Sunday, October 02, 2011

Did Jerome Change His Mind on the Apocrypha ?

Here's an old post written by my friend Ray Aviles. I originally posted it 06/14/06.

By Ray Aviles

There’s an argument going around the Catholic apologetic circles claiming that Jerome changed his position on the Apocrypha later in his life. That he came to accept these books as inspired because of the “judgment of the churches” on this matter. Furthermore, they claim the evidence of this lies in his citing these books using the word “Scripture” to define them. RC apologist Mark Shea provides an example of this in an Envoy Magazine article (found here: He writes:

"In his later years St. Jerome did indeed accept the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. In fact, he wound up strenuously defending their status as inspired Scripture, writing, "What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume (ie. canon), proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn't relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us" (Against Rufinus 11:33 [A.D. 402]). In earlier correspondence with Pope Damasus, Jerome did not call the deuterocanonical books unscriptural, he simply said that Jews he knew did not regard them as canonical. But for himself, he acknowledged the authority of the Church in defining the canon. When Pope Damasus and the Councils of Carthage and Hippo included the deuterocanon in Scripture, that was good enough for St. Jerome. He "followed the judgment of the churches."

Shea not only claims that Jerome accepted them, but that he “strenuously” defended them. A word used to intrigue the reader, but there is no evidence that he defended them, let alone “strenuously.” Furthermore, from the citation above, he states that Jerome followed the “judgment of the churches”, which Shea translates as the synods of Hippo and Carthage, but he is mistaken. Contextually, the “judgment of the churches” refers to Theodotion’s translation of Daniel which the churches were using instead of the Septuagint version. To add to this, he couldn’t have followed Carthage considering they met 17 years after Jerome penned the above. Both Hippo and Carthage were regional councils, didn’t speak for the entire church, thus it wasn’t mandated that Jerome submit to their decisions. Yet, it was Theodotion’s version Jerome refers to when he mentions the “judgment of the churches” and not their decision on canon:

"In reference to Daniel my answer will be that I did not say that he was not a prophet; on the contrary, I confessed in the very beginning of the Preface that he was a prophet. But I wished to show what was the opinion upheld by the Jews; and what were the arguments on which they relied for its proof. I also told the reader that the version read in the Christian churches was not that of the Septuagint translators but that of Theodotion. It is true, I said that the Septuagint version was in this book very different from the original, and that it was condemned by the right judgment of the churches of Christ; but the fault was not mine who only stated the fact, but that of those who read the version. We have four versions to choose from: those of Aquila, Symmachus, the Seventy, and Theodotion. The churches choose to read Daniel in the version of Theodotion. What sin have I committed in following the judgment of the churches? But when I repeat what the Jews say against the Story of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Children, and the fables of Bel and the Dragon, which are not contained in the Hebrew Bible, the man who makes this a charge against me proves himself to be a fool and a slanderer; for I explained not what I thought but what they commonly say against us. I did not reply to their opinion in the Preface, because I was studying brevity, and feared that I should seem to be writing not a Preface but a book. I said therefore, "As to which this is not the time to enter into discussion." Otherwise from the fact that I stated that Porphyry had said many things against this prophet, and called, as witnesses of this, Methodius, Eusebius, and Apollinarius, who have replied to his folly in many thousand lines, it will be in his power to accuse me for not baring written in my Preface against the books of Porphyry. If there is any one who pays attention to silly things like this, I must tell him loudly and free that no one is compelled to read what he does not want; that I wrote for those who asked me, not for those who would scorn me, for the grateful not the carping, for the earnest not the indifferent. Still, I wonder that a man should read the version of Theodotion the heretic and judaizer, and should scorn that of a Christian, simple and sinful though he may be.

The issue was Theodotion’s (a known heretic) translation of Daniel which was being used by the churches. The translation was faulty, wasn’t based on the Septuagint, and condemned by the “right judgment of the churches”, but the reader can see that this in no way applies to the decision on canon made at the local councils of Hippo and Carthage.

