Archive for June, 2011

Dionysius of Alexandria Resolves a Schism

June 30, 2011

In leafing through St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letters and Treatises, I came across this interesting fragment of Dionysius’ “On the Promises,” preserved in Eusebius’ Church History. Dionysius (d. 265) wrote:

So being in the district of Arsenoe, where, as you know, this teaching prevailed long before, so that both schisms and the defection of whole churches have occurred, I called together the presbyters and teachers among the brethren in the villages, such of the brethren as wished being also present, and invited them publicly to make an examination of the matter. And when some brought forward against me this book as an impregnable weapon and bulwark, I sat with them three days in succession from dawn till evening and tried to correct the statements made. During which time I was much struck with the steadiness, the desire for truth, the aptness in following an argument and the intelligence displayed by the brethren, whilst we put our questions and difficulties and points of agreement in an orderly and reasonable manner, avoiding the mistake of holding jealously at any cost to what we had once thought, even though it should now be shown to be wrong, and yet not suppressing what we had to say on the other side, but, as far as possible, attempting to grapple with and master the propositions in hand without being ashamed to change one’s opinion and yield assent if the argument convinced us; conscientiously and unfeignedly, with hearts spread open before God, accepting what was established by the exposition and teaching of the holy Scriptures.

At last the champion and mouthpiece of this doctrine, the man called Coracion, in the hearing of all the brethren that were present agreed and testified to us that he would no longer adhere to it nor discourse upon it nor yet mention nor teach it, on the ground that he had been convinced by what had been said against it. And of the rest of the brethren some rejoiced at the conference and the reconciliation and harmonious arrangement which was brought about by it between all parties.

I found this interesting mostly because of the contrast between Scripture and tradition that Dionysius praises.

Now, admittedly, he has more reverence for tradition than some “Protestants” would:

I have learnt this also, that the brethren in Africa did not introduce this practice (of re-baptism) now for the first time, but it was also adopted some time ago among our predecessors as Bishops, in the most populous churches and well-attended synods of the brethren, viz. in Iconium and Synnada, and I cannot bring myself to reverse their decisions and involve them in strife and controversy. For “thou shalt not remove,” it says, “thy neighbour’s boundaries, which thy fathers set.”

But even that sentiment is a far cry from anything like elevating tradition to the level of Scripture. It’s just a willingness not to create needless controversy.

-TurretinFan

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A. A. Hodge on Natural Revelation

June 30, 2011

What is the distinction between natural and revealed theology?

Natural theology is that science which proposes to itself the solution of these two great questions, 1st, Does God exist? and 2d, What may be legitimately ascertained concerning the true nature of God in himself, and concerning his relations to man, from the principles of human reason and conscience, or from the evidences of God’s works, either in creation or providence. A distinction here must be carefully observed between that knowledge of God to which the human reason was able to attain by means of its own unassisted powers independently of revelation, e.g., the theology of Plato aud Cicero, and that knowledge of God which the human mind is now competent to deduco from the phenomena of nature under the clear light of a supernatural revelation, e.g., the theology of the modern rationalistic philosophers. Natural theology, as reached by unassisted reason, was fragmentary, inconsistent and uncertain. Natural theology, as appropriated and vindicated by reason under the clear light of revelation, is itself a strong witness to the truth and supernatural origin of that revelation.

Revealed theology, on the other hand, is that science which treats systematically, 1st, of the evidences authenticating the Christian revelation as from God; 2d, of the interpretation of the records which transmit that revelation to us; and 3d, of all the information furnished by those records of God and his relation to man, and of man and his relation to God.

A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, Chapter 2, Question 3, p. 38. (Cf. Bavinck)

Sometimes One Just Shakes One’s Head

June 28, 2011

Such as when one reads from Darryl Hart that “Maybe Mark Driscoll should turn Seattle into the Jerusalem of the Pacific Rim before setting up shop in Portland … .” What is he thinking?

I certainly don’t agree with Driscoll on everything (in fact, I almost certainly disagree more with him than with Hart in general), but Portland could use more godly churches – they could use more of the gospel. I assume this is some kind of joke to Hart, but the gospel shouldn’t be a joke.

If Portland was known as a place where no one tells his neighbor or brother, “Know the Lord,” for they all know him, then there would be a reason not to plant a new church there. But that doesn’t describe Portland, much though I wish it did.

Likewise, it is true that Seattle still can use more gospel preachers. Hart’s absolutely right that people don’t hear “Seattle” and think “gospel” like they do when they hear about the so-called “Bible Belt.” Nevertheless, there is a pressing need for more evangelization in Portland, and if Driscoll’s church is going to provide that, wonderful!

-TurretinFan

Justification by Faith Alone – An Affirmative Constructive

June 28, 2011

The topic of today’s debate is Justification by Faith Alone. Martin Luther viewed this as one of the most critical doctrines of the Reformation – and that was even before Trent! Now that Trent has made Rome irreformable on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it is impossible for Reformed and Roman churches to have communion.

However, we both claim that the Bible is authoritative, so let’s see what it tells us about Justification.

I. Justification is a Link in the Chain of Salvation
Romans 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

This verse teaches us that Justification isn’t the whole of salvation, just an important link in the chain between predestination and calling (on one side) and glorification (on the other side).

II. Justified by Christ’s Blood
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

The proper (and by proper, I mean formal) thing that justifies is the blood of Christ. It is His death that justifies us and assures us of salvation.

III. Not Justified by Doing the Law
Romans 2:12-13
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

These verses show us what doesn’t justify us. What doesn’t justify us is obeying the law. We can’t be righteous in the sight of God by obeying God’s law. So how then can we be justified in God’s eyes?

IV. Justification by Grace
Titus 3:7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

We are justified by grace. Of course, someone might say that grace can be complimentary to the law. In other words, you can be justified by grace and by the law. Thus, the comments about the law above would mean that we are not justified by the law alone, but by the law plus something else. So we can turn to the following:

V. Grace not Law
Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The answer to the question is a resounding “no.” It’s an either/or situation, not a both/and situation. You cannot seek to be justified by both. It’s either grace alone, or nothing.

We can see that again in:

VI. Justified by Christ not Personal Merit
Galatians 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

This one takes the opposite approach. It is asking whether you need both: do you need to be justified by Christ and by personal righteousness? The answer Paul gives is “no.” Now, how can you be justified by Christ by Grace?

The solution is:

VII. Justification by Faith
Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Romans 3:30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Galatians 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.

Each of these passages teaches us that justification is by or more properly (i.e. more precisely) through faith. In other words, faith is an instrumental means whereby we are justified.

And just so you can be sure that we are talking about the same kind of justification, we can see this confirmed:

VIII. Justification by Christ linked to faith
Acts 13:39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Notice that it is by Christ that those who believe are justified. They are justified from all things, from which the law couldn’t justify them. So, notice that the law / grace distinction is also a law / Christ distinction.

Justification is a declaration of righteousness, whereas the law produces a judgment of guilt. We can see that in an indirect way by looking at what the result of faith is – it is righteousness:

IX. The Righteousness that is By Faith
Hebrews 11:4-5
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Galatians 5:5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

Romans 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Notice that “obtained witness that he is righteous” and “God testifying of his gifts.” Moreover, notice how Noah is an “heir of the righteousness” which is by faith. Likewise, in the two passages in Romans, it is the “righteousness of God.”

But perhaps you might think that this righteousness is simply God enabling us to obey the law:

X. The Righteousness that is by Faith is not that which is of the law
Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Notice that Paul explicitly distinguishes the righteousness that is by faith, and personal righteousness, which Paul calls “mine own righteousness.”

Does the law have a place in connection with justification?

XI. The Law Points us to Christ, but Faith Justifies
Galatians 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Notice that the law of God is not completely cut out of the picture. It points to our own insufficiency, and consequently pushes us toward faith.

Nevertheless:

XII. Justification is by Faith, not Law
Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Galatians 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 3:27-28
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Romans 9:31-32
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

This should not come as a big surprise. In view of the Christ / law distinction and the grace / law distinction, the faith / law distinction should be almost common sense.

Indeed, grace and faith are linked:

XIII. Saved by Grace, through Faith
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Galatians 5:4-5
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

Romans 5:2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Notice that it is God’s grace and power that saves, but through faith. The point is that it is not of ourselves. This also, somewhat indirectly, rules out personal merit. If we were justified in part by personal merit it might be God’s grace and power but also of ourselves. The Scriptures explicitly exclude such an interpretation.

Yet there is a faith / works connection:

XIV. Faith leads us to Work Righteousness
Hebrews 11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

Hebrews 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Works are a fruit of faith. They aren’t what justify us in God’s sight, but they can show evidence to another man of our faith.

In other words, there can be another kind of justification:

XV. Justification – another Kind
Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

Luke 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

James 2:24-26
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

This kind of justification is justification in the eyes of men. In other words, will men condemn or praise us? Men praise Rahab because she acted.

But do the Scriptures contrast these two kinds of justification?

XVI. Contrast between two kinds of justification
1 Corinthians 4:3-4
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.

James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

Romans 4:2-5 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Notice how Paul distinguishes between the two kinds of justification, and how a comparison of James and Paul show us that they are talking about two different things. Some people seem to try to pit Paul against James and to claim that while Paul says Abraham is not justified by works, but by faith, James says the opposite. The better understanding is that James is talking about how we see faith, not about what justifies us in God’s eyes. Works never justify us in God’s eyes.

I should point out that it is not farfetched to think that “justified” can refer to something else besides the formal justification of man in God’s eyes. The Scriptures provide at least two other examples:

XVII. God Justified
Romans 3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

And:

XVIII. Wisdom Justified
Luke 7:35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.

Neither wisdom nor God is justified in the way that sinners are justified in God’s sight, but nevertheless the same word is used, because it relates to passing a favorable judgment.

That leads us to a simple definition of justification:

XIX. What is Justification? It is the Opposite of Guilt and Condemnation
Matthew 12:37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Romans 8:33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

And this is where we can sum up our positive Biblical presentation on Justification by Faith Alone. We have shown that the Scriptures teach this important doctrine, therefore, we ought to believe it.

-TurretinFan

P.S. The above is the affirmative constructive speech for a debate that was originally scheduled for today. Perhaps I’ll use it when the debate actually happens, or perhaps not. In any event, I welcome any comments on the arguments or criticism of the arguments, from anyone interested.

Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Responding to Barrett Turner

June 25, 2011

One of the Reformed criticisms of Rome is that she has placed herself above Scripture in various ways. She claims that her interpretation of Scripture is authentic and unchallengeable, that her dogmatic teachings (even when they are not interpretations of Scripture) are infallible and irreformable, and she claims that the Old Latin Vulgate embodies both the authentic canon and the authentic text.

It is this last claim that has recently received some attention. Barrett Turner, someone who left the church to join the Roman communion, has posted an item at the “Called to [Roman] Communion” titled: “Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Misinterpreting the Fourth Session.”

The basic outline of Mr. Turner’s article is that (1) there is a myth about what Trent did with respect to the Vulgate, (2) that Calvin is a (or perhaps the) perpetrator of that myth, and (3) that the myth is false.

In the rather lengthy post below, I will attempt to first identify what Trent actually said about the Vulgate. Then I will present Calvin’s comments on Trent’s decrees. After that, I will carefully scrutinize the charges made against Calvin by Mr. Turner. I will then provide an excerpt from a history of the Council of Trent to help frame the historical question. I will then conclude by providing some evidence in support of Calvin from the very mouths of notable Roman advocates of Trent.

There is a lot of narrative within the post relating to Mr. Turner’s own life story. This is probably quite important to him, but – of course – has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of his claims about Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate. I’ll pass over that de-conversion story material in relative silence, omitting it from my discussion as much as possible.

I. What Did Trent Do Regarding the Vulgate?

Trent made the Vulgate, not the Greek and Hebrew originals, the standard. We can see this in at least two ways:

1) Session Four, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

2) Session Four, Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.
… (this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible; and that it shall not be lawful for any one to print, or cause to be printed, any books whatever, on sacred matters, without the name of the author; nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary; under pain of the anathema and fine imposed in a canon of the last Council of Lateran …

What we can gather from these two items is that the Vulgate was viewed as the standard both for the canon and for the text. Moreover, both the canon of the Vulgate and the text of the Vulgate were not to be challenged. After all, you could not reject the text of the Vulgate “under any pretext whatever.”

II. What did Calvin Say about the Vulgate and Trent?

Calvin’s famous “Antidote to the Council of Trent” (written November 21, 1547) contains a section responding to the Fourth Session (from which the above excerpts were taken).

Calvin summarizes the fourth session this way:

There are four heads: First, they ordain that in doctrine we are not to stand on Scripture alone, but also on things handed down by tradition. Secondly, in forming a catalogue of Scripture, they mark all the books with the same chalk, and insist on placing the Apocrypha in the same rank with the others. Thirdly, repudiating all other versions whatsoever, they retain the Vulgate only, and order it to be authentic. Lastly, in all passages either dark or doubtful, they claim the right of interpretation without challenge.

