Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Of the names and number of the Canonical Books.
The First Book of Samuel.
The Second Book of Samuel.
The First Book of Kings.
The Second Book of Kings.
The First Book of Chronicles.
The Second Book of Chronicles.
The First Book of Esdras.
The Second Book of Esdras.
The Book of Esther.
The Book of Job.
Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher.
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon.
Four Prophets the Greater.
Twelve Prophets the Less.
All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them canonical.
And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine. Such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras.
The Fourth Book of Esdras.
The Book of Tobias.
The Book of Judith.
The rest of the Book of Esther.
The Book of Wisdom.
Jesus the Son of Sirach.
Baruch the Prophet.
The Song of the Three Children.
The Story of Susanna.
Of Bel and the Dragon.
The Prayer of Manasses.
The First Book of Maccabees.
The Second Book of Maccabees.
De divinis Scripturis, quod sufficiant ad salutem
Scriptura sacra continet omnia, quae ad salutem sunt necessaria, ita, ut quicquid in ea nec legitur, neque inde probari potest, non sit a quoquam exigendum, ut tanquam articulus fidei credatur, aut ad salutis necessitatem requiri putetur.
Sacrae Scripturae nomine, eos Canonicos libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti intelligimus, de quorum authoritate in Ecclesia nunquam dubitatum est.
De nominibus et numero librorum sacrae Canonicae Scripturae veteris Testamenti.
Prior liber Samuelis.
Secundus liber Samuelis.
Prior liber Regum.
Secundus liber Regum.
Prior liber Paralipomenon.
Secundus liber Paralipomenon.
Primus liber Esdrae.
Secundus liber Esdrae.
Ecclesiastes vel Concionator.
IV Prophetae maiores.
XII Prophetae minores.
Novi Testamenti omnes libros (ut vulgo recepti sunt) recipimus, et habemus pro Canonicis.
Alios autem libros (ut ait Hieronymus) legit quidem Ecclesia ad exempla vitae et formandos mores; illos tamen ad dogmata confirmanda non adhibet: ut sunt:
Tertius liber Esdrae.
Quartus liber Esdrae.
Reliquum libri Hester.
Liber Iesu filii Sirach.
Baruch Propheta. Canticum trium puerorum.
De Bel et Dracone.
Prior liber Machabaeorum.
Secundus liber Machabaeorum.
Fr. Robert Hart
The purpose of the Article was to meet a practical need, not to offer up theoretical conjecture. Arguments about the authority of Scripture and Tradition tend to wander off in all directions, with little or nothing of practical help given to the average layman. What he needs is a sure and secure way to sort out truth from error, or at least essential truth from pious beliefs on one hand, and debatable ideas on the other. The Article is about what “may be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” It is not about how to unravel every mystery, nor even about how to achieve complete agreement on every issue.
-......Cutting to the chase, every Christian is presented with competing claims about what to believe, and about which Church is the right one. Therefore, Article VI appeals to a higher authority than any living human being, or even a hierarchical council of men. Article VI even goes as far as to undermine the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles, among which it sits, unless the teaching they contain may be proved by Scripture. Hence, even among Articles of Religion, we are told that nothing may be required as “an article of faith” unless it passes the simple test. For this reason, we are not interested in the question of the legal status of the Thirty-Nine Articles, as Fr. Wells wrote in an introduction to this series.
If the Articles set forth the truth that God revealed from the beginning, published in the Canon of Scripture where all may find it, they need no legal status. If we are to accept the clear words of Article VI, we cannot grant them legal status. If they pass the test, however, then a proper understanding of their intended meaning is a guide to genuinely useful and helpful study of the Bible.
When St. Luke wrote of the people in Berea, he spoke highly of their diligence.
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”1
Notice that St. Luke calls them “more noble” for their efforts. He was not angry that they dared to verify the authority of the Apostles, but rather he praised them. He called them eugenēs, translated quite literally, “noble,” conferring on them a title of high birth (indeed, the highest as children of the Lord), seeing in their diligent attention to Scripture evidence of their regeneration.
