« PredošláPokračovať »
taking a fact that could not be ascertained without considerable difficulty. It appears, therefore, most reasonable, that in determining the matter, we should look rather to the decision of the Fathers when assembled in council, than to their opinions when separated from each other ; for to say nothing of the theological argument in favour of (Ecumenical Councils, the principles even of logic demonstrate, that as a motive of judgment, the testimony of individuals is fallible; but the testimony of many men, assembled from different places, and guided by different feelings, is conclusive.
The Council of Laodicea is one of the first that appears to have turned their attention to this subject; for though Jerome seems to say that the Council of Nice approved of one of those books which our adversaries reject, it must be allowed that we have no authentic copy of their decision. The Fathers at Laodicea, in their list of canonical books, included only one of the disputed books of the Old Testament; and Protestants, though on every other occasion they refuse to pay any sort of attention to the decisions of Councils, are particularly fond of quoting the fifty-ninth canon of Laodicea as a most conclusive argument in their favour. I do not, however, see that the argument has any strength; for though the pious canons of this Council have always entitled it to great respect, it was still merely a provincial Council, consisting of a very small number of bishops, and of course could only bear testimony to the tradition of one small province of the Universal Church. Moreover, the Council merely gave a list of those books, the canonicity of which was at that time clearly ascertained; and if it passed over some of those which we receive, it was because their authenticity had not been, at that period, and in that place, finally determined. It is also particu
larly worthy of remark, that though Protestants object this Council to us, they do not seem to think very highly of it themselves; and in point of fact, we pay more respect to its authority than our adversaries are disposed to do, eren on this subject. We receive every one of the books mentioned at Laodicea, and if we add to the number, it is be cause we think that the general tradition was not then sufficiently ascertained. The Protestants reject the Prophecy of Baruch, which this Council inserted in their canon, and they receive the Apocalypse, which the Council refused to admit. This species of inconsistency is, however, very common with our adversaries; for I have remarked, that there is scarcely one ancient authority which they quote, that does not differ from them with regard to some particular books.
The Council of Carthage was held about thirty years after that of Laodicea, and is undoubtedly one of the most respectable that has ever met. The bishops of the great and enlightened Church of Africa were assembled, and Aurelius, the celebrated Archbishop of Carthage, presided. What must add very considerably to the authority of this Council is, that we have every reason to believe that the great and learned Augustine was present; it is, at all events, admitted, that he approved of its proceedings in every respect, and particularly with reference to the canon of the Scripture. When the Fathers assembled at Laodicea, the Church was scarcely recovered from the previous persecution ; but when the Council of Carthage was held, she had enjoyed some years of repose, and the different national Churches had availed themselves of the opportunity of comparing their respective traditions: and as the canon of Scripture was a fact that, according to the Protestants themselves, must be decided by the testimony
of historical tradition, the Council of Carthage possessed an advantage in this respect to which the Council of Laodicea had no claim whatever. Accordingly we find that this Council extended the list of canonical books, by adding those whose authenticity had been fully ascertained by inquiries made among the other Churches ; and the 47th canon of the Council of Carthage contains precisely the same books which the Council of Trent received about twelve hundred years after. It is to be remarked, that the acts of the national synod of Africa were afterwards confirmed by an (Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople, In a few years after the Council of
after the Council of Carthage, Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, wrote to Innocent the First, in order to learn what were the canonical books; and the Pope in his answer gives the very same list which had been
approved of at Carthage, and which we receive at the
present day. And Pope Gelasius, towards the close of the fifth century, having assembled a Council of seventy bishops, published the same canon which Innocent had previously settled. Thus we find that the tradition of the Western Church on this subject was complete, so early as the beginning of the fifth century.
The decisions of the Council of Carthage, of Innocent the First, and of the Roman Council under Gelasius, seem to have produced unanimity on this subject in the Western Church; for we do not find that any other Council thought it necessary to publish any list of the canonical books, until the Council of Florence assembled in the early part of the fifteenth century. In the interim, a few divines occasionally expressed a doubt of the perfect canonicity of some of the books, and by doing so at that time, they did not thereby break the unity of the Church ; for though the Fathers of the preceding Councils had published their de
cisions on this point for the instruction of the faithfull, they had not published them in such a fan as to dilige all Christians to beliere them ander pain of sin. It was sufficient to let the people know what books the Church approved of; but it was not as yet necessary to render it imperative on all to believe in their divine origin, particularly as those who doubted of their perfect canonicity had no doubt of the propriety of reading them with all the attention and respect that was due, as well to their renerable antiquity, as to the bols doctrine which they contained.
The Council of Florence is considered by Catholics as Ecumenical, and was assembled by Eugene the Fourth for the purpose of effecting a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western Churches. Besides the Pope and the Bishops of the Latin Church, it was also attended by the Emperor of the East, by the Patriarch of Constanti. nople, and by many other bishops and abbots of the Greek Church. The principal points of difference between the Greeks and Latins were discussed with greatenergy during twenty-five sessions; and we may conclude that there was no difference as to the canonical scriptures, from the fact of there having been no discussion whatever on this point. It would have been, therefore, unnecessary for the Council to have come to any decision on the subject, were it not that towards the close of their proceedings, ber of deputies arrived from the Armenians, who then formed a large schismatical Church. The patriarchs of these people came in order to have their Church once more united to the great body of Christianity; and this having been accomplished, the Council ordered a decree to be drawn up for their instructions. In this document we find a list of the canonical books, which corresponds
precisely with the list which had been published by the Council of Carthage, and which has since been republished by the Council of Trent. The Council did not think it necessary to frame this list in such a way as to render the belief of its accuracy a necessary article of faith.
It is known that many of the Greeks who attended the Council, relapsed into schism after returning into their own country; and that they are still separated from the unity of the Catholic Church. It is, however, very remarkable, that though they differ from us in other points, and though they deny the supremacy of the Pope, they continue to preserve the same canon of Scripture which we possess; and our adversaries have never been able to prevail upon the Greeks to conform to the Protestant doctrine in this, or indeed in any other point. This coincidence could not have arisen from any influence we had over them, nor for any love they bear towards our Church, for though they approach much nearer to the Catholic faith than any other sect, it is quite notorious that a strong aversion for the Western Church is a very general feeling among them. How then does it happen that they receive the same canonical scriptures? From the fourth to the ninth century we find nothing but jealousy and dislike on their part towards the Latin Church. From the ninth century to the present day, the two Churches have been openly opposed to each other; and most certainly the Greek Church would not willingly agree with us in the canon of the Scripture, if they could at all avoid doing so. But the force of truth is too great,—they cannot reject those books which their own most ancient tradition obliges them to receive.
The early reformers rejected or admitted as it best suited