Archive for the ‘Aquinas’ Category

Transubstantiation: Historical Development as Described by Garry Wills

June 10, 2014

Garry Wills (author of “Why I am a Catholic”), in “Why Priests,” describes the development of Eucharistic theology in the Middle Ages (p. 43):

William of Ockham (c. 1288–c. 1346), also known as Occam, wrote a long treatise on the Sacrament of the Altar. There he admitted (because the dogma of the Resurrection demanded it) that the glorified body of Christ in heaven was material. But the sacramental body of Christ was non-material, therefore non-spatial, like that of an angel. It could be present in a punctum, a point. The Scholastic theologians are often derided for debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. That is not a thing they would ever discuss, since their angels are non-spatial and pins are spatial, so never the two could meet.

Wills explains that the position of Thomas Aquinas won out over views like that of Occam.  Thomas used an Aristotelean distinction between accidents and substance.  However, as Wills explains, Thomas took Aristotle in a way Aristotle never imagined (p. 45):

Though Aristotle distinguished substance from accident, he did not (could not) separate them. A dog cannot exist without accidents like size. And there cannot be “a large” or “a white” standing alone without a substance. It has to be a large or a white something. An accident “comes along with” (symbainei) the thing that is its essence. Thomas admitted this natural truth: “An accident assumes what it is from its substance” (ST 3.77 a1r). But for the Eucharist, he posited a miraculous disruption of the natural order. He took the radical step of claiming that a substance can exist without its proper accidents, and accidents can exist without their proper substance, though only by a special action performed by God every time the priest says the words of consecration.

Wills further explains that there was an opposition to the position that Aquinas inherited and adopted (p. 49):

Thomas was forced to go to such lengths in caring for damaged Hosts because alternatives to transubstantiation were condemned by the church. One such alternative was offered in the ninth century by Ratramnus of Corbie, who said that Jesus was present in the Eucharist only symbolically (in figura), not physically. Ratramnus was rebuked by his superior, Paschasius Radbertus, who insisted on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist–which made Ratramnus’s student Gottschalk of Orbais claim Paschasius was advocating cannibalism. The view of Paschasius was the dominating one for the next two centuries.
But then, in the eleventh century, the charismatic and ascetical Berengar of Tours renewed in a more sophisticated way what Ratramnus had argued for, that the Eucharist is Christ in figura (in symbol). Relying on Augustine’s philosophy of the sign, Berengar said that the sign does not stand alone. It has to have a signifier and recipient of the sign. The whole system cannot function without this transaction. For him, the Eucharist was a dynamic system, in which the riches of salvation were offered to those with the faith to receive it.

There was also a liturgical aspect to this development.  Wills explains (p. 51):

Even when the Host was not exposed in a monstrance, it was felt to be present within the altar tabernacle, its divinity signaled by a vigil lamp–not a sheltered matter of bread and wine but an abiding divine person to whom one “paid visits,” worshiping, genuflecting, and praying to it. Alexander Nagel points out that, increasingly, from the fourteen to the sixteenth century, the tabernacle became larger and more central to churches.

In other words, the position adopted by Aquinas and calcified by Trent was a mutation, not an ancient tradition that was first disputed by the Reformers.


Steve Ray vs. Thomas Aquinas on the Protoevangelium of James

September 13, 2012

In a recent post, Steve Ray describes the “Protoevangelium of James” in this way: “This document was written in the early 2nd century and known and loved by the first Christians.” On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas described this same work as “apocryphal ravings.” (see also the Decree attributed to Pope Gelasius)

Even the famous mariologist, Luigi Gambero, admits that “Its author must have been a non-Jew or, at most, a Jew who lived outside of Palestine, since he seems to possess a limited knowledge of Palestinian geography and Jewish customs.” (Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 35) In short, it is a work of lies.

Whether those are pious lies or just apocryphal ravings, as Aquinas judged, one wonders what motivates Rome’s apologists to try to prop up Rome’s dogma with such works?

I would be remiss to omit Jerome’s comment in his commentary on Matthew, at Matthew 23:35-36, regarding the slain Zecharias that Jesus mentions: “Others want this Zechariah to be understood as the father of John. They approve of certain daydreams from apocryphal writings that say he was killed because he had predicted the Savior’s advent. Since this view does not have the authority of the Scriptures, it is rejected with the same facility with which it is approved.” (St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, Thomas P. Scheck trans., Fathers of the Church series, vol. 117, p. 266)


Thomas Aquinas’ Fictional Adoption of the Immaculate Conception

August 28, 2011

It ought to be well-known that Rome’s dogma of the Immaculate Conception was denied by her leading medieval saint, Thomas Aquinas (as outlined here). This has been something of a thorn in the side of those contending that Mary was immaculately conceived. They have tried to explain Aquinas’ position away in various ways – such as by arguing that Aquinas didn’t believe that life begins at conception (which is true, but not particularly helpful to their case). Another theory sometimes set forth (recently, for example, by Taylor Marshall) is that Aquinas came to hold to the dogma of the immaculate conception late in life, even after writing the portion of the Summa Theologica that denies it.

Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. is (or, I suppose I should say, “was”) one of the leading Thomist theologians of the 20th century. In his Discourse II on Mary’s Immaculate Conception, published in “The Mother of the Savior” (1948), Garrigou-Lagrange wrote:

In the final period of his career, when writing the Exposito super salutatione angelica—-which is certainly authentic [39]—–in 1272 or 1273, St. Thomas expressed himself thus: ‘For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure in the matter of fault (quantum ad culpam) and incurred neither Original nor mental nor venial sin.’

The problem is this:

The “neither original” in that quotation is an interpolation. Gibbings pointed that out long ago in his “Roman forgeries and falsifications” but you can see for yourself if you get a modern critical text of the work.

The Latin actually says “Ipsa enim purissima fuit et quantum ad culpam, quia ipsa virgo nec mortale nec veniale peccatum incurrit.” (“For she [the Blessed Virgin] was most pure because the Virgin herself incurred neither mortal nor venial sin.”)

What is especially shameful about this lie (perhaps I should be reluctant to call it a lie when Garrigou-Lagrange may simply have been working from a corrupted text, but it is hard to attribute ignorance of Thomas to a Thomist of his stature) is that the same work earlier explained:

“Sed Christus excellit beatam virginem in hoc quod sine originali conceptus et natus est. Beata autem virgo in originali est concepta, sed non nata.” (“But Christ excels the Blessed Virgin in this, because he was conceived and born without original [sin]. Therefore, the Blessed Virgina was conceived in original [sin] but not born in it].”)

No, Aquinas died believing that Mary was conceived in original sin. Garrigou-Lagrange is to be blamed for perpetuating a falsehood about Thomas and Taylor Marshall is to be blamed (much less, of course) for perpetuating Garrigou-Lagrange’s error. Does that make Thomas a modern Protestant? Of course not. He disagreed with us on many matters, even about Mary.

