Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Michuta Canon Dilemma


If you’ve been following the aomin blog, you already know Catholic apologist Gary Michuta has a new book coming out this month: Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. There has been some interaction between Michuta, James White, and William Webster over the canon declaration of Hippo, Carthage, and Trent. Did the early councils of Hippo and Carthage deem a book canonical that Trent later rejected as canonical? It’s a little tricky to work through. I posted on this some months ago. Recently, William Webster posted on it as well:

Bill Webster Responds to Gary Michuta Part I
Bill Webster Responds to Gary Michuta, Part III

Without restating all the argumentation, Michuta argues Trent decided to “pass over in silence” on the question of the particular book of Esdras under dispute. Michuta says:

“Both White and Webster take the position that the absence of a book called Esdras in the Council of Trent’s definition of the canon constitutes, not mere silence on the issue, but a clear and explicit rejection of the book “without the slightest ambiguity.” This is a big deal for them because, if it is true, then a case could be made that Trent contradicted the Councils of Carthage and Hippo which they understand to have explicitly included Esdras (no doubt without the slightest possible ambiguity there either). My position is that, whatever we want to make of the status of Esdras, the question of a contradiction between Trent and Carthage cannot arise because the bishops at Trent explicitly avoided answering the question. White and Webster seem to be under the impression that this idea is my own "novel" interpretation of the decree of the Fourth Session. It is nothing of the kind.”

And also:

“Let me be perfectly clear. My assertion that the Council of Trent passed over the question of the canonicity of Esdras in silence is not a matter of my own or anyone else’s interpretation of the decree. It is a historical fact.”

I think Gary Michuta may have cornered himself by his own argumentation. While he solved one problem, he created another.

Let’s grant Michuta’s assertion that Trent “passed over in silence” on the book of Esdras in question. This means in the Roman system, as interpreted by Michuta, the possibility exists that the book in question is canonical, but not in the canon. Therefore, it is possible that the Bible is missing a book, in which case, Roman Catholics cannot be certain they have an infallible list of all the infallible books. In which case, their arguments stating they have canon certainty crumbles. It would also mean, the canon is still open. Michuta notes that 42 people at Trent voted to pass over the book in silence. If Michuta is correct on his interpretation of Trent, these 42 people solved the problem of the contradiction between Hippo, Carthage, and Trent, but created the problem of an unclosed canon, and thrust Catholics into uncertainty.

Michuta notes 3 people at Trent voted to reject the book of Esdras in question. These three people uphold Catholic argumentation on Canon certainty: yes, the book of Esdras in question is not canonical. The canon is closed. Catholics have a complete infallible list of infallible books. In this answer, the earlier councils of Hippo and Carthage deemed Esdras canonical, but these three men at Trent say it’s not. In other words, if these men were followed, it would prove councils are not infallible. The councils contradicted themselves.

Go ahead, argue Trent “passed over in silence”. It proves once and for all Catholic arguments for canon certainty are empty. The argument shows clearly that sophistry is at work. The argument is like trying to scotch tape together a structure that needs to be demolished. The epistemological foundation of Roman Catholicism is top heavy from its weak foundation, one that is built on sand.

24 comments:

Oddball Pastor said...

Very well stated, Jim.

I am happy to grant the idea that Michuta is correct, since it does not really advance the RC apologetic cause. At best, it is a step to the side.

Nonetheless I would want to see whether his argument really passes scholarly muster.

Apolonio said...

James,

I would ask you to re-read what you wrote and see if what you said is logical. I can already see many logical loopholes.

I'll let you correct them before I do.

johnMark said...

Speaking of dilemmas have you seen this article?

Mark

James Swan said...

Apolonio-

I have only 1 simple question. Does the Roman Catholic Church know what the status of the book of Esdras in question is? Michuta says they passed over it in silence, not stating one way or the other as to it being canonical. If you're answer is yes, then deal with the implications.

Apolonio said...

james,

suppose i answered "yes" with Michuta. your "implications" are not logical. again, look over your reasoning and see the irrationality of it.

Ric said...

Attack the creditability of the poster and not of the argument. Sad apolonio, sad!

Apolonio said...

James,

Happy Pascha!! He is Risen.

Suppose that Michuta is right, that is, that there is a possibility that there is a book that is scriptural but not in the canon of scripture right now; in your words, the book is canonical but not in the canon. You said, "Therefore, it is possible that the Bible is missing a book, in which case, Roman Catholics cannot be certain they have an infallible list of all the infallible books." The word "all" there is not necessary. We Catholics believe that we have an infallible list of inerrant books. This means that the Holy Spirit **prevented** any non-inspired books to be in the canon. It does not mean that there cannot be an open canon. For example, Romans is an inspired book. It is inerrant. The Holy Spirit prevented any words which would be contradictory to God or non-inspired. This does not mean that there cannot be any other inspired texts, only that the words we have from Paul are all inspired. In other words, the Scriptures in the canon of the Catholic Church are all Scripture, but it does not mean that we cannot have certainty that *these* books are Scripture. We do. We believe that these 73 are inspired.

