ON THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF THE BOOKS OF MACCABEES.
At the outset we must admit, that all the churches of old did not accept these books as a portion of the scriptures, or the inspired written word of God. They are not found in the canon drawn up by St. John Damascen, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Athanasius, the synod of Laodicea, Origen, or St. Melito, bishop of Sardis. St. Jerome, in his preface to the books of Solomon, goes so far as to say that, "The church indeed reads the books of Machabees, but she does not receive them among the canonical scriptures." Eusebius (In Chronico.) and Gregory (Lib. 19 Moral, ch. 13.) are of the same opinion. The latter very pointedly says: " We do not act irregularly if we offer testimony from books, which, though not canonical, are still published for the edification of the church." He made this observation before proceeding to quote from the First Book of Machabees.
The second admission we have to make is, that it is uncertain who were the authors of this renowned history of the Machabees. The two books were written by different hagiographers. This is evident: 1st, from the matter; for the Second Book relates many facts, though more at large and in a different manner, that were recorded in the First. 2ndly, from the style and phraseology. The First Book is full of Hebrew, while the Second is full of Greek idioms. 3rdly, from the chronology or computation of time, which is different in both. Although each of them follows the era of the Seleucidae, or, as it was also called, of the kingdom of the Greeks, still the First assumes the Jewish, whilst the Second assumes the Antioch or Alexandrian method. There was a difference of six months between the two.
It is not easy, however, to determine who the authors were. Some, among whom may be named Bellarmine and Nieremberg, think that John Hircanus, the son of Simon Machabeus,
(The meaning and derivation of the name Machabeus are uncertain. Some say it is derived from the initials of the words of Exodus xvii., : " Who is like to thee among the strong, O Lord"; which Judas Machabeus bore inscribed on his ensigns, 'or standards, when doing battle for his country. The initial letters of these words in Hebrew are, M. C. B.E.I.)
who was high-priest and leader of the Jewish people, and, according to Josephus, (Lib. 1.3, Antiquit. ch. 18.) skilled in the knowledge of future events, wrote the First Book; and that Judas Essenus, a man also of great weight among the Jews, wrote the Second one. Others think that the writers were some persons, whose names are unknown ; or perhaps the Machabees themselves, each of whom committed his own bravery and fidelity to writing. Hence St. Isidore (Lib. de eccles. offic. ch. 10.) says: "is by no means certain, who wrote Judith and Tobias, or the books of Machabees." Nothing certain then can be laid down as to their authorship. But it is quite different when we come to speak of their authority and divine inspiration.
Divine inspiration is the action of God, with regard to the man who wrote ; by which action, his writing is considered to have, and, de facto, has God for its author. By this action of God, man is moved to write, and is assisted in writing.
By canonical books, we understand those that are divinely inspired, and, as such, are known to us, and are therefore placed by the Church on the canon of scripture. On the other hand by apocryphal books, are meant those which the Church does not positively reject; but which she negatively excludes from the canon, as being of doubtful or obscure authority ; and on this account, though they may have been sometimes found in the volume or body of the Bible, still they are perceived as distinct from the other books, or are sometimes cast to the end of it.
The canonical books are divided into proto-canonical and deutro-canonical; that is, into canonical of the first and second order. This distinction does not import that they differ in authority, for each of them has the same authority ; but it imports that the books of the first class were always held to be canonical, whilst those of the second were sometimes the subject of controversy, and only in the course of time were manifestly placed on the canon.
Canon, taken in its strict and proper sense, is the same as a rule. Taken in connection with the divine books, the canon of sacred scripture means that collection and public catalogue of books, which arc held to be sacred and divinely inspired.
The canon of the Jews, containing only the books of the Old Testament, was first constituted by Esdras, and approved and received by the Sanhedrim, or supreme council of the Jews. That was in the fifth century before Christ. This canon of Esdras, contained twenty-two books. After his time other divine books were written, and hence, another canon should be constituted. The erudite in biblical science tell us there were, in the time of the Apostles, two canons or collections of scripture; one, belonging to the Jews of Palestine; and the other, to those of Alexandria. These latter were also called Hellenists. The collection of the Jews of Palestine comprised only those books that had been written in Hebrew. Still the Jews venerated certain other books as sacred. The collection of the Hellenists comprised also the books that had been written in Greek. In other words, the latter embraced all the Old Testament, as we now recognize it.
The canon of Christians, or of the Church, is that which Christians admit. It embraces the books of both Testaments, the Old and the New.
