23 February 2008

On Canon

Meaning, the rule of faith that encompasses the Sacred Scriptures. I was thinking the other day about how well Piepkorn nailed this:

"The term "Canonical" in Christian tradition is always relative; it refers to the actual canon in use in a given diocese or province at a given time. The content of the canons varies from time to time and from place to place. The canon was never fixed for the whole Church by an ecumenical Council." (The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, p. 4)

At times, you will hear criticism of Lutherans appealing to the Fathers as ignoring the context in which those Fathers operated, including their "canon." But that is a particularly interesting point.

The canon that the Cappadocian fathers operated with (assuming, as I am, that St. Gregory of Nazianzus represented the same approach as Sts. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa) was closer to the typical "Protestant" canon of today than to the typical Roman or Orthodox canon. He enumerated basically the same books that canon, leaving out Esther and Revelation. Regarding anything other than those books, he says: "If there's anything else besides these, it is not among the genuine." (On God and Man, p. 86)

A few years before the time of their ministry, a canon is provided for us by St. Athanasius the Great in his festal letter #39. He lists basically the OT canon of Protestants today, with the exception of including Baruch among the genuine books. For the NT he lists the common canon. Of these books he says: "These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, 'You err, not knowing the Scriptures.' And He reproved the Jews, saying, 'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me Matthew 22:29; John 5:39.'"

He goes on to speak of more books, though, which he describes as follows: "there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read"

Does that sound familiar? Luther introduces the Apocryphal books with these words: "Apocrphya: that is, books, which though we do not hold to be like Sacred Scripture, yet are useful and good to read."

Meanwhile, in the West, Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage (with which St. Augustine's writings also concur), lists the broader canon including the so-called Deuterocanonical books as canonical books to be read in the Churches and forbidding the reading of non-canonical works in the Churches.

As you can see, I think Dr. Piepkorn's point is amply substantiated. Speaking as a Lutheran Christian, one of the sadder things to happen in the transition to the English language in the Missouri Synod was the loss of the Apocrypha from our Bibles. Every Bible CPH printed in German had them (with Luther's introductory words cited above), I believe, and in the lectionary listing in the back, even appointed them for reading on certain festivals. A pity that at that time the form of the AV that had become popular in the US didn't any longer have the full set of books, as the original AV had had.

I keep hoping that there will be a version of the ESV that will provide us with a decent translation of the Apocrypha. Someday, maybe?


Paul T. McCain said...

I have heard rumors of a British version of the ESV with the Apocrypha, but I would not hold your breath.

William Weedon said...

Well, you guys at CPH should take the lead! ASK Crossways for the translation. It is, after all, your very own publishing house's tradition, and the tradition of Lutheran Churches for centuries.

Past Elder said...

I'll second that motion!

IMHO, this is part of the continuing struggle of American Lutheranism to find its own voice.

At an earlier time, this was attempted by an appeal to English sources around it of largely Anglican/Episcopalian derivation (AV, KJV, BCP), and in our time by appeal to the same, English sources around it, which now come in two contradictory yet equally non-Lutheran derivation, the style of "evangelical" worship and the English of the Roman novus ordo -- in all of which we think we can somehow supply a Lutheran content to things based on non Lutheran content, a quick fix rather than turning to our own sources which are those of the catholic church rather than later developments.

L P Cruz said...

Pr. Will,

On an unrelated note, well may be re: Pelikan,

Here is an interview prior to his death where he was asked about his journey to EO...

Get to the 49 minute mark where a direct question was asked. It is quite revealing.

In summary Pelikan has always been a crypto EO all along.

I liken it to a gay person coming out of the closet. Hmmm, that seems to be an analogy I can talk about in my blog posts...


Chris Jones said...


I don't have audio on my work computer so I haven't had a chance to listen to the Pelikan interview. I am looking forward to it.

But apropos of your remark that Pelikan had been "crypto EO" all along, there is a joke among American Orthodox about Pelikan:

Why did Jaroslav Pelikan become Orthodox?

Because he finally sat down and read his own books.

L P Cruz said...

Chris J,

That is quite funny. So..he finally believed what he wrote? That is hilarious.

So he danced around it, all the time it was just under his nose, no?


Past Elder said...

Interesting! That's the same sort of thing you hear from Tiber swimmers -- that becoming Catholic was the consequence of really understanding what they believed as Lutherans, that to be truly Lutheran they had to become Catholic, und so weiter.

Well, for that matter I describe becoming Lutheran as becoming truly catholic instead of Catholic.

All the more interesting in that when I was Catholic, I thought Lutheranism was a well intended but mistaken effort to be Catholic without being Catholic (understanding that we considered the Orthodox equally valid sacramentally therefore part of "Catholic" though with a schism).

There were many among those who bailed after Vatican II who became Orthodox as well so the whole "heading East" thing isn't new to me.

Pelikan had a very close friendship with some of those in the lead at Vatican II (like my ruddy alma mater) and I wonder if that factored in his heading East rather than to Rome, seeing what was happening to Rome and the East having experienced neither a Reformation nor a Vatican II.