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The Canon of Sacred Scripture
A Brief Introduction
By Frederick P. Pogorzelski, Catholic Catechist Page 1 of 5
After the death of Christ on the cross, and in the centuries before 419 A.D., there were many, perhaps hundreds of writings, and some forgeries that had to be sorted out and decided upon as to if they were canonical (canon = rule or official list) or not. The early Catholic Church was scattered out in communities over a wide geographic area. Many people in these communities liked the Shepherd of Hermas and it was very popular and read as if it were scripture. On The Shepherd of Hermas; in the document The Muratorian Fragment, approx. 170-180 A. D., it is written: “was written quite recently in our own time by Hermas, while his brother, Pius, was filling the chair of the Church of the city of Rome”. (Pope Saint Pious I apparently occupied the chair of Peter approx. 140 – 155 A. D.). Origen (185-232 A.D.) believed the author of The Shepherd of Hermas to be the same Hermas referred to by Saint Paul in Romans 16:14.
The Epistle of Barnabus was accepted as Scripture by Clement and Origen but not by Saint Jerome. While both of the books; the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabus, were read and accepted by many Early Church communities they are not found in today’s Bibles.

Christian evangelists and apologists used the *Alexandrian canon (Septuagint LXX) preserved in Greek. Hellenists Jews from outside Palestine had their own synagogue where the Bible was read in Greek. The Hebrews were native Palestinian Jews with their own synagogue. Their language was Aramaic and their Bible was read in Hebrew. There were complaints and disputations amongst these two Jewish groups ( Hellenists and Hebrews ), who used different languages, as is noted in ( Acts 6:1-2 ).

The Gospel of Thomas was also in circulation and accepted by some followers of Mani ( Manicheans ). Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechesis V ( approx. 348 A.D. ), states: “Let none read the gospel of Thomas, for it is the work, not of one of the twelve apostles, but one of Mani’s three wicked disciples.” Manichaeanism is a heretical idea that has echoed down the centuries and has persisted even unto today. Likewise, Gnosticism ( Gnostics were Docetists = Greek “to appear” ) teaches that salvation is liberation from the body because the material world is evil. These heretical teachings and writings were rejected as false by ** ecclesiastical authority.

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The important thing to remember about heretical ideas is that they will continue to re-emerge, in more virulent form (variants), and under different name, throughout the centuries. Some communities did not accept the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) as Scripture, so it was not so popularly read and it was a disputed book. The Council of Laodicea about 360 A.D. did not include Revelation in the Canon of Scripture. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, also rejected it and forbade it’s reading in public or private as well. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexanderia, accepted it as Scripture as it is shown in his festal letter of 367 A.D. Disputes over the canonicity of the Book of Revelation contributed to divisions in the Eastern Church communities, and some Greek Churches of today do not accept it as Sacred Scripture [1] [2].

The Bible did not come complete with an index, telling us which books, and how many, are inspired writings and canonical or not. The canon of the Bible developed over time – centuries - and with much disputations and controversies. It was the bishops of the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that sorted out and decided the canon of Sacred Scripture. The bishops were preserved from falling into error, as our Lord promised, on this important matter concerning the entire Catholic Church. (Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20) (John 14, 15, and 16) (1 Tim. 3:14-15) (Acts 15:28) They included Tobit, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. Roman Catholics call these books deuterocanonical. Protestants call them Apocrypha. There are some additional passages in Daniel and Esther not found in Protestant Bibles.

The Bible, the inspired word of God, came out of the Catholic Church around the end of the 4th century. In Endnote (4) 0f the Council of Trent, Fourth Session, Celebrated on the Eighth Day of April, 1546 on the Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures states this: “(4)For earlier lists, cf. Synod of Laodicea (end of IV cent.), c. 60, the genuineness of which canon however is contested (Hefele-Leclercq, Hist. des conciles, I, 1026); Synod of Rome (382) under Pope Damasus (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 84); Synod of Hippo (393), c. 36, which the III Synod of Carthage (397) made its own in c.47 (idem, no. 92); Innocent I in 405 to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse (idem, no. 96); Eugene IV in the Council of Florence (Mansi, XXXI, 1736; Hardouin, IX, 1023f.). The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures”