His response on the third part, is a little long, but should be provided in full as context:

In condemning all translations except the Vulgate, as the error is more gross, so the edict is more barbarous. The sacred oracles of God were delivered by Moses and the Prophets in Hebrew, and by the Apostles in Greek. That no corner of the world might be left destitute of so great a treasure, the gift of interpretation was added. It came to pass — I know not by what means, but certainly neither by judgment nor right selection — that of the different versions, one became the favourite of the unlearned, or those at least who, not possessing any knowledge of languages, desired some kind of help to their ignorance. Those, on the other hand, who are acquainted with the languages perceive that this version teems with innumerable errors; and this they make manifest by the clearest evidence. On the other hand, the Fathers of Trent contend, that although the learned thus draw the pure liquor from the very fountain, and convict the infallible Vulgate of falsehood, they are not to be listened to. No man possessed of common sense ever presumed to deprive the Church of God of the benefit of learning. The ancients, though unacquainted with the languages, especially with Hebrew, always candidly acknowledge that nothing is better than to consult the original, in order to obtain the true and genuine meaning. I will go further. There is no man of ordinary talent who, on comparing the Vulgate version with some others, does not easily see that many things which were improperly rendered by it are in these happily restored. The Council, however, insists that we shall shut our eyes against the light that we may spontaneously go astray.

Who could have imagined they would be so senseless as thus boldly to despise the judgments of good men, and hesitate not to make themselves odious and detestable to all? Those who were aware that they had nothing useful in view, were yet persuaded that they would make some show of it to the world, and assign to some of their sworn adherents the task of executing a new version. In this instance, however, they use no deceit. They not only order us to be contented with a most defective translation, but insist on our worshipping it, just as if it had come down from heaven; and while the blemishes are conspicuous to all, they prohibit us from desiring any improvement. Behold the men on whose judgment the renovation of the Church depends!

It were tedious beyond measure to mark the passages erroneously and absurdly rendered. So far is there from being an entire page, that there are scarcely three continuous verses without some noted blunder. As a specimen, let the Book of Psalms suffice, in which I will touch on a few examples in passing, more to give my readers a sample which may dispose them to ascertain for themselves, than to give full information. In the second Psalm is the well-known exhortation, “Kiss the Son.” For this the Vulgate has, “Lay hold of discipline!” There is no resemblance. While the former is clearly correct, why should the latter be held the more authentic? The Vulgate interpreter has,

“Sons of man, how long will you with a heavy heart?” while the Hebrew has nothing like this, but, “How long will ye turn my glory into shame?” (Psalm 4:3.)

Where David complains that his sap was turned into the drought of summer, (Psalm 32:4,) the translator has substituted, “I am turned in my sorrow till the thorn is fixed.” Again, in another verse, “In their mouths is bit and bridle to prevent them from approaching thee;” but the translator says, “With hook and rein curb the jaws of those who do not draw near unto thee.” And what are we to understand by “lungs filled with illusions,” in Psalm 38?

But I act imprudently in entering a boundless forest; I will therefore confine myself to a single Psalm. It will be the sixty-eighth. There David, among the other praises of God, mentions this also, that he makes the single to dwell in a house, i.e., enriches the solitary and childless with a family. The translator substitutes, that he makes them “of one manner.” The next words are, “He places the rebellious in a dry parched place.” For this the translator has, “In like manner those who exasperate; who dwell in the tombs.” Afterward, where the meaning is perfectly obvious in the words of David, the translator makes a riddle fit to puzzle an OEdipus. David says, “The kings of armies have fled, have fled, and the dwellers of the house, i.e., the women who remained at home, have divided the spoil.” The translator says, “The king, the virtue of the beloved, beloved, and houses of appearance, have divided the spoil.” A little further on, “Though ye have slept among the pots;” translator, “among the clergy!” “To look up to the piled mountains” he substitutes for, “To envy the fertile mountains.” Where the Hebrew original has, “Even the rebellious, that God the Lord may dwell,” the translator has, “Even those not believing that God the Lord dwells.” Again, when the literal meaning is, “I will bring back from Bashan, I will bring back from the depths of the sea,” the translator gives the very opposite, “I will turn from Bashan, I will turn into the depth of the sea.” Again, “There is little Benjamin their ruler.” The translator (I know not what he was thinking of) says, “In excess of mind.” I have gone over the half of the Psalm or rather more. What monstrosities do my readers already perceive!

And yet, to confess the truth, there is an excuse for the Latin translator, who gave the meaning of the Greek version as exactly as he could. But who can tolerate those blunderers, who would rob the Church of the gift of interpretation, and thus, as it were, close up the entrance, that none might have access to the pure meaning of David? Add, that they not only prefer the ignorance and blunders of their interpreters to the true renderings of others, but there is no hallucination, however gross, to which they will not give the power of a divine oracle. There is an example of this in Psalm 132. The Lord there promises that he will bless the food of his people. Some luscious priestling, reading the c and t as one letter, makes the word vidum; but as there is no such word, the insertion of a letter introduced a new reading, which prevails throughout the Papacy, and hence there is no church in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany, in which they do not with loud voice bawl out, “His widow blessing, I will bless.” And so attentive and clear-sighted are they, that none of them has observed the ridiculous corruption. But it is not strange that, when they rob us of the word for bread, they introduce the mention of widowhood, since the object on which they are wholly bent is cruelly to bereave souls of the bread of heavenly life. What! are they not ashamed to make the Vulgate version of the New Testament authoritative, while the writings of Valla, Faber, and Erasmus, which are in everybody’s hands, demonstrate with the finger, even to children, that it is vitiated in innumerable places? In the first chapter of the Romans the translator calls Christ “the predestinated Son of God.” Those not acquainted with Greek are at a loss to explain this term, because, properly speaking, only things which do not yet exist are predestinated; whereas Christ is the eternal Son of God. There is no difficulty in the Greek word, which means “declared.” I have given one example. It were needless labor to give others. In one word, were this edict of the Council sanctioned, the simple effect would be, that the Fathers of Trent would make the world look with their eyes open, and yet not see the light presented to them.

III. What Charge is Placed against Calvin? and what grounds support it?

Mr. Turner makes the following claims about Calvin:

In reading Calvin’s Antidote (1547) to the Council of Trent, I found him accusing the Council of exalting the Latin Vulgate with the intention of shutting the mouth of the true reformers such as himself. … For Calvin, the Tridentine decree is a sure sign of the Catholic Church’s ignorance, imprudence, insecurity, and malice. According to Calvin, Trent swept away the need for studying Greek and Hebrew in marking the Vulgate as the authentic text of the Church. Yet Calvin has read more into the decree than the decree says. Calvin, a man with a great talent for sober and elegant writing and interpretation, here gave way to impassioned “eisegesis” of what Trent really said.

One might expect to immediately see a detailed “exegesis” of the text of Trent, but before turning to the words of Trent, Mr. Turner offers several arguments:

1) “Trent nowhere forbids the use of the original languages, …”
It says “no one is to dare, or presume to reject [the Vulgate] under any pretext whatever.” That would appear to include rejecting it based on it differing from the Greek and Hebrew.
2) ” … as if St. Jerome had not used them to revise the Old Latin texts or make his own translations.”
That’s not really in dispute, nor particularly relevant to what Trent said, except as a condemnation of Trent’s actions.
3) “One may add here that certain Reformers were perhaps overly optimistic about their Hebrew text or even about the manuscripts of the New Testament which they currently had in their possession. Modern biblical scholarship, especially after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has deemed various Greek translations of the Old Testament to more accurately preserve the Hebrew Vorlage than the Masoretic text in some books. Further, the New Testament text used by early Protestant translators as the basis for the Geneva and the King James Bibles, the so-called textus receptus, no longer has priority in critical editions of the New Testament, such as Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece. Modern vernacular Bibles therefore no longer use the textus receptus as their base text.”
a) This is a red herring. Even if we take this as true, it’s simply a matter of further scholarship helping us to better access the originals. It’s not as though the Dead Sea Scrolls vindicated the bulk Vulgate’s departures from the Masoretic text of the Old Testament or from the Textus Receptus.
b) In fact, critical scholarship has cast doubt on parts of the traditional Vulgate text, just as it has cast doubts on the textus receptus. So, if critical scholarship is trustworthy, the Vulgate that Trent deemed “authentic” is even less close to being authentic than the Reformers suspected.
c) As a minor correction, in fact there are a number of modern versions of the Bible that rely on the textus receptus in the New Testament, including the New King James Version.
4) “What a benefit it is to the Church to have the faith passed down both by a written mode and by the mode of Tradition, such that the faith does not depend on the vicissitudes of textual discovery!”
a) Obviously, this again is a tangential remark – a red herring.
b) Oral transmission is beset by much worse vicissitudes than written transmission, as can be seen by such an elementary example as playing “telephone” or “grapevine” at a party. Oral transmission is much less reliable than written transmission, in general.
c) The Vulgate represents a written tradition, not an oral one. It contained a measure of corruption.
d) The Tridentine decree is considered “tradition” (now) but it is not something passed down from the apostles. The apostles never taught that the Vulgate is authentic, nor did they use the Vulgate as their standard.
e) And, of course, Trent did not have access to reliable oral traditions that confirmed the authenticity of the Vulgate text as opposed to the text of the Hebrew OT and Greek NT. So, as I said I said at (a), this is a red herring.
5) “The manuscript discoveries misused by the Reformers in articulating their principle of sola scriptura do not give God’s people the faith. Rather, the valid critical study of manuscripts supports the faith but does not establish it.”
a) The Bible does give and does establish the faith. The Bible says so.
b) Like the other arguments, this is a red herring.
c) There seems to be some confusion in this argument. The Reformers doctrine of sola Scriptura was both Biblical and historical. It did not hinge on manuscript discoveries.
6) “Rather, the valid critical study of manuscripts supports the faith but does not establish it.”
Perhaps so, but this is a red herring.
7) “The Catholic Church made the Vulgate the official version of the Church without prejudice to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts.”
a) Trent declared the Vulgate to be authentic. But the Vulgate differs on a number of points (as Calvin preliminarily sketched above) from the original texts. Therefore, by declaring the Vulgate authentic, the original texts were condemned where they differed from the Vulgate.
b) The issue Calvin is making is not necessarily about individual manuscripts, but the original text behind the manuscripts – the text that manuscripts testify to.
8) “The Reformers were not the only problem on the Council’s agenda but were merely one symptom of an underlying need for reform. Trent set out to reform the Church, and all its decisions against Protestant formulations or preferences must be kept within that context. If one were to make Trent a narrow reaction against Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists, one would fail to appreciate the intent of the Fathers of the council and their enduring success in reorganizing and focusing the Catholic reform, which had started before Luther ever thought to instigate a revolt against the Church. Trent was concerned with strengthening the Church through clerical and liturgical reform in addition to clarifying the doctrine of the faith over against Protestant errors.”
This could be called the “Reformers were so vain, they probably thought that Trent was about them, didn’t they” argument. But what was the “underlying need for reform”? Actually, Trent is probably best viewed as attempting to address an amalgamation of issues, but amongst those certainly was this one, expressed in pope Paul III’s bull of indiction for the council:

Whereas we deemed it necessary that there should be one fold and one shepherd, for the Lord’s flock in order to maintain the Christian religion in its integrity, and to confirm within us the hope of heavenly things; the unity of the Christian name was rent and well-nigh torn asunder by schisms, dissensions, heresies.

The opening decree of the council similarly states:

Doth it please you,–unto the praise and glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost ; for the increase and exaltation of the Christian faith and religion; for the extirpation of heresies; for the peace and union of the Church; for the reformation of the Clergy and Christian people; for the depression and extinction of the enemies of the Christian name,–to decree and declare that the sacred and general council of Trent do begin, and hath begun?

They answered: It pleaseth us.

So there may have been a variety of issues, but the Reformation (characterized as schism and heresy) was one of the major concerns of Trent. Calvin and the Reformers were justified in thinking that Trent was attempting to deal with them.

8) “[A priest Mr. Turner met a conference] told me that the decree was above all aimed at standardizing the Latin text of the Bible for the Church, especially the Latin Rite. The problem was not the use of Greek and Hebrew by the Reformers, as embarrassing as that was for some Catholic polemical authors.”
a) The part that was related to the standardizing of the text was the last piece of what I’ve identified above as the second item. That wasn’t the primary aim.
b) The primary aim was to avoid people questioning the standard text, just as they were not to question the canon.

9) “After all, scholars who remained within the Catholic Church had begun to use the original languages before Protestants started openly defying the Church’s leadership and traditions.”
This is the start of a longish section of the argument. But what happened in Europe before the Reformation does not necessarily tell us what Trent meant.

