On the Patristic Old Testament Canon

Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture …”The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon” [Bel and the Dragon], “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which has delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, has undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seems that not always have all of these been considered on the same level as the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, both by Synods and by many of the most ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church. All of these we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture. (Confession of Dositheus 1672, Question 3)

The Didache ca. 80

My child, him that speaks to you the word of God remember night and day; and you shall honour him as the Lord; for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And you shall seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words. You shall not long for division, but shall bring those who contend to peace. You shall judge righteously, you shall not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. You shall not be undecided whether it shall be or no. Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. (Sirach 4:36) (Didache 4)

Pope St. Clement of Rome fl. 96

Many women also, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed numerous manly exploits. The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman. (Judith 8:30)Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger, in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction. For with fasting and humiliation she entreated the everlasting God, who sees all things; and He, perceiving the humility of her spirit, delivered the people for whose sake she had encountered peril. (To the Corinthians 55)

Now women prophesied also. Of old, Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron, Exodus 15:20 and after her Deborah, Judges 4:4 and after these Huldah 2 Kings 22:14 and Judith Judith 8 — the former under Josiah, the latter under Darius. The mother of the Lord did also prophesy, and her kinswoman Elisabeth, and Anna; and in our time the daughters of Philip; Acts 21:9 yet were not these elated against their husbands, but preserved their own measures. (Apostolic Constitutions 8.2)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna ca. 69-155

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, 1 Peter 2:17 and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because alms delivers from death. (Tobit 4:10, Tobit 12:9) Be all of you subject one to another 1 Peter 5:5 having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, 1 Peter 2:12 that you may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Isaiah 52:5 (Epistle to the Philippians 10)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons died ca. 202

For who is the God of the living unless He who is God, and above whom there is no other God? Whom also Daniel the prophet, when Cyrus king of the Persians said to him, Why do you not worship Bel? did proclaim, saying, Because I do not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who established the heaven and the earth and has dominion over all flesh. (Bel and the Dragon 1:4-5) Again did he say, I will adore the Lord my God, because He is the living God. (Against Heresies 4.5.2)

St. Athenagoras of Athens ca. 133-190

But, since the voices of the prophets confirm our arguments— for I think that you also, with your great zeal for knowledge, and your great attainments in learning, cannot be ignorant of the writings either of Moses or of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the other prophets, who, lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute-player breathes into a flute—what, then, do these men say? The Lord is our God; no other can be compared with Him. (Baruch 3:36) And again: I am God, the first and the last, and besides Me there is no God. (Isa. 44:6) (Plea for Christians 9)

Clement of Alexandria ca. 150-215

Excellently, therefore, the Divine Scripture, addressing boasters and lovers of their own selves, says, “Where are the rulers of the nations, and the lords of the wild beasts of the earth, who sport among the birds of heaven, who treasured up silver and gold, in whom men trusted, and there was no end of their substance, who fashioned silver and gold, and were full of care? There is no finding of their works. They have vanished, and gone down to Hades.” (Bar. 3:16-19) (The Instructor Bk. 2.3)

Tertullian of Carthage ca. 160-220

Then, if God had been unable to make all things of nothing, the Scripture could not possibly have added that He had made all things of nothing (2 Macc. 7:28): (there could have been no room for such a statement,) but it must by all means have informed us that He had made all things out of Matter, since Matter must have been the source; because the one case was quite to be understood, if it were not actually stated, whereas the other case would be left in doubt unless it were stated. (Against Hermogenes 21)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-236

I produce now the prophecy of Solomon, which speaks of Christ, and announces clearly and perspicuously things concerning the Jews; and those which not only are befalling them at the present time, but those, too, which shall befall them in the future age, on account of the contumacy and audacity which they exhibited toward the Prince of Life; for the prophet says, The ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, that is, about Christ, Let us lie in wait for the righteous, because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings and words, and upbraids us with our offending the law, and professes to have knowledge of God; and he calls himself the Child of God. And then he says, He is grievous to us even to behold; for his life is not like other men’s, and his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits, and he abstains from our ways as from filthiness, and pronounces the end of the just to be blessed. And again, listen to this, O Jew! None of the righteous or prophets called himself the Son of God. And therefore, as in the person of the Jews, Solomon speaks again of this righteous one, who is Christ, thus: He was made to reprove our thoughts, and he makes his boast that God is his Father. Let us see, then, if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him; for if the just man be the Son of God, He will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us condemn him with a shameful death, for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:12-20) (Against the Jews 9)