Jerome goes on to say that he is merely stating Jewish opinion against these books. Although this was the view he espoused, he was not the originator, and it put him in the uncomfortable position of arguing with the Jews on this. J.N.D. Kelly expounds:

"Jerome, conscious of the difficulty of arguing with Jews on the basis of books they spurned and anyhow regarding the Hebrew original as authoritative, was adamant that anything not found in it was ‘to be classed among the apocrypha’, not in the canon; later he grudgingly conceded that the Church read some of these books for edification, but not to support doctrine." [J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, 1960), p. 55].

He was further riled by the fact that the churches followed the translation of a known heretic instead of a Christian such as himself. As an aside, Shea wrongfully associates Pope Damasus as being in agreement with the alleged “decision” at Hippo and Carthage, but Damasus died in 384 A.D, nine years before Hippo (393) and thirteen years before Carthage (397).

Shea continues with the usual RC apologetic misrepresentations against Martin Luther, naming him as the culprit who excluded the deuterocanonicals (Jim Swan did a wonderful job of putting the proper perspective on Luther and the canon here) Yet, I’ve always found this to be odd reasoning considering the Roman Catholic canon wasn’t decided until Trent. Cardinal Cajetan (the same one who opposed Luther) and Cardinal Ximenes, both contemporaries of the era, wrote against the canonicity of these books as well. Further, there was opposition within Trent regarding these books, spearheaded by the group led by Giralamo Cardinal Seripando (for more information on this, read Hubert Jedin’s Cardinal Seripando, Papal Legate at Trent). The mere fact that there was opposition at Trent substantiates that no canon was in effect where the “judgment of the churches” would authoritatively bind the Catholic to the decision at Hippo and Carthage.

Shea reiterates his error here:

"As St. Jerome said, it is upon the basis of "the judgment of the churches" and no other that the canon of Scripture is known, since the Scriptures are simply the written portion of the Church's apostolic tradition."

Again, Shea is embellishing Jerome’s statements regarding the “judgment of the churches” to mean something that it isn’t. As I’ve already shown, contextually, Jerome is saying something else entirely. Yet, Shea isn’t the only one who tries to make Jerome pro-deuteros. Some Catholic apologists play more loosely with Jerome’s words. An apologist who calls himself “Matt1618” asserts in his internet article “Did Some Church Fathers Reject the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture” (found here: that Jerome did indeed show an acceptance of these books because he never denied them inspiration and he called them “Scripture” in his later writings. This is merely “reading between the lines” in an attempt to find something more favorable to his position. He states:

"In fact it is true that none of the Fathers, even St. Jerome, ever deny their inspiration."

I don’t know how “Matt1618” would define this “denial”, but all this amounts to wishful thinking. To put it simply, what Jerome states in his prefaces and commentaries amounts to a denial of their inspiration as well as their canonicity. To put it plainly, if Jerome states that a book isn’t canonical it is only because Jerome doesn’t believe it is inspired. Scripture is “God-breathed” and men wrote as they were inspired of God. Inspired books are in the canon because they came from the very mouth of God. It defeats the purpose of the canon if some “God-breathed” Scriptures are included and others aren’t. If a book is not in the canon, it is because it is not inspired. In essence, “Matt1618” is implying that Jerome didn’t see “inspiration” as the criterion for inclusion into the canon and that a book can be “inspired” and “Scripture” and, for whatever reasons, be outside of the canon. In his commentary on Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, Jerome states:

"As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two Volumes (Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus) for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church."

According to Jerome, these books are ecclesiastical, capable of spiritual teaching, but cannot be used for supporting church doctrine. This begs the question: Since when is known Scripture not to be used for supporting doctrine? Even Scripture itself attests:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Furthermore, Jerome, emphatically states in his preface to the books of Samuel and Kings:

"This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a "helmeted" introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which generally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon."

In his preface to the Daniel he states:

"I say this to show you how hard it is to master the book of Daniel, which in Hebrew contains neither the history of Susanna, nor the hymn of the three youths, nor the fables of Bel and the Dragon; because, however, they are to be found everywhere, we have formed them into an appendix, prefixing to them an obelus, and thus making an end of them, so as not to seem to the uninformed to have cut off a large portion of the volume."

