Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Canon of the Council of Laodicea

Here's a stray canon tidbit that doesn't get a lot of attention. A canon list purporting to have been compiled by the Council of Laodicea (about A.D. 363) excludes the apocrypha and the book of Revelation, and includes Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah (as part of Jeremiah).

59. Let no private psalms nor any uncanonical books be read in church, but only the canonical ones of the New and Old Testament.

60. It is proper to recognize as many books as these: of the Old Testament, 1. the Genesis of the world; 2. the Exodus from Egypt; 3. Leviticus; 4. Numbers; 5. Deuteronomy; 6. Joshua the son of Nun; 7. Judges and Ruth; 8. Esther; 9. First and Second Kings [i.e. First and Second Samuel]; 10. Third and Fourth Kings [i.e. First and Second Kings]; 11. First and Second Chronicles; 12. First and Second Ezra [i.e. Ezra and Nehemiah]; 13. the book of one hundred and fifty Psalms; 14. the Proverbs of Solomon; 15. Ecclesiastes; 16. Song of Songs; 17. Job; 18. the Twelve [minor] Prophets; 19. Isaiah; 20. Jeremiah and Baruch, Lamentations and the Epistle [of Jeremiah]; 21. Ezekiel; 22. Daniel.


And the books of the New Testament: 4 Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; seven catholic epistles, namely, 1 of James, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of Jude; fourteen epistles of Paul, 1 to the Romans, 2 to the Corinthians, 1 to the Galatians, 1 to the Ephesians, 1 to the Philippians, 1 to the Colossians, 2 to the Thessalonians, 1 to the Hebrews, 2 to Timothy, 1 to Titus, and 1 to Philemon. [source]

The Old Testament list is very similar to Cyril of Jerusalem's list, as well as that of Athanasius (with the exception of including Esther). If someone did add it at a later date, it's at least evidence that someone else denied the apocrypha, or felt the need to clarify Laodicea. An interesting question to ask about Canon #60: Did someone add it to make Canon #59 make more sense? If a Council is going to say "Let no private psalms nor any uncanonical books be read in church, but only the canonical ones of the New and Old Testament," the next question is then "which books"?

While I wouldn't use this list as any sort of definitive canon proof, it does have an interesting history. Below are a sampling of some of the opinions on canon #60.


Phillip Schaff on Canon 60

Philip Schaff states:

In 1777 Spittler published a special treatise to shew that the list of scriptural books was no part of the original canon adopted by Laodicea. Hefele gives the following resume of his argument:

(a) That Dionysius Exiguus has not this canon in his translation of the Laodicean decrees. It might, indeed, be said with Dallaeus and Van Espen, that Dionysius omitted this list of the books of Scripture because in Rome, where he composed his work, another by Innocent I. was in general use.

(b) But, apart from the fact that Dionysius is always a most faithful translator, this sixtieth canon is also omitted by John of Antioch, one of the most esteemed and oldest Greek collectors of canons, who could have had no such reasons as Dionysius for his omission.

(c) Lastly, Bishop Martin of Braga in the sixth century, though he has the fifty-ninth, has also not included in his collection the sixtieth canon so nearly related to it, nor does the Isidorian translation appear at first to have had this canon. Herbst, in the Tubingen Review, also accedes to these arguments of Spittler’s, as did Fuchs and others before him. Mr. Ffoulkes in his article on the Council of Laodicea in Smith and Cheetham’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities at length attempts to refute all objections, and affirms the genuineness of the list, but his conclusions can hardly be accepted when the careful consideration and discussion of the matter by Bishop Westcott is kept in mind. (History of the Canon of the New Testament, IIId. Period, chapter 2:[p. 428 of the 4th Edition.]) [
source]

On the absence of Revelation, Schaff states:

The Council of Laodicea (363) gives a list of the books of our New Testament with the exception of the Apocalypse. The last canon which contains this list, is probably a later addition, yet the long-established ecclesiastical use of all the books, with some doubts as to the Apocalypse, is confirmed by the scattered testimonies of all the great Nicene and post Nicene fathers, as Athanasius (d. 373), Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), Gregory of Nazianzum (d. 389), Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403), Chrysostom (d. 407), etc. [source]

von Hefele on Canon 60
The major source Schaff is using is Karl Joseph von Hefele - A History of the Christian Councils: from the original documents. von Hefele was a Roman Catholic theologian (see the Catholic Encyclopedia). He actually argues in favor of canon #60, "the silence of Dionysins, John of Antioch, and Martin of Braga, are not in my opinion sufficient to outweigh the many manuscripts and quotations which support the sixtieth canon. And that only fifty-nine Laodicean canons are cited by many of the ancient Fathers proves nothing for Spittler, because, as he himself states, in very many old manuscripts the fifty-ninth and sixtieth canons were written as one, as the latter does in fact belong to the former".

