Sunday, January 20, 2008

Trent's Underwhelming Canon Vote, part 2

A few weeks ago I posted on the Underwhelming Vote of Trent based on a quote from Metzger. I have been meaning to expand on this topic based on details from the Catholic historian Hubert Jedin, but have been short on time. A recent post by Dr. White gave me the necessary kick in the pants.

The Metzger quote seems to imply that the vote at Trent on the biblical canon occurred on April 8th, 1546 when in reality the vote (24 yea, 15 nay, 16 abstain) took place on February 15th. The final decree on Scripture and Tradition (which included the canon list) was given on April 8th. Metzger actually cites Jedin’s History of the Council of Trent which supplies the necessary detail, so I believe his wording was intended to summarize the overall process (rather than being inaccurate).

I will be citing here (and in future posts) extensively from Jedin’s History of the Council of Trent. Jedin’s work on the Council of the Trent is probably the most extensive and objective documentation available and provides the necessary insight that the Concilium Tridentinum lacks for the general reader. To understand the significance of this discussion it is important to remember the Roman Catholic apologetic claim that the canon ratified at Trent was the same canon taught throughout history. If true, we would expect the canon discussions at Trent to be essentially a "no-brainer".

With regards to the “underwhelming vote”, Jedin says:

“The discussion of the canon of Scripture, which began in the general congregations of 12 and 15 February, showed that there was unanimous desire to take up the canon of Holy Scripture within the limits within which the decree of the Council of Florence of 4 February 1441 for the reunion of the Jacobites, had circumscribed it. Two questions were to be debated, namely, should this conciliar decision be simply taken over, without previous discussion of the subject, as the jurists Del Monte and Pacheco opined, or should the arguments recently advanced against the canonicity of certain books of the Sacred Scriptures be examined and refuted by the Council, as the other two legates, with Madruzzo and the Bishop of Fano, desired? The second question was closely linked with the first, namely should the Council meet the difficulties raised both in former times and more recently, by distinguishing different degrees of authority within the canon?

With regard to the first question the legates themselves were not of one mind. In the general congregation of 12 February, Del Monte, taking the standpoint of formal Canon Law, declared that the Florentine canon, since it was a decision of a General Council, must be accepted without discussion. On the other hand Cervini and Pole, supported by Madruzzo and a number of prelates familiar with the writings of the reformers and the humanists, urged the necessity of countering in advance the attacks that were to be expected from the Protestants by consolidating their own position, and of providing their own theologians with weapons for the defence of the decree as well as for the instruction of the faithful. However, their efforts were in vain; in fact Pacheco, who shared DeI Monte's view, proposed in the general congregation of 15 February to prevent any future discussions whether this or that book was part of the canon by adding an anathema to the decree, that is, by declaring it article of faith. The discussion was so obstinate that there remained no other means to ascertain the opinion of the Council than to put the matter to the vote. The result was that twenty-four prelates were found to be on Del Monte's side, and fifteen (sixteen) on the other. The decision to accept the Florentine canon simpliciter, that is, without further discussion, and as an article of faith, already contained the answer to the second question.” (History of the Council of Trent, pg 55-56)

As Jedin states later on pg 57:

“The result of the above-mentioned vote of the general congregation of 15 February committed the Council to the wider canon…”

Hence, the final decree of April 8th, which defined the books of the canon, was decided by the earlier vote to accept the Florentine canon as an article of faith. The unanimous vote on the final decree many weeks after the first vote on February 15th (and after much discussion) does not negate the difficulties seen with that first vote. In fact, considering that the underwhelming vote of February 15th centered around accepting a canon already defined by a prior council and yet there was still dissension, clearly shows there was much confusion about the exact nature of the canon. Again, if the biblical canon of the Church was a consistent teaching throughout history, further affirmed by a decree at Florence, why the confusion?

The RC claim that "to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant" continues to not hold water. It was not until April 8th, 1546 that the Church "put a full stop to the thousand-year-old development of the biblical canon" (Jedin, pg. 91). However, the discussions that occurred before and after the vote (and their implications) are what I find the most interesting. In the interest of time and length of this post, I will take that topic up in a future post.