Four things are to be noted here. The first being that the additions weren’t in the Hebrew Scriptures; secondly, that Jerome calls Bel and the Dragon a “fable”; thirdly, that they were appended to his Vulgate; and fourthly, that they were marked with an “obelus” which is a critical symbol used in ancient manuscripts to mark a questionable passage. Nothing here reveals any indication that Jerome held, at least, the additions to be inspired Scripture.

Again, to Jerome, the extra books were “…not to give authority to the doctrines of the Church” and they “…are not in the canon.” Attempting to draw skepticism by claiming that he didn’t call them “uninspired” is leading the reader at best. Sure, they have some ecclesiastical value within them, but a book doesn’t need to be inspired or canonical to have ecclesiastical value. Although there are other passages from his writings that I can cite, I believe these suffice in showing that Jerome did not believe the Apocryphal books were inspired.

Next, “Matt1618” states there is evidence that Jerome did indeed cite these books and cited them “…approximately 55 times.” This is easy to refute. After all, if Paul can cite pagan writers such as Menander, Epimenedes, or Aratus, I’m sure Jerome can cite from these books which he claimed were good for the edification of the church as well as others. But “Matt 1618” goes further and says that he cited them as Scripture. He then goes to give a few selected quotes from Jerome:

(I am citing from his article, my comments are in black fonts and brackets)

Does not the SCRIPTURE say: 'Burden not thyself above thy power' [SIRACH 13:2] Jerome, To Eustochium, Epistle 108 (A.D. 404), in NPNF2, VI:207 [* Matt1618 is correct, Jerome does call this verse from Sirach “Scripture”, but one must question if what he means is in the “inspired” sense. Considering he has already stated that “Ecclesiasticus” (Sirach) is not to be used doctrinally (see above) we can assume that this is not the case]

Do not, my dearest brother, estimate my worth by the number of my years. Gray hairs are not wisdom; it is wisdom which is as good as gray hairs At least that is what Solomon says: "wisdom is the gray hair unto men.’ [Wisdom 4:9]" Moses too in choosing the seventy elders is told to take those whom he knows to be elders indeed, and to select them not for their years but for their discretion (Num. 11:16)? And, as a boy, Daniel judges old men and in the flower of youth condemns the incontinence of age (Daniel 13:55-59, or Story of Susannah 55-59, only found in the Catholic Bibles) Jerome, To Paulinus, Epistle 58 (A.D. 395), in NPNF2, VI:119 [* Matt1618 is reading too much into this citation, although he “cites” these books, citing them doesn’t mean he viewed them as “Scripture”, especially in light of the fact that he stated the books can be used “ecclesiastically”]

"I would cite the words of the psalmist: 'the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,’ [Ps 51:17] and those of Ezekiel 'I prefer the repentance of a sinner rather than his death,’ [Ez 18:23] AND THOSE OF BARUCH,'Arise, arise, O Jerusalem,’ [Baruch 5:5] AND MANY OTHER PROCLAMATIONS MADE BY THE TRUMPETS OF THE PROPHETS." Jerome, To Oceanus, Epistle 77:4 (A.D. 399), in NPNF2, VI:159 [* Same as above]

[It is true that a festival such as the birthday of Saint Peter should be seasoned with more gladness than usual;] still our merriment must not forget the limit set by Scripture, and we must not stray too far from the boundary of our wrestling-ground. Your presents, indeed, remind me of the sacred volume, for in it Ezekiel decks Jerusalem with bracelets, (Eze. 16:11) Baruch receives letters from Jeremiah,(Jer. 36, Bar. 6) and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at the baptism of Christ.(Mt. 3:16) Jerome, To Eustochium, Epistle 31:2 (A.D. 384), in NPNF2, VI:45 [* In the beginning brackets, I added what “Matt1618” left out considering this adds context to the passage. If I would’ve left it exactly as he cited it, then it would seem as if this is one thought. However, the first “Scripture” is within the context of the festival of St. Peter. The second “sacred volume” is in the context of the presents given to Jerome. These are two thought and not one. Thus, when he cites Baruch, he isn’t specifically calling it Scripture and, again, Jerome could be citing it for its ecclesiastical value].