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The decrees of the local or regional Church councils were submitted to the “transmarine Church” (Rome) and approved by the various Popes. The Latin Vulgate (LV) version of the Bible by Saint Jerome was completed about 406 A.D. and included the deuterocanonical books. [3] The Ecumenical Council of Florence affirmed the list of inspired books in 1442 A.D., about 100 years before the Council of Trent. The “Decretum pro Jacobitis” by Pope Eugenius IV lists the inspired books. Since there was no urgent challenge, or compelling reason why it should, the Ecumenical Council of Florence did not dogmatically pass on the canonicity of the inspired books.

The canon of the Bible was solemnly defined and made dogmatic by the Fourth Session, of the Ecumenical Council of Trent, of the Catholic Church,( held in northern Italy 1545-1563 A.D.) by the Decree “De Canonicis Scripturis” on April 8th, 1546. Pope Pius IV formally confirmed all of its decrees in 1564 A.D. This put the canonicity of the whole Traditional Bible (LV) beyond the permissibility of doubt on the part of Catholics. The Council of Trent lists 45 books of the Old Testament not 46, because like the Traditional Bible (LV) it considers Lamentations part of Jeremiah. It also lists 27 books of the New Testament. This canon is the same as the Traditional Bible (LV) as it was listed for over 1000 years before the Council of Trent.

Today’s Catholic Bibles usually count a 73-book canon of Scripture, not 72. This is simply because they number the book of Lamentations separate from Jeremiah. Here are a few keywords and phrases to help in understanding what the Council of Trent did: reaffirmed, reiterated what had already been taught, dogmatically defined.

Relatively recent archeological findings and analysis of the Dead Sea scrolls (Qumran) of 1947 revealed that several deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew (Sirach, Judith, 1 Maccabees,) or Aramaic (Tobit). The Protestant reformers of the 16th century were not
aware of the Hebrew and Aramaic Versions of the deuterocanonical books in the Alexandrian canon.
Early Protestant reformers of the 16th century like Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin promoted individual judgment and interpretation of the Bible. They rejected Church authority (John 17: 20 – 23) (Luke 10: 16) that is; the Holy Spirit sent upon the Church by Christ to teach and guide the Church as a universal body in matters of faith and morals. The Reformers accept the 27 books of the New Testament.

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The Historical and Spiritual Wrong way turn of Protestantism. The archeological evidence available to the reformers of the 16th century led them to believe that the deuterocanonical books were later Greek language compositions and additions to the Holy Bible. They used this as one of the criteria for deciding their 66 book Bible canon. Thus, the Protestant Bible is short seven books. I wonder now, if the reformers would have done this, had they known what we know today about the findings and analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran and the Hebrew and Aramaic versions of some of the deuterocanonical books?
This is noteworthy [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

The process of recognizing the written word of God involved a human process of discernment by the Magisterial (teaching authority) of the Catholic Church over many centuries of time. Quoting from one of the 16 documents of Vatican 11, Dei Verbum (Word of God) “…but the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed down, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on… with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” [9]

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[1] History of Eastern Christianity, Page 248, By Aziz S. Atiya, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, Notre Dame, Indiana
[2] Eastern Christianity, Page 191, By Nicholas Zernov, G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1961, New York
[3] Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridon Symbolorum Et Definition, No. 84, Page 35
[4] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall 1990, Raymond Edward Brown, Roland Edmund Murphy, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Editors, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey Page 1041, #38 states the following: “…(2) it was once thought that the extra (deuterocanonical) books in the Alexandrian canon had been composed in Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic the sacred languages known in Palestine. Actually, a good number of the deuterocanonical books were originally composed in Hebrew (Sir, Jdt, 1 Macc) or Aramaic (Tob). The Qumran discoveries prove that some of these books were in circulation in Palestine and accepted by Jewish groups there. The fact that the codices of the LXX do not isolate the deuterocanonical books as a group but mix them in with the Prophets (Bar) and the Writings (Sir, Wis) shows that there was no awareness that these books had a unique origin, as there would have been if they were thought to be later and foreign additions to an already fixed collection translated from Hebrew. (3) The thesis that the Jews in Alexandria had a different theory of inspiration from the theory shared by the Jews in Jerusalem is gratuitous.”
[5] “Faith Facts” from Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), 827 North Forth Street, Steubenville, Ohio 43952

