A Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Facts of History and of the Writings of William Webster on the Canon by Roman Catholic Apologist, Art Sippo

By William Webster


Roman Catholic apologist, Art Sippo, has written a response to my article on this web page entitled The Canon: Why the Roman Catholic Arguments are Spurious. The following article is a response to his charges and misrepresentations. My original statements are first of all given in italics, followed by his response and then by my rebuttal.

Sippo: Subject: Webster’s lies about the Canon

There are so many errors here that I could write a book refuting them. Remember the old Mexican proverb: “A burro can ask more questions than a wise man can answer.” Let me refute just a few of his statements:

1) First of all, the Councils of Carthage and Hippo did not establish the canon for the Church as a whole.

Sippo: Wrong. The Seventh Ecumenical Council reaffirmed the Canons of these Councils as binding on the Universal Church as did the Council of Lyon.

Webster’s Response: No, Mr. Sippo, the one who is wrong is you. Neither the Seventh Ecumenical Council (II Nicea) nor the Council of Lyons (Lyons I in 1245 or Lyons II in 1274) has one word to say about the Canons of Hippo and Carthage. They have nothing to say about the canon of Scripture, period. They did NOT reaffirm the canons of Carthage and Hippo as binding on the universal Church. II Nicea did reaffirm the canons of local Councils which had assembled for the purposes of promulgating the canons and decrees of ecumenical Councils, but this does not apply to Carthage and Hippo because they were not assembled for that purpose. This applies directly to the Trullan or Quinisext Council which historically has always been considered an extension of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (III Constantinople). Furthermore, Augustine and the councils of Hippo and Carthage are in conflict with Trent on the canonical status of I Esdras. This is discussed in detail below in point #5.

The practice of the Church as a whole from the time of Jerome up to the eve of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome that the Apocryphal books were not to be accorded canonical status on a par equal with the inspired Scriptures but were acceptable to be read in the Churches for the purposes of edification.The Church from the time of Jerome and throughout the middle ages did not follow the judgment of the councils of Hippo and Carthage.

2) The New Catholic Encyclopedia actually affirms the fact that the Canon was not officially and authoritatively established for the Western Church until the Council of Trent ...

Sippo: Wrong. The Canon was reaffirmed specifically at the General Councils of Lyon and Florence. There is also the witness of the Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Augustine), and the medieval fathers (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas), and the general usage of the Church throughout the period from the late 4th Century up to the 16th. The Canon of the Bible was in flux prior to 397 AD for both OT and NT. It was stabilized afterwards until the rise of the humanists with their new methods of textual criticism.

Webster’s Response: No, Mr. Sippo, the New Catholic Encyclopedia actually makes that statement. It says:

St. Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries...For example, John of Damascus, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicolas of Lyra and Tostado continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books. According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent (New Catholic Encyclopedia, The Canon).

Again, the Council of Lyons has nothing to say about the Canon. Florence did pass a decree on the canon, which is precisely the same as Trent, in 1442, in the papal Bull of Eugenius IV, the Bull of Union with the Copts. However, this was not an infallible decree. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that the only infallible aspect of the Council was the decree of union between the Greeks and Latins, Laetentur caeli. It states: ‘Laetentur caeli is an infallible document, the only one of the Council’ (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume V, Florence, p. 973). The first infallible decision, from a Roman Catholic perspective, was the Council of Trent. The English Translator of the Council of Trent, H.J. Schroeder O.P., makes this statement regarding Trent and the canon: ‘The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures’ (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford: Tan, 1978), Fourth Session, p. 17, Footnote #4). While the Council of Florence in the mid-fifteenth century passed a decree on the canon similar to that at Trent, the actual practice of the Church as a whole was to exclude the Apocrypha from the canon until the Council of Trent one hundred years later. Again, the general practice of the Church was to follow Jerome’s dictum that the Apocryphal books were useful for the purposes of edification but were not authoritative for the establishing of doctrine. The Glossa Ordinaria and major theologians of the middle ages reveal this to be the case. Thomas Aquinas was a private theologian who, while accepting the Apocrypha as being canonical, was very much in the minority. He was a private theologian and was out of step with the prevailing view of his day. Augustine, likewise a private theologian, sanctioned a book at the Council of Carthage that was later rejected by the Council of Trent. This argument of being a private theologian cuts two ways. If Jerome, Rufinus, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory the Great, John of Damascus, Nicholas of Lyra, and Cardinal Cajetan are merely private theologians, the same is true of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

