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July 9, 2010 / vivator

Did Augustine consider apocryphal books to be non authoritative in defining doctrine?

William Webster, former Catholic converted to Calvinism, wrote that Augustine (354 to 430 AD), bishop of Hippo, believed that the Church held the apocrypha to be canonical in the broad sense that these writings provided a good example and an inspiration to perseverance in the faith (Webster: The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, page 13). Webster drew his conclusion from statement made by (Catholic) Cardinal Cajetan (1469 to 1534) who considered those books to be non-canonical in confirming matters of faith and canonical for edification of the faithful.  Cardinal Cajetan was entitled to have his opinion but he was not in authority to define canon of Scripture.  The question is did Augustine share the same view, i.e. those books have second class status?  Some of Augustine’s works are available online at – anybody can browse and check all scriptural citation in his works.  Augustine cited from those books without any distinction, i.e. as Scripture – from my observation apocryphal books he mostly quoted are Wisdom and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus).  Below are examples taken from some of Augustine’s other works (underlined emphasis are mine):

But, in case anyone should think that those servants of God, whom you mentioned as having been put to death by barbarians ought to have escaped that death, as the three men were delivered from the flames, and Daniel from the lions, let him know that such miracles were wrought to make the kings who had handed them over to torment believe that the Hebrews worship the true God. Thus it was the hidden judgment and mercy of God to grant salvation in that way to those kings. But He did not do so for King Antiochus, who put the Macchabees to death with cruel torments; on the contrary, He inflicted a more severe punishment on the hard heart of the king by reason of their glorious martyrdom. For so it is written. Read what was said by one of them who was sixth to suffer: ‘After him, they brought the sixth, and when he had been racked and tortured, and was about to die, he said: Be not deceived; we suffer these things for ourselves, for having sinned against our God, and these are worthy things which are done to us. But do not think that thou shalt escape unpunished for that thou hast willed by thy laws to fight against God and his law.’ [2 Maccabees 7:18-19]

Augustine, Letter to Severus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 251

Consequently, that saying of the Apostle: ‘Let your petitions be made known to God,’ [Philippians 4:6] is not to be taken in the sense that they are actually made known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered, but they are made known to us before God, through our patience, but not before men through our boasting. Or, perhaps they might be even be made known to the angels who are with God, so that they may, in a sense, offer our prayers to God and consult Him about them, and bring us back His answer, either openly or secretly, according as they know what He wills, as it befits them to know. Thus, an angel said to a man: ‘And now, when thou didst pray, thou and Sara, I offered the remembrance of your prayer in the sight of the splendour of God.’ [Tobit 12:12]

Augustine, Letter to Proba

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 390

Certainly, there was a reason and no slight one why He [God] delivered Noe [Noah] from the flood [Genesis 6-8], Lot from the fire from heaven [Genesis 19:29], Isaac from the uplifted sword [Genesis 22:1-13], Joseph from the calumny of a woman and from imprisonment [Genesis 39:7-18, 41:14], Moses from the Egyptians [Exodus 3-13], Rahab from the destruction of the city [Joshua 6:16-25], Susanna from the false witnesses [Daniel 13:1-62], Daniel from the lions [Daniel 6:21-23], the three men from the flames [Daniel 3], and the other ‘fathers who cried to Him and were saved’ [Psalms 22:5]

Augustine, Letter to Honoratus Chapter 11

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 81

If our will, remaining in itself, and without any change in itself, expresses words through which it manifests itself, after a fashion, how much more easily can the omnipotent God, maintaining His nature hidden and unchangeable, appear under any form He wills and to whom He wills, since He made all things out of nothing [2 Maccabees 7:28], and remaining in Himself, ‘reneweth all things.’ [Wisdom 7:27]

Augustine, Letter to Paulina, Chapter 47

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 216

The fact that Christ had not yet come at that time should not be an obstacle to prevent us from accepting this interpretation of the Apostle Peter’s words about Christ preaching to those spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19] who had been incredulous in the days of Noe [Noah]. It was in the flesh that He had not yet come, since ‘After this he was seen upon earth and conversed with men.’ [Baruch 3:37]

Augustine, Letter to Evodius

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 394

When He [Christ] assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations, nor did He cease to reach ‘from end to end mightily and to order all things sweetly.’ [Wisdom 8:1]

Augustine, Sermon 187 For the Feast of the Nativity

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 38, page 13

Your letter greatly distressed me, and I confess floundering for quite a while, not knowing how to reply. I had no ideas, when the words of Scripture came to mind: “If you have understanding, answer your neighbour; but if not, let your hand be on your mouth.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:12]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, page 11

Because of people who think that that which they do not deny is a good ought to be put off, these frightening words of the divine Scriptures strike like a thunderbolt: “Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth and at the time of punishment you will perish.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:7]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, pages 22-23


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