by William Webster
In the articles I posted on the status of 1 Esdras and its relationship to the Councils of Trent and Hippo/Carthage, there have been 3 main responses to which I want to give a brief reply. The first response has to do with Gary Michuta’s assertion that Trent passed over 1 Esdras in silence, the second is the charge that I am misleading people about the preface to the Biblia complutensis and the third is a response that John Betts, a Roman Catholic apologist, wrote some time ago to what I have written on 1 Esdras and which is now being used by other Roman Catholics such as Art Sippo, who states, “My good friend and Catholic Apologist John Betts has written an essay that deals with this and literally puts the matter to rest DEFINITIVELY” (Found here).
1. Gary Michuta has stated categorically that Trent passed over 1 Esdras in silence and therefore there is no contradiction between Trent and Hippo/Carthage. But such an assertion is clearly untrue. Trent has spoken quite clearly. 1 Esdras is not canonical. Nowhere in the official list of canonical books is 1 Esdras to be found. The only books that are canonical are those listed by Trent. This is just obvious. There is no silence here. For example The New Catholic Encyclopedia in referring to 1 Esdras states:
“The Council of Trent definitively removed it from the canon” (New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume II, Bible, III, pp.396-397). This authoritative Roman Catholic source clearly states that Trent did not pass over 1 Esdras in silence. It definitively removed it from the canon.
Gary Michuta suggests that it is possible that the canon is not closed for the Roman Catholic Church, but such is not the case. The term canon means that a definitive list of inspired books has been promulgated and it is a closed list. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this about the canon from a Roman Catholic perspective:
“The word canon as applied to the Scriptures has long had a special and consecrated meaning. In its fullest comprehension it signifies the authoritative list or closed number of the writings composed under Divine inspiration, and destined for the well-being of the Church, using the latter word in the wide sense of the theocratic society which began with God’s revelation of Himself to the people of Israel, and which finds its ripe development and completion in the Catholic organism. The whole Biblical Canon therefore consists of the canons of the Old and New Testaments” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the Old Testament).
Note here the Catholic Encyclopedia states that the term ‘canon’ signifies a closed number of writings. The council of Trent spoke clearly and definitively on the issue of the canon and that is precisely what authoritative Roman Catholic sources say as well:
“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent…The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon.That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II, Bible, III (Canon), p. 390; Canon, Biblical, p. 29; Bible, III (Canon), p.390).
This is also confirmed by Yves Congar: “…an official, definitive list of inspired writings did not exist in the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent” (Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966),p. 38).
According to Congar and the New Catholic Encyclopedia the first infallible decision on the authoritative declaration of the canon, from a Roman Catholic perspective, was the Council of Trent, not Hippo and Carthage. The English translator of the Council of Trent, H.J. Schroeder, O.P., wrote:
“The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures” (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, Footnote #4, p. 17).
These Roman Catholic sources state categorically that the list of canonical books promulgated by Trent was infallible, official and definitive and that Trent definitively removed 1 Esdras from the canon. This does not constitute silence. 1 Esdras (from a Roman Catholic perspective) was infallibly, officially and definitively excluded from the canon. The argument from silence has been shouted down by the Tridentine decree itself.
2) The second issue I want to address is the charge that I am misrepresenting the facts regarding the Preface to the Polyglott Biblia complutensis. If you recall this was the Bible that was published by Cardinal Ximenes in Spain in the early 16th century. It was published in 1520 with the sanction of pope Leo X. I had stated that the Preface of that work included comments that excluded the apocrypha from the canon. Apparently, some have made comments in a public forum suggesting that I am wrong about the Preface. But such accusations are completely without merit as anyone who might take the time to investigate the contents of the work in question would quickly discover. The Biblia complutensis is a 6-volume work and the following is its bibliographical information: Biblia complutensis (Rome: Gregorian University Polyglott Press, 1983-1984), Edition Facsimileed.
There is a Preface to this work titled “Prologus ad lectorem“, or, “Preface to the reader“. In Preface 3b it states:
Atvero 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.
As for the books outside the Canon, which the Church admits/receives more for the edification of the people than for the purpose of confirming the doctrines of the Church, they are in Greek, but with two Latin translations, one by blessed Jerome, the other and interlinear word for word, as elsewhere.