The two books of Machabees are truly canonical; that is, they are truly placed in the canon or list of inspired scripture. This proposition is proved in this manner :—
Besides the authority of the Church, which is the weightiest argument, there are two other arguments, viz., the teaching of the greater number of Fathers, and the unshaken authority of their teaching over that of those who hold a contrary opinion, which prove beyond all doubt the authority of the books of Machabees, as we shall just see.
I. The greater number of Fathers, who have alluded to these books, suppose their divine authority.
1. St. Clement, (Strom. I. 5, ch. 14, p, 705.) of Alexandria, one of the most ancient of the Fathers, who lived in the end of the second, and beginning of the third century, cites the Second Book of Machabees. He would not have done this, unless he believed it be authentic.
2. Origen, (Lib. 2, Periarchon.) giving expression to the tradition of the church, as well as to his own opinion, supposes them to be authentic. He says (Chap 2.): " But that we may teach from the authority of the Scriptures that these things are so, hear how in the books of Machabees, when the mother of the seven martyrs exhorts one of her sons to bear the torments, she says to him : I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them." Thus he quotes the Machabees as a portion of the Scripture: "from the authority of the Scripture? Again refuting the Valentinians, who pretended that no one had laid down his life for the cause of God in the old law, he presses them with this argument, which was so clear and so strong against them: " Let them read the books of Machabees, where with all earnestness a happy mother with seven sons received martyrdom. (Chap. 5, Epist. ad Rom)
3. St. Cyprian (Epist. 55, ad Cornel. Papam.) quotes from these books and expressly calls them "the divine Scripture" In another work (De Exhortatione Martyrii.ch. ii.) he draws facts from them to sustain his purpose. Encouraging the faithful by the example of those heroes to face death with courage in the cause of Christ; he holds up to our view "in the Machabees seven brothers, who were like each other by reason of their birth and virtues." He also adduces another example, taken likewise from the Second Book of Machabees (Chap.6, v 18 and following.)—that of the venerable and valiant Eleazar, who, though he had arrived " at the age of four score and ten years," chose to die rather than simulate the eating of forbidden food—in order to inspire the Christians with courage in suffering. He looks upon these books as a portion of Scripture, for, after quoting from them, he adds, that he has taken " these encouragements from the divine Scriptures" It shows his mind still more clearly in the matter, that he says by way of preface, that he in tends to strengthen the faith of the people " by the divine reading" ; which divine reading was taken also from the Machabees. He further tells us, that his resolve was, " to put forward only what God has spoken . . . and to suggest the divine precepts themselves as arms to those that fight," The opinion of this father is so clear, that Natalis Alexander (Propos. 2) says, that St. Cyprian considered the books of Machabees not less canonical than the other books of the Old and New Testaments, from which he composed his very encouragements to martyrdom.
4. Tertullian (Adversus Judaeos, ch. 4.) also is a witness in favour of these books. Proving against the Jews that the observance of the Mosaic Sabbath was of temporary obligation, he shows this to be manifest from the books of Machabees. " For even," he says, " in the time of Machabees they acted bravely in fighting for the sabbath. . . . Thence it is manifest that this precept obliged for a time and for the necessity of the present cause." Thus he mentions the Machabees by name. Not only this, but he even says, that the temporary observance of the sabbath, according to the law of Moses, was manifest from them. Now, if he looked upon them as apocryphal, he surely could not have considered that anything, any point or question in dispute, could have been manifestly proved from them.
5. St. John Chrysostom places full confidence in these books. He does not say in so many words that they are inspired, but he more than insinuates, in fact he shows, that this was his faith, for he wrote a special homily on the seven Machabees, in which he celebrates their praise and proclaims it to the world unto all time. This was nothing else than the act of a man who held these books for inspired.
6. Hegesippus, who lived after peace had been re stored to the Church by Constantine the Great, and died in the end of the fourth century, wrote a work on the destruction of Jerusalem, and, in his prologue to it, calls the discourse of the Machabees prophetic; which is the same as to call it sacred and divine. These are his words :—" The prophetic discourse dis misses in a few words the exploits of the Machabees."
7. St. Jerome, so erudite in the science of the Scriptures, so deeply versed in everything appertaining to them, has left it to us as his own opinion, that these books form a portion of them. This is quite apparent from his language, to which no other meaning can attach, at least as far as the First Book is concerned, from which he cites a fact; and, in doing so, calls it the Scripture. " The Scripture," he says, "relates that Alexander, king of Mace don, came
out of the land of Cethim." This departure of Alexander from Cethim, which, he says, the Scripture relates, is taken from the first chapter and first verse of the First Book of Machabees. Then he must have been of opinion, that this book at least was part of the Scripture. If at other times he may have given an opinion adverse to the canonicity of the two books, he expressed then, as he declares, (Lib. 2, Contra Rufinum.) not his own opinion, but the opinion of others.
