The Recent Squirm of Mr. Marshall (by Pastor King)

(Post by Pastor David T. King)

Mr. Marshall’s having suddenly “bumped into a zinger” from the language of Augustine in De doctrina Christiana (Book I, 39, 34) indicates to us his own unfamiliarity with this ancient African theologian, especially in terms of the development of Augustine’s mature convictions regarding the necessity of Holy Scripture. A. D. R. Polman, who has written at length on Augustine’s view of Scripture, and how it developed, commented…

St. Augustine has discussed the necessity of Scripture on many occasions, and his discussions are an excellent illustration of what we have called his first and second stages. In the first stage he held that Scripture is needed constantly by the uneducated masses, but temporarily by the spiritual elite. In the second stage, however, he emphasized the need for Scripture of all believers on their pilgrimage. God’s Word has become a kind of bond with God, in which He has deliberately set down His promises to all generations, so that all mortals can read them and keep them (See Enarr. In Ps. 144, 17). This necessity is, however, restricted to mortal life. In the new heaven and on the new earth, God’s people will no longer need any writings, for here faith will have become the direct contemplation of the Divine Countenance. [FN1]

The passage from Augustine referenced by Polman is as follows…

Augustine (A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 145:13: The Lord is faithful in all his words, and holy in all his deeds. We might well have believed him if he had chosen only to speak to us, but he wanted us to have his scriptures to hold onto; it is like promising something to a friend and saying to him, “Don’t rely on word of mouth; I’ll put it in writing for you.” It was necessary for God’s written guarantee to endure as each generation comes and goes, as the centuries roll by and mortals give way to their successors. God’s own handwriting would be there for all the passers-by to read, so that they would keep the way of his promise. [FN2]

Other Romanists have likewise sought to exploit this passage from Augustine for apologetic “zingers,” such as G. Van Noort in his Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 115. While ignoring a plethora of passages from many ECFs, who emphasized repeatedly the need for Christians to read Holy Scripture (minimizing, for example, this emphasis found in Chrysostom), Van Noort “cherry-picked” the same passage from Augustine (which Mr. Marshall himself has “bumped into” in recent days) and attempted to represent Augustine’s view in a manner as to suggest that this ancient witness agrees with the modern day Romanist’s emphasis against the necessity of reading Holy Scripture. Roman Catholic Theologians such as Van Noort held Bible Societies in contempt, noting that, historically speaking, this has been the standard posture of the Roman Catholic Church: “It is hardly necessary to point out that Protestant Bible Societies have been condemned over and over again by the [Roman] Church in no uncertain terms.” [FN3] Examples can be found in the encyclicals of various popes, who refer to the translation and publishing work of Bible Societies (Whose efforts it has been to disseminate the Scriptures in the vernacular of the people) as “a pernicious plan,” “wickedness,” and thus “condemned.” [FN4] Having reflected on the history of the Roman Church’s interaction with the Latin Vulgate, the late patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan noted,

That twentieth-century affirmation of the prime authority of “the original texts of the sacred books” by Pope Pius XII [Divino afflante Spiritu] and then by the Second Vatican Council [Dei Verbum 6.22] may be seen as an ultimate vindication, more than four centuries later, of the sacred philology of the Renaissance and the Reformation. For although the humanists did urge that the corruptions of the Vulgate text, which had occurred through its transmission from one medieval copyist to another, made the production of a critical edition of the Latin text mandatory, their chief criticism was directed against the inadequacies, indeed the inaccuracies, of the Vulgate as such, which no collation of Latin manuscripts, however thorough, could be expected to set straight. [FN5]

But if this isolated reference of Augustine proves anything, as suggested by Van Noort (and now in recent days by Mr. Marshall), it proves too much. For if this indeed reflects the mature thought of Augustine, namely that these three virtues are all one needs, it would likewise, strictly speaking, effectively rule out the necessity of ‘unwritten traditions,’ any creed but ‘faith, hope, and love’ (which themselves have been normed by none other than Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. 13:13), as well as the Roman magisterium and the pope himself. Indeed, these three virtues would suffice for people out in the desert to the exclusion of the Church, her ministry of the sacraments, and the King of the Church himself, the Lord Jesus Christ! Augustine never intended his words to be construed with such a meaning, and especially with respect to his mature view of Holy Scripture. Thus the meaning which Mr. Marshall suggests to have gleaned from Augustine can by the same logic be pressed into service to misrepresent him in other ways, as demonstrated above. So, we cannot help but wonder if this consideration likewise registers “a zinger that [causes] even his own [Romanist] soul to squirm.”

FN1 A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God according to St. Augustine (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), p. 74.

FN2 John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 20, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Exposition of Psalm 144.17 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), pp. 393-394.

FN3 G. Van Noort, S.T.D., Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 119. See also Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed., trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 25-26, which indicates that Bible Societies were still under official Catholic proscription as late as 1977.

FN4 See the following papal encyclicals: Pius VII’s epistle Magno et acerbo, Leo XII’s Ubi primum, and Gregory XVI’s Inter praecipuas in Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, pp. 398-401, 409-410. Interestingly enough, Leo II repeats the prohibition of Trent against the distribution of Bibles in the common vernacular of the people in his encyclical Ubi primum. In his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism (p. 45), Keating is very misleading with respect to history when he suggests that “The Church had no complaint about mere translations of the Bible . . .” Certainly the Council of Trent was of another mind, as was Pius VII.

FN5 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Reformation of the Bible/The Bible of the Reformation, p. 15. The pertinent section in Dei Verbum 6.22 reads: “But since the Word of God must be readily available at all times, the Church, with motherly concern, sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. If it should happen that, when the opportunity presents itself and the authorities of the Church agree, these translations are made in a joint effort with the separated brethren, they may be used by all Christians.” See Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar And Post Conciliar Documents (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Vol. 1, p. 763.

As noted above, this post is by Pastor David T. King. This is part one of a two-part series in response to Mr. Marshall. The other part (by TurretinFan) will be posted, Lord Willing, tomorrow.

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