Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Mystery of Piety Pr.3

Pr.2 

Pr.3.1 On the Character of Scripture in General

The object of sacred doctrine is that which is divinely revealed, and according to Christian faith it is in sacred Scripture that we chiefly and in the highest way find this revelation, so that we may say it is the substance of sacred doctrine. Thus before the reading of the Gospel in the Maronite rite, the celebrant says,  Let us listen to the proclamation of life and salvation for our souls. Thus also St. Edith Stein says (KF 111), Holy Scripture counts as 'God's Word' for us because therein he draws near to us, makes himself known to us, makes his demands upon us.  This sacred Scripture may be understood as a text of inspired sense handed down in the Church as a canonical rule of faith. Understood in this way, it may be regarded as having a material and a formal element. The material element is  inspired sense or meaning as written, and we will consider it first.

The first question that must be addressed is its character as a written medium. Someone might argue that writing is not an appropriate medium for revelation because when something is written, it is as it were the residue of reason rather than living reason itself; it goes out into the world unable to defend itself or to explain itself further. Moreover, no one can understand what is written simply in itself; what is written can only be understood if the meaning is already in some way understood. We see this in writings on ethics; if someone has a poor understanding of justice itself, he will not come to understand simply by reading about it, but must, so to speak, see it for himself first. And St. John Chrysostom has remarked that it would be better if we could be so pure as not to require any sort of writing (Hom. 1 in Matt.): It were indeed meet for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be instead of books to our souls, and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. Something like this is the relationship that Noah or Abraham had with God. When we look to the New Testament, we find the same thing; as he continues, For neither to the apostles did God give anything in writing, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit. We might wonder, then, why holy writings are so central to Christian life.

As Turretin rightly notes, however, we can identify three basic reasons why it is appropriate for revelation to be written, arising from the fact that writing is an aid to memory, to defense, and to transmission. 

(1) Human memory varies considerable from person to person and, indeed, from society to society insofar as education of it varies, and the shortness of human life requires something to aid constancy of communication from generation to generation. Thus it is appropriate that truths of exceptional importance be communicated in such a way that human memory of them may be extended. As Newman says (GA 8.3), however, Writing...is a memoria technica, or logic of memory, and thus is a suitable way to give additional constancy to memory of the truths of divine teaching. Thus writing serves as a storage of truth through time. 

(2) Besides human weakness, there is also the real danger of deliberate fraud and corruption through the centuries as each generation becomes vulnerable in its turn to temptation and to malice. Thus it is appropriate for there to be a public reference to assist in the vindication of the truths revealed and the defense of human minds from sophistry. We may add to this a similar point by Chrysostom (Hom. 1 in Matt.), But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word. Thus writing is a public manifestation of truth. 

(3) Writing is an instrument of transmission, expanding the range by which one may communicate truth, and by allowing for communication between generations. Thus writing is a propagation of truth. To stabilize tradition across the generations and to expand the proclamation that is necessary for the salvation of souls, it is therefore appropriate for a revelation to put in writing. 

In all these ways the placing of revelation in writing may benefit even those who do not or cannot read it, for it will benefit those who can and do, who may then spread the benefit, by reading aloud, by commentary, and by artistic rendering of what they read. Further, as Chrysostom notes, the fact that we would be better if we did not need Scripture makes it all the more important for us to read and hear it, for although we are not better, we would be that much more blameable to refuse to make serious use of the assistance we are given.

Given that writing as well as word of mouth is an appropriate medium for the sense or meaning of revelation, we may ask about the nature of the sense conveyed. In this, however, we must distinguish three things that are often conflated, namely, the sense (sensus), the mode of reading (modus lectionis), and the application to which we put what we read.

Words signify things and the signification by which words signify things in Holy Writ is called, variously, the literal, historical, literary, or textual sense. When we speak of a literal sense, we do not mean 'literal' in the sense of 'lacking figurative speech', such as metaphors, but in the sense of 'having to do with the letter of the text'. The literal sense of Scripture includes both the use of words according to their proper sense and their use of words in a tropical or figurative sense. Thus parables, although figurative, are part of the literal sense, because the words signify something. In such cases the literal sense is what is figured by the figures of speech. When, for instance, Scripture talks of the arm of the Lord, the literal sense is not that God has a body but that He has what 'arm' can figuratively indicate, namely, strength and active power. The literal sense is that meaning which the Holy Spirit or the human author disposes the words to convey according to their proper (literal in the rhetorical sense) or tropical (figurative in the rhetorical sense) uses, as relevant. 

One might argue that tropes like metaphor or hyperbole, such as we find in Scripture, are inappropriate for conveying truth. However, no one in the communication of truth avoids figurative speech, and we typically use figurative speech in situations in which what we are communicating outstrips our ordinary vocabulary. Further, in knowing something by metaphor, we can in coming to know the thing itself recognize the fittingness and correctness of the metaphor. In such cases of metaphor-based knowledge, the metaphor serves as a template or model standing in for a direct understanding of a thing until we get it. Likewise, in matters both divine and moral, it often happens that hyperbole is not loose speech but, by being an exaggeration in its own order reasonably or even rigorously conveys a truth in another order. Metaphors, hyperboles, and other such forms of figurative language, are often only false if interpreted as if they were not what they were -- in a hyperliteral manner that fails to consider the fact that they are figurative language. Nor can it be said that what is said figuratively cannot be true at all; all arguments in support of such claims err by assuming that the literal is the real.* Therefore there is no impropriety in a text using figurative language to convey truth, and it is reasonable to find such figurative language in the text of sacred Scripture.

The literal sense may be said to be expressed in three things: (1) narration or description, which is what is stated; (2) etiology, or the implicit or explicit reasons for what is stated, as when our Lord gave the reason for the permission of divorce (Mt 19:18) or when in the Psalms it is clear that the passage adumbrates the Messiah; (3) the analogy of Scripture, by which one part of the text clarifies, illuminates, or exhibits a connection with another, an aspect which includes both poetic parallels and the various textual roles of each passage in painting a picture of the salvation history presented by the text. All three are necessary, and proper reading of the text of Scripture requires the study that makes it possible to see all three. As Newman says (Disc. 17), The great truths of Revelation are all connected together and form a whole. Everyone can see this in a measure even at a glance, but to understand the full consistency and harmony of Catholic teaching requires study and meditation. Thus proper reading of the text requires analysis, comparison, and determination of how the text fulfills its ends or purposes. 

It follows from this, however, that there is a certain unified multivalence in the literal sense, in the sense that one passage may be reasonably and rightly interpreted in more than one way that is consistent with the evidence of the text. First, even in human texts we often write for multiple contexts, so that one text can have multiple, albeit related, meanings across different contexts. Dante claims in the Letter to Cangrande that his love poems may all be read in a fourfold way, so that a poem about love of a woman may also be about love of God. In Mansfield Park, discussion of ordination doubles as a comment on the proper role of the father in the household. We see clear examples of this in Scripture. An obvious case is that of the parable, which tells a story and also makes a moral point, and can be read and understood at both levels. On a larger scale, Luke may be read by itself or as finding in a sequel in Acts, and the very of the two books allows for both readings. The epistles of Paul may be read in themselves or as a group; in the same way, the Minor Prophets may be read singly or, as they historically have often been read, together as 'the Twelve'. A description of an event early in Scriptural history may be recognized both to have a meaning in itself and a further meaning in looking forward to a later event. The examples are countless. Therefore we must not come to Scripture expecting its meaning to be flat, which is something we would not expect even in most human texts. And this has been recognized through time; as Aquinas says (Sent 2d12.q2 ad 7), The authority of Sacred Scripture is not derogated when it is differently explained, the faith being saved, because the Holy Spirit made it fruitful with greater truth than any man can discover.

There is a phrase that is sometimes used in this context by some biblical scholars, sensus plenior, to mean that sense of the text that was intended by God and not the human author. Thus, some give as an example the quotation of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23, showing that a text understood by its original author is understood one way but is interpreted by a divinely inspired author later in another way. But I am inclined to say that, first, biblical scholars do not in general have any notion of what goes on in a prophet's head when writing inspired prophetic texts, having never written any kind of inspired text themselves and having never done a rigorous investigation of prophetic understanding; and, second, that this so-called sensus plenior is just the analogy of Scripture that pertains to the literal sense of Scripture when one reads Scripture as a whole. For Scripture is not, and to our knowledge has never been in its entire history, a heap of pericopes or even Biblical books in isolation from all others, nor have its parts ever been unconnected by any history that touches directly on other parts.