As in good works it is God who brings them to perfection, for it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pitieth and gives us help that we may be able to reach the goal: so in things wicked and sinful, the seeds within us give the impulse, and these are brought to maturity by the devil. When he sees that we are building upon the foundation of Christ, hay, wood, stubble, then he applies the match. Let us then build gold, silver, costly stones, and he will not venture to tempt us: although even thus there is not sure and safe possession. For the lion lurks in ambush to slay the innocent. [Sir. 27:5] "Potters' vessels are proved by the furnace, and just men by the trial of tribulation." And in another place it is written: [Sir. 2:1] "My son, when thou comest to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation." Again, the same James says: [James 3:22]"Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. For if any one is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." It was useless to warn them to add works to faith, if they could not sin after baptism. Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book 2, 3 NPNF2, VI:390 [* Matt1618 makes the assumption that Jerome’s usage of the phrase “it is written” is being used in the biblical sense—that there is an air of Scriptural credibility within this phrase—but he never stops to think if Jerome simply meant that these citations were “written”, nothing more and nothing less).

"Yet the Holy Spirit in the thirty-ninth(9) psalm, while lamenting that all men walk in a vain show, and that they are subject to sins, speaks thus: "For all that every man walketh in the image."(Psalm 39:6) Also after David's time, in the reign of Solomon his son, we read a somewhat similar reference to the divine likeness. For in the book of Wisdom, WHICH IS INSCRIBED WITH HIS NAME, SOLOMON SAYS: "GOD CREATED MAN TO BE IMMORTAL, AND MADE HIM TO BE AN IMAGE OF HIS OWN ETERNITY."(Wisdom 2:23) And again, about eleven hundred and eleven years afterwards, we read in the New Testament that men have not lost the image of God. For James, an apostle and brother of the Lord, whom I have mentioned above--that we may not be entangled in the snares of Origen--teaches us that man does possess God's image and likeness. For, after a somewhat discursive account of the human tongue, he has gone on to say of it: "It is an unruly evil ... therewith bless we God, even the Father and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God."(James 3:8-9) Paul, too, the "chosen vessel,"(Acts 9:15) who in his preaching has fully maintained the doctrine of the gospel, instructs us that man is made in the image and after the likeness of God. "A man," he says, "ought not to wear long hair, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God."(1 Cor. 11:7) He speaks of "the image" simply, but explains the nature of the likeness by the word "glory."

7. Instead of THE THREE PROOFS FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE which you said would satisfy you if I could produce them, BEHOLD I HAVE GIVEN YOU SEVEN"--- Jerome, Letter 51, NPNF2, VI:87-8 [* In context, Jerome gives more then seven Scriptures within this passage and there is no way of telling whether the citation from Wisdom is amongst the “seven”, but for the sake of argument we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know why “Matt1618”capitalizes “which is inscribed with his name” and I can only hope he isn’t implying that “his name” refers to God, thus indicating inspiration. On the contrary, this evidently refers to Solomon who it is said wrote this book].

