It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a blog entry for the Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary on the Bible (these entries can be found here). I’d like to branch out in a different direction and take a look at Roman Catholic historical interpretation. Remember their motto: “to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.” Let’s see if this claim is true, or if it’s just that: merely a claim.
Recently on Catholic Answers Fr. Sebastian Walshe addressed the topic Can Doctrine Develop? In this short mp3 clip, Fr. Walshe explains that previous to Trent’s infallible declaration, there was uncertainty about which books were canonical. This admission diffuses one very popular Romanist argument. They claim that without their infallible declaration, one cannot know which books are Scripture. Yet generations previous to Trent believed they had God’s word. Even those believers previous to the birth of Christ had and knew the Old Testament, this despite having an infallible magisterium. Is it therefore necessary for a church to be infallible and declare an infallible canonical list in order for one to know what God’s Word is? Not at all. History shows the canon does not demand or require an infallible determiner in order to function in the church among God’s people.
But the real point of historical interest in the clip from Fr. Walshe is his discussion of the Apocrypha. Walshe admits there was indeed controversy in the church as to its status. Anyone wishing to survey the historical record will see that the case against Rome’s canon in history is a strong one. It simply isn’t the case that the church accepted these books early on and that Luther removed them.
Walshe also says that Thomas Aquinas was not certain if the books of Maccabees should be considered part of canonical Scripture. That is, Aquinas didn’t know one way or the other if the books of Maccabees were part of the canon because the church had yet to determine the status of these books.
On the other hand, Roman Catholic apologist Gary Michuta argues the canon always included the Apocrypha and the church did accept them. In fact, early ecumenical councils didn’t have to declare the contents of the canon because there was no need to [Gary Michuta, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger (Michigan: Grotto Press, 2007) p.162]. The change in attitude toward the Apocrypha is discerned in Protestantism, not Roman Catholicism (p. 306). Michuta says that in the writings of Aquinas,
“First Maccabees is included among other citations from the Old Testament without qualification. Based on 2 Maccabees, St. Thomas responds to difficulties as to whether suffrages can be made for the damned… These are examples taken only from one book of Thomas Aquinas. Suffice it to say, St. Thomas accepted the Dueterocanon as Scripture in its fullest sense” [Gary Michuta, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger (Michigan: Grotto Press, 2007) p.215].
So here we find two very different explanations of church history from two men who have both been guests on Catholic Answers.