8. Lucifer Calaritanus, (of Cagliari in Sardinia), a bishop, and legate of Pope Liberius, whose death happened in 371, in his book against the Emperor Constantius writes thus of Machabees: "The sacred Scripture speaks, saying in the First Book of Machabees: And he wrote to all his kingdom." (I Mach. i, 43.) He reckons the First Book of Machabees as sacred Scripture. When he speaks of the First Book, he evidently gives us to understand that there was a second one.
9. Quintus Julius Hilario, whom some take to be the same as Quintus Julius Africanus, and who, whether that be so or not, lived about the end of the fourth century, wrote a work on the duration of the world, in which he speaks in this way: ''Alexander the Great, of Macedon, from whose time the history of the Machabees runs over the years of the Greeks in the divine narration, slew Darius." Observe how he too concurs with the other fathers in calling the history of Machabees divine.
10. St Ambrose (Lib. 3, de Officiis. ch. 29.) in relating the history of Heliodorus, which he professes to have taken from the books of Machabees, says: " As we read in the books of Machabees." Again (Lib. 2, de Jacob, ch. 10, 11 and 12.) he recounts the story of Eieazar and the seven brothers, the Machabees, and extols their constancy and fidelity with all the richness of his eloquence. It is not easy to see what more he could have done to show his conviction as to the authenticity or canonicity of the books of which we are speaking.
11. St. Augustine (De Doctrina Christiana.) is perhaps, if this were possible, more undoubted and forcible in the matter. After laying down this rule that every one " in the canonical Scriptures should follow the authority of the greater number of Catholic churches "—which rule, no doubt, he must himself have observed—he gives us a catalogue of the books that were on the canon, and among these books he places the two of Machabees. This is the canon he has drawn up : " The whole canon of Scripture . . . is contained in these books: The five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, &c., also Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Machabees, and the two of Esdras." In his work on the City of God, (Ch. 36.) this holy doctor likewise says that the Church receives these books as canonical: ''The books of Machabees, which not the Jews, but the Church holds for canonical." In another book; (De Cura pro mortuis.) he makes mention of the sacrifice which Judas Machabeus had ordered to be offered up in the temple for the soldiers who had been slain in battle for the cause of their country; and from this proves the necessity and utility of prayers for the dead. But this sacrifice of Judas is related nowhere in Scripture but in the Machabees. No one in the present day could express his belief in the authenticity of the books of Machabees with more force or clearness than St. Augustine did.
12. Innocent the First numbers (Epist. ad Exupcrium.) them among the canonical books. The council of Rome, convened under Pope Gelasius, at which seventy bishops were present, asserts their genuineness and divine authority. The third council of Carthage in its forty-seventh canon does the same. This canon of Carthage was later on inserted in the Greek canon of Scripture. Therefore it must be taken to show the faith of both churches, the Latin and Greek, The definition of these councils was not only acquiesced in by the Latin, but even, in the course of time, was accepted by the Greek Church. (Matth. Petitdidier, in Dissertation, suis.)
II. The second point which remains to be proved is that the authority of the fathers, who hold the Machabees to be inspired, remains unshaken by the opinion of those who have taken a different view of them. The former, as we have just seen, are men who differ from each other in tribe, nation, and language, men of recognised ability and piety, whose authority would be of vast moment on any point. They are supported by councils whose acts have been accepted without question and revered by the whole Church of God. In the scale against them, the latter—those who are opposed to the Machabees —are of little or no account and of inferior authority. They do not belong to any of the greater churches. They do not come before us with the authority of a whole African church speaking through the mouth of the third plenary council of Carthage, or the still greater authority of a Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all churches, addressing us through the council of Gelasius. Add to this that some of these witnesses that are adduced against us, such as Gregory Nazianzen, Athanasius, Melito, Leontius and others, omit the book of Esther altogether in their catalogue, whilst on the other hand John Damascen names the canons of the Apostles among the Scriptures of the New Testament. Again, Origen, Jerome and others leave the books of the Machabees out of their catalogue, whilst on other occasions, when the opportunity arose, they quote texts from them to confirm Catholic dogmas, and even extol them as sacred and divine. What are we to conclude from their mode of acting ? Either that in omitting the Machabees from their catalogue they followed the opinion of the Hebrews, on whose canon they did not appear, whilst, when following their own opinion, they held them to be canonical, or, if you prefer the alternative, that they were in doubt on the matter for a while until the judgment of the Church became more evident to them, when they fell in with the opinion of the great body of the fathers.
