When Was the Canon Fixed?

Whitaker deals with the following objection from the Romanists: any early church fathers who did not acknowledge the Deutero-canonical books (hereafter DC books) did so before the canon was fixed. After the canon was fixed, we do not have such liberty. Whitaker then asks this simple question: when was the canon of the Romanists fixed? The councils of Florence and Trent are modern (Whitaker, 63), and the council of Carthage was not a general council. If it is the Trullan council, Whitaker objects that “those canons are censurable in many respects, even in the opinion of the papists themselves” (63). The upshot is this: “Except this Trullan council, they have absolutely none at all. And this Trullan does not precisely affirm these books to be canonical, but only confirms the council of Carthage; which is of no consequence, since it also confirms the council of Laodicea, and the papists themselves deny all credit to the Trullan canons” (p. 63). Furthermore, and even more importantly, there were significant testimonies after the Trullan council rejecting the canonicity of the DC books. John of Damascus says that there are only 22 books. He explicitly excludes Wisdom and Sirach. Rabanus Maurus says also that there are only twenty-two books, and that Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees do not have authority, though they can be read for instruction (see De institutione clericorum, chapter 54). Hugo of St. Victor also says that these books are read, but are not in the canon (Prolog. Lib. I. de Sacram. c. 7 and again in Didascalia, bk. 4, c. 8). Richard of St. Victor says the exact same thing (Exception. bk. 2, c. 9). So, even though the Romanist canon was supposedly fixed at the Trullan Council, there were several church fathers who rejected that canon even afterwards, and yet were never disciplined for it. So why would it be problematic to do so today? See Whitaker, pp. 63-66 for fuller argumentation.



  1. paigebritton said,

    June 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    A little church timeline for those of us who do not carry it in our heads:

    Council of Laodicea: 363-364AD
    Council(s) of Carthage: 3rd, 4th, & 5th c.(esp. 397AD)
    Trullan Council: 692AD under Justinian II
    John of Damascus: c.646AD – 749
    Rabanus Maurus: c. 780 – 4 February 856
    Hugo of St. Victor: c. 1096 – 11 February 1141
    Richard of St. Victor: d.1173
    Council of Florence: 1442
    Council of Trent: 16th c. (1545-1563)

    (compliments of the staff research assistant)

  2. bsuden said,

    June 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Bryan, oh Bryan, if thou art a Bellarmine wannabe,
    where hast thou now gone?
    It would behoove thee to make a comment two or three
    once Whitaker has spoken.

    As for formal or material sufficiency,
    it’s a good thing it wasn’t perspicuity
    in that it ‘s always amusing to watch
    the usual suspects argue for why white is black.

  3. Richard said,

    June 22, 2011 at 5:01 am

    In The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible we find the following:

    The Old Testament of the early Church took different shapes in different regions as the diverse lists from Patristic times show. The majority of Christian writings from the second century, as well as manuscripts of the Bible from the fourth century onwards, made use of or contain a great number of Jewish sacred books, including those which were not admitted into the Hebrew canon. It was only after the Jews had defined their canon that the Church thought of closing its own Old Testament canon. But we are lacking information on the procedure adopted and the reasons given for the inclusion of this or that book in the canon. It is possible, nevertheless, to trace in a general way the evolution of the canon in the Church, both in the East and in the West.

    In the East from Origen’s time (c. 185-253) there was an attempt to conform Christian usage to the Hebrew canon of 24/22 books using various combinations and stratagems. Origen himself knew of the existence of numerous textual differences, which were often considerable, between the Hebrew and the Greek Bible. To this was added the problem of different listings of books. The attempt to conform to the Hebrew text of the Hebrew canon did not prevent Christian authors in the East from utilising in their writings books that were never admitted into the Hebrew canon, or from following the Septuagint text. The notion that the Hebrew canon should be preferred by Christians does not seem to have produced in the Eastern Church either a profound or long-lasting impression.

    In the West, the use of a larger collection of sacred books was common and was defended by Augustine. When it came to selecting books to be included in the canon, Augustine (354-430) based his judgement on the constant practice of the Church. At the beginning of the fifth century, councils adopted his position in drawing up the Old Testament canon. Although these councils were regional, the unanimity expressed in their lists represents Church usage in the West.

    As regards the textual differences between the Greek and the Hebrew Bible, Jerome based his translation on the Hebrew text. For the deuterocanonical books, he was generally content to correct the Old Latin (translation). From this time on, the Church in the West recognised a twofold biblical tradition: that of the Hebrew text for books of the Hebrew canon, and that of the Greek Bible for the other books, all in a Latin translation.

