“Just when I thought that James Swan has forgotten me, my book, and the issue of the Old Testament canon, he reappears on the Alpha & Omega website with a canon article.I really respect James Swan even though I have never had the pleasure of meeting him. He seems to try to base his position on research and I’m glad that he is looking into the question of the canon more thoroughly. “
These were comments from Catholic apologist Gary Michuta. No, I have not forgotten Gary. I’ve been busy with other issues, and I don’t always get a chance to keep up with every Catholic apologetic website. For a while, it was easier to keep up with Gary’s apologetic contributions when he posted on the Envoy boards. Frankly, I’m happy he hasn’t participated via Envoy for a while, as the particular negative polemic put forth is beneath Mr. Michuta’s friendly demeanor. As Gary states, “I find ridicule to be a cheap substitute for sound arguments so I try to avoid it at all costs.” Well, by avoiding Envoy, he’s being consistent with this methodology.
Gary was concerned that my recent comments on Cardinal Girolamo Seripando were at odds with the presentation that Dr. White put forth in his debate on the apocrypha with Mr. Michuta. In my entry, I pointed out that the Roman Catholic scholar, and expert on Trent, Hubert Jedin said there was a small group of scholars at the Council of Trent that were considered fairly knowledgeable on the non-canonicity of the apocrypha. Jedin states Seripando “was aligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship at the Council of Trent.” Mr. Michuta then took a snippet from Dr. White’s quotation of B. F. Westcott , who said of Trent, there was “not one who was fitted for special study for the examination of a subject in which the truth could be determined by the voice of antiquity.” One can see the dilemma, I’ve pointed out a small group of scholars considered by Jedin that knew about the canon, while Wescott says no one at Trent had sufficient learning to come to a proper conclusion.
I asked Dr. White what he thought about Mr. Michuta’s concerns:
1) I am more than happy to learn new things from folks like James Swan and others who post on his blog as well. For example, I did not know that the “yes” vote for the canon comprised barely 40% of the small group gathered at Trent. That’s a real confidence booster….
2) The quote I gave in the debate was undoubtedly speaking of world-renowned scholars, those known for generations in the future. Given that almost nobody can even dig up the names of anyone at Trent (99.999999% of all Catholics couldn’t do it), the two quotes contrasted by Michuta obviously have different contexts. Even the continuation of Westcott’s quote [given below] bears this out. If this is the best our Roman Catholic critics can come up with to assert disunity, well…they should check out some of the stuff on the web about all of those who used to stand side by side in defense of Rome (check out how united are Matatics, Sungenis, Madrid, Keating, and Shea!).
3) But even then, it is great to see Gary bringing up this point, since it takes us back to the real issue here: the folks who knew the most about the history of the canon did not vote for the canon Michuta wants to enforce upon all believers today.
Jedin, whom I quoted, lists a few others who likewise shared similar concerns. In his book, Mr. Michuta mentions Seripando and Bertano, noting their concerns for following Jerome’s view of the canon was rejected. Michuta though also speaks of those present at Trent as a singular unity, this despite the fact there were dissenters to the majority: “Rightly or wrongly, [Trent] acted in a manner entirely conservative, basing their decisions on precedent alone. The desire of the Council was to avoid tampering with the canon in any way; to offer, rather, a simple ‘rubber stamp’ upon the judgements of previous authorities (especially that of the Council of Florence)” [Why Catholic Bible Are Bigger, p.237]. Mr. Michuta speaks of Trent as a unified body. Interestingly, Westcott refers to Seripando’s group in the same context from which Dr. White quoted, and points out their disunity:
“On the first point there was a general agreement. It was allowed that tradition was a coordinate source of doctrine with Scripture. On the second there was a great variety of opinion. Some proposed to follow the judgment of Cardinal Caietan and distinguish two classes of books, as, it was argued, had been the intention of Augustine. Others wished to draw the line of distinction yet more exactly, and form three classes, (1) the Acknowledged Books, (2) the Disputed Books of the New Testament, as having been afterwards generally received, (3) the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. A third party wished to give a bare list, as that of Carthage, without any further definition of the authority of the books included in it, so as to leave the subject yet open. A fourth party, influenced by a false interpretation of the earlier papal decrees, and necessarily ignorant of the grave doubts which affect their authenticity, urged the ratification of all the books of the enlarged Canon as equally of Divine authority. The first view was afterwards merged in the second, and on March 8 three minutes were drawn up embodying the three remaining opinions. These were considered privately, and on the 15th the third was carried by a majority of voices. The decree in which it was finally expressed was published on the 8th of April, and for the first time the question of the contents of the Bible was made an absolute article of faith and confirmed by an Anathema. ‘The holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent,’ so the decree runs, ‘…following the examples of the orthodox fathers receives and venerates all the books of the Old and New Testaments…and also traditions pertaining to faith and conduct…with an equal feeling of devotion and reverence” [B.F. Westcott, The Bible In The Church, p. 256].
Mr. Michuta stated to me, “Despite the fact that his article contains no conclusion, we are left only with the title to direct us as to the purpose of the article.” Indeed, this was a purposeful act. The information is what is. I felt it was simply enough to put the facts out: a Roman Catholic expert on Trent pointed out a few people at Trent were knowledgeable on the canon, but were voted down. I don’t find Catholic or Protestant apologetic organizations talking about Seripando and his concerns. He’s sunk into the realm of historical obscurity, a forgotten name from long ago. Seripando’s group was a minority at Trent, easily overlooked, easily forgotten.
I would challenge Mr. Michuta to look at issues greater than Westcott’s comment on those present at Trent. There are plausible reasons as to why Westcott would not mention Seripando,first and foremost being his was not an exhaustive treatment of those present at Trent, but rather generalized comments. Hubert Jedin named his book after Seripando, and seeks to develop a coherent picture of the man. While Seripando argued for the right cause, one wonders what would have happened had Cajetan been the voice arguing in his place.
Noting the lack of coherence among the views expressed by those at Trent above, perhaps it would be beneficial for Mr. Michuta to delve into a historical treatment of Seripando, and to update the section in his book on Trent, which presents a rather coherent unity of a council, that in reality, was not as unified as is made out to be.
P.S. from James White: I would like to announce a much greater point of disagreement between myself and James Swan. We disagree, deeply, formally, and pictorially, on the use of artificial hair coloring. Let’s see which Roman Catholic apologist will run with that one!
I appreciate James Swan’s thoughts here, and would like to say that I do not have a demand of “lock step unanimity” on such issues in Team Apologian. We have no Inquisition to enforce such “unity.” I am thankful to have come to know that the allegedly dogmatic definition of the canon for Roman Catholics actually represented a minority of the total prelates, which was a small number to begin with. The idea that such a small number of men, standing against those with learning in the field (even if not renown outside their generation), could determine something dogmatically that is then forced upon all of Christendom is truly another example of the implicit arrogance that marks the Roman See.