The rabbis are vastly more wise in this, for it has long been their custom to recognize that adequate interpretation of Torah, even for ordinary purposes, requires recognizing that the meaning of the text has layers that, interconnected, are nonetheless distinguishable. Some of them summarize these and the approaches to them by the acronym Pardes, meaning 'orchard', as in the orchard or garden of knowledge of Torah; the word is related to our word 'paradise'. There is first peshat, the propoundable meaning of the text itself and only in itself; remez, that which the text insinuates or at which it hints; derash, that which is clear in the text on comparison with other texts;  and sod, the secret meaning of the text when it is read as an enigma or mystery. Thus, Genesis 1:1, In the beginning, is the word Beresheit; for the peshat, one would exposit the meaning of the word and the phrase of which it is part; for the remez, rabbis would consider whether it could be taken as an acronym, or the numerical value of its letters, or whether it has another, less obvious meaning; for the derash, the rabbis would do midrash, on the basis of other texts using the same or similar words; and for the sod, as a description of divine things. All of these would flow into each other and support each other, and all would be ultimately rooted in the peshat. Whatever may be said about details, this is an infinitely more reasonable way to approach the text of sacred books than to pick them to bits and nothing but bits.

All meaningful texts have a literal sense, because even human authors can adapt words to signify something. But the principal author of sacred Scripture is God, who exercises providence over all and thus is able to adapt things as well as words to signify what He pleases. While words have meaning in every science, it is a distinctive feature of sacred doctrine that the things signified by the words themselves signify something further. Thus we may say that God writes His truth not merely in words, but in history with His people as his pen and tablet. We call the meaning of that providential history, as described in the text, the spiritual sense: it is the sense in which the things signified by the text themselves signify with a higher-order signification. Thus Gregory says (Moral 20.1) of the Scriptures, In one and the same word they record an event and proclaim a mystery. Jonathan Edwards puts this well (Miscellanies 1069, "Types of the Messiah"): "We find that it was God’s manner throughout the ages of the Old Testament, to typify future things, not only as he signified them by symbolical and typical representations in those visions and prophecies in which they were revealed, but also as he made use of those things that had an actual existence, to typify them, either by events that he brought to pass by his special providence to that end, or by things that he appointed and commanded to be done for that end." This spiritual sense presupposes the literal sense, because what has spiritual sense is whatever we find described by the literal sense; however, it differs from it as the meaning of words and the meaning of what is referred to by words differ. 

The spiritual sense of Scripture is by its nature rich, but it is common to divide it into three aspects, following St. John Cassian on kind of spiritual knowledge (Conference 14, Chapter 8). The historical or literal sense, he says, embraces the knowledge of things past and visible. But these things also prefigure the form of some mystery. This is the allegorical sense. Spiritual mysteries may also signify still more sublime and sacred secrets of heaven. We call this the anagogical sense. But Scripture also directs our lives, with a moral explanation which has to do with improvement of life and practical teaching. This is called the tropological sense. Cassian explains this using 'Jerusalem', which can easily be recognized in all four senses: historically as the city of the Jews; allegorically as Church of Christ, anagogically as the heavenly city of God..., tropologically, as the soul of man, which is frequently subject to praise or blame from the Lord under this title. St. Bonaventure summarizes these handily (Red. 5): the allegorical, by which we are taught what to believe concerning the Divinity and humanity; the moral, by which we are taught how to live; and the anagogical, by which we are taught how to be united to God. And he also summarizes them by saying that the allegorical sense regards faith, the tropological sense regards morals, and the anagogical sense, the ultimate end of both

We learn of the spiritual sense from Scripture itself, because it gives us examples of each of the four senses. In Galatians 4:21-31, St. Paul reads the story of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory, saying (Gal 4:24-26),  Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. The story itself is the literal sense, but it is clear that Paul takes what is described in the story also to prefigure truths of faith. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 10:4 says of the water from the rock that the Israelites drank while wandering in the desert, For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. In 1 Peter 3:20-21, we are told that Noah's ark prefigured baptism. In Hebrews 4:3-13, the author interprets the seventh day of creation as also prefiguring heaven, which is anagogical sense; and it is reasonable to read Galatians 4:24, about Jerusalem above as confirmation of an anagogical sense to Jerusalem, in contrast to the literal sense of present Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18, the prohibition in Deuteronomy 25:4 about not muzzling oxen is applied to the question of giving proper honor and support to those who preach the gospel, which is the tropological or moral sense. There is no room to doubt, then, that Scripture encompasses a spiritual sense as well as a purely textual one.

The literal and spiritual senses together are called the quadriga or the fourfold sense of Scripture. Turretin gives (Inst 2.19) three arguments against the fourfold sense of scripture, based on unity of truth, unity of form, and perspicuity. 

(1) The first argument is that truth is one and therefore cannot admit of many senses without becoming uncertain and ambiguous. 

(2) The second argument is that there is only one essential form of any one thing, and the sense is the form of the Scriptures. 

(3) The third argument is that Scripture is clear for the purposes of salvation, which it cannot be if it has many senses.  

Turretin does admit allegory, but only at the level of application, so that it “is a consequence drawn from the study of man by manner of application” (Inst. 2.19.7). Thus, he continues, “when we proceed from the sign to the thing signified, we do not introduce a new sense, but educe what was implied in the sign so as to have the full and complete sense intended by the Spirit.” However, it is clear that this eduction is the eduction of a deeper sense to the signs, and that the full and complete sense intended by the Spirit therefore includes both the sense of the text, which is the literal sense, and the sense of the things signified by the text, which is the spiritual sense. Thus Aquinas adequately pre-responded to all three of these objections when he said (ST 1.1.10), The multiplicity of these senses does not make an equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, because these senses are not multiplied from one word signifying many things but because things signified through words can be signs of other things.

Turretin's mistake in these arguments is to confuse what God does, which is the spiritual sense, and what is done only by us, such as applications. When we recognize that the spiritual senses and the literal sense are all by one author, the Holy Spirit, who is source both of the text and of the things described by the text, who reveals truth not merely by words but even by the things signified by them, we see that all the senses have a unity as proceeding from the Holy Spirit.

Further, they are unified by their ultimate object, which is Christ. Scripture as a text is a system of written signs, which therefore have objects. But these objects may also be signs, and so forth, until they reach the principal object of the whole Scripture, which is Christ. After Christ's resurrection, but when the only reports of it known to the disciples were the earliest ones, two were walking on the road to Emmaus, discussing these rumors, and they were joined by Jesus, although they did not know him. When they told him of all the things that had happened, he rebuked them for not realizing that it was necessary. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures (Lk 24:27). And St. Paul notes (2 Cor 3:15-16), Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. St. Augustine further discusses this in his argument against the Manichaean, Faustus, saying (Contr. Faust. 12.7), The whole contents of these Scriptures are either directly or indirectly about Christ. Sometimes this is done allegorically, enigmatically, allusively, or the like, sometimes it is plain, but, he argues (Contr. Faust. 12.27), In every page of these Scriptures, while I pursue my search as a son of Adam in the sweat of my brow, Christ either openly or covertly meets and refreshes me. Where the discovery is laborious my ardor is increased, and the spoil obtained is eagerly devoured, and is hidden in my heart for my nourishment. It is because of this that the reading of Scripture is a spiritual discipline for Christians. When we read a text, its signs direct our minds in such a way that they are given specification by the objects of the signs; that is, our mind, open to thinking of things, is directed to objects that give this a specific form. Scripture has many objects, but all of these are themselves signs back to the principal object, Christ, and therefore all things in it may draw our minds to Christ. As St. Irenaeus says (Adv. Haer. 4.26), speaking of Matthew 13, If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world (for the field is the world); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables.

But there are other things that may be said along the same lines. They are unified by their end, which is our salvation. Moreover, it is clear that, just as literal sense clarifies and illuminates literal sense, so literal sense and spiritual sense would mutually clarify and illuminate each other. And finally, Scripture itself is clear in recognizing that it has a spiritual sense, as shown above. 

The holy Writ for Christians does not show itself as a divine revelation from its literary qualities. Although there are beautiful literary passages, and a remarkable power of its whole arising from very disparate parts, it is a humble sacred book on its face. But the letters on the page are but a humble and necessary gate to a great spiritual city not wholly built by human hands; it is in its meaning that sacred Scripture shows itself to be divine revelation, where we might say that it is seen not to be a square like other texts but a tesseract, and thus a fitting word of the Creator.

A complication in understanding these matters is that the fourfold sense of Scripture has sometimes been confused with a different distinction, namely, with what might be called modes of reading. While the two are related, and similar vocabulary is often confusingly used for both, it is a grave error to regard the quadriga as a matter of 'hermeneutics' or interpretation, because it confuses what pertains to Scripture itself with how we receive it; the fourfold sense is not a matter of how we interpret Scripture, it is how Scripture itself is constituted. The fourfold sense just is Scripture, materially considered. The spiritual senses are not spiritual senses due to our reading Scripture that way; they are senses of Scripture because God has structured Scripture in this way. The text does not merely refer to objects but these objects themselves also further refer to spiritual and divine things, regardless of how we read it, and anyone who does not recognize both the literal and the spiritual sense of Scripture is like someone who keeps insisting that a tesseract is a flat square. What I here call 'modes of reading', however, are concerned with reading and interpretation of these senses. Both the senses of Scripture and the modes of reading it must be distinguished from applications of it, such as using it as precedent, or as an allegorical template for something else, or as evidence in quotation.

There are three modes of reading Scripture, each greater than the last, each of which can to some extent encompass those prior to it. (The grouping of three has historically been associated with the Septuagint reading of a verse in Proverbs (Pr 22:20 LXX), But do you describe these things to yourself in three ways according to the largeness of your heart.) 

