Thursday, July 30, 2009

Breviarium Hipponense

This is the name of the collection of canon laws which was read and approved in the Third Council at Carthage in 397. The Breviarium Hipponense was previously drafted about 3 years earlier in 393 at the council at Hippo. (Constant van de Wiel, History of Canon Law, p.45)

And it is this document my Church History lecturer said that settled the canonical question of New Testament books. Actually he just told us that the canonical process was settled at the synod at Hippo. Period. And I follow his leads and found the Breviarium Hipponense.

Apparently Trinity Theological College's library has a printed copy of the document. I had to look for it at the 'Reference' section and made a photocopy of the canon list. But the problem is that the book is written in Latin, an unknown language to me. Yet nonetheless, we can still interpret it.
Sunt autem canonicae scripturae: genesis. exodus. leuiticus. numeri. deuteronomium. iesu naue. iudicum. ruth. regnorum libri iiii. paralipomenon libri ii. iob. psalterium. salomonis libri v. liber xii prophetarum minorum. item isaias. hieremias. ezechiel. danihel. tobias. iudith. esther. esdrae libri ii. machabeorum libri ii.

Noui autum testamenti: euangelia libri iiii. actus apostolorum liber i. pauli apostoli epistolae xiiii. petri ii. iohannis iii. iude i. iacobi i. apocalipsis iohannis.

(C. Munier, Concilia Africae: A.345 - A.525, p.43)
A rough translation:
Canonical writings: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, [iesu naue], [iudicum], Ruth, 4 books of Kings, [2 books of paralipomenon], Job, Psalms, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of minor prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobias, Judith, Ester, 2 books of Esdras, and 2 books of Maccabees.

New testament: 4 books of Gospel, 1 book of the Acts of the Apostle, 14 letters of apostle Paul (includes Hebrews), 2 books of Peter, 3 books of John, 1 book of Jude, 1 book of James, and John's Apocalypse (Revelation).
One thing our lecturer didn't tell us is that this same list which he said settled the New Testament canon list also includes the deuterocanonical books as scripture. So now the hanging question: Can we pick and choose from the list as we like?

Bearing in mind that the Church at that time thought that this canonical list is authoritative in both its affirmation of the non-NT and the NT books. If we say yes, we can pick and choose, then there is no use to invoke the Breviarium Hipponense as the authority that finalized the canon list. If not, then we have to acknowledge the deuterocanonical books as scripture if we are to be consistent of the authority of this 4th century list. Two choices which many Protestant Christians find hard to decide because each involved a distinct defeat.

For me, I can accept the deuterocanonical books as Scripture for this given historical reason. For someone like Norman Geisler, he would argue that the Breviarium Hipponense was a local document and hence not authoritative to all Christians (Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology I, p.519). But are there any documents besides the scriptures which are authoritative to all Christians? Geisler's stand leaves the church with a huge historical vacuum.

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