It is with truth then that the Council of Trent (Session the 4th.) in describing the books of Scripture which it obliges all Christians to accept under pain of anathema, recounts among them the two books of Machabees.
Protestants consider these books, as well as several other portions of Scripture, apocryphal; and though they are read in the Church of England, still, according to the sixth of her thirty-nine Articles, she says that she " doth read them for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth not apply to them to establish any doctrine." To this we can say that the twentieth of the thirty-nine Articles states that the " Church hath authority in controversies of faith," and that the Catholic will apply these words and say that the Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, has decided that these books are divinely inspired, and consequently may be employed as well as any other portion of Scripture " to establish any doctrine." Again, in the sixth of the thirty-nine Articles, the Church of England says: " In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." Against this rule for determining what is or what is not Scripture of the English Church the Catholic will protest. He will say, in the first place, that it is a deceptive rule ; and, in the second place, that the Church of England herself has often notoriously violated it.
I. It is a deceptive rule. This is easily perceived when we reflect that the cruel persecutions of the first three centuries interfered with free intercourse between the numerous and far-scattered branches of the Church. This want of free intercommunication between the different portions of the Church rendered unavoidable doubts which may arise, for example, in Gaul or Spain, regarding any portion of the New Testament which was written in Asia or Greece, or any book of the Old Testament which was venerated in these churches. It was only when peace was restored to the Church, and her pastors could flock from all parts of the earth and go into a general council and compare what they had preached to their respective flocks, and, guided by the Holy Ghost, investigate step by step that tradition, which attributed any disputed book to the work of the Holy Ghost, it is only then, I repeat, they could trace with certainty its genuineness to its real origin, and authoritatively decide that it emanated from a divinely inspired pen, or had an apostle for its author. Then, though the book had been before doubtful , and as such, had not been inserted by some in the canon, as soon as the doubt was removed it was en rolled amongst the sacred books and received as genuine and divine. A variety of circumstances may have combined to prevent the true apostolical tradition on any particular book from being clearly ascertained. Once the reasons to establish the inspiration of the book are known and the doubt there by removed, why should there be any longer a difficulty in recognising the book as Scripture ? We have an instance to the point in the Apocalypse. In 361 the Council of Laodicea declined to inscribe it on its canon. A few years later when the tradition in favour of it became ascertained with more ac curacy and minuteness the third Council of Carthage recognised it as genuine. The Councils of Rome, Florence, and Trent have renewed this recognition. But according to the sixth Article of the Anglican church this book should be rejected since doubts have been entertained as to its canonicity. This rule then of the Protestant church must be rejected.
2. The Protestant church in these islands has often notoriously violated this rule which she her self drew up. She has received as Scripture many entire books, and portions of others, whose authenticity had been long the subject of grave debate in the Church. Eusebius, the historian, St. Athanasius, and St. Gregory Nazianzen not only doubt parts of the Book of Esther, which are admitted by the Anglicans, but even reject the whole of that history from their catalogue. It is well known that of the New Testament the last chapter of St. Mark, the twenty-second chapter of St. Luke, in which the bloody sweat is portrayed, the story of the woman taken in adultery, narrated in the eighth chapter of St. John, the epistle to the Hebrews, that of St. James, the second of St. Peter, with a part of the first, the second and third of St. John, and the Apocalypse, have been often the subject of doubt in the Church. And yet the Anglican church admits all these as inspired Scripture. Still, with contradiction in her lips she asserts in one of her Articles that "By Scripture is to be understood those
canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church." The truth is that the Protestant Church of England in laying before her followers a rule, according to which they should or should not, receive any book as Scripture, either acted according to caprice or sought the most expedient mode of upholding her novelties in doctrine. She did not respect the teaching of ecclesiastical history nor the decisions of the ancient Church. She cannot point out a single epoch in ancient history, or, much less, one sole council with which her canon of Scripture coincides. How different is the case with the Catholic Church. The books which she admits in the nineteenth, are those which the third Council of Carthage admitted in the fourth century.
The Machabees are rejected by Protestants be cause the second book (Ch. 12, V. 43 &c.) speaks of and recommends prayers for the dead—a practice which was disagree able to the reformers. They are distasteful also to the incredulous in general who are displeased to see there a family of priests rich in heroes ; and to find that the Jewish nation, whom they have learned to despise, have defended their liberty and their religion with a courage to which there is scarcely a parallel.