The books referred to that were listed as outside the canon were the books of the apocrypha. The Preface gives a widely used quote from the Middle Ages which is derived from Jerome that the apocryphal books, while not included in the canon, were sanctioned to be read in the Churches for the purposes of edification. The Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this:
“In his famous ‘Prologus Galeatus’, or Preface to his translation of Samuel and Kings, he (Jerome) declares that everything not Hebrew should be classed with the apocrypha, and explicitly says that Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobias,and Judith are not in the Canon. These books, he adds, are read in the churches for the edification of the people, and not for the confirmation of revealed doctrine” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the Old Testament).
3) The third issue I want to address is an article written by John Betts. Some time ago, John wrote a response to what I have written on 1 Esdras, found here. As indicated above, this article is now being used by other Roman Catholics.
The gist Betts’ arguments can be summarized as follows: 1 Esdras was the designation given by some early church fathers for the Hebrew book of Ezra and, therefore, Augustine, Hippo and Carthage, when referring to 1 Esdras were not referring to the Septuagint 1 Esdras but to Ezra. And therefore when the council lists the books of 1 and 2 Esdras it is referring to Ezra and Nehemiah of the Hebrew canon.
So, John Betts has suggested that the reality of Hippo/Carthage equating 1 Esdras with the 1 Esdras of the Septuagint is undermined by the fact that there are historical instances of other fathers in the Church prior to Hippo/Carthage who used the Septuagint and who separated Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books referring to them as 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras respectively. He refers specifically to the Eastern fathers Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, the Western father Rufinus, and the Greek Council of Laodicea. Art Sippo has recently stated the following (based primarily I surmise on John Betts’ comments):
“As Gary mentioned, Trent specifically discussed the status of 1 Esdras and decided to pass over the question of its canonicity. But anyone who is familiar with the state of the Biblical Canon in the late 4th Century knows that the term ‘2 books of Esdras’ had been used for over 100 years by Origen and others to refer to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And St. Jerome was well aware of the difference between 1Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah in the 390’s. In the Vulgate translation he made, St. Jerome used the title 1Esdras to refer to Ezra, 2 Esdras to refer to Nehemiah, and 3 Esdras to refer to the apocryphal 1Esdras from the Septuagint.”
Then Sippo continues, “IMHO the whole thesis is DOA. But White, Webster, Svendsen and the rest of the Kampus Krusade for Kthulhu keep beating this dead horse, so we need to keep dealing with it” (These comments found here).
While the sources cited by Betts and Sippo do list the Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras, they have failed to provide their readers with some crucial information. That information has to do with the fact that those fathers who separate Ezra from Nehemiah into separate books and designate Ezra as 1 Esdras and Nehemiah as 2 Esdras are following the Hebrew canon. They do not follow what we will call the Septuagint canon, which means the Hebrew Old Testament books with the additional books of the apocrypha.
Origen, as reported by Eusebius, gives what he says is the canon of the Old Testament as handed down from the Hebrews. He is not giving what he considers to be the Church’s canon, but that of the Jews. He personally accepted the Septuagint and the apocryphal books as canonical and 1 Esdras of the Septuagint was included in his Hexapla. He made a distinction between the Septuagint and the Hebrew. The Hebrews listed the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one book and that is what Origen says in his comments. Origen personally did not separate them. Origen was a Hebrew scholar and was merely acknowledging the Jewish practice but he personally did not follow the Hebrew canon. He made a distinction between what he called ‘the Church’s scriptures’ and that of the Hebrews. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this about Origen and the canon:
“Origen employs all the deuterocanonicals as Divine Scriptures, and in his letter of Julius Africanus defends the sacredness of Tobias, Judith, and the fragments of Daniel, at the same time implicitly asserting the autonomy of the Church in fixing the Canon. In his Hexaplar edition of the Old Testament all the deuteros find a place” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the Old Testament).
As has been noted, the early Church’s Bible was the Septuagint for the Greek (eastern) church and the Old Latin which was a translation of the Septuagint for the Latin (western) church. The Septuagint contained not only the books of the Hebrew canon but also the books of the apocrypha or what became known as the “Septugintial plus” which for our purposes in this article we will call the Septuagint canon. There were fathers in the early church who used the Septuagint but who followed the Hebrew canon and therefore did not adhere to the “Septugintial plus”. In other words, they did not accept the apocrypha as canonical. Others, however, such as Origen, did embrace the “Septugintial plus”. So it is important in these discussions when citing certain fathers to note which canon they followed.
