On the church settling the canon of the bible:
(i) Before the collection of New Testament books was finally settled at the Council of Carthage, 397, we find that there were three distinct classes into which the Christian writings were divided. This we know (and every scholar admits it) from the works of early Christian writers like Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, and a whole host of others that we could name. These classes were (I) the books 'acknowledged' as Canonical, (2) books 'disputed' or 'controverted', (3) books declared 'spurious' or false. Now in class (I) i.e., those acknowledged by Christians everywhere to be genuine and authentic, and to have been written by Apostolic men, we find such books as the Four Gospels, 13 Epistles of St Paul, Acts of the Apostles. These were recognised east and west as 'Canonical', genuinely the works of the Apostles and Evangelists whose names they bore, worthy of being in the 'Canon' or sacred collection of inspired writings of the Church, and read aloud at Holy Mass. But there was (2) a class�and Protestants should particularly take notice of the fact, as it utterly undermines their Rule of Faith �the Bible and the Bible only'�of books that were disputed, controverted, in some places acknowledged, in others rejected; and among these we actually find the Epistle of St James, Epistle of St Jude, 2nd Epistle of St Peter; 2nd and 3rd of St John, Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse of St John. There were doubts about these works; perhaps, it was said, they were not really written by Apostles, or Apostolic men, or by the men whose names they carried; in some parts of the Christian world they were suspected, though in others unhesitatingly received as genuine. There is no getting out of this fact, then: some of the books of our Bible which we, Catholic and Protestant alike, now recognise as inspired and as the written Word of God, were at one time, and indeed for long, viewed with suspicion, doubted, disputed, as not possessing the same authority as the others. (I am speaking only of the New Testament books; the same could be proved, if there were space, of the Old Testament; but the New Testament suffices abundantly for the argument.) But further still�what is even more striking, and is equally fatal to the Protestant theory�in this (2) class of 'controverted' and doubtful books some were to be found which are not now in our New Testament at all, but which were by many then considered to be inspired and Apostolic, or were actually read at the public worship of the Christians, or were used for instructions to the newly-converted; in short, ranked in some places as equal to the works of St James or St Peter or St Jude. Among these we may mention specially the 'Shepherd' of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, Apostolic Constitutions, Gospel according to the Hebrews, St Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans, Epistle of St Clement, and others. Why are these not in our Bible today? We shall see in a minute. Lastly (3) there was a class of books floating about before 397 A.D., which were never acknowledged as of any value in the Church, nor treated as having Apostolic authority, seeing that they were obviously spurious and false, full of absurd fables, superstitions, puerilities, and stories and miracles of Our Lord and His Apostles which made them a laughing-stock to the world. Of these some have survived, and we have them today, to let us see what stamp of writing they were; most have perished. But we know the names of about 50 Gospels (such as the Gospel of James, the Gospel of Thomas, and the like), about 22 Acts (like the Acts of Pilate, Acts of Paul and Thecla, and others), and a smaller number of Epistles and Apocalypses. These were condemned and rejected wholesale as 'Apocrypha'�that is, false, spurious, uncanonical.
(ii) This then being the state of matters, you can see at once what perplexity arose for the poor Christians in days of persecution, when they were required to surrender their sacred books. The Emperor Diocletian, for example, who inaugurated a terrible war against the Christians, issued an edict in 303 A.D. that all the churches should be razed to the ground and the Sacred Scriptures should be delivered up to the Pagan authorities to be burned. Well, the question was what was Sacred Scripture? If a Christian gave up an inspired writing to the Pagans to save his life, he thereby became an apostate: he denied his faith, he betrayed his Lord and God; he saved his life, indeed, but he lost his soul. Some did this and were called 'traditores', traitors, betrayers, 'deliverers up' (of the Scriptures). Most, however, preferred martyrdom, and refusing to surrender the inspired writings, suffered the death. But it was a most perplexing and harrowing question they had to decide�what really was Sacred Scripture? I am not bound to go to the stake for refusing to give up some 'spurious' Gospel or Epistle. Could I, then, safely give up some of the 'controverted' or disputed books, like the Epistle of St James, or the Hebrews, or the Shepherd of Hermas, or the Epistle of St Barnabas, or of St Clement? There is no need to be a martyr by mistake. And so the stress of persecution had the effect of making still more urgent the necessity of deciding once and for all what was to form the New Testament. What, definitely and precisely, were to be the books for which a Christian would be bound to lay down his life on pain of losing his soul?
(iii) Here, as I said before, comes in the Council of Carthage, 397 A.D., confirming and approving the decrees of a previous Council (Hippo, 393 A.D.) declaring, for all time to come, what was the exact collection of sacred writings thenceforth to be reckoned, to the exclusion of all others, as the inspired Scripture of the New Testament. That collection is precisely that which Catholics possess at this day in their Douai Bible. That decree of Carthage was never changed. It was sent to Rome for confirmation. As I have already remarked, a Council, even though not a general Council of the whole Catholic Church, may yet have its decrees made binding on the whole Church by the approval and will of the Pope. A second Council of Carthage over which St Augustine presided, in 419 A.D., renewed the decrees of the former one, and declared that its act was to be notified to Boniface, Bishop of Rome, for the purpose of confirming it. From that date all doubt ceased as to what was, and what was not 'spurious', or 'genuine', or 'doubtful' among the Christian writings then known. Rome had spoken. A Council of the Roman Catholic Church had settled it. You might hear a voice here or there, in East or West, in subsequent times, raking up some old doubt, or raising a question as to whether this or that book of the New Testament is really what it claims to be, or should be where it is. But it is a voice in the wilderness.
Rome had fixed the 'Canon' of the New Testa�ment. There are henceforward but two classes of books�inspired and not inspired. Within the covers of the New Testament all is inspired; all without, known or unknown, is uninspired. Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost the Council declared 'This is genuine, that is false'; 'this is Apostolic, that is not Apostolic'. She sifted, weighed, discussed, selected, rejected, and finally decided what was what. Here she rejected a writing that was once very popular and reckoned by many as inspired, and was actually read as Scripture at public service; there, again, she accepted another that was very much disputed and viewed with suspicion, and said: 'This is to go into the New Testament.' She had the evidence before her; she had tradition to help her; and above all she had the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to enable her to come to a right conclusion on so momentous a matter. And in fact, her con�clusion was received by all Christendom until the sixteenth century, when as we shall see, men arose rebelling against her decision and altering the Sacred Volume. But, at all events in regard to the New Testament, the Reformers left the books as they found them, and today their Testament contains exactly the same books as ours; and what I wish to drive home, is that they got these books from Rome, that without the Roman Catholic Church they would not have got them, and that the decrees of Carthage, 397 and 419 A.D., when all Christianity was Roman Catholic�reaffirmed by the Council of Florence, 1442, under Pope Eugenius IV, and the Council of Trent, 1546�these decrees of the Roman Church, and these only are the means and the channel and the authority which Almighty God has used to hand down to us His written Word. Who can deny it? The Church existed before the Bible; she made the Bible; she selected its books, and she preserved it. She handed it down; through her we know what is the Word of God, and what the word of man; and hence to try at this time of day, as many do, to overthrow the Church by means of this very Bible, and to put it above the Church, and to revile her for destroying it and corrupting it�what is this but to strike the mother that reared them; to curse the hand that fed them; to turn against their best friend and benefactor; and to repay with ingratitude and slander the very guide and protector who has led them to drink of the water out of the Saviour's fountains?