Thursday of the 11th Week in Course 2018
Look closely at the words of the Lord’s Prayer and you will see, as the Church Fathers taught, the whole of the Gospel summarized in these petitions. Think of all the problems we face in our world today, and all that we have faced in the past two thousand years. Pretty much all the relationship difficulties, whether in families or between nations, involve alienation of persons from each other. Consider World War I, the “Great” War. It was a family feud brought about for many reasons, but it was a feud between descendants of one family–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The monarchs of pretty much every European country except France were all cousins. Even Tsar Nicolas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm were cousins. Jesus taught us to forgive if we wanted to be forgiven. And they didn’t forgive, and millions died.
So when Jesus ben Sira, human author of this book we call Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, wrote this line about the second coming of Elijah: “to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob,” he was expressing the same thought. What we need in this world is reconciliation of God and man, and of man to man. Ben Sira was probably using the text of the prophet Malachi when he penned this praise of Elijah. In fact, it’s the very last line of Malachi and of the collection of the OT prophets.
I’d like to spend a few moments with Sirach and the other Bible books that we call “the second canon,” or deuterocanonical books. Deuterocanonical “is a term adopted in the 16th century by the . . .Church to denote those books and passages of the . . . Old Testament, as defined in 1546 by the Council of Trent, that were not found in the Hebrew Bible. The term distinguished these texts both from those that were termed protocanonical books, which were the books of the Hebrew canon; and from the apocryphal books, which were those books of Jewish origin that . . .the council considered not to be canonical.” So Sirach, which appears in the Greek bible but not the Hebrew bible, is inspired and deuterocanonical. But the Book of Enoch is not. It is truly apocryphal, even though it had influence on early Christians.
What led the Council of Trent to declare authoritatively that forty-seven books of the OT were divinely inspired, including the deuterocanonicals? Ultimately, the reason God inspired the Council to make that infallible pronouncement is the reason she makes any pronouncement: the Church has always and everywhere by everyone preached it. Sirach was read as divinely inspired Scripture in the early days of the Church. It was quoted by many Fathers of the Church. It kept appearing in collections of Scripture.
The Protestant revolutionaries found it convenient to exclude the deuterocanonicals from their Bibles for one reason and one excuse. The excuse, the one they preach about, is that these books or passages appear in the Greek bible of the Diaspora, the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew language bibles or the Masoretic or Jewish canon. The problem with that argument, actually, is that by the year 70 AD, the early Christians, with some exceptions, were Greek-speaking, and they read from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew language Bible. So the excuse is a weak foundation of the decision.
The real reason these books are excluded, as you might think, is that they stand in the way of some Protestant doctrines. For instance, in the deuterocanonical book of Maccabees, there is an early affirmation that it is a good thing to pray for the dead. Literally. That is something that the Protestants got rid of. No purgatory, so no value in prayers for the dead. We take some of the Mass texts for Masses of the Blessed Virgin from the wonderful book of Judith. So the revolutionaries lose much of the riches of the Bible by excising these books, and they cut themselves off from the documented practice of the early Church.
Now we don’t get angry, and we must treat this disagreement as a family feud subject to the dictates of the Lord’s Prayer. Hold fast to the truth, pray for those who don’t believe it, and forgive everybody.