Friday, September 26, 2008

Bellicosio Canonics

I realize Turretinfan is engaged in an ongoing debate with Matthew Bellisario, and commentary from the audience is restricted to the end - on the debate blog - but this just begs for an immediate response:

Fist of all Tradition does not produce any new content in regards to the Word of God. So there is no need to even entertain that part of your question.

That depends on your POV. Dogmatically, see Mary, Assumption of...there is no biblical evidence for this dogma. It comes exclusively from "tradition." Ergo, tradition does, as a matter of dogma, produce new content in regards to the Word of God. Is the documentation for this tradition written or oral? If written, why isn't it Scripture?

If you mean with respect to the canon of Scripture, rather than answering the question, Mr. Bellisario simply assumes what he needs to prove, viz. by saying:

I don't know how you have determined that from my writings up to this point. The Church faithfully gives us the complete Word of God in the means and methods that God chose to use, which includes Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Church.
If the Church gives you the complete canon of Scripture, yet you believe dogmas not found in Scripture, indeed which come only from Sacred Tradition, then they can't be found in the canon of Scripture. Ergo, they are not part of the canon of Scripture. So now one has to answer why these teachings are not canonized, especially if they are truly of Apostolic origin.

As far as the Council of Trent goes, it merely represented the universal teaching of the Church on the Biblical Canon up to that point, but declaring it infallibly. You bring up the Latin translation which has nothing to do with Biblical Canon, so I do not understand your attempt to besmirch it here in your argument.

Here is what TF had stated:

On the other hand, the canon appears to pose some interesting problems for your counterplan of papist tradition. Although your rebuttal claims, “The universal Church guided by the Holy Spirit has determined the Canon as well as the full Revelation of God,” you must be aware of the fact that there are several glaring problems with you claim. After all, there is some kind of definition of the Canon provided by Trent, but Trent at the same time endorsed as “authentic” the “old Latin Vulgate” of the day – a version riddled with errors.

I guess we should spell this out for Mr. Bellisario, following his own argumentation:

1. You have claimed that the canon was determined infallibily by Trent.

2. Trent also says:
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.
3. In your answer, which simply repeats your previous assertions, have also claimed that Trent is declaring what the Church has always believed. Fair enough.

4. But the Vulgate contains errors. This is no great secret.

5. So, what TF is asking you, implicitly, is how you can acknowledge the decree concerning the canon's content on the one hand yet deny the Vulgate on the other. In addition, your appeal to Trent, following the plain meaning of the language, implicates the Roman Catholic church in infallibly declaring that a particular text, a text which contains errors, is the only authentic version of the Bible - not the autographa, rather it's the Latin the Vulgate and, therefore, its errors. This is the Roman Catholic version of King James Onlyism.

6. You have also claimed this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

7. Therefore, TF's opponent believes the Spirit of God worked to guide the Roman Church into validating an error laden text as the only authentic text, and that infallibly. So, the only correct version of the Bible is the Vulgate. It contains errors, so it cannot be said to be inerrant. Yet the decision of Trent is said to be infallible and the work of God.

Think about that. As TF stated:
The promulgation of the Nova Vulgata by John Paul II seems to confirm the fact that the Old Latin Vulgate, endorsed by Trent as authentic, was not actually as good as the Latin could get. Even the Nova Vulgata has problems that should be addressed, and the sorry tale of the Clementine Vulgate just demonstrates the great futility of Rome attempting to define the content of Scripture at any detailed level.
Trent infallibly defined the Canon and agreed with the Church, her writings and her councils up to that point.

1. Trent's canon is at variance with the writings of a number of the writings of the Church, including those of none other than Gregory the Great and Cardinal Cajetan and others (see below). Are we to believe that they did not know and believe in the correct canon of Scripture?
2. How did the Church muddle along without Trent?
3. How can one hold the Reformers be held responsible for rejecting books that ecumenical councils had not agreed upon up to that point?