First, there is the literal, or as we might better call it, textual or literary reading. In this we read the language, and are concerned with the language in its grammatical, logical, poetic, and rhetorical aspects.

There is, however, a more powerful mode of reading, which can encompass the textual but goes beyond it. This is sometimes called allegorical, but it could also be called philosophical reading. Texts that are important, that teach us how to speak, to use an occasional Confucian phrase, we do not read merely as a set of signs but as speaking to the broader human condition. The Confucians appreciated the Odes as poetry, but they read them also as capturing truths about human behavior and society. The Neoplatonists read Homer not merely as a story but also as conveying insight into the soul. Slaves and freedmen in the American South read the tales of the Old Testament not merely as tales but understood their own situation in light of them; it gave them a language in which to speak what ordinary language could not. It is in fact impossible for serious readers of any important text not to go beyond just the word and tale and reflect on the text as it relates to broader things; philosophy is natural to human beings, so we read texts in light of it. This reading may be allegorical in the usual strict sense (as opposed to the different meaning it has when we are talking about the allegorical sense), such as Confucian readings of the Book of Odes or Neoplatonist readings of the Odyssey, in which each thing discussed is correlated with some idea; allegory in this sense fits the human constitution as both intellectual and imaginative, and we fall into easily. But it need not be. So-called 'liberatory' readings, and the readings of Higher Criticism, are each philosophical in this way, because they arise from broader philosophical speculations and hypotheses, in light of which the text is interpreted.

It is true, however, that this mode of reading, being less constrained than the literary reading, is also subject to vagaries and willful impositions. It is important that one always respect the text itself, without which you are wandering in your own imagination. This is especially important with sacred Scripture, where we must often have care to be guided by the analogy of Scripture; as St. Augustine says (Doct. Chr. 3.28), it is far safer to walk by the light of Holy Scripture; so that when we wish to examine the passages that are obscured by metaphorical expressions, we may either obtain a meaning about which there is no controversy, or if a controversy arises, may settle it by the application of testimonies sought out in every portion of the same Scripture.

Beyond both the textual and the philosophical, however, is a mode of reading that is still more powerful, since it may encompass the other two but is more than they are; and this is sometimes called anagogical, but might better be called spiritual reading, for it involves reading with spiritual perception and out of a spiritual stillness. Thus St. Isaac of Nineveh says (Hom. 4), Let your reading be done in a stillness that nothing disturbs; be free of all concern for the body and the turmoil of affairs, so that through the sweet understanding which surpasses all the senses you may savor that most sweet taste in your soul which he perceives in herself because of her constant intercourse with these things. It is in this way that we may, in reading Scripture (Ps 34:8), Taste and see that the Lord is good. And as St. Augustine says (Doct. Chr. 1.40), Anyone who knows the end of the commandments to be charity from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith, and has related all of his understanding of the Divine Scriptures to these three, he may approach the treatment of these books with security. Thus we prepare for this reading by cultivating, through prayer a devout regard for faith and morals united together by a wholehearted love.

It is important to grasp that spiritual reading does not detach itself from the literal sense; indeed, it is one mark of true spiritual reading that in a way it gives the literal sense even greater weight, recognizing that it is to be respected because it is from God and that it serves as the only proper entryway into the spiritual sense. All four senses of Scripture can to some extent be read by each of the three modes of reading it, but not equally; the literary mode of reading can only touch on the spiritual sense to the extent that it is directly alluded to or explicitly mentioned in the literal sense. The philosophical mode of reading can uncover more by looking at the same literal sense from a higher point of view and in a more holistic way, considering things such as plausible parallels, the overall structure of the salvation history found in the texts, and the general nature of what is discussed in the text, such as prophecy, religious rites, political structures, and so forth. Only the spiritual mode of reading, however, can read all of Scripture, for it is the only mode of reading genuinely commensurate to Scripture itself as a divine text.

And how it could it be otherwise, than that a text that we have as a gift from the Holy Spirit should be read with the aid of the Holy Spirit? Cassian tells us (Conference 14, Chapter 9), For it is one thing to have a ready tongue and elegant language, and quite another to penetrate into the very heart and marrow of heavenly utterances and to gaze with pure eye of the soul on profound and hidden mysteries; for this can be gained by no learning of man's, nor condition of this world, only by purity of soul, by means of the illumination of the Holy Ghost.  All things come forth from God and return to God, exitus and reditus, and this is true of Scripture, as well. Scripture comes forth from the prophets and apostles who were inspired by the Holy Spirit in speaking and writing it, but it returns to God through us insofar as we are moved by the Holy Spirit in faith, hope, and love in reading and hearing it in a spiritual mode. This is especially the case when we read and hear it in contexts in which we are already united in prayer by the Spirit. Thus we may indeed say that the Holy Spirit is the principal co-author of the sacred writings, those writings arising from the cooperation of the Holy Spirit as primary author with the secondary authors of prophets, scribes, etc.; but we may also say as well that He is the principal co-reader, being the primary mover with whom we cooperate in our own best reading, in which we return to God that which we have received from God.


Pr.3.2  On the Character of Scripture as Traditional

Animals will often in some sense be social with each other, whether for reasons of biology or affection, but human beings are by nature social in a particular way, for we are rational and therefore civilizational animals. We build and trade, donate and receive, inherit and bequeath, good things. This is as true of intellectual and spiritual goods as it is of material goods. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that a divine revelation suitable to the salvation of creatures like ourselves would be one that is well suited to being handed down across the generations. This we do find.

'Tradition', which is a delivery or handing down, has many different forms, but the essential characteristic of tradition when it comes to learning and self-cultivation is captured by Proverbs 1:8: My son, listen to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. The key elements are, on the one side, instruction, and on the other side, listening and not forsaking. This is as true for our spiritual fathers and mothers as for our physical fathers and mothers, and instruction and teaching may occur in many different ways. St. Robert Bellarmine says (Cont. 1.4.2), The word "Tradition" is general, and it signifies every doctrine whether written or unwritten, which is communicated by one person to another. It is in this general sense that we find it used in 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. In the course of disputation and polemic, however, it often happens that terms get narrowed to some point of dispute, and in arguments between Protestants and Catholics over the authority of traditions this has happened with the word 'tradition', which often is taken to mean tradition by word of mouth, that is, 'unwritten tradition', understood specifically as opposed to, and not overlapping with, tradition by...letter, or 'written tradition'. However, when we are considering the nature of the holy writing themselves, it is not reasonable to use only the latter terminology; we must use and keep in mind the broader meaning. For in this broader meaning it is clear that Scripture is such that by its very nature it must be handed down or 'traditioned'.

We can recognize the traditionary nature of sacred Scripture in many ways. Part of this arises from its nature as writing. Writing involves material media, which must be maintained, repaired, and copied over time if the writing is not to disappear. Writing is a linguistic act, and like all language it can only be understood to the extent that the understanding of it has been handed down. Of the making of many books there is no end (Eccl. 12:12), and therefore it will be lost in the rising flood of new books unless care is taken to hand it down. We do not know what books are revelation except insofar as they handed down to us. What is more, writing only has a real life in the reading, reflecting, and application that incorporates it; this reading, reflection, and application is itself partly traditionary, incorporating what has been handed down to it in order to understand it more clearly, as we see in preaching and commentary. To be a full propagation of truth through history, or communication between generations, a written text must be handed down. What is written for the ages must be handed down through the ages. A revelation that is 'scriptured' therefore must also be 'traditioned'.

This is no doubt the reason why both the Old Testament and the New Testament show God beginning not by giving a Scripture but by building the community within which it will be handed down. Scripture as divine revelation is always received into something; the Tanakh or Old Testament into the people of Israel and the Old Testament and New Testament both into the Church.

In the blessing of Moses, the Torah is called a possession, or in some translations an inheritance, of the assembly of Jacob (Dt 33:4). In the Kuzari, Judah Halevi notes that the text of Torah itself, being in ancient Hebrew, has no vowel markings or accents or punctuation; thus to read it well and properly requires that enough be preserved in memory to know how best to read it, and that this is something that would be needed to some extent by all readers. Later exegetes added vowel markings, accents, and other signs to facilitate reading and "to serve as a fence around the law in order to leave no room for alterations" (Kuzari 3.32). Thus if the Torah of the later generation is the Torah of Moses, one has to recognize the role of tradition in its existence and nature. But if this is so with vowels and punctuation, how much more so with the meanings of words? "The meaning of a word is more comprehensive than its pronunciation" (Kuzari 3.35). To understand the text, and that to which it refers, is not something that is independent of tradition; by traditions you can continue to understand the meanings of words that have fallen out of use, or have some notion of the presuppositions of a sentence, like what calendar to use when it gives a command that must take place at a particular time. You would continually need to rely either on prophetic authority, or tradition from one's predecessors, or speculative opinion; simply looking at the text would not suffice.

