence that the writer had in mind some book of the deuterocanonical collection. As this identity of thought appears to better advantage from the Greek, we collate a few texts in that tongue.

[A general introduction to the study of Holy Scriptures, A. E. Breen, pp. 263-265]