The Councils of Hippo 393, and Carthage 397 and 419 for example justified and authorized the Deuterocanonicals for use as Sacred Scripture.
None of which were ecumenical. They express the opinion of a region, not the opinion of the whole church. Mr. Bellisario has moved from the church universal to the church regional. In addition, Carthage disagrees with Trent.

He continues:
Even the Protestant scholar Bruce Metzger admits that the early Christians regarded the Deuterocanonicals as being Scripture.

Metzger (2001) points out in his notes from the RSV the following:

"During the early Christian centuries most Greek and Latin Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertulian, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian (none of whom knew any Hebrew), quoted passages from the Apocrypha as "Scripture," "divine Scripture," "inspired," and the like. In this period only an occasional Father made an effort to learn the limits of the Palestinian Jewish canon (as Melito of Sardis), or to distinguish between the Hebrew text of Daniel and the addition of the story of Susanna in the Greek version (as Africanus)."

Note the bait and switch...the argument over the canon has now moved from the content of the canon itself to what is and is not "Scripture." Yet Scripture is a broader category than "canon." Further, the category of the DC does not select for any particular list.

Mr. Bellisario is appealing to Metzger. Okay, let's go to Metzger:

“The early Christian Church, which began within the bosom of Palestinian Judaism, received her first Scriptures (the books of the Old Testament) from the Jewish synagogue. Since, however, the Gentile converts to Christianity could not read Hebrew, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint), which many Jews had also come to use, was widely employed by the Church. Because of the antagonism which developed between the Synagogue and the Church, the Jews abandoned the use of the Greek Septuagint, and this circulated henceforth solely among the Christians. Almost the only manuscript copies of the Septuagint which have come down to us today were written by Christian scribes,” B. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (Oxford 1977), 175.

In the first place, the number of Apocryphal books is not identical in all copies of the Septuagint. This circumstance suggests that there was no fixed canon at Alexandria which included all of these peripheral books. In the second place, the manuscripts of the Septuagint which contain these disputed books were all copied by Christian scribes, and therefore cannot be used as indisputable proof that the *Jewish* canon included all the books in question. In the third place, though Philo, the greatest of the Jewish Hellenists in Alexandria, knew of the existence of the Apocrypha, he never once quoted from them, much less used them for the proof of doctrine, as he habitually uses most of the books of the Hebrew canon. It is extremely difficult, therefore, to believe that the Alexandrian Jews received these books as authoritative in the same sense as they received the Law and the Prophets,” ibid. 176-77.

“The question remains, however, how such books came to stand so closely associated with the canonical books as they do in the manuscripts of the Septuagint. In attempting to find at least a partial answer to this problem, it should not be overlooked that the change in production of manuscripts from the scroll-form to the codex or leaf-form must have had an important part to play in the ascription of authority to certain books on the periphery of the canon,” ibid. 177.

“The prevailing custom among the Jews was the production of separate volumes for each part of the Hebrew canon…When the codex or leaf-form of book production was adopted, however, it became possible for the first time to include a great number of separate books within the same two covers…For whatever reason the change was instituted, it now became possible for canonical and Apocryphal books to be brought into close physical juxtaposition. Books which heretofore had never been regarded by the Jews as having any more than a certain edifying significance were now placed by Christian scribes in one codex side by side with the acknowledged books of the Hebrew canon. Thus it would happen that what was first a matter of convenience in making such books of secondary status available among Christians became a factor in giving the impression that all of the books within such a codex were to be regarded as authoritative. Furthermore, as the number of Gentile Christians grew, almost none of whom had exact knowledge of the extent of the original Hebrew canon, it became more and more natural for quotations to be made indiscriminately from all the books included with the one Greek codex,” ibid. 177-78.