    Based on a time-honoured tradition, the Councils of Florence in 1442 and Trent in 1564 resolved for Catholics any doubts and uncertainties. Their list comprises 73 books, which were accepted as sacred and canonical because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, 46 for the Old Testament, 27 for the New. In this way the Catholic Church received its definitive canon. To determine this canon, it based itself on the Church’s constant usage. In adopting this canon, which is larger than the Hebrew, it has preserved an authentic memory of Christian origins, since, as we have seen, the more restricted Hebrew canon is later than the formation of the New Testament.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Richard, this account of the formation of the OT canon drives a truck through Jerome’s view, not to mention the authors quoted above. It makes it sound as if there was practical unanimity on the Romanist canon, when there was most certainly NOT unity on this issue, even after the Trullan council. In fact, the quotation adduced doesn’t really address any of the things in the post.

  5. paigebritton said,

    June 22, 2011 at 9:43 am

    It was only after the Jews had defined their canon that the Church thought of closing its own Old Testament canon.

    To determine this canon, it based itself on the Church’s constant usage. In adopting this canon, which is larger than the Hebrew, it has preserved an authentic memory of Christian origins, since, as we have seen, the more restricted Hebrew canon is later than the formation of the New Testament.

    Richard’s source is (if I have Googled it right) a Vatican document, which is why this bit ends with the positive swing towards the larger OT canon. We also see here the notion that the Church got to decide whether or not to close the OT canon, rather than receiving (and then formally listing) a set collection of inspired books. It’s true that the communication of that list of books became necessary in the face of challenges in those first post-apostolic centuries, but this necessity does not rule out the notion that Jesus and the apostles already had particular books in mind whenever they referenced “the Scriptures” or “Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (cf. Luke 24:44f.). So much for “preserving an authentic memory of Christian origins,” if Jesus & his followers were thinking in terms of the plain old Tanak.

    I have picked up from Sailhamer the understanding that there were different “Jewish Bibles” swirling around in the minds of groups in the 2nd Temple period. He points out that any “Bible” during this period would essentially be a mental construct, since the codex wasn’t in use yet; but still, people knew which books they were talking about, and what order they were in.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    June 22, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Thanks, Paige. Your answer was much better than mine. Also, your timeline was very helpful as well. :-)

  7. paigebritton said,

    June 22, 2011 at 10:54 am

    :) Thanks. (BTW, I didn’t write #5 to correct you, since your comment wasn’t there till I posted mine!)

  8. Cris Dickason said,

    June 22, 2011 at 11:52 am

    You ask, “when was it fixed?” – and I didn’t even know it was broken!

    (just couldn’t resist)

  9. Andrew McCallum said,

    June 22, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    The Council of Trullo was a purely Eastern affair. I could be wrong but I don’t think that the RC’s generally use this council to make the care for the Deuteros. They certainly do adduce Carthage as proof, but still admit that Carthage was not an ecumenical council and did not even begin to settle the matter.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia makes the admission that there were few in Medieval Church that gave the Deuteros unqualified canonical approval. For this reason it was necessary, says the CE, for the Council of Trent to authoritatively settle the matter which of course it did for Roman Catholics. The other curious admission from the CE is that the theologians of Trent did not spend any time examining the historical variations of acceptance/rejection of the Deuteros and did not bother to discuss matters of either content or authorship when making their decision.

    There is no question that Constance sided in favor of the Deuteros and certainly Constance was an ecumenical council from the RCC perspective. And yet there were still RC scholars like Cajetan who, writing after Constance, took Jerome’s position against according canonical status to these disputed texts.

    All very interesting…..

  10. Richard said,

    June 23, 2011 at 6:17 am

    @Lane: My point was twofold; (1) here we have a Catholic document saying that until the Councils of Florence in 1442 and Trent in 1564 there were doubts and uncertainties over the canon. Hence there was no settled upon canon within the Church, and a difference existed between East and West. (2) There is no mention of the Trullan Council in the Catholic apologetic.

    @Paige: I am glad that you are still enjoying Sailhamer, hope you manage to get to The Dead Sea scrolls and the origins of the Bible soon, it was this that – forgive my Americanism here – rocked my world!

  11. paigebritton said,

    June 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation, Richard. I’d like to read that. Sailhamer actually references it in The Meaning of the Pentateuch when he discusses different forms of the Hebrew Bible and the difference between the MT and the LXX. I will be interested to see what “rocked your world.”

  12. Dozie said,

    July 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    “When was the canon fixed?”

    I suppose the question really is about the “Protestant” canon; the Catholic canon is different from “Protestant” canon and Protestants generally do not accept the Catholic canon. Let’s not muddle things up.
    Therefore, from your point of view, the question properly is: “when was the Protestant canon fixed?” Any takers?

  13. TurretinFan said,

    July 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    You suppose incorrectly, Dozie. The question is “when did the canon close for those of the Roman communion.”

  14. Dozie said,

    July 10, 2011 at 8:47 am

    “The question is “when did the canon close for those of the Roman communion.”

    The question you should be concerned with, but scared to ask, is when did the Protestant canon close, if ever there was/is one. If you are interested in discussing the Catholic canon, I suppose a Catholic forum would be more appropriate.

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