As for Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius, we are dealing with church fathers who followed the Hebrew canon as opposed to the ‘Septuagintial plus’. When referring to 1 and 2 Esdras they make the significant statement that these books were considered one book, just as Origen did. That statement is an important qualifier because it reveals to us that they were following the Hebrew canon because, again, the Jews considered Ezra and Nehemiah to be one book. They are not giving the Septuagint listing and they did not follow the Septuagint canon as accepted by Hippo/Carthage because they both reject the books of the apocrypha from canonical status.
“Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New…Read the Divine Scriptures, the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, these that have been translated by the Seventy-two interpreters…Of these read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings” (NPNF2, Vol. 7, Cyril ofJerusalem, Catechetical Lectures IV.33-36).
“But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being merely read” (NPNF2, Vol. 4, Athanasius, Letter 39.2-7).
And Rufinus holds precisely the same opinion as Cyril and Athanasius in his statements on the canon. He followed the Hebrew canon and not the ‘Septuagintial plus’. He refers to the two books of Ezra which he names as Ezra and Nehemiah (not as 1 and 2 Esdras) and then he adds, which the Hebrews reckon one. Clearly the perspective of Rufinus as a western father is antithetical to that of Augustine, who is also a western father and to the western councils of Hippo/Carthage. Augustine and Hippo/Carthage list the 2 books of Ezra as 1 and 2 Esdras. Rufinus does not do so. He lists them as Ezra and Nehemiah. One is following the Septuagint and the other is following the Hebrew canon. Then he states that the books of the apocrypha were not considered canonical:
“But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not ‘Canonical’ but ‘Ecclesiastical:’ that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees” (NPNF2, Vol. 3, Rufinus, Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed 36).
John Betts also mentions the Council of Laodicea. Many scholars question the legitimacy of this council’s decree on the canon, but be that as it may, for the sake of argument, let’s assume its legitimacy. What John fails to inform his readers is that this council follows the Hebrew canon and, like Cyril, Athanasius and Rufinus, rejects the apocrypha.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The 59th (or 60th) canon of the provincial Council of Laodicea (the authenticity of which however is contested) gives a catalogue of the Scriptures entirely in accord with the ideas of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.”
And so, this is the point we need to note. It is only those who follow the Hebrew canon and reject the apocrypha who separate Ezra and Nehemiah as separate books as distinct from the Hebrew practice of joining them as one. So the following comment from John Betts is completely misleading:
“We have seen that Webster’s claim concerning Esdras is without merit and unsupported by the evidence. We know that the ‘1 Esdras’ and ‘2 Esdras’ found in the major LXX codices as the apocryphal Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah, were also known to be Ezra and Nehemiah under the same names in other sources.”
Those other sources as we have seen all followed the Hebrew canon. Those who followed the expanded Septuagint canon did not do so. Betts leaves his reader with the impression that the separation of Ezra from Nehemiah was the dominant practice. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says this about the status of 1 Esdras among the fathers who followed the ‘Septuagintial plus’: “Until the 5th century, Christians very frequently ranked 3 Esdras with the Canonical books; it is found in many LXX MSS (Septuagint manuscripts).” (New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume II, Bible, III,pp. 396-397).