“From the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament an Old Latin Version was made, which of course also contained the Apocryphal books among the canonical books. It is not strange, therefore, that Greek and Latin Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyprian (none of whom knew any Hebrew), quote the Apocrypha with the same formulas of citation as they use when referring to the books of the Old Testament. The small number of Fathers, however, who either had some personal knowledge of Hebrew (e.g. Origen and Jerome) or had made an effort to learn what the limits of the Jewish canon were (e.g. Melito of Sardis) were usually careful not to attribute canonicity to the Apocrypha books, though recognizing that they contain edifying material suitable for Christians to read,” ibid. 178.

“Whether it was owing to the influence of Origen or for some other reason, from the fourth century onward the Greek Fathers made fewer and fewer references to the Apocrypha as inspired. Theologians of the Eastern Church, such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilochius, drew up formal lists of the Old Treatment Scriptures in which the Apocrypha do not appear,” ibid. 178-79.

“Subsequent to Jerome’s time and down to the period of the Reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon. Such a judgment, for example, was reiterated on the very eve of the Reformation by Cardinal Ximenes in the preface of the magnificent Complutensian Polyglot edition of the Bible which he edited (1514-17). Moreover, the earliest Latin version of the Bible in modern times, made from the original languages by the scholarly Dominican, Sanctes Pagnini, and published at Lyons in 1528, with commendatory letters from Pope Adrian VI and Pope Clement VII, sharply separates the text of the canonical books from the text of the Apocryphal books…Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s opponent, at Augsburg in 1518, gave unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to Pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome’s separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful,” 180.

It was not easy for all Roman Catholic scholars to acquiesce to the unequivocal pronouncement of full canonicity which the Council of Trent made regarding books which, for so long a time and by such high authorities even in the Roman Church (see above, p180), had been pronounced inferior. Yet, despite more than one attempt by noted Catholic scholars to reopen the question, this expanded form of the Bible has remained the Scriptural authority of the Roman Church,” ibid. 190).

“The position of Eastern Orthodox Churches regarding the canon of the Old Testament is not at all clear. On the one hand, since the Septuagint version of the Old Testament was used throughout the Byzantine period, it is natural that Greek theologians such as Andrew of Crete, Germanus, Theodore the Studite, and Theophylact of Bulgaria, should refer indiscriminately to Apocrypha and canonical books alike. Furthermore, certain Apocrypha are quoted as authoritative at the Seventh Ecumenical Council held at Nicaea in 787 and at the Council convened by Basil at Constantinople in 869. On the other hand, writers who raise the issue regarding the limits of the canon, such as John of Damascus and Nicephorus, express views which coincide with those of the great Athanasius, who adhered to the Hebrew canon,” ibid. 192-93.

“What was perhaps the most important synod in the history of the Eastern Church was convened at Jerusalem in 1672…The Synod expressly designated the books of Wisdom, Judith, Tobit, Bel and the Dragon, Maccabees (four books), and Ecclesiasticus as canonical,” ibid. 193-94.

“The position of the Russian Orthodox Church as regards the Apocrypha appears to have changed during the centuries. During the Middle Ages Apocryphal books of both the Old and the New Testament exerted a widespread influence in Slavic lands. In subsequent centuries Constantinople’s leadershp gave way to the Holy Synod ruling from St. Petersburg, whose members were in sympathy with the position of the Reformers. Through a similar influence emanating from the great universities of Kiev, Moscow, Petersburg, and Kazan, the Russian Church became united in its rejection of the Apocrypha. For example, the Longer Catechism drawn up by the Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and approved by the Most Holy Governing Synod (Moscow, 1839) expressly omits the Apocrypha from the enumeration of the books of the Old Testament on the ground that ‘they do not exist in Hebrew’,” ibid. 194.

