I was thinking about how we Catholics come to a conclusion about the religious canon we use. From what I understand, we first look at historical documents and claim that these historical documents show that there was one early Apostolic church set up by Christ. And then, following this, after believing that these texts and those of later early Christian writers are true historical accounts of early Christianity, we look at what Jesus has to say in these documents. Jesus founds an apostolic Church and gives it binding authority. The Church then, through this binding authority, is able to determine which texts are inspired, and which ones not.
For many Protestants who do not follow the historical model, the method is a little different for determining the canon. From what I understand, many Protestants just know inwardly that the books they read are the inspired Word of God, whereas when they read the deuterocanonical works, they claim that they are not inspired. In short, many a Protestant will approach the canon in faith alone, without the assistance of historical understanding.
My question is: In selecting our canon do we not first have to place great faith on our rational abilities to understand which texts (those now canonical, non-canonical, writings of Church Fathers and those of pagans) represent true history and which ones give a biased distortion of true history? And if we do not first begin our search for the canon by history, but instead by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, why would that Holy Spirit guide us any more or less than that which the Protestant claims to guide him in coming to the selection of their canon?
In any case, unless we can have perfect confidence that Christ personally founded a single Church (if he founded any church), we cannot really say with confidence that the Catholic Church has any given authority to discern what is the Word of God and what is not.
In short, I gather the Catholic model is as follows:
- Use reason and pray for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to begin to understand early Christianity as an historical series of events.
- Create an historical understaning of early Christianity
- The historical understanding shows that Christ founded a single Church, and that he gave it authority.
- The historical understanding shows that Church councils determined certain works to be canonical and inspired.
- Canon compiled
One evangelical model:
- Ask God to give you the Holy Spirit to discern which texts are canonical and which are not.
- God personally shows you what is inspired and what is not.
Both claim that the Holy Spirit guides one in coming to a canon. The Catholic view is that God gives man the reason to discern what is canon; whereas a Protestant view is that God personally shows one which is canon, since human reason is naturally imperfect. Just some thoughts.