Archive for the ‘Alexander of Alexandria’ Category

Sola Scriptura and Alexander of Alexandria "The Deposition of Arius" (Possibly Athanasius)

October 7, 2016

Around A.D. 320-324 Alexander of Alexandria sent out a letter regarding “The Deposition of Arius” (available from the CCEL here) As Athanasius was Alexander’s right hand man at the time and because the arguments are similar to Athansius’ own later arguments, it is believed Athanasius may have possibly authored the letter. What does this letter have to say about adherence to Sola Scriptura or some other view?

The letter does talk about “the doctrines of the Catholic Church” (meaning the universal church, not today’s RCC) and “the sound Catholic Faith” (at the beginning and end of the letter). How are these doctrines and this faith defined, though? The constant appeal is to Scripture. We will see that in each of the sections.

First, section 1:

1. As there is one body of the Catholic Church, and a command is given us in the sacred Scriptures to preserve the bond of unity and peace, it is agreeable thereto that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may either suffer or rejoice with one another. Now there are gone forth in this diocese, at this time, certain lawless men, enemies of Christ, teaching an apostasy, which one may justly suspect and designate as a forerunner of Antichrist. I was desirous to pass such a matter by without notice, in the hope that perhaps the evil would spend itself among its supporters, and not extend to other places to defile the ears of the simple. But seeing that Eusebius, now of Nicomedia, who thinks that the government of the Church rests with him, because retribution has not come upon him for his desertion of Berytus, when he had cast an eye of desire on the Church of the Nicomedians, begins to support these apostates, and has taken upon him to write letters every where in their behalf, if by any means he may draw in certain ignorant persons to this most base and antichristian heresy; I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all; that you may understand who the apostates are, and the cavils which their heresy has adopted, and that, should Eusebius write to you, you may pay no attention to him, for he now desires by means of these men to exhibit anew his old malevolence, which has so long been concealed, pretending to write in their favour, while in truth it clearly appears, that he does it to forward his own interests.

Notice that Alexander begins his comments with a reference to Scripture, specifically Ephesians 4:3-4 “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling … .” Next he alludes to 1 Corinthians 12:26 “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” He then seems to allude to 1 John 2 “18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. … 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” and Jude 4 “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is an interesting comment made by Alexander: “I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all … .” What law can he be referring to? As an examination of the rest of the letter shows, it seems the law he has in mind is Scripture.

Turning to section 2:

2. Now those who became apostates are these, Arius, Achilles, Aeithales, Carpones, another Arius, and Sarmates, sometime Presbyters: Euzoïus, Lucius, Julius, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius, sometime Deacons: and with them Secundus and Theonas, sometime called Bishops. And the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures are these following:—God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work. Neither is He like in essence to the Father; neither is He the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things made and created, and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms, since He Himself originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also. Wherefore He is by nature subject to change and variation as are all rational creatures. And the Word is foreign from the essence of the Father, and is alien and separated therefrom. And the Father cannot be described by the Son, for the Word does not know the Father perfectly and accurately, neither can He see Him perfectly. Moreover, the Son knows not His own essence as it really is; for He is made for us, that God might create us by Him, as by an instrument; and He would not have existed, had not God wished to create us. Accordingly, when some one asked them, whether the Word of God can possibly change as the devil changed, they were not afraid to say that He can; for being something made and created, His nature is subject to change.

Notice that the standard Alexander immediately adopts is Scripture: “the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures.” Of course, as the rest of his comments are a short summary of the abominable heresies, he has no Scriptural support for these novelties.

Turning to section 3:

3. Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers. But Eusebius and his fellows admitted them to communion, being desirous to mingle falsehood with the truth, and impiety with piety. But they will not be able to do so, for the truth must prevail; neither is there any “communion of light with darkness,” nor any “concord of Christ with Belial.” For who ever heard such assertions before? or who that hears them now is not astonished and does not stop his ears lest they should be defiled with such language? Who that has heard the words of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” will not denounce the saying of these men, that “there was a time when He was not?” Or who that has heard in the Gospel, “the Only-begotten Son,” and “by Him were all things made,” will not detest their declaration that He is “one of the things that were made.” For how can He be one of those things which were made by Himself? or how can He be the Only-begotten, when, according to them, He is counted as one among the rest, since He is Himself a creature and a work? And how can He be “made of things that were not,” when the Father saith, “My heart hath uttered a good Word,” and “Out of the womb I have begotten Thee before the morning star?” Or again, how is He “unlike in substance to the Father,” seeing He is the perfect “image” and “brightness” of the Father, and that He saith, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father?” And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom. And how is He “subject to change and variation,” Who says, by Himself, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me,” and “I and the Father are One;” and by the Prophet, “Behold Me, for I am, and I change not?” For although one may refer this expression to the Father, yet it may now be more aptly spoken of the Word, viz., that though He has been made man, He has not changed; but as the Apostle has said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And who can have persuaded them to say, that He was made for us, whereas Paul writes, “for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things?”

Alexander begins by mentioning a regional council in Africa. He notes, however, that not everyone accepted the anathema of that council, focusing primarily on Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Alexander argues that Eusebius of Nicomedia is wrong to have communion with Arius, citing 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”

To rebut Arius’ position, Alexander turns directly to Scripture, quoting from John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” He then also cites “only-begotten son” (John 1:18) and “all things were made by Him” (John 1:3).

He does not limit himself to the New Testament. He cites Psalm (LXX 44:2) “my heart has uttered a good word; I speak my works to the king.” (See Psalm 45:1 in our Bibles) (Origen a spiritual ancestor of Athanasius in Alexandria (ca. 185 – 254), in his commentary on John, Book 1, at sections 151 and 280, pp. 64 and 91, draws the same connection to this psalm, which otherwise might not seem necessarily relevant.) He also cites Psalm (LXX 109:3) “Before the morning star have I begotten thee from the womb” (See Psalm 110:3 in our Bibles) (a younger contemporary of Athanasius, Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 310 or 320 to 403) in his Panarion makes a similar connection to this Psalm, in Anacephalaeosis V, 65 “Against Paul the Samosatian,” at 4,4-8, pp. 219-220)

He then goes back and cites Hebrews 1:3 “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, … ” and John 14:9 “… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father … .”

Alexander continues by citing the Biblical titles of “Word” (e.g. John 1:1) and “Wisdom” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30).

Alexander also cites John 14:10 “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” and John 10:30 “I and my Father are one.”