He states in full:

In this list of the canonical books, which approaches that given in the Apostolic Canons, No. 85 (84), are wanting of the Old Testament, the books of Judith, Tobias, Wisdom, Jesus the son of Sirach, Maccabees; of the New Testament, the Apocalypse of S. John, Such an omission is, however, the less remarkable, as it is known that in the fourth century it was the custom, even among the Fathers of the Church (for instance, Athanasius), to reckon in the catalogue of the Holy Scriptures only the proto-canonical, and not the deutero-canonical books. The same applies to the Revelation of S. John, which was also in the fourth century thought not to be genuine by a large number of Greeks.

A special treatise concerning the genuineness of this canon was published by Spittler in 1777, in which he seeks to show that it did not emanate from the Synod of Laodicea, but was only added later, and taken from the eighty-fifth Apostolic Canon. His principal reasons are:

(a) That Dionysius Exiguus has not this canon in his translation of the Laodicean decrees. It might, indeed, be said with Dallaeus and Van Espen, that Dionysius omitted this list of the books of Scripture because in Rome, where he composed his work, another by Innocent I was in general use.

(b) But, apart from the fact that Dionysius is always a most faithful translator, this sixtieth canon is also omitted by John of Antioch, one of the most esteemed and oldest Greek collectors of canons, who could have had no such reasons as Dionysius for his omission.

(c) Lastly, Bishop Martin of Braga in the sixth century, though he has the fifth-ninth, has also not included in his collection the sixtieth canon so nearly related to it, nor does the Isidorian translation appear (?) at first to have had this canon. Herbst, in the Tubingen Review also accedes to these arguments of Spittler's, as did Fuchs and others before him. But Schrockh at least, even if somewhat hesitatingly, has raised the objection, that if this Synod in its fifty-ninth canon ordered that only the canonical books should be read, an explanation was obviously needed as to which are the canonical books. To this I may further add, first, that the Laodicean Canon of Scripture and that of the Canones Apost. are by no means identical, as Spittler assumes, but differ essentially both in the Old and New Testament; secondly, that the two argumenta ex silentio which Spittler alone employs in favour of his assertion, namely, the silence of Dionysins, John of Antioch, and Martin of Braga, are not in my opinion sufficient to outweigh the many manuscripts and quotations which support the sixtieth canon. And that only fifty-nine Laodicean canons are cited by many of the ancient Fathers proves nothing for Spittler, because, as he himself states, in very many old manuscripts the fifty-ninth and sixtieth canons were written as one, as the latter does in fact belong to the former. [
source]

Wescott on Canon #60
Brooke Foss Westcott has also weighed in on canon #60. While Wescott argues against its authenticity, he suggests it was included to reflect the Eastern canon rather than the Western canon:

Of this Canon the first paragraph is recognised as genuine with unimportant variations by every authority; the second, the Catalogue of the Books itself, is omitted in various Manuscripts and versions; and in order to arrive at a fair estimate of its claims to authenticity, it will be necessary to notice briefly the different forms in which the Canons of the ancient Church have been preserved.

The Greek Manuscripts of the Canons may be divided into two classes, those which contain the simple text, and those which contain in addition the scholia of the great commentators. Manuscripts of the second class in no case date from an earlier period than the end of the twelfth century, the era of Balsamon and Zonaras, the most famous Greek canonists. Yet it is on this class of Manuscripts, which contain the Catalogue in question, that the printed editions are based. The earliest Manuscript of the first class with which I am acquainted is of the eleventh century, and one is as late as the fifteenth. The evidence on the disputed paragraph which these Manuscripts afford is extremely interesting. Two omit the Catalogue entirely. In another it is inserted after a vacant space. A fourth contains it on a new page with red dots above and below. In a fifth it appears wholly written in red letters. Three others give it as a part of the last Canon, though headed with a new rubric. In one it appears as a part of the 59th Canon without interruption or break; and in two (of the latest date) numbered as a new Canon. It is impossible not to feel that these several Manuscripts mark the steps by which the Catalogue gained its place in the present Greek text; but it may still be questioned whether it may not have thus regained a place which it had lost before. And thus we are led to notice some versions of the Canons which date from a period anterior to the oldest Greek Manuscripts.

The Latin version exists in a threefold form. The earliest (Versio Prised) is fragmentary, and does not contain the Laodicene Canons. But two other versions by Dionysius and Isidore are complete. In the first of these, which dates from the middle of the sixth century, though it exists in two distinct recensions, there is no trace of the Catalogue. In the second, on the contrary, with only two exceptions, as far as I am aware, the Catalogue constantly appears. And though the Isidorian version in its general form only dates from the ninth century, two Manuscripts remain which are probably as old as the ninth century, and both of these contain it. So far then it appears that the evidence of the Latin versions for and against the authenticity of the Catalogue is nearly balanced, the testimony of Italy confronting that of Spain.

The Syriac Manuscripts of the British Museum are however more than sufficient to turn the scale. Three Manuscripts of the Laodicene Canons are found in that collection, which are as old as the sixth or seventh century. All of these contain the fifty-ninth Canon, but without any Catalogue. And this testimony is of twofold value from the fact that one of them gives a different translation from that of the other two.