Origen ca. 185-254

Then, knowing that there was a secret and mystical meaning in the passage, as was becoming in one who was leaving, in his Epistles, to those who were to come after him words full of significance, he subjoins the following, Behold, I show you a mystery; which is his usual style in introducing matters of a profounder and more mystical nature, and such as are fittingly concealed from the multitude, as is written in the book of Tobit: It is good to keep close the secret of a king, but honourable to reveal the works of God, — in a way consistent with truth and God’s glory, and so as to be to the advantage of the multitude. (Contra Celsum 5.19)

Solomon, e.g., declaring in one passage, that instruction unquestioned goes astray; and Jesus the son of Sirach, who has left us the treatise called Wisdom, declaring in another, that the knowledge of the unwise is as words that will not stand investigation. Our methods of discussion, however, are rather of a gentle kind; for we have learned that he who presides over the preaching of the word ought to be able to confute gainsayers. (Contra Celsum 6.7)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

This law of prayer the three children observed when they were shut up in the fiery furnace, speaking together in prayer, and being of one heart in the agreement of the spirit; and this the faith of the sacred Scripture assures us, and in telling us how such as these prayed, gives an example which we ought to follow in our prayers, in order that we may be such as they were: Then these three, it says, as if from one mouth sang an hymn, and blessed the Lord. (Song of the Three Children 27) (Treatises 4.8)

St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311

But it is not satisfactory to say that the universe will be utterly destroyed, and sea and air and sky will be no longer. For the whole world will be deluged with fire from heaven, and burnt for the purpose of purification and renewal; it will not, however, come to complete ruin and corruption. For if it were better for the world not to be than to be, why did God, in making the world, take the worse course? But God did not work in vain, or do that which was worst. God therefore ordered the creation with a view to its existence and continuance, as also the Book of Wisdom confirms, saying, For God created all things that they might have their being; and the generations of the world were healthful, and there is no poison of destruction in them. Wisdom 1:14 And Paul clearly testifies this, saying, For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that subjected the same in hope: because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom. 8:19-21) (Discourse on the Resurrection 8)

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 297-373

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows…then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book… (39th Festal Epistle)

Pope Damasus I ca. 305-384

Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book; Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Joshua [son of] Nave, one book; Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; Kings [1 & 2 Samuel, 1& 2 Kings], four books; Paralipomenon [Chronicles], two books; Psalms, one book; Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book; Ecclesiastes, one book; Canticle of Canticles, one book; likewise Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], one book. Likewise is the order of the Prophets: Isaias, one book; Jeremias, one book…Lamentations, Ezechiel, one book; Daniel, one book; Osee…Nahum…Habacuc…Sophonias…Aggeus…Zacharias…Malachias…likewise the order of the historical [books]: Job, one book; Tobit, one book; Esdras, two books; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; Maccabees, two books. (The Decree of Damasus)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

For when they speak against the ascension of the Saviour, as being impossible, remember the account of the carrying away of Habakkuk: for if Habakkuk was transported by an Angel, being carried by the hair of his head , (Bel and the Dragon) much rather was the Lord of both Prophets and Angels, able by His own power to make His ascent into the Heavens on a cloud from the Mount of Olives. (Catechetical Lectures 14.25)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis ca. 315-403

For if thou were begotten of the Holy Ghost, and taught by the Apostles and Prophets, this should you do: Examine all the sacred codices from Genesis to the times of Esther, which are twenty-seven books of the Old Testament, and are enumerated as twenty-two; then the four Holy Gospels… the books of Wisdom, that of Solomon, and the Son of Sirach, and in fine all the books of Scripture [Gk. divine writings]. (Adversus Haereses, Haeres 76.5)

St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

What Scripture says is very true, As for a fool he changes as the moon. (Sirach 27:12) (Hexaemeron 6.10)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 337-397

For it is written: Hedge your ears about with thorns; Sirach 28:28 and again: Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers; Phil. 3:2 and yet again: A man that is an heretic, avoid after the first reproof, knowing that such an one is fallen, and is in sin, being condemned of his own judgment. Tit. 3:10-11 So then, like prudent pilots, let us set the sails of our faith for the course wherein we may pass by most safely, and again follow the coasts of the Scriptures. (De Fide Bk. 1.6.47)

The prophets say: In Your light we shall see light; and again: Wisdom is the brightness of everlasting light, and the spotless mirror of God’s majesty, the image of His goodness. Wisdom 7:26 See what great names are declared! (ibid. Bk. 1.7.49)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 347-407