Once again, Alexander goes back to the Old Testament and quotes Malachi 3:6: “For I am the Lord, I change not” (the “behold me” in Alexander’s citation may be taken from Isaiah 65:1: “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.” or possibly from Malach 3:1: “Behold, I send forth my messenger, and he shall survey the way before me …”)

He then quotes from Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” and again from Hebrews 2:10: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

Turning to section 4:

4. As to their blasphemous position that “the Son knows not the Father perfectly,” we ought not to wonder at it; for having once set themselves to fight against Christ, they contradict even His express words, since He says, “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father.” Now if the Father knows the Son but in part, then it is evident that the Son does not know the Father perfectly; but if it is not lawful to say this, but the Father does know the Son perfectly, then it is evident that as the Father knows His own Word, so also the Word knows His own Father Whose Word He is.

Notice again that Alexander quotes from Scripture, John 10:15 “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: … .”

Turning to section 5:

5. By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them; but they changed like chameleons, and again shifted their ground, striving to bring upon themselves that sentence, “when the wicked falleth into the depth of evils, he despiseth.” There have been many heresies before them, which, venturing further than they ought, have fallen into folly; but these men by endeavouring in all their cavils to overthrow the Divinity of the Word, have justified the other in comparison of themselves, as approaching nearer to Antichrist. Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church. We grieve for their destruction, and especially because, having once been instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now sprung away. Yet we are not greatly surprised, for Hymenæus and Philetus did the same, and before them Judas, who followed the Saviour, but afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. And concerning these same persons, we have not been left without instruction; for our Lord has forewarned us; “Take heed lest any man deceive you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near, and they shall deceive many: go ye not after them;” while Paul, who was taught these things by our Saviour, wrote that “in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, which reject the truth.”

Here Alexander makes it explicit that his constant and continual practice in rebutting these heresies was appeal to Scripture:”By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them … .” In condemning them as wicked he again quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures, Proverbs (LXX – Brenton trans.) 18:3: “When an ungodly man comes into a depth of evils, he despises them; but dishonour and reproach come upon him.”

Finally, Alexander comes back to mentioning the church. He says that in view of their folly/heresies “Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church.”

He says that their apostasy is sad but not unexpected, citing Biblical examples of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17-18) as well as Judas (e.g. Acts 1:25). He then points to Jesus’ warning in Luke 21:8: “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” and Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 ” Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;”

Lastly, turning to section 6:

6. Since then our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has instructed us by His own mouth, and also hath signified to us by the Apostle concerning such men, we accordingly being personal witnesses of their impiety, have anathematized, as we said, all such, and declared them to be alien from the Catholic Faith and Church. And we have made this known to your piety, dearly beloved and most honoured fellow-ministers, in order that should any of them have the boldness to come unto you, you may not receive them, nor comply with the desire of Eusebius, or any other person writing in their behalf. For it becomes us who are Christians to turn away from all who speak or think any thing against Christ, as being enemies of God, and destroyers of souls; and not even to “bid such God speed,” lest we become partakers of their sins, as the blessed John hath charged us. Salute the brethren that are with you. They that are with me salute you.

Notice again that Alexander appeals to the authority of Scripture as being the mouth of Jesus and the Apostles, referring to the warnings of section 5. There is again a reference to church discipline, but notice that Alexander is only asserting a declaration of what has been discovered, not assertion the ability to define what is true. Finally, he concludes with yet another warning from Scripture, 2 John 10-11: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

In conclusion, we see that Alexander of Alexandria, and possibly his right hand man Athanasius, both relied in this letter exclusively, explicitly, and extensively on the authority of Scripture to combat the Arian heresy. This letter, therefore, may not have any explicit assertion of Sola Scriptura, but it is a great example of Sola Scriptura in practice even in a ecclesiastical setting that is different from our own. A lot of the orthodox men of the church in that time endorsed this letter, which implicitly endorses the approach of Sola Scriptura. Amongst them were Athanasius, as Alexander introduces the letter by saying “Alexander, being assembled with his beloved brethren, the Presbyters and Deacons of Alexandria,” which would have included Athanasius.

-TurretinFan

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Formal Sufficiency of Scripture: Fourth Century Fathers (Guest Series)

November 20, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

We began by explaining the nature of formal sufficiency (i.e. the Reformed view) in an introduction section (link). After that we explored Scripture’s own testimony to its sufficiency (link). We could rightly have stopped the series there, but instead we continued by exploring some of the patristic testimony on the subject, starting with the earliest Christian writers (link), and then continuing with the fathers of the 3rd century (link).

The fourth century ushers in a period during which Christianity did not experience persecution on a large scale. Consequently, there are more and better preserved writings from this period than from some of the previous periods.

Using the century boundaries as the dividing line as to which fathers to include may seem a little arbitrary. For example, Epiphanias of Salamis and Chrysostom both died in the first decade of the 5th century, having lived most of their lives in the 4th century. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to select only those fathers who died or flourished (in the case of fathers whose date of death is not known) in the fourth century.

We begin our exploration of the fourth century with a theologian born in the 3rd century in Africa, but who later became an adviser to the Roman emperor.

Lactantius (260-330):

For this is especially the cause why, with the wise and the learned, and the princes of this world, the sacred Scriptures are without credit, because the prophets spoke in common and simple language, as though they spoke to the people. And therefore they are despised by those who are willing to hear or read nothing except that which is polished and eloquent; nor is anything able to remain fixed in their minds, except that which charms their ears by a more soothing sound. But those things which appear humble are considered anile, foolish, and common. So entirely do they regard nothing as true, except that which is pleasant to the ear; nothing as credible, except that which can excite pleasure: no one estimates a subject by its truth, but by its embellishment. Therefore they do not believe the sacred writings, because they are without any pretense; but they do not even believe those who explain them, because they also are either altogether ignorant, or at any rate possessed of little learning.

ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book V, Chapter I.

There are two things to particularly note in Lactantius’ comments above. The first is that the Scriptures are generally written in simple language. The second is that they are believed and explained by those who are either uneducated or have little education.

Lactantius (260-330):

For all those things which are unconnected with words, that is, pleasant sounds of the air and of strings, may be easily disregarded, because they do not adhere to its, and cannot be written. But a well-composed poem, and a speech beguiling with its sweetness, captivate the minds of men, and impel them in what direction they please. Hence, when learned men have applied themselves to the religion of God, unless they have been instructed by some skillful teacher, they do not believe. For, being accustomed to sweet and polished speeches or poems, they despise the simple and common language of the sacred writings as mean. For they seek that which may soothe the senses. But whatever is O pleasant to the ear effects persuasion, and while it delights fixes itself deeply within the breast. Is God, therefore, the contriver both of the mind, and of the voice, and of the tongue, unable to speak eloquently? Yea, rather, with the greatest foresight, He wished those things which are divine to be without adornment, that all might understand the things which He Himself spoke to all.

ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book VI Of true Worship, Chapter 21 Of the Pleasures of the Ears, And of Sacred Literature.

The quotation above builds upon the previous one. It reemphasizes that Scripture is written simply, and it explains the reason, which is that it will be understood by all.