Indeed, Christ lived on earth in the time of the Pharisees and the Sadducees; unlike the later Karaite heretics, who attempted to replace tradition entirely with speculative opinion, both the Pharisees and the Sadducees accepted tradition in some sense, although the Sadducees seem to have accepted only such traditions insofar as the facilitated Temple worship, and always as an inferior authority, while the Pharisees put much greater weight on the tradition of the elders (Mk 7:3-4). It is clear that by Christian standards this meant that the Pharisees often had a better understanding of the truths of the Scripture, For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both (Acts 23:8). On this basis, Paul, as a Christian, was able to gain some protection from the Sadducees by the Pharisees, by saying (Acts 23:6), I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I am on trial concerning the hope for the resurrection of the dead, or, as it might also be rendered, the hope and the resurrection of the dead. It is true that Christ argued that they often went gravely astray, using human tradition to abandon the commandment of God (Mk 7:8), so that by such evasions they would say and not do (Mt 23:3). But Christ recognized their authority even despite such hypocrisies, saying (Mt 23:2-3), The scribes and the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses; observe and do, therefore, all things which they command you to do and observe, whereas of the Sadducees, he said that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Mt 22:29). Thus the Pharisees in drawing on the oral traditions were engaged in authoritative teaching, although, of course, not a teaching infallible or preserved from human failing. And the better of them seem to have understood the pitfalls and made an effort to avoid them, as did their later successors; thus Halevi's Rabbi in the Kuzari recognizes these very dangers, saying (Kuzari 3:23), "We have said, however, that one cannot approach God except by his commandments", and Sotah 22b identifies several kinds of false righteousness and hypocrisy of this sort that must be avoided. Thus could there be wise and just men among the Pharisees, like Nicodemus.

With respect to the New Testament, Christ did not first or directly provide us with books of the Lord, but with the apostles. As Cardinal Franzelin rightly says (On Tradition**, p. 35) "the authentic book written by Christ himself was the Apostles, written not with ink but rather by means of the Holy Spirit." Christ preached, and the apostles preached the gospel of Christ, and the books of the New Testament were written by apostles and disciples of Christ to those who had believed. Thus it is only within the Church already formed that the books of the New Testament were formed; and it was within the Church that they were sent and within the Church that they were received. These books were then handed down by and in and through the churches even to our day, to be read publicly read with authority in the Church.

From this we can see that the divine Scripture is Scripture as prayed, preached, and practiced by the Church, and any other Scripture, however superficially similar, however much it may draw on the real thing, is a human fiction, a thing made up in the imagination. In this way we can understand when it is said (2 Pt 1:20-21), you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. The faith is a confidelity; to read well the Scripture given to the Church one must read Scripture in and with the Church. We may all say then with the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem and the Confession of Dositheos (dec. II): We believe the divine and sacred scriptures to be God-taught, and therefore we ought to believe the same without doubting; yet not otherwise than as the Catholic Church has interpreted and delivered the same.

Edward Hawkins has a noteworthy discussion of "the value of unauthoritative tradition, not so much in the confirmation or interpretation of Christian doctrines, but as intended to be the ordinary introduction to them" (Dissertation, Preface, p. vii). Christian doctrine is indirectly and unsystematically taught in Scripture, and sometimes when avoidance of heresy or growth in truth would be greatly facilitated by a direct and systematic exposition. The issue does not put into question the authority of Scripture, but it raises a puzzle about how this relates to the corresponding teaching. Thus Hawkins proposes that this was directly intended that Scripture should supply the substance but tradition the arrangement of the teaching; that Scripture be the source of proof, but the Church be the carrier of the system. As Hawkins is Protestant, he is careful to distinguish this from any view in which any tradition has independent authority and power of proof, which is why he specifies the kind of tradition involved as 'unauthoritative'. Hawkins notes that even in Scripture, the Epistles of the New Testament all imply a prior oral teaching, and that teaching orally was a standard feature of the early Church. The Church's traditions of preaching and teaching introduce people to the doctrines of the Scripture, so that they may better understand and apply Scripture itself. Catechisms, confessions of faith, guides and helps in the reading of Scripture, express such traditions. This does not rule out there being other, unusual ways to learn or be introduced to Scripture; but unauthoritative tradition is the ordinary means intended for it.

This argument is in its main lines correct; we see this when we consider that tradition is the ordinary means of human learning, and that it is impossible to hold that it vanishes or has no place in the Church. However, the manner in which it is put is potentially confusing; 'unauthoritative' here is being used as a term of art, and not a very accurate one. Teaching by its nature involves a certain authority. Rather, the idea is that there is a tradition of derivative authority which, without being infallible, all-definitive, or indefeasible, plays an essential role in introduction and catechesis to Scripture itself. The traditionary character of Scripture itself requires that there be some such tradition, for to hand down Scripture in a particular circumstance requires some judgment about the manner in which one should do it. That this tradition has some authority necessarily arises from the responsibility Christians have to continue the tradition, for to have a genuine responsibility is to have a genuine authority with respect to the decisions that responsibility requires of you.

However, besides this tradition of derivative authority, we must also have what Hawkins is calling authoritative tradition; that is, tradition that bears the marks of the Church itself, and connects us all back through the saints before us to the apostles and thereby to Christ. This was recognized by St. Vincent in the Commonitory (Comm. 2.5): But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. And we find the same in St. Irenaeus, who says (Adv. Haer. 3.4), Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. He also says (Adv Haer 4.26), Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets. Further, St. John Chrysostom, in commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter, says (Hom. 4 in 2 Thess.), Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther.

This authoritative tradition gives us authoritative extrinsic recognition of Scripture as divine revelation and rule of faith; it gives authoritative application of it as such in church discipline and liturgy; it gives authoritative guidance in the reading, translating, and expounding of Scripture through its preaching, prayer, and practice. And it preaches directly the gospel that Scripture itself serves, aided and guided by Scripture, but with an authority it derives from Christ through the apostles, so that the Church may say with St. Paul (1 Thess. 2:13), We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. And we are related to it as authoritative; as the Profession of Faith of the First Vatican Council says, Likewise I accept sacred Scripture according to that sense which holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures; nor will I ever receive and interpret them except according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; and as it further says in its declaration, in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy Scripture.

Scripture, then, is traditionary by nature and the Church in its traditioning of Scripture, and in the traditions that support this handing down of Scripture, is the instrument and means through which Scripture is received, taught, understood, and believed. As Benedict XVI states it (Verbum Domini), "the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable."


Pr.3.3 On the Character of Scripture as Rule of Faith

'Rule of faith' originally meant a summary of the most important doctrinal ideas of Scripture, a regula being a summary or precis of a law that itself had a sort of legal force. In this sense it is sometimes still used of the creeds. It is sometimes applied to Scripture itself, however, in the sense that it is the standard regulating the expression and articulation of our faith. Christian life and worship is regulated by many things, of course, ultimately tracing back to God and His Christ as as the originary rule or regulation of both life and worship. However, Scripture, while not the only thing that can be said to regulate the expression of our faith, has a special status as such, being in a sense the most formal way the rule of faith in this sense of the phrase. As St. Isidore of Seville says (Etym. 6.2.50), Speaking for our education through the Holy Spirit, they, that is, the prophets and apostles, wrote both a precept for living and a rule for believing. Scripture itself is the measure of faith; as Newman puts it (Dev. Doctr., ch. 7), The divines of the Church are in every age engaged in regulating themselves by Scripture, appealing to Scripture in proof of their conclusions, and exhorting and teaching in the thoughts and language of Scripture.

To be a rule in this sense, however, Scripture must be applied as regulatory. And to this end, God sends us to the voice of the Church (Mt 18:17) and promised His Spirit for it. Thus the Church is, so to speak, the applicatory rule, which is a rule in a different sense. As St. Francis de Sales says (Christian Controversies (CC 2.Intro), It is God, then, who rules over Christian belief, but with two instruments, in a double way: (1) by his Word as by a formal rule; (2) by his Church as by the hand of the measurer and rule-user, and again (CC 3.2), The Holy Word then is the first law of our faith; there remains the application of this rule, which being able to receive as many forms as there are brains in the world, in spite of all the analogies of the faith, there is need further of a second rule to regulate this application. That is to say, the Church guides how we apply the measuring-stick of Scripture in order to measure our beliefs and actions. Traditionally the Church is understood by Catholics to do this in four aspects: as a whole,  by the consent of the Fathers, by councils and especially general councils, and by papal definition. In all of these, the governing idea is that Scripture must be read and applied in a context flowing from the Apostles; these four aspects are each a form of what might be called apostolic succession in at least a broad sense of the phrase, four ways in which the apostolicity of the Church is specifically expressed. As St. Francis puts it (CC 2.Intro), God is the painter, our faith the picture, the colors are the word of God, the brush is the Church.