What about the open question? Well, I'm assuming you should believe this too. If someone found the ending of Mark 16, you're going to say, "This is inspired." If someone found other letters from Paul, you would say "these are inspired."

So I am just asking to change your argument a bit. I myself can see a better argument against Michuta (it does not mean that it cannot be defeated though).

James Swan said...

Apolonio, I struggle with whom I am to believe on this, you, or the Catholic Catechism. You state,

We Catholics believe that we have an infallible list of inerrant books. This means that the Holy Spirit **prevented** any non-inspired books to be in the canon. It does not mean that there cannot be an open canon.

The Catholic Catechism states,

120 It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books.[90]

This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New.[91]

Exactly what does the Catechism mean by "complete", and exactly what do you mean by "open"? I thought i knew what these words meant, but obviously I'm confused.

As to someone finding the actual ending of Mark, I don't believe this will ever happen, because I think Mark ends at 16:8. That is the way God intended it to end in his providence over His book.

Similarly with "new" letters from Paul. There will not be any "new" letters from Paul, because God has given us what he intended to give us. In other words, God is not, nor was not, incapable of preserving His book.

James Swan said...

Apolonio-

Trent said,

"The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,—lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding therein,—keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence,

all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both —as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

Is it "all" or isn't it? Have they "come down" or haven't they? Do you "receive and venerate with an equal affection of piety, and reverence" a book that may have come down, which you may, or may not have?

I think Michuta has caused more problems with answer than solved.

Of course, i'm not allowed on Envoy anymore, so perhaps you could mention these two responses to him. Thanks.

Apolonio said...

James,

I will respond to you this week. Enjoy Easter! May you and your family be embraced by God's glorious love.

Joel said...

James,

I'm new to your website so maybe you've addressed this question before, but regarding the ending of Mark's Gospel, have you read the works of 19th-century textual critic John Burgon? He makes a good case for accepting the traditional ending of Mark, as well as for other Majority Text readings.

Karoar said...

you actually don't have to go the route of Michuta to get harmony between the canons of trent and carthage. I think it can be shown as far back as origen that the Ezra-Nehemia were actually split into two books called 1st and 2nd Esdras, and that the canon of the vulgate and carthage both correspond to this earlier seperation and don't follow the LXX in combining these into one book contra Webster. This would then show a perfect continuity between carthage, the vulgate, and trent.

John Betts actually has a great article on this over at
catholic-legate.com

Anonymous said...

karoar,

But according to Michuta, John Betts is also wrong. Remember Michuta is claiming it is simple historical facts that Trent passed over the book in silence. He even provides the actual vote. It was like 42-3.

karoar said...

I'm not convinced by Michuta's view of Trent yet, perhaps when his book comes out he will convince me.

yet regardless of this, it seems to me that the canon that Trent did accept was the same as that of Carthage. Betts seems to prove this by the citation of Origen, and also by the fact that Jerome and Augustine argued extensively over the canon and never had a disagreement about 1 esdras or the division in general. Also Jerome claims that the canon he has in the vulgate is that which is used throughout the whole church...hardly the case if some following the LXX were also reading 1st esdras as canonical.

Anonymous said...


I'm not convinced by Michuta's view of Trent yet, perhaps when his book comes out he will convince me.


Well if he convinces you then you have the problem that James has documented.


yet regardless of this, it seems to me that the canon that Trent did accept was the same as that of Carthage. Betts seems to prove this by the citation of Origen, and also by the fact that Jerome and Augustine argued extensively over the canon and never had a disagreement about 1 esdras or the division in general. Also Jerome claims that the canon he has in the vulgate is that which is used throughout the whole church...hardly the case if some following the LXX were also reading 1st esdras as canonical.

But once again this not according to the infallible council. Who do you believe the infallible council or some guy named John Betts? Michuta says Trent realized the issue and explicitly voted to pass over it in silence.

Apolonio said...

James,

I promised I would respond this week, but I think it's best for me to wait until Michuta's book comes out. I think you might have a point with the catechism with "complete," but the quote on Trent doesn't hurt his argument because "all" in that passage may just simply refer to what they have canonized at that point; a quantifier is imbedded in the context as any linguistic philosopher will tell you. So I'll give you the catechism, but not Trent.

