This is a bit of a follow-up to my post last month about the “other books” known as “Apocrypha” and “Deuterocanon” by various Christian parties.
One of the streams of Anglican practice today as we come across the occasional lectionary reading from one of the “other books” is to refrain from stating “the Word of the Lord” after the reading, instead saying “Here ends the lesson.” (Or “here endeth the reading” or whatever…) The attitude behind that practice is that of a concession: those who practice this are on one hand opposed to these texts being in the Bible and yet are forced to read them in church every now and then. They don’t believe it’s the word of God, but “tradition” forces their hand.
This is definitely a reasonable solution for a Protestant who flat out accepts a 66-book Old Testament canon, but as I commented last time, the 39 Articles are somewhat ambiguous about them. The “extra” books are neither rejected the way Protestants reject them, nor are they treated as utterly equal with the Old Testament. In that previous post of mine, I ended at a rather ambiguous solution – calling them “the other books” rather than exalting them to “deuterocanon” or denouncing them as “apocrypha.” Today I’d like to explore a more definitive level of labeling them.
Unsurprisingly, our generation of Anglicans is not the first to deal with the question of the status of the books of Wisdom, Judith, Maccabees, and so forth. There are writings throughout the past 500 years that bounce this question around. But rather than play the game “pick your favorite theologian” which easily throws us into endless circles, let’s look at something more official and standard to Anglicanism: the Books of Homilies. These homilies are authorized by the 35th of the Articles of Religion to be read in all churches. The purpose of them was to teach stable and consistent doctrine throughout the country to calm down the various theological battles that were raging at the time. Though they are not regularly read anymore, they remain as reliable standards of doctrine approved by the Anglican tradition. We don’t all have to swear perfect conformity to the specific content of each homily, but we can point to them as “official” statements of faith.
In part 1 of the Homily Of Obedience (#10 in the first book), the fourth paragraph begins thus:
Also in the Book of Wisdom we may evidently learn that a king’s power, authority, and strength is a great benefit of God, given of his great mercy to the comfort of our great misery. For thus we read there spoken to kings: Hear, O ye kings, and understand; learn, ye that be judges of the ends of the earth; give ear, ye that rule the multitudes: for the power is given you of the Lord, and the strength from the Highest. Let us learn also here by the infallible and undeceivable word of God, that kings and other supreme and higher officers are ordained of God, who is Most Highest…
The fact that the book of Wisdom is quoted is not my point. What’s noteworthy here is how that quote is described by the homilist: “the infallible and undeceivable word of God.”
Again, in part 3 of the Homily Against the Peril of Idolatry (#2 in the second book), we read:
…and St. Jerome also upon the Prophet Jeremiah ch. 6, and Eusebius [in] the 7th book of his Ecclesiastical History ch. 18, testify that they first came from the Gentiles which were idolaters and worshippers of images, unto us; and as the invention of them was the beginning of spiritual fornication, as the word of God testifieth (Sap. 14); so will they, naturally as it were and of necessity, turn to their origin from whence they came… For, if the origin of images and worshipping of them, as it is recorded in the 8th chapter of the Book of Wisdom, began of a blind love of a fond father, framing for his comfort an image of his son being dead, and so at the last men fell to the worshipping of the image of him whom they did know to be dead; how much more will men and women fall to the worshipping of the images of God, our Saviour Christ… (pp 246-7)
Again the message is clear, the book of Wisdom (or Sapientia in Latin) is considered “the word of God.”
And no, this is not an Anglo-Catholic aberration. As the grammar betrays, these are 16th-century homilies written by the English reformers when it was in one of it’s more Protestant phases of the reformation process.
So for evangelical Anglicans today, it should not be a terrible scandal for the reader to say “the word of the Lord” after a reading from Wisdom or Sirach or whatnot. Instead of getting uppity about the Protestant canon, we should instead consider what “the word of the Lord” really means. Is the definition of scripture or God’s word written quite as cut-and-dry as our Protestant brethren insist, or can we trust our own 39 Articles to admit the tension of the other books’ status?