How can you cash out this fact? Well, Rome insists today that you must believe in the immaculate conception of Mary. The immaculate conception of Mary is not taught in Scripture and it was not taught by any father prior to Augustine. It was denied by numerous men who were or became bishops of Rome. Even Garrigou-Lagrange states (a little above his attempt to resuscitate Thomas for the immaculatist position):

The Council of Trent (Denz., 792) declares, when speaking of Original Sin which infects all men, that it does not intend to include the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary. In 1567 Baius is condemned for having taught the contrary (Denz., 1073). In 1661 Alexander VII affirmed the privilege, saying that almost all Catholics held it, though it had not yet been defined (Denz., 1100). Finally, on December 8th, 1854, we have the promulgation of the solemn definition (Denz., 1641).

It must be admitted that in the 12th and 13th centuries certain great doctors, as, for example, St. Bernard, [29] St. Anselm, [30] Peter Lombard, [31] Hugh of St. Victor, [32] St. Albert the Great, [33] St. Bonaventure, [34] and St. Thomas Aquinas appear to have been disinclined to admit the privilege.

29. Epist. ad canonicos Lugdunenses.

30. De conceptione virginali.

31. In III Sent., dist. 3.

32. Super Missus est.

33. Item Super Missus est.

34. In III Sent., dist. 3, q. 27.

Thomas and the others help to show that Rome’s demand that we believe in Mary’s immaculate conception is really a demand for us to have implicit faith in the church of Rome. The dogma cannot be established from Scripture, it cannot be established from the fathers of the first three centuries, and it is opposed to the testimony of folks like Thomas Aquinas, who could hardly have been unaware of an apostolic tradition of an immaculate conception, if one existed.

Therefore, Rome is claiming the ability to simply define dogma that cannot be proven from Scripture or Tradition (History) and make that dogma so central to the faith that to deny is to – well – hear for yourself:

Hence, if anyone shall dare–which God forbid!–to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

(Ineffabilis Deus – 1854)

That is sola ecclesia for you. If you implicitly trust Rome, the testimony of about 10 bishops of Rome and about half a dozen doctors of the church (Gregory the Great, Albert, Bernard, Aquinas, Anselm, and Bonaventure) will not matter. Yet, if you will critically consider Rome’s claims, perhaps this issue of the Immaculate Conception can help you to see that Rome’s claims about itself are false. She had no right to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and no good reason to think it true. She cannot establish it from Scripture and it is not an apostolic tradition.

– TurretinFan

Bryan Cross places the Cart before the Horse, Theologically Speaking

September 23, 2010

Over at Called to Communion, in the comment box, Bryan Cross wrote:

In the first century, no one needed to confess that Christ is homoousious with the Father. But after the fourth century, to deny the homoousious is to fall into [at least material] heresy.

This is dead wrong and gets things exactly backwards. It has always been heresy to deny the Son’s divinity. Arius was a heretic before Nicaea, and the Nicene council simply affirmed (with respect to Arianism) what was always the teaching of the Bible.

The church does not make up orthodoxy. When the church does its job correctly, it merely recognizes the truth that was already once delivered to the saints. There was no new delivery in the fourth century or any of the succeeding centuries.

Of course, Romanists have to put the cart before the horse, because they’ve added to the gospel. If they tried to claim that it was always heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception, they’d have to treat Augustine, and the Augustinians down through Aquinas as heretics. So, they place the cart before the horse and say that it is only heresy to deny the Immaculate Conception after “the Church” makes that doctrine part of the gospel.

The absurd result is the one that Bryan Cross has illustrated above, where the Son’s divinity becomes something that it was ok to deny before 325 A.D.

Amazing – absolutely amazing.

– TurretinFan

Thomas Aquinas (and the Fathers of the Church) on Mary’s non-Immaculate Conception

August 28, 2010

Thomas Aquinas did not believe that Mary’s conception was immaculate. In fact he was quite clear about the matter in his Compendium of Theology:

As appears from the foregoing exposition, the Blessed Virgin Mary became the mother of God’s Son by conceiving of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it was fitting that she should be adorned with the highest degree of purity, that she might be made conformable to such a Son. And so we are to believe that she was free from every stain of actual sin-not only of mortal sin but of venial sin. Such freedom from sin can pertain to none of the saints after Christ, as we know from 1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But what is said in the Canticle of Canticles 4:7, “You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you,” can well be understood of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God.

Mary was not only free from actual sin, but she was also, by a special privilege, cleansed from original sin. She had, indeed, to be conceived with original sin, inasmuch as her conception resulted from the commingling of both sexes. For the privilege of conceiving without impairment of virginity was reserved exclusively to her who as a virgin conceived the Son of God. But the commingling of the sexes which, after the sin of our first parent, cannot take place without lust, transmits original sin to the offspring. Likewise, if Mary had been conceived without original sin, she would not have had to be redeemed by Christ, and so Christ would not be the universal redeemer of men, which detracts from His dignity. Accordingly we must hold that she was conceived with original sin, but was cleansed from it in some special way.

Some men are cleansed from original sin after their birth from the womb, as is the case with those who are sanctified in baptism. Others are reported to have been sanctified in the wombs of their mothers, in virtue of an extraordinary privilege of grace. Thus we are told with regard to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb of you mother I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you” (Jer. 1:5). And in Luke 1:15 the angel says of John the Baptist: “He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” We cannot suppose that the favor granted to the precursor of Christ and to the prophet was denied to Christ’s own mother. Therefore we believe that she was sanctified in her mother’s womb, that is, before she was born.

Yet such sanctification did not precede the infusion of her soul. In that case she would never have been subject to original sin, and so would have had no need of redemption. For only a rational creature can be the subject of sin. Furthermore, the grace of sanctification is rooted primarily in the soul, and cannot extend to the body except through the soul. Hence we must believe that Mary was sanctified after the infusion of her soul.

But her sanctification was more ample than that of others who were sanctified in the wombs of their mothers. Others thus sanctified in the womb were, it is true, cleansed from original sin; but the grace of being unable to sin later on, even venially, was not granted to them. The Blessed Virgin Mary, however, was sanctified with such a wealth of grace that thenceforth she was preserved free from all sin, and not only from mortal sin, but also from venial sin. Moreover venial sin sometimes creeps up on us unawares, owing to the fact that an inordinate motion of concupiscence or of some other passion arises prior to the advertence of the mind, yet in such a way that the first motions are called sins. Hence we conclude that the Blessed Virgin Mary never committed a venial sin, for she did not experience such inordinate motions of passion. Inordinate motions of this kind arise because the sensitive appetite, which is the subject of these passions, is not so obedient to reason as not sometimes to move toward an object outside the order of reason, or even, occasionally, against reason; and this is what engenders the sinful impulse. In the Blessed Virgin, accordingly, the sensitive appetite was rendered so subject to reason by the power of the grace which sanctified it, that it was never aroused against reason, but was always in conformity with the order of reason. Nevertheless she could experience some spontaneous movements not ordered by reason.

In our Lord Jesus Christ there was something more. In Him the lower appetite was so perfectly subject to reason that it did not move in the direction of any object except in accord with the order of reason, that is, so far as reason regulated the lower appetite or permitted it to go into action of its own accord. So far as we can judge, a characteristic pertaining to the integrity of the original state was the complete subjection of the lower powers to reason. This subjection was destroyed by the sin of our first parent, not only in himself, but in all the others who contract original sin from him. In all of these the rebellion or disobedience of the lower powers to reason, which is called concupiscence (fomes peccati), remains even after they have been cleansed from sin by the sacrament of grace. But such was by no means the case with Christ, according to the explanation given above.

