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The necessity for the decree of Trent arose from two quarters. Within the fold of the Church there was some uncertainty produced by the opinion of Cajetan; and the sect of protestants which arose at this time rejected the deuterocanonical books. To make head, therefore, against the great apostasy and to make known to Catholics the absolute position of the Church, the Council of Trent, was opened on the 15th of December, 1545. The first deliberations of the Council were concerned with the question of Holy Scripture. An evidence of the views of the protestants on the Scripture may be learned from the following statement of Luther: That which does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter or Paul said it; on the contrary, that which announces Christ is apostolic, even though uttered by Judas, Annas, Herod or Pilate.

In the famous dispute of Leipsic in 1519, when John Eck invoked the authority of Maccabees to defend the doctrine of Purgatory, Luther made answer: There is no proof of Purgatory in any portion of sacred Scripture, which can enter into the argument, and serve as a proof; for the book of Maccabees not being in the Canon, is of weight with the faithful, but avails nothing with the obstinate. In the spread of these extreme ideas, men looked to the Church for a definition, and she responded to the need.

A Council held at Sens, in 1528 declared, that he who held not the tradition of the Church, and rejected the decrees of the Third Council of Carthage, and those of Popes Innocent and Gelasius, should be condemned as a schismatic, and inventor of all heresies; but this body was only local, and could not command all mens faith; wherefore a decree from the supreme authority in the Church was necessary. On the 11th of February, 1546, the members of the Council, who had been divided into three particular congregations, assembled. The subject of deliberation respecting the Canon was:

1.—Whether the Council should receive the books of Scripture simply, or after a previous examination by the theologians.

2.—Whether two classes of books should be constituted, so that some should be declared authoritative to prove doctrine; others useful for instruction. (Acta Genuina, Theiner.)

Cardinal Cervini, president of the Council, afterwards Pope Marcellus II., proposed the questions in all their bearings to the Fathers. Certain Fathers were of the mind that it would be well to examine, at least summarily, the objections of the adversaries against the deuterocanonical books, but the majority decided to receive the books simply and entirely as the Church had done in other councils, and especially in the Council of Florence. (Theiner l. c.)

We see here that there was no new legislation in this regard in the Council of Trent. The Council simply reiterated and confirmed what had been believed and promulgated in the Church from the earliest times.

The question was then submitted by the general of the Augustinians, and Seripando, legate of Paul IV., that a distinction should be made between those books which are authentic and canonical, and upon which our faith rests, and those which are merely canonical, and useful to be read for instruction in the Church, as St. Jerome places in the Prologus Galeatus. (Theiner l. c.) This proposition found no favor and was straightway abandoned.

In the Council of Trent, we find often a lack of precision in the views of individual members; but the conclusions arrived at are always clear and profound.

So here, it is not evident just what distinction this man wished to induce. But in every case, his proposition was useless. If he wished merely to say that the import of some divine books is more important in Christian doctrine than others, the truth is understood by all Christians, and needs no definition. The Council was not about to define that Maccabees was as valuable to use as Matthew. But if he wished to say that the relation which God bore to any book was less than inspiration as we have defined it, the proposition is false. The Council simply extended proper inspiration to all the books, and left the question of their respective dogmatic and moral values intact.

On the 12th of February, 1546, Cardinal Cervini moved on the part of his particular congregation that the Council set forth in brief the motives why it receives the books contested by the protestants; but it was decided by common accord that the Holy Books should be simply approved according to the decree of the Council of Florence. (Theiner, I. 52.)

The next question was whether the books of both classes should be received with the same reverence, (pari pietatis affectu). This was for a long time discussed, the majority being in favor of the affirmative, but no conclusion was then reached. The following meetings, both particular and general, were given up to various questions regarding Scripture and tradition. On the 22d of March the secretary of the Council, Angelo Massarelli, proposed to reject the decree of the Council of Florence as of doubtful authenticity, but he was refuted by the president of the Council. Cardinal Del Monte, legate of the Pope, had, on the 26th of February, refuted the same objection.