The statements of the Ordinary Gloss on the Bible, beginning in the twelfth century, is very telling. The Ordinary Gloss, known as the Glossa ordinaria, became the standard authoritative biblical commentary for the Western Church as a whole. It had immense authority. The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes its importance:

A designation given during the Middle Ages to certain compilations of “glosses” on the text of a given MS. The earliest glossa ordinaria is that made of the Bible, probably made in the 12th century...Although glosses originally consisted of a few words only, they grew in length as glossators enlarged them with their own comments and quotations from the Fathers. Thus the tiny gloss evolved into a running commentary of an entire book. The best–known commentary of this type is the vast Glossa ordinaria of the 12th and 13th centuries...So great was the influence of the Glossa ordinaria on Biblical and philisophical studies in the Middle Ages that it was called “the tongue of Scripture” and “the bible of scholasticism” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Glossa Ordinaria; Glosses, Biblical, pp. 515-516).

The Glossa Ordinaria consisted of standard commentaries on the books of the Bible by major Church Fathers accompanied by glosses from major theologians. The principal Fathers who provide authoritative commentary in the Gloss are described by Margaret Gibson:

Ultimately the principal contributor to the Gloss - the giant who bears it on his shoulders - is Jerome. He was responsible for the text of the Bible, for many of the explanatory prefaces to individual books, and for the learned and comprehensive exegesis of most of the Old Testament and part of the New. Behind Jerome stands Origen, whose work was known directly to Jerome but to later scholars indirectly (and partially) in Rufinus’ translation. Augustine contributed to Genesis and Ambrose to Luke; Cassiodorus to the Psalms, and Gregory the Great at least to Job and perhaps to Ezekiel and the Gospels. The next great figure is Bede. He is the leading player in Ezra-Nehemiah, Mark, the Acts of the Apostles and the Canonical Epistles. The basic material from Jerome to Bede, was edited in the ninth century by Rabanus Maurus, who commented the entire Old Testament (except Baruch) and much of the New. Paschasius Radbertus supplied a commentary on Lamentations and revised Jerome’s commentary on Matthew (Karlfried Froehlich and Margaret Gibson, Biblia Latina Cum Glossa Ordinaria, Introduction to the Facsimile Reprint of the Editio Princeps Adolph Rusch of Strassborg 1480/81 (Brepols-Turnhout, 1992), The Glossed Bible, pp. VIII, IX).

The Glossa ordinaria states in the Preface that the Church permits the reading of the Apocryphal books only for devotion and instruction in manners, but that they have no authority for concluding controversies in matters of faith. It goes on to state that there are 22 books of the OT. In listing those 22 books it uses the testimonies of Origen, Jerome and Rufinus as support, and when commenting on the Apocryphal books, it prefixes an introduction to them all saying: ‘Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon' and so forth for Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc. These prologues to the Old Testament and Apocryphal books repeated the words of Jerome. This historical evidence clearly demonstrates that the Councils of Hippo and Carthage did not establish the canon for the Church, for their decrees on the Old Testament were not accepted. It was the view of Jerome that generally prevailed all the way up to the sixteenth century. Bruce Metzger affirms this to be the case:

Subsequent to Jerome's time and down to the period of the reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon. Such a judgment, for example, was reiterated on the very eve of the Reformation by Cardinal Ximenes in the preface of the magnificent Complutensian Polyglot edition of the Bible which he edited (1514-17)...Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome's separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), p. 180)..

As Metzger mentions, Cardinal Cajetan was the great opponent of Luther and one of the leading Roman Catholic scholars of his day. His commentary on the Old Testament, which was dedicated to Pope Clement VII in 1532, reflects the attitude of the Church historically and of the Roman Catholic Church of his day toward the Apocrypha just before the Council of Trent when he says that the books of the Apocrypha are not received as canonical. He states:

Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St. Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed among the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned canonical. For the words as well as of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clear through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage’ (Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament. Taken from his comments on the final chapter of Esther. Cited by William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: University Press, 1849), p. 48).

