BUT here is the difficulty.If these books were not from the beginning of undoubted authority in the Church, who can give them this authority? In truth the Church cannot give truth or certitude to the Scripture, or make a book canonical if it were not so, but the Church can make a book known as canonical, and make us certain of its certitude, and is fully able to declare that a book is canonical which is not held as such by every one, and thus to give it credit in Christendom; not changing the substance of the book which of itself was canonical, but changing the persuasion of Christians, making it quite assured where previously it had not been so.
But how can the Church herself define that a book is canonical? For she is no longer guided by new revelations but by the old Apostolic ones, of which she has infallibility of interpretation. And if the Ancients have not had the revelation of the authority of a book, how then can she know it? She considers the testimony of antiquity, the conformity which this book has with the others which are received, and the general relish which the Christian people find in it. For as we can know what is a proper and wholesome food for animals when we see them fond of it and feed on it with advantage, so, when the Church sees that the Christian people heartily relishes a book as canonical and gains good from it, she may know that it is a fit and wholesome meat for Christian souls; and as when we would know whether one wine is of the same vintage as another we compare them, observing whether the colour, the smell and the taste are alike in the two, so when the Church has properly decided that a book has a taste, colour and smell and holiness of style, doctrine and mysteries- like to the other canonical books, and besides has the testimony of many good and irreproachable witnesses of antiquity, she can declare the book to be true brother of the other canonical ones. And we must not doubt that the Holy Spirit assists the Church in this judgment: for your ministers themselves confess that God has given the Holy Scriptures into her charge, and say that it is on this account S. Paul calls her the pillar and ground of the truth.(1 Tim. 3:15) And how would she guard them if she could not know and separate them from the mixture of other books? And how important is it for the Church that she should be able to know in proper time and season which Scriptures is holy and which not: for if she received such and such Scripture as holy and it was not, she would lead us into superstition; and if she refused the honour and belief which befit God’s Word to a holy Scripture, it would be an impiety. If ever then Our Lord defends his Church against the gates of hell if the Holy Spirit assisted her so closely that she could say: It hath seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, (Acts 15:28) -we must firmly believe that he inspires her on occasion of such great consequences as these; for it would indeed be to abandon her at her need if he left her at this juncture, on which depends not only an article or two of our faith, but the substance of our religion. When, therefore, the Church has declared that a book is canonical, we must never doubt but that it is so. We [are] here in the same position. For Calvin and the very bibles of Geneva, and the Lutherans, receive several books as holy, sacred, and canonical which have not been acknowledged by all the Ancients as such, and about which there has been a doubt. If there has been a doubt formerly, what reason can they have to make them assured and certain nowadays, except that which S. Augustine had [as we said above]: “I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me ; ” and ” We receive the New and the Old Testament in that number of books which the authority of the Holy Catholic Church determines.” Truly we should be very ill assured if we were to rest our faith on these particular interior inspirations, of which we only know that they exist or ever did exist, by the testimony of some private persons. And granted that they are or have been, we do not know whether they are from the false or of the true spirit ; and supposing they are of the true spirit, we do not know whether they who relate them, relate them faithfully or not, since they have no mark of infallibility whatever. We should deserve to be wrecked if we were to cast ourselves out of the ship of the public judgment of the Church, to sail in the miserable skiff of these new discordant private inspirations. Our faith would not be Catholic, but private.
But before I quit this subject, I pray you, reformers tell me whence you have taken the canon of the Scriptures which you follow? You have not taken it fron the Jews, for the books of the Gospels would not be there, nor from the Council of Laodicea, for the Apocalypse would not be in it; or from the Councils of Carthage or of Florence, for Ecclesiasticus and the Machabees would be there. Whence, then, have you taken it? In good sooth, like canon was never spoken of before your time. The Church never saw canon of the Scriptures in which there was not either more or less than in yours. What likelihood is there that the Holy Spirit has hidden himself from all antiquity, and that after 1500 years he has disclosed to certain private persons the list of the true Scriptures? For our part we follow exactly the list of the Council of Laodicea with the addition made at the Councils of Cart age and Florence. Never will a man of judgment leave these Councils to follow the persuasions of private individuals. Here, then, is the fountain and source of all the violations which have been made of this holy rule; namely, when people have taken up the fancy of not receiving it save by the measure and rule of the inspirations which each one believes and thinks he feels.