In the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, the lower powers were not so completely subject to reason as never to experience any movement not preordained by reason. Yet they were so restrained by the power of grace that they were at no time aroused contrary to reason. Because of this we usually say that after the Blessed Virgin was sanctified concupiscence remained in her according to its substance, but that it was shackled.

– Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, Part 1, Chapter 224

I’d like to draw the reader’s attention to a few interesting things:

1) Thomas Aquinas clearly and repeatedly denies any immaculate conception:

  • She had, indeed, to be conceived with original sin, inasmuch as her conception resulted from the commingling of both sexes.
  • Likewise, if Mary had been conceived without original sin, she would not have had to be redeemed by Christ, and so Christ would not be the universal redeemer of men, which detracts from His dignity.
  • Accordingly we must hold that she was conceived with original sin, but was cleansed from it in some special way.
  • Therefore we believe that she was sanctified in her mother’s womb, that is, before she was born.Yet such sanctification did not precede the infusion of her soul. In that case she would never have been subject to original sin, and so would have had no need of redemption.
  • Furthermore, the grace of sanctification is rooted primarily in the soul, and cannot extend to the body except through the soul. Hence we must believe that Mary was sanctified after the infusion of her soul.
  • In the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, the lower powers were not so completely subject to reason as never to experience any movement not preordained by reason. Yet they were so restrained by the power of grace that they were at no time aroused contrary to reason. Because of this we usually say that after the Blessed Virgin was sanctified concupiscence remained in her according to its substance, but that it was shackled.

This is an abundantly clear, reasoned position from Thomas Aquinas against the idea of any immaculate conception of Mary. I mention this not to suggest that Thomas Aquinas’ reasoning is correct, or that I agree with his position.

I raise it to point out that Pius IX’s claims regarding history are patently untrue:

And indeed, illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify that this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the most Blessed Virgin, which was daily more and more splendidly explained, stated and confirmed by the highest authority, teaching, zeal, knowledge, and wisdom of the Church, and which was disseminated among all peoples and nations of the Catholic world in a marvelous manner — this doctrine always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine. For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus — that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning.

– Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854), Are we really supposed to believe that Thomas Aquinas, the foremost theologian of the middle ages, was unaware of “this doctrine” which allegedly “always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine”? Or are we simply to suppose that Thomas Aquinas thought it was a revealed doctrine, but rejected it anyway?

2) Thomas Aquinas realized the significance of 1 John 1:8

1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Thomas Aquinas tried to get around this by essentially making it forward-looking only.

But Thomas Aquinas has not rightly recognized that this was nothing unique to the New Testament era:

Romans 3:9-12
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

That is also a New Testament text, but Paul relies on the Old Testament text to prove his point.

Psalm 14:3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

As also elsewhere:

Proverbs 20:9 Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?

Accordingly, Paul concludes:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Paul does not exclude Mary from this, just as the fathers did not:

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):

Thus some men are very bad, and some very good; but yet the souls of all form but one genus: even in the worst there is something good, and in the best there is something bad. For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.

ANF: Vol. III, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 41.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

When thou hast blessed the Lord out of Scripture according to thy power, and hast sent up thy praise to Him, then begin to humble thyself and say, ‘I am not worthy, O Lord, to speak before Thee, because I am a sinner.’ Even though thou knowest nothing evil of thyself, thou must speak so; for none is without sin, but God only.

Greek text: Ὅταν δὲ δοξολογήσῃς ἀπὸ τῶν Γραφῶν, ὡς δύνασαι, καὶ ἀναπέμψῃς αἶνον πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν, τότε ἄρχου μετὰ ταπεινοφρόσύνης, καὶ λέγε. Ἐγὼ μὲν, Κύριε, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος ἐπὶ σοῦ φθέγξασθαι, διότι σφόδρα ἁμαρτωλὸς τυγχάνω. Κὰν μὴ σύνοιδάς τι σεαυτῷ φαῦλον, οὕτω χρὴ σε λέγειν. Οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀναμάρτητος εἰ μὴ μόνος ὁ Θεός.

Constitutiones Monasticae, Caput I. §3. PG 31:1329; for translation, see Richard Travers Smith, The Fathers for English Readers: St. Basil the Great (New York: Poit, Young and Company, 1879), pp. 145-146.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

No Conception is without iniquity, since there are no parents who have not fallen.

Latin text: Nec conceptus iniquitatis exsors est, quoniam et parentes non carent lapsu.

Prophetae David ad Theodosium Augustum, Caput XI, PL 14:873; for translation, see I. D. E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, 1996), p. 258.

Augustine (354-430):

In a similar way we can speak of our Lord’s “sin,” meaning what sin brought about, because he assumed his flesh from that very stock that by sin had deserved death. To put it briefly: Mary, descended from Adam, died because of sin. Adam died because of sin, and the Lord’s flesh, derived from Mary, died to abolish sins.

Latin text: Sic ergo peccatum Domini, quod factum est de peccato, quia inde carnem assumpsit, de massa ipsa quae mortem meruerat ex peccato. Etenim ut celerius dicam, Maria ex Adam mortua propter peccatum, Adam mortuus propter peccatum, et caro Domini ex Maria mortua est propter delenda peccata.

In Psalmum XXXIV, Sermo II, §3, PL 36:335; Works of Saint Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Expositions of the Psalms 33-50, Part 3, Vol. 16, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2000), Exposition 2 of Psalm 34 (35), p. 62.

Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532):

For the flesh of Mary, which had been conceived in iniquities in the usual manner, was the flesh of sin which begot the Son of God in the likeness of the flesh of sin…

Latin Text: Caro quippe Mariae, quae in iniquitatibus humana fuerat solemnitate concepta, caro fuit utique peccati, quae Filium Dei genuit in similitudinem carnis peccati.

Epistola XVII, Cap. VI, §13, PL 65:458.

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 – 215):

Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God. He is to us a spotless image; to Him we are to try with all our might to assimilate our souls. He is wholly free from human passions; wherefore also He alone is judge, because He alone is sinless.

(The Paedogogus, Book I, Chapter 2)

Origen (ca. 185 – 232):

And as it is necessary that that which is mortal should die, and it is impossible but that it should die, and as it must needs be that he who is in the body should be fed, for it is impossible for one who is not fed to live, so it is necessary and impossible but that occasions of stumbling should arise, since there is a necessity also that wickedness should exist before virtue in men, from which wickedness stumbling-blocks arise; for it is impossible that a man should be found altogether sinless, and who, without sin, has attained to virtue.