In addition, Cardinal Ximenes, the Archbishop of Toledo, was responsible for producing, as Metzger also mentions, an edition of the Bible called the Biblia Complutensia in the early sixteenth century. In producing this work he collaborated with the leading theologians of his day. In the Preface of this work there is an admonition given regarding the Apocrypha. It states that the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Maccabees, the additions to Esther and Daniel, were not canonical Scripture. The Preface goes on to say that the Church did not receive the Apocryphal books for confirming the authority of any fundamental points of doctrine, though the Church allowed them to be read for purposes of edification. This Bible and its Preface was published by the authority and consent of Pope Leo X, to whom the whole work was dedicated. The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following history of this Bible and affirms the sanctioning of this work by the pope:

The first Bible which may be considered a Polyglot is that edited at Alcala (in Latin Complutum, hence the name Complutensian Bible), Spain, in 150217, under the supervision and at the expense of Cardinal Ximenes, by scholars of the university founded in that city by the same great Cardinal. It was published in 1520, with the sanction of Leo X. Ximenes wished, he writes, 'to revive the languishing study of the Dacred Scriptures'; and to achieve this object he undertook to furnish students with accurate printed texts of the Old tetament in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages, and of the New Testament in the Greek and Latin. His Bible contains also the Chaldaic Targum of the Pentateuch and an interlinear Latin translation of the Greek Old Testament. The work is in six large volumes, the last of which is made up of a Hebrew and Chaldaic dictionary, a Hebrew grammar, and Greek dictionary. It is said that only six hundred copies were issued; but they found their way into the principal libraries of Europe and had considerable influence on subsequent editions of the Bible (The New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), The Polyglot Bibles).

In addition to the views of Cardinal Cajetan and Cardinal Ximenes, Bruce Metzger provides additional evidence for the view of the Western Church in the sixteenth century in these observations:

The earliest Latin version of the Bible in modern times, made from the original languages by the scholarly Dominican, Sanctes Pagnini, and published at Lyons in 1528, with commendatory letters from Pope Adrian VI and Pope Clement VII, sharply separates the text of the canonical books from the text of the Apocryphal books. Still another Latin Bible, this one an addition of Jerome’s Vulgate published at Nuermberg by Johannes Petreius in 1527, presents the order of the books as in the Vulgate but specifies at the beginning of each Apocryphal book that it is not canonical. Furthermore, in his address to the Christian reader the editor lists the disputed books as ‘Libri Apocryphi, sive non Canonici, qui nusquam apud Hebraeos extant’ (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), p. 180).

Mr. Sippo states that these scholars who separated the Apocrypha from canonical status were out of touch with the magesterium of the Roman Church. How can they be out of touch with the magesterium when their works are dedicated to and officially sanctioned by the popes?

3)...even such an authority as Pope Gregory the Great rejected the Apocrypha as canonical:

Sippo: POPE Gregory the Great made no Magisterial pronouncements concerning the canon. In his commentary on Job, Gregory did reject the Deuterocanon of the OT, but this was a private composition, not an offical Church document. There is no evidence that he wrote this book while he was Pope. Gregory was a churchman for his whole life and a Pope for only a short time. Most likely this book was written prior to his becoming Pope. His personal opinions are not infallible in any case, only his official pronouncements as Pope.

Webster’s Response: Gregory the Great was pope from 590 to 604 A.D. Mr. Sippo says there is no evidence Gregory wrote his commentary on Job while he was pope. Roman Catholic patristics scholar, William Jurgens, gives the following background to Gregory’s commentary, which refute Sippo’s allegations:

When Gregory, while Apocrisarius in Constantinople, met Bishop Leander of Seville about the year 578, Leander asked him to write a commentary on the Book of Job. Gregory’s response was his Moralia or Moralium libri or Expositio in librum Iob, at which he worked intermittently for many years, finally completing the work in thirty-five books about the year 595 A.D. The Moral Teachings is devoted mostly to discussions of questions in moral theology and of practical applications of Gregory’s solutions. In a sense it may be regarded as the first manual of moral and ascetic theology (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1979), Volume III, p. 313).

Please note that William Jurgens affirms the fact that Gregory did indeed write his commentary while he was pope. What is more, in asserting that the book of I Maccabees is not canonical, Gregory is not sharing his personal opinion as a private theologian, but is simply stating the position of the Church of his day. He states:

With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edification of the Church, we bring forward testimony. Thus Eleazar in the battle smote and brought down an elephant, but fell under the very beast that he killed" (1 Macc. 6.46). (Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, (Oxford: Parker, 1845), Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, Volume II, Parts III and IV, Book XIX.34, p.424).