A detailed list of fourteen propositions was at this juncture drawn up to be examined and voted on in detail. Not all these regard our question. The tenth contains the pith of our present theme. This was whether the deuterocanonical books should be approved as sacred and canonical. This was resolved in the affirmative by forty-four votes, against three negative votes and five doubtful ones. (Theiner, I. 77.)

The thirteenth proposition submitted the question, whether to make a distinction between the two classes of books, or enumerate them according to the Council of Florence. It was decided to receive the deuterocanonical books without examination or discussion by forty-one votes, against four in opposition and eight doubtful ones. The Council also unanimously decided that the things carried by a majority vote should not be subject to further discussion.

On the 3rd of April, the corrected Schema was placed before the Fathers. The Cardinal of Trent moved that the deuterocanonical books be placed after the protocanonical ones, because Tobias, which Jerome held to be apocryphal, is placed in the decree ahead of other books whose authority no one has ever questioned. The motion was lost, since it was against the former vote that they should approve the decree of the Council of Florence.

The Bishop of Castellamare remarked that the words sacred and canonical were objectionable on account of Judith, and some others which are not in the Hebrew Canon. He moved to substitute: in the Canon of the Church. Cardinal Cervini, the president, responded: It is true what thou sayest, but we follow the Canon of the Church, not of the Jews. When we say Canonical, therefore, we understand of the Canon of the Church. And the Bishop of Castellamare responded: Placet.

On the 8th of April, 1546, two months after the question of the Scriptures had been submitted to the Council, after mature deliberation and discussion, the Council promulgated its famous decree:

The thrice holy, œcumenical, general Council of Trent … following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with equal piety and respect all the books of the Old and New Testament, because one and the same God is the author of both.… The Council judges good to join to this decree a list of books, so that no one may doubt concerning the books received by the same Synod. These are the books: Of the Old Testament, the five books of Moses, that is to say: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Chronicles, the first of Ezra; and second which is called Nehemiah, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter of one hundred and fifty Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, viz., Hosea, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micha, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Haggai, Zachary, Malachi, the two books of Maccabees, first and second.… If anyone shall not receive these same books as sacred and Canonical with all their parts, as they are read in the Catholic Church, and contained in the Latin Vulgate; and shall knowingly and wilfully reject the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

The clause, with all their parts, was inserted primarily to include certain passages of the Gospels, concerning which doubt had existed. In the general congregation on the 27th of March, 1546, Cardinal Pacheco asked that these portions of the New Testament should be specially mentioned. The words of the decree are of such comprehension that they include all parts, annulling all doubts that had existed both concerning the Old and the New Testaments.

In virtue of this decree, every Catholic must accept as divinely inspired, the deuterocanonical books and fragments as they are read in the Latin Vulgate. The Council did not treat this as an open question, but added corroboration and precision to preceding documents. The history of the Council by Pallavicini might induce one into error. He states that the question was submitted, whether all the books of both Testaments should be approved. This would imply that the Council felt itself not bound by the Council of Florence. The authentic acts by Theiner give an entirely different sense to the deliberation. The proposal was couched in these terms: That in the proximate session, the books of Holy Scripture should be received, and the way and manner determined, in which they should be received. To be sure, the discussion of the project revealed much lack of clearness in the ideas of certain Fathers, but the great body of the Council always treated the question as decided by the existing documents of the Church. The Council of Trent admitted no different degrees of inspiration in the Holy Books, because inspiration has no degrees. A book is either the product of Gods authorship, or it is not. The Council accepted the deuterocanonical books as having God for their author. The old distinction of greater and less degrees of inspiration had some ardent supporters in the Council. The ground of their opinion seems to have been an imperfect understanding of the nature of inspiration. The vast majority of the Council announced to them: All the books of our Bible, whatever be their contents, and the profit one may draw from them, have been regarded as inspired by Christian tradition, and for us, they are canonical. The opponents finished by adding their placet. The absolute equality of all the books in their inspiration is assured by the Council; for if a book be sacred and canonical, and have God for its author, it cannot be inferior to the others of which the same is asserted. Some theologians still confuse the issue by declaring that the question of equality was not explicitly defined on account of its difficulty; and the question was left as the Holy Fathers left it. (Loisy, l. c). This is nothing. The Council did not deem it necessary to promulgate an explicit decree, making the book equal in inspiration, because such was equivalently contained in the main decree; the Council did not declare the books equal in value, because they are not thus equal: God spoke in divers manners in the Scriptures, and some truths therein contained are more valuable than others, though these latter are no less the inspired writing of God.