The Church of England, through its bishops and monarch, invited its children to be like the noble Bereans, and thus stood in sharp contrast against an ancient See that was unfortunately overbearing in its demand for absolute respect and obedience. For Rome required arbitrarily that all of its doctrinal pronouncements be received as infallible and subjected to no test whatsoever. For all their stated faith in the books of Scripture as authored by God Himself, and their thoroughly orthodox adherence to the Divine Inspiration of Scripture (with which we agre), even to this very day they do not lend to the average layman this same practical, noble Berean, tool. Indeed, how can they, when they insist on more than what can be read and proved in Scripture, to be required as articles of faith, and to be believed as necessary to salvation?
Of course, the real danger, concerning which we too must beware, is not the ability of each Christian to read the Scriptures and test the verity of doctrine. Rather, the danger is that of private interpretation. Indeed, when some individuals warn against sola scritpura (the Scriptures alone), they really mean to warn against private interpretation. Unfortunately, they fail to make the distinction between these two things. As a result, they reject the old Catholic doctrine of sola scriptura, wrongly assigning its origin to the Reformers in the sixteenth century.
However, sola scriptura was not a Protestant innovation, and the actual expression owes its origin to St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” (1225-1274). Among the many things he wrote, we find this passage:
“It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things."2
The Latin for “only canonical Scripture” is “sola canonica scriptura” from which the phrase sola scriptura is derived. Notice, he wrote very freely that only the same is “a measure of faith,” or, literally, “rule of faith.”
This was a simple and uncontroversial point for a thirteenth-century Doctor of the Catholic Church to make, and he most certainly did not mean by this to set up a tension between two things, Scripture and Tradition, as if they could be set properly in opposition to each other. It was only as man-made traditions became indistinguishable from the Tradition of the Church, that such an idea as Scripture versus Tradition could exist in the popular imagination. But, properly understood, Scripture and Tradition teach the same doctrine with one voice.
If the term sola scriptura has a meaning specific for Anglicans, it is exactly what we find in the words, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.” That is, no matter how sincerely one may hold views that are nothing more than pious beliefs, everything he really needs to know is in the canon of Holy Scripture. Man-made additions, whether outright error or merely non-essentials, are not necessary, and ought not to be treated as necessary.
This should be kept in balance with the historical fact that God used the Church to give us the Scripture, and that in two ways. His written word came by way of the Prophets of Israel, the Church of the Old Covenant, and by way of the Apostles. It came by means of communication within the Church when the Epistles were written, and when the Gospels were recorded for posterity. God gave the Church the gift to recognize the books of the Canon, so that long before any Council gave official canonical status to the twenty-seven New Testament books, with a few questions and debates about II Peter, Jude and Revelation, and about whether or not to include the Shepherd of Hermas, the New Testament Canon was recognized by most Christians, the books in it having been quoted with authority for about two centuries. Inasmuch as the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, had been given within the Church, it is impossible to say, accurately, that the Canon of Scripture has not been understood by the Church.
No new doctrine can be drawn from the pages of Scripture (whether one calls it by the Pentecostal phrase, “progressive revelation” or by the Roman Catholic phrase, “Development of Doctrine”), and no doctrine can be correct if it stands in contradiction to the faith of the Church, especially as summarized in the great Creeds. For, the simple fact, clear for all to see, is this: Everything that is necessary to salvation, and that may be required of all believers as an article of faith, has been known since the beginning. It has been preserved in canonical Scripture by the work of the Holy Spirit; and His work was through holy men who wrote it, and through the redeemed community who heard the Master’s voice, and recognized it. 3 God does not change His mind, neither can he grow into better understanding, being perfect and knowing all things, existing outside the creation in eternity, and therefore subject to no possible processes as creatures are. The truth of God, that he speaks, has been revealed, recorded and preserved, and made known to everyone.
Canon and Lectionary
It is also true that sola scriptura applies to the Lectionary, the portions of Scripture read in Church for the edification of the people. Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is to be read aloud from the lectern, for that is the word of the Lord.
