Webster’s Errors about the Canon

There are so many incredibly deficient claims by William Webster that Art Sippo has to invoke the old Mexican proverb. Read Slick Willy’s comments in purple. Sippo responds in blue.


There are so many errors here that I could write a book refuting them. Remember the old Mexican proverb: “A burro can ask more questions than a wise man can answer.” Let me refute just a few of his statements:

First of all, the Councils of Carthage and Hippo did not establish the canon for the Church as a whole.

Wrong. The Seventh Ecumenical Council re-affrimed the Canons of these Councils as binding on the Universal Church as did the Council of Lyon.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia actually affirms the fact that the Canon was not officially and authoritatively established for the Western Church until the Council of Trent …

Wrong. The Canon was reaffirmed specifically at the General Councils of Lyon and Florence. There is also the witness of the Fathers of the Church (e.g., St. Augustine), and the medieval fathers (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas), and the general usage of the Church throughout the period from the late 4th Century up to the 16th. The Canon of the Bible was in flux prior to 397 AD for both OT and NT. It was stabilized afterwards until the rise of the humanists with their new methods of textual criticism.

…even such an authority as Pope Gregory the Great rejected the Apocrypha as canonical…

POPE Gregory the Great made no Magisterial pronouncements concerning the canon. In his commentary on Job, Gregory did reject the Deuterocanon of the OT, but this was a private composition, not an official Church document. There is no evidence that he wrote this book while he was Pope. Gregory was a churchman for his whole life and a Pope for only a short time. Most likely this book was written prior to his becoming Pope. His personal opinions are not infallible in any case, only his official pronouncements as Pope.

There are major fathers in the Church prior to the North African Councils who rejected the judgment of these councils.

Who cares? The decisions of Ecumenical Councils supercede the opinions of individual Fathers. (N.B.- one of the Fathers he lists in this section is Origen who was a heretic.)

Firstly, Hippo and Carthage state that 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras are canonical. They are referring here to the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras. In this version 1 Esdras is the Apocryphal additions to Ezra while 2 Esdras is the Jewish version of Ezra-Nehemiah from the Jewish canon. The Council of Trent however states that 1 Esdras is actually Ezra from the Jewish canon and 2 Esdras is Nehemiah from the Jewish canon.

No. The Septuagint (LXX) uses different names for books than the Hebrew Bible. Hippo and Carthage use the term “2 books of Esdras” which refers to Ezra and Nehemiah just as Trent indicates. This is how all of the Fathers understood it.

Secondly, Hippo and Carthage state that Solomon wrote 5 books of the Old Testament when in actuality he wrote only 3.

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, & Song of Solomon were always attributed to Solomon (as were a few canonical psalms). Job was sometimes attributed to him in the Early Church because it was a Wisdom Book and all OT wisdom books were attributed to Solomon by some scholars. NB: the listing stated “5 books of Solomon” which was a euphemism for “OT wisdom literature.” It was NOT a declaration of authorship per se in the modern sense.

A second major point that proves the Roman Catholic claims to be spurious is the fact that the universal practice of the Church as a whole up to the time of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome who rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha on the grounds that these books were never part of the Jewish canon.

This is whopper of a lie! The Church used the deuterocanon without qualms up until just before the Reformation as noted earlier. Some Catholic scholars around the time of the Reformation had misgivings about the Deuteros. They were out of touch with the Magisterium (i.e. Lyons and Florence) and Church usage (e.g., St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Jerome’s opinions are his own and do not reflect the Magisterium. It seems that Protestantss are always trying to pit the opinion of some single figure swimming against the tide as if that single opinion somehow is superior to that of the Church as a whole.

Rufinus…Cajetan…etc.

These scholars were wrong. What they taught was contrary to the Magisterium’s teaching at Ecumenical Councils. Please note that we have the same few names dragged out while the HUNDREDS of other Catholic Fathers and scholars who used the Long Canon in both the Eastern and Western Church are never mentioned. It should also be noted that many of the Fathers who did not place the deuteros on par with the OT still used them to instruct people in the faith. There was a diversity of opinions on the Canon among SOME Catholic scholars even though the Councils of Lyons and Florence had pronounced upon the issue. This only shows that there has been disobedience and error for a long time.

Roman Catholics apologists often assert that the canons of the council of Carthage were authoritatively received by the 6th ecumenical council. What they never add is that this council also authoritatively received the canons of Athanasius and Amphilocius which also have to do with the canon.

Webster is pulling a flim-flam here. There were NO canons promulgated at the Fifth and Sixth Ecumenical Councils. What he is referring to were the canons of the “Quinisext” Council also known as the Council of Trullo. This was a synod held after the Sixth Ecumenical Council. It was the SEVENTH Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) which received Hippo and Carthage as authoritative. In the Eastern Church, it was widely accepted as a continuation of the Fifth (Quint) and Sixth (Sext) Councils, hence the name. There were 102 canons which became the basis for Eastern Canon Law. The first of these Canons mentioned the 85 Canons of the Eastern Fathers which Webster quotes in this article. This council has never been recognized by the Popes and the Western Church does not accept it as ecumenical. Some of the 102 Canons (esp. 35 and 51) were directed against the practices of the Latin West and could not be accepted by Rome. Others of the canons were more reasonable and were acknowledged by Rome as representing true Catholic doctrine. Nevertheless, no authority was ever given to the decrees of this council by the Popes either in whole or in part. Webster knows this because he has read Schaff’s Church history where this is CLEARLY stated. Consequently, there is no excuse for his misrepresentation at this point.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate

February 17, 2003

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