In an entirely characteristic fashion, Bosco’s response to yesterday’s post on the Canon ignored the main issue, and blundered into another:

My spirit is satisfied with the KJV. The Holy Ghost wouldn’t have put it in my hot little hands if it want good. I don’t know anything about these other books you talk about. But I do know about the 7 books that aren’t in the KJV that are in the Doughy Reims catholic bible.

Of all the oddities, devotion to the King James Bible as the only edition is one of the oddest. Its prose is majestic, and I like it a great deal, but no one who knew anything about translations would claim it is the most accurate translation available. When Bosco praises it for leaving out what Protestants call ‘the Apocrypha’, he raises another question about authority. Those books are in the original codices of the Bible, as one would expect, since they were based on the Septuagint, which many Jews in the diaspora used. The same Church which authorised leaving out books such as ‘Hermas’ authorised keeping those books in the Canon. In effect, Bosco is telling us he was happy to leave the decision about what the word of God is to a set of translators in seventeenth century England. Now, as an English patriot, I am familiar with the idea that God is an Englishman, but this takes the idea rather far.  The notion that before the seventeenth century – and after – only those who could read English had proper access to the word of God is surely so absurd that not even Bosco could mean what he wrote.

For the Orthodox and the Catholics, there are points of difference, but we agree on Scripture (indeed the Orthodox would add some books which the Western Church has not accepted).  Scripture here is defined not by what a committee of scholars decided on in the seventeenth century, but by what the early Church received. Suppose, then, that the Church is, as it is, competent to define Scripture, are we to suppose it incapable of interpreting what it defined? The simple notion that Scripture interprets itself is disproved by history; indeed there were, as his letters attest, those who were willing to tell St John that he had not understood what Jesus had meant. John’s letters suggest that his own church was unable to cohere, with individuals claiming inspiration by the Spirit; that set a pattern.

One of the reasons that the Catholic Church has cohered is that in the successor of Peter, it has a source of authority. . It has been careful not to over do this, although from time to time there have been those who wanted to make large claims about the areas in which the Pope was infallible. From time to time, too, there have been those determined to imitate the dissidents in St John’s church; but the centre has held. Again, the Church has not made extravagant clams about how every verse of Scripture is to be read, but it reserves the right to say which interpretations run counter to what has always been held. An unexciting and conservative approach, when compared to the claims made by individuals who feel entitled to claim for themselves more infallibility in interpreting Scripture than the Church, which tells us what is and is not Scripture, but then the Church speaks to the ages, not to an age, and it speaks with the authority of its founder.

This, of course, does not mean that there are not those within the Church who think they know what developments there need to be, but it does mean that there is a sheet-anchor attached to them, and any attempts to tamper with what has been received from the beginning. Some will always find this conservatism a reason for breaking off and doing their own thing. For a while  such movements survive, and even thrive, but in the end, they wither and perish; but the barque of St Peter sails on, barnacles and all. It knows whence the Canon came, and it guards it against novel claims, however ingenious; even those which might come from the obiter dicta of the odd Pope .

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