The decree of Trent was definite, final and clear but yet it took some time for it to take absolute hold upon all the representatives of Catholic thought. If mens minds were always clear and virtuous, there would be far less confusion in the world. But often from lack of intellectual penetration, or from excessive addiction to some theory, men of note give utterance to false opinions. Especially is this true in the harmonizing of schools of theology, with some definitive sentence of the Church. Those who have assimilated some theory in conflict with the new decree, will retreat from their position slowly, and will endeavor, by restricting the decree, to cling to as much as possible of the old opinion. Thus Cajetan tried to conform the decree of Florence to his own opinion. With time these struggles and gasps of dying error cease, and the authority of the rock-built Church remains the absolute guide of the faithful of Christ.

Thus, for a few years after the Council of Trent, there was some slight friction between its decree and certain theologians. This was augmented by the fact that the precise concepts of inspiration and canonicity were not then well understood. The Council gave us the text, and, as men examined the precise significance of its words, this looseness of opinion vanished from Catholic schools of theology, so that every Catholic holds to-day that the deuterocanonical books are as much inspired and as canonical as the Pentateuch or the Gospels.

An intentional falsehood is contained in Hornes Introduction, Vol. II. p. 489, where he places Bellarmine (†1621) against the deuterocanonical books, by taking certain passages out of their proper context in the works of the great controversialist. Bellarmine in his works clearly declares: That the deuterocanonical works are not only good and holy, but they are sacred and of infallible truth. The Church has never doubted of their canonicity in the sense that she lacked testimonies to attest the divinity of their origin, but simply certain persons doubted, and the Church did not wish to define the question at that time.

From this it appears that Bellarmines opinion was that the deuterocanonical books always had the right to canonicity; they came into actual enjoyment of this right by the timely decree of Trent.

The aforesaid Horne also falsely adduces the testimony of SIXTUS OF SIENNA.

In his Bibliotheca Sancta (Tom. 1. pag. 18), Sixtus distinguishes two classes of books. There he invented the terms protocanonical and deuterocanonical, and speaks of them thus: The first class is formed of those books, which may be called protocanonical, regarding which there has never been doubt or controversy in the Catholic Church. The second class comprises the books which were formerly known as ecclesiastical, but which are now by us called deuterocanonical. These latter were not recognized by all since the times of the Apostles, but long afterward, and for this reason Catholic opinion concerning them was, at first uncertain. The early Fathers regarded them as apocryphal and non-canonical, and only permitted them to be read to the catechumens; then with time they permitted them to be read to the faithful, not for proof of doctrine, but for edification of the faithful; and since these books were read publicly in the Church, they were called ecclesiastical. Finally, they have been placed among the Scriptures of irrefragable authority.

Sixtus exaggerates the doubts that existed concerning the books. He was probably more conversant with Jerome than with the other Fathers, and takes him as a representative of the opinions of his time. Against his testimony stands the united testimony of the Council of Trent, composed of the greatest body of theologians ever assembled, declaring that the Church, relying on tradition, receives these books as sacred and canonical. The Council promulgated officially what had been always implicitly held. But Sixtus is disposed to accord these books a place among the canonical Scriptures on the authority of the Church. He accepts the decree, as he understands it. But the opinions of St. Jerome moved him still to reject the deuterocanonical fragments of Esther. Thus, in the aforesaid reference, he discourses of it: The appendix of the Book of Esther, which comprises the seven last chapters, consists of various rags and patchwork, of which we find nothing in the Hebrew exemplars … But it occurs to me here to admonish and entreat the good reader not to accuse me of temerity, that I cut out these seven chapters from the canonical Scriptures and place them among the apocrypha, as though I were unmindful of the decree of Trent, which, under pain of anathema, commands that all the books entire should be received, as they are read in the Church, and as they exist in the old Latin Vulgate edition.

