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THE CATHOLIC IDEA OF THE BIBLE.
T has been stated that Catholics regard the
Bible as the Word of God, and revere it as such, no less than Protestants; and indeed even more. We look on it, then, as a niost certain testimony to the Christian religion, and a most pure source from which to obtain the true faith. We reject nothing which it contains, we accept it as a most precious gift of God, from beginning to end.
We accept, indeed, more of it than Protestants do. For, as has been said, there are books, which all belong, by the way, to the Old Testament, which we have in our Bibles, but which are oinitted from most Protestant ones. In other words, Protestants, at the time of the Reformation, reformed the Bible as well as a good many other things; they dropped from it a number of books which their forefathers for centuries had considered as forming a part of it.
And now let us see what reason we have for accepting the Bible as we have it. It is hard to see how a Protestant can have absolute certainty that all the books of his Bible are inspired. If he makes a study of the matter, he
will find that many learned men doubt even the authenticity of great portions of it; so he cannot rest his faith in it on a general agreement aniong wise men that it was really written by the authors to whom it is commonly assigned. Nor can he defend it on the ground that all pious and faithful Christians have always believed its various books to have come from the writers to which they are usually ascribed, or that they have always considered them as inspired by the Spirit of God. Of course there is a difference between these two beliefs; there seems, for instance, to be no obvious reason, as has been remarked, why the writings of Mark or Luke, even if we are sure we have them, should be inspired any more than those of any other of the early Christians.
The fact is, that during all the ages of persecution—that is, during the first three centuries of Christianity, and for a considerable time after-though the books of the Old Testament had been accepted from the Jews, those of the New were still by no means put in a definite shape. Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea, the celebrated ecclesiastical historian, writing in the early part of the fourth century, tells us that several of the books we now accept were then in doubt.
He says, for instance, in the first book of his history, with regard to the second Epistle of
St. Peter: “We have not, indeed, understood it to be embodied with the sacred books, yet as it appeared useful to many, it was studiously read with the other Scriptures” (chap. iii.) And in another place (chap. xxiv.) he remarks, “Besides the Gospel of John, his first Epistle is acknowledged without dispute, both by those of the present day, and also by the ancients. The other two Epistles, however, are disputed. The opinions respecting the Revelation are still greatly divided.” A little later on (chap. xxv.) he gives the following canon of the New Testament, quite in full: “Here, among the first, must be placed the holy quaternion of the Gospels; these are followed by The Book of the Acts of the Apostles'; after this must be mentioned the Epistles of Paul, which are followed by the acknowledged first Epistle of John, as also the first of Peter, to be admitted in like manner.
After these are to be placed, if proper, the Revelation of John, concerning which we shall offer the different opinions in due time. These, then, are acknowledged as genuine. Among the disputed books, although they are well known and approved by many, is reputed that called the Epistle of James and Jude. Also the second Epistle of Peter,' and those called the second and third of John,' whether they are of the evangelist or some other of the same name.” He also states
further on that a good deal of doubt existed as to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews; this point is, indeed, at the present time a good deal discussed by critics.
It is evident, then, that in the time of Eusebius no certainty was felt as to precisely what oks of the New Testament should be admitted as being of authority. Various other authors, previous and subsequent to Eusebius, give somewhat different catalogues of the sacred books.
Now, the point is when and in what way the canon of the New Testament was first definitely settled on; that is, settled by an authority which might seem at least to speak in the name of the Church, and not merely in that of private criticism or learning.
The first Christian synod which we find as sanctioning a special canon, or collection of books as properly belonging to the Bible, was that of Hippo, in Africa, in the year 393. This canon of Hippo was confirmed by councils held at Carthage in 397 and 419, and in 474, as nearly as can be ascertained, by Pope Gelasius. This canon is identical with that now held as the correct one by Catholics, and solemnly repeated in the Council of Trent, at the time of the Reformation. It contains, therefore, what Protestants call the apocryphal books of the Old Testament, but it rejects none of those which
Protestants receive; in the new Testament there is no difference between the two, the Protestants having taken the same books as genuine and inspired which the Catholic Church had so regarded, and no others.
Now, it is quite manifest why Catholics regard just such books as belonging to the Bible, and such others as not so belonging. It is because such is the decision of the Church assembled in council, and of the Popes acting in their official capacity. Whatever one may think of it, it is evidently a clear and intelligible reason; for we regard the Church and the Popes as infallible in such matters.
But what solid reason have Protestants to induce them to accept any definite canon of Scripture? Not the decrees of the Popes or the councils of the Church of course, for these they do not accept in other matters. And if not these, what else? Why is the canon of Pope Gelasius any better for them than the one we have given, from Eusebius, the historian? It becomes for them simply a matter of private judgment whether a certain book of the Bible is inspired or not; and therefore since the Bible is all they have as an authoritative basis for Christianity, the strength of this sole authority becomes thus a matter of private judgment; many, if not most of its books become not subştantially better than others written in early