10) At this point, Mr. Turner cites Cardinal Ximenes who produced the amazing Complutensian Polyglot.
a) Of course, this took place before Trent, not after Trent.
b) The council did not accept Cardinal Ximines’ view of the canon (namely that the so called deuterocanonical books are not of the same authority). There’s no good reason to suppose that thy agreed with his view regarding the need to correct the Vulgate from the original languages.

11) Erasmus is also alluded to for his work on the Greek New Testament.
However, Erasmus’ work did not receive uniform praise from Rome. In fact, at one point (after Trent, if I recall correctly) all his works were placed on the index of prohibited books. So, again, his views are not necessarily a good indication of what Trent thought.

12) Next, Mr. Turner quotes from Benedict XVI, but this quotation has little to do with the topic at hand, except allegedly showing a high regard for Scripture.

13) “To see that Catholic biblical scholarship did not cease with the hardening of the Protestant schism but that it could attain linguistic and theological heights on the other side of Trent, one need only read the work of Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637), the great Jesuit commentator, priest, and professor of Hebrew.”
a) But Mr. Turner provides no comments from Monsieur à Lapide (who was a boy of 10 when Calvin wrote his antitode) as to whether the Vulgate can be corrected from the original languages.
b) Moreover, when Monsieur à Lapide reaches the pericope of the Woman caught in adultery, he acknowledges the silence of the Greeks and Syrians on this, but insists that the pericope is canonical on the authority of Trent (see his commentary on John 8, at verse 4).
c) He also attempts to justify the Vulgate’s translation at Genesis 3:15 (see his commentary at that point).
d) Likewise, Monsieur à Lapide is sure that the Comma Johanneum is canonical.
e) Where does Monsieur à Lapide ever acknowledge that the Vulgate can and should be corrected from the Greek and Hebrew? If he were going to make such an admission, one would expect it at at least one of three instances above.

14) “In this way, the Catholic priest I met at the conference prepared me to see that the first decree of Trent’s fourth session was clarified by the second decree. The second decree shows that the primary intention of Trent was to identify one standard Latin edition of the Bible for the Latin-speaking Church to use in the liturgy and in scholastic disputation. “
Actually, the priest is just suggesting to let the second part of the decree be read and the other ignored.

15) “The reluctance of the Council to ban translations of the Bible into vernacular languages opened the door for translations such as the Reims New Testament (1582) and the entire Douai-Reims Bible (1609-1610).”
a) Those translations were made from the Latin Vulgate.
b) The use of those translations was restricted initially.

16) Next, Mr. Turner quotes a translation of the Acts of the Council (namely the second item, which I have already quoted above, from a better translation).

17) “We should see three things in this decree. First, we see that the primary intention of the council was to standardize the Latin text of the Church.”

a) Actually the primary intention was to do for the text what was being done for the canon. The canon had been identified, now the authentic text needed to be identified.
b) A secondary concern (to effectuate that primary concern) was that the authentic text be published.

18) “Remember that the context of Trent is overall reform, not merely smashing Protestantism. In this light, we see a Council eager to correct the problem of the multiplication of Latin translations and editions in Medieval Europe. The proliferation was caused by the sloppy transmission of the Latin manuscripts of Sacred Scripture as well as isolated attempts by scholars and bishops to revise the Latin texts they received, whether of the Old Latin, Jerome’s Vulgate, or some eclectic amalgamation.”
a) That’s not all false, of course. There were concerns about the fact that there were a lot of different versions of the Vulgate circulating.
b) However, the point was to establish an authentic text.

19) “Second, the council approved the Latin because Latin was the common language of the educated classes, both ecclesiastical and lay, in Europe for centuries.”
While it is true that Latin was the language in which educated men wrote in that era, there is no indication from the council that this is the reason that a Latin text was selected. This is a creative idea by Mr. Turner, but not one that has factual support.

20) “It was thus the “common” [vulgatus] language of the Western Church. This is the reason why St. Jerome’s translation was initially called the Vulgate, because it was in the “vulgar” tongue, much like koine Greek was the “common” or “vulgar” language of the Mediterranean world at the time of the Gospel.”
a) Jerome’s translation and the New Testament’s language were both suited to the masses, not simply to an educated elite.
b) The Vulgate was not suited to the masses by the time of Trent.

21) “Due to the Church’s use of the Vulgate over the centuries in liturgy, theology, and devotion, she was eager to preserve that translation tradition.”
No doubt this is true. She was also eager to prevent anyone from criticizing the Vulgate.

22) “She did not want to dump the Latin altogether while she was open to using the original languages to maintain continuity with the past.”
That openness was not expressed in the decree. Moreover, there is not much room for openness when you forbid anyone to reject the Vulgate.

23) “Most Protestant theologians did not do away with Latin either but continued to write their theological treatises in that language for centuries, presumably for the same reasons of a common language allowing for communication both across national or ethnic lines and for keeping touch with the Latin Fathers of the Church.”
a) Protestant theologians alleged that the Hebrew OT and Greek NT Scriptures were authentic. They did not allege that the Vulgate was authentic (quite the opposite).
b) But yes, Latin continued to be the language of the educated and a way of permitting international communication for many years to come.

24) “Third, the council provides a way to achieve this reform in decreeing that a “thorough revision” of the Latin Bible is to be made.”
a) Mr. Turner has here erred by relying on an inaccurate translation. The word “emendatissime” does not refer to a thorough revision, but rather is an adverb that describes how the printing is to be done. The printing is to be done carefully or in a way that is free from errors. Perhaps Mr. Turner’s translation thought “after a thorough revision” conveyed that thought, but “emendatissime” does not itself carry the notion that a revision to the text is being proposed. In other words, the printing was to be done in careful adherence to the Vulgate (although perhaps the word was intended to acknowledge that it would take some work to provide that carefully restored Vulgate to the printer – in hindsight it took an enormous effort: over forty years between the decree and the printing of the Clementine Vulgate).
b) And even if it did imply a revision to the text, it does not imply that the revision is being made from the original languages.

25) “The council does not deny what everyone already knew, namely, that the text of the Vulgate had been corrupted in places by transmission errors.”
a) The council’s point is to identify an authentic text, not a corrupt text.
b) They do acknowledge that there are Latin versions that contain variations, but they don’t acknowledge errors in the “vetus et vulgata editio.”
c) The reformers, including Calvin, hammered them for the errors in the Vulgate, as can be seen from his comments quoted above.

26) “Enshrining the Vulgate as the “authentic” edition does not mean that the Vulgate cannot be revised in light of the best Latin manuscripts or that one may never correct the Latin text using the Hebrew or Greek manuscript traditions.”
a) Revising an authentic text is a strange notion indeed. If you change the authentic text, you render it _______. I think everyone knows that the answer is not “better” but “inauthentic.”
b) Revising the authentic text would also entail rejecting the authentic text. But the council specifically prohibits anyone from rejecting on any pretext whatsoever. There is no exception for claiming that the authentic text does not accurately convey the Hebrew and Greek.

27) “In this openness to humanistic textual criticism, the Tridentine Fathers order that the Vulgate be corrected after the Council such that one version attaining as closely as possible to Jerome’s original translation would find universal use.”
a) It’s not specifically Jerome’s translation, but the Vulgate, which is largely based on his translation. However, in some parts, for example in the Psalms, it is not his translation.
b) This decree specifically indicates that the Vulgate be carefully printed. That means first identifying the Vulgate, and then printing it. It does not mean that an existing text called “the Vulgate” is to be corrected of its errors.
c) And certainly even this characterization confesses that the Greek and Hebrew are being passed over in favor the Latin.

28) “The employment of Greek and Hebrew to correct the Latin was not forbidden in any way.”
a) … except, of course, as a basis upon which to reject the text of the Vulgate. No one was allowed to reject the text of the Vulgate for any reason.
b) And that exception is the whole point.

29) “The revision of the Vulgate was completed under popes Sixtus V and Clement the VIII and published in 1598. The Church has again endorsed a revision of the Vulgate as the authentic version for the Latin rite in liturgical and theological use. The letter in which John Paul the Great promulgated this Nova Vulgata (“New Vulgate”) edition in 1979 can be found here. The history of these revisions are interesting but too complicated to rehearse here.”
a) John Paul II doesn’t even mention Trent in his letter.
b) What John Paul II did in authorizing the New Vulgate was arguably contrary to this decree of Trent. In fact, I believe I have argued that elsewhere.

30) Next, Mr. Turner goes to Pius XII for his comments from Divino Afflante Spiritu.
This 20th century encyclical (30 September 1943) asserts various things about the Council of Trent’s authenticity claim. Mr. Turner provides the translation from Vatican website, but I’ll quote from the English translation of Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma.

But that the Synod of Trent wished the Vulgate to be the Latin version “which all should use as authentic,” applies, as all know, to the Latin Church only, and to the public use of Scripture, and does not diminish the authority and force of the early texts. For at that time no consideration was being given to early texts, but to the Latin versions which were being circulated at that time, among which the Council decreed that that version was rightly to be preferred which was approved by the long use of so many centuries within the Church. So this eminent authority of the Vulgate, or, as it is expressed, authenticity, was established by the Council not especially for critical reasons, but rather because of its authorized use in the Church continued through the course of so many centuries; and by this use it is demonstrated that this text, as the Church has understood and understands, in matters of faith and morals is entirely free of error, so that, on the testimony and confirmation of the Church herself, in discussions, quotations, and meetings it can be cited safely and without danger of error; and accordingly such authenticity is expressed primarily not by the term critical but rather juridical. Therefore, this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine does not at all prevent—rather it almost demands today—this same doctrine being called upon for help, whereby the correct meaning of Sacred Scripture may daily be made clearer and be better explained. And not even this is prohibited by the decree of the Council of Trent, namely, that for the use and benefit of the faithful in Christ and for the easier understanding of divine works translations be made into common languages; and these, too, from the early texts, as we know has already been praiseworthily done with the approval of the authority of the Church in many regions.

a) Of course, the writings of Pius XII reflect the embarrassment of Rome in the wake of the rise in popularity of the textual critical movement. They reflect Rome’s attempt to damage control by trying to spin the decree of Trent in such a way that makes it appear less obviously in error.

b) But is this spin the truth or error? Can it be supported? Mr. Turner does not make any attempt to support Pius XII’s claims, he merely attempts to bolster them by identifying them as teachings of “The Magisterium of the Catholic Church” (which is what papal teachings get called when Rome’s apologists agree with them, not when they disagree with them).

c) “But that the Synod of Trent wished the Vulgate to be the Latin version “which all should use as authentic,” applies, as all know, to the Latin Church only, and to the public use of Scripture, and does not diminish the authority and force of the early texts.”
i) There is no limitation in the decree either only to “the Latin Church” or only to public use.
ii) If the early texts cannot be used to correct the errors of the Vulgate, their authority and force is diminished. And they cannot be used to correct the errors of of the Vulgate, according to what Trent said.

d) “For at that time no consideration was being given to early texts, but to the Latin versions which were being circulated at that time, among which the Council decreed that that version was rightly to be preferred which was approved by the long use of so many centuries within the Church.”
i) It is true that the text of the decree does not specify anything about early texts.
ii) Nevertheless, no exception for the early texts is made to Trent’s decree that the Vulgate not be rejected on any grounds at all.

e) “So this eminent authority of the Vulgate, or, as it is expressed, authenticity, was established by the Council not especially for critical reasons, but rather because of its authorized use in the Church continued through the course of so many centuries; and by this use it is demonstrated that this text, as the Church has understood and understands, in matters of faith and morals is entirely free of error, so that, on the testimony and confirmation of the Church herself, in discussions, quotations, and meetings it can be cited safely and without danger of error; and accordingly such authenticity is expressed primarily not by the term critical but rather juridical.”
i) Now is as good a place as any to point out that in Mr. Turner’s paper this is the solitary example of “scholarship” from the ranks of Roman scholarship on the actual question of the meaning of Trent’s decree.
ii) Nevertheless, this is an opinion expressed by more than a few Roman writers, particularly in the late 19th and 20th centuries, as the science of textual criticism continued to undermine the text of the Vulgate.
iii) But is this the case? Recall that the Council had alleged that the Vulgate in “all its parts” is to be accepted as canonical. That sounds like a critical-type determination, not merely a juridical one.
iv) Moreover, the hypothesis that “authentic” meant merely “free from doctrinal or moral error” is open to serious question. Pius XII does not justify this assertion, just as he does not justify his other assertions. We shall see reasons to question these assertions below.

f) “Therefore, this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine does not at all prevent—rather it almost demands today—this same doctrine being called upon for help, whereby the correct meaning of Sacred Scripture may daily be made clearer and be better explained.”
i) Notice the cleverness of this statement. On the one hand, Pius XII is not saying that errors in the Vulgate can be corrected. On the other hand, he is saying that the correct meaning can be made clearer.
ii) One wonders if this cleverness is intentional or not. You will notice that throughout the quotation Pius XII does not admit that there are errors in the Vulgate that need to be corrected. On the other hand, he does seem to recognize that the study of the “early texts” can be beneficial.
iii) And, of course, even if the Vulgate is one’s authentic text, perhaps ambiguities in the Latin could be clarified from study of extraneous texts, for example. In other words, there is not necessarily an inherent contradiction between this statement from Pius XII and text of Trent.