But that Canon is to be understood, of true and genuine parts of Scripture, pertaining to the integrity of the books, and not of certain ragged appendages, and patches rashly and disorderly tacked on by some unknown author, such as are these last chapters, which not only Cardinal Hugh, Nicolas of Lyra, and Denis the Carthusian deny to be canonical; but also St. Jerome cuts off from the volume of Esther as a spurious part, to use his own words, made up of ragged fragments of words, which could be said and heard in the (several) occasions, just as it is customary for scholars to take a theme, and excogitate what words one would use, who received or wrought an injury. Origen, also, in his letter to Julius Africanus, rejects these appendages.

Sixtus knew more of the opinions of Jerome, than of the value of œcumenical decrees. No part of the deuterocanonical books is treated so severely by Jerome as the fragments of Esther. As it was hopeless to make Jerome agree on this point with the Council, as generally understood, this avowed disciple of Jerome sought by his strange distinction to maintain the old opinion of his master. But anyone can see the flimsiness of the attempt. In fact, in the subsequent centuries, there is not found one to endorse such opinion. The words of the Council were too explicit. Every part that was in the Vulgate and read in the Church was declared sacred and canonical; the fragments of Esther fulfill both these conditions. The only way to reject deuterocanonical books and fragments is to reject the Council of Trent. In fact it is a remarkable fact, that, in the ages following the Council, Sixtus is the only voice raised in opposition to the equal canonicity of the books, and he only aims at these fragments. It is an evidence of the universal obedience of faith, among the children of the Church, to the voice of authority.

Among the authors of the seventeenth century Bossuet has expressed the position of the Church with the most force and precision. In a letter to Leibnitz in 1700, he resumes as follows:

Nous dirons donc, sil vous plaît, tous deux ensemble, quune nouvelle reconnaissance de quelque livre canonique dont quelques-uns auraient douté ne déroge point à la perpétuité de la tradition.… Pour être constante et perpétuelle, la vérité catholique ne laisse pas davoir ses progrès: elle est connue en un lieu plus quen un autre, en un temps plus quen un autre, plus clairement, plus distinctement, plus universellement. Il suffit, pour établir la succession et la perpétuité de la foi dun livre saint, comme de toute autre vérité, quelle soit toujours reconnue; quelle le soit dans les plus grand nombre sans comparaison; quelle le soit dans les Eglises les plus éminentes, les plus anciennes et les plus révérées; quelle sy soutienne, quelle gagne et quelle se répande delle-même, jusquà tant que le Saint-Esprit, la force de la tradition et le goût, non celui des particuliers, mais luniversal de lEglise, la fasse enfin prévaloir comme elle a fait au concile de Trente.

He insists on the practical usage of the Church in reading the books, and on the constant quotations of the Fathers;

Ajoutons … que le terme de canonique nayant pas toujours une signification uniforme, nier quun livre soit canonique en un sens, ce nest pas nier quil ne le soit en un autre; nier quil soit, ce qui est très vrai, dans le canon des Hébreux, ou reçu sans contradiction parmi les chrétiens, nempêche pas quil ne soit au fond dans le canon de lEglise, par lautorité que lui donne la lecture presque générale et par lusage quon en faisait par tout lunivers. Cest ainsi quil faut concilier plutôt que commettre ensemble les Eglises et les auteurs ecclésiastiques, par des principes communs à tous les divers sentiments et par le retranchement de toute ambiguité.