Gregory the Great would never have purposefully expressed a view contrary to that which he knew had been authoritatively established by the Church. Clearly, when the Church received the Apocryphal books as canonical it defined the term canonical in the sense expressed by Cardinal Cajetan above. The term had a broad and a narrow meaning. In its broad sense it encompassed all the books which were acceptable to be read in the Churches, which included the Apocrypha. But in its narrow meaning it meant only the books of the Hebrew Canon were sanctioned as truly canonical for the purposes of establishing doctrine.

Furthermore, Mr. Sippo states that the Commentary on Job was not an official Church document. This is erroneous. As was pointed out in the statements above on the Glossa ordinaria, Gregory’s Commentary on Job was the standard commentary for the entire Western Church of the Middle Ages. He is teaching here in his official capacity as pope on issues related to morals. The fact that the Commentary on Job was written while he was pope and was used as an official commentary for the entire Western Church is proof enough that this work was an official Church document. And Gregory never retracted what he had written about the Apocrypha. Thus, we have the official and authoritative perspective of a bishop of Rome in the late seventh century regarding the canonical status of the Apocrypha.

4) There are major fathers in the Church prior to the North African Councils who rejected the judgment of these councils.

Sippo: Who cares? The decisions of Ecumenical Councils supercede the opinions of individual Fathers. (N.B.- one of the Fathers he lists in this section is Origen who was a heretic.)

Webster’s Response: Carthage was not an ecumenical council. The Council of Trent, which was Ecumenical from a Roman Catholic point of view, rejected one of the books sanctioned by the Council of Carthage as canonical. So, clearly, Carthage did not authoritatively settle the question of the canon for the Church. This is discussed in more detail in the next point. The opinion of individual fathers, when taken as a whole such as Origen, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, Rufinus and Jerome represent the overall perspective of the Church. That overall perspective prior to Carthage and Hippo was contrary to the decrees of those councils.

While it is true that Origen was condemned as a heretic, this does not mean that Origen was heretical in everything that he taught. His ruling on the canon is in essence the same as that of Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus.

5) Firstly, Hippo and Carthage state that 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras are canonical. They are referring here to the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras. In this version 1 Esdras is the Apocryphal additions to Ezra while 2 Esdras is the Jewish version of Ezra-Nehemiah from the Jewish canon. The Council of Trent however states that 1 Esdras is actually Ezra from the Jewish canon and 2 Esdras is Nehemiah from the Jewish canon.

Sippo: No. The Septuagint (LXX) uses different names for books than the Hebrew Bible. Hippo and Carthage use the term “2 books of Esdras” which refers to Ezra and Nehemiah just as Trent indicates. This is how all of the Fathers understood it.

Webster’s Response: No, Mr. Sippo, this is not how all the Fathers understood it and the Septuagint does indeed separate I Esdras from Ezra-Nehemiah which were joined together as one book and listed as II Esdras by the Church Fathers. It was Jerome and the Latin Vulgate which separated Ezra from Nehemiah into 2 books calling them I Esdras and II Esdras respectively and this became standard for the Vulgate and the basis upon which Trent declared the Septuagint I Esdras to be uncanonical. I Esdras in the Septuagint then became III Esdras in the Vulgate and the other Apocryphal 2 Esdras became IV Esdras in the Vulgate. In the earliest Septuagint manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus (early 4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (early 5th century), I Esdras is listed as one book and Ezra-Nehemiah are listed separately as a second book. These facts are affirmed by the following authorities:

The New Catholic Encyclopedia:

Four books are attributed to Esdras (Ezra in the Hebrew spelling). The distinction between these books is confusing because of the manuscript and denominational differences:

 Vulgate (Catholic)

 Septuagint

  Hebrew Text

 Protestant and Jewish
 1 Esdras (Ezra) *    Ezra *   Ezra *
 2 Esdras (Nehemiah) *  2 Esdras (Ezra/Nehemiah) *  Nehemiah *   Nehemiah *
 3 Esdras  1 Esdras  missing   1 Esdras
 4 Esdras  3 Esdras  missing   2 Esdras
 * Canonical Books      


III Esdras (Vulgate, I Esdras in the Septuagint) was certainly compiled before A.D. 90, for the Jewish historian Josephus quoted from it (Ant. 11); but its exclusive concern with Jewish interests puts its composition before the Christian era, closer to 100 B.C. Until the 5th century, Christians very frequently ranked 3 Esdras with the Canonical books; it is found in many LXX MSS (Septuagint manuscripts) and in the Latin Vulgate (Vulg) of St. Jerome. Protestants therefore include 3 Esdras with other apocrypha (deuterocanonical) books such as Tobit or Judith. The Council of Trent definitively removed it from the canon’
(New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), Volume II, Bible, III, pp. 396-397).

Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek:

The ‘Greek Esdras’ consists of an independent and somewhat free version of portions of 2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, broken by a long context which has no parallel in the Hebrew Bible...In the early Church the Greek Esdras was accepted without suspicion...Jerome, however, (praef. in Ezr.), discarded the book, and modern editions of the Vulgate relegate it to an appendix where it appears as 3 Esdras, the titles I Esdras and 2 Esdras being given to the two parts of the canonical book of Ezra-Nehemiah’ (An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1968), pp. 265-267).

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:

‘Esdras’ is the Greek and Latin form of Ezra. In the Septuagint there are two books of this title—Esdras A, a Greek book based on parts of 2 Chron., Ez., and Neh., with an interpolated story not extant in Hebrew; and Esdras B, a straightforward rendering of the Hebrew Ezra-Neh. (treated as one book). In the current form of the Vulgate these are increased to four, namely: I and II Esdras, i.e. St. Jerome’s rendering of Ezra and Neh., treated as separate books; III Esdras, the Old Latin version of Esdras A; and IV Esdras, another book not extant in Greek. For the original Vulgate Jerome deliberately confined himself to the first two of these, rejecting the other two as uncanonical (Praef. in Esd., c. Vigil. 7); but all four books are commonly included (with some confusion in the numbering) in Latin biblical MSS. In 1546 the Council of Trent (sess. 4) finally rejected III Esdras and IV Esdras from the RC Canon, and in subsequent editions of the Vulgate they appear (with the Prayer of Manasses) as an Appendix following the N.T. (The Oxford Dicxtionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University, 1997), p. 560).

The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity:

The Hebrew Bible treats Ezra and its companion book, Nehemiah, which tells of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under the governor Nehemiah, as one book (1 and 2 Esdras in the Vulgate). The Greek and Latin form of Ezra’s name, Esdras, is employed in the title of 1 Esdras (3 Esdras in the Vulgate), a Greek version of Ezra-Nehemiah based on a text different from that in the Hebrew Bible (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York: Garland, 1997), p. 414).

Jacob Myers, I and II Esdras:

I Esdras owes its name to the Greek Bible where Esdras A=I Esdras and Esdras B=Ezra and Nehemiah...The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible) has Esdras I (=Ezra), Esdras 2 (=Nehemiah), Esdras 3 (=I Esdras) and Esdras 4 (=II Esdras)’ (Jacob Myers, I and II Esdras (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982), p. 1).

Herbert Edward Ryle, Ezra and Nehemiah:

In the lists of the Old Testament which include the Apocryphal books, an element of confusion is caused by the Apocryphal ‘Ezra,’ our First Book of Esdras. In the LXX Version, the Old Latin, and the Syriac, this Apocryphal Greek Book was placed, out of regard probably for chronology, before the Hebrew Ezra, and was called the First of Ezra...while our Ezra and Nehemiah appeared as one book, with the title of the Second of Ezra. In his translation of the Vulgate, Jerome did not recognize the Canonicity of the Apocryphal Books. He translated the Hebrew Ezra (our Ezra and Nehemiah) as one book with the title of Ezra; but he acquiesced in the division of the Canonical Ezra into two books, for he speaks of the Apocryphal books as the third and fourth of Ezra...In the Vulgate, accordingly, Ezra and Nehemiah were called the First and Second of Ezra; the Apocryphal Greek Ezra was called the Third of Ezra; the Apocalyptic work, the Fourth of Ezra...The influence of the Vulgate caused the names applied in the books in that version to be generally adopted in the West. At the Council of Trent, Ezra and Nehemiah are called ‘the first book of Ezra and the second of Ezra which is called Nehemiah’ (Herbert Edward Ryle, Ezra and Nehemiah (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1907), pp. xiii-xiv).

