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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saint Jerome & the Deuterocanonicals

This was taken from the book "Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger"

"Who was the first to call the Deuterocanon "Apocrypha"? We have now reviewed nearly four hundred years of Church History and have yet to find any serious, sustained, and consistent attack on the use of the Deuterocanon as Holy Writ. Our story has, on the contrary, been remarkably steady so far; every single early Father who used the Deuterocanonical books at all did so in a manner fully commensurate with their traditional Christian status as inspired Scripture, often citing them as Scripture in so many words. Only Julius Africanus raised doubts about these books, but, as we rcall, made no pretense that his opinion was in any way popular or widespread. Besides this one limited exception, no one but heretics (such as Marcion and Valentinus) had dared to call these books apocrypha. No one, that is, until now." [1]page 139

"Jerome's new canon was an innovation-and he knew it. He knew that it would provoke a maelstrom of criticism from all over the ancient world; yet like Julius Africanus before him, he was convinced that he, by means of Hebrew Verity, had stumbled upon a truth which had eluded the entire Christian world up to that point. As a preemptive strike against his critics, Jerome wrote a series of prefaces to the various books of his newly completed Latin Vulgate, then sent copies of the books to influential friends. These friends, in turn, circulated the translation, along with his critical prefaces, among the Christian public.

The first preface to appear was the Preface to Samuel and Chronicles, known as the Helmeted Prologue [L. prologus galeatus], because Jerome wanted it to serve as an armored defensive against his critics. Of all Jerome's prefaces, the Helmeted Prologue is the most pointed and contains the strongest denial of the inspired and canonical status of the Deuterocanon. In it, he wrote this:

This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a 'helmeted' introduction to all the books which we now turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom.....the book of....Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepard are not in the canon.

The Deuterocanon, a source for the New Testament writers themselves and heralded by the earliest Christians as divine Scripture, is now to be overthrown on the authority of Jerome alone. His other prefaces express similar sentiments." [2] pages 142-144

"The last half of the first Christian millennium was a very difficult period for the Christian church. The invasion of barbarians from the North, the rise of Islam in North Africa, heresies, temporal meddling by secular powers, and finally the Great East/West Schism racked Christian civilization to the core. During this tumultuous period, Christian scholars tended to be less concerned with of the past. This industrious period codified, and propagated, and handed down the texts of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers. Nearly all Christian writers accepted the Deuterocanon as authentic, inspired, canonical books of Scripture; the few isolated doubts that did surface were either unique personal conviction or else the echoes of earlier writers quoted for the benefit of posterity. The councils of Carthage, Hippo, Trullo (Quinisext), the Decree of Galatius, and Innocent I reaffirmed the constant usage of the Deuterocanonical books, and by the end of the ninth century, Pope Nicholas I could speak of Innocent I's canonical list as the Universal law in the Church. It is the larger canon, not that of Jerome, that had wide, substantial support.
From the turn of the first Christian millennium until the high Middle Ages, the Christian Church experienced a renewed vigor and development in the study of Scripture and theology. these studies often involved the systemization and crystallization of the teachings of the Fathers into a coherent whole. This renewed vigor of synthesis and analysis was a great benefit for thr Church, but it also carried with it some unintended consequences. Under a growing humanism, fed by the rediscovery of classical literature, some some medieval scholars attempted to reconcile beliefs which are not really reconcilable. Such was the case with the canon of Scripture. The isolated doubts we have seen scattered sparsely through our story so far began to be synthesized into a cohesive body of thought; and divisions, which did not formerly exist, began to arise. Terminology began to change as well, for both sides of the debate. Words began to acquire connotations and associations they had not carried for earlier authors; terms used loosely in the days of the Fathers hardened down to a fixed definition. Some words, on the other hand, lost the precise meanings they had earlier owned; the word apocrypha, for instance, began to loose its distinctiveness, and by the time of the Council of Trent, was practically useless. All of these forces conspired to place even well-meaning Christian scholars more and more at cross purposes.

The reinvigoration of biblical studies in the Middle Ages also gave new life to the writings of Jerome, and, consequently, to his shortened canon. His Latin Vulgate became not only popular but downright venerable in the Middle-ages; and his prefaces, including the "helmeted" Preface to the Books of Kings, were commonly included in copies of the Vulgate. Biblical novies studied these prefaces along with the sacred text, forgetting, at times, to read Jerome's thoughts with a bit less reverence than God's. The very popular edition called the Glossia Ordinaria, in fact, worsened this confusion, for it removed Jerome's critical remarks from their original place and integrated them, like raisins in a fruitcake, into the sacred text itself as explanatory glosses. As Gigot comments:

If now we inquire into the causes of this persistent division between the ecclesiastical writings of the Middle Ages, we shall find that its main, if not its exclusive, cause, is the influence which the views of St. Jerome exercised upon the minds of many Doctors of that period.....It is not therefore to be wondered at, if the view so unfavorable to the deutercanonical books, which these prefaces contained, seemed tenable to many schoolmen, and were, in fact, held by them in the teeth of contrary practice in the Church, and of disciplinary decrees of the Popes. Finally, as it was the fashion of the time to get rid of difficulties by means of subtle distinctions, several ecclesiastical writers...[tried to] reconcile the statements of St. Jerome, in his prefaces, with the papal decrees and the practice of the Church.

As we shall see, Gigot's assessment of the Process of preservation, harmonization, and adoption is quite accurate. Jerome's prestige would become so great that some of his disciples went to great lengths to reconcile his views on the canon with that of the official Christian Church." [3]pages 200-202


[1]page 139, [2]pages 142-144, [3]pages 200-202 from the book "Why Catholic Bibles are bigger: The untold story of the lost books of the Protestant Bible" by Gary G. Michuta


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