Regarding Constantine (325, Nicea):

The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honourable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit. “For the gospels” (continued he), “the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.” These and similar exhortations he, like an affectionate son, addressed to the bishops as to fathers, labouring to bring about their unanimity in the apostolical doctrines.

According to Theodoret, cf. NPNF2: Vol. III, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 6.

Note that Constantine is not just saying that the Scriptures are clear, but that they clearly teach even on the challenging issues of the Arian controversy. Furthermore, they are the ones from whom the solution of the question will come, the one source he identifies.

We should not be too surprised that Alexander of Alexandria shares similar ideas, since he was one of the bishops at Nicaea.

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328), the spiritual mentor of Athanasius, testified of the Arian heretics in a letter to Alexander of Constantinople:

They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures.

Alternative translation:
The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame . . .

Greek: Οὐ κατήδεσεν αὐτοὺς ἡ τῶν ἀρχαίων Γραφῶν φιλόθεος σαφήνεια . . .

Theodoreti Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber I, Caput III, PG 82:904; translation in NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 3; alternative translation in ANF: Vol. VI, Epistle to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, §10. The mistranslation of these words in J. Berington and J. Kirk, The Faith of Catholics, with preface, corrections, and additions by Rt. Rev. Monsignor Capel, Vol. 1, Third Enlarged Edition (Ratison: Fr. Pustet & Co., 1909), p. 45, represent a distorted view of what Alexander of Alexandria said, “Neither the explanation, well-pleasing unto God, of the ancient Scripture has shamed them.”

The quotation above is fairly self-explanatory. It is simply confirming that Alexander thought that the Arians were not simply interpreting Scripture differently, but rather that they were opposing the clear teachings of Scripture.

Anthony (c. 251–356) (recounted by Athanasius):

One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: ‘The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Life of Anthony, §16.

Anthony’s comments are a fairly concise statement of formal sufficiency. Unsurprisingly, Athanasius’ own views are similar.

Athanasius (297-373):

The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ.

Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well.

For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Against the Heathen, Part I, §1-3.

Again, we see explicit affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture. Athanasius even says what some of our Roman opponents beg us to find in the fathers, namely that human teachers are not necessary. And, of course, such sentiments about Scripture’s formal sufficiency are not a unique occurrence it Athanasius.

Athanasius (297-373):

But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority [than the light of nature in the form of the testimony of the stars themselves], so that we in our turn write boldy to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say.

For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Against the Heathen, Part III, §45, points 2-3.

Notice that again Athanasius is affirming the plainness of Scripture, and the ability of the reader to be taught from them.

From Alexandria, we make a dramatic move westward to France and hear the testimony of the somewhat younger Hilary of Poitiers.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

If any man propose to express what is known in other words than those supplied by God, he must inevitably either display his own ignorance, or else leave his readers’ minds in utter perplexity.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book 7, §38.

The above quotation is a pretty strong way of stating that Scripture is plainly written and easy to understand.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

I do not know the word ὁμοιούσιον, or understand it, unless it confesses a similarity of essence. I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ὁμοιούσιον by ὁμοούσιον. That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον. Our desire is sacred. Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicaea our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ὁμοούσιον with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Councils or the Faith of the Easterns, §91.

According to his own testimony, Hilary learned the doctrine that the Son shares the same substance with the Father from Holy Scripture before he had ever heard that it was taught by the Council of Nicaea.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Now we ought to recognize first of all that God has spoken not for Himself but for us, and that He has so far tempered the language of His utterance as to enable the weakness of our nature to grasp and understand it.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VIII, §43.

The above quotation is another fairly straightforward statement of formal sufficiency in the sense that the wording of the Scriptures is specifically designed to permit us to understand it. This is, you may note, very similar to the explanation we gave in the first two posts of the series.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

The Lord enunciated the faith of the Gospel in the simplest words that could be found, and fitted His discourses to our understanding, so far as the weakness of our nature allowed Him, without saying anything unworthy of the majesty of His own nature.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §40.

I feel like I’m piling on with that last quotation, because it says nearly the same thing as the previous one.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) commenting on John 10:30:

But this passage concerning the unity, of which we are speaking, does not allow us to look for the meaning outside the plain sound of the words. If Father and Son are one, in the sense that They are one in will, and if separable natures cannot be one in will, because their diversity of kind and nature must draw them into diversities of will and judgment, how call They be one in will, not being one in knowledge? There can be no unity of will between ignorance and knowledge. Omniscience and nescience are opposites, and opposites cannot be of the same will.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §70.

The passage above may seem to be a relatively obscure reference to formal sufficiency, but it shows one way in which such a view plays out in Hilary’s hermeneutic.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Human judgment must not pass its sentence upon God. Our nature is not such that it can lift itself by its own forces to the contemplation of heavenly things. We must learn from God what we are to think of God; we have no source of knowledge but Himself. . . . Of all this he could have known nothing except through God Himself. And we, in like manner, must confine ourselves, in whatever we say of God, to the terms in which He has spoken to our understanding concerning Himself.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book V, §21.

One interesting aspect about this is not so much the aspect of perspicuity in itself, but the fact that Hilary views God’s description of himself as enough. Someone might try to argue that this is really more related to material sufficiency, but by saying “to the terms in which He has spoken,” it appears that Hilary means to suggest not only the material but also the form.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

In our reply we have followed Him to the moment of His glorious death, and taking one by one the statements of their unhallowed doctrine, we have refuted them from the teaching of the Gospels and the Apostle. But even after His glorious resurrection there are certain things which they have made bold to construe as proofs of the weakness of a lower nature, and to these we must now reply. Let us adopt once more our usual method of drawing out from the words themselves their true signification, that so we may discover the truth precisely where they think to overthrow it. For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book XI, §7.

Notice how the hermeneutic of letting the text speak for itself is here explained in terms of the plainness of the text. Scripture interprets Scripture is one of the hermeneutical outworkings of a belief in formal sufficiency.

You might think that was enough from Hilary, and perhaps it is, but he says the same thing in other ways too.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

The Lord has not left in doubt or obscurity the teaching conveyed in this great mystery; He has not abandoned us to lose our way in dim uncertainty. Listen to Him as He reveals the full knowledge of this faith to His Apostles; — I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but through Me. If ye know Me, ye know My Father also; and from henceforth ye shall know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and ye have not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father also. How sayest thou, Shew us the Father? Dost thou not believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth His works. Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; or else believe for the very works’ sake.

He Who is the Way leads us not into by-paths or trackless wastes: He Who is the Truth mocks us not with lies; He Who is the Life betrays us not into delusions which are death. He Himself has chosen these winning names to indicate the methods which He has appointed for our salvation. As the Way, He will guide us to the Truth; the Truth will establish us in the Life. And therefore it is all-important for us to know what is the mysterious mode, which He reveals, of attaining this life.