In fact, this part of Pius XII’s statement looks a lot like the more traditional opinion expressed by Leo XIII in Providentissiums Deus (1893):

Since there is need of a definite method of carrying on interpretation profitably, let the prudent teacher avoid either of two mistakes, that of those who give a cursory glance to each book, and that of those who delay too long over a certain part of one. . . . [The teacher] in this [work] will take as his text the Vulgate version, which the Council of Trent decreed [see n. 785] should be considered as authentic in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, and which the daily custom of the Church commends. Yet account will have to be taken of the remaining versions which Christian antiquity has commended and used, especially of the very ancient manuscripts. For although, as far as the heart of the matter is concerned, the meaning of the Hebrew and the Greek is well elucidated in the expressions of the Vulgate, yet if anything is set forth therein with ambiguity, or if without accuracy “an examination of the preceding language” will be profitable, as Augustine advises.

(translation via the English of Denzinger)

Notice how Leo allows the use of the Hebrew and the Greek, not to correct the Vulgate, but to resolve ambiguities in the Latin.

g) “And not even this is prohibited by the decree of the Council of Trent, namely, that for the use and benefit of the faithful in Christ and for the easier understanding of divine works translations be made into common languages; and these, too, from the early texts, as we know has already been praiseworthily done with the approval of the authority of the Church in many regions.”
i) In fact, the Council of Trent does not explicitly forbid anyone from making Bibles translated exclusively from Amaharic texts or from making translations of the Gnostic apocrypha. There are numerous things that the Council of Trent does not explicitly forbid.
ii) Of course, the Council of Trent did prohibit anonymous theological works: “that it shall not be lawful for any one to print, or cause to be printed, any books whatever, on sacred matters, without the name of the author”
iii) and the Council of Trent did prohibit publishing (or even owning) religious books without permission: “nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary.”
iv) But that does not mean that these books in the common tongue ever were deemed to have the same authority as or greater authority than the Vulgate. In other words, this is just a red herring.

Or consider some of the comments of Pius VII:

1602 We were overcome with great and bitter sorrow when We learned that a pernicious plan, by no means the first, had been undertaken, whereby the most sacred books of the Bible are being spread everywhere in every vernacular tongue, with new interpretations which are contrary to the wholesome rules of the Church, and are skillfully turned into a distorted sense. For, from one of the versions of thissort already presented to Us we notice that such a danger exists against the sanctity Of purer doctrine, so that the faithful might easily drink a deadly poison from those fountains from which they should drain “waters of saving wisdom” [ Sirach. 15:3 ]. . . .

1603 For you should have kept before your eyes the warnings which Our predecessors have constantly given, namely, that, if the sacred books are permitted everywhere without discrimination in the vulgar tongue, more damage will arise from this than advantage. Furthermore, the Roman Church, accepting only the Vulgate edition according to the well-known prescription (see n.785 f.) of the Council of Trent, disapproves the versions in other tongues and permits only those which are edited with the explanations carefully chosen from writings of the Fathers and Catholic Doctors, so that so great a treasure may not be exposed to the corruptions of novelties, and so that the Church, spread throughout the world, may be “of one tongue and of the same speech” [Gen. 11:1].

1604 Since in vernacular speech we notice very frequent interchanges, varieties, and changes, surely by an unrestrained license of Biblical versions that changelessness which is proper to the divine testimony would be utterly destroyed, and faith itself would waver, when, especially, from the meaning of one syllable sometimes an understanding about the truth of a dogma is formed. For this purpose, then, the heretics have been accustomed to make their low and base machinations, in order that by the publication of their vernacular Bibles, (of whose strange variety and discrepancy they, nevertheless, accuse one another and wrangle) they may, each one, treacherously insert their own errors wrapped in the more holy apparatus of divine speech. “For heresies are not born,” St. Augustine used to say, “except when the true Scriptures are not well understood and when what is not well understood in them is rashly and boldly asserted.” * But, if we grieve that men renowned for piety and wisdom have, by no means rarely, failed in interpreting the Scriptures, what should we not fear if the Scriptures, translated into every vulgar tongue whatsoever, are freely handed on to be read by an inexperienced people who, for the most part, judge not with any skill but with a kind of rashness? . . .

1605 Therefore, in that famous letter of his to the faithful of the Church at Meta, Our predecessor, Innocent III, * quite wisely prescribes as follows: “In truth the secret mysteries of faith are not to be exposed to all everywhere, since they cannot be understood by all everywhere, but only by those who can grasp them with the intellect of faith. Therefore, to the more simple the Apostle says: “I gave you milk to drink as unto little ones in Christ, not meat” [ 1 Cor. 3:2]. For solid food is for the elders, as he said: “We speak wisdom . . . among the perfect” [1 Cor 2:6]; “for I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified” [ 1 Cor. 2:2 ]. For so great is the depth of Divine Scripture that not only the simple and the unlettered, but even the learned and prudent are not fully able to explore the understanding of it. Therefore, Scripture says that many “searching have failed in their search” [Ps. 63:7].

1606 “So it was rightly stated of old in the divine law, that even the beast which touched the mountain should be stoned” [ Heb. 12:20 ;Exod. 19:12] lest, indeed, any simple and ignorant person should presume to reach the sublimity of Sacred Scripture, or to preach it to others. For it is written:Seek not the things that are too high for thee [ Sir 3:22 ] Therefore, the Apostle warns “not to be more wise than it behooveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety” [Rom. 12:3]. But, noteworthy are the Constitutions, not only of Innocent III, just mentioned, but also of Pius IV, * Clement VIII, * and Benedict XIV * in which the precaution was laid down that, if Scripture should be easily open to all, it would perhaps become cheapened and be exposed to contempt, or, if poorly understood by the mediocre, would lead to error. But, what the mind of the Church is in regard to the reading and interpretation of Scripture your fraternity may know very clearly from the excellent Constitution of another of Our predecessors, CLEMENT XI, “Unigenitus,” in which those doctrines were thoroughly condemned in which it was asserted that it is useful and necessary to every age, to every place, to every type of person to know the mysteries of Sacred Scripture, the reading of which was to be open to all, and that it was harmful to withdraw Christian people from it, nay more, that the mouth of Christ was closed for the faithful when the New Testament was snatched from their hands [Propositions of Quesnel 79-85; n.1429-1435].

(Letter “Magno et acerbo” to the Archbishop of Mohileff, September 3, 1816)(Numbering and translation from the English of Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma)

Note that while Pius VII doesn’t allege that Trent forbade vulgar language translations, he certainly is not happy to see their proliferation.

And here Mr. Turner’s article ends, not having actually established his position, but merely having asserted that Calvin engaged in myth-making.

IV. What can the History of the Council of Trent tell us?

Sometimes it is alleged that ignorance of the council’s history is the reason for the alleged myths. Here is one account of a relevant portion of the history of the council, taken from History of the Council of Trent by Bungener:

It remained [after the decision about which books are canonical] to be decided in what language the books of the Bible — from henceforth all put on the same level in point of authority — should be reputed inspired and infallible. Here, again, a point occurred on which the council’s decision was about to be opposed to the clearest data of learning, history, and common sense.

At bottom, it was not a matter about which there could reasonably be a question. Inspired or not, a man writes. Is it in Hebrew? Then it is in Hebrew and in Hebrew alone that you are sure of having his thoughts, all his thoughts, nothing but his thoughts. Is it in Greek? Then it is in Greek you will find what he meant. If you do not understand those tongues, nothing is more natural than that you should make use of a translation; but if you do understand them, why should you be prevented from going to the book as it came from the hands of the author? The only way would be to prove to you that the translation is of an absolutely perfect accuracy. But if you have to do with an inspired book, it is only by bringing the translator to an equality with the author, and making him inspired also, that we can make the translation equal to the original.

Now, St. Jerome, the chief author of the Vulgate,[FN: Editio vulgata, the edition in general circulation. Hence the name Vulgate given to the Latin Bible used in the Roman Church.] has nowhere said a word from which it might be conjectured that he thought himself aided in his translation by any assistance from on high. Had he affirmed this, we should have appealed against it on the ground of the numerous faults which, as we shall see anon, have been corrected in that still very imperfect work. Was the work, at least, all done by him? No; several parts are taken from a more ancient version, [FN: Italica vetus.] done by nobody knows whom, and which he thought far from good, seeing that it was in order to have it superseded by a better, that he undertook his own. Notwithstanding the superiority of the latter: “Those who speak Latin,” says Augustine, ” require, in order to the understanding of the Scriptures, to be acquainted with two other languages, Hebrew and Greek, so that they may have recourse to ancient copies when the disagreement of Latin interpreters suggests any doubt.” [FN: Christian Doctrine, b. ii.] Thus, notwithstanding his esteem for St. Jerome, he confounds him with the Latin interpreters, whose disagreement, he says, produces doubts which can be removed only by going to the originals. A century and a half after him, two versions only were in use, that of Jerome, which took the name of the New, and the Italic or Old one. Gregory the Great, in his commentary on Job, says that he prefers the New as being more conformed to the Hebrew, but that he quotes them both indifferently; this, he adds, is what is usually done by popes and their doctors. Gradually the two versions passed into each other. Whatever could not be changed without inconvenience in the Old, was retained—the Psalms, in particular, being what every body knew by heart; the rest was taken from the New. One sole book was at length the result, namely, the Vulgate. But, for a series of centuries, the Church made use of it as one uses a book absolutely in his power, without disapproving of it, but yet no more approving of it otherwise than by the mere fact of its using it, in fine, without forbidding any one to have recourse to some other quarter.

No one, it is true, had any idea of doing Bo. Greek and Hebrew were not only dead tongues—they were annihilated. The Latin, by unanimous consent, had succeeded to their rights; and it had no more to reckon with those tongues than a son with a father many years dead. Accordingly, when the fifteenth century drew them from the dust with which they were covered, you would have said they were like dead men reappearing amid their confounded heirs. “A new language,” said a monk from the pulpit, “has been discovered, which is called the Greek. It must be carefully avoided. This language is the mother of all heresies. I see in the hands of many a book written in that tongue; it is called the New Testament. It is a book full of briars and vipers. As for Hebrew, those who learn it immediately become Jews.” Whether such was or was not the monk’s discourse—and a very grave historian [FN: Sismondi, Hist of the French, xvi.] reports it as authentic—it admirably expresses the astonishment and the fears of the time. Those two tongues, new in virtue of being old, people were tempted to look upon as intruders, and to ask them what right they had to come and disturb the Latin in its occupation of the throne which it had now so long engrossed. They crowded around it; they confirmed it in the enjoyment of all the rights which it held from usage. Both Greek and Hebrew were to be allowed to subsist, but they were to be neither its superiors nor its equals; and, in 1502, in the famous Bible of Alcala, in putting the Vulgate between the Hebrew text and the Greek text, it was Cardinal Ximenes who said, in the preface, that it was Christ betwixt the two thieves.

Thus we see that the foundations of the strange decree that was about to be passed, had been laid at the commencement of that century. And yet, when the subject began to be more closely examined, the members were far from agreed about it.

At first, although the council was by no means rich in Hellenists, and still less in Hebrew scholars, several of its divines were not without having made the discovery, either by their own labours or by those of others, of some, at least, of the imperfections of the Vulgate. These were interdicted at once by common sense and by conscience from putting their hands to a law, carried in the face of facts proved by evidence, patent, incontestable. The idea, therefore, was entertained for a moment, of taking up some certain copy of the original texts, and translating it into Latin, advantage being taken of all the lights that the age could supply; but people were alarmed at the immensity of the labour that this would entail, all the more, inasmuch as to proceed logically, all doctrinal decisions would have to be supended until the entire completion of the new translation. For surely a judge is not competent to pronounce in a cause, as long as he admits his not being sure of having in his possession the exact text, or a faithful translation of the law.

Despatch, therefore, was required, and those who wanted a new translation were not listened to.

Even after admitting the Vulgate in principle, all was not over: it was necessary that the title on which it was received should be declared. Some wished that the approbation should be full, entire, without restriction of any kind. “Either God has failed in his promise of keeping his Church from error, or it is impossible,” said they, “that he can have left her to make use of an erroneous translation. If Providence has given an authentic Scripture to the Jews, and an authentic Scripture to the Greeks, is it not insulting to that Providence to suppose God’s well-beloved Roman Church should have been left without such an advantage?” Others, without going back so far, gave an artless picture of the embarrassment people would bring on themselves if they did not begin by shutting up the source of all embarrassment for ever. “It would be grammarians, then, that would become the arbiters of the faith! An inquisitor would have to listen to answers made in Greek and in Hebrew! Passages from Scripture that have been intercalated for ages in the Church’s prayers, the decrees of popes, the canons of councils, might be attacked, refashioned, and dissected! This would be to yield the victory to Luther, Zwingli, and, in short, to all heretics past, present, and to come.” All, in fine, with a little more or a little less bashfulness in the reasons they assigned, were agreed in practically assuming the necessity of immediately establishing one fixed and immutable basis.

