|book of Maccabees (Codex Sinaiticus)|
I. They assert that the books that were not formerly canonical could not afterwards become so, as this would need a new inspiration of the Holy Ghost of which there is no trace. But. they continue, the books of Machabees were not formerly canonical for they find no place in the canon of the Jews. From these premises they conclude that they should not be considered canonical at all.
To this objection we answer that Catholics deny the whole of it. They maintain that these, as well as the other books of Scripture, which were too in convenient for Protestants, and in consequence, rejected by them, have been always canonical though their canonicity were questioned by some. Thus it did not happen that the Church changed an uninspired book into one sacred and inspired by the Holy Ghost; but it did happen that the Church having investigated what tradition had to say in the matter and forming her judgment according to it pronounced this or that book to be inspired or apocryphal. She needed no new revelation for this any more than did the followers of Luther, when they voted the Epistle of St. James to be canonical, after it was rejected with scorn by that heresiarch. She can now form no different judgment of any book which was formerly held to be canonical or apocryphal by the principal churches and especially by the Roman one, " to which the Apostles Peter and Paul poured out the whole doctrine with their blood, and in which the Apostolic Tradition has been always preserved, and which is the mother and mistress of the other churches of the whole world."
According to this rule the book of Pastor and the Third and Fourth of Esdras are not numbered among the sacred books, though they were reputed to be canonical by some of the ancients. In harmony with the same rule it could happen that the truth of any book may manifest itself though it may have been somewhat hidden and obscure before, just as happened with regard to the fable of the Millennists which became obsolete, although at one time it had been supported by evidence that was not to be despised.
The strong point which our adversaries imagine they make against us is drawn from the fact that these books are not found in the canon of the Jews. This canon is attributed by all but universal consent to Esdras. It is evident that he did not, and indeed could not, enumerate the books of Machabees and the others, which Protestants consider apocryphal; for it is certain that some, among which are the Machabees, and very probable that all of them, were not written till after the time of that ardent Israelite. Regarding his canon, we should understand what Josephus (Lib. i, contra Appionem.) says, that the number of the books of Scripture were twenty-two, so arranged as to correspond with the number of letters in the Jewish alpha bet. We also learn from St. Jerome that each book was pointed out by its numerical letter.
Then the books of Machabees, like those of Tobias, Judith, and Ecclesiasticus, are not proto-canonical but deutro-canonical. Hence, although, as Josephus remarks, they may be held in less esteem by the Jews, either because there may have been formerly, or be cause there may be then a doubt entertained by some as to them, still they were held to be inspired by the wisest and most learned. Therefore do we find Josephus himself, (Lib. 2, contra Appionem.) when quoting this text of Ecclesiasticus, (Ch. 42, v. 14. The meaning of this text is that, generally speaking, we should apprehend less danger to our soul from the rudeness and injustice of men than from the familiarity and flattering kindness of women.) "Better is the iniquity of a man, than a woman doing a good turn," declaring that it is taken "from the law itself? In his little book on the martyrdom of the" seven Machabees the same author observes: " These things, which I have found in the records of the ancients and sacred writings of the holy Machabees, I have consecrated to posterity to be read for ever."
Let us abstract altogether from the fact that these books were not written when Esdras formed his canon, and we can securely place the authority of the Apostles against that of him. Beyond all doubt the Apostles, who were commissioned by Jesus Christ to teach all truths to the nations, were invested with as much authority as Esdras and the Jewish synagogue. The church of Christ has a stronger claim to our confidence, and exhibits more cogent titles to our obedience than the church of Moses and the Sanhedrim. Origen distinguishes between the authority of each when he says : "Though the church of the Jews place those books among the apocrypha, the church of Christ teaches them, and honours them as divine."
However there is no real contradiction between the Church and the Synagogue. The Church affirms the inspiration of the Machabees ; the Synagogue did not deny it.