No man cometh to the Father but through Me. The way to the Father is through the Son. And now we must enquire whether this is to be by a course of obedience to His teaching, or by faith in His Godhead. For it is conceivable that our way to the Father may be through adherence to the Son’s teaching, rather than through believing that the Godhead of the Father dwells in the Son. And therefore let us, in the next place, seek out the true meaning of the instruction given us here. For it is not by cleaving to a preconceived opinion, but by studying the force of the words, that we shall enter into possession of this faith.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §33.

Notice how clearly Hilary states the matter, as making it perfectly apparent that he views the recorded teachings of Jesus as sufficient.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Salvation is far from the wicked, because they have not sought the statutes of God; since for no other purpose were they consigned to writing, than that they should come within the knowledge and conceptions of all without exception.

Latin:
Ob id enim longe a peccatoribus salus est, quia non exquisierunt justificationes Dei: cum non utique ob aliud consignatae litteris maneant, quam ut ad universorum scientiam notionemque defluerent.

Psalmi CXVIII, Littera XX, 5, PL 9:633; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 246.

We Calvinists may be hesitant to speak in such unqualified terms (since Arminians will think we mean all individuals without exception rather than all classes without exception). Nevertheless, Hilary’s point is really an unmistakable affirmation of formal sufficiency.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

But the word of God [and in the context he speaks explicitly of Scripture] has consulted the benefit of all who shall ever live, being itself the best adapted to promote the instruction of all without exception.

Latin text:
Sed universis qui in vitam venirent Dei sermo consuluit, universae aetati ipse aptissimus ad profectum.

Psalmi CXVIII, Quindecim Graduum., Gradus 15, PL 9:643; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 246.

This is quote similar to the immediately previous quotation.

From France, we can jump back east to Caesarea and hear from the only slightly younger Basil the Great.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

What seems to be said in an ambiguous and veiled way in certain passages of inspired Scripture is made plain by the obvious meaning of other passages.

Alternative translation:
Whatsoever seems to be spoken ambiguously or obscurely in some places of holy Scripture, is cleared up by what is plain and evident in other places.

Greek:
Τὰ ἀμφίβολα καὶ ἐπικεκαλυμμένως εἰρῆσθαι δοκοῦντα ἔν τισι τόποις τῆς θεοπνεύστου Γραφῆς ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις ὁμολογουμέων σαφηνίζεται.

In Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Responsio CCLXVII, PG 31:1264; translation in W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K., 1925), The Shorter Rules, Answer #267 (CCLXVII), p. 329; alternative translation in William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (Cambridge: University Press, reprinted 1849), p. 491.

The quotation above comes at the issue of the formal sufficiency of Scripture from a little different angle from some of the statements we’ve seen before. Basil here addresses the imagined problem that there are some parts of Scripture that are hard to understand. It is true that there are some difficult parts of Scripture, to be sure, but this is not a problem because there are also clear parts of Scripture, and the clear parts explain the more difficult or obscure parts.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379)(To a widow):

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.

Greek:
Ἔχουσα δὲ τὴν ἐκ τῶν θείων Γραφῶν παράκλησιν, οὔτε ἡμῶν οὔτε ἄλλου τινὸς δεηθήσῃ πρὸς τὸ τὰ δέοντα συνορᾷν, αὐτάρκη τὴν ἐκ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἔχουσα συμβουλίαν καὶ ὁδηγίαν πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.

Epistola CCLXXXIII, PG 32:1020; translation in NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 283.

Again, a very clear statement of the formal sufficiency of Scripture. This statement also provides a negative aspect – the widow does not need any additional teachers besides the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. This sort of comment should satisfy our Roman disputants, though perhaps they will be dissatisfied because Basil said “nor that of anybody else,” instead of saying “nor that of the pope.” But, of course, Basil was not familiar with the modern papacy and its claims of infallibility, so he could hardly be expected to specifically disclaim such a view.

Basil of Caesarea (329-379):

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition. Greek:
Πᾶσα Γραφὰ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος, διὰ τοῦτο συγγραφεῖσα παρὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος, ἵνʼ, ὡσπερ ἐν κοινῷ τῶν ψυχῶν ἰατρείῳ, πάντες ἄνθρωποι τὸ ἴαμα τοῦ οἰκείου πάθους ἕκαστος ἐκλεγώμεθα.

Homilia in Psalmum I, §1, PG 29:209; translation in FC, Vol. 46, Saint Basil: Exegetical Homilies, Homily 10 on Psalm 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1963), p. 151.

I’m sure that there are folks today who would have a heart attack at the idea of a self-service pharmacy, but Basil views Scripture as such a thing – a place where a person in need can find what he needs. It’s not just a high view of Scripture, it’s a formally sufficient view of Scripture.

From Caesarea, we turn … who knows where! We’re not quite sure where Ambrosiaster lived or who he was. He’s sometimes treated as a church father, and his writings were – for a long time – confused with those of his contemporary, Ambrose. Perhaps he was even from the same part of the world – certainly we think he was from the West, and his surviving works are known in Latin.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384):

The fact is that Scripture speaks in our own manner so that we may understand.

Latin:
Sed Scriptura more nostro loquitur, ut intelligere possumus.

In Epistolam Beati Pauli Galatas, v. 4:7, PL 17:360; translation in Mark J. Edwards, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VIII: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 57.

The quotation is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a simple statement of the fact that the Scriptures are written so as to be understandable to the reader.

From Ambrosiaster, it only makes sense to turn directly to Ambrose, one of the youngest of the 4th century fathers, living mostly in the second half of the century.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Trust to no one, to guide you, but where the light of that lamp [i.e. Scripture] goes before. For where you think it shines, there is a whirlpool; it seems to shine, but it defiles; and where you think it is firm or dry, there it is slippery. And, moreover, if you have a lamp, the way is long. Therefore let faith be the guide of your journey; let the divine Scripture be your path. Excellent is the guidance of the heavenly word. From this lamp light your lamp; that the eye of your mind, which is the lamp of your body, may give light.

Latin:
nulli credas tuum, nisi praeeunte lucernae istius luce, processum. Nam ubi putas quod luceat, gurges est; videtur lucere sed polluit; et ubi putas solidum esse vel siccum, ibi lubricum est. Sed et si lucerna tibi, iter longius sit. Sit ergo fides tibi itineris tui praevia, sit tibi iter Scriptura divina. Bonus est coelestis ductus eloquii. Ex hac lucerna accende et tu lucernam; ut luceat interior oculus tuus, qui lucerna est tui corporis.

In Psalmum David CXVIII, Expositio, Sermo 14, §11, PL 15:1394; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 148.

Ambrose, in the quotation above, is simply reaffirming the points that we had previously raised about the fact the Scripture illuminate our way. The Scriptures illuminating our way implies not only that they have the right material, but also the right form, to enlighten us.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

In most places Paul so explains his meaning by his own words, that he who discourses on them can find nothing to add of his own; and if he wishes to say anything, must rather perform the office of a grammarian than a discourser.

