Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Old Testament Canon in the Early Sixteenth Century

The sixteenth century was a big one for the Old Testament canon. You had Luther declaring 2 Maccabees noncanonical in the Leipzig Debate, Karlstadt writing a treatise on the canon (available here, p. 291ff.) in which he affirmed Jerome's position as standard (deuterocanonical literature excluded from canonical status), and the Council of Trent proclaiming the full canonicity of all the books in Augustine's canon (i.e., inclusive of deuterocanonicals; see here, and here, second bullet point from the bottom).

The positions of Erasmus and Cardinal Ximénes are somewhat less well-known, though also interesting. They both excluded the deuterocanonical literature from the canon. You can learn this in something like John Hayes' article on the "Historical Criticism of the Old Testament Canon" in vol. 2 of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament (2008), but tracking down the sources becomes a little more tedious because Hayes doesn't do a real good job of citing specific original sources. So, here you go. 

Cardinal Ximénes is most well known as the director of the Complutensian Polyglot project, published in 1522 though printed in the previous decade. The full-text of this work appears to be available at There aren't page numbers, but if you download it and look at p. 3 of your pdf, you'll find the second preface to the work, one entitled "To the Reader." (Of course, this is all in Latin, very small and hard to read. BTW, the first preface, addressed to the pope, is translated here.) About halfway down the first column, you'll find this passage: 
At vero libri extra canonem: quos Ecclesia potius ad aedificationem populi quam ad autoritatem ecclesiasticorum dogmatum confirmandam recipit. Graecam tamen habent scripturam: sed cum duplici latina interpretatione: altera beati Hieronymi: altera interlineari de verbo ad verbum: eo modo quo in caeteris. 
A translation might run:
But there are books outside the canon which the Church has received more for the edification of the people than for the authoritative confirmation of ecclesiastical dogmas. [this line is a quotation from Jerome's Preface to the Books of Solomon, discussed here, p. 102.] But they have Greek writing, but with a double Latin translation, one of blessed Jerome, the other a word-for-word interlinear, just as in the others. 
I think what Cardinal Ximémes is getting at with that last bit is that you, the reader, will be able to recognize which books I'm talking about because they wont have a Hebrew column, just Greek and Latin (though it's a double Latin translation, because the LXX features an interlinear Latin translation, as throughout the OT). I don't find that he actually names the books that he thus excludes from the canon, nor do I find that he names the books that he accepts, only classifying the canonical OT as Pentateuch, Prophets, Hagiographa.

[By the way, Hayes had cited prologue III.b. I assume this is a citation of the second prologue in vol. 3 of the Complutensian Polyglot, which corresponds to this same preface, which I guess is reprinted at the beginning of each OT volume. Hayes seems to have depended on Westcott, p. 478.]

Now for Erasmus. There are two chief passages, one being a preface to the fourth volume of Erasmus' 1525 edition of Jerome, the other found in Erasmus' Explanation of the Apostle's Creed.

I'm not sure of a convenient place to locate Erasmus' 1525 edition of Jerome, but the relevant comments in the preface were extracted by Humphrey Hody in this work, p. 661 col. 120.
Caeterum quo animo nunc Ecclesia habet in usu publico, quae veteres magno consensu numerabant inter Apocrypha, nondum satis constat. Nos sane quicquid Ecclesiastica comprobarit autoritas, simpliciter, ut Christiano dignum est amplectimur. -- Magnis certe refert, quid quo animo comprobet Ecclesia. Ut enim parem autoritatem tribuas Hebraeorum voluminibus, et 4 Evangeliis: certe non vult idem esse pondus Judith, Tobiae, et Sap. libris, quos Moysi Pentateucho. 
But in what spirit the Church now has them in public use which older writers by great consensus numbered among the apocrypha, is not sufficiently clear. We will embraces as worthy of Christian use whatever ecclesiastical authority approves.  By what spirit the Church approves certainly matters. For you would attribute equal authority to the volumes of the Hebrews and the four Gospels; she certainly does not want the same weight to belong to the books of Judith, Tobit, and Wisdom, as for the Pentateuch of Moses. (another translation available in Westcott, p. 252)
The Explanation of the Apostle's Creed (1533) is available in the nice Amersterdam edition for free download here (pp. 278–79). It is also available in the English translation published by Toronto, though it is not online. But you can see a little bit of the relevant passage on Google Books (p. 333). He first lists the OT books thus: Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kingdoms, Paralipomenon, two books of Ezra (which the Hebrews count as one), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Twelve Minor Prophets (not individually named), Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.
Intra hunc numerum conclusit priscorum autoritas Veteris Testamenti volumina, de quorum fide nephas esset dubitare. Nunc vero receptus est in usum ecclesiasticum et Sapientiae liber, quem quidam suspicantur esse Philonis Iudaei, et alius qui dicitur Ecclesiasticus, quem putant esse Iesu filii Sirach. Receptus est et liber Thobiae, et Iudith, et Hester, et Macchabeorum libri duo. Receptae sunt et duae historiae quae Danieli adnexae sunt, altera de Susanna, altera de Belo et Dracone, quas Hebraei non habebant. Sed Hieronymus testatur se vertisse ex aeditione Theodotionis. Caeterum an ecclesia receperit hos libros eadem autoritate que caeteros, novit ecclesiae spiritus. (lines 158–67)
That last line, in the Toronto translation, goes: "Only the Spirit of the church knows whether or not the church has accepted these books as of equal authority with the others." By the way, you'll notice that Erasmus omitted Esther from the canon and included it in this dubious category. That's sort of surprising, since Jerome includes Esther in the canon, and Erasmus was such a devotee of Jerome's. Athanasius (and some other Fathers) omit Esther form the canon and includes it in a list of books to be read by catechumens.

It's interesting to think about Erasmus composing this passage in 1533, after Karlstadt had published his book on the canon, when these issues were very much in the air. Erasmus had already been censured in the mid-1520s by the theological faculty of Paris for his reckless (in their view) statements on the NT books of Hebrews, James, and 2Peter. This later passage from 1533 seems to be treading pretty carefully, leaving the matter open to the church to decide, which Erasmus apparently thinks hasn't happened yet. For those loyal to Rome in the early sixteenth century, the status of the deuterocanonical literature remained an open question. Only in 1546 did the Council of Trent declare them all fully canonical. Even then, there seems to have been substantial debate at the Council and the delegates apparently did not intend their pronouncement to settle the matter (according to O'Malley, pp. 91–92). It looks like what had been intended as a working position became established law.

(By the way, other Catholics at that time also questioned the status of the deuterocanonicals--see Hayes for details.)

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