“As a result, there appears to be no unanimity on this subject of the canon in the Greek Orthodox Church today. Catechisms directly at variance with each other on this subject have received the Imprimatur of Greek Ecclesiastical authorities, and the Greek clergy may hold and teach what they please about it,” ibid. 195.
Mr. Bellisario continues:
In fact all of the ancient churches are unanimous with the acceptance of the Deuterocanonical books, which you haphazardly reject.
Not all of them agree with you either, and, further, we do not "haphazardly" reject the DC's. We do so on a principled basis. For example, our theory of inspiration does not extend to pious frauds. It does you no favors in a debate to make such statements.

And, by the way, readers should know that the actual question from TF was (emphasis mine):

But even setting aside the issue of the detailed level of the canon (and – after all – the difference between the Tridentine canon and the Reformed canon is not very large), and further setting aside the issue of how on earth the New Testament church would have any kind of authority over the already-existing canon of the Old Testament, there is the problem of the canon of oral tradition (the previously discussed category of HMDT) and living authoritative interpretation (the previously discussed category of IAT).

If difficulty in identifying the canon is supposed to be a problem for those who follow Sola Scriptura as defined by the WCF, it would seem that if no canon of HMDT and IAT can be found then a doubly-large problem exists for your counterplan.

Indeed, that is the question I hereby pose to you: where is the counterplan’s canon, not simply the canon of Scripture, but the canons of the HMDT (which one would presume is a fixed quantity) and the IAT (to date, since, apparently in your view IAT can produce new content that is also the “Word of God”)?

So, here's my question to the readers of this blog. Was this ever actually answered? Is simply saying, "The Church faithfully gives us the complete Word of God in the means and methods that God chose to use, which includes Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Church," an answer?


  1. Gene: Dogmatically, see Mary, Assumption of...there is no biblical evidence for this dogma. It comes exclusively from "tradition." Ergo, tradition does, as a matter of dogma, produce new content in regards to the Word of God. Is the documentation for this tradition written or oral? If written, why isn't it Scripture?

    Some Catholics today believe that all of their dogmas and doctrines can be found in Scripture (the "material sufficiency" view, contrasted with the "partim-partim" view), and further, there is a distinction as to whether they are found "explicitly" or "implicitly." With regard to this particular dogma, some will point to Revelation 12 as providing "implicit" biblical source/confirmation.

  2. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox often expect Protestants to provide a detailed argument for their specific 66-book canon of scripture, yet don’t provide such detailed argumentation for a specific infallible church and a specific extra-Biblical tradition. They suggest that appealing to “the Apocrypha”, “the church”, “church infallibility”, “tradition”, or some other such vague category is sufficient.

    Is it sufficient to say that Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy both believe in an infallible church or both believe in tradition, for example? No, since they define such concepts so differently, even to the point of separating from each other and arguing with each other to a high degree for hundreds of years. They disagree about the papacy, which councils are ecumenical, which portions of the councils they agree on are valid (canon 28 of Chalcedon, for example), which doctrines are contained in extra-Biblical tradition, etc. Just as it’s not enough to say that Catholics and Orthodox agree with each other, since they both believe in an infallible church, it’s not enough to claim agreement with a church father just because that father believed in the canonicity of one or more Apocryphal books, believed in some type of infallible church, believed in some type of extra-Biblical tradition, etc.

    If a Protestant would claim that he agrees with Polycarp about the New Testament canon, since Polycarp refers to part of the New Testament as scripture and therefore must have had some sort of New Testament canon, it would be objected that agreement with Polycarp that there is a New Testament canon isn’t the same as agreeing with him about the contents of that canon. Just as it’s not sufficient for Protestants to cite vague agreement with Polycarp about the existence of some type of New Testament canon, it’s also not sufficient for Catholics and Orthodox to cite vague agreement with a father or some other source. Tertullian believed in the canonicity of some Apocryphal books, but one of those was 1 Enoch, so saying that he accepted “the Apocrypha” isn’t enough if you’re a Catholic or Orthodox who rejects 1 Enoch.

    Protestants are expected to be specific. Nothing less than a highly detailed argument for the specific 66-book canon will do. Catholics and Orthodox often don’t hold themselves to the same standard.