Latin:
In plerisque ita se ipse suis exponat sermonibus, ut is qui tractat, nihil inveniat quod adjiciat suum; ac si velit aliquid dicere, grammatici magis quam disputatoris fungatur munere.

Epistola XXXVII.1, PL 16:1084; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 262, Chemnitz, Vol. 1, p. 167, and Whitaker, pp. 398, 492, who all render plerisque as “most.” Cf. also The Letters of S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, trans. H. Walford (Oxford: James Parker and Co., and Rivingtons, 1881), Letter 37, §1, pp. 46-47. The translation found in FC, Vol. 26, Saint Ambrose: Letters 54. Ambrose to Simplicianus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 286, has mistranslated this word plerisque to read “in some instances” rather than the correct translation of “most places.”

This is another example of Scripture interpreting Scripture. It is also particularly interesting, because Ambrose is addressing the Pauline corpus – that portion of the the Bible that does include some things that are hard to understand. Nevertheless, there is no need (in Ambrose’s view) for external interpretative authority – the interpretation is to be derived from Paul’s own writings.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Divine Scripture confers salvation on us and is fragrant with the perfume of life, so that he who reads may acquire sweetness and not rush into danger to his own destruction.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Hexameron, Book 1, 2nd Homily, Chap. 8.30 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 34.

Notice, that Congar ascribes this view of Holy Scripture to Protestant orthodoxy. See the first post of this series, quoted from Yves Congar, The Meaning of Tradition (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1964), pp. 87-88. But, whether or not Congar is correct, the expressions “he who reads” and “Scripture confers salvation” is pretty strong language for the formal sufficiency position.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

I wished that they be arrayed in the unadorned words of Scripture in order that they may gleam in their own light and that in due order they may speak out plainly for themselves. The sun and the moon need no interpreter. The brilliance of their light is all-sufficient a light that fills the entire world. Faith serves as an illumination for the inspired Word. It is, if I may say so, an intestate witness having no need of another’s testimony, yet it dazzles the eyes of all mankind.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Cain and Abel, Book 1, Chap. 6.22 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 380.

Notice the very strong wording of formal sufficiency in the quotation above. The Scriptures themselves speak plainly – they are comparable to the sun for light and have no need of another’s testimony. It seems that Ambrose is trying to outdo Hilary in terms of stating formal sufficiency in such a way as it will be hard for someone to deny that he is teaching it.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Frequent reading of the Scriptures, therefore, strengthens the mind and ripens it by the warmth of spiritual grace. In this way our powers of reasoning are strengthened and the influence of our irrational passions brought to naught.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Cain and Abel, Book 2, Chap. 6.19 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 421.

We end our discussion of the fourth-century fathers on this slight softer note, but one that shows the functional outworking of a view of formal sufficiency. If we believe in formal sufficiency, we will be encouraged to read the Scriptures often, and we will likewise encourage others to do the same. One can contrast that with the Reformation-era attitude of the Roman church.

(to be continued)

Arianism is Consistent with Scripture?

January 2, 2010

Phoebadius (d. @ 392): Knowing, therefore, this unity of substance in the Father and in the Son, on the authority, not only of the prophets, but also of the gospels, how canst thou say that the Homoüsion is not found in scripture? Latin text: Cum ergo hanc unitatem substantiae in Patre et Filio non solum prophetica, sed et evangelica auctoritate cognoscas; quomodo dicis in Scripturis divinis ὁμοιούσιον non inveniri? S. Phoebadius, De Fide Orthodoxa, Contra Arianos, Alias De Filii Divinitate et Consubstantialitate, Tractatus, Caput V, PL 20:41.

Sometimes the opponents of sola scriptura end up taking their position to absurd lengths. Consider the following statement from Roman Catholic Bryan Cross:

The term ‘refute’ means “shown an argument to be unsound”. The bishops did not ‘refute’ Arianism; they condemned it, by defining the Faith by way of an extra-biblical term: homoousious. They were unable, by Scripture alone, to refute Arianism. The Arians could affirm every single verse of Scripture. That’s precisely why the bishops had to require affirmation of the term homoousious. So if the bishops had no authority by way of apostolic succession, then their requirement of affirming homoousious would have had no more authority than its denial by the Arians. Scripture alone was insufficient to resolve the dispute, precisely because both sides could affirm every verse in Scripture. And since sola scriptura denies the transfer of authority by way of apostolic succession, therefore the Council of Nicea and the Creed, given sola scriptura, only have authority if you agree with its interpretation of Scripture.

Mr. Cross’ zeal for his church has placed him out of touch with history. The fathers themselves believed that they refuted Arianism from Scripture:

If then, as you say, ‘the Son is from nothing,’ and ‘was not before His generation,’ He, of course, as well as others, must be called Son andGod and Wisdom only by participation; for thus all other creatures consist, and by sanctification are glorified. You have to tell us then, of what He is partaker. All other things partake of the Spirit, but He, according to you, of what is He partaker? Of the Spirit? Nay, rather the Spirit Himself takes from the Son, as He Himself says; and it is not reasonable to say that the latter is sanctified by the former. Therefore it is the Father that He partakes; for this only remains to say. But this, which is participated, what is it or whence? If it be something external provided by the Father, He will not now be partaker of the Father, but of what is external to Him; and no longer will He be even second after the Father, since He has before Him this other; nor can He be called Son of the Father, but of that, as partaking which He has been called Son and God. And if this be unseemly and irreligious, when the Father says, ‘This is My Beloved Son Matthew 3:17,’ and when the Son says that God is His own Father, it follows that what is partaken is not external, but from the essence of the Father. And as to this again, if it be other than the essence of the Son, an equal extravagance will meet us; there being in that case something between this that is from the Father and the essence of the Son, whatever that be.

This is of itself a sufficient refutation of the Arian heresy; however, its heterodoxy will appear also from the following:— If God be Maker and Creator, and create His works through the Son, and we cannot regard things which come to be, except as being through the Word, is it not blasphemous, God being Maker, to say, that His Framing Word and His Wisdom once was not? It is the same as saying, that God is not Maker, if He had not His proper Framing Word which is from Him, but that that by which He frames, accrues to Him from without , and is alien from Him, and unlike in essence.

