Augustine on the Apocrypha

I thought this was interesting. Like some other Fathers (though I don’t think all), Augustine makes a careful distinction between books received by the Church as being the very words of God, whose authority cannot be doubted in any respect, and books received by the Church as not having that status. Sometimes he uses the word “Scripture” for both, but he nevertheless retains a clear distinction between them. Those that are God’s words have “canonical authority,” while those that are not God’s words have no such authority.

We may, however, leave aside the stories contained in those Scriptures which are called ‘Apocrypha’ because their origin is hidden and was not clear to the fathers from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has come down to us by a most certain and known succession. There is, indeed, some truth to be found in these apocryphal Scriptures; but they have no canonical authority because of the many untruths which they contain. (City of God XV.23)

and

But it was not for nothing that even these were excluded from the canon of the Scriptures which was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the diligence of the priestly succession. For the accuracy of these books was judged to be suspect by reason of their antiquity; and it was not possible to discover whether they were indeed what Enoch had written, for those who put them forward were not thought to have preserved them with due rigour through a clear succession.

Note in this connection that in the City of God Augustine often uses the phrase “the canonical Scriptures” when speaking of the undoubted words of God (e.g., XI.3; XV.23); also “Divine Book” (XV.23) and “Divine Scripture” (XV.7-8) “canonical books” (XVI.1). At XVII.24 he expressly equates “divine authority” with “canonical authority.”

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6 Responses to Augustine on the Apocrypha

  1. Frederick Tucker says:

    I thought that it was interesting how it was not the “new” Christians who decided for themselves that the books in the Apocrypha were not the Word of God, but that he he trusted the integrity of the Hebrew priests who preserved the canon of the Scriptures in the Hebrew temple. I just thought that it would be good for some of us as reformed reformers to realize this.

  2. Nate says:

    Hey Tim,

    I sent this to a Catholic friend and he pointed me to this from Catholic Answers:

    Q: I recently came across a Catholic book which referred to the Apocrypha. I thought only Protestants used this expression. Is there a legitimate Catholic use?

    A: The Apocrypha is made up of works which some have thought to be inspired, but which aren’t. Protestants include in the Apocrypha the seven extra books of the Old Testament accepted by Catholics, but excluded from the Protestant canon. These are Judith, Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

    Catholics regard these books as inspired and canonical. For us, they’re part of the Old Testament. Since the time of Sixtus of Siena (1528-1569) they’ve been called deuterocanonical books. Catholics also speak of the Apocrypha, but don’t consider the deuterocanonical books as part of it.

    The Apocrypha is divided into Old Testament and New Testament works. The Old Testament Apocrypha includes writings such as 3 Maccabees, the Martyrdom of Isaiah, and the Book of Enoch. The New Testament Apocrypha contains works such as the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Peter, as well as various pseudepigraphical epistles and apocalypses.

    Most of these books have little or no historical value. Since they’re not inspired, apocryphal books aren’t theologically pertinent, except insofar as they reveal popular Jewish or early Christian beliefs or heresies and help us understand the background of the Bible.

  3. Tim Enloe says:

    Nate, that’s an interesting distinction the Catholics make, but I don’t believe it defuses Augustine’s point. If I’m not mistaken, what Augustine meant by “Apocrypha” are precisely the books the Catholics accept as “deuterocanonicals.” Hence, for Augustine, those books are “Scripture” in the limited sense of being quotable by Christians for illustrative purposes, but not as possessing “canonical” or truly Divine authority.

  4. LionHeart777 says:

    Dear author,

    it seems clear upon reading Ch. 23 of St. Augustine’s “City of God”, that what he means by “Apocrypha” and what you mean are 2 different things. Please see my post at this website: http://dubroom.yuku.com/sreply/1788/t/The-Canon-of-Sacred-Scipture.html

    and please link to the whole chapter which I have provided.

    regards.

  5. LionHeart777 says:

    Tim:

    You wrote:

    “If I’m not mistaken, what Augustine meant by ‘Apocrypha’ are precisely the books the Catholics accept as ‘deuterocanonicals.’”

    I believe that you are mistaken. See “City of God”, Book XV, ch. 23.

    “Let us omit, then, the fables of those scriptures which are called apocryphal, because their obscure origin was unknown to the fathers from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has been transmitted to us by a most certain and well-ascertained succession. For though there is some truth in these apocryphal writings, yet they contain so many false statements, that they have no canonical authority. We cannot deny that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, left some divine writings, for this is asserted by the Apostle Jude in his canonical epistle. But it is not without reason that these writings have no place in that canon of Scripture… just as many writings are produced by heretics under the names both of other prophets, and more recently, under the names of the apostles, all of which, after careful examination, have been set apart from canonical authority under the title of Apocrypha.” (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120115.htm) (accessed 7/ 6/ 10)

  6. LionHeart777 says:

    sorry for the 2 comments , I thought the 1st one wasn;t still there :(

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