One context in which this is clearly seen is in the matter of translation. In most religions with a holy book, the primary and proper reading of the book is tied to a particular language. Thus Torah for the Jews is most properly read in the Hebrew, the Quran for Muslims is most properly read in the Arabic, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib for Sikhs is most properly read in the Sant Bhasha expressed in Gurmukhi script. To read in translation may sometimes be a devout exercise, even a highly praised one in some cases, but it is a secondary kind of reading, although the exact way in which it is secondary varies according to the doctrines of the religion. Christians, however, are another matter. Given the command by Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, inheriting an Old Testament that was at least in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek versions, Christians have always translated sacred Scripture and used the translations in their liturgies. The New Testament, originally in Greek, had early Latin and Syriac versions, and endless others have followed: Coptic, Armenian, Ge'ez, Persian, Gothic, Slavonic, and so forth. And in every case, the translated version, if adequate for liturgical use, has been regarded as a handing down of the word of God, for sacred Scripture, read honestly and understood intelligently and with the mind of Christ, is sacred Scripture in all languages. As St. Hilary of Poitiers says (Ad Constant. Lib. II, sect. 9), Scripture is not in the reading but in the understanding; and as Irenaeus says (Adv. Haer. 1.10.2), although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. But it is not just any translation of which this can be said; as Scripture is traditionary by nature, the translation must be traditionary in the same way, since, indeed, translation is a kind of tradition or handing down already, and a translation appropriate to being read publicly in the churches as the word of God and the proclamation of salvation must be such as the Church finds appropriate for that matter. Thus the Church by its very handing-down of Scripture certifies authoritatively those translations that may be read as regulating the faith and worship of Christians. It does this both implicitly, by longstanding use in liturgy, and also explicitly, by ecclesial definition. And as the case goes for translation, so it goes for all other forms of handing Scripture down through the generations.

However, it is important to recognize as well that the handing-down of Scripture in prayer, preaching, and practice, as well as in actual material form by copying, printing, and so forth, is part of what constitutes the Church as a community. Any enduring community continues to exist by handing down its common good through the generations. In a sense, we may say that by doing so it hands down itself. This is especially so when what is handed down in handing down common good is a constitutive rule or standard for the community, which Scripture is for the Church. It would therefore be a grave error to assume that because the holy Church hands down Scripture that sacred Scripture is in any way a mere creature of the Church. It is rather a gift of God to the Church, made regulative by the Spirit within the context of the worship of the Church. The Church does not originate the rule but authenticates it, that is, formally recognizes its intrinsic authority in such a way as to make it actually authoritative for a community; the Church also applies this authority in an authoritative way. As is said in the declaration on revelation of the First Vatican Council, These books the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church. Sacred Scripture could not properly be a rule for a community such as the Church, devoted to the salvation of human beings and their union with God, unless it were such a gift.


Pr.3.4 On the Character of Scripture as Canonical

 A canon is a rule for propriety; etymologically, it meant a rod or bar against which other things could be measured, which would thus be a shared and public standard, and this is the governing meaning in almost all of its usages. A pedagogical canon is a shared standard for what should be known in common by those in a discipline; a literary canon is a shared and public set of common reference points for discussing literature. Thus we could use 'canon' as applied to sacred Scripture as a direct synonym for its being a rule of faith, and this is how it is sometimes used. We may, however, use it to mean something more specific along these lines, namely, the particular constitution of Scripture insofar as it is applied with the liturgy and prayer of the Church as the commonly shared rule of faith. This constitution is handed down from generation to generation, all the way back to the apostles, by authoritative tradition. Thus St. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 3.13.93) and St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1) both recognize the four Gospels as handed down to us, and treat this as a special distinction marking them off from other things that might be called a 'gospel'. 

Developed accounts of the particular constitution of Scripture as a canon arises in the context of the role of Scripture in Christian liturgy. There were, however, books that that guided Jewish life and worship; in this sense we can say that rabbinical practice, and perhaps particularly Josephus's attempt to summarize this work in his work against Apion, served as influences for the Christian understanding of the canon. The ways in which those books guided life and worship were manifold, but the particular strand that leads to what we Christians call the canon was the Jewish practice of reading portions from these books to the people on Sabbaths and holy days (cf. Neh 8-10). This notion of specially marked-off public reading is essential to the Christian notion of canon.

With regard to Jewish practice, it is difficult to trace it out historically with any exactness, but we do have a clear statement in Josephus (Contr. Ap. 1.8), who insists that there are exactly twenty-two books that "contain the records of all the past times" for the Jewish people and that are "justly believed to be divine". These are the five books of Moses, thirteen books of prophets who wrote from the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, and four books of hymns and precepts. He does not give us the precise breakdown, so we cannot be sure what the twenty-two books were; for instance, later Christian lists will often combine Judges and Ruth or Jeremiah and Lamentations, and Esther may be included in the number of the prophets. If all of these are true, then Josephus's books are likely the same as those later accepted by the rabbis; but we do not know.  Christian commenters will associate the twenty-two books of this numeration with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but Josephus himself makes no such connection. Strictly speaking, this is not a canonical statement; Josephus's concern is to argue that Jews, unlike other nations, possess a relatively thorough and unified national historical literature. He does not give any indication of what role these play, beyond their being sacred books "justly believed to be divine" and giving the history of the Jewish nation. Nonetheless, it is clearly relevant that Josephus takes the sacred books to be a precisely determinable set of books.

Later the standard Jewish number was twenty-four, rather than twenty-two, one of the early witnesses to which is the 4 Ezra 14:45, which has a legend of Ezra restoring the lost books of the law in two sets and being commanded, "Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and unworthy read them." (The reference is muddied somewhat, however, by the fact that the second set of books, "the seventy", are supposed to be reserved for the wise, for a grand total of ninety-four books. Nobody seems to have any more than speculation about what is meant by this.) The whole collection is often known today as Tanakh, an acronym for the three parts, Torah ("instruction"), Nevi'im ("prophets"), and Ketuvim ("writings"). When we speak of these books as inherited by Christians, however, there is an important ambiguity, in that most early Christians read the Old Testament in Greek rather than Hebrew, and several other works were associated with these books that were linked to Hellenistic Judaism (although to judge from fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems not exclusively so). This is seen, for instance, in early versions of the Septuagint translation. It is unclear what role these were understood to have by the Jews that used them, and the particular books seem to have varied. However, Christians inherited them and adapted them to their own use.

The application of Scripture as a rule of faith does not at all begin with any account of its constitution as a canon. To put the history crudely, the early Church merely treated as canonical the books that they used in liturgy, and do not seem to have bothered much with the fact that there were occasional discrepancies in which books used. It is hard to imagine it could have been otherwise; not all places would have received all the books to begin with at the same time, and, indeed, some may not have originally received them at all. Further, this was not random. It was governed by local tradition, by the authority of bishops, and by the influence of the major churches, to which other churches always tend over time to conform. Because of this, the core works were quite stable from church to church. This purely customary handling of the canon was not, however, a sustainable situation. Pseudepigraphy was a common literary device in the empire, break-off sects created their own scriptures, the Marcionite heretics rejected the Old Testament entirely, and in disputes, which are inevitable in human life, the disputes were occasionally complicated by the measure being one and the same only in the sense that they overlapped and had an abstract unity. Therefore it was inevitable that lists would be made, not as the foundation of the canon but as clarification of it.

Melito's Canon is generally held to be the earliest extant list of this sort for the Old Testament; St. Melito of Sardis, who died in the late second century, visited Palestine in an attempt to find the most accurate version of the Law and the Prophets that could be found. His letter summarizing his find is preserved in Eusebius (Ecc. Hist. 4.26): Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to you as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book ; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. A few books are not mentioned here, although Lamentations is almost certainly being treated as part of Jeremiah and Nehemiah as part of Ezra; the primary surprise is the nonmention of Esther. ('Jesus Nave' is an old name for the book of Joshua.) Strictly speaking this list does not directly identify a canon at all; St. Melito and his friend are making extracts from the Old Testament works for devotional and study purposes and want to know what the best version is; the list is the result of St. Melito's rather involved private hunting expedition for this precise purpose, not a list of books that were treated as canonical by the churches. Nonetheless, it was an attempt to give an accurate description of the Old Testament, and thus can be considered an indirect witness.

Eusebius also gives a list by Origen that is explicitly a claim to be a canonical list "as the Hebrews have handed them down" (Ecc. Hist. 6.25). Origen's list is: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth (in one book), 1 Kings and 2 Kings (in one book = 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel), 3 Kings and 4 Kings (in one book = 1 Kings & 2 Kings in our modern naming), 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles (in one book), Ezra and Nehemiah (in one book), Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations and the Letter of Jeremiah (in one book), Daniel, Ezekiel, Job, Esther, to which he adds "besides these", 1 Maccabees. "The Letter of Jeremiah" is a name for the last chapter of Baruch, but it sometimes circulated on its own.