These references should be adequate to debunk Mr. Sippo’s assertions that the Septuagint version of I and II Esdras was no different from that which was decreed by Trent. In addition, Mr. Sippo has stated that all of the Fathers viewed I and II Esdras as representative of Ezra and Nehemiah from the Hebrew canon. This is a complete misrepresentation. The early Fathers of the Church used the Septuagint or the Old Latin Bible, which was a translation of the Septuagint, and their lists reflect the Septuagint order and books of the Old Testament. Many of them considered the Septuagint to be inspired. There are a number of Apocryphal Books which were included in the Septuagint which many of the early Fathers rejected as being canonical, but they always listed the specific books which they considered to be noncanonical. They never do this with I Esdras. This is why the New Catholic Encyclopedia quoted above states that for the first five centuries many Fathers of the Church regarded III Esdras as being canonical. Thus, when the Fathers refer to I Esdras, they mean the Septuagint I Esdras. Jerome was the first to separate Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books and to assign the title of I Esdras to Ezra and 2 Esdras to Nehemiah.The Septuagint version of Esdras (I Esdras in the Septuagint, III Esdras in the Vulgate), for example, is quoted by Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ephrem Syrus, Basil the Great, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Ambrose, Theophilus of Antioch, Dionysius of Alexandria, Augustine and Prosper of Aquaitaine (See Jacob Myers, I and II Esdras (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982), p. 1 and The Encyclopedia of the Early Church (New York: Oxford University, 1992), p. 57, Column 1).

Augustine’s view of the Septuagint and 1 Esdras is of particular interest fortois whole discussion for he was one of the leading authorities at the Council of Carthage which passed certain decrees on the Canon in 397 A.D. and which is claimed by Rome to be the final arbiter in establishing the canon of Scripture for the Church. He makes these comments about the Septuagint and its authority:

But another Ptolemy, called Philadelphus, who succeeded him, permitted all whom he had brought under the yoke to return free; and, more than that, sent kingly gifts to the temple of God, and begged Eleazar, who was the high priest, to give him the Scriptures, which he had heard by report were truly divine, and therefore greatly desired to have in that most noble library he had made. When the high priest had sent them to him in Hebrew, he afterwards demanded interpreters of him, and there were given him seventy-two, out of each of the twelve tribes six men, most learned in both languages, to wit, the Hebrew and Greek; and their translation is now by custom called the Septuagint. It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the One Spirit had been in them all. And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.
For while there were other interpreters who translated these sacred oracles out of the Hebrew tongue into Greek, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and also that translation which, as the name of the author is unknown, is quoted as the fifth edition, yet the Church has received this Septuagint translation just as if it were the only one; and it has been used by the Greek Christian people, most of whom are not aware that there is any other. From this translation there has also been made a translation in the Latin tongue, which the Latin churches use. Our times, however, have enjoyed the advantage of the presbyter Jerome, a man most learned and skilled in all three languages, who translated the same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew. But although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labor of his to be faithful, while they contend that the Septuagint translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men, chosen for this very great work by Eleazar, who was the high priest; for even if there had not appeared in them one spirit, without doubt divine, the seventy learned men had, after the manner of men, compared together the words of their translation, that what pleased them all might stand, no single translator ought to be preferred to them; but since so great a sign of divinity has appeared in them, certainly, any other translator of their Scriptures from the Hebrew into any other tongue is faithful in that case he agrees with these seventy translators, and if he is not found to agree with them, then we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with them. For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men when they translated them, so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both; and could say the same thing differently, so that, although the words were not the same, yet the same meaning should shine forth to those of good understanding; and could omit or add something, so that even by this it might be shown that there was in that work not human bondage, which the translator owed to the words, but rather divine power, which filled and ruled the mind of the translator
(Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), Volume II, Augustine, The City of God 18.42-43, p. 386).

Augustine goes on to quote from the book of III Esdras in his work The City of God (Book XVIII. 36). Thus, when the Council of Carthage gives its list of canonical books for the Old Testament they are following the Septuagint translation and when they refer to Esdras as comprising two books they are referring to I and II Esdras of the Septuagint. This is contradictory to the decree passed by Trent because Trent follows Jerome in assigning I and II Esdras to the canonical Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah respectively. Therefore, Trent has declared uncanonical what the Council of Carthage declared to be canonical. Clearly, then, Carthage did not authoritatively establish the canon for the Church universally.

6) Secondly, Hippo and Carthage state that Solomon wrote 5 books of the Old Testament when in actuality he wrote only 3.

Sippo: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, & Song of Solomon were always attributed to Solomon (as were a few canonical psalms). Job was sometimes attributed to him in the Early Church because it was a Wisdom Book and all OT wisdom books were attributed to Solomon by some scholars. NB: the listing stated “5 books of Solomon” which was a euphemism for “OT wisdom literature.” It was NOT a declaration of authorship per se in the modern sense.