A. "Your argument is ingenious, but you do not see THAT IT GOES AGAINST HOLY SCRIPTURE, which declares that even ignorance is not without sin. Hence it was that Job offered sacrifices for his sons, test, perchance, they had unwittingly sinned in thought. And if, when one is cutting wood, the axe-head flies from the handle and kills a man, the owner is[Num. 35:8] commanded to go to one of the cities of refuge and stay there until the high priest dies; that is to say, until he is redeemed by the Saviour's blood, either in the baptistery, or in penitence which is a copy of the grace of baptism, through the ineffable mercy of the Saviour, who[Ezek. 18:23] would not have any one perish, nor delights in the death of sinners, but would rather that they should be converted and live. C. It is surely strange justice to hold me guilty of a sin of error of which my conscience does not accuse itself. I am not aware that I have sinned, and am I to pay the penalty for an offence of which I am ignorant? What more can I do, if I sin voluntarily?
A. DO YOU EXPECT ME TO EXPLAIN THE PURPOSES AND PLANS OF GOD? THE BOOK OF WISDOM GIVES AN ANSWER TO YOUR FOOLISH QUESTION: [Sir 3:21] "LOOK NOT INTO THINGS ABOVE THEE, AND SEARCH NOT THINGS TOO MIGHTY FOR THEE." AND ELSEWHERE,[5] "Make not thyself overwise, and argue not more than is fitting." And in the same place, "In wisdom and simplicity of heart seek God." You will perhaps deny the authority of this book;" "Jerome, "Against the Pelagians, NPNF2, VI:464-5" [* He submits these together, but anyone can see that when Jerome refers to Scripture in the passage, he is referring to canonical Scripture (Job, Numbers, and Ezekiel). The citation from Sirach is independent of the above citation and there is no indication that Jerome cites it as Scripture].
"And in the proverbs Solomon tells us that as "the north wind driveth away rain, so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.(Prov. 25:23)" It sometimes happens that an arrow when it is aimed at a hard object rebounds upon the bowman, wounding the would-bewounder, and thus, the words are fulfilled, "they were turned aside like a deceitful bow," (Psalm 128:57) and in another passage: "whoso casteth a stone on high casteth it on his own head." (Sir. 27:25) Jerome, To Rusticus, Epistle 125, 19 (A.D. 404), in NPNF2, VI:251 [* Again, although Sirach is used in context alongside Scripture, it doesn’t prove much, especially in light of ecclesiastical usage]
9. Let me call to my aid the example of the three children, (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3) who, amid the cool, encircling fire, sang hymns, (Song of Three Holy Children, found only in Deuterocanonical portion of Daniel 3) instead of weeping, and around whose turbans and holy hair the flames played harmlessly. Let me recall, too, the story of the blessed Daniel, in whose presence, though he was their natural prey, the lions crouched, with fawning tails and frightened mouths.(Daniel 6) Let Susannah also rise in the nobility of her faith before the thoughts of all; who, after she had been condemned by an unjust sentence, was saved through a youth inspired by the Holy Ghost (Susanna 45, or Daniel 13:45). In both cases the Lord's mercy was alike shewn; for while Susannah was set free by the judge, so as not to die by the sword, this woman, though condemned by the judge, was acquitted by the sword. Jerome, Letter 1:9, NPNF2, VI:2 [* Jerome cites the additions to Daniel, but this doesn’t mean he cited this as inspired Scripture and not ecclesiastically]
6. I salute your mother and mine with the respect which, as you know, I feel towards her. Associated with you as she is in a holy life, she has the start of you, her holy children, in that she is your mother. Her womb may thus be truly called golden. With her I salute your sisters, who ought all to be welcomed wherever they go, for they have triumphed over their sex and the world, and await the Bridegroom's coming, (Mt. 25:4) their lamps replenished with oil. O happy the house which is a home of a widowed Anna, of virgins that are prophetesses, and of twin Samuels bred in the Temple! (Luke 2:36, Acts 21:9, 1 Sam. 2:18) Fortunate the roof which shelters the martyr-mother of the Maccabees, with her sons around her, each and all wearing the martyr's crown! (2 Macc. 7) For although you confess Christ every day by keeping His commandments, yet to this private glory you have added the public one of an open confession; for it was through you that the poison of the Arian heresy was formerly banished from your city. Jerome, to Chromatius, Jovinus, and Eusebius, Letter 7:6, NPNF2, VI:10 [* Jerome cited a historical fact which happens to be recorded in 2 Maccabees 7. Citing history doesn’t make the history book “Scripture”]
