I’ve been curiously stopping by the blog, Crossed the Tiber (run by a person named “Tiber Jumper”). I guess in terms of “blog-marketing,” this blog title catches my interest, as I am a regular “blog-consumer” so to speak. I was interested by the entry, St. Damasus and the Canon of Scripture. This entry asserts:
“It was at the Council of Rome in 382 that St. Pope Damasus decreed the final canon of Scripture. Often, it is said that the Council of Trent codified the canon of Scripture after the reformation, but the evidence points to this early council as the when the canon was finalized. The Council of Trent reiterated the canon in a response to the reformer's revision of the historic canon.”
The canon as allegedly defined by Damasus includes the apocryphal books, so it's important for Catholics that the statement from this early Pope be used as historical proof for the Bible they claim their Church has infallibly defined. As usual, my questions and critique focuses on the consistency of Roman Catholic paradigms, and the certainty Roman Catholics claim to have. And as usual, upon closer scrutiny, it will be shown the distinct position held by the Catholic writer above on the canon is not consistent, nor does the historical record provide any certainty for the beliefs espoused above. The historical record is important in Catholicism, because the claim made by the current batch of Catholic apologists is that Rome provides “certainty”.
1. The Council of Rome was not an Ecumenical Council
First of all, Roman Catholics are supposed to believe that Concilliar statements which bind all Christians are those put forth by Ecumenical Councils. The Catholic Encyclopedia points out: “Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians.” Was the Council of Rome an Ecumenical Council? No it was not. It was a local council. Were the decrees issues by this council then infallible binding pronouncements for the universal church? No. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “….only the decisions of ecumenical councils and the ex cathedra teaching of the pope have been treated as strictly definitive in the canonical sense, and the function of the magisterium ordinarium has been concerned with the effective promulgation and maintenance of what has been formally defined by the magisterium solemne or may be legitimately deduced from its definitions.” So, in terms of the council of Rome being a binding council for all Christians, it was not. Here we find that whatever was said at the Council of Rome cannot bind all Christians. Whatever was said at the Council of Rome can provide no certainty for a Roman Catholic. Hence, it cannot be true, in a consistent Roman Catholic paradigm, that the Council of Rome infallibly decreed the final Canon.
2. Did Pope Damasus Speak Infallibly at the Council of Rome?
But the Pope was at the Council of Rome, was he not? Doesn’t this mean what he said at this local council binds the universal church? In the decree on the Canon, Damasus is reported as saying:
“…the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other Churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Here we can infer that the statement on the Canon issued by Damasus is infallible because the Roman Church and Pope speak infallibly. But here is a rarely cited fact by the defenders of Rome. The statement above, and indeed, the entire statement from Damasus listing the Canonical books, probably didn’t come from Damasus. F.F. Bruce notes,
“What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. (Source: F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988], p. 97)
So this statement from Damasus didn’t actually come from Damasus. In fact, as far as I know, there isn’t a written formal record of the proceedings at the Council of Rome to have certainty exactly what was said or decreed. Much historical speculation then surrounds the decree of the Canon by Damasus. The bottom line though, is that Roman Catholics cannot have any certainty on the accuracy of this statement. Of course, they are free to believe it, but they do so on faith, not on historical verification. Thus to be deep in history, is not to be certain that the Roman Catholic Church infallibly defined the Canon in 382.