(Commentary on Matthew, Book XIII, Section 23)

Cyprian of Carthage (died 258):

Let us then acknowledge, beloved brethren, the wholesome gift of the divine mercy; and let us, who cannot be without some wound of conscience, heal our wounds by the spiritual remedies for the cleansing and purging of our sins. Nor let any one so flatter himself with the notion of a pure and immaculate heart, as, in dependence on his own innocence, to think that the medicine needs not to be applied to his wounds; since it is written, “Who shall boast that he has a clean heart, or who shall boast that he is pure from sins? ” [Proverbs 20:9] And again, in his epistle, John lays it down, and says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But if no one can be without sin, and whoever should say that he is without fault is either proud or foolish, how needful, how kind is the divine mercy, which, knowing that there are still found some wounds in those that have been healed, even after their healing, has given wholesome remedies for the curing and healing of their wounds anew!

(Treatise 8: On Works and Alms, Section 3)

Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315 – 386):

For we tell some part of what is written concerning His loving-kindness to men, but how much He forgave the Angels we know not: for them also He forgives, since One alone is without sin, even Jesus who purges our sins. And of them we have said enough.

(Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 2, Section 10)

Rufinus (ca. 345 – 410):

For He alone it is Who has not sinned, and has taken away the sins of the world. For if by one man death could enter into the world, how much more by one man, Who was God also, could life be restored!

(Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Section 25)

John Cassian (ca. 360 – 435):

Full well, when he says that He was sent in the flesh, does he exclude for Him sin of the flesh: for he says “God sent His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin,” in order that we may know that though the flesh was truly taken, yet there was no true sin, and that, as far as the body is concerned, we should understand that there was reality; as far as sin is concerned, only the likeness of sin. For though all flesh is sinful, yet He had flesh without sin, and had in Himself the likeness of sinful flesh, while He was in the flesh but He was free from what was truly sin, because He was without sin: and therefore he says: “God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

(On the Incarnation, Book IV, Chapter 3)

Gregory the Great (ca. 540 – 604):

Moreover, since no one among men in this world is without sin (and what else is sinning but flying from God?), I say confidently that this my daughter also has some sins. Wherefore, that she may perfectly satisfy her mistress, that is eternal Wisdom, let her, who fled alone, return with many. For the guilt of turning away will be imputed to no one who in returning brings back gain.

(Registrum Epistolarum, Book VII, Letter 30: To Narses)

Sedrach (10th or 11th Century)

Sedrach says to God: O Lord, You alone are sinless and very compassionate, having compassion and pity for sinners, but your divinity said: I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

And the Lord said to Sedrach: Do you not know, Sedrach, that the thief was saved in one moment to repent? Do you not know that my apostle and evangelist was saved in one moment? “Peccatores enim non salvantur,” for their hearts are like rotten stone: these are they who walk in impious ways and who shall be destroyed with Antichrist.

Sedrach says: O my Lord, You also said: My divine spirit entered into the nations which, not having the law, do the things of the law. So also the thief and the apostle and evangelist and the rest of those who have already got into your Kingdom. O my Lord; so likewise do You pardon those who have sinned to the last: for life is very toilsome and there is no time for repentance.

(Apocalypse of Sedrach, Section 15)

What are we to conclude? Was Gregory the Great just forgetting about Mary – did that slip Augustine’s mind too?

But if you will conclude that Aquinas and all the fathers quoted above were simply forgetful and absent-minded. And even if you will read the clear teaching of Paul and John regarding the universal sinfulness of mankind so as to be forward-looking only – still consider this:

Mark 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

Will anyone dare to suggest that Jesus forgot about his own mother?


P.S. My friend Dr. White will be debating this very topic of the Immaculate conception (and alleged sinlessness of Mary) with Christopher Ferrara in a few hours. May God be glorified by the debate, and may many come to see the truth that Mary properly had Jesus as her Savior.

Sungenis Claims: "the Church did not receive any divine revelation on the nature of Purgatory"

July 3, 2010

In a recent (2009) response to Dr. White, Robert Sungenis made some interesting admissions regarding the absence of knowledge of what Purgatory is in Roman Catholic theology:

Since the Church did not receive any divine revelation on the nature of Purgatory, and since the Church declined to make any official statements on its nature, it is only natural that people of different eras are going to come to different views of what precisely constitutes the Purgatorial experience.

… we have not settled on the nature of Purgatory …

… the nature of Purgatory is an admitted area of unsettled knowledge in the Catholic Church …

After we have already admitted that being in the 15% area of unsettled doctrine
the nature of Purgatory continues to be debated among “modern Roman Catholic advocates,” the truth is, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot. The fact is, Purgatory exists. It can be shown from Scripture, the Patristics, the medievals, and the Magisterium. Whether it is “days” or some other measurement is not really a make-or-break issue.

(Source: Sungenis’ article oddly titled: James White, Alive but Still Struggling)

The underlying problem here, though, is that Sungenis has not fully identified the reason for the lack of common assent regarding the nature of Purgatory. While it is true that God has not revealed the nature of “Purgatory,” the primary reason for the lack of common assent regarding the nature of Purgatory is that (a) Purgatory is a fiction and (b) Purgatory is a relatively new fiction. The medieval era in the West is where we really see the development of a view of Purgatory. There is no mention of any “Purgatory” in the fathers.

As Jacques Le Goff explains, “Until the end of the twelfth century the noun purgatorium did not exist: the Purgatory had not yet been born.” (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, p. 3 – see also, Appendix II: “Purgatorium,” the History of a Word)(emphasize is Le Goff’s) There may well have been vague concepts of purgation either upon death or at the day of judgment (or the like) but the idea of a third state or place given the name “Purgatory” was a long time in development from some vague comments about purging by Augustine in the 5th century (I’ll leave the debate over those comments for another post).

But there is an interesting background against which Sungenis is making his claim. Benedict XV praised Dante Alighieri’s work (The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradisio) this way:

It is thus that, according to the Divine Revelation, in this poem shines out the majesty of God One and Three, the Redemption of the human race operated by the Word of God made Man, the supreme loving-kindness and charity of Mary, Virgin and Mother, Queen of Heaven, and lastly the glory on high of Angels, Saints and men; then the terrible contrast to this, the pains of the impious in Hell; then the middle world, so to speak, between Heaven and Hell, Purgatory, the Ladder of souls destined after expiation to supreme beatitude. It is indeed marvellous how he was able to weave into all three poems these three dogmas with truly wrought design.

– Benedict XV, In Praeclara Summorum, Section 4, 30 April 1921

Dante Alighieri lived from about 1265 to 1321. His work on the subject of the afterlife, including Purgatory, is one whose influence in the late medieval period, particularly in Italy, is hard to overstate. He is referred to both as the Supreme Poet of Italy and the Father of the Italian language.

His work makes clear that his view of Purgatory is that it is a place like Heaven or Hell in that it is a place having space and time. It is, for Dante, a Mountain that is to be climbed. We also see a similar view of Purgatory as a definite place in the works of Thomas Aquinas:

Article 2. Whether it is the same place where souls are cleansed, and the damned punished?

Objection 1. It would seem that it is not the same place where souls are cleansed and the damned punished. For the punishment of the damned is eternal, according to Matthew 25:46, “These shall go into everlasting punishment [Vulgate: ‘fire’].” But the fire of Purgatory is temporary, as the Master says (Sent. iv, D, 21). Therefore the former and the latter are not punished together in the same place: and consequently these places must needs be distinct.

