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DIFFICULTIES IN THE PROTESTANT PROOF OF THE
CANON OF SCRIPTURE. 1. On the Inspiration of Holy Scripture ; or, on the Canon of
the Old an New Testament. By Chr. Wordsworth, D.D.
London: Rivingtons. 2. The Inspiration of Holy Scripture, its Nature and Proof.
By William Lee, M.A. Rivingtons. 3. A General Introduction to the Sacred Scripture. By the
Most Rev.Joseph Dixon, Primate of Ireland. In two vols.
Dublin: Duffy. 4. Prælectiones Theologicæ de Sacr. Libr. Can. et Auctor.
Pars secunda, de Verbo Dei scripto et tradito. Tom. ii.
S. Perrone, S.J. Parisiis: Migne. The two former works in the above list represent the doctrine of the Established Church of England on the inspiration and canon of Holy Scripture; the latter harmonise perfectly with the teaching of the Catholic Church in matters of faith, and with the received belief of Catholic expositors in matters of opinion.
We need not say how widely their authors differ on a question the decision of which, rightly understood, involves the most momentous consequences—the insufficiency of the Protestant rule of faith, or the fallibility of the Catholic Church. That revelations have been made by God, and that these have been sometimes committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, whether that influence affect the sentiments only (some or all) or also the very words, is a truth which few nominally Christian writers deny. There are, indeed, Protestant authors who exclude all supernatural intervention in the composition of the sacred books, such as Leclerc, Semler, Tölner, Bahrdt, and some few who admit this influence in certain books only, as Grotius, Benson, Elwert; while others limit the divine action in all cases to the substance of the narrative, leaving " certain minor points of accuracy or inaccuracy to mere human research.
" In the last apology of Stephen," writes Mr. Alford," which he spake, being full of the Holy Ghost, and with divine influence beaming from his countenance, we have at least two demonstrable historical mistakes. And the occurrence of similar ones in the Gospels does not in any way affect the inspiration or the 'veracity of the Evangelists.”*
* Preface to the Gospels. The Greek Testament, by Henry Alford, M.A. London, Rivingtons, 1849. See also the Quarterly Review for Oct. 1854, art. “ the Eclipse of Faith."
Dr. Arnold thought, too, that this opinion was not incompatible with any dogma of the Church of England, or with due respect for the oracles of God.
Still, it would be unjust to hold the Protestants of this country responsible for this irreligious, not to say blasphemous theory. A better feeling is, thank God, prevalent among English Churchmen; and of its existence Mr. Lee is himself a remarkable witness. Speaking always with reverence of God and His saints, and displaying much learning and good temper, he repudiates every system which would make the Word of God the vehicle of falsehood, great or small, and His holy prophets unintentional deceivers.*
Whatever may be the diversity of opinion in other respects, this we may affirm truly of the Protestants of England, that they still profess that veneration for the Bible which places it as a whole above all efforts of human industry. As the attendants procured the vessels at the marriage-feast and filled them with water, but the power of God alone could make the change into wine, so mere man may have collected the materials for the Gospel history, and even arranged parts of less importance, but the power of God was still required to complete the wonderful narrative.
Here, however, begins their difficulty. How can they prove a supernatural agency in the composition of each distinct book in the canon of the Bible? The ordinary Protestant believes it as he believes every thing else, on a widespread, overwhelming, but usually illogical tradition. Let us see how those who aspire to be theologians attempt the proof of the inspiration of the whole Bible. Mr. Wordsworth puts this difficulty plainly. Suppose we receive into our hands an English Bible; suppose that the question is then put to us, How do you show that these writings, and these alone, are the written Word of God ?” We will suppose, also, the same question put to us in the case of the Vulgate. If Mr. Wordsworth's proof is conclusive, then our creed is false, and the Catholic Church fallible; and if Dr. Dixon's proof is con
• We do not forget, however, the unfounded charge of abetting rationalism brought by Mr. Lee against the Venerable Father Perrone, a man who has devoted a life of daily toil to the refutation of the very errors he is now said to uphold, and whose name is venerated throughout Europe for the depth and variety of his learning.
† It may be necessary to explain briefly a few terms. The “ Vulgate" is the Latin version approved by the Council of Trent. “ Canon," without entering on other difficult discussions, means list or catalogue in our use of the word : thus, the Protestant canon will mean the catalogue of books in the Protestant Bible, their names and contents; the Catholic canon, the names and contents of all the books in the Catholic Bible. A book is “ canonical" that holds a place in that list, “protecanonical” if its right to that place was never doubted by any early Christian writer-otherwise “ deuterocanonical.”
clusive, then Mr. Wordsworth's creed is false, and his all-sufficient rule of faith most insufficient. Setting thus aside all discussions as to the precise nature and extent of inspiration, and supposing merely that some divine aid is required for the composition of every inspired book, how will the Protestant prove that God gave such special assistance to the writers of every book received by the sixth Article of the Church of England; and how will the Catholic prove the same of the writers of every book founded on the Canon of Trent?* How, then, is it proved that all and each of the books contained in the Protestant Bible, and these alone, are the inspired Word of God? Where can we hope to find conclusive evidence, if not in the pages before us? Canon Wordsworth tells us in his preface, " that these discourses were delivered before the University of Cambridge in 1847 and 1848, and published in accordance with the will of the pious and learned founder of the Hulsean lectureship.” Mr. Lee thinks it right to state, " that the first six of the eight lectures were preached in the course of his duty as Donellan lecturer in the University of Dublin for the year 1852." The reader may therefore expect in these two large volumes, published with the sanction of two great universities, by their ablest men, after mature reflection for some years between the delivery and publication, to find all the arguments in favour of the Protestant canon; and complete testimony, if such can be had, of its truth. The sources of proof, then, are either internal or external. The internal may be subdivided into three classes: (1) express declarations in the sacred volume, (2) promises of infallibility made to the sacred writers, (3) traces of divine interposition in the harmony of parts, sublimity of doctrine, prophecy fulfilled and miracle recorded, and the wonderful effects and preservation of the Holy Bible through so many ages. The external are, the monuments of history and ecclesiastical tradition; and for Catholics, the authority of an infallible Church.