Webster’s Response: It was not the common practice of the Church to refer to these books as Solomon’s. Rufinus, Athanasius, Jerome, Hilary of Poitiers, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Amphilocius, Basil the Great and Epiphanius, all of whom give us lists of the canonical Scriptures clearly make a distinction between the books of Solomon and the apocryphal books. They unanimously affirm that Solomon wrote 3 books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

7) A second major point that proves the Roman Catholic claims to be spurious is the fact that the universal practice of the Church as a whole up to the time of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome who rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha on the grounds that these books were never part of the Jewish canon.

Sippo: This is whopper of a lie! The Church used the deuterocanon without qualms up until just before the Reformation as noted earlier. Some Catholic scholars around the time of the Reformation had misgivings about the Deuteros. They were out of touch with the Magisterium (i.e., Lyons and Florence) and Church usage (e.g., St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas).
St. Jerome’s opinions are his own and do not reflect the Magisterium. It seems that prots are always trying to pit the opinion of some single figure swimming against the tide as if that single opinion somehow is superior to that of the Church as a whole.

Webster’s Response: As I have already pointed out, the Church as a whole followed Jerome’s judgment. These scholars were not out of touch with the magesterium because as I mentioned under point #2 the works of the scholars of the 16th century who followed Jerome were sanctioned by the popes of their day. It is Augustine and Thomas Aquinas who are swimming against the tide. Augustine and Aquinas are not reflective of the overall practice of the Church, Jerome is. Lyons did not decree anything regarding the canon of Scripture. The Church did use the deuterocanonicals without qualms for the purposes specified by Jerome, for purposes of edification. This is precisely what Gregory the Great did. Gregory used the book of I Maccabees, as he explicitly states, for edification, at the same time admitting the book was not canonical.

Again, for documentation on the overall perspective and practice of the Church throughout the middle ages please refer back to the discussion of the Glossa ordinaria in point #2 and to the article on the Canon on this web page for documentation of the perspective of the leading theologians of the Church from the 5th to the 16th centuries.

8) Rufinus...Cajetan...etc.

Sippo: These scholars were wrong. What they taught was contrary to the Magisterium’s teaching at Ecumenical Councils. Please note that we have the same few names dragged out while the HUNDREDS of other Catholic Fathers and scholars who used the Long Canon in both the Eastern and Western Church are never mentioned. It should also be noted that many of the Fathers who did not place the deuteros on par with the OT still used them to instruct people in the faith. There was a diversity of opinions on the Canon among SOME Catholic scholars even though the Councils of Lyons and Florence had pronounced upon the issue. This only shows that there has been disobedience and error for a long time.

Webster’s Response: Again, the first Ecumenical Council to authoritatively define the limits of the canon was Trent. Lyons did not pass any canons or decrees or reaffirm any canons regarding the canon of Scripture. Florence was not infallible in its decrees on the Canon. The Seventh Ecumenical Council (II Nicea) in reaffirming the canons of the Trullan Council called the Quinisext Council, affirmed the canons of Athanasius, Amphilocius and Basil the Great on the canon, all of whom rejected the majority of the Apocryphal books as being canonical. This is discussed in more detail below.

Who are these hundreds of theologians from the East and West, Mr. Sippo? That’s an easy statement to make but not so easy to document. As I pointed out in the article on the Canon, the prevailing view of the Church throughout the middle ages as expressed by the Glossa ordinaria and the writings of the major theologians from the 5th to the 16th centuries was the view expressed by Jerome. These theologians used the deuterocanonical books for the purposes of edification, as illustrated by Gregory the Great in the above quote. But they did not grant them canonical status as Scripture as Gregory states.

9) Roman Catholic apologists often assert that the canons of the council of Carthage were authoritatively received by the 6th ecumenical council. What they never add is that this council also authoritatively received the canons of Athanasius and Amphilocius which also have to do with the canon.

