The Holy Bible
That part of Divine Revelation which has been committed to writing by persons inspired by the Holy Ghost, is called Holy Scripture, or the Holy Bible; the Book of Books. Holy Scripture is composed not only of all the Books received by Protestants as divinely inspired, but also of some other Books which were written after the Jewish List or Canon of Scripture was made, but which nevertheless are held in great veneration by the Jewish Synagogue, and by many Protestants themselves.
Such are the Books of Tobias, Judith, Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (or the Son of Sirach), the Prophecy of Baruch and the two first Books of Machabees. These Books, though not registered in the Jewish Canon, were nevertheless held by many Fathers of the early centuries as canonical and forming a part of the deposit of revealed truths entrusted to the Church.
In the schismatic Greek Church, and in other separated Churches of the East, the Canon, or the authorised list of the books of Scripture, agrees with that of the Roman Catholic Church. The efforts made by early Protestants to induce the Greek Church to reject that inspired portion of Scripture, called by the Catholic Church Deutero-canonical, and by the Protestants, the Apocrypha (that is, hidden), only served to call forth repeated from the Greeks assembled in council new synodical declarations that those Books are inspired.
So long as the Church had not testified with her authority to the Divine inspiration of certain Books, some of the Fathers may have hesitated about the inspiration of them, and reasonably thought that such books could not be quoted to establish revealed truth, until the Church had first cleared away all doubts, by inserting them in the Canon, and thus established the inspiration and canonical authority of those Books.
This the Church did in the celebrated Council of Hippo in Africa, in the year 393, attended by all the Bishops of Africa, at which also the great Doctor and Father of the Church, St. Augustine, was present*.
In Statute XXXVI. Of this Council (393) it was decreed (see Labbe, Vol. IV) ‘That nothing be read in the Church under the name of Divine Scripture, except the Canonical Scriptures’, and the Canonical Scriptures are:
Four books of Kingdoms
Two books of Paralipomenon
The Psalter of David
Five Books of Solomon
The books of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets
(Two books of Esdra) (Ezra and Nehemiah)
Two books of Machabees
And of the New Testament
Four books of the Gospel
One book of the Acts of the Apostles
Thirteen letters of St. Paul the Apostle
One letter of the same to the Hebrews
Two of St. Peter the Apostle
Three of St. John
One of the Apostle St. Jude
One of St. James
One book of the Apocalypse of John
This list of Canonical Books issued by this great Council agrees in substance with the list of divinely inspired Books held by Catholics to the present day. This anyone can see by comparing this list with that prefixed to the Catholic English Bible, called the Douay Bible, and with that of the old Latin Vulgate, or any other Catholic version of Holy Scripture, and likewise with the Canon of Scripture given by the Ecumenical Councils of Florence and of Trent.
The Council of Hippo in 393, and the 3rd of Carthage in 379, was followed by the Sixth Council of Carthage in 419, attended by two hundred and eighteen Bishops, and by two Legates sent by the Roman Pontiff. The list or Canon of Books of Scripture decreed in the 29th Decree of this Council agrees with the list given by the two previous Councils just mentioned, and ends with these words: ‘Quia a Patribus ita accepimus in Ecclesia legendum’ i.e. ‘Because we have received from the Fathers that these are the books to be read in the Church’.
These words should not be passed unnoticed by those who allow themselves to be led astry by the assertion that ‘in the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those books of whose authority there was never any doubt in the Church’ (See article VI of the Established Church of England). Let such persons reflect what an assumption it is to suppose that they themselves are, or that their leaders in the sixteenth century were, more competent to judge of the Tradition of the Church of the first four centuries than the Council of Hippo and the third of Carthage, both held in the fourth century, and the Sixth Council of Carthage held in the beginning of the fifth century; and better judges than all the Bishops of Christendom of that age; for the above list of Canonical Books sanctioned by these three Councils was thenceforward received by the whole of Christendom.
Before the decision of these three Councils was given, some of the Fathers doubted the divine inspiration of the Epistle of the Hebrews, and of some other Books of the New Testament. Protestants, however, hold them as canonical. For respecting these Books they justly say: ‘This dissent of some of the Fathers moves us not. This dissent of a few, before the Canon of Scripture was finally settled, should not be taken into account, especially after the adoption of these Books as divinely inspired by all Christendom in the end of the fourth century. The Bishops of that time were in a better position to judge of the Tradition of the Church about these Books’.
This observation is just. Protestants, however, should be consistent, and apply the same reasoning to certain Books of the Old Testament known by them under the name of Apocrypha. Although the inspiration of some of these Books was held to be doubtful by the same Fathers ceased to have any doubt upon it after the decision of these Councils; so that, whilst some of the Apocrypha have been considered uninspired, as the 3rd and 4th of Esdras, and 3rd and 4th of Machabees, some other of these Books have been recognised as inspired, and are called by Catholics Deuterocanonical. These have, therefore, the very same sanction and authority that all the Books of the New Testament have, in addition to the long-standing veneration of the Jewish Church for them.
St. Jerome himself, before the said two Councils of Carthage, seemed to doubt the inspiration of the Books of the Old Testament not inserted in the Jewish Canon; yet afterwards, when the declaration made by those two Councils came to his knowledge, he ceased to doubt with regard to those Apocryphal books which were by them declared inspired, and consequently called, no more Apocryphal but Deutero-canonical, and freely quoted from those same books to uphold Catholic doctrine.
About the importance, and indeed, the necessity of a decision of the Catholic Church to establish the inspiration, canonicity and authenticity of the Holy Scripture, the saying of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, is well known: ‘For my part, I should not believe the Gospel (meaning the written Gospel) where I not moved thereto by the authority of the Catholic Church’. ‘Ego vero evangelio non crederem nisi me Catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas’-(Against the Epistle of Manes, called Foundation, chapter v).
*Possidius in the Life of St. Augustine, referring to this Council of Hippo, thus writes:- ‘About the same time Augustine, when yet only a priest, argued (disputavit) about Faith and the Creed in the presence of the Bishops of all Africa gathered in council, being desired by them so to do’. And this he did with such praise and admiration of all, that all wished him a Bishop; and Valerius, for fear of losing him from his diocese, asked and obtained that he should be installed Bishop of Hippo in his stead, though he was yet alive. This was done in the year 394.