This must bring us to the question of the deutero-canonical books, or the Apocrypha (which does not mean false at all, though some have allowed it to be used that way), listed in Article VI as a third section [and separate section of the Old Testament books]. No Bible was printed without the Apocrypha until the eighteenth century, and readings from the Apocrypha are authorized in the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer Lectionary, appointed to be read in churches.
The Article appears to invest less significance to these books than to the other sixty-six. This too was in keeping with the ancient Tradition, as the quotation of St. Jerome (spelled Hierome in the Article) indicates. Jerome’s evaluation was also that of St. Athanasius. Regarding this confusing question, we ought to consider two facts of history, and consider one practical question of theology.
History shows that the books called Apocrypha were in the Septuagint (LXX), the translation of the Old Testament into Greek by seventy rabbis in Alexandria, and used by the Greek speaking churches, and is the translation of the Old Testament quoted throughout the New Testament. But, until a fairly modern discovery of a text of Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) in Hebrew, no Hebrew text was extant for the Apocryphal books, and they were not read in synagogues. The ancient Church appears to have treated them generally as Jerome and Athanasius did, quoting them, reading them, and regarding their value. In the East, the Book of Wisdom grew in significance. But, not until the Council of Trent were they officially given formal status equal to the other books, which was a new idea and an innovation. The Anglican treatment of these books, as good and useful, indeed as Canonical enough for the Lectionary, but not useful to prove doctrine, appears to be in accord with the mind of the ancient Church.
The practical theological consideration is that, in fact, they are not useful to prove doctrine. Although the Book of Wisdom has proved useful in imparting understanding, even understanding of Christ and His work, the great Messianic themes of our salvation history and the unfolding of Divine revelation, is clear only from the thirty-nine Hebrew books of the Old Testament, and the twenty-seven New Testament books composed in Greek. One simply cannot prove the essential doctrines from the deutero-canonical, or Apocryphal books; one cannot quote anything from them containing the revelation of our salvation as one can from the Law and the Prophets. But they are useful “for example of life and instruction of manners,” as St. Jerome taught. In this too, having them, reading them even from the lectern, is an Anglican practice that is consistent with the faith and practice of the ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church.
1. Acts 17:10,11
2. Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt.--- Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.
3. John 10:27, 16:13. I Timothy 3:15
* * *
Fr. Laurence Wells
Reading this Article reminds me of how far our theological situation is removed from that of the 16th century. In that time, German, Swiss, English, Scottish Reformers were in firm agreement with Roman Catholics that the Holy Scriptures are God-breathed and therefore both inerrant in their contents and infallible in their authority. When Luther demanded that he be refuted from Scriptures, he was not enunciating any new idea whatever, but appealing to an authority he felt, with excellent reason, both he and his opponents shared. There were indeed subordinate issues over the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and over the Old Testament canon. But the finality of Scripture as the written Word of God was never in dispute.
Today, living on the other side of the rise of modern science and the modernist/fundamentalist disputes, things are very different. No one is surprised when the revisionists treat Biblical moral statements in a contemptuous manner (after all, that's why we call them revisionists!). But neither is it unusual for conservative Anglo-catholics to treat Scripture in the very same dismissive fashion, by saying (1) "the Church canonized Scripture," or (2) "we don't believe in Scriptura Sola." The assumptions are that (1) since the Church canonized Scripture, it is at liberty to ignore it, or (2) we really believe in what we label as "Catholic doctrine."
The statement that the Church canonized Scripture is perfectly true, as far as it goes. But is this like saying the Church compiled her Prayer Book, or like saying the Church articulated the Nicene Creed. The process of Canonization was somewhat like recognizing the planets of the solar system. It was not merely the compilation of a list but rather the submission to Divine utterance.
As orthodox Anglicans in the last half-century have confronted radical innovations in the purported ordination of females or in the redefinition of marriage, we have been at a severe handicap. This crippling disadvantage is owing to a fundamental weakness in our doctrine of Biblical authority. This weakness involves not only a couple of hot-button issues, but touches directly the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the reality of our Lord's miracles, His final Coming, and the general integrity of Creedal Christianity.
