Athanasius thinks the Foundation is What?

Recently, David Waltz provided the following alleged quotation from Athanasius, which immediately caught my attention:

“Moreover, aside from these scriptural utterances, let us also consider the tradition and teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, that which the Lord has given, the apostles preached, and the fathers [596A] guarded. This is the foundation on which the Church is established, and the one who strays form it is not a Christian and should no longer be called so…”( Athanasius, Epistola I Ad Serapion – English trans. by Khaled Anatolis, Athanasius, Routledge: London, 2004, p. 227.)] (link to Waltz’s article)

Upon digging in to this quotation, I discovered an interesting fact: the phrase “aside from these scriptural utterances” is not literally present in the standard Greek and Latin texts of Athanasius’ letter to Serapion (ad Serapionem).

(click on the image for a larger size)

In case anyone is wondering, I am using the source text from which Anatolis translated (Migne). I’m not saying that Anatolis’ translation is bad – just not strictly literal. Taken within the broader context of what is being said, the translation is not necessarily bad. Taken out of context, though the translation is misleading. For the word “Scripture” – which is emphasized in Waltz’s argument – is not a word emphasized by Athanasius. Instead, it has been supplied to help the flow of the text by the translator. It’s really aimed at distinguishing the previous Scriptural statements about the Holy Spirit himself from the following about the Trinity. For within the same section (28) Athanasius immediately turns to Ephesians 4:6, Exodus 3:14, and Romans 9:5 – and concludes by establishing what the faith of the Church is by quoting the Lord’s words from Matthew 28:19. It is the baptismal formula and Ephesians 4:6 (over all, through all, in [you] all) that Athanasius calls the foundation of the Church’s faith (see the first part of section 29).

Thus, I think we have to conclude that Waltz’s tag line for the above quotation from Athanasius (“BTW, in the many citations that James provided in his essay from the corpus of Athanasius, he conviently [sic] left out this one”) was a bit misleading at best – for Athanasius not only was saying nothing contrary to Scripture – he was simply turning from one set of Scriptural doctrines to another.

Surely Athanasius does mention the universal church and its traditions – but he does so with respect to their continuing to observe the doctrine of Scripture – the doctrine of Matthew 28:19 and Ephesians 4:6. Thus, to suggest that such a quotation to which one must add not only an explanatory “Scriptures” but an emphasis on that interpolated word was “conv[en]iently left out” is rather absurd.

As an interesting aside, it was brought to my attention that William Webster has commented on this very quotation in his work Holy Scripture – The Ground and Pillar of our Faith, Vol. 2. p. 59. In that place Webster explains: “The tradition Athanasius refers to is the teaching of Christ in Matthew 28, which forms the foundation for the various creeds of the church and therefore the faith of the Church.”


2 Responses to “Athanasius thinks the Foundation is What?”

  1. Ken Temple Says:

    Good discussion ! Thanks for your diligence in finding the Greek on Athansius – they have Migne Patrology on line? As I wrote over at David Waltz blog,Shapland’s translation is better that Khaled Anatoli ‘s ; and Athanasius should be understood as saying, in the first phrase, “concerning these sayings on the Holy Spirit” — he is focused only on the person and nature of the Holy Spirit, on specifice texts about the Holy Spirit and not all 3 persons of the Trinity; in context he is arguing against the “Tropici”; who had problems with the 3rd person of the Trinity.The second phrase, “beyond these sayings” means beyond the verses that focus only on the 3rd person, the Holy Spirit; but now let us look at the Trinity, the verses that teach all three persons of the Trinity –Mattthew 28:19 and he uses Ephesians 4:6 in a Trinitarian way; this is the faith and tradition and teaching of the catholic church” — this agrees with Tertullian and Irenaeus in their rule of faith, which were “proto-Nicean” and “proto-Apostles Creed” doctrinal statements, all organized around the 3 parts of I believe in God the Father, I believe in Jesus the Son, and I believe in the Holy Spirit, etc. later they added, church, forgiveness of sins, and the eternal issues of judgment, heaven and the second coming.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Yes, Ken.* Migne’s is on-line, at least in part;* Shapland’s translation is more literal — actually Webster has a lengthy selection from Shapland’s translation in his book, which I cited in my update to the post;* I agree with what you’re saying about what Athanasius meant, which hopefully comes across in my post.- TurretinFan

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