It is from this alleged necessity that the council’s apologists still argue in their attempts to find an excuse for the strange decree which was adopted on the strength of it. “Had one of the doctors,” says the Abbe Prompsault, “quoted the Hebrew text, another the Greek text, another the Syriac, another the version of Luther or of Servetus, the confusion would have been worse than at the tower of Babel.” Possibly it might; but what has that to do with the proof of the authenticity and correctness of the Vulgate? How did the embarrassment resulting from the variety of the texts sanction the council’s choosing one from the rest for the purpose of declaring it authentic? And, accordingly, great efforts have been made to prove that such was not the meaning of the decree. The council, it has been said, does not pronounce the Vulgate infallible. “Its decision is not a dogmatical decision; it is merely a disciplinary regulation, made in view of the circumstances and the wants of the moment.”[FN: Hug, Introduction to the Books of the New Testament.] Be it so; but where is this to be seen? Certainly not in the text of the decree. The council ordains and declares that in all public lessons, discussions, preachings, and expositions, this ancient version shall be held as authentic, and that no one shall dare, or shall presume, to reject it, under any pretext whatever. [FN: Statuit et declarat ut . . . pro authentica; ut eam nemo rejicere quovis praetextu audeat vel praesumat.] Not even, consequently, under pretext that such or such a passage shall have been recognized as false, and the future, in this manner, is as much fettered as the past. But let us accept the explanation. We had only to do with the false; we have now to do with the absurd. The Vulgate is not infallible, and it is the Vulgate which alone, without control, without its being permissible to reject a single word of it, is to serve the purpose of infallibly fixing the faith. The doctor, in his professor’s chair, is not authorized-to quote it as rigorously correct, and he is authorized to declare the nullity of all the corrections you may presume to suggest. Each passage, then, is like a piece of money bearing the image of the Council of Trent. You are not held bound to believe it good, but you have no right to refuse it.[FN: This strange reasoning has been carried into a much more serious question, that of infallibility. “Infallibility in the spiritual order,” says De Maistre, “and sovereignty in the temporal order, are two perfectly synonymous words. When we say that the Church is infallible, we do not ask any special privilege for it; we only ask that it should enjoy rights common to all possible sovereignties, all of which should necessarily reign as infallible, for all government is absolute; and from the moment that it may be resisted under the pretext of error and injustice, it no longer exists.” What flows most clearly from this passage is that, provided a man submit to the Church’s decisions, he is not bound to think the Church in the right, any more than a citizen in obeying a law is bound to believe it good. To understand infallibility in this sense is to deny it.] “The council,” says an author already quoted, “has not said that the Vulgate alone shall be authentic; it has only declared that it shall be held as authentic.” This only is curious. The council has not denied that the original texts are authentic; it has only declared that the Vulgate is so also, although it departs from them at a thousand points. This is what the expression really implies.

Was there, at least, an edition universally admitted, correct, and unique? No; it had to be decided that one should be made. There was much wisdom in this; but it made the preceding decree only all the more strange. It would have been not more reasonable, but certainly more rational, to deny the faults of the Vulgate, and to proclaim it at once infallible and perfect, than to declare it inviolable, even while confessing it faulty, and that it was about to be corrected.

In consequence of this last decision, one naturally desires to know through what process it has passed.

A commission had been named which did nothing. Towards the close of the council Pius IV. appointed another, but at Rome. Pius V. renewed it, and accelerated its labours. Twelve years afterwards, at the accession of Sixtus-Quintus, the work had hardly commenced, and that impetuous pontiff began to lose patience. He made it his own affair, and, at the commencement of 1589, announced by a bull, that the work was drawing to a close. The new Vulgate was printed under his own eyes at the Vatican, and he himself revised the proofs. “We have corrected them with our own hand,” [Nostrâ nos ipsi manu correximus.] he says in the preface. “The work appeared, and it was impossible,” says Hug, “that it should not have given occasion for criticism and pleasantry. Many passages were found, particularly in the Old Testament, covered with slips of paper, on which new corrections had been printed; others were scratched out, or merely corrected with a pen. … In fine, the copies issued were far from all presenting the same corrections.”

It had accordingly to be done over again. Gregory XIV., the successor of Sixtus-duintus, set to work without delay, and after him Clement VIII. had the satisfaction of publishing, in 1592, the text which was to undergo no change. But what was the public to think? How were corrections to be acknowledged, of which there were about six thousand on matters of detail, and a hundred that were important? Bellarmine undertook the preface. The honour of Sixtus V. was saved: all the imperfections of his Vulgate were—errors of the press.

Was this version, which, after forty-six years of corrections and recorrections, was to enter into full possession of the privileges announced in the decree, issued at least in the best state possible? No; Bellarmine admits, in that same preface, that the revisers had allowed many things to pass that needed a stricter examination. But enough of this. Were it at this day the best of all the translations of the Bible, we have seen what it was when the council placed it on the altar, and how much audacity or ignorance it must have taken to declare it authentic, even in that indirect and weakened sense which people were afterwards compelled to attach to the word.

(Bungener, History of the Council of Trent (New York: 1855), pp. 87-92)

V. Is Calvin’s Interpretation Really a Myth? What have Rome’s Sons said?

We have heard from Pius XII, but no one else in Mr. Turner’s paper. And, as I said, there are a number of educated men from the Roman communion, particularly in the late 19th century and 20th century who have attempted to defend Rome on grounds like those of Pius XII (and on other grounds).

There are, however, more significant voices that should be heard in this regard. For example, F. J. Crehan, S.J. (who is seeking to oppose Calvin) is forced to admit: “One can find in Bañez (Commentaries in 2-2ae: II:2) the view that it would be theologically temerarious to attempt to correct the Vulgate by the Greek or Hebrew originals.” (in The Cambridge History of the Bible, S. L. Greenslade ed. Cambridge University Press 2004 digital edition, p. 205)(Cf. Domingo Bañez: Commentary on Summa Theologica 2-2e (Questions 1-46) at Question 10, Article 11, 640E) Crehan characterizes Bañez as someone having “extremist views,” although Bañez is the great Dominican theologian who provided the Thomistic opposition to Molinism during that famous controversy. He also accuses Bañez of ignorance of the Council.

But Bañez isn’t the only son of Rome to take such a view of Trent’s decree. Joseph Dixon, Roman Archibishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland admits that there are are at least two views:

Some theologians, at the same time, have insisted on the truth of the conclusion, that in virtue of the council’s decision, we must look on the vulgate as free from the least fault on the part of the translator. Others have adopted a far different opinion, viz., that the council merely declares that there is nothing in the version opposed to faith or good morals. The declaration of the council appears to give a higher authority to the version, that in this latter opinion would attach to it.

(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 110)

In other words, Joseph Dixon acknowledges that there at least two views and acknowledges that the wording of the decree is too strong to make the “nothing … opposed to faith or good morals” interpretation likely.

Dixon goes on to acknowledge that Robert (Cardinal) Bellarmine (a doctor of the Roman church) himself taught that the decree means that the Vulgate is free from errors:

Bellarmine says, “We admit that the interpreter was not a prophet, and could have erred; but we say that he has not erred in that version, which the church has approved of. The church wished to make us certain, in those things especially that appertain to faith and morals, that there are no mistakes of translators in this version.”—De Verbo Dei Scripto; de editione vulgata.

(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 110)

Keep in mind that, as Dixon notes, Bellarmine had made a similar accusation to that of Mr. Turner, in that Bellarmine had claimed that Calvin was lying by claiming that the council deprecated the originals.

But a careful examination of Bellarmine’s attempt to find room for the original languages can be seen from the four uses he claims that they can serve:

The strictest defender of the accuracy of the version will admit with Bellarmine, that in four cases we may have recourse to the original: First—when there appears to be an error of the copiers in our books; second—when the Latin copies differ from each other, that we may discover the true reading of the vulgate; third—when a phrase is doubtful in the Latin text, in order to remove the ambiguity; fourth—to understand the force and propriety of words. Bellarmine adduces examples of all these cases in his treatise De Verbo Dei Scripto (liber 2dus cap. undecimum.)

(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 111)

Notice that none of the uses is to correct the Vulgate. Perhaps there is a question about what the Vulgate was (i.e. to restore the Vulgate) or what the what Vulgate means (i.e. to remove ambiguity), but there is no room to correct errors in the Vulgate itself.

Likewise, Dixon’s own view of the proper understanding of the decree is as follows:

The meaning of the council, therefore, appears to be truly given by Girardeau: “That substantially, and in all things of any moment, this version does not depart from the true sense of the scripture.”—Praelections Theologicae de Verbo Dei Scripto.

(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 111)

But notice that this means that the original texts can be used to correct the Vulgate only when it is a matter of no moment, or an insubstantial thing.

Yet, dear reader, is Archbishop Dixon’s learned position tenable? Can one legitimately reject a reading of the Vulgate on the grounds that the matter is not one that is substantial or that it is a matter of no moment? Surely, that was precisely the sort of thing that the council aimed to prevent with its expression: “no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.”

In addition to the above, we have other contemporary evidence of the Roman understanding of the decree. For example, we have the testimony of Melchior Canus, one of the Spanish theologians who was actually at the Council of Trent, and who was afterward made bishop of the Canary Islands. William Whitaker (A Disputation on Holy Scripture …, First Controversy, Question 2, Chapter 1) reports:

Our opponents determine the Latin to be authentic, and so the council of Trent hath defined it. So Melchior Canus (Lib. n. c. 13) interprets this decree, and deduces from it four conclusions. The first is, that the old vulgate edition must be retained by the faithful in all points which pertain to faith and morals: the second, that all questions concerning faith or morals must be determined by this Latin edition: the third, that we must not in a disputation appeal to the Hebrew or Greek copies: the fourth, that, in matters of faith or morals, the Latin copies are not to be corrected from the Hebrew or Greek.

Notice how little ground Canus gives for the original languages. Notice as well that he is here confirming Calvin’s very concern: that in matters of disputation, no one is allowed to appeal to the Hebrew or Greek copies.

Whitaker (in the same place) also reports the position of the Rhemists – the translators of the English Bible for those of the Roman Communion:

In like manner our countrymen the Rhemists, in the preface to their version of the new Testament, run out into a long panegyric upon this Latin edition, and contend for its superiority not only to all other Latin versions, but even to the Greek itself which is the original and prototype.

For indeed, in the preface to the 1582 printing we find (at page XII, item 10 of the reasons why they are translating from the Latin rather than from the Greek): “It is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree.”

But Mr. Turner insists it is a myth created by Calvin. I trust the reader now has the tools to judge whether Mr. Turner has properly or improperly judged Calvin.

-TurretinFan

A Challenge for Oneness Advocates

June 24, 2011

I normally don’t tolerate discussion of “Oneness” theology on my blog, i.e. in the comment boxes. However, there seems to be some interest in it of late from some of my commenters, so I’ll offer a challenge to Oneness advocates, that they are free to answer in the comment box of this blog post. And, of course, my Trinitarian commenters are also free to provide their own challenges to Oneness theology, especially if they think they have something better than mine.

I will say this first, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Oneness view – and there may be more than one “Oneness view” about some of the Bible verses that I think contradict Oneness theology, or at least some possible form of Oneness Theology. I assume that Oneness theologians will acknowledge the authority of the Bible. I hope that they will seriously consider the implications of the passages below.

Here are two such passages (from the same chapter):

1) John 17:1-6
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.

2) John 17:21-26
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

It seems to me that these two passages (from the same chapter) are a significant obstacle to Oneness Theology for the following reasons:

a) It seems obvious that Jesus is praying to someone who is not Jesus, namely the Father. The Father is not Jesus. Therefore, while the Father and Jesus may be one in some sense (see John 17:21, for example), they are not one in another sense.

b) The sense on which they are not one is the sense of personhood. They are not one person. By “person” I don’t mean “human being,” since (for example) an angel is a “person” without being a human being, and God is three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one divine being.

c) One proof of (b) is the love of the Father for the Son. Love is a very personal attitude.

d) Moreover, the Father loved the Son before Creation. This means that persons of the Trinity are not simply modes of God – they are not God revealing himself to man in different ways (sometimes as a Father, sometimes as a Son). Instead, the persons have real distinction and real relation to one another, such that before the foundation of the world, they had love for one another.

e) Additionally, the Son had glory before Creation. This rules out any view that Jesus is simply a man somehow divinized by God abiding in him, such that Jesus only speaks to the Father as a man speaks to God and not as God speaks to God.

So, the challenge to any advocates of Oneness Theology is to make sense of John 17, while addressing the issues identified in (a)-(e).