Nor is this all: in addition to the direct versions of the Canons, systematic collections and synopses of them were made at various times, which have an important bearing upon the question. One of the earliest of these was drawn up by Martin bishop of Braga in Portugal at the middle of the sixth century. This collection contains the first paragraph of the Laodicene Canon, without any trace of the second; and the testimony which it offers is of more importance, because it was based on an examination of Greek authorities, and those of a very early date, since they did not notice the Councils of Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, which were included in the collection of the fifth century*. Johannes Scholasticus, a presbyter of Antioch, formed a digest of Canons under different heads about the same time, and this contains no reference to the Laodicene Catalogue, but on the contrary the list of Holy Scriptures is taken from the last of the Apostolic Canons. The Nontocanon is a later revision of the work of Johannes, and contains only the undisputed paragraph ; but in a third and later recension the Laodicene and Apostolic Catalogues are both inserted.

On the whole then it cannot be doubted that external evidence is decidedly against the authenticity of the Catalogue as an integral part of the text of the Canons of Laodicea, nor can any internal evidence be brought forward sufficient to explain its omission in Syria, Italy, and Portugal, in the sixth century, if it had been so. Yet even thus it is necessary to account for its insertion in the version of Isidore. So much is evident at once, that the Catalogue is of Eastern and not of Western origin; and, except in details of order, it agrees exactly with that given by Cyril of Jerusalem. Is it then an unreasonable supposition that some early copyist endeavoured to supply, either from the writings of Cyril, or more probably from the usage of the Church which Cyril represented, the list of books which seemed to be required by the language of the last genuine Canon? In this way it is easy to understand how some Manuscripts should have incorporated the addition, while others preserved the original text; and the known tendency of copyists to make their works full rather than pure, will account for its general reception at last. [
source]


Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger
Gary Michuta likewise comments on this list in his book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. Gary notes Laodicea was a local council issuing no doctrinal decrees, but rather disciplinary decrees (p. 117). He states of canon #60, "Furthermore, even if it could be proved to represent the authentic view of the council, this Sixtieth Canon would have been a disciplinary measure not a doctrinal one. That is, it sought to legislate the practice of the Church (discipline) and not the teaching of the Church (doctrine)" (pp.118-119).

On the other hand, when commenting on the local councils of Hippo and Carthage, Gary insists these local councils are a witness to the inspiration of the apocrypha reflecting "the common usage of the church" (p.162). Now that's interesting because the Catholic Encyclopedia says of these councils:

Carthage was formerly the head of the whole of Africa, as St. Augustine tells us in his Epistle CLXII. From this cause it happened that a great number of councils were held there, gathered from all the provinces of Africa. Especially while Aurelius as Archbishop was occupying the throne were these meetings of bishops frequently holden; and by these, for the establishing of ecclesiastical discipline in Africa, many canons were enacted. [source]

I sense a double standard, but I do agree with Gary that in Romanism a local council doesn't make definitive statements for the entire Roman Catholic Church. William Webster points out:

...the Councils of Hippo and Carthage... were provincial Councils which had no authority to rule on the canon for the Church as a whole. Augustine, who was the guiding spirit of these Councils, admitted as much:

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal [NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustin, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 8].

Augustine acknowledged the lack of unanimity in the Churches regarding the canon and gave advice on how to determine which books were truly canonical. In effect he said one was to follow the judgment of the majority of churches. So, if it could be shown that some of the books sanctioned by Hippo and Carthage were not accepted as canonical by the majority of Churches then the North African Churches must yield on this point. Obviously, then, in promulgating the decree on the canon, Hippo and Carthage were not laying down a law for the universal Church but expressing the opinion and practice of their particular region. Since the Bible used by the North African Church was the Old Latin, a translation of the Septuagint which included a number of the books of the Apocrypha, these Councils were simply confirming the traditional canon for the North African Church based on the Septuagint.

4 comments:

Rhology said...

Point of order - the question of authenticity of canons like this one are interesting from a historical perspective, but not from the perspective of "is there unbroken and uniform teaching down thru time?" Even if a teaching claimed to be from an older time or from a more venerable name or council, it still represents a viewpoint that existed in tradition. Thus it falls to the modern church to give it the thumbs-up (as big S-A-T Sacred Apostolic Tradition) or thumbs-down (as little-t tradition).

The frequent claims of RCC and EOC do not stand up before even the slightest hint of historical inconsistency. And there's way more than a slight hint.
Which is why it's awfully nice to be a Sola Scripturist.

James Swan said...

Well said.

beowulf2k8 said...

"Which is why it's awfully nice to be a Sola Scripturist."

How does a Sola Scripturist justify their canon?

Better yet, how do they explain Isaiah 7 not being about Jesus (although 'Matthew' claims it is) without resorting to childish tactics like double fulfillment theories?

Rhology said...

We trust Jesus.

And why would we exclude double fulfillment theories?