The Muratorian Canon is often thought to be the earliest extant list of this sort for the New Testament, and its original could have been written as early as the second century, although we do not know, and exact dating is not essential for our purposes. We have only a fragment in poor condition of a later copy and probably translation. While it may have originally included a list of Old Testament books, the extant fragment is of the New Testament. Several books we know are not named: Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter. The list includes: two Gospels whose names have not been preserved in the fragment, although probably Matthew and Mark; Luke, John; Acts; thirteen epistles of Paul; Jude; two epistles of John, of which one is 1 John, and we don't know whether the other is 2 John or 3 John; the Wisdom of Solomon; the Apocalypse of John. One book has an ambiguous status: the Apocalypse of Peter, which the author counts as part of the list, but which he notes that some do not allow to be read in church. Another book, the Shepherd of Hermas, is praised as something that should be read, but it is rejected as inappropriate for reading in church because it is neither from the Prophets nor the Apostles.  Some books are explicitly rejected as heretical, namely, the letters to the Laodiceans and to the Alexandrians that were attributed to Paul and various Gnostic works. (It's not immediately clear why Wisdom is included in this list, but in other later lists it is common to list the undisputed Old Testament books, then the undisputed New Testament books, then the more disputed Old Testament and New Testament books. We don't strictly know whether the author of the Muratorian Fragment is doing this as well, but it is likely and it would make sense of this list -- everything up to the two epistles of John is undisputed, and then he starts over with the more disputed books, of which Wisdom and Revelation and, with more controversy, the Apocalypse of Peter are accepted.***)

There are several features of this that are worth noting. The key issue is whether the book is of the right sort as to be "read in church" or "read publicly in the church to the people either among the Prophets...or among the Apostles." (This also seems connected to a comment the author makes about the letters of Paul, that they are "held sacred in the esteem of the Catholic Church for the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline.") That Scripture is supposed to link us to the Prophets and the Apostles is also a governing idea here; despite recommending Hermas, the author thinks Hermas fails to do either adequately. The Shepherd of Hermas is a book of prophetic visions, of a sort as to deserve respect, but Hermas is not a Prophet in the relevant sense; Hermas is associated with an important apostolic see, namely Rome, which deserves respect, but Hermas is not an Apostle nor acting as a representative of an Apostle. Thus we have clear indication that books publicly read in church were taken to have a special status.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his fourth Catechetical Lecture gives an especially influential canonical list. First the Old Testament (Cat. Lect. 4.35): And of the Old Testament, as we have said, study the two and twenty books, which, if you are desirous of learning, strive to remember by name, as I recite them. For of the Law the books of Moses are the first five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And next, Joshua the son of Nave , and the book of Judges, including Ruth, counted as seventh. And of the other historical books, the first and second books of the Kings are among the Hebrews one book; also the third and fourth one book. And in like manner, the first and second of Chronicles are with them one book; and the first and second of Esdras are counted one. Esther is the twelfth book; and these are the Historical writings. But those which are written in verses are five, Job, and the book of Psalms, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which is the seventeenth book. And after these come the five Prophetic books: of the Twelve Prophets one book, of Isaiah one, of Jeremiah one, including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle ; then Ezekiel, and the Book of Daniel, the twenty-second of the Old Testament.  Note that Jeremiah includes Baruch, Lamentations, and the Letter of Jeremiah, and that Judges and Ruth are treated as one book. This appears to be in part to maintain the tradition that there are twenty-two books for the Old Testament.

St. Cyril continues (Cat. Lect. 4.36): Then of the New Testament there are the four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are mischievous. The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the last work of the disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul. But let all the rest be put aside in a secondary rank. Note that there is no mention of the book of Revelation.

The Council of Laodicea strictly forbids the reading of uncanonical works in its Canon 59, and Canon 60 gives a canonical list for both the Old Testament and the New Testament. For the Old Testament: These are all the books of Old Testament appointed to be read: 1, Genesis of the world; 2, The Exodus from Egypt; 3, Leviticus; 4, Numbers; 5, Deuteronomy; 6, Joshua, the son of Nun; 7, Judges, Ruth; 8, Esther; 9, Of the Kings, First and Second; 10, Of the Kings, Third and Fourth; 11, Chronicles, First and Second; 12, Esdras, First and Second; 13, The Book of Psalms; 14, The Proverbs of Solomon; 15, Ecclesiastes; 16, The Song of Songs; 17, Job; 18, The Twelve Prophets; 19, Isaiah; 20, Jeremiah, and Baruch, the Lamentations, and the Epistle; 21, Ezekiel; 22, Daniel. For the New Testament: And these are the books of the New Testament: Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; The Acts of the Apostles; Seven Catholic Epistles, to wit, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; Fourteen Epistles of Paul, one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, one to the Hebrews, two to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon. The authenticity of this Canon has sometimes been questioned, although most of the reasons for doing so are very indirect. Note, however, that this is exactly the same as St. Cyril's list.

The most important early lists, however, are the Athanasian and the Damasine lists. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, attempting to deal with the proliferation of books, in 367 sent out a Paschal Letter, saying (Letter 39), it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance. Here we have clear identification of the canon as canon, both by name and by function, and a claim that it is handed down and accredited as Divine.

He then gives the following list for the Old Testament: The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Note again the explicit inclusion of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah in Jeremiah; and there is no Esther, although, as will be seen, he will mention it.

Then Athanasius gives a list for the New Testament: These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John

It is most probable that these were simply the books used for church-reading in Alexandria, although it is barely possible that St. Athanasius's list was influenced by those of St. Cyril or the Council of Laodicea, or that they are all from an independent list that was almost identical (except that St. Athanasius has Revelation and doesn't have Esther). St. Athanasius goes on further, however, to identify works that are not part of this canon but that are used catechetically for new Christians: The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. The latter two are the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas. Athanasius's comments on these books suggest one likely source for discrepancies in canons; there were works that had a strictly canonical function as 'read in church', but there were also works that were 'read in church' in a looser sense as part of Christian catechesis and devotion. It is, of course, likely (given the lists we have) that the line between these in practice was not the same everywhere. This is why, in part, it is not as important as one would expect whether a book is merely not included (as opposed to explicitly rejected) in these early canon lists; all this indicates is that at the local church for which the list applies, it was not read as part of the liturgical worship of the Church. It still may have been used as an authoritative standard for a secondary function like catechesis, however. Or it may be that that particular church did not have that particular work in its local traditions while others elsewhere did. Eusebius suggests something like these possibilities with regard to the Shepherd of Hermas; in discussing the books of the canon, he says (Hist 3.3), "it should be observed that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and I have found that some of the most ancient writers used it." On the other side, admission of a book onto a canonical list may be due to using a looser sense of what it meant for a book to be read authoritatively in church, whereas someone using a stricter, more technical understanding might rule it out, even though the book was actually used in another capacity.

In 381, the First Council of Constantinople finished, and shortly afterward there was a dispute over the succession to the see of Constantinople. Because of this a new council was called in 382, the Council of Rome, under Pope St. Damasus I. One of the things the Council Fathers did was to explicitly lay down a canon of Scripture. First the Old Testament: The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis one book, Exodus one book, Leviticus one book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Josue Nave one book, Judges one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon two books, Psalms one book, Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book, likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus one book. Likewise the order of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Cinoth, that is, with his Lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Amos one book, Micheas one book, Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habacuc one book, Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book. Likewise the order of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books, Esther one book, Judith one book, Machabees two books. When speaking of the 'two books of Ezra' there is always some ambiguity as to whether the first book of Ezra is supposed to be Ezra and second book of Ezra Nehemiah, or if Nehemiah is treated as part of Ezra and then the first book of Ezra is 1 Esdras (also known as Esdras A or Greek Ezra r 3 Esdras) and the the second book is Ezra-Nehemiah. However, both the Septuagint and the Old Latin Bibles have 1 Esdras, so it is the latter that is most likely here. (In the later Vulgate translation by St. Jerome, 1 Esdras is classified as apocryphal.)

 Then the New Testament: Of the Gospels, according to Matthew one book, according to Mark one book, according to Luke one book, according to John one book. The Epistles of Paul the Apostle in number fourteen. To the Romans one, to the Corinthians two, to the Ephesians one, to the Thessalonians two, to the Galatians one, to the Philippians one, to the Colossians one, to Timothy two, to Titus one, to Philemon one, to the Hebrews one. Likewise the Apocalypse of John, one book. And the Acts of the Apostles one book. Likewise the canonical epistles in number seven. Of Peter the Apostle two epistles, of James the Apostle one epistle, of John the Apostle one epistle, of another John, the presbyter, two epistles, of Jude the Zealot the Apostle one epistle.

The Damasine List will echo throughout the West; we find a version of it put forward by the Council of Hippo in 393, and then confirmed by the Third Council of Carthage in 397. Carthage also explicitly makes the matter one of 'reading in church', in particular, reading under the title of divine scriptures; it ends its lists with a request for confirmation from the 'Church over sea', i.e., Rome, and comments that it is still acceptable to read the stories of the martyrs in church on their appropriate feastdays (i.e., despite their not being canonical books).

St. Augustine discusses the canon explicitly in his work on Christian doctrine, and recognizes that there are books of ambiguous status. To this end he gives a set of guidelines for assessing what the interpreter of sacred Scripture needs to prioritize among the canonical books (Doctr. Chr. 2.8):

(1) Prefer those books that are received by all the churches to those which some do not receive.

(2) Among those not received by all, prefer those received by the greater number and those of greater authority (i.e., those that are apostolic).

(3) In the unlikely result that the greater number and the greater authority do not give the same result, treat these as equal.