The abbé Dupin, a contemporary of Bossuet, had at first held loose opinions concerning the deuterocanonical books, but under the influence of Bossuet, he modified his position to the following clear and just statement:

Toutes ces raisons et ces considérations jointes ensemble sont suffisantes pour établir lautorité de ces livres, dont la définition du concile de Trente ne laisse aucun lieu de douter. Car, quoiquil ne se fasse point de nouvelle révélation à lEglise, elle peut aprés bien du temps être plus assurée de la vérité dun ouvrage quelle ne létait auparavant, quand, après lavoir bien examiné, elle a trouvé un légitime fondement de nen plus douter et une tradition suffisante dans quelques Eglises pour le juger authentique. Cest la raison pour laquelle saint Jérôme dit que la seconde epître de Saint Pierre avait acquis de lautorité par lantiquité et par lusage, et méritait dêtre mise au rang des livres sacrés du Noveau Testament.

BERNARD LAMY (†1715), of the Congregation of the Oratory, has a singular opinion concerning the deuterocanonical books. In his Apparatus Biblicus, after setting forth the opinions of Rufinus and Jerome, he concludes: Therefore the books which are in the second Canon, though joined to those of the first Canon, are not of the same authority. He evidently accords to these books canonicity, but believes that the degree of inspiration is not so intense in them. Loisy (Histoire du Canon de lAncien Testament, pag. 235) favors this opinion, and cites Ubaldi in support of it. But it is plainly evident that Ubaldi there means to distinguish between revelation, designated by him as the more intense mode of inspiration, and inspiration proper, which permitted the acquisition of knowledge by natural means. There is nothing in Ubaldi in support of this vainly imagined distinction of degrees of canonicity.

A greater departure from the decree of the Council of Trent was made by Jahn (†1816) who declares: That by the testimony of the Fathers of Trent, the difference between protocanonical and deuterocanonical books has by no means been removed, and the Fathers well understood that it could not be removed, no more than the fact upon which it stood, namely: that the deuterocanonical books had not been received everywhere, and by all in past times. [Einleitung in Die Göttlichen Bücher des Alten Bundes. (2 edit.) I. 140.]

There is evidence of exceeding shortsightedness here. The Fathers did not change the external facts concerning the Scriptures. They could not change the past. They did not reverse the opinion of Jerome; they did not declare that the deuterocanonical books had never been doubted, neither did they declare that the doctrinal import of these books was equal to that of the first Canon. But they did declare that they were all sacred and canonical having God for their author. By this definition they added nothing intrinsically to the books; but they infallibly declared that, in virtue of their inspired character, they always had a right to canonicity, which they now officially recognized; and they rightfully based their action on the mighty preponderance of the tradition of all times.

The opinions of Jahn have always been characterized by error. It is not to be expected that one with such pronounced rationalistic views would accept the decree of the Council of Trent.

The decree of Trent formed a new starting point for Catholic opinion. No longer did one question whether or not certain Fathers held these books, but, accepting the definition of the Church, they interpreted it to have extended divine inspiration to all the books of the Catholic Canon, and the Council of Vatican has ratified this consensus of Catholic opinion by defining: If anyone shall not receive all the books with all their parts, as the Tridentine Synod enumerates them, as sacred and canonical; or shall deny that they are divinely inspired, let him be anathema.

Protestant opinion has been consistent in nothing since its beginning; it has varied much regarding the Canon. The Gallican Confession of 1559, the Anglican Confession of 1562, the Confession of Geneva of 1564, declare that the apocrypha (deuterocanonical books) are useful for pious reading, but not available to prove doctrine. The conciliabulum of Westminster, in 1648 declared: That the so-called apocryphal books, being not divinely inspired, by no means belong to the Canon, wherefore they have no authority in the Church of God (?), and are to be treated as merely human writings.

The Biblical Society of London, declared in 1826, that no edition of Scripture was to be circulated which contained the apocrypha, and no aid was to be given to anyone circulating such edition. What they hold to-day on the Canon, it is hard to say.

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