Gregory the Great on the Canon

With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edifying of the Church, we bring forward testimony.

Moralia, 19.34

It is true that many church fathers believed the “Apocrypha” to be canonical.  It is also true that many did not.   Further, in the West up until the late middle ages, theologians were still wrestling over which books were “canonical” or if the very concept of a canon was even helpful.  Understanding that, perhaps we can cut Luther a little slack.  Sure, he supposedly “took away” some books, but given the current Western debate over the extent of the canon, many mainline doctors of the church were doing that.

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7 comments on “Gregory the Great on the Canon

  1. So, does ‘Sola Scriptura’ still work without a set recognized canon? How would a parishioner ‘know’ say the first 6-7 decades when the NT was being written…or even 100 yrs later when few coppies of anything existed and before the canon was even thought of and settled upon? Just wondering how SS worked practically the 1st 2-3 hundred yrs.

    • I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Bahnsen and Gerstner thought it could. As far as I can tell, there is no logical contradiction between the proposition “I don’t have 100% certainty that the canon is complete” and the proposition, “I know the books that are in the canon are from God, etc.”

      Further, I have no problem appealing to the church, though such appeals, as this post indicates, aren’t always that helpful, since Melito of Sardis, Athanasius, Augustine, and Gregory each give different canonical lists. Further, appealing to an authority does not mean that I acknowledge that authority to be the ultimate authority. We appeal to archeology, for one, yet no one thinks archeological texts should be in the canon.

      Sola Script does not mean the bible alone, it means that Scripture functions as a magisterial authority, fully allowing for (fallible, yet authoritative) ministerial authorities.

      • Thanks OP. I know Sola Scriptura does not stand alone or undermine other lesser authorities. But how could an individual Christian of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd century have appealed to an ultimate infallible authority in Scripture (like we do today) before it existed in a recognized, accepted written text? Wasn’t the canon of Scritpure established and recognized by the Church around 350? Who decided this, and how? To what did an individual Pastor/Priest, Church (much less the collective Church) appeal before the canon of the NT was settled?

  2. Well, for starters they had the Law and the Prophets. Jesus implied that was enough. The epistles and such were written because the churches weren’t interpreting tradition rightly (Corinth, among others).

    And the point of the post still remains: I looked to one of the greatest saints of the church, whose *Moralia* was standard dogmatic teaching for over 1,000 years, and he said that the Apocrypha isn’t canon.

  3. jnorm says:

    Outlaw Presbyterian,

    Was Gregory the Great a bishop? If yes then he had the authority to decide what should be read during the Liturgical service in his region of influence. The whole issue of Canon vs non-canon had everything to do with the worship service of the Churches.

    Was Martin Luther a bishop? It would of been best for Martin Luther to express his personal opinion while still yielding to the dictates of his local bishop. The view of Martin Luther wasn’t new, others before him said the similar things, but even for most of those before him who rejected the D.C.’s they weren’t always consistent in doing so. For at least one or more D.C. book would be accepted/embraced anyway. And when we look at the councils, both regional and Ecumenical, we see that at least one or more D.C. book was embraced. The canons of the 6th Ecumenical council (the canons were added later in time) embraced the biblical lists of various regional councils. And so there was a variety of regional biblical lists. All of which at least embraced one or more D.C. book.

    And from what I can recall from memory (I have also been told this more than once by someone) in regards to the canons of the 7th Ecumenical council, we have a 76 book canon. And so it took time for a consensus to happen.

    And so while individual people through the ages may have expressed their view for or against, when they gathered for a council, what we see is that at least one or more D.C. book was embraced, and so protestantism should at least embrace one or more D.C. book as well, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

    David Rockett,

    I am starting to think that Sola Scriptura not only needs a 100% unified canon for 2,000 years in order to work, but it also needs a form of cessationism as well. A cessationism that begins as soon as the last Apostle died or a Cessationism as soon as the protestant canon was formed. Some would like to point to the 4th century as the time, but I don’t know of anyone at that time who strictly held to a protestant 66 book canon. The Church was able to exist at that time with multiple canons, which tells me that Scripture couldn’t of been everything that protestants wanted it to be.

    Also, bishops had the authority to decide what could be read at the Divine Liturgy / Mass. This is why we see some books being rejected by one bishop being accepted at a later time by another bishop of the same region. This is true for the book of Revelations as well as a number of other books.

    Also, we have to make a distinction between what is read during the worship service vs what is safe to read in the home vs what is rejected altogether. Most of those who rejected the D.C.’s to be read during the Church worship service advocated their reading in the home.

    This is why I say that there is a distinction between the word “Scripture” with the word “Canon” for back in those days the two weren’t synonyms. For everyone’s Scripture didn’t have to be in everyones canon(read during the Divine Liturgy or Mass).

  4. jnorm says:

    They also used the D.C.’s for doctrine! And so the idea that these books can’t be used for doctrine or to settle doctrinal disputes is something I don’t see.

    I also noticed that these books were called Scripture even by a good number of those who rejected these books to be read(canon) during the Divine Liturgy.

  5. […] Can I appeal to Gregory the Great of Old Rome on the extent of certain canonical books?  Jnorm responded to me saying that Gregory was responding to Western needs, or something like […]

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