Caveat: I’m interested in hearing what the Oneness answer to this challenge is. I think I’ve set up the challenge so that the challenge is not “why not Trinitarianism.” That’s not the challenge.

-TurretinFan

John Calvin Responding to the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent

June 23, 2011

The following is an excerpt from John Calvin’s famous “Antidote to the Council of Trent.”

ON THE FOURTH SESSION.

There is an old proverb, — The Romans conquer by sitting. Trusting to this, those degenerate and bastard sons of the Roman See, i.e., the great harlot, sat down to conquer when they appointed the third session. For what hinders them from raising a trophy, and coming off victorious to their hearts content, if we concede to them what they have comprehended in one decree? There are four heads: First, they ordain that in doctrine we are not to stand on Scripture alone, but also on things handed down by tradition. Secondly, in forming a catalogue of Scripture, they mark all the books with the same chalk, and insist on placing the Apocrypha in the same rank with the others. Thirdly, repudiating all other versions whatsoever, they retain the Vulgate only, and order it to be authentic. Lastly, in all passages either dark or doubtful, they claim the right of interpretation without challenge. These four things being established, who can deny that the war is ended? Wherefore, their after discussions were more for ostentation than from any necessity for them; for whatever they produce, if supported by no authority of Scripture, will be classed among traditions, which they insist should have the same authority as the Law and the Prophets. What, then, will it be permitted to disapprove? for there is no gross old wife’s dream which this pretext will not enable them to defend; nay, there is no superstition, however monstrous, in front of which they may not place it like a shield of Ajax. Add to this, that they provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of the Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints; out of Tobit satisfactions, exorcisms, and what not. From Ecclesiasticus they will borrow not a little. For from whence could they better draw their dregs? I am not one of those, however, who would entirely disapprove the reading of those books; but in giving them in authority which they never before possessed, what end was sought but just to have the use of spurious paint in coloring their errors? But as the Hebrew or Greek original often serves to expose their ignorance in quoting Scripture, to check their presumption, and so keep down their thrasonic boasting, they ingeniously meet this difficulty also by determining that the Vulgate translation only is to be held authentic. Farewell, then, to those who have spent much time and labor in the study of languages, that they might search for the genuine sense of Scripture at the fountainhead! At least it has been amply provided by this decree that they shall give no farther trouble to the Romanists. Is not this to subdue Greece and all the East? One thing still was wanting; for disagreeable men were always springing up, who, when anything was brought into question, could not be satisfied without Scripture proof! There are others too clear-sighted, since even in the Vulgate translation they find weapons wherewith to annoy the Papacy. That they may not sustain loss from this quarter, they devise a most excellent remedy, when they adjudge to themselves the legitimate interpretation of Scripture. Who can now imagine any improvidence in them? By one article they have obtained the means of proving what they please out of Scripture, and escaping from every passage that might be urged against them. If Confession is to be proved, they are ready with — “Show yourselves to the priests.” If it be asked, Whether recourse should be had to the intercession of the dead? the passage will immediately occur, “Turn to some one of the saints;” also, “For this every holy man will pray to thee.” Nor will Purgatory be left without a sure foundation, for it is written, “He shall not come out thence till he shall have paid the uttermost farthing.” In short, anything may be made of anything! When they formerly produced such passages they made themselves ridiculous even to children. Now, if credit is given them, the right of authorized interpretation will remove every doubt. For what passage can be objected to them so clear and strong that they shall not evade it? Any kind of quibble will at once relieve them from difficulty. Against opposing arguments they will set up this brazen wall — Who are you to question the interpretation of the Church? This, no doubt, is what they mean by a saying common among them, in that Scripture is a nose of wax, because it can be formed into all shapes. If postulates of this kind were given to mathematicians, they would not only make an ell an inch, but prove a mile shorter than an ell, till they had thrown everything into confusion.

What, then, are we to do with this victorious and now, as it were, triumphal Session? Just stand and let the smoke clear away. In regard to Traditions, I am aware that not unfrequent mention of them is made by ancient writers, though not with the intention of carrying our faith beyond the Scriptures, to which they always confine it. They only say that certain customs were received from the Apostles. Some of them appear to have that origin, but others are unworthy of it. These touch only upon a few points, and such as might be tolerated. But now we are called to believe, that whatever the Romanists are pleased to obtrude upon us, flowed by tradition from the Apostles; and so shameless are they, that without observing any distinction, they bring into this class things which crept in not long ago, during the darkness of ignorance. Therefore, though we grant that the Apostles of the Lord handed down to posterity some customs which they never committed to writing; still, first, this has nothing to do with the doctrine of faith, (as to it we cannot extract one iota from them,) but only with external rites subservient to decency or discipline; and secondly, it is still necessary for them to prove that everything to which they give the name is truly an apostolical tradition. Accordingly they cannot, as they suppose, find anything here to countenance them either in establishing the tyranny of their laws, by which they miserably destroy consciences, or to cloak their superstitions, which are evidently a farrago gathered from the vicious rites of all ages and nations. We especially repudiate their desire to make certainty of doctrine depend not less on what they call agrafa, (unwritten,) than on the Scriptures. We must ever adhere to Augustine’s rule, “Faith is conceived from the Scriptures.”

Of their admitting all the Books promiscuously into the Canon, I say nothing more than it is done against the consent of the primitive Church. It is well known what Jerome states as the common opinion of earlier times. And Ruffinus, speaking of the matter as not at all controverted, declares with Jerome that Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Judith, and the history of the Maccabees, were called by the Fathers not canonical but ecclesiastical books, which might indeed be read to the people, but were not entitled to establish doctrine. I am not, however, unaware that the same view on which the Fathers of Trent now insist was held in the Council of Carthage. The same, too, was followed by Augustine in his Treatise on Christian Doctrine; but as he testifies that all of his age did not take the same view, let us assume that the point was then undecided. But if it were to be decided by arguments drawn from the case itself, many things beside the phraseology would show that those Books which the Fathers of Trent raise so high must sink to a lower place. Not to mention other things, whoever it was that wrote the history of the Maccabees expresses a wish, at the end, that he may have written well and congruously; but if not:, he asks pardon. How very alien this acknowledgment from the majesty of the Holy Spirit!

In condemning all translations except the Vulgate, as the error is more gross, so the edict is more barbarous. The sacred oracles of God were delivered by Moses and the Prophets in Hebrew, and by the Apostles in Greek. That no corner of the world might be left destitute of so great a treasure, the gift of interpretation was added. It came to pass — I know not by what means, but certainly neither by judgment nor right selection — that of the different versions, one became the favourite of the unlearned, or those at least who, not possessing any knowledge of languages, desired some kind of help to their ignorance. Those, on the other hand, who are acquainted with the languages perceive that this version teems with innumerable errors; and this they make manifest by the clearest evidence. On the other hand, the Fathers of Trent contend, that although the learned thus draw the pure liquor from the very fountain, and convict the infallible Vulgate of falsehood, they are not to be listened to. No man possessed of common sense ever presumed to deprive the Church of God of the benefit of learning. The ancients, though unacquainted with the languages, especially with Hebrew, always candidly acknowledge that nothing is better than to consult the original, in order to obtain the true and genuine meaning. I will go further. There is no man of ordinary talent who, on comparing the Vulgate version with some others, does not easily see that many things which were improperly rendered by it are in these happily restored. The Council, however, insists that we shall shut our eyes against the light that we may spontaneously go astray.

Who could have imagined they would be so senseless as thus boldly to despise the judgments of good men, and hesitate not to make themselves odious and detestable to all? Those who were aware that they had nothing useful in view, were yet persuaded that they would make some show of it to the world, and assign to some of their sworn adherents the task of executing a new version. In this instance, however, they use no deceit. They not only order us to be contented with a most defective translation, but insist on our worshipping it, just as if it had come down from heaven; and while the blemishes are conspicuous to all, they prohibit us from desiring any improvement. Behold the men on whose judgment the renovation of the Church depends!

It were tedious beyond measure to mark the passages erroneously and absurdly rendered. So far is there from being an entire page, that there are scarcely three continuous verses without some noted blunder. As a specimen, let the Book of Psalms suffice, in which I will touch on a few examples in passing, more to give my readers a sample which may dispose them to ascertain for themselves, than to give full information. In the second Psalm is the well-known exhortation, “Kiss the Son.” For this the Vulgate has, “Lay hold of discipline!” There is no resemblance. While the former is clearly correct, why should the latter be held the more authentic? The Vulgate interpreter has,

“Sons of man, how long will you with a heavy heart?” while the Hebrew has nothing like this, but, “How long will ye turn my glory into shame?” (Psalm 4:3.)

Where David complains that his sap was turned into the drought of summer, (Psalm 32:4,) the translator has substituted, “I am turned in my sorrow till the thorn is fixed.” Again, in another verse, “In their mouths is bit and bridle to prevent them from approaching thee;” but the translator says, “With hook and rein curb the jaws of those who do not draw near unto thee.” And what are we to understand by “lungs filled with illusions,” in Psalm 38?

But I act imprudently in entering a boundless forest; I will therefore confine myself to a single Psalm. It will be the sixty-eighth. There David, among the other praises of God, mentions this also, that he makes the single to dwell in a house, i.e., enriches the solitary and childless with a family. The translator substitutes, that he makes them “of one manner.” The next words are, “He places the rebellious in a dry parched place.” For this the translator has, “In like manner those who exasperate; who dwell in the tombs.” Afterward, where the meaning is perfectly obvious in the words of David, the translator makes a riddle fit to puzzle an OEdipus. David says, “The kings of armies have fled, have fled, and the dwellers of the house, i.e., the women who remained at home, have divided the spoil.” The translator says, “The king, the virtue of the beloved, beloved, and houses of appearance, have divided the spoil.” A little further on, “Though ye have slept among the pots;” translator, “among the clergy!” “To look up to the piled mountains” he substitutes for, “To envy the fertile mountains.” Where the Hebrew original has, “Even the rebellious, that God the Lord may dwell,” the translator has, “Even those not believing that God the Lord dwells.” Again, when the literal meaning is, “I will bring back from Bashan, I will bring back from the depths of the sea,” the translator gives the very opposite, “I will turn from Bashan, I will turn into the depth of the sea.” Again, “There is little Benjamin their ruler.” The translator (I know not what he was thinking of) says, “In excess of mind.” I have gone over the half of the Psalm or rather more. What monstrosities do my readers already perceive!

And yet, to confess the truth, there is an excuse for the Latin translator, who gave the meaning of the Greek version as exactly as he could. But who can tolerate those blunderers, who would rob the Church of the gift of interpretation, and thus, as it were, close up the entrance, that none might have access to the pure meaning of David? Add, that they not only prefer the ignorance and blunders of their interpreters to the true renderings of others, but there is no hallucination, however gross, to which they will not give the power of a divine oracle. There is an example of this in Psalm 132. The Lord there promises that he will bless the food of his people. Some luscious priestling, reading the c and t as one letter, makes the word vidum; but as there is no such word, the insertion of a letter introduced a new reading, which prevails throughout the Papacy, and hence there is no church in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany, in which they do not with loud voice bawl out, “His widow blessing, I will bless.” And so attentive and clear-sighted are they, that none of them has observed the ridiculous corruption. But it is not strange that, when they rob us of the word for bread, they introduce the mention of widowhood, since the object on which they are wholly bent is cruelly to bereave souls of the bread of heavenly life. What! are they not ashamed to make the Vulgate version of the New Testament authoritative, while the writings of Valla, Faber, and Erasmus, which are in everybody’s hands, demonstrate with the finger, even to children, that it is vitiated in innumerable places? In the first chapter of the Romans the translator calls Christ “the predestinated Son of God.” Those not acquainted with Greek are at a loss to explain this term, because, properly speaking, only things which do not yet exist are predestinated; whereas Christ is the eternal Son of God. There is no difficulty in the Greek word, which means “declared.” I have given one example. It were needless labor to give others. In one word, were this edict of the Council sanctioned, the simple effect would be, that the Fathers of Trent would make the world look with their eyes open, and yet not see the light presented to them.

I come to the right of interpreting, which they arrogate to themselves whenever the meaning is doubtful. It is theirs, they say, to give the meaning of Scripture, and we must acquiesce. For everything which they bestow upon the Church they bestow upon themselves. I acknowledge, indeed, that as Scripture, came not by the private will of man, (2 Peter 1:21) it is unbecoming to wrest it to the private sense of any man. Nay, in the case of an obscure passage, when it is doubtful what sense ought to be adopted, there is no better way of arriving at the true meaning than for pious doctors to make common inquiry, by engaging in religious discussion. But that is not now the question. They wish, by their tyrannical edict, to deprive the Church of all liberty, and arrogate to themselves a boundless license; for, be the meaning which they affix to Scripture what it may, it must be immediately embraced. Except themselves, moreover, no man will be permitted to prove anything out of Scripture. Would that they were equal to the performance of so great a task. But oxen usurp the reins, or rather asses the lyre. In short, their aim is to make all revere a Scripture hidden in darkness like the mysteries of Ceres, and let none presume to aspire to the understanding of it.