And that brings us to Jerome. It was Jerome, who is considered the only Church father who was a true Hebrew scholar, who was responsible for separating Ezra and Nehemiah to be designated as 1 and 2 Esdras respectively as separate books in an official Bible and who relegated 1 Esdras of the Septuagint to a noncanonical status which later became designated as III Esdras. He did this because he followed the Hebrew canon. In his prologues to the books of the Old Testament, Jerome explicitly relegates the apocrypha to noncanonical status. In the Vulgate, he makes significant changes from the accepted books of those who accepted the ‘Septuagintial plus’ as opposed to the Hebrew canon. It is obvious then, that in following the Hebrew canon Jerome is completely opposed to Augustine and the North African Church. His comments on the apocrypha were incorporated into the text of the Vulgate and became the standard view of the church up until the Council of Trent. Raymond Brown makes these comments about I Esdras and Jerome’s separating Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books:
“It appears that I Esdras enjoyed more popularity than Esdras B [Ezra-Nehemiah] among those who cited the Gk bible. Josephus used it, and the early Church Fathers seem to have thought of it as Scripture. It was really Jerome with his love for the Hebr bible who set the precedent for rejecting I Esdras because it did not conform to Hebr Ezr/Neh. (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542)
Then John Betts tries to reason from his misleading assumptions about the status of 1 Esdras in the early Church to what is reasonable to assume about Augustine and the councils of Hippo/Carthage. He makes these comments regarding their view of the canon:
“This gives us no reason to suspect that the Synods of Hippo and Carthage when they spoke of the “two books of Esdras”, were referring to any other books than Ezra-Nehemiah. We’ve seen how it was common for the Fathers to cite 1 (3) Esdras, mainly for its story of the three bodyguards, and that it was considered to be an alternative version to the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.”
What Betts fails to mention here is these sources also considered 1 Esdras to be inspired scripture. To quote Raymond Brown again: “…the early Church Fathers seem to have thought of it as Scripture” (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542).
Betts goes on to make these comments:
“Did St. Augustine consider 1 (3) Esdras to be canonical? He probably considered it to be another version of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah, as many of the Fathers who quoted it before him did. However it is very doubtful that he considered it to be canonical in the manner Webster would have us believe, i.e. that because the major Septuagint codices list this book as “Esdras A” and Ezra-Nehemiah as “Esdras B”, it therefore was a separate book counted in the Canon. Given the scant use of this material in St. Augustine’s writings this cannot be resolved with all certainty, but mine seems like the more reasonable explanation. For Webster to claim otherwise he will have to offer some substantial proof which so far he has failed to do.”
But then Betts himself cites the following quotation from Benoit on Augustine’s view of the Septuagint:
“Benoit states that for St. Augustine ‘both the Hebrew and the Greek texts are inspired and true. They are accepted as two stages intended by God in his ongoing revelation. Origen wanted as canonical only the Greek text, leaving the Hebrew for the Jews. Jerome wanted only the Hebrew, reducing the Greek to a less accurate tradition. Augustine retained the two as different, complementary, and desired versions of the same Spirit. It is a vision of singular depth and truth’ (P. Benoit cited in Bright, p. 47).”
And the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “St. Augustine seems to theoretically recognize degrees of inspiration; in practice he employs protos and deuteros without any discrimination whatsoever” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Canon of the Old Testament).
Augustine did not follow the Hebrew canon. He followed the ‘Septuagintial plus’. Betts keeps saying that it seems more reasonable to assume that he did not accept Septuagint 1 Esdras as being canonical. He says that nothing definitive can be defined. But he has no proof that a church father who viewed the Septuagint as inspired and who accepted all of the apocryphal books as inspired and did not follow the Hebrew canon suddenly changed and followed the Hebrew canon. Benoit’s statement above is a much needed corrective to Betts’ claims. It is John Betts’ claims that have no substance and no documentation.
Here is a summary of the facts by which to judge which it is most reasonable to conclude:
Was the Septuagint book of 1 Esdras part of the canonical Hebrew canon? No.
Did the fathers who embraced the expanded canon of the apocryphal books which were included in the Septuagint consider 1 Esdras to be both canonical and inspired? Yes.
Did Augustine follow the expanded canon of the Septuagint or ‘Septuagintial plus’? Yes.
Did Augustine follow the Hebrew canon? No.
Did Augustine agree with Jerome on the status of the apocrypha? No.
Did Jerome relegate Septuagint 1 Esdras to the status of one of the apocryphal books in his Latin Vulgate? Yes.
Therefore, for Augustine 1 Esdras meant Septuagint 1 Esdras and not the Hebrew Ezra. To borrow the words of John Betts, “mine seems like the more reasonable explanation. For Betts to claim otherwise he will have to offer some substantial proof which so far he has failed to do.” Contrary to Art Sippo, it is clear that this issue is not DOA and that John Betts’ arguments have not definitively settled the issue.