Sippo: Webster is pulling a flim-flam here. There were NO canons promulgated at the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils. What he is referring to were the canons of the “Quinisext” Council also known as the Council of Trullo. This was a synod held after the Sixth Ecumenical Council. It was the SEVENTH Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) which received Hippo and Carthage as authoritative.
In the Eastern Church, it was widely accepted as a continuation of the Fifth (Quint) and Sixth (Sext) Councils, hence the name. There were 102 canons which became the basis for Eastern Canon Law. The first of these Canons mentioned the 85 Canons of the Eastern Fathers which Webster quotes in this article.
This council has never been recognized by the Popes and the Western Church does not accept it as ecumenical. Some of the 102 Canons (esp. 35 and 51) were directed against the practices of the Latin West and could not be accepted by Rome. Others of the canons were more reasonable and were acknowledged by Rome as representing true Catholic doctrine.
Nevertheless, no authority was ever given to the decrees of this council by the Popes either in whole or in part.
Webster knows this because he has read Schaff’s Church history where this is CLEARLY stated. Consequently, there is no excuse for his misrepresentation at this point.

Webster’s Response: I am not pulling a flim-flam here. The canons and decrees of the Trullan Council have historically always been considered as part of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (III Constantinople). In canon I of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (II Nicea), the Council states:

Seeing these things are so, being thus well-testified unto us, we rejoice over them as he that hath found great spoil, and press to our bosom with gladness the divine canons, holding fast all the precepts of the same, complete and without change, whether they have been set forth by the holy trumpets of the Spirit, the renowned Apostles, or by the Six Ecumenical Councils, or by Councils locally assembled for promulgating the decrees of the said Ecumenical Councils, or by our holy Fathers. For all these, being illumined by the same Spirit, defined such things as were expedient. Accordingly those whom they placed under anathema, we likewise anathematize; those whom they deposed, we also depose; those whom they excommunicated, we also excommunicate; and those whom they delivered over to punishment, we subject to the same penalty (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), Second Series, Volume VII, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 555).

Note that the Council’s reference to ‘Councils locally assembled for promulgating the decrees of the said Ecumenical Councils’. This is a direct reference to the Quinisext/Trullan Council. This Ecumenical Council considered the decrees of the Council of Trullo to have promulgated decrees of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. The Roman Catholic historian, Charles Joseph Hefele, affirms that this is the case in these statements:

That the seventh Ecumenical Synod at Nicea ascribed the Trullan canons to the sixth Ecumenical Council, and spoke of them entirely in the Greek spirit, cannot astonish us, as it was attended almost solely by Greeks. They specially pronounced the recognition of the canons in question in their own first canon...(Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1895), Volume IV, p. 242).

Philip Schaff provides the following comments of Beveridge on canon I of II Nicea:

Here are recognized and confirmed the canons set forth by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. And although all agree that the fifth and sixth Synods adopted no canons, unless that those of the Council of Trullo be attributed to them, yet when Tarasius the Patriarch of Constantinople claimed Canon 82 of the Trullan Canons as having been set forth by the sixth synod, all the canons of Trullo seem to be confirmed as having issued from the Sixth Synod (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), Second Series, Volume VII, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 556).

Clearly, this charge of flim-flam is baseless. As Art Sippo himself admits: ‘In the Eastern Church, it was widely accepted as a continuation of the Fifth (Quint) and Sixth (Sext) Councils, hence the name.’ But the Seventh Ecumenical Council officially accepted the Trullan Canons as part of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. So what’s the big deal?

Art Sippo goes on to state: ‘This council has never been recognized by the Popes and the Western Church does not accept it as ecumenical.’ Sorry, Mr. Sippo, but the Seventh Ecumenical, in officially affirming the Council as part of the Sixth Ecumenical Council has elevated it to the status of an Ecumenical Council. In addition, Pope Hadrian II, officially received all of the canons of II Nicea which reaffirmed the 102 canons of the Trullan Council. As Philip Schaff remarks: ‘Pope Hadrian sent (Charlamagne) a translation of the acts into Latin and signified his acceptance of the council’ In addition, Mr. Sippo has argued that the canons of the Council of Carthage are authoritative because they were supposedly reaffirmed by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. We have seen that this is spurious, but the principle is sound and applies to the canons of the Quinisext/Trullan Council which were in fact reaffirmed by the Seventh Council (II Nicea). (Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), Second Series, Volume VII, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 576). The Council of Trullo authoritatively sanctioned the canons of Athanasius, Amphilocius and Basil the Great on the canon of Scripture, all of whom separate the majority of the Apocryphal books from the canon.

The subtitle to the original article still stands: Why the Roman Catholic Arguments are Spurious. Certainly Mr. Sippo's rcbuttal is found to be so.

Mr. Sippo began his critique with this ad hominem remark: “A burro can ask more questions than a wise man can answer.” From the foregoing facts the reader can decide for himself to whom those remarks should be applied.