Too frequently Anglican traditionalists have been anxious to distance their position from what they define as Protestantism, with the sad result of embracing a form of modernism dressed up in liturgical vestments. An example of this is Fr. Gabriel Hebert's book, "Fundamentalism and the Church of God" (SCM Press, 1957) which was devastated by Dr J. I. Packer's " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God." The so-called "Battle of the Bible" since the middle of the 20th century has generated an enormous literature which I am not qualified to review in detail. My point here is simply that a tepid doctrine of Biblical authority has left Anglican traditionalists largely in a weak position. The most recent exhibition of this vulnerability has been the muddled reaction to the blandishments of Anglicanorum Coetibus. We don't like it but are rather unclear as to why not. Careful study of Galatians and Romans might help clear up this floundering.
An old trick question goes, "Would you prefer to say the Bible is the Word of God, or contains the Word of God?"
Every clergyman ordained in the Anglican Catholic Church has subscribed as a solemn oath, "I, A.B., do believe the Holy Scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation...." (Canon 13.1.01). But the expression "contains," which we find in Article VI, is equally correct. Some modernists may prefer "contains," thinking that this word allows some wiggle room, as if the written text were only "the golden casket, where gems of truth are stored," as that splendid hymn "O Word of God Incarnate" expresses it. But it is wrong to think that the Word of God is only the contents of a container, like water in a glass. The underlying Latin verb contineo did not mean to contain loosely, but to hold tightly. The point made in continet is that the Word of God is held securely in the inspired Hebrew and Greek words of the sacred text.
We need to say something about the curious manner in which the canonical books are listed and about the place of the Apocrypha. Rather than 39 books in the Old Testament, we find 24. These include First and Second Esdras, which we know from the Authorized Version as Ezra and Nehemiah. By "Four Prophets the Greater" is meant Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel." Here the writer of the Article was influenced by the Septuagintal tradition, in which Daniel was grouped with the "major" prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Hebrew Bible grouped Daniel in the third section, the so-called "Writings." By "Twelve Prophets the Less" is intended the so-called "minor prophets," which the Hebrew Bible grouped as one book.
The place of the so-called Apocrypha should not be treated as any more than an academic controversy. As Fr Hart states, all Bibles printed before the 16th century contained it. This includes the archly-Protestant Geneva Bible. It is anachronistic to view this as a Protestant versus Catholic issue. The Parallel Apocrypha (OUP, 1997) contains an essay by a Jesuit scholar, John J. Collins, showing that from Patristic times to the 16th century there was a tradition which questioned the status of the deutero-canonical books. Jerome's preference for the "Protestant" Old Testament (the 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament) is well known. But along with him we find Gregory the Great, John Damascene, Hugh of St Victor, and Nicholas of Lyra. Amazingly, this list includes Cardinal Ximenes and Cardinal Cajetan. In a debate between Luther and Cajetan, Luther at one juncture attempted to quote from Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a. Sirach). Cajetan objected, declaring that this was not inspired scripture. Cajetan died in 1534, 11 years before Trent convened in 1545. Fr Collins suggests coyly that had Cajetan lived, Trent might have arrived at a different settlement.
It is remarkable that the centrist view laid out in Article VI on this matter is the position almost everyone has come to. Even conservative Protestant Biblical scholars have come to appreciate the historical and literary information contained in these books. But we do not use the Apocrypha to establish doctrine simply because there is hardly any doctrine there. But then, as F. F. Bruce asks, what doctrine could be established from the Book of Esther? Occasionally Roman Catholic apologists try to score a point by asking why we have "excluded" 13 books from our Bibles. The answer is that really we have not, but we wonder why Trent excluded I and II Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. The last of these is a brief but moving devotional poem. It is the spiritual high water mark of the whole group.
The mainstream of Christian tradition has included, in various ways, a number of books attached to the Old Testament. The unresolved problem is which list to accept. Besides the discrepancy between Trent's list and our Authorized Version, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have an extra Psalm (Psalm 151), Third Maccabees and possibly Fourth Maccabees. The Byzantine Churches have been far from consistent. The so-called Vincentian Canon (ubique, semper, et ab omnibus) is of little help in this area. Defenders of the 39 book Hebrew Canon are within their right to ask, "Which set of Apocryphal Books do you wish us to accept?"