There would be no end were I to collect all the examples which would make it plain to my readers what fetters of iniquitous and intolerable slavery are forged by this decree. I will therefore give a specimen, in the case of only one Council. About the year 800 was held a Council of Nice, which both restored Images that had been overthrown under Leo and decreed that they were to be worshipped. That Council, because it supports idolatry, the Papists deem holy and lawful. Hence, according to their axiom, it cannot have erred in the exposition of Scripture. But if such interpreters of sacred things are to be listened to, (it is abominable to say they are,) the religion of the Egyptians will be preferable to the Christian. To prove from Scripture that churches were properly adorned with images and pictures, the following passages were adduced:—“God created man after his own image and likeness;” “Joshua erected twelve stones;” “No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel;” whence they inferred that images were to be placed upon altars! Again, “The light of thy countenance has been stamped upon us:” “as we have heard, so have we also seen;” “O Lord, I have loved the beauty of thy house;” “Show me thy face, for it is lovely.” In support of adoration, they wrested the following passages: — “Abraham worshipped the people of the land;” “Jacob set up an inscription, and blessed.” Again, “He worshipped the top of the staff of his son Joseph;” “All the rich among the people will deprecate thy countenance;” “Worship his footstool;” “God is to be admired in his saints.” And that nothing might be wanting to crown their effrontery, they appended out of another psalm, “His saints who are on the earth.” This they applied to images!

I am aware that the narrative I now give will scarcely seem credible. I was myself amazed when I read it, though our ears should long ago have been trained by them to any absurdities, however enormous. Were I to collect all their interpretations, which even children would laugh at, and not even all, but those which are distinguished by some notable absurdity, I would require to form a volume thrice as large as the Bible.

The sum is, that the spirit of Trent wished, by this decree, that Scripture should only signify to us whatever dreaming monks might choose. For what else do they mean by the Church? Though the Roman bishops, I mean all who serve under the banner and auspices of that Anti-Christian See, were to assemble from every quarter of the world, how, pray, could they, by laying their heads together frame a proper version for us? Many of them hardly knew the elements of grammar. At least, they will not venture to deny that there is scarcely one in a hundred who has read an entire book of the Prophets, or one of the Apostolical Epistles, or one of the Gospels. They are too much occupied with other cares to have any leisure for sacred literature. The only resource is, to reserve the privilege for the Apostolic See, and say that the interpretation of Scripture must be sought from the holy lips of Paul Farnese! Otherwise, let them show us a Church which may justly be deemed able to sustain so great a burden. For, how highly soever they may extol the Roman See, they can never persuade some men either that Cephas is its head, or that chaste and holy marriage is the carnal life which is accursed in the sight of God. Both of these have been asserted in Papal responses. They cry out that the whole authority of the Church must fall if it is denied the right of interpreting Scripture — that a door would thus be thrown open to lascivious minds, allowing them to break through every restraint. Nay, in order to cast obloquy upon us, they are wont to charge us with arrogating the interpretation of Scripture to ourselves, in order that there may be no check on our licentiousness. Modesty will not allow me to speak of ourselves as fact would justify; and yet I will most truly declare that we have thrown more light upon the Scriptures than all the doctors who have appeared under the Papacy since its commencement. This praise even they themselves dare not deny us. Still there is none of us who does not willingly submit his lucubrations to the judgment of the Church. Therefore we neither contemn nor impair the authority of the Church; nor do we give loose reins to men to dare what they please. I wish they would show us such a Church as Scripture itself pourtrays; we should easily agree as to the respect due to it. But when, falsely assuming the name of Church, they seize upon the spoils of which they have robbed it, what else can we do than protest?

Confused Arminian?

June 17, 2011

According to Arminian Today:

… the key difference for Arminius was not in the issue of God’s sovereignty or election or total depravity or the atonement but Arminius’ contention was that God has chosen to reveal Himself as loving and good and that His desire is not to force people to believe the gospel but for them, through His Spirit (John 6:44), to come to salvation in the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

But, of course, Calvinism agrees that the God of the Bible is loving and good. Moreover, Calvinism agrees that God does not force people to believe the gospel against their will, but through the Spirit changes their will so that they go from loving darkness rather than light to loving the light.

Perhaps the title of the post at Arminian Today is more suitable than the author intended: “Confusion Over Arminianism Continues….”

-TurretinFan

Augustine’s Letter 36 and Transubstantiation

June 16, 2011

Another passage where Augustine describes the Lord’s Supper can be found in one of his many letters. Augustine writes:

But, he who says that the old things have passed away, so that in Christ altar yields to altar, fire to prayers, animal victims to bread, blood to the chalice, does not know that the word “altare” is used quite often in the Law and the Prophets, and that an altar [altare] was first raised to God by Moses in the Tabernacle, while the word “ara” is also found in the writings of the Apostles, while the martyrs cry out under the altar [ara]. He says that the sword has yielded to fasting, forgetting that two-edged sword of both Testaments, with which the soldiers of the Gospel are armed. He says the fire has given place to prayers, as if prayers were not then offered in the temple, and fire is not now cast by Christ upon the world. He says that animal victims have been replaced by bread, as if he did not know that even then the loaves of proposition were placed upon the table of the Lord, and that now he partakes of the Body of the immaculate Lamb. He says that blood has given place to the chalice, not thinking that he now receives the Blood in the chalice. How much more truly and more appropriately could he say that the old things are passed away and are made new in Christ, so that altar yields to altar, sword to sword, fire to fire, bread to bread, victim to victim, blood to blood. Surely, we see by this that the carnal old things give place to spiritual newness. This, then, is what we have to understand – whether we dine on that changeable seventh day or whether some fast on that day – that the carnal sabbath has been transformed into the spiritual one, and that a true and eternal rest is looked for in the latter, while a merely physical rest is now despised in the former as a superstitious observance.

Letter 36 (to Casulan), Chapter 10, Section 24 (translation from Fathers of the Church Series, Writings of St. Augustine, Volume 9, Letters, Volume 1(1-82), trans. Wilfrid Parsons, pp. 158-60)

The context of this quotation is a much longer letter from Augustine to Casulan regarding a pamphlet by an anonymous Roman author. The Roman author is trying to insist that Christians ought to fast on Saturday. Part of his rationale is premised on a consideration of the Old and New Testament administrations. As can be seen from the beginning of the discussion, he makes a variety of comparisons, which Augustine then proceeds to attempt to dismantle.

Frankly, Augustine’s argument here is not exceptionally good. Nevertheless, the argument he employs shines some light on Augustine’s view of the sacrament.

Notice how Augustine affirms that we receive “the Immaculate Lamb” in the Lord’s Supper and “Blood” in the chalice. But this is in parallel to the “fire” that is cast by Christ upon the world (referring, doubtless, to the Holy Spirit) and the “two-edged sword” of the Bible. Finally, Augustine sums up his counter-point by taking the position that the physical/carnal has been replaced by the spiritual. Thus, a physical sword is replaced by the metaphorical sword of the Bible. The fire is replaced by the Holy Spirit, who is symbolized by fire. With prayers he notes that prayers continue and with altars, he points out that his opponent’s linguistic point is incorrect.

When Augustine comes to bread replacing the animal sacrifices, Augustine provides an interesting double response. First, he points out that there was already bread (the shewbread) in the Old Testament. Next, he points out that we have an “animal sacrifice” in the form of the “Immaculate Lamb.” Likewise, rather than animal blood, we have Christ’s blood.

The way that this makes best sense within Augustine’s argument is if Augustine understands “Lamb” and “blood” non-literally, but figuratively. A carnal sword with a spiritual sword, carnal fire with literal fire, carnal bread with spiritual bread, carnal victim with spiritual victim, carnal blood with spiritual blood, and (drumroll please!) therefore a carnal sabbath with a spiritual sabbath. In that spiritual sabbath we look forward to a true and eternal rest, not placing our hope in mere physical rest.

Although Augustine does not say that the Bible is a metaphorical sword or that the Holy Spirit is metaphorical fire, we can still figure that out from the context. Likewise, we can understand Augustine’s metaphorical description of the bread and chalice. Augustine’s punchline about the sabbath makes little sense if he means literal blood is replaced by literal blood, for example. Notice how in the conclusion of this argument he omits the prayers. Why? Because prayers are (for the purposes of his argument) the same, not spiritualized.

– TurretinFan

P.S. For those who want the original Latin, here it is:

Iste autem qui vetera transisse sic dicit, ut “in Christo cederet ara altari, gladius ieiunio, precibus ignis, pani pecus, poculo sanguis”, nescit altaris nomen magis Legis et Prophetarum Litteris frequentatum, et altare Deo prius in tabernaculo, quod per Moysen factum est, collocatum; aram quoque in apostolicis Litteris inveniri, ubi Martyres clamant sub ara Dei. Dicit cessisse ieiunio gladium, non recordans illum quo milites evangelici armantur ex utroque Testamento, gladium bis acutum. Dicit cessisse precibus ignem, quasi non et tunc preces deferebantur in templum, et nunc a Christo ignis est missus in mundum. Dicit cessisse pani pecus, tanquamnesciens et tunc in Domini mensa panes propositionis poni solere, et nunc se de agni immaculati corpore partem sumere. Dicit cessisse poculo sanguinem, non cogitans etiam nunc se accipere in poculo sanguinem. Quanto ergo melius et congruentius vetera transisse, et nova in Christo facta esse sic diceret, ut cederet altare altari, gladius gladio, ignis igni, panis pani, pecus pecori, sanguis sanguini. Videmus quippe in his omnibus carnalem vetustatem spiritali cedere novitati. Sic ergo intellegendum est, sive in isto die volubili septimo prandeatur, sive a quibusdam etiam ieiunetur, tamen sabbato spiritali sabbatum carnale cessisse; quando in isto sempiterna et vera requies cuncupiscitur, in illo vacatio temporalis iam superstitiosa contemnitur.

Augustine’s Sermon 227 and Transubstantiation

June 15, 2011

As with Sermon 272 (which we have already discussed), some folks who allege that Augustine shared modern Rome’s view of the Eucharist like to point to Sermon 227. It is easy to confuse the two sermons, since the numbers are so similar. Additionally, both sermons are short. Given the brevity of this sermon, it will be possible for me to go through the sermon from beginning to end, with my comments interspersed as with Sermon 272.

SERMON 227: PREACHED ON THE HOLY DAY OF EASTER TO THE INFANTES, ON THE SACRAMENTS

As noted previously, Easter was a time when new converts were baptized. This sermon was directed specifically to them.

Date:414-415

Of course, there is no date on the sermon itself. Some scholars date this as early as 412-413, while other pick as late as 416-417. Part of me wonders whether this isn’t simply a second scribe’s copying down of the same sermon as sermons 272.

You are yourselves what you receive

This is the theme of the sermon. If you have read Sermon 272, than you can probably already see where this is going.

I haven’t forgotten my promise. I had promised those of you who have just been baptized a sermon to explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table, which you can see right now, and which you shared in last night.

You may recall a similar line in Sermon 272. These newly baptized people had taken communion the previous night and now see the elements on the Lord’s table.

You ought to know what you have received, what you are about to receive, what you ought to receive every day.

It seems that Augustine may be advocating daily communion. Perhaps he means “every day” either as hyperbole, or in some spiritual sense, but he may literally mean daily communion. Regardless, this shows that they had received communion the previous day and were about to receive it again.

That bread which you can see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ.

It may be that Augustine has already consecrated the elements and has now, in essence, interrupted the distribution of the elements to provide this homily. Alternatively, Augustine may not be referring to the consecration at all. He may just be referring to the fact that the word of God is what puts the elements to their sacramental use.

That cup, or rather what the cup contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.

This is just the same explanation applied to the cup. Some people seem to be willing to quote this sentence and the prior one in an effort to allege that Augustine held to transubstantiation. But, of course, such a statement is a statement that could be used by those who are bare symbolists in their view, as well as everyone in between.

It was by means of these things that the Lord Christ wished to present us with his body and blood, which he shed for our sake for the forgiveness of sins.

Here’s an interesting problem for those who think that Augustine is speaking after the consecration: Augustine is saying that “by means of these things” Christ wanted to present us with his body and blood. “These things” refers to something other than the body and blood. As you can see, Augustine is affirming that the elements are really bread and wine, and yet they present us with Christ’s body and his blood that he shed for our sake. If this is after the consecration, then Augustine definitely does not believe in transubstantiation. But perhaps it is before the consecration, so let us continue.

If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive.

Here we come back to Augustine’s theme, the same theme we saw in the previous sermon.

You see, the apostle says, We, being many, are one loaf, one body (1 Cor 10:17).