[6] Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible see especially pages 126 through 165 by Gary Michuta Published by Grotto Press Port Huron, Michigan ISBN 13: 978-1-58188-010-6 ISBN 10: 1-58188-010-3
[7] Not by Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura by Robert A. Sungenis
ISBN-10: 1579180558
ISBN-13: 978-1579180553
[8] Not by Faith Alone: A Biblical Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Justification by Robert A. Sungenis
ISBN-10: 1579180086
ISBN-13: 978-1579180089
[9] The Sixteen Documents of Vatican ll, By Pauline Books and Media, Boston, Massachusetts.

*Of the approximately 300 Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, approximately 2/3 of them came from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) which included the deuterocanonical books that the Protestants later removed. This is additional evidence that Jesus and the apostles viewed the deuterocanonical books as part of canon of the Old Testament.

**By “ecclesiastical authority:” I understand creedal definition, papal definition, or conciliar definition. See: Responses To 101 Questions on the Bible by Raymond E. Brown published by Paulist Press, New York, pages 11 – 16 and pages 73 – 74.
ISBN-10: 0809131889
ISBN-13: 978-0809131884

Important Dates in the Formation of the Bible.

Dates: Canon of Bible.
Biblical Events and Dates.
3760 BCE
(Before the Common Era) First Year of the Jewish calendar.
1290 Moses leads the exodus from Egypt.
1000 – 961 David, the United Monarchy centered in Jerusalem, court historians begin to write what will become the J material.
961 – 922 Solomon. Temple is dedicated in 950. J material is put in its final form.
922 End of the United Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, has its capitol at Samaria. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, has its capitol in Jerusalem.
922 – 721 The E material is collected in the Northern Kingdom.
783 – 742 Reign of King Uzziah. The work of the Deuteronomic historians begins. These writings become the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings.
768 – 746 Reign of King Jeroboam II, the Golden Age of the Northern Kingdom.
750 Amos, a trimmer of sycamore trees from Judah, is sent as prophet to Israel.
740 – 687 First Isaiah, author of Isaiah 1 to 39, is active in Jerusalem.
740 – 700 Hosea is active in Israel.
721 The A ssyrians under Sargon II destroyed Israel.
722 – 701 Micah is active in Judah.
640 – 609 Reign of King Josiah.
626 – 580 Jeremiah is active as prophet in Jerusalem.
586 Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem. The Babylonian captivity begins.
586 – 538 The Exile. The Priestly writer organizes the J, E, and D material into the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
582 – 573 Ezekiel is active as prophet in the Exile.
540 Second Isaiah, author of Isaiah 40 to 55, writes during the Exile.
535 Third Isaiah, author of Isaiah 56 to 66, is active back in Jerusalem as it is being rebuilt.
520 – 515 The Second Temple is built. Haggai and Zecharaiah are active in Jerusalem.
500 – 450 Malachi and Obadiah, the last prophets.
400 – 200 The Chronicler’s History is written. Qoheleth’s sayings are edited by his students.
275 Jews in Alexandria translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. It is called the Septuagint or LXX.
166 – 160 Judas Maccaheus leads revolt against the Seleucids.
1st century BCE Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabees are written.
7 BCE to 27 CE
(Common Era) Approximate time of life and maturity of Jesus.
49 1 Thessalonians, the first written work of the New Testament.
54 – 63 Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Philemon.
Mid to late 60s The Gospel of Mark, James.
70 Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.
70s – 80s Colossians, Matthew, Luke/Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter.
90 Pharisees, meeting of Jamnia, decide on the final version of the Hebrew Canon. (This may not be a settled archeological fact. I simply do not know!)
90s Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John, Revelation, Jude, Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy.
After 100 2 Peter.
200 The Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, Acts, and John are generally accepted as scripture.
500 The 27 books of the New Testament are in general acceptance in the Latin and Greek Churches.