* We insert here the decree, session iv. Books excluded by the 6th article are printed in italics. “ The synod has thought it right to subjoin the list of sacred books, lest doubt might occur to any one as to the books that are received by it. Five books of Moses-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, first book of Esdras, and the second, called also Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther (c. x. v. 3, so far only admitted by Protestants), Job, Psaltery of David—150 Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, twelve minor Prophets-Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias, two books of Machabees-first and second.” The Catholic and Protestant canons are now the same for the New Testament. Besides the part of Esther not received by Protestants, from c. x. 3 to the end, they reject of Daniel-3d chapter, from 24th verse to 90th inclusive, chapters 13 and 14—that is, the last two. Esther is, then, the only book approved by the 6th article, whose canonicity has been at any time and by any early writer made a subject of doubt. We shall see whether it be consistent to receive Esther, and to reject Baruch, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and the Machabees.
Now that is an article of faith, which must be believed and cannot be known except by revelation: the inspiration of each book in the Bible must be believed and cannot be known but by revelation ; therefore inspiration is an article of faith. But the inspiration of each particular book cannot be proved by Holy Scripture, as we shall show, and as Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Lee admit; therefore it is required of all Protestants, by the Thirty-nine Articles, to believe as an article of faith that “which is not read therein, and may not be proved thereby.” To reply as Mr. Palmer does will not solve the difficulty:* “ The article only means to assert that all doctrines actually revealed by God are to be found in Scripture; but there is no necessity to suppose that the inspiration of any particular book was the subject of actual revelation, because it would have been sufficiently evident when the inspiration of the author was known; and this was a matter of fact cognisable by the Church, and not demanding any revelation.'
The inspiration of a book is a fact, as well as the inspiration of the author; and a fact may involve the most sublime of revealed doctrines: the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord, are facts. · The Church could not ascertain the fact of inspiration except by revelation, either of book or of author; and Mr. Palmer only removes the difficulty one step farther by passing from one to the other. Could the author know he was inspired, except on the declared testimony of God? and can we know it except by the same channel? Again, how is the inspiration of those books whose authors are unknown to be discovered? And “supposing," says Mr. Wordsworth, " that the authors of certain books were proved to be inspired, it does not follow necessarily that all that they composed was inspired; so that it is clear that the proof must rest upon some other grounds, besides those of our knowledge of their authors, or even of the fact of their authors being inspired.”+
Better testimony need not be required of the book being written under divine influence, if the fact of the author being inspired when writing it were clearly attested by God; but from God alone can the attestation come, i.e. from revelation.
Can we, then, discover in the Bible clear evidence of the inspiration of all the books contained therein, and all their
• A Treatise on the Church. By the Rev. William Palmer, M.A. Third edition. London, Rivingtons, 1842, vol. ii. p. 5. + On Inspiration, p. 14.
VOL. IV.NEW SERIES.
substantial parts ?. Hooker, Whitaker, Laud, Chillingworth, Palmer, Horne, Kitto, and a host of the most learned Protestant divines, avow their inability to find distinct traces of this evidence in the sacred pages. “ Internal evidence, however cogent,” according to Mr. Wordsworth, “ cannot be complete without His testimony, which is delivered to us through the Church."* “ The importance of external evidence, before adducing that supplied by the nature and contents of the Șcriptures themselves, is too obvious to permit us to pass it over without due consideration, or, as is too frequently the case, to assign it a subordinate place in our chain of proof.”+ Narrowing the question as we have done, it is scarcely credible that any controversialist should venture to assert that Holy Scripture contains clear and express declarations of the inspiration of each book, and of each substantial part, in the Old and New Testament; of the Canticle of Canticles and Esther; of Genesis and of Ruth; of the letter to Philemon and that of St. James, as well as the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. Let the unprejudiced reader weigh calmly and seriously every text brought forward for this purpose, and he will see at once that they are all open to one or other of these two objections: either they are too confined, because they prove the inspiration of some books, not of others; or they are too vague, because they prove inspiration in general, without determining what books are inspired. In the first case, we require more evidence of the same kind with regard to the writings not named; in the second, more distinct evidence, not of inspiration, but of the books composed under its influence.
We request the candid reader to apply another simple and practical test to every method of proof, and particularly to the scriptural one. Add the Book of Wisdom to the Protestant Bible, and take away the Canticle of Canticles,is there one passage, from Genesis to Revelations, which will betray the imposition? Of the insufficiency, then, of internal arguments we are certain, from our own inquiry as well as from the admission of our adversaries. But the inspiration of the Bible is an article of faith; therefore the Church of England admits an article of faith for which she has no scriptural warrant.
Our design is not, however, to develop the inconclusiveness of mere internal arguments, but to show how justly Catholic writers deny the right of appeal to any other proof consistently with Protestant principles, and thus to account
* Mr. Wordsworth's Preface, p. xiii. + Mr. Lee, lect. ii. p. 41.