But now that a virgin has conceived (Isa. 7:14) in the womb and has borne to us a child of which the prophet says that "Government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father," (Isa. 9:6) now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. And thus the gift of virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women, seeing that it has had its beginning from a woman. As soon as the Son of God set foot upon the earth, He formed for Himself a new household there; that, as He was adored by angels in heaven, angels might serve Him also on earth. Then chaste Judith once more cut off the head of Holofernes (Jud. 13).Then Haman--whose name means iniquity--was once more burned in fire of his own kindling (Est. 7:10) Then James and John forsook father and net and ship and followed the Saviour: neither kinship nor the world's ties, nor the care of their home could hold them back. Then were the words heard: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) For no soldier goes with a wife to battle. Even when a disciple would have buried his father, the Lord forbade him, and said: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." (Mt. 8:20-22) So you must not complain if you have but scanty house-room. In the same strain, the apostle writes: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married careth for the things of the world how she may please her husband." (1 Cor. 7:34-36). Jerome, to Eustochium, Letter 22:21, NPNF2, VI:30 [* Again, citing an apocryphal book doesn’t mean that Jerome viewed it as “Scripture” when he could be using it ecclesiastically]
For it is not ecclesiastical rank that makes a man a Christian. The centurion Cornelius was still a heathen when he was cleansed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Daniel was but a child when he judged the elders.( Dan. 13:55-63, or Susanna 55-63) Amos was stripping mulberry bushes when, in a moment, he was made a prophet (Amos 7:14) David was only a shepherd when he was chosen to be king.(2 Sam. 16:11-13) And the least of His disciples was the one whom Jesus loved the most. My brother, sit down in the lower room, that when one less honorable comes you may be bidden to go up higher (Luke 14:10). Jerome, to Heliodorus, Letter 14:9, NPNF2, VI:17. [* Jerome refers to a history recorded in Susanna. Again, nothing that would place Jerome as citing inspired Scripture]
These things, dearest daughter in Christ, I impress upon you and frequently repeat, that you may forget those things which are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before (Phil. 3:12). You have widows like yourself worthy to be your models, Judith renowned in Hebrew story (Jud. 13) and Anna the daughter of Phanuel (Lk 2) famous in the gospel. Both these lived day and night in the temple and preserved the treasure of their chastity by prayer and by fasting. One was a type of the Church which cuts off the head of the devil (Jud. 13:8) and the other first received in her arms the Saviour of the world and had revealed to her the holy mysteries which were to come (Lk 2:36-38). Jerome, to Salvina, Letter 79:10, NPNF2, VI:168 [* Jerome explicitly calls the Judith account a “Hebrew story”, but the account of Phanuel in Luke 2 he calls “the gospel.” If he were citing them both as Scripture, why classify Judith this way and contrast it to a gospel account? I think the answer is obvious].
To summarize, “Matt1618” has only one instance of Jerome calling an Apocryphal book “Scripture”, maybe two if we ease up a bit and include Jerome, Letter 51, NPNF2, VI:87-8. Yet, in neither of these instances do we have anything which would enthrall the reader into believing he accepted these books as inspired Scripture. J.N.D. Kelly sheds light on Jerome’s usage of these books and his usage of the word Scripture:
Jerome’s conversion to ‘the Hebrew verity’ [i.e. in contrast to the LXX] carried with it an important corollary—his acceptance also of the Hebrew canon, or list of books properly belonging to the Old Testament. Since the early Church had read its Old Testament in Greek, it had taken over without question the so-called Alexandrian canon used in the Greek-speaking Jewish communities outside Palestine. This had included those books (Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, etc.) which are variously described as deuterocanonical or as the Apocrypha. Around the end of the first century, however, official Judaism had formally excluded these, limiting the canon to the books which figure in English Bibles as the Old Testament proper. Since Origen’s time it had been recognised that there was a distinction between the Jewish canon and the list acknowledged by Christians, but most writers preferred to place the popular and widely used deutero-canonical books in a special category (e.g. calling them ‘ecclesiastical’) rather than to discard them. Jerome now takes a much firmer line. After enumerating the ‘twenty-two’ (or perhaps twenty-four) books recognised by the Jews, he decrees that any books outside this list must be reckoned ‘apocryphal’: ‘They are not in the canon.’ Elsewhere, while admitting that the Church reads books like Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus which are strictly uncanonical, he insists on their being used solely ‘for edifying the people, not for the corroboration of ecclesiastical’. This was the attitude which, with temporary concessions for tactical or other reasons, he was to maintain for the rest of his life—in theory at any rate, for in practice he continued to cite them as if they were Scripture. Again what chiefly moved him was the embarrassment he felt at having to argue with Jews on the basis of books which they rejected or even (e.g. the stories of Susanna, or of Bel and the Dragon) found frankly ridiculous. J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), pp. 160-161.
