We all know that the Council of Trent made the official pronouncement on the Canon of Sacred Scripture, and in that pronouncement determinded, once and for all, that the apocryphal books were indeed Sacred Scripture (for Roman Catholics). I’ve always wondered though, what criteria the Council of Trent used to determine which books of the Bible were canonical. Some of the answers I’ve been given are: Trent did not determine the canon, they simply reaffirmed the canon; and: The Holy Spirit determined the outcome of Trent by His presence among this infallible council.
For my response to the first answer, I would direct the interested reader to my link here. I’d like to take a look at the second answer. Now, is the Holy Spirit another way of saying “the majority vote”? If so, where does this precedent come from? Does “the majority vote” go against the opinions of the best scholars at the Council of Trent? What if those who were considered some of the best scholars on the canon at the Council of Trent thought the apocryphal books were not Scripture?
Well, this was the situation. There was a group of scholars at the Council of Trent that were considered fairly knowledgeable on this issue. One particular was Cardinal Seripando. The Roman Catholic historian (and expert on Trent) Hubert Jedin explained “…[H]e was aligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship” at the Council of Trent.
Jedin is worth quoting at length:
(Seripando was) Impressed by the doubts of St. Jerome, Rufinus, and St. John Damascene about the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, Seripando favored a distinction in the degrees of authority of the books of the Florentine canon. The highest authority among all the books of the Old Testament must be accorded those which Christ Himself and the apostles quoted in the New Testament, especially the Psalms. But the rule of citation in the New Testament does not indicate the difference of degree in the strict sense of the word, because certain Old Testament books not quoted in the New Testament are equal in authority to those quoted. St. Jerome gives an actual difference in degree of authority when he gives a higher place to those books which are adequate to prove a dogma than to those which are read merely for edification. The former, the protocanonical books, are "libri canonici et authentici"; Tobias, Judith, the Book of Wisdom, the books of Esdras, Ecclesiasticus, the books of the Maccabees, and Baruch are only "canonici et ecclesiastici" and make up the canon morum in contrast to the canon fidei. These, Seripando says in the words of St. Jerome, are suited for the edification of the people, but they are not authentic, that is, not sufficient to prove a dogma. Seripando emphasized that in spite of the Florentine canon the question of a twofold canon was still open and was treated as such by learned men in the Church. Without doubt he was thinking of Cardinal Cajetan, who in his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews accepted St. Jerome's view which had had supporters throughout the Middle Ages.” Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 270-271
“For the last time [Seripando] expressed his doubts [to the Council of Trent] about accepting the deuterocanonical books into the canon of faith. Together with the apostolic traditions the so-called apostolic canons were being accepted, and the eighty-fifth canon listed the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) as non-canonical. Now, he said, it would be contradictory to accept, on the one hand, the apostolic traditions as the foundation of faith and, on the other, to directly reject one of them.” Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 278.Jedin also documents a group of excellent scholars that stood against “tradition” as being on the same level of authority as scripture:
“In his opposition to accepting the Florentine canon and the equalization of traditions with Holy Scripture, Seripando did not stand alone. In the particular congregation of March 23, the learned Dominican Bishop Bertano of Fano had already expressed the view that Holy Scripture possessed greater authority than the traditions because the Scriptures were unchangeable; that only offenders against the biblical canon should come under the anathema, not those who deny the principle of tradition; that it would be unfortunate if the Council limited itself to the apostolic canons, because the Protestants would say that the abrogation of some of these traditions was arbitrary and represented an abuse… Another determined opponent of putting traditions on a par with Holy Scripture, as well as the anathema, was the Dominican Nacchianti. The Servite general defended the view that all the evangelical truths were contained in the Bible, and he subscribed to the canon of St. Jerome, as did also Madruzzo and Fonseca on April 1. While Seripando abandoned his view as a lost cause, Madruzzo, the Carmelite general, and the Bishop of Agde stood for the limited canon, and the bishops of Castellamare and Caorle urged the related motion to place the books of Judith, Baruch, and Machabees in the "canon ecclesiae." From all this it is evident that Seripando was by no means alone in his views. In his battle for the canon of St. Jerome and against the anathema and the parity of traditions with Holy Scripture, he was aligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship.” Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 281-282.