– Athanasius, Discourse 1 Against the Arians, Sections 15 and 17

And again:

24. But He had not been thus worshipped, nor been thus spoken of, were He a creature merely. But now since He is not a creature, but the proper offspring of the Essence of that God who is worshipped, and His Son by nature, therefore He is worshipped and is believed to be God, and is Lord of armies, and in authority, and Almighty, as the Father is; for He has said Himself, ‘All things that the Father has, are Mine [John 16:15].’ For it is proper to the Son, to have the things of the Father, and to be such that the Father is seen in Him, and that through Him all things were made, and that the salvation of all comes to pass and consists in Him. And here it were well to ask them also this question , for a still clearer refutation of their heresy—Wherefore, when all things are creatures, and all are brought into consistence from nothing, and the Son Himself, according to you, is creature and work, and once was not, wherefore has He made ‘all things through Him’ alone, ‘and without Him was made not one thing [John 1:3]?’ or why is it, when ‘all things’ are spoken of, that no one thinks the Son is signified in the number, but only things originate; whereas when Scripture speaks of the Word, it does not understand Him as being in the number of ‘all,’ but places Him with the Father, as Him in whom Providence and salvation for ‘all’ are wrought and effected by the Father, though all things surely might at the same command have come to be, at which He was brought into being by God alone? For God is not wearied by commanding, nor is His strength unequal to the making of all things, that He should alone create the only Son, and need His ministry and aid for the framing of the rest. For He lets nothing stand over, which He wills to be done; but He willed only, and all things subsisted, and no one ‘has resisted His will [Romans 9:19].’ Why then were not all things brought into being by God alone at that same command, at which the Son came into being? Or let them tell us, why did all things through Him come to be, who was Himself but originate? How void of reason! However, they say concerning Him, that ‘God willing to create originate nature, when He saw that it could not endure the untempered hand of the Father, and to be created by Him, makes and creates first and alone one only, and calls Him Son and Word, that, through Him as a medium, all things might thereupon be brought to be.’ This they not only have said, but they have dared to put it into writing, namely, Eusebius, Arius, and Asterius who sacrificed.

25. Is not this a full proof of that irreligion, with which they have drugged themselves with much madness, till they blush not to be intoxicate against the truth? For if they shall assign the toil of making all things as the reason why God made the Son only, the whole creation will cry out against them as saying unworthy things of God; and Isaiah too who has said in Scripture, ‘The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary: there is no searching of His understanding [Isaiah 40:28].’ And if God made the Son alone, as not deigning to make the rest, but committed them to the Son as an assistant, this on the other hand is unworthy of God, for in Him there is no pride. Nay the Lord reproves the thought, when He says, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ and ‘one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father which is in heaven.’ And again, ‘Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet yourheavenly Father feeds them; are you not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore if God so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’ If then it be not unworthy of God to exercise His Providence, even down to things so small, a hair of the head, and a sparrow, and the grass of the field, also it was not unworthy of Him to make them. For what things are the subjects of HisProvidence, of those He is Maker through His proper Word. Nay a worse absurdity lies before the men who thus speak; for they distinguish between the creatures and the framing; and consider the latter the work of the Father, the creatures the work of the Son; whereas either all things must be brought to be by the Father with the Son, or if all that is originate comes to be through the Son, we must not call Him one of the originated things.

– Athanasius, Discourse 2 Against the Arians, Sections 24 and 25

Another father wrote of the Arians:

The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame, nor did the consentient doctrine of our colleagues concerning Christ keep in check their audacity against Him.

– Alexander of Alexandria, Epistle 1 (to Alexander of Constantinople), Section 10

And again:

4. Now concerning their blasphemous assertion who say that the Son does not perfectly know the Father, we need not wonder: for having once purposed in their mind to wage war against Christ, they impugn also these words of His, “As the Father knows Me, even so know I the Father.” [John 10:15] Wherefore, if the Father only in part knows the Son, then it is evident that the Son does not perfectly know the Father. But if it be wicked thus to speak, and if the Father perfectly knows the Son, it is plain that, even as the Father knows His own Word, so also the Word knows His own Father, of whom He is the Word.

5. By saying these things, and by unfolding the divine Scriptures, we have often refuted them. But they, chameleon-like, changing their sentiments, endeavour to claim for themselves that saying: “When the wicked comes, then comes contempt.” Proverbs 18:3 Before them, indeed, many heresies existed, which, having dared more than was right, have fallen into madness. But these by all their words have attempted to do away with the Godhead of Christ, have made those seem righteous, since they have come nearer to Antichrist. Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church. And indeed, although we grieve at the destruction of these men, especially that after having once learned the doctrine of the Church, they have now gone back; yet we do not wonder at it; for this very thing Hymenaeus and Philetus suffered,[2 Timothy 2:17] and before them Judas, who, though he followed the Saviour, afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. Moreover, concerning these very men, warnings are not wanting to us, for the Lord foretold: “Take heed that you be not deceived: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and the tithe draws near: go not therefore after them.” [Luke 21:8] Paul, too, having learned these things from the Saviour, wrote, “In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils which turn away from the truth.” [1 Timothy 4:1]

– Alexander of Alexandria, Epistle 2 (General Epistle), Section 4

Of course Alexander was Athanasius’ predecessor in Alexandria, and one of the bishops at the Nicaean council – the one that brought Athanasius to that council. He was the bishop who was also the bishop over Arius (or would have been: Arius was a priest in Alexandria, and Alexander was the bishop – however Arius had been excommunicated by a predecessor bishop of Alexander). So perhaps, even though this should be the best evidence on the subject, I should mention some more remote bishop, such as Augustine:

Wherefore—to being now to answer the adversaries of our faith, respecting those things also, which are neither said as they are thought, nor thought as they really are:— among the many things which the Arians are wont to dispute against the Catholic faith, they seem chiefly to set forth this, as their most crafty device, namely, that whatsoever is said or understood of God, is said not according to accident, but according to substance, and therefore, to be unbegotten belongs to the Father according to substance, and to be begotten belongs to the Son according to substance; but to be unbegotten and to be begotten are different; therefore the substance of the Father and that of the Son are different. To whom we reply, If whatever is spoken of God is spoken according to substance, then that which is said, “I and the Father are one,” is spoken according to substance. Therefore there is one substance of the Father and the Son. Or if this is not said according to substance, then something is said of God not according to substance, and therefore we are no longer compelled to understand unbegotten and begotten according to substance. It is also said of the Son, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” We ask, equal according to what? For if He is not said to be equal according to substance, then they admit that something may be said of God not according to substance. Let them admit, then, that unbegotten and begotten are not spoken according to substance. And if they do not admit this, on the ground that they will have all things to be spoken of God according to substance, then the Son is equal to the Father according to substance.

– Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 5, Chapter 3/Section 4

In fact, it is absurd to suggest that the Arian bishops and priests lacked apostolic succession in the sense of a chain of ordination back to the apostles. In fact, the primary sense in which they lacked apostolic succession was in the succession of doctrine: they did not follow the apostolic teachings handed down in Scripture.