RC apologists, those who argue this way, are merely using sophistry to recreate Jerome and place him on the side of the Deuterocanonicals, but the evidence really doesn’t give them much to stand on. I guess this is due to the fact that Jerome is one of the Doctors of the Church and he happened to disagree that these books were inspired Scripture. It is a source of embarrassment to them so they attempt to salvage whatever they can and find themselves reading “between the lines” of his writings in a futile attempt to win him back. There is no record showing that Jerome had a change of heart regarding these books and the very fact that scholarly clergymen, such as the aforementioned Cardinals, used Jerome’s position as a catalyst for their own disagreements with these books shows an understanding that he never wavered, never changed his position. But some RC apologists choose to blind themselves from the facts.
In conclusion, Augustine, who was a contemporary of Jerome, advocated the Apocryphal books and used his weighty suffrage to influence the African synods (Hippo and Carthage), but his appeal to them was strictly emotional and, as evidenced in the City of God, he used folklore to gain acceptance of these books. Regarding canon issues and languages, it was Jerome who was the canon scholar and not Augustine. In their correspondence on the issue of the Latin translation (dated 404 AD), Jerome chides Augustine for misunderstanding the nuances of his translations (see here: Augustine chose not to side with Jerome, but continued to push the Septuagint over the Hebrew, even though the Septuagint itself was translated into Greek from the Hebrew. Augustine’s adherence to the LXX was based on the story of the “Seventy” which were the 72 Jewish translators who translated the Hebrew into the Greek language. Augustine tells the story of how these men worked separately in cells and when they compared their manuscripts, they were uniform in every detail, word for word. Jerome calls the story of the cells “fables” and made up, but Augustine claimed that because they worked under the same Spirit, they were led in this endeavor, thus proving the LXX to be of God. What Augustine either didn’t understand or ignored is that the “Seventy” only translated the first 5 books of Moses, the Pentateuch. In the website “The Septuagint Online” states:
Philo of Alexandria (fl. 1st c CE) confirms that only the Torah was commissioned to be translated, and some modern scholars have concurred, noting a kind of consistency in the style of the Greek Penteteuch [sic]. Over the course of the next three centuries, however, other books of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in an order that is not altogether clear. By observing technical terms and translation styles, by comparing the Greek versions to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and by comparing them to Hellenistic literature, scholars are trying to stitch together a history of the translations that eventually found their way into collections. It seems that sometimes a Hebrew book was translated more than once, or that a particular Greek translation was revised. In other cases, a work was composed afresh in Greek, yet was included in the collection of scriptures (from
Only the Pentateuch was translated by the “Seventy” and Augustine truly had no clear reasoning in accepting the Septuagint and the books not found in the Hebrew text. It would seem he influence men through the use of quaint myths or hearsay, but as for Jerome he was resolute and never changed his mind, never follow a “decision” made by the councils influenced by Augustine and, most obviously, he never felt the need to. Jerome denied both the inspiration and the canonicity of the added books and no amount of historical revision will change the facts.


PeaceByJesus said...

This is quite timely, as i was just involved in a debate (in which i linked Jerome to this page) where again the RC assertion was made that Rome gave us the Bible and thus we cannot tell her she is wrong. Which, despite effectively nuking the church by its premise, is fallacious if it supposes that it had an infallible canon to give prior to the Reformation.

And which may still be considered open, due to the debate on 3 Esdras, which you deal much with as well →
thank God, as well due to Rome making Tradition equal to Scripture.

Ken said...

This, along with James Swan's articles on Luther and justification by faith alone and Alistar McGrath and Romans 3:28, may be the most important articles at this web-site.

They are well- worth repeating from time to time, because they are so important.

Ken said...

Mark Shea made a mistake in the citation from Against Rufinus 11:33 - it should II:33 as in 2, 33.

What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume (ie. canon), proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn't relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us" (Against Rufinus 11:33 [A.D. 402]).

see here:

Also, his original article has moved.

I just noticed this because some Iranian Christians are becoming Roman Catholic and I so I was debating them informally and looked at these articles again.

James Swan said...

Thanks Ken!