Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Apocrypha In The Early Christian Church By William R Churton 1884


The Apocrypha In The Early Christian Church By William Ralph Churton 1884

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The high estimation in which the Apocrypha, or at least a portion of it, was held in the early Christian Church, admits of no doubt. The use which early writers make of the Books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch shows that many of them were more familiar with these portions of the Apocrypha than with several of the Canonical Books of the New Testament, such as the Catholic Epistles, or the Apocalypse of S. John. There is reason to believe that these books obtained a wider reception in the early Christian Church than the 'disputed' portions of the New Testament. In the controversy with the Jews, the second chapter of Wisdom was repeatedly alleged as an inspired prophecy of Christ's passion, and as a genuine work of Solomon. Baruch, chap, iii., was frequently quoted, together with portions of Hebrew prophecy, as one of the testimonies of the ancient Scriptures to the Divinity of Christ. In the controversies on the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Divine Logos, Word, or Wisdom, much use was made of the Book of Wisdom. Thus, besides the moral use of the precepts of the Son of Sirach, there was an extensive doctrinal and controversial use of Wisdom and Baruch. On the other hand, evidence is not wanting to shew that when the question was examined more accurately, as by Melito, and the Council of Laodicea, it was admitted that there was an important difference between these books and the books in the Hebrew Canon. If the ancient Church had discarded the Hebrew Canon and adopted another, we should have expected (1) that the Apologists would have accused the Jews of mutilating their Scriptures by the removal of these books; (2) that Christian authors, when enumerating the books of the Old Testament, would have included them. Since, then, we find a distinct recognition of the Hebrew Canon by Melito, the Council of Laodicea, and Athanasius, we infer that the regard shown to the books outside the Canon was of a different kind, whether their contents were Apocryphal, or of such intrinsic value as to obtain for them a place amongst the highest class of human writings.

The earliest controversy concerning the Apocrypha is found in Origen. In his Epistle to Africanus he defended the History of Susanna from those who considered it as fabulous or incredible. Some facts omitted in Scripture were, he argued, preserved in the Apocryphal writings. Such was the sawing asunder of Isaiah, and the persecution of the prophets, as referred to in the Gospel, the Acts, and the Epistle to the Thessalonians. The Jews, he supposed, had removed passages from the Scripture which tended to the disgrace of their nation. But to this he adds that though the Churches made use of Tobit, 'both Tobit and Judith were rejected by the 'Jews, not being in Hebrew, as he had learned from them.'

S. Augustine, whilst rejecting certain Apocryphal works on account of the many fictions which they contained, spoke of others which the Church received, although not received by the Jews. At other times he speaks doubtfully of the authority of the latter. We find that books which were at one time quoted as Divine, were at other times questioned as of doubtful authority; their use in confirming doctrine being disputed in a manner which would have been impossible if an early tradition had existed that the Apostles had pronounced them to be Canonical Scripture. And it is to be observed, that doubts were thrown not only upon the Apocryphal narratives, but upon books of such high repute as the Wisdom of Solomon. According to Philastrius (Heresy 60, 'The Apocryphi'), it was supposed that the Apostles and their successors had decreed that only the Canonical Scriptures were to be read, and that other works were to be reserved for the use of those who were perfectly instructed.

The Books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Maccabees are found to be quoted as Scripture by Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian. Of the former, the historian Eusebius wrote, that he used in his works testimonies from those Scriptures which are disputed, namely, the Wisdom that is called Solomon's, and the Book of Jesus Sirach, and others.

The 59th Canon of Laodicea decreed that Psalms composed by private persons ought not to be said in churches; nor ought books to be read that are excluded from the Canon, but only the Canonical Books of the New and Old Testament. Then follows a catalogue, from which the Apocryphal Books are excluded, the list corresponding to that of the Hebrew Canon.

The 47th. Canon of the Third Council of Carthage, A.D. 428, adds to the above list five books of Solomon, Tobit and Judith, and two Books of Maccabees.

The Council of Sardica, which excludes the Book of Wisdom from the Canon, has been quoted as an instance of the doctrinal use of works judged to be of inferior authority. To allege a book in argument was not to claim for it a place in the Canon of Scripture.

Thus the distinction drawn by Jerome and Epiphanius between books of Canonical Scripture and books received by the Church, and yet possessing an inferior Ecclesiastical authority, only added a greater precision to the tradition which was handed down by their predecessors. Many passages quoted from the Apocrypha might be regarded in a loose sense as Scripture, being paraphrases upon Scripture, as giving the sense, though not the exact words, of an inspired author. This is found to be the character of several of the passages alleged by S. Cyprian and others.
The distinction drawn by Jerome and others was that the Canonical Scriptures were adapted for public recitation in the Church, the inferior Scriptures for private study only. In the Synopsis ascribed to Athanasius, they are especially recommended for the study of Catechumens: but on the other hand, S. Cyril of Jerusalem exhorted the Catechumens to read Canonical Books only, forbidding the study of Apocryphal works, though it is uncertain what writings were thus described by him. In the treatise of Dionysius On the Divine Names, Wisdom was quoted as an 'introduction' to the Scriptures, as if the study of it had been a preparation for the reading of the Canonical Books.

S. Isidore wrote, 'We place in a fourth rank those books of the Old Testament which are not in the Hebrew Canon, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, and two Books of Maccabees: books which the Hebrews separate and place among the Apocrypha, but the Church of Christ honours and preaches them among those which are Divine.' So also S. Ambrose made a large use of the Apocryphal Books, and commented upon them as Scripture. Yet in the subsequent period, the definition of S. Jerome, that they were books read by the Church for moral instruction, and not to confirm doctrine, seems to have obtained a wide acceptance. The story of Eleazar slaying the elephant in 1 Macc. vi., was quoted by S. Gregory the Great (on Job xvii.) as from a book which was not Canonical. In later times, S. Thomas Aquinas, in the first part of the Summa, Question 89, in discussing the question whether the spirits of the dead are acquainted with the events that happen in the world, quoted Ecclus. xlvi., concerning Samuel's prophecy after death; but he adds that the appearance might have been procured by demons, since the authority of Ecclesiasticus, which is not found in the Hebrew Canon, is disputed. Many more instances of similar doubts were alleged by Rainolds, in his learned work against Bellarmine. Down to the time of the Council of Trent, there was a succession of commentators upon Scripture and Ecclesiastical authors who maintained the necessity of a distinction between the authority of the Canonical and Apocryphal Books, whatever respect and honour might be claimed for the latter.

With respect to the public reading of the Apocrypha, there was a diversity of practice in different Churches: the Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril, and the Council of Laodicea, indicating an entire prohibition of any books that were not Canonical; whilst the testimony of Jerome and Ruffinus prove that they were so far received as to be read as books of piety and moral instruction. The latter estimate of them is shewn to have prevailed, by the extensive use of them in the Offices of the Church: portions of the didactic and narrative treatises occupying in the services of the Breviary the place which at other times is given to Holy Scripture. Thus, for the purposes of teaching, meditation, and devotion, the Church continued to use the Apocryphal Books after the time of Jerome, although his learned investigations had resulted in greater caution in the employment of them in controversy.

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