But here’s a challenge to Mr. Cross: find even one Christian (non-Arian, if Roman Catholics are calling Arians Christians these days) from Arius’ birth until 100 years after Nicaea that says that the Arians “could affirm every single verse of Scripture” or couldn’t be refuted from Scripture alone. More positively, the challenge is to find some writer in that time period who appealed to apostolic succession, as such, to refute the Arians: who said that the orthodox clergy had apostolic succession but the Arian clergy did not. I think Mr. Cross will be hard pressed to meet such a challenge.

Ultimately, Mr. Cross’ claim is absurd. There is abundant refutation of Arianism in Scripture. While the theological terms we use serve a valuable purpose, we affirm the use of the term ὁμοούσιος because it is being used in a Scriptural sense (not in the prior Gnostic sense). We accept the Nicaean council because it agrees with the Word of God, not because its bishops were any more or less in a chain of ordination with the apostles than the bishops at the Arian councils. The Scriptures are our rule of faith, as was the case in the time of the early church.

Orth.— Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.

Eran.— You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Dialogue 1

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: I neglected to link to the source for the quotation above (here’s the link). One of the folks commenting there demonstrated that the Arians are wrong from Scripture, and Bryan responded (among other things): “The Arians were able to affirm all the verses that you cite. In addition, Scripture itself does not specify which verses are the hermeneutical standard for interpreting other verses.” (link)

FURTHER UPDATE: (from David King)

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328), the spiritual mentor of Athanasius, testified of the Arian heretics in a letter to Alexander of Constantinople: They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures. NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 3, or the translation of this phrase as the letter is preserved in ANF: Vol. VI, Epistle to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, §10, “The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame . . .” Greek text: Οὐ κατήδεσεν αὐτοὺς ἡ τῶν ἀρχαίων Γραφῶν φιλόθεος σαφήνεια . . . Theodoreti Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber I, Caput III, PG 82:904.

Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 200-265): “Even if I did not find this expression (i.e., ὁμοούσιον) in the Scriptures, yet collecting from the actual Scriptures their general sense, I knew that, being Son and Word, He could not be outside the Essence of the Father.” Athanasius quoting him in NPNF2: Vol. IV, De sententia Dionysii (Defence of Dionysius), §20. Greek text: Eἰ καὶ μὴ τὴν λέξιν ταύτην εὗρον ἐν ταῖς γραφαῖς, ἀλλ’ ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν γραφῶν τὸν νοῦν συναγαγών, ἔγνων ὅτι υἱὸς ὢν καὶ λόγος οὐ ξένος ἂν εἴη τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ πατρός. Cf. De sententia Dionysii, §20, PG 25:509.

Athanasius (297-373): But here too the Bishops, beholding their craftiness, collected from the Scriptures the figures of brightness, of the river and the well, and of the relation of the express Image to the Subsistence, and the texts, ‘in thy light shall we see light,’ and ‘I and the Father are one.’ And lastly they wrote more plainly, and concisely, that the Son was coessential with the Father; for all the above passages signify this. NPNF2: Vol. IV, Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa, §6. Greek text: Ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐνταῦθα οἱ ἐπίσκοποι, θεωρήσαντες ἐκείνων τὸ δόλιον συνήγαγον ἐκ τῶν γραφῶν τὸ ἀπαύγασμα τήν τε πηγὴν καὶ τὸν ποταμὸν καὶ τὸν χαρακτῆρα πρὸς τὴν ὑπόστασιν καὶ τὸ »ἐν τῷ φωτί σου ὀψόμεθα φῶς« καὶ τὸ »ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν.« Καὶ λευκότερον λοιπὸν καὶ συντόμως ἔγραψαν ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ τὸν υἱόν· τὰ γὰρ προειρημένα πάντα ταύτην ἔχει τὴν σημασίαν. In Epistolam Ad Afros Episcopos Monitum, §6, PG 26:1040.

Phoebadius (d. @ 392): Knowing, therefore, this unity of substance in the Father and in the Son, on the authority, not only of the prophets, but also of the gospels, how canst thou say that the Homoüsion is not found in scripture? Latin text: Cum ergo hanc unitatem substantiae in Patre et Filio non solum prophetica, sed et evangelica auctoritate cognoscas; quomodo dicis in Scripturis divinis ὁμοιούσιον non inveniri? S. Phoebadius, De Fide Orthodoxa, Contra Arianos, Alias De Filii Divinitate et Consubstantialitate, Tractatus, Caput V, PL 20:41.

Augustine (354-430): In opposition also to the impiety of Arian heretics, they coined the new term, Patris Homousios; but there was nothing new signified by such a name; for what is called Homousios is just this: “I and my Father are one,” to wit, of one and the same substance. NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 97, §4.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67): I do not know the word ὁμοιούσιον, or understand it, unless it confesses a similarity of essence. I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ὁμοιούσιον by ὁμοούσιον. That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον. Our desire is sacred. Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicaea our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ὁμοούσιον with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed. NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Councils or the Faith of the Easterns, §91.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403): Even though the expression is not in the sacred scriptures—indeed, it is plainly implicit in the Law, the Apostles and the Prophets, for ‘By two or three witnesses shall every word be established’—all the same, it is permissible for us to employ a useful expression for piety’s sake, to safeguard the holy faith. Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Against the Arian Nuts, 69.72,5 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 391.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403): It is plain that the term, “being,” does not appear in the Old and the New Testaments, but the sense of it is to be found everywhere. Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Against the Arian Nuts, 73.12,1 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 447.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389): Again, where do you get your Unbegotten and Unoriginate, those two citadels of your position, or we our Immortal? Show me these in so many words, or we shall either set them aside, or erase them as not contained in Scripture; and you are slain by your own principle, the names you rely on being overthrown, and therewith the wall of refuge in which you trusted. Is it not evident that they are due to passages which imply them, though the words do not actually occur? NPNF2: Vol. VII, Oration V, On the Holy Spirit, §22.

Athanasius (297-373): Since, therefore, such an attempt is futile madness, nay, more than madness!, let no one ask such questions any more, or else let him learn only that which is in the Scriptures. For the illustrations they contain which bear upon this subject are sufficient and suitable. C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 1.19 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 108. Greek text: Περιττῆς τοιγαροῦν καὶ πλέον μανίας οὔσης τῆς τοιαύτης ἐπιχειρήσεως, μηκέτι τοιαῦτά τις ἐρω τάτω, ἢ μόνον τὰ ἐν ταῖς Γραφαῖς μανθανέτω. Αὐτάρκη γὰρ καὶ ἱκανὰ τὰ ἐν ταύταις κείμενα περὶ τούτου παραδείγματα. Ad Serapionem 1.19, PG 26:573.

Augustine (354-430): In opposition also to the impiety of Arian heretics, they coined the new term, Patris Homousios; but there was nothing new signified by such a name; for what is called Homousios is just this: “I and my Father are one,” to wit, of one and the same substance. NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 97, §4.