You will recognize this familiar theme from the previous sermon. Augustine is providing his exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:

1 Corinthains 10:16-17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

That’s how he explained the sacrament of the Lord’s table; one loaf, one body, is what we all are, many though we be.

Notice that Augustine is pointing his listeners to the apostolic explanation of the sacrament. Augustine doesn’t simply use his creativity: he seems to try to stick to what the text says for his main point.

In this loaf of bread you are given clearly to understand how much you should love unity.

This lesson of unity is the same lesson we saw in the previous sermon.

I mean, was that loaf made from one grain? Weren’t there many grains of wheat? But before they came into the loaf they were all separate; they were joined together by means of water after a certain amount of pounding and crushing. Unless wheat is ground, after all, and moistened with water, it can’t possibly get into this shape which is called bread.

Here Augustine is providing the wind-up for his extension of the Pauline metaphor. His listeners, who understand how bread is made, are doubtless nodding along.

In the same way you too were being ground and pounded, as it were, by the humiliation of fasting and the sacrament of exorcism.

The exorcism mentioned here is the denunciation of the devil and all his works. One wonders whether the fasting required of those who were about to be baptized was austere or whether the denunciations requested prior to baptism were particularly onerous. In any event, Augustine finds the rigor of the fasting and the recantations associated with exorcism to be a suitable analogy for grinding and pounding.

Then came baptism, and you were, in a manner of speaking, moistened with water in order to be shaped into bread.

This is pretty self-evident. Baptism involves moistening of the person with water. The similarity to the adding of water to flour is pretty straightforward.

But it’s not yet bread without fire to bake it. So what does fire represent? That’s the chrism, the anointing. Oil, the fire-feeder, you see, is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit.

This is parallel to the third part of Augustine’s analogy in sermon 272. Notice here two interesting things. First, he confirms that he’s referring to the rite of chrismation when he speaks about the fire of the Holy Spirit. He’s talking about oil, which is fuel for fire. But notice that he calls the oil “the sacrament of the Holy Spirit.” Why? If you think that “sacrament of the body and blood” means transubstantiation, then consistently you might believe that Augustine thought that the oil was transubstantiated into the Holy Spirit.

Everyone else, I think, realizes that Augustine means that the oil (called chrism) symbolizes and pictures to us the Holy Spirit. It pictures the Holy Spirit, because it is the fuel for fire, and the Holy Spirit is symbolized by fire in Scripture.

Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Luke 3:16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

Acts 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

Notice it, when the Acts of the Apostles are read; the reading of that book begins now, you see. Today begins the book which is called the Acts of the Apostles.

Evidently, the Acts of the Apostles were going to be read later in the service. Whether Augustine also preached a sermon on Acts this same day or whether the reading was not for a homily, we’re not told. If there was another sermon coming, that would explain the brevity of this sermon.

Anybody who wishes to make progress has the means of doing so.

Progress in what? It’s not entirely clear what Augustine is referring to. The means for making progress, though, is clear: it is Scripture.

When you assemble in church, put aside silly stories and concentrate on the scriptures.

That’s the Augustine we Reformed folks know and love. He wants people to concentrate on the Scriptures. For him, the service is a place where people concentrate on the Scriptures. How far removed had the church of Rome and its Latin mass come by the time of the Reformation, when the Scriptures were (in the services) mostly tucked away in a language that people did not know.

We here are your books.

Do I need to point out that Augustine doesn’t mean that we are transubstantiated into books? Probably Augustine means that those who are reading the Scriptures serve a similar role to books for those who either can’t afford their own Bible or who do not know how to read.

So pay attention, and see how the Holy Spirit is going to come at Pentecost. And this is how he will come; he will show himself in tongues of fire.

He’s referring to Acts 2:3, which I already quoted above. Evidently, their reading from Acts was at least up to that point.

You see, he breathes into us the charity which should set us on fire for God, and have us think lightly of the world, and burn up our straw, and purge and refine our hearts like gold.

Who would think that one would find in Augustine talk about being “on fire for God”! But here it is. More interestingly, Augustine ascribes this fiery capacity to love that God breathes into us. Moreover, this fire is a purging fire that burns up the straw and refines our heart like gold. One wonders whether Augustine is alluding to 1 Corinthians 3:

1 Corinthians 3:11-16
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Viewed as a commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:11-16, Augustine’s comments are interesting, because they suggest a purification of a man’s heart in this life through the action of charity breathed into the man via the Holy Spirit of God. In other words, an internal purification or sanctification that is the work of the Spirit.

But all of this explanation about how the Holy Spirit is represented by fire (and by oil, the fuel for fire) is an aside, and Augustine is about to come back to his point.

So the Holy Spirit comes, fire after water, and you are baked into the bread which is the body of Christ.

This reference to fire after water may be an allusion to the gospel passages I provided above, or possibly some kind of contemporary scientific reference with respect to the order of elements (fire and water being two of the four elements). Either way, Augustine fills out his metaphor by saying that the believers are baked into the bread, which bread is the body of Christ.

And that’s how unity is signified.

Notice how he says that unity is signified. He does not, of course, say that unity is transubstantiated, nor does he mean any such thing. What means here is that unity is pictured through the bread.

Now you have the sacraments in the order they occur.

Whether this is a reference back to the sacraments of baptism and chrismation (the most obvious sense to me in view of his “fire after water”) or whether he is referring to the pictures within the rite of Communion (the other obvious sense and perhaps preferable on the fact that this sentence is followed by “First”) is probably not crucial.

First, after the prayer, you are urged to lift up your hearts; that’s only right for the members of Christ. After all, if you have become members of Christ, where is your head? Members have a head. If the head hadn’t gone ahead before, the members would never follow. Where has our head gone? What did you give back in the creed? On the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. So our head is in heaven. That’s why, after the words Lift up your hearts, you reply, We have lifted them up to the Lord.

I’ve kept this section a little longer since the wording may be a little hard to follow in pieces. Augustine is saying that it is proper to lift up our hearts, because we are members of Christ and Christ is our head (no mention of the bishop of Rome as our head, but that’s no surprise, since Augustine didn’t believe such a thing). Our head is in heaven, and so we properly lift up our hearts to the Lord, as members of Him. Remember, Augustine has in the background the metaphor of the one bread. That one bread is the body of Christ, and we – like grains – are members of that one bread, in Augustine’s explanation. Notice Augustine’s reference to the creed, as in the other sermon. He clearly assumes that these new converts are at least familiar with the creed and that they can recite it (give it back).

And you mustn’t attribute it to your own powers, your own merits, your own efforts, this lifting up of your hearts to the Lord, because it’s God’s gift that you should have your heart up above.

Augustine manages to squeeze a little of the doctrines of grace into this sermon as an aside.

That’s why the bishop, or the presbyter who’s offering, goes on to say, when the people have answered We have lifted them up to the Lord, why he goes on to say, Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have lifted up our hearts.

Augustine is continuing to explain the liturgy of his particular church. It is clear, you see, that they had a particular liturgical form in which after the person who is offering says “lift up your hearts” the congregation replies “we have lifted them up to the Lord,” and then the person offering says “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have lifted up our hearts.” It’s a set form, and interactive, capturing the attention and participation of the congregation.

Augustine is pointing out that this thanks that our hearts are uplifted is done in recognition that it is entirely attributed to God’s gift, not our merit. This is just a continuation of his doctrines of grace tangent.

Let us give thanks, because unless he had enabled us to lift them up, we would still have our hearts down here on earth.

And here is an explanation of what Augustine is saying, namely that God enabled us to lift up our hearts, else we would not have been able to lift them up.

And you signify your agreement by saying, It is right and just to give thanks to the one who caused us to lift up our hearts to our head.

And here is the concluding line of the congregation’s response. The congregation actually acknowledges that God caused them to lift up their hearts to their head (meaning to Christ).

Then, after the consecration of the sacrifice of God, because he wanted us to be ourselves his sacrifice, which is indicated by where that sacrifice was first put, that is the sign of the thing that we are;

Evidently, the text of this sermon is “corrupt” here, and the translator has done his best to convey the sense. So, we should probably be careful about how much weight we place on the exact wording. Nevertheless, the point is that this sacrifice is a sacrifice of us! The bread is the sign of the thing that we are. As in the previous sermon, Augustine’s point is not one that is very helpful for transubstantiation. If Augustine’s terminology about the bread being the “sign” is to be taken in transubstantial terms, we ourselves would be transubstantiated. But if, instead, Augustine means for us to understand simply an ordinary sign, then the sermon makes more sense.

Incidentally, it should be noted that Augustine elsewhere speaks about us being the sacrifice, for example in City of God, Book X, Chapter 6 (“This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.”).

why, then after the consecration is accomplished, we say the Lord’s prayer, which you have received and given back.

In addition to the creed, it is apparent that they were expected to know the Lord’s prayer.

After that comes the greeting, Peace be with you, and Christians kiss one another with a holy kiss.

This practice of ritualistic kissing with the greeting ties in well with Augustine’s theme of unity in the body.

It’s a sign of peace; what is indicated by the lips should happen in the conscience; that is, just as your lips approach of peace; what is indicated by the lips should happen in the conscience; that is, just as your lips approach the lips of your brothers or sisters, so your heart should not be withdrawn from theirs.

I’m sure our modern (at least Western) sensibilities are a little troubled by this spectacle of the congregants kissing one another on the lips, but obviously it was not intended to have the erotic connotations that such kissing would have today. Moreover, notice how the kiss is called here the “sign of peace.”

In Sermon 61, on Almsgiving, Augustine had made a similar point: “After this the Pax Vobiscum [Peace be with you] is said. The kiss of peace is a significant sacrament. Give it and receive it in such a way that you will have charity. Be not a Judas. The traitor Judas kissed Christ with his lips, but in his heart he was plotting against Him. Perhaps someone is hostile in his feelings toward you, and you can neither dissuade nor convince him. You must bear with him. Do not return evil for evil in your heart. Love him, even though he hates you. Cheerfully give him the kiss of peace.”

Notice how there Augustine refers to this kiss as a sacrament and here a sign of peace. The words mean roughly the same thing to Augustine, with sacrament carrying a somewhat more specialized meaning. You see, for Augustine if the term “sacrament” is broadly understood there were not just two sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) but a myriad of sacraments, such as this kiss of peace. In any event, the point Augustine is making there and here is that the kiss symbolizes and signifies a spiritual reality that ought to be present.

So they are great sacraments and signs, really serious and important sacraments.

This is yet another reason to favor the slightly less obvious meaning, namely that it seems that Augustine is referring to each of the elements of the liturgy as themselves “great” and “serious” and “important” sacraments. Alternatively, he may be referring specifically to the sacraments of the body and blood.

Do you want to know how their seriousness is impressed on us?

Of course we do!

The apostle says, Whoever eats the body of Christ or drinks the blood of the Lord unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27).

Notice that again, for authoritative doctrine, Augustine appeals to Scripture.

What is receiving unworthily? Receiving with contempt, receiving with derision.

Augustine does not mean contempt for the elements or derision for them, but for our fellow Christians. After all, Augustine has just explained that they are a sacrament of unity. Contempt and derision are the enemy of unity.

Don’t let yourselves think that what you can see is of no account. What you can see passes away, but the invisible reality signified does not pass away, but remains. Look, it’s received, it’s eaten, it’s consumed.

Here again we can see Augustine’s sacramentology. The sacrament is a visible depiction of a spiritual reality. What is seen is material and transient. What is unseen is spiritual and enduring (whether that peace, or unity, or charity).

Is the body of Christ consumed, is the Church of Christ consumed, are the members of Christ consumed? Perish the thought! Here they are being purified, there they will be crowned with the victor’s laurels.

Notice that Augustine does not explain the sacrament in terms of transubstantiation unless you want to say that the bread becomes the church. Surely no one would say that. Notice as well that Augustine again points to purification and clearly identifies that place of purification as here.

So what is signified will remain eternally, although the thing that signifies it seems to pass away.

He means we (who are signified) will remain eternally, even though through digestion the bread and wine seem to pass away.

So receive the sacrament in such a way that you think about yourselves, that you retain unity in your hearts, that you always fix your hearts up above.

Here Augustine returns to his theme and application. Be unified! He also works in, quite resourcefully, his earlier theme about lifting up our hearts toward our head, namely Christ who is bodily in heaven (recall the hypothetical objection in the previous sermon).

Don’t let your hope be placed on earth, but in heaven.

Our hope is not in the bread and cup before us, but in Christ who is in heaven, which they symbolize. Augustine’s heavenly minded theme is thoroughly Biblical:

Matthew 6:19-21
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Let your faith be firm in God, let it be acceptable to God. Because what you don’t see now, but believe, you are going to see there, where you will have joy without end.

Augustine does not tell them that they see Christ now under a lying appearance of bread and wine. Instead, Augustine tells them that they will see what they don’t see now. They will see Christ in heaven, where also they will see the perfect unity, joy, and peace that the bread and wine symbolize.

-TurretinFan


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