I'll just end it here and wait til his book comes out (although I think you might know what I will say to your response on new letters of Paul or Mark 16).

James Swan said...

promised I would respond this week, but I think it's best for me to wait until Michuta's book comes out.

Yes, I am waiting for Gary's book as well. I'm interested to see if he follows the approach of Sippo/Betts on 1 Esdras, or if he sticks with the "silence" explanation.

Take Care- stop by the chat channel-

James

John Betts said...

Hello, Mr. Swan. I came across your blog (and that of Jason Engwer) when I did a Google search after being notified of Mr. Webster's reply to my 2004 article on Esdras. As I said on Engwer's blog, I've read Mr. Webster's post at aomin.org and have emailed him that I will reply to it in a few weeks. I hope to have some time to do this even sooner. At the moment important matters in the real world demand my attention. Nevertheless, I shall address what he has raised.

While I will not discuss my reply at this time, I did want to make a few responses to issues raised here:

1. My article involved the Esdras question Mr. Webster initially raised and that alone. Questions involving the rest of the Deuteros, infallibility, etc. I leave to others. My reason is simple (which I gave in my article): such matters have been addressed by others to my satisfaction undoubtedly far better than I am capable of. It seems a waste of my time to re-hash what has been argued back and forth for about 5 centuries now since I do not feel I can contribute anything original. I may change my mind about that someday, but I doubt it. I have no problem discussing these other issues yet feel no need to write an article about them.

2. You write: "I'm interested to see if he follows the approach of Sippo/Betts on 1 Esdras, or if he sticks with the 'silence' explanation."

Gary is correct that Trent passed over in silence about 1 (3) Esdras, 2 (4) Esdras, along with 3 & 4 Maccabees and certain portions of the NT. I see no contradiction between what Gary has written and what I wrote. I shall briefly address this in my reply, but leave it to Gary to expand on this in his own rebuttal to Mr. Webster. Such was not an essential part of my original article and isn't affected by it.

3. Anonymous wrote: "Who do you believe the infallible council or some guy named John Betts? Michuta says Trent realized the issue and explicitly voted to pass over it in silence."

Allow me to say that I trust Catholics will listen to the Church before anything I write or utter. I know I certainly do. Yet the "issue" isn't as clear or "realized" as you claim which I shall address soon in my reply.

Thank you, Mr. Swan, for allowing me to post here. I look forward to comments on my reply to Mr. Webster when it is posted at Catholic Legate. God bless.

John Betts said...

My response to Mr. Webster is now up at Catholic Legate:

http://www.catholic-legate.com/articles/esdras2.html

PeaceByJesus said...

"Michuta notes that 42 people at Trent voted to pass."

I know this is old, but i think i remember reading that there was some controversy a as to whether Trent actually had the vote. Has that been settled? Thanks

James Swan said...

I know this is old, but i think i remember reading that there was some controversy a as to whether Trent actually had the vote. Has that been settled? Thanks

Sorry, I'm not familiar with this controversy.

PeaceByJesus said...

I am sorry for not having found the link before i posted it, but i am referring to this. It is not clear to me if the matter was settled as to whether Trent did indeed vote as stated on the canon.
http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2008/01/why-anti-protestants-should-sharpen.html
http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2008/01/underwhelming-trent-vote-part-4.html

James Swan said...

Ah, OK, these were Carrie's posts. I haven't kept up with Mr. Michuta's work, so I don't know if he ever responded to Carrie.

That being said, Carrie's posts are quite interesting. Too bad these posts are buried in the blog archives. I should probably bring them back up to the top to see if any further discussion occurs. There's a lot more materials readily available now.

PeaceByJesus said...

Perhaps that might be worthy, as many a RCA (RC apologist) yet contend that the canon was settled at Hippo, and if not Hippo then Carthage, and if not Carthage then Florence, but while these did evidence a substantial degree of establishment, this blog and other source establish that substantial dissent continued down thru the centuries and right into Trent, which finally settled the matter (but not the manner of exegesis, as RC approved liberal scholars relegate historical stories to being fables and folk tales). And which canon was not exactly the same as the prior "established" canon.

Which means either the prior ones were not infallible, or Trent's is not, but the idea of formulaic assured infalliblespeak was not subscribe to by dissenting RC scholars.

Due to the controversy, statements by RC sources seem to be careful worded, such as "The Tridentine decrees from which the above list is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal. ” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm; cf. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II, Bible, III (Canon), p. 390; cf. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, Footnote #4, p. 17; )

The Catholc Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. RG27, states,

"The final definitive list of biblical books (including the seven additional Old Testament books) was only drawn up at the council of Trent in 1546."