Objection 2. The punishment of hell is called by various names, as in Psalm 10:7, “Fire and brimstone, and storms of winds,” etc., whereas the punishment of Purgatory is called by one name only, namely fire. Therefore they are not punished with the same fire and in the same place.

Objection 3. Further, Hugh of St. Victor says (De Sacram. ii, 16): “It is probable that they are punished in the very places where they sinned.” And Gregory relates (Dial. iv, 40) that Germanus, Bishop of Capua, found Paschasius being cleansed in the baths. Therefore they are not cleansed in the same place as hell, but in this world.

On the contrary, Gregory says [The quotation is from St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei i, 8)]: “Even as in the same fire gold glistens and straw smokes, so in the same fire the sinner burns and the elect is cleansed.” Therefore the fire of Purgatory is the same as the fire of hell: and hence they are in the same place.

Further, the holy fathers; before the coming of Christ, were in a more worthy place than that wherein souls are now cleansed after death, since there was no pain of sense there. Yet that place was joined to hell, or the same as hell: otherwise Christ when descending into Limbo would not be said to have descended into hell. Therefore Purgatory is either close to, or the same place as, hell.

I answer that, Nothing is clearly stated in Scripture about the situation of Purgatory, nor is it possible to offer convincing arguments on this question. It is probable, however, and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that there is a twofold place of Purgatory. One, according to the common law; and thus the place of Purgatory is situated below and in proximity to hell, so that it is the same fire which torments the damned in hell and cleanses the just in Purgatory; although the damned being lower in merit, are to be consigned to a lower place. Another place of Purgatory is according to dispensation: and thus sometimes, as we read, some are punished in various places, either that the living may learn, or that the dead may be succored, seeing that their punishment being made known to the living may be mitigated through the prayers of the Church.

Some say, however, that according to the common law the place of Purgatory is where man sins. This does not seem probable, since a man may be punished at the same time for sins committed in various places. And others say that according to the common law they are punished above us, because they are between us and God, as regards their state. But this is of no account, for they are not punished for being above us, but for that which is lowest in them, namely sin.

Reply to Objection 1. The fire of Purgatory is eternal in its substance, but temporary in its cleansing effect.

Reply to Objection 2. The punishment of hell is for the purpose of affliction, wherefore it is called by the names of things that are wont to afflict us here. But the chief purpose of the punishment of Purgatory is to cleanse us from the remains of sin; and consequently the pain of fire only is ascribed to Purgatory, because fire cleanses and consumes.

Reply to Objection 3. This argument considers the point of special dispensation and not that of the common law.

– Thomas Aquinas (as completed by Reginald of Piperno), Summa Theologica, Supplement to the Third Part, Appendix 2, Article 2 (Although Reginald is given credit for adding this material to the Summa Theologica, the material is essentially taken word for word from Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on [Peter Lombard’s] Sentences, Book IV, Distinction 21, Article 1, with some omissions of the materials found there, but no obvious insertions that affect the meaning)

Notice that in this discussion, Thomas Aquinas (lived about 1225 – 1274) suggests that Purgatory occupies two places: one place is in or below Hell – the other is at various specific times in other places for particular purposes.

Notice as well that Thomas Aquinas concedes that Scripture does not tell us about the “situation” (that is, the place where it is sited – it’s location) of Purgatory. Thus, he’s not willing to be dogmatic about it. However, Thomas Aquinas does believe that there were “revelations made to many” about Purgatory.

The bottom line is that, as Le Goff said, the Purgatory is something born in the 12th century. It is something that took shape as a definite place in the writings of folks like Dante and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Yet it is something that one today hears promoted as simply a state, not a place, from sources like EWTN (example) based on comments such as the following from John Paul II:

Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church’s teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.

– John Paul II, General Audience, 4 August 1999, Section 5

So, while we certainly agree with Mr. Sungenis that Rome has not received divine revelation about the nature of Purgatory, we would simply take that a step further and note that the current teachings one gets from Rome (whether from the pope or anyone else) lack the authority of divine revelation generally. Scripture does not speak of a Purgatory, and there is no good reason for accepting the changing traditions of Rome on this subject. Waving ones hands and saying that the things that are not known are not important doesn’t really address the issue behind the fact that Roman Catholics cannot even tell us with certainty whether Thomas Aquinas or John Paul II is right, when it comes to Purgatory.


N.B. As an aside, Mr. Sungenis makes reference to the idea that there is a “15% area of unsettled doctrine” in his religion. He made this number up out of thin air. He has no way of knowing how much additional doctrine his church will define this century or the next, and consequently he has no way of knowing whether the real number is 15% or 0.000001%. All he can really say is that his church makes more dogmatic statements than most other churches do.

What Catholic Answers Isn’t Telling You About the New Mass Translation

June 3, 2010

Over the past few months I’ve seen a number of requests for funding from Catholic Answers to support what is billed as the “new translation” of the Order of the Mass. Some of the earlier requests seemed vague as to why this is important. The latest email claims that the issue is that the current translation is “clunky” whereas the mass is supposed to be “sublime.”

On the one hand, one can hardly imagine this same conversation happening 50 years ago, when it had been Rome’s practice for centuries to essentially use Latin only (plus the Greek words kyrie eleison) in the order of the mass (with a few exceptions, such as the homily). To that time, one would expect to see reused the arguments against the Reformers as to why it is better not to place the mass into English.

Nevertheless, it was put into English and, as Catholic Answers’ recent email has noted, they (the mysterious “they” that makes decisions for the English-speaking portion of Rome’s church) did not simply reuse the existing parallel English that had been prepared for the aid of English-speaking priests. Instead, a new translation was provided.

What Catholic Answers hasn’t been mentioning in the emails I’ve seen (though perhaps I’m not privy to all their communications) is that there are theological issues with the translation that has been in use for the last few decades. One prominent example is the issue of the very wording of the consecration.

The order in use offered four alternative “Eucharistic prayers” but all of the alternatives stated:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it;
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.

(source – see the “institutive narrative” section)

The new translation of the mass fixes this erroneous statement with respect to the atonement. In relevant part it states:


(caps in source)

This is a theologically significant change, and one that has been grist for the mill of sedevacantists, as can be seen at the following link from a sedevacantist site (link to arguments for the invalidity of the new mass).

While it may be true that the order of mass in use for decades in the English-speaking world has been clunky, has Catholic Answers’ mission ever been to improve the style of American Romanism? One possible explanation is that at least some of the arguments of the sedevacants against the new mass are compelling enough to force a revision that reverts the language to the more traditional form.

I’ve addressed one issue, an issue that was brought to my attention by Peter Dimond’s debate with William Albrecht on the subject (link to debate). I’ve also addressed this theological issue because it has significance to the issue of the atonement.

The words “shed for many for the remission of sins” should remind us:

1) That the shedding of Christ’s blood, not the drinking of his blood, is the way by which the guilt of sins is remitted. Not “drunk … for the remission of sins” but “shed … for the remission of sins.”

While we are taught that we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ to have life in us:

John 6:53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

It is because Christ is our source of life, not because it is the eating and drink that provides forgiveness. It is the shedding of the blood that provides the forgiveness.

2) The only way that sins are forgiven is by the shedding of Christ’s blood.

Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

3) The sacrifice of Christ is a time-bound event. It was future at the time of the institution of the sacrament, though it is past now.

Hebrew 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

4) Christ’s aim in having his blood shed was to remit the sins of many, not all.

Thomas Aquinas explains it this way:

Objection 8: Further, as was already observed, Christ’s Passion sufficed for all; while as to its efficacy it was profitable for many. Therefore it ought to be said: “Which shall be shed for all,” or else “for many,” without adding, “for you.”

Reply to Objection 8: The blood of Christ’s Passion has its efficacy not merely in the elect among the Jews, to whom the blood of the Old Testament was exhibited, but also in the Gentiles; nor only in priests who consecrate this sacrament, and in those others who partake of it; but likewise in those for whom it is offered. And therefore He says expressly, “for you,” the Jews, “and for many,” namely the Gentiles; or, “for you” who eat of it, and “for many,” for whom it is offered.

– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 78, Article 3 (Objection/Response 8)

– TurretinFan

Thomas Aquinas, William Webster, and Scripture against Bellisario

April 13, 2010

Over in the comment box of the Beggars All Reformation blog, Bellisario has attempted to take on William Webster (source). Pastor Webster is not there to defend himself, instead Bellisario is responding to a blogger named Rhology.

Bellisario writes: “Scared of Webster! Are you serious?”

Of course Rhology’s serious that it seems that folks are afraid to deal directly with Webster/King’s three-volume work.

Bellisario continues: “His comments on Aquinas and Sola Scriptura are completely asinine.”

No, they’re erudite. I realize that is not a rebuttal, it’s just a declarative sentence with a colorful adjective. The point being made, however, is that Bellisario’s own criticism is in that form. See how fun it is to use adjectives rather than arguments? In point of fact, although Aquinas is mentioned, Aquinas occupies a relatively minor position in Webster/King’s work. Even if Webster’s comments on Aquinas were erroneous (they’re not … but let’s speak hypothetically), that would not seriously undermine that force of Webster’s work.

Bellisario further claims: “He needs to get an education before he starts taking on the writings of the big boys like Aquinas.”

New motto for Aquinas: “You can’t possibly know what he’s saying without an [unspecified – but certainly something that William Webster couldn’t possibly have] education.” Naturally, we should conclude that out of consistency, Bellisario has called off his own planned book on Aquinas and plans shortly to withdraw the few blog posts he’s made on Aquinas. Of course, he won’t – nor should he, at least not for the reason he’s suggested regarding Webster. The problem is his claim that someone needs some as-yet-unspecified education.

Bellisario continues on: “I refuted him some time ago on the subject, where he took Aquinas completely out of his historical context.”

No, Bellisario didn’t. He has exactly two blog posts that even mention Webster. The first one simply says: “I can assure you, it is nothing close to the Protestant flavor which guys like William Webster and others claim him to be.” Hopefully even Bellisario will recognize that this is not a refutation.

The second one is longer, but it simply indicates:

For instance, Protestant William Webster attempts to build a fallacious case against the Catholic Church by ignorantly attempting to frame Saint Thomas in a position contrary to current Catholic teaching, “The first was sola Scriptura in which the fathers viewed Scripture as both materially and formally sufficient. It was materially sufficient in that it was the only source of doctrine and truth and the ultimate authority in all doctrinal controversies. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith. Additionally, they taught that the essential truths of Scripture were perspicuous, that is, that they were clearly revealed in Scripture, so that, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone an individual could come to an understanding of the fundamental truths of salvation” (8.Webster) It appears that Mr. Webster does not understand the theological background to Saint Thomas’ writings, nor does it appear that he has ventured out very far in investigating the background and history surrounding Saint Thomas’ writings. To interpret Saint Thomas in this manner misses the main point of his work, and ultimately it shows a grave misunderstanding of Catholic teaching regarding the Scriptures. It was Saint Thomas intention as a university scholar to exhaust Sacred Scripture for every doctrine or teaching that could be implied from the literal text. Even when Saint Thomas could not explicitly find a text in Scripture to support an argument, he used philosophical reasoning to get him to where he wanted to go with Scripture. For instance Saint Thomas argues for the two wills of Christ based on Scripture, yet he has to use logic and philosophy to arrive at his interpretation, because the Scripture passages he uses are not explicitly clear. He demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)


How that series of assertions is supposed to be refutation is baffling. But let’s consider it:

Bellisario begins with his argument-by-adjective claiming that Webster’s case is “fallacious” and his attempt is performed “ignorantly.”

He then quotes Webster as saying: “Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith.” But Webster’s claim is completely true (see here).

Bellisario doesn’t actually address that aspect of what Thomas Aquinas taught but instead alleges that Webster must be unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ background and historical context. The only specific claim that Bellisario attempts to substantiate is: “He [Thomas Aquinas] demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)”

That’s not what Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26 says, though. Check for yourself. At any rate, the translation to which I’ve linked provides no discussion corresponding to Bellisario’s assertion.

What does Thomas Aquinas say about Scripture? I believe the following comments should help to illustrate the fact that Thomas Aquinas believed in the perspicuity, sufficiency, and primacy of Scripture. While he may have been inconsistent in this, and while he sometimes seemed to have a very high view of church authority, nevertheless his view of Scripture is consistent with what Webster mentions briefly on one page of his book.

Notice how Thomas Aquinas affirms the sufficiency of Scripture in the following quotation:

According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine 4:12 one skilled in speech should so speak as to teach, to delight and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy. The speech of Sacred Scripture does these three things in the fullest manner. For it firmly teaches with its eternal truth. Psalm 118:89: ‘Your word, O Lord, stands firm for ever as heaven.’ And it sweetly delights with its pleasantness. Psalm 118.103: ‘How sweet are your words to my mouth!’ And it efficaciously changes with its authority. Jeremiah 23:29: ‘Are my words not like fire, says the Lord?’

– Thomas Aquinas, Inaugural Lectures, Lecture titled “Hic Est Liber”

Another passage of Thomas on the sufficiency of Scripture:

He describes every abundance metaphorically through an abundance of food and drink. For if he pastures us, he is related to us as a shepherd to (his) sheep, who are nourished in two ways, namely by grass and water. With respect to the first, he says, He hath set me in a place of pasture, that is, fit for pasture where there is an abundance of grass. These abundances are the sacred writings of divine scripture and spiritual things: Ezechiel 34:14: …on green grass, and be fed in fat pastures… With respect to the second, he states, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment.
And he says He has set, because the divine word does two things, namely it instructs beginners, and strengthens the accomplished. With respect to the first, he says, In a place of pasture. With respect to the second, he says, He has set me there. As for the second he says, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment. This is the water of baptism: Ezechiel 36:25: I will pour upon you clean water etc.
Or, it is the water of the wisdom of holy scripture; which is certainly food and water, because it strengthens much and refreshes respectively: Ecclesiasticus 15:3: The water of wholesome wisdom to drink.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 22

Here is a dual affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture and sufficiency of the Psalms (as in Athanasius’ letter to Marcellinus):

The material is universal, for while the particular books of the Canon of Scripture contain special materials, this book has the general material of Theology as a whole.
This is what Dionysius says, in book 3 of the Caelestial Hierarchy, The sacred scripture of the Divine Songs (the Psalms) is intended to sing of all sacred and divine workings.
Hence the material is indicated in what he says, in all his works, because he treats of every work of God.