Betts then makes these comments regarding the Council of Trent:
“The history of the formation of the Canon in the Church was discussed at Trent, including the history of the early synods and some of the Church Fathers already mentioned. The decree on the Canon passed by Trent was deliberately intended to be the same as that from Carthage centuries earlier. In particular, Trent listed the Ezra-Nehemiah material as ‘the first book of Esdras, and the second which is called Nehemias.’ Nowhere do we see the Council Fathers speak of any dispute over the identity of the ‘two books of Esdras’ as the North African Synods had called them.”
Here John Betts gives an inaccurate statement. The Council of Trent did not deliberately intend its decree “to be the same as that from Carthage centuries earlier.” The decree of the Council states that Trent intended its decree to conform, not to Carthage, but to the Old Latin Vulgate. Trent states:
“If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema” (The Canons and Decrees of the Council ofTrent, Translated and Introduced by Rev. H.J. Schroeder O.P. (Rockford: Tan,1978), Fourth Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, p. 18).
The irony of that statement is that the Latin Vulgate of Jerome made it clear that the apocryphal books canonized by Trent were not to be received as canonical. This became the dominant view of the Church throughout the Middle Ages up to the time of the Council of Trent as my previous posts have demonstrated. Trent’s decree went contrary to the practice of the Church for centuries. Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this:
“In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavourable to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity. The prevailing attitude of Western medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers. The chief cause of this phenomenon in the West is to be sought in the influence, direct and indirect, of St. Jerome’s depreciating Prologus. The compilatory “Glossa Ordinaria” was widely read and highly esteemed as a treasury of sacred learning during the Middle Ages; it embodied the prefaces in which the Doctor of Bethlehem had written in terms derogatory to the deuteros, and thus perpetuated and diffused his unfriendly opinion. And yet these doubts must be regarded as more or less academic. The countless manuscript copies of the Vulgate produced by these ages, with a slight, probably accidental, exception, uniformly embrace the complete Old Testament Ecclesiastical usage and Roman tradition held firmly to the canonical equality of all parts of the Old Testament. There is no lack of evidence that during this long period the deuteros were read in the churches of Western Christendom” (Catholic Encyclopedia, The Canon of the Old Testament).
While it is true that the deuterocanonical books were read in the churches they were not accepted as canonical. No one has ever disputed that they were read. But they were not considered canonical. As I have documented, the prefaces to all of the deuterocanonical books in the Glossa ordinaria clearly state that they were not received as canonical but were venerated as ecclesiastical books which were useful to be read for edification but of no authority for establishing doctrine for the church. And this view was repeated over and over again by the leading theologians of the Church throughout the Middle Ages. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, this is the view of Jerome and the Greek fathers, such as Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius.
These comments from the scholar B.F. Westcott are very instructive regarding the decree of Trent on the canon:
“This fatal decree, in which the Council gave a new aspect to the whole question of, the Canon, was ratified by fifty-three prelates, among whom there was not one German, not one scholar distinguished for historical learning, not one who was fitted by special study for the examination of a subject in which the truth could only be determined by the voice of antiquity. How completely the decision was opposed to the spirit and letterof the original judgments of the Greek and Latin Churches, how far in the doctrinal equalization of the disputed and acknowledged books of the Old Testament it was at variance with the traditional opinion of the West, how absolutely unprecedented was the conversion of an eccelesiatical usage into an article of belief, will be seen from the evidence which has already been adduced” (B.F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1889), p. 478).
Gary Michuta says,
“Webster’s argument is based on two premises. The first premise is that Hippo / Carthage accepted Esdras as canonical. The second premise is that Trent rejected Esdras as apocrypha. From these two premises he concludes that Trent contradicted Hippo / Carthage. J Betts argues that the first premise is not true. I argue that the second premise is not true. Therefore, if either one of our arguments (or both of our arguments) are correct then Webster’s conclusion cannot stand. I would say that JBetts argument is very probable and my argument is undoubtedly true. Therefore, Webster’s conclusion fails.”
We have seen that Gary Michuta’s argument is not undoubtedly true. His premise is contradicted by the Council of Trent and other Roman Catholic authorities. And John Betts’ argument is hardly very probable. The reader can decide, based on the evidence, if my conclusion fails.