Note that this is a set of rules for applying to the canon. Augustine goes on to give the books he regards as included in this set. There are books that together give a regular, connected narrative: the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two books of Chronicles. Then there are books that are narrative but outside this continuous order: Job, Tobit, Esther, Judith, two books of Maccabees, and two books of Ezra. (He takes Ezra and Nehemiah to be more like a sequel than like a continuation of the regular history.) There are also prophetic books in a broad sense, which include the Psalms, the three books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs), the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus or Sirach. He says of these latter two that they have attained recognition as being authoritative. These are followed by the Prophets in a strict sense: one book of the Twelve and the four major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. Then for the New Testament there are all the standard books recognized today.

Augustine, of course, would be immensely influential on those later discussing the matter, but he is not the only one. St. Jerome, in his prologue to Kings, gives the tradition of twenty-two books for the Old Testament, divided according to Law, Prophets, and Hagiography or Writings. He then assigns to the apocrypha, outside the canon, the books of Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Tobit, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the books of Maccabees.

The culmination of these lists in the West, spurred on by new disputes between Catholics and Protestants on the role of sacred Scripture, is that of the Council of Trent in 1546, which says {{}}, 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. And then it gives the full list of the books: 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

The Council then ends with an anathema: 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. With the authority of Trent, the lists in the West solidify completely, with Catholics thereafter consistently following the Tridentine list and Protestants rejecting it in favor of an Old Testament along the lines of 'the twenty-two', although dividing them differently.

The disputes that spurred Trent's explicit statement of the canon filtrated a little more slowly into the East, but in 1672 dispute over the relation between Orthodoxy and Reformed Protestantism led to Dositheos, Patriarch of Jerusalem. As one of the points of dispute between Catholics and Protestants was the canon of Scripture, and Cyril Lucaris, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was thought to have taken up the Protestant side on this, Question 3 of the Confession of Dositheos addresses the dispute.  Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture all those which Cyril collected from the Synod of Laodicea, and enumerated, adding thereto those which he foolishly, and ignorantly, or rather maliciously called Apocrypha; to wit, “The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon,” “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which hath delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, hath undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seemeth that not always have all been by all reckoned with the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, as well by Synods, as by how many of the most ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church; all of which we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture. This is the most important and influential canonical listing in the East in modern times; it is not, however, the only one, particularly as some in the Eastern churches, allergic to anything Latin, have protested the Confession's occasional concurrence in the responses of the Latin Church to Protestantism in other matters. Another influential list is that found in St. Philaret of Moscow's Longer Catechism; it follows the list of St. Cyril of Jerusalem for the Old Testament and the list of St. Athanasius for the New Testament, and also follows Athanasius in recognizing that there are other books (Sirach is specifically named) that are not included in the canon but are used to teach those who are to be admitted to the Church.

Besides coarse-grained considerations at the level of books, there have occasionally been discussions of the canonical status of smaller passages: the Additions to Esther, the Additions to Daniel, the ending of Mark, the story of the adulteress in John 8, the Johannine Comma, and so forth. It is not necessary for our purposes to consider these here.


Pr.3.5 On the Character of Scripture as a Whole of Parts

If we turn to the question of the adequacy and excellence of Scripture as read in the churches for teaching us, guiding us, and aiding us to salvation, we must consider something of how the parts work together to contribute to the purpose of the whole. This may be done at the general level, in terms of the major division of sacred Scripture into the Old Testament and the New Testament, or it may be done in terms of the particular books, by considering them either as contributing an adequate material, or as contributing an adequate form, or as coming together in an adequate union of matter and form. All of these can be done in many ways, for Scripture is a rich treasury; it is not necessary here to be exhaustive.

One of the earliest spurs to explicit discussion of the canon of Scripture was the rise of the Marcionite heresy in the second century, attributed to Marcion of Sinope. The Marcionites rejected the Old Testament entirely and created a bowdlerized version of the New Testament divided into the Evangelikon (which seems to have consisted in a revised version of Luke) and the Apostolikon (consisting of letters that Marcion accepted as genuinely Pauline: Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, Romans, 1&2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon, Laodiceans, which may or may not be the same as Ephesians, and possibly a letter to the Alexandrians, although this is uncertain). The Church rejected this wholly: the Old Testament is an essential part of sacred Scripture, without which we cannot do. This might seem initially puzzling; surely everything necessary for salvation can be found in the New Testament? Perhaps, but there is a difference between saying this and saying that everything in the New Testament can be properly understood without any regard for the Old Testament. St. Augustine rightly says (Con. Faust 12.5) that we have a Christ true and truthful, foretold by the prophets, preached by the apostles, who in innumerable places refer to the testimonies of the law and the prophets in support of their preaching. As the Creed says, Christ's Passion and Resurrection was according to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets.

The point is developed at greater length by Augustine in his argument against the Manichaean Faustus; Faustus had claimed that any heathen poet would be more suitable than the Hebrew scriptures for leading Gentiles to believe Christ. To this Augustine responds (Contr. Faust. 13.2), He forgets that none of these are read in the churches, whereas the voice of the Hebrew prophets, sounding everywhere, draws swarms of people to Christianity. When it is so evident that men are everywhere led to Christ by the Hebrew prophets, it is great absurdity to say that those prophets are not suitable for the Gentiles. More seriously, Augustine points out, we only even have the concept and name of 'Christ', i.e., the Greek translation for 'Anointed One', from the Jews; the true Christ was foretold not by a sibyl in a cave but (Contr. Faust. 13.6)  by a nation in a distinct kingdom established for this purpose, that there those things might be figuratively predicted of Christ which are now in reality fulfilled, and the prophets might foretell in writing what the apostles now exhibit in their preaching. Thus we may say it is the spiritual sense most of all that establishes the necessity of the Old Testament, because in it we recognize the whole nation of Israel as preparing for and teaching about Christ, so that (Contr. Faust. 13.15) the whole state was one great prophet, with its king and priest symbolically anointed.

Besides considering the adequacy and excellence of the canon at a general level, we can also consider it at the level of the books, either materially or formally. Materially, the canon provides a thorough coverage of salvation history. It has often been noted that we have both God at the beginning of all things (Genesis) and God at the end of all things (Revelation). In between, we find the formation of the People of God through the divine election of the People of Israel "that in them the church might be gradually prepared for that great light [of the Savior of the world]...; that they might be a typical nation" (that is, a nation prefiguring Christ), "and that in them God [might] shadow forth and teach as under a veil all future glorious things of the gospel" (Jonathan Edwards, Miscellanies 359). This nation is formed in the five books of the Torah and are brought into the land promised for them and in which they would be further developed in Joshua as a sequel to the Torah. From Joshua to the captivity in Babylon we have, as noted by Josephus and by Augustine, a detailed history of the rise and fall of this nation as kingdoms. We likewise have something of the return from Babylon in Ezra and Nehemiah and the Hellenistic period in 1 Maccabees. But we have not only history; we have something of their culture and its wisdom, in their prophetic books, in their wisdom literature (Psalms, the books of Solomon, Job, Sirach, Wisdom), and in their books concerned with heroic legends (Ruth, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Daniel, 2 Maccabees). Rarely is any national literature so compact yet so rich, so unified yet so diverse, as we have for the Chosen People, and therefore we have as full an account of the preparation for the Church as one could reasonably wish, and, more than that, a rich vocabulary of word and image for understanding the things of God. Those who like to complain sometimes protest the notion of God picking out one people as especially chosen, but there is no mystery here; it is how we are provided with a unified way of thinking and speaking of Him adequately. Can we imagine that any arbitrary set of words or associations can be sufficient for speaking of divine things? It is hardly possible. God then gave all people a specialized dictionary and grammar, which is the history and culture of the Jewish nation, and that it might be seen and understood as such, condensed it into a compendium.

The New Testament then gives us the selection from this people of God's Anointed, His Christ, and the formation of the Church around Him. Thus the Church has an account of the Life of Christ in the Gospels, and of the formation of the Church in the book of Acts, which is explicitly a sequel to one of the Gospels, and in the epistles, which give the standing principles of the Church, and we find in Revelation a look toward the final destiny of the Church. What can be more valuable for the Church to be read publicly in church than the preparation of the Church, and the accounts of the Head of the Church, and the origin, principles, and destiny of the Church?

St. Bonaventure notes (Brev., pr.2) that divine providence in the universe is like a beautifully composed poem in which every mind may discover, through the succession of events, the diversity, multiplicity, and justice, the order, rectitude, and beauty, of the countless divine decrees that proceed from God's wisdom ruling the universe, but just as a poem is not fully appreciated without having some understanding of the whole, so too divine providence is not fully appreciated without some understanding of the whole. The universe is vast, however, and its history is vast, so the Holy Spirit has given us the book of the Scriptures, whose length corresponds to the whole duration of God's governing action in the universe.