And this will be the reason why the Psalter is read more often in the Church, because it contains the whole of Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms

Again, more on the sufficiency of Scriptures:

Therefore, all those things the knowledge of which can be useful for salvation are the matter of prophecy, whether they are past, or future, or even eternal, or necessary, or contingent. But those things which cannot pertain to salvation are outside the matter of prophecy. Hence, Augustine says: “Although our authors knew what shape heaven is, [the spirit] wants to speak through them only that which is useful for salvation. And to the Gospel of St. John (16:13), “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth,” the Gloss adds: “necessary for salvation.”

Moreover, I say necessary for salvation, whether they are necessary for instruction in the faith or for the formation of morals. But many things which are proved in the sciences can be useful for this, as, for instance, that our understanding is incorruptible, and also those things which when considered in creatures lead to admiration of the divine wisdom and power. Hence, we find that mention of these is made in Holy Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Truth, Question 12 (Prophecy), Article 2 (Reply)

Sufficiency again:

BEDE; Or mystically, he eats and drinks in the Lord’s presence who eagerly receives the food of the word. Hence it is added for explanation, You have taught in our streets. For Scripture in its more obscure places is food, since by being expounded it is as it were broken and swallowed. In the clearer places it is drink, where it is taken down just as it is found. But at a feast the banquet does not delight him whom the piety of faith commends not. The knowledge of the Scriptures does not make him known to God, whom the iniquity of his works proves to be unworthy; as it follows, And he will say to you, I know not whence you are; depart from me.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting the Venerable Bede in Catena Aurea at Luke 13:22-30

Notice the very high view of the authority of Scriptures here, and try to find Thomas saying anything remotely like this about anything other than Scripture:

CHRYS. But that it is true that he who hears not the Scriptures, takes no heed to the dead who rise again, the Jews have testified, who at one time indeed wished to kill Lazarus, but at another laid hands upon the Apostles, notwithstanding that some had risen from the dead at the hour of the Cross. Observe this also, that every dead man is a servant, but whatever the Scriptures say, the Lord says. Therefore let it be that dead men should rise again, and an angel descend from heaven, the Scriptures are more worthy of credit than all.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at Luke 16:27-31

Notice here the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture:

CHRYS. He is speaking of spiritual drink, as His next words show: He that believes in Me, as the Scripture truth said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But where here does the Scripture say this? No where. What then? We should read, He that believes in Me, as said the Scripture, putting the stop here; and then, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: the meaning being, that that was a right kind of belief, which was formed on the evidence of Scripture, not of miracles. Search the Scriptures, he had said before.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 7:37-39

Treating the Scriptures as “the door” here and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura.

CHRYS. Our Lord having reproached the Jews with blindness, they might have said, We are not blind, but we avoid you as a deceiver. Our Lord therefore gives the marks which distinguish a robber and deceiver from a true shepherd. First come those of the deceiver and robber: Verily, verily, I say to you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. There is an allusion here to Antichrist, and to certain false Christs who had been, and were to be. The Scriptures He calls the door. They admit us to the knowledge of God, they protect the sheep, they shut out the wolves, they bar the entrance to heretics. He that uses not the Scriptures, but climbs up some other way, i.e. some self-chosen, some unlawful way, is a thief. Climbs up, He says, not, enters, as if it were a thief getting over a wall, and running all risks. Some other way, may refer too to the commandments and traditions of men which the Scribes taught, to the neglect of the Law. When our Lord further on calls Himself the Door, we need not be surprised. According to the office which He bears, He is in one place the Shepherd, in another the Sheep. In that He introduces us to the Father, He is the Door, in that He takes care of us, He is the Shepherd.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice here that the Holy Spirit is given credit for rendering the Scriptures perspicuous, as in the Reformed position:

THEOPHYL. Or, the Holy Spirit is the porter, by whom the Scriptures are unlocked, and reveal the truth to us.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Theophylact in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice that here Thomas endorses Chalcedon’s explanation of the fact that the great councils did not rely on their own authority but appealed instead to the authority of Scriptures.

The doctrine of the Catholic Faith was sufficiently laid down by the Council of Niceea: wherefore in the subsequent councils the fathers had no mind to make any additions. Yet on account of the heresies that arose they were at pains to declare explicitly what had already been implicitly asserted. Thus in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon it is said: “This holy, great and universal synod teaches this doctrine which has been constantly held from the beginning, the same which 318 holy fathers assembled at Nicaea defined to be the unalterable faith. On account of those who contend against the Holy Spirit, we confirm the doctrine delivered afterwards by the 150 fathers assembled at Constantinople concerning the substance of the Holy Spirit, which doctrine they made known to all, not indeed as though something were lacking in previous definitions, but by appealing to the authority of the Scriptures to explain what had already been defined against those who endeavoured to belittle the Holy Spirit.”

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Power, Question 10, Article 4, Reply to 13th Objection

Notice the fact that Thomas uses “sole” here. It is not simply one way, but the only way.

The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture—an authority divinely confirmed by miracles. For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 9

The following is an example of Thomas explaining that Scripture serves as the standard by which we measure the teachings of even the doctors, even when acting in their magisterial role (note the reference to the seat of Moses). One point that someone opposed to Sola Scriptura might note here is that Aquinas seems, at least superficially, to treat the official teachings of the Church as being on a par with Scripture, even while suggesting that Scripture be used to judge doctors of the church. What specifically Aquinas means he does not explain, whether merely that the church conveys the rule of faith that is taught in the clear parts of Scriptures or that the church defines the rule of faith. Notice that “rule of faith” is singular, not plural.

It should be said that if the differing opinions of the doctors of Sacred Scripture do not pertain to faith or good morals, then the listeners can follow either opinion without danger. For in that case what the Apostle says in Romans 14:5 applies: “Let each abound in his own understanding.”

But in those matters that pertain to faith and good morals no one is excused if he follows the erroneous opinion of some teacher. For in such matters ignorance does not excuse; otherwise, those who followed the opinions of Arius, Nestorius and the other heresiarchs would have been immune from sin.

Nor can the naivete of the listeners be used as an excuse if they follow an erroneous opinion in such matters. For in doubtful matters assent is not to be given easily. To the contrary, as Augustine says in De Doctrina Christiana III: “Everyone should consult the rule of faith which he gets from the clearer texts in the Scriptures and from the authority of the Church.”

Therefore, no one who assents to the opinion of any teacher in opposition to the manifest testimony of Scripture or in opposition to what is officially held in accordance with the authority of the Church can be excused from the vice of being in error.

As for the argument on behalf of the contrary position, then, one should respond that the reason he first said “The scribes and pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses” was so that what he then added, viz., “Do everything and observe everything they tell you,” might be understood to apply to those things which pertain to that chair. However, things which are contrary to the faith or to good morals do not pertain to that chair.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions Quodlibetales (Miscellaneous Questions), Book 3, Question 4, Article 2 (response)

The beginning portion of this quotation may sound encouraging for someone who is hoping that Thomas will deny Sola Scriptura. However, Thomas nevertheless affirms that “nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture.” In other words, his initial comment is simply that the teachings can be implicitly and not only explicitly drawn from Scripture.