Augustine (354-430): What does “homoousios” mean, I ask, but The Father and I are one (Jn. 10:30)? I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witness for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason. See WSA, Answer to Maximinus, Part I, Vol. 18, ed. John Rotelle, O.S.A., trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 282.

Believing About the Holy Catholic Church

September 10, 2009

Introduction

A perennial issue in our discussions with Roman Catholics is the issue of whether, in addition to believing God’s word in Scripture, we ought also to trust (in a similar way) in the church. While nothing in Scripture suggests that the church is another rule of faith in addition to Scripture, such that we would accord the church the same credence we give to God and his written word, we are sometimes presented with folks who want to latch onto the creeds.

The so-called Apostles’ Creed (not formulated by them, as some have supposed, but taken from the Scriptures that they left behind for us) includes a phrase regarding the “Holy Catholic Church,” which is often seen as problematic for those who are unfamiliar with the meaning of the creed. The usual way in which this section of the creed is recited in English-speaking churches that recite it is thus:

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Grammar of the Creed
The grammar of the creed makes a distinction that is not immediately apparent in English. What we “believe in” is God. He is the one in whom we trust. Thus, we “believe in” the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In contrast, we believe that there is a holy catholic church (not the Roman Catholic church, but the universal body of Christ: all those who believe on the name of the Lord), that the saints (by which mean again those who believe) ought to commune together until the Lord’s return, that sins are forgiven by God on the merits of Christ, that the body will be resurrected and re-united to the soul, and that heaven will be eternal. Thus, we are not saying that we trust in the church despite the ambiguity of the English wording (as well as the ambiguity of the wording of the Constantinoplean Creed).

Schaff’s Explanation

Perhaps it would be helpful to have more than the word of a pseudonymous blogger on this grammatical point. In Creeds of Christendom, historian Philip Schaff explains it this way:

Then, changing the language (credo in for credo with the simple accusative), the Creed professes to believe ‘the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’

– Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, Chapter 2, Section 7

Paschasius’ or Faustus’ Testimony

The significance of this distinction was not lost on the ancients. Indeed, when we draw this distinction (which today we refer to as Sola Scriptura) we are in agreement with those ancient Christians whose writings have survived (even one from the Rome of that day, which had not descended to the depths of Rome today):

Paschasius, Deacon of Rome (flourished about A.D. 491 – 512) wrote:

Therefore thou sayest, ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church,’ because, in supplying the little syllable in, dost thou attempt to produce great darkness? We believe the Catholic Church as the mother of regeneration; we do not believe in the Church as in the Author of salvation. For when the universal Church confesses this of the Holy Ghost, can she also believe in herself? … He who believes in the Church believes in man. For man is not of the Church, but the Church began to be from man. Desist therefore from this blasphemous persuasion, to think that thou oughtest to believe in any human creature: since thou must not in anywise believe in an angel or archangel … We believe the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, everlasting life … The unskillfulness of some have drawn, and taken the preposition ‘in’ from the sentence going next before, and put it to that which follows, imprudently adding thereto more than needed.

– Paschasius, Deacon of Rome, Two Books on the Holy Spirit, Book 1, Chapter 1 (This work is sometimes alternatively ascribed to Faustus of Riez who flourished from about A.D. 433 – 485)

Rufinus’ Testimony

We see the same thing from Rufinus, about a century earlier, who made roughly the same point.

Tyrannius Rufinus (lived about A.D. 344 – 410) explains with reference to the Apostles’ creed:

“The Holy Church; The Forgiveness of Sin, the Resurrection of This Flesh.” It is not said, “In the holy Church,” nor “In the forgiveness of sins,” nor “In the resurrection of the flesh.” For if the preposition “in” had been added, it would have had the same force as in the preceding articles. But now in those clauses in which the faith concerning the Godhead is declared, we say “In God the Father,” and “In Jesus Christ His Son,” and “In the Holy Ghost,” but in the rest, where we speak not of the Godhead but of creatures and mysteries, the preposition “in ” is not added. We do not say “We believe in the holy Church,” but “We believe the holy Church,” not as God, but as the Church gathered together to God: and we believe that there is “forgiveness of sins;” we do not say “We believe in the forgiveness of sins;” and we believe that there will be a “Resurrection of the flesh;” we do not say “We believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” By this monosyllabic preposition, therefore, the Creator is distinguished from the creatures, and things divine are separated from things human.

– Rufinus of Aquileia, A Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Section 36

(for a larger context, see here)

Aquinas’ Testimony

While we would certainly have some disagreements with the much later writings of Thomas Aquinas, we find some similar sentiments in his discussion:

Objection 5. Further, Augustine (Tract. xxix in Joan.) expounding the passage, “You believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1) says: “We believe Peter or Paul, but we speak only of believing ‘in’ God.” Since then the Catholic Church is merely a created being, it seems unfitting to say: “In the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

Reply to Objection 5. If we say: “‘In’ the holy Catholic Church,” this must be taken as verified in so far as our faith is directed to the Holy Ghost, Who sanctifies the Church; so that the sense is: “I believe in the Holy Ghost sanctifying the Church.” But it is better and more in keeping with the common use, to omit the ‘in,’ and say simply, “the holy Catholic Church,” as Pope Leo [Rufinus, Comm. in Sym. Apost.] observes.

– Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 2b, Question 1, Article 9

Notice how Aquinas agrees with the substance of the objection while seeking to find an acceptable sense for the words.

Conclusion

The idea of arguing that one should be “believe in” the church from the creed is an anachronistic misuse of the creed. It is as anachronistic as supposing that the term “Holy Catholic Church” was supposed to refer to the Roman Catholic church. Both the grammar of the creed (as noted by Schaff) as well as early Christian authors and even the most notable medieval scholastic.

With Alexander of Alexandria (died about A.D. 326), we affirm that we believe in the existence of only one body of Christ, relying on the authority of Scripture:

“And in addition to this pious belief respecting the Father and the Son, we confess as the Sacred Scriptures teach us, one Holy Ghost, who moved the saints of the Old Testament, and the divine teachers of that which is called the New. We believe in one only Catholic Church, the apostolical, which cannot be destroyed even though all the world were to take counsel to fight against it, and which gains the victory over all the impious attacks of the heterodox; for we are emboldened by the words of its Master, ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world [John xvi. 33].’ After this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first-fruits; Who bore a Body, in truth, not in semblance, derived from Mary the mother of God (ἐκ τῆς Θεοτόκου Μαρίας); in the fulness of time sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was crucified and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of His Godhead. He rose from the dead, was taken into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret, Chapter III, The Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria to Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople.

How can we know whether a church is part of the Church? If it is apostolical. How can we tell if something is apostolical? Look at the books left behind by the apostles. Human successors can pervert the path of those who went before them, but the unchanging Word of God found in Scripture is the alone reliable measure of apostolicity and catholicity (in the true sense of the term).

-TurretinFan


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