Council of Carthage


I’ve always held that the Council of Carthage in 397 was the council that set the Biblical books in stone, so to speak, but then I was told that it was only a local council. The universal council that really made the whole Bible clear was Trent.

The person gave the quote from St. Cajetan who mentions the “provincial council of Carthage.”


The canon of Scripture may not have been defined at an ecumenical council that early, and I don’t know if these local councils were definitive for the whole West, but the canon was more or less settled in the West at this point in time anyway. If you want an example of an ecumenical council prior to Trent, I know Florence listed the canon explicitly.

[The holy Roman Church] professes that one and the same God is the author of the old and the new Testament — that is, the law and the prophets, and the gospel — since the saints of both testaments spoke under the inspiration of the same Spirit. It accepts and venerates their books, whose titles are as follows.

Five books of Moses, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, Esdras, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms of David, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, namely Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; two books of the Maccabees; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; fourteen letters of Paul, to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, to the Colossians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two letters of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude; Acts of the Apostles; Apocalypse of John.


The Canon of the Sacred Scripture

It has been decided] that nothing except the Canonical Scriptures should be read in the church under the name of the Divine Scriptures. But the Canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Daniel, Ezechiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Machabees. Moreover, of the New Testament: Four books of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles one book, thirteen epistles of Paul the Apostle, one of the same to the Hebrews, two of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, the Apocalypse of John. Thus [it has been decided] that the Church beyond the sea may be consulted regarding the confirmation of that canon; also that it be permitted to read the sufferings of the martyrs, when their anniversary days are celebrated.

Denzinger, H., Deferrari, R. J., & Rahner, K. (1954). The sources of Catholic dogma (pp. 39–40). St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co.


The Council of Carthage was a provincial council and therefore its decision was not a decision of the extraordinary magisterium. Therefore, the Council of Carthage was unable to settle the issue of the Canon simply by proclaiming its decision, and it would be wrong to say it’s decision was infallible in that sense.

However, there is another sense in which it is correct to say that the Council of Carthage’s decision was infallible, (at least I think so,) and that is because it was an exercise of the “ordinary magisterium.” As distinguished from the extraordinary magisterium (which is where the pope or an ecumenical Council decides something and fulfills all the criteria of infallibility), the ordinary magisterium is exercised when a bishop or a local council repeats a doctrine that is part of the deposit of faith.

The Canon of Scripture, as revealed by God, is a part of the deposit of faith, and the decision they rendered at the Council of Carthage was in accord with the truth as it is known through Scripture, Tradition, and the extraordinary Magisterium. I don’t think it matters that the extraordinary Magisterium proclaimed it more recently, that just gives us grounds for having “absolute certitude” about a matter that the previous ages of the Church would have only had “moral certitude” about. Pre-Trent Catholics could only have a “moral certitude” about the Canon by assessing the Church Fathers, the Biblical evidence, and the evidence of early Councils, and drawing a conclusion based on where the evidence falls, whereas we can have “absolute certitude” because the extraordinary Magisterium has now proclaimed that the Canon of the Carthage to be correct.

Anyway that is my current understanding of the issue. I hope it adds clarity. God bless!


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