Bible Time Standards

Bible Time
The Jewish night was divided into three watches, (Exodus 14:24) (Judges 7:19) (1 Samuel 11:11).

Under the Roman system, the period from sunrise to sunset had four watches in twelve hours, the sixth hour being at midday.
Here are the time divisions:
First watch – Sunset To 9 P. M.
Second Watch – 9 P. M. To Midnight
Third Watch – Midnight To 3 A. M.
Fourth Watch – 3 A. M. To Sunrise

First Watch – Sunrise To 9 A. M.
Second Watch – 9 A. M. – To Noon
Third Watch – Noon To 3 P. M.
Fourth Watch – 3 P.M. To Sunset

The year was based on a lunar-solar system. The Hebrew months were alternately 30 and 29 days long.
Their year, shorter than ours, had 354 days.
A supplementary month was added to correct the lag of the lunar cycle behind the solar cycle. About every 3 years (7 times in 19 years) an extra 29 – day month Ve-Adar,
was usually added before Nisan. After the exile, the Jews had adopted Babylonian names for the months.
(For much more detail on Biblical Time see: The New Jerusalem Bible, page 2076, “The Calendar”.)

The Four Sources of the Torah

Always refers to God by the name YHWH
(Jahwe in German), even back to the creation account in Genesis, Ch. 2. It is the oldest material in the Torah, ninth or tenth century BCE. It originated in Jerusalem. It frequently depicts God in anthropomorphic terms. Its main themes are the divine promise of land all the way to West of the Jordan, descendants unified in the twelve-tribe nation of greater Israel, blessing and fulfillment, and a focus on land later controlled by Judah. For J only the grace of God secures for humanity its future continued existence.

Derived from ‘elohim, a Hebrew word for God,
which is the most common name for God in this source. A main characteristic of this source is its using the same material in different versions called doublets. E gives the same material that appears in J a stronger theological and ethical meaning. It originated in the Northern Kingdom in the ninth or eighth century BCE before D insisted on only one sanctuary. Its characteristics include a northern setting for most of its narratives in Genesis (linking all the patriarchs with Beersheba), divine communication with humans by means of dreams or messengers, and an emphasis on prophecy.

The priestly source. It was created during the exile
or shortly after (sixth or fifth century BCE). It stresses Israelite ritual and religious observance. Because of this its narratives in Genesis are often etiological, offering examples for such observances as the Sabbath (Gen 2:2-3), circumcision (Gen 17:9-14), and dietary laws (Gen 9:4). As a priestly tradition, it describes in detail the Passover ritual, the ordination ceremonies, vestments of the high priest, the tabernacle, and its furnishings. But P never mentions the revelation of the law on Sinai. Prominence is given to Aaron over Moses. The P tradition unites the older material (J and E) through genealogies and a series of covenants with Noah, Abraham, and all of Israel at Sinai. P’s God is more transcendent and less anthropomorphic than J’s. It is P that has given the Torah its present shape, beginning with creation and ending with the death of Moses.

Stands for the author of Deuteronomy. This means “second law” in Greek, a mistranslation of the Hebrew words that mean “copy of the law”.
D mandates the centralization of the cult of YHWH and the suppression of all Canaanite cults, which other sources are more accepting of. It is identified with the book of the law discovered in 2 Kings 22:8 in 621 BCE.

Council of Trent, Fourth Session, Celebrated on the Eighth Day of April, 1546

Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures

The holy, ecumenical and general Council of Trent,
lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the same three legates of the Apostolic See presiding, keeps this constantly in view, namely, that the purity of the Gospel may be preserved in the Church after the errors have been removed. This [Gospel], of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures,1 our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature2 as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct. It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves,3 the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.