But why does he call it old? Either because our former life was of this sort, or because that which is old is ready to vanish away, (Hebrews 8:13) and is unsavory and foul; which is the nature of sin. For He neither simply finds fault with the old, nor simply praises the new, but with reference to the subject matter. And thus elsewhere He says, (Sirach 9:15) New wine is as a new friend: but if it become old, then with pleasure shall you drink it: in the case of friendship bestowing his praise rather upon the old than the new… Elsewhere the Scripture takes the term old in the sense of blame; for seeing that the things are of various aspect as being composed of many parts, it uses the same words both in a good and an evil import, not according to the same shade of meaning. Of which you may see an instance in the blame cast elsewhere on the old: Psalm 17:46. ap. Septuagint They waxed old, and they halted from their paths. And again, Psalm 6:7 ap. Septuagint I have become old in the midst of all mine enemies. And again, O you that are become old in evil days. (Daniel 13:52. Hist. Susannah) So also the Leaven is often taken for the kingdom of Heaven , although here found fault with. But in that place it is used with one aspect, and in this with another. (Homilies on First Corinthians, 15.10)

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa, the authority of which toward confirming those which have come into contention is judged less appropriate. Yet having been written in Chaldean words, it is counted among the histories. But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request, indeed a demand, and works having been set aside from which I was forcibly curtailed, I have given to this (book) one short night’s work translating more sense from sense than word from word. (Preface to Judith)

St John Cassian ca. 360-435

And so far do all who perish, perish against the will of God, that God cannot be said to have made death, as Scripture itself testifies: For God made not death, neither rejoices in the destruction of the living. (Wisdom 1:13) (Conference 13.7)

St. Vincent of Lerins died ca. 445

…[W]hereas the divine Oracles cry aloud, Remove not the landmarks, which your fathers have set, (Prov. 22:28) and Go not to law with a Judge, (Sirach 8:14) and Whoso breaks through a fence a serpent shall bite him, (Ecclesiastes 10:8) and that saying of the Apostle wherewith, as with a spiritual sword, all the wicked novelties of all heresies often have been, and will always have to be, decapitated, O Timothy, keep the deposit, shunning profane novelties of words and oppositions of the knowledge falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith. (1 Tim.6:20) (Commonitory 21.51)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

Since the holy seraphim offered hymns of praise with pure and holy mouths, you see, he [Isaiah the Prophet] for his part was fearful, being instructed by God and not unaware that no appealing hymn is found in the mouth of a sinner, (Sirach 15:9) as Scripture says. (Commentary on Isaiah, Chap. 6)

St. Patrick of Ireland ca. 387-493

“The Almighty turns away from the gifts of wicked men.” “He who offers sacrifice from the goods of the poor, is like a man who sacrifices a son in the sight of his own father.” (Sirach 34:24) “Those riches,” it is written, “which he has gathered in unjustly will be vomited out of his belly.” “And now the angel of death comes to drag him away. He will be mauled by angry dragons, killed by the serpent’s tongue. Moreover, everlasting fire is consuming him.” So, “Woe to those who feast themselves on things that are not their own.” Or, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Letter to Coroticus 8)

And so, now you, Coroticus-and your gangsters, rebels all against Christ, now where do you see yourselves? You gave away girls like prizes: not yet women, but baptized. All for some petty temporal gain that will pass in the very next instant. “Like a cloud passes, or smoke blown in the wind,” (Wisdom 5:15) so will “sinners, who cheat, slip away from the face of the Lord. But the just will feast for sure” with Christ. “They will judge the nations” and unjust kings “they will lord over” for world after world. Amen. (Letter to Coroticus 19)

St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547

As for self-will, we are forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture, which says to us, “Turn away from your own will” (Sirach 18:30), and likewise by the prayer in which we ask God that His will be done in us. (Rule of St. Benedict: 7)

St. Justinian the Emperor ca. 483-565

We marvel at how empty their minds are, for they dare to oppose themselves to the divine Scripture which says quite plainly, “Both the godless and their wickedness are equally abhorrent to God.” (Wisdom 14:9) (The Edict on the True Faith)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

And although the holy Scripture says, Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness , it is to be observed that the holy Scripture often uses the past tense instead of the future, as for example here: Thereafter He was seen upon the earth and dwelt among men. (Baruch 3:38) For as yet God was not seen nor did He dwell among men when this was said. And here again: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea wept. For as yet these things had not come to pass. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4.6)

The divine Scripture likewise says that the souls of the just are in God’s hand (Wisdom 3:1) and death cannot lay hold of them. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk.4.15)

St. Gregory Palamas ca. 1296-1359

Scripture tells us, ‘God did not create death’ (Wisdom 1:13). Rather, He impeded its inception in so far as this was fitting, and in so far as it was consistent with His justice to obstruct those to whom He Himself had given free will when He created them. For from the beginning God gave them a counsel that would lead to immortality, and so that they would be safeguarded as far as possible He made His life-generating counsel a commandment. (Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts, 47)

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