We may also consider the adequacy and excellence of the canon formally, in terms of the modes of discourse it uses. It is possible to imagine a holy writing that is purely a book of hymns, or that is purely a collection of prophetic recitations; the sacred Scripture received by and read in the churches is not such a book, nor can it be. The purpose of Scripture is to dispose us to our salvation and union with God; as a dispositive cause, it must shape us, so to speak, in a way suitable for salvation and union with God. But who can consider human beings and think that one and only one way of doing this will be adequate? Thus sacred Scripture uses many modes of discourse, both to reach different aspects of the human soul in one person and to appeal to those who emphasize different aspects. For instance, St. Bonaventure says (Brev., pr.5), were a man to remain unmoved by a command or a prohibition, he might perhaps be moved by a concrete example; were this to fail, he might be moved by the favors shown him; were this again to fail, he might be moved by wise admonitions, trustworthy promises, or terrifying threats, and thus be stirred, if not in one way then in another, to devotion and praise of God; thereby obtaining the grace that would guide him in the practice of virtue.

In his commentary on the Psalms, Aquinas associates different modes of discourse with different sets of books in the canon. Of course, he knows that the different modes are found throughout, but some kinds of writing will especially make use of a particular mode of discourse. The narrative mode of discourse, he says, is found in the historical books; the admonitory, exhortative, and preceptive modes are found in the law, the prophets, and the books of Solomon; the disputative modes are found in the book of Job and the epistles of the Apostles; and the deprecative and laudative modes are found in the Psalms.

The canon's adequacy and excellence can also be considered holistically, by putting together the material and formal, as a depiction of salvific providence. There are many ways in which this can be done, but a useful example is the sermon "Hic Est Liber", usually and probably correctly attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. This attempts to give a unified account of the books of the Bible and how they interlink. There is no implication that the particular places attributed to each book are exhaustive, nor is it necessary to take the scheme as being in every way the best scheme. But it will suffice for our purpose here, which is to show that one can indeed see Scripture, as a whole of parts, to be well-suited for its purpose. The Old Testament is schematized by the sermon in something like the following way.


I. THE OLD TESTAMENT has a disposition or ordering to eternal life by command or mandate,

A. where the command/mandate is royal/coactive decree

 1. and is directly proposed by law [THE LAW],

a. either private law: Genesis

 b. or public law, which in this case involves a mediator,

 1. in which the legislator directs the mediator

a. on precepts for equity of judgment: Exodus

b. on sacraments for public worship: Leviticus

c. on offices for public administration: Numbers

2. or in which the mediator directs the people: Deuteronomy,

2. or else is proposed indirectly, as through a herald or ambassador [THE PROPHETS],

a. either showing the goodness of the king to incline to observance of laws,

1. which may be done by showing the result of legacy: Joshua

2. or by showing the destruction of foes: Judges

3. or by exalting the people,

a. either individually: Ruth

b. or as a whole: The Books of Kings (1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings),

 b. or by putting forward executive edicts for observance of laws,

1. which may be general

a. and primarily encourage with promise of benefits: Isaiah

b. or primarily deter by threat of punishment: Jeremiah

c. or primarily argue by condemnation of sin: Ezekiel,

2. or particular, to various people: The Minor Prophets;

B. or the command/mandate is paternal admonition [THE WRITINGS]

 1. in which either virtue is taught by deed,

a. whether instructing about the future by warning: Daniel 

b. describing the past for examples of virtue

1. such as justice: Paralipomena (1&2 Chronicles),

2. or temperance: Judith,

3. or fortitude,

a. whether in fighting: Maccabees

b. or in enduring: Tobit

4. or prudence,

a. whether in avoiding dangers: Ezra

b. or in repelling the violent: Esther,

2. or virtue is taught by word,

a. either by asking for gift of wisdom, as in prayer: Psalms

b. or by teaching wisdom,

1. which involves showing how to uncover error: Job

2. and showing how not to err,

a. whether by commending wisdom: Wisdom

b. or by giving precepts of wisdom 

1. about political/social virtues: Proverbs

2. or purgative/ascetic virtues: Ecclesiastes

3. or perfective virtues: Song of Songs,

3. or virtue is taught by both word and deed: Sirach.  

 

There are a few things to say about this. First, some books are probably in the scheme simply by assumption; Lamentations and Baruch, for instance, are almost certainly being taken as included under the name Jeremiah, for instance, and 2 Maccabees is likely included under 1 Maccabees. Ezra certainly includes both Ezra and Nehemiah. All of these contractions are quite common historically, although they are not always guaranteed to be assumed. Second, there is no sense here that this is the only way to schematize the books. For instance, the sermon gives an alternative scheme for the four Major Prophets, not included above, in which they are associated with Christological mysteries: Isaiah with the mystery of the Incarnation, Jeremiah with the mystery of the Passion, Ezekiel with the mystery of the Resurrection, and Daniel with the mystery of the Divinity of Christ. This allows the author to represent them as anticipatory Gospels linking the Old Testament and the New Testament, since the Gospels in the New Testament can be schematized this way, as well. It is, however, a different scheme entirely from the main one. (In this he follows and builds upon St. Jerome, whose prologues to his translations are a major influences in some of the attributions given in the sermon, and who in the prologue to Isaiah says that it is being spoken not only by a prophet, but by an evangelist. For thus all the mysteries of Christ and the Church are pursued to clarity, so that you would not think them to be prophesied of the future, but they covered the history of things past.)

Third, it is clear that the primary issue here is not content, although that comes up indirectly, but to show that in using law to direct people to glory, God has covered the entire universe of legal guidance, several levels deep. Thus the canon of the Old Testament here is complete, in the sense that it provides a picture in which God has overlooked nothing in order to guide His people to abundant life by law; all the books taken together completely picture God's salvific providence by means of law. We will see the same thing with the New Testament and God's salvific providence by means of grace.

II. THE NEW TESTAMENT has a disposition or ordering to eternal life by gifts of grace,

A. whose origin is Christ [GOSPELS],

1. who has both divine nature: John

2. and a human nature

a. with royal dignity: Matthew,

b. with prophetic dignity: Mark ,

c. and with priestly dignity: Luke

B. and which has a power: The Pauline Epistles

C. which is carried out in the history of the Church

1. from its beginning: Acts,

2. through its advance: The Canonical Epistles (James, 1&2 Peter, 1&2&3 John, Jude),

3. to its end: Apocalypse.  


The sermon gives an alternative scheme for the four Gospels, to indicate a parallel between the Major Prophets in the Old Testament and the Gospels in New, and linking the two together. In this alternative scheme, four Christological mysteries are associated with the books: the Divinity of Christ with John, the mystery of the Incarnation with Matthew, the mystery of the Resurrection with Mark, and the mystery of the Passion with Luke.

While the sermon "Hic est liber" does not get any more specific about either the Pauline epistles or the canonical (catholic) epistles, St. Thomas gives us a clear scheme for the Pauline epistles, at least, in several of his prologues to his commentaries on them, which we might combine as follows.

II. B. The Pauline Epistles convey teaching about the grace that unites the Church into the Body of Christ,

1. which flows from Christ its Head: Hebrews

2. through the principal members,

a.  whether spiritual,

 1. insofar as they establish, preserve, and govern the unity of the Body through the structure of the Church: 1 Timothy,

2. or resist persecution even unto martyrdom: 2 Timothy,

3. or defend against heretics: Titus,

b. or temporal: Philemon

3. to extend into and constitute the whole Mystical Body sacramentally,

a. where it can be considered in itself: Romans;

b. or as it is found in the sacraments themselves,

1. according to their nature: 1 Corinthians,

2. the dignity of their minister: 2 Corinthians,

3. and as excluding other, superfluous sacraments: Galatians;

 c. or in its effect of unifying the Church,

1. which it does by establishing the unity itself: Ephesians,

2. by confirming and advancing it: Philippians,

3. and by defending it,

a. both from error: Colossians

b. and from persecution,

1. whether existing: 1 Thessalonians

2. or to come: 2 Thessalonians.

 

From these we can therefore see that the New Testament provides us a complete picture of God's providence of grace in the Church, from the Church's origin in Christ, through its expression in the Body of Christ, to its destiny as the Bride of Christ. And together with the Old Testament we can again see the truth of Newman's claim (Disc. 17), The great truths of Revelation are all connected together and form a whole.

Particular considerations of questions concerning Scripture, Tradition, or the Church can be handled in their appropriate places; this suffices for a preliminary understanding of theology in the sense of sacred doctrine, both its general nature and its limits. As the purpose of sacred doctrine is to hand down a rightful study of God, it is appropriate to discuss what can be well-thought of God insofar as all other things come from Him and insofar as all things return to Him, first by nature through the intellect and will, and second by grace through Christ Jesus. The first consideration with respect to what can be well-thought of God insofar as all other things come from Him is the way in which God is known to be a precondition of all else, and to this we will turn.


____

* See Timothy Binkley, "On the Truth and Probity of Metaphor," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (Winter 1974) 171-180 for a much more reasonable discussion of this than has usually been found in recent philosophy of language. 

** Jean Baptist Cardinal Franzelin, S. J., On Divine Tradition, Grant, tr., Sensus Traditionis Press (2016)

*** See William Horbury, "The Wisdom of Solomon in the Muratorian Fragment," The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1 (April 1994) 149-159 for a discussion of this.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.