Following, then, the examples of the orthodox fathers, it receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church in unbroken succession. It has thought it proper, moreover, to insert in this decree a list of the sacred books, lest a doubt might arise in the mind of someone as to which are the books received by this council.4

They are the following: of the Old Testament, the five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first and second of Esdras, the latter of which is called Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter of 150 Psalms,Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, namely, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of Machabees, the first and second. Of the New Testament, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen Epistles of Paul the Apostle, to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the Apostle, three of John the Apostle, one of James the Apostle, one of Jude the Apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the Apostle.

If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema. Let all understand, therefore, in what order and manner the council, after having laid the foundation of the confession of faith, will proceed, and who are the chief witnesses and supports to whom it will appeal in conforming dogmas and in restoring morals in the Church

Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books

Moreover, the same holy council considering that not a little advantage will accrue to the Church of God if it be made known which of all the Latin editions of the sacred books now in circulation is to be regarded as authentic, ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.

Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions,5 presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation,6 has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published. Those who act contrary to this shall be made known by the ordinaries and punished in accordance with the penalties prescribed by the law.

And wishing, as is proper, to impose a restraint in this matter on printers also, who, now without restraint, thinking what pleases them is permitted them, print without the permission of ecclesiastical superiors the books of the Holy Scriptures and the notes and commentaries thereon of all persons indiscriminately, often with the name of the press omitted, often also under a fictitious press-name, and what is worse, without the name of the author, and also indiscreetly have for sale such books printed elsewhere, [this council] decrees and ordains that in the future the Holy Scriptures, especially the old Vulgate Edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible, and that it shall not be lawful for anyone to print or to have printed any books whatsoever dealing with sacred doctrinal mattes without the name of the author, or in the future to sell them, or even to have them in possession, unless they have first been examined and approved by the ordinary, under penalty of anathema and fine prescribed by the last Council of the Lateran.7

If they be regulars they must in addition to this examination and approval obtain permission also from their own superiors after these have examined the books in accordance with their own statutes. Those who lend or circulate them in manuscript before they have been examined and approved, shall be subject to the same penalties as the printers, and those who have them in their possession or read them, shall, unless they make known the authors, be themselves regarded as the authors. The approbation of such books, however, shall be given in writing and shall appear authentically at the beginning of the book, whether it be written or printed, and all this, that is, both the examination and the approbation, shall be done gratuitously, so that what ought to be approved may be approved and what ought to be condemned may be condemned.

Furthermore, wishing to repress that boldness whereby the words and sentences of the Holy Scriptures are turned and twisted to all kinds of profane usages, namely, to things scurrilous, fabulous, vain, to flatteries, detractions, superstitions, godless and diabolical incantations, divinations, the casting of lots and defamatory libels, to put an end to such irreverence and contempt, and that no one may in the future dare use in any manner the words of Holy Scripture for these and similar purposes, it is commanded and enjoined that all people of this kind be restrained by the bishops as violators and profaners of the word of God, with the penalties of the law and other penalties that they may deem fit to impose.

Announcement of the Next Session

Likewise, this holy council ordains and decrees that the next session will be held and celebrated on the Thursday after the next most sacred feast of Pentecost.


1 Jer. 31:22.
2 Matt. 28:19f.; Mark 16:15.
3 See II Thess. 2:14; c.%, D.XI.
4 For earlier lists, cf. Synod of Laodicea (end of IV cent.), c. 60, the genuineness of which canon however is contested (Hefele-Leclercq, Hist. des conciles, I, 1026); Synod of Rome (382) under Pope Damasus (Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 84); Synod of Hippo (393), c. 36, which the III Synod of Carthage (397) made its own in c.47 (idem, no. 92); Innocent I in 405 to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse (idem, no. 96); Eugene IV in the Council of Florence (Mansi, XXXI, 1736; Hardouin, IX, 1023f.). The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures.
5 St. Jerome, Comment. on Galatians, chap. 5, vers. 19-21, PL, XXVI, 445 (c.27, C.XXIV, q.3); c.39 (par. 70) ead.
6 Quinisext Council (692), c.19 (Mansi, XI, 951; Hardouin, III, 1667).
7 Cf. the bull “Inter sollicitudines,” Schroeder, Disciplinary Decrees of the General Councils, p. 504.