A second question arises from the words, a gospel besides that which we have preached to you. Therefore no one may teach or preach anything but what is written in the epistles and Gospels. But this is false, because it is said in 1Thessalonians (3:10): “Praying that we may accomplish those things that are wanting to your faith.” I answer that nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture. For Sacred Scripture and the Gospels announce that Christ must be believed explicitly. Hence whatever is contained therein implicitly and fosters its teaching and faith in Christ can be preached and taught. Therefore, when he says, besides that which you have received, he means by adding something completely alien: “If any, man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book” (Rev 22:18). And “Neither add anything,” i.e., contrary or alien, “nor diminish” (Deut 12:32).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 2 on Chapter 1, at Galatians 1:6-10

I’ve included the following as being of interest for a few reasons. First, it is of interest because Aquinas is judging the fathers by the Scripture. Second, it is of interest because Aquinas affirms the inerrancy of Scripture. Thirdly it is of interest because it evidences a relatively low view of Peter as compared with some of the alternatives.

Thirdly, they disagree on the sin of Peter. For Jerome says that in the dissimulation previously mentioned, Peter did not sin, because he did this from charity and, as has been said, not from mundane fear. Augustine, on the other hand, says, that he did sin—venially, however—on account of the lack of discretion he had by adhering overmuch to one side, namely, to the Jews, in order to avoid scandalizing them. But the stronger of Augustine’s arguments against Jerome is that Jerome adduces on his own behalf seven doctors, four of whom, namely, Laudicens, Alexander, Origen, and Didymus, Augustine rejects as known heretics. To the other three he opposes three of his own, who held with him and his opinion, namely, Ambrose, Cyprian, and Paul himself, who plainly teaches that Peter was deserving of rebuke. Therefore, if it is unlawful to say that anything false is contained in Sacred Scripture, it will not be lawful to say that Peter was not deserving of rebuke. For this reason the opinion and statement of Augustine is the truer, because it is more in accord with the words of the Apostle.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 2, at Galatians 2:11-14

The following is an interesting example of the fact that Thomas affirms that it is Scripture (not Nicaea) that forces us to deny the Arian error (contrary to the position taken by some modern Roman Catholics).

The Arians likewise attacked this truth by their errors, in confessing that the Father and the Son are not one but several gods; although the authority of Scripture forces [us? – translation reads “e” here, which is plainly wrong] to believe that the Son is true God.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 42, Section 24

The primacy of Scripture can be seen shining through in many places of Jerome’s writings, of which the following is but one example:

The fourth way [to overcome concupiscence] is to keep oneself busy with wholesome occupations: “Idleness hath taught much evil” [Sir 23:29]. Again: “This was the iniquity of Sodom your sister, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her” [Ez 16:49]. St. Jerome says: “Be always busy in doing something good, so that the devil may find you ever occupied.” Now, study of the Scriptures is the best of all occupations, as St. Jerome tells us: “Love to study the Scriptures and you will not love the vices of the flesh” [Ad Paulin.].

– Thomas Aquinas, The Ten Commandments, Article 12 – the Tenth (Ninth in modern Roman Catholic Counting – part of the Tenth in Jewish and Reformed Counting) Commandment

The form of “not … anything … unless” is just another way of wording the Sola Scriptura position that Thomas is advocating in the following quotation:

According to Dionysius, “We should not venture to say anything about God unless we can support what we are saying from Scripture.” Now, we do not find anything in Scripture that refers to a book of death as it refers to the book of life. Therefore, we should not affirm the existence of a book of death.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputation on Truth, Question 7, Article 8 (“to the contrary” section)

The following quotation shows not only Thomas’ high view of Scripture, but also his view of its perspicuity, for it is given not only to the wise but also the unwise.

582 Let us first examine what she says, You, sir, have no bucket, i.e., no pail to use to draw water from the well, and the well is deep, so you cannot reach the water by hand without a bucket.

The depth of the well signifies the depth of Sacred Scripture and of divine wisdom: “It has great depth. Who can find it out?” (Ecc 7:25). The bucket with which the water of wisdom is drawn out is prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask God” (Jas 1:5).

583 The second point is given at, Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? As if to say: Have you better water to give us than Jacob? She calls Jacob her father not because the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, as is clear from what was said before, but because the Samaritans had the Mosaic law, and because they occupied the land promised to the descendants of Jacob.

The woman praised this well on three counts. First, on the authority of the one who gave it; so she says: our father Jacob, who gave us this well. Secondly, on account of the freshness of its water, saying: Jacob drank from it with his sons: for they would not drink it if it were not fresh, but only give it to their cattle. Thirdly, she praises its abundance, saying, and his flocks: for since the water was fresh, they would not have given it to their flocks unless it were also abundant.

So, too, Sacred Scripture has great authority: for it was given by the Holy Spirit. It is delightfully fresh: “How sweet are your words to my palate” (Ps 118:103). Finally, it is exceedingly abundant, for it is given not only to the wise, but also to the unwise.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 2 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Sections 582-83

In an interesting twist, Thomas appears to deny that the Old Testament Scriptures were perspicuous, but affirms that the Scriptures are now perspicuous. He also emphasizes the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture with his comment “especially the Scriptures.”

So he says, Lift up your eyes, look at the fields, because they are already white for the harvest, i.e., they are such that the truth can be learned from them: for by the “fields” we specifically understand all those things from which truth can be acquired, especially the Scriptures: “Search the Scriptures … they bear witness to me” (below 5:39). Indeed, these fields existed in the Old Testament, but they were not white for the harvest because men were not able to pick spiritual fruit from them until Christ came, who made them white by opening their understanding: “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24.45). Again, creatures are harvests from which the fruit of truth is gathered: “The invisible things of God are clearly known by the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). Nonetheless, the Gentiles who pursued a knowledge of these things gathered the fruits of error rather than of truth from them, because as we read, “they served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). So the harvests were not yet white; but they were made white for the harvest when Christ came.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 4 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 649

The following discussion is an interesting discourse on the primacy of Scripture. Specifically it is the authority for believers. Thomas downplays the importance of Scripture for unbelievers, but does so on the specific basis that it is not helpful to them because they do not believe it.

In the second place, it does not seem that he should have been criticized for looking for signs, for faith is proved by signs. The answer to this is that unbelievers are drawn to Christ in one way, and believers in another way. For unbelievers cannot be drawn to Christ or convinced by the authority of Sacred Scripture, because they do not believe it; neither can they be drawn by natural reason, because faith is above reason. Consequently, they must be led by miracles: “Signs are given to unbelievers, not to believers” (1 Cor 14:22). Believers, on the other hand, should be led and directed to faith by the authority of Scripture, to which they are bound to assent. This is why the official is criticized: although he had been brought up among the Jews and instructed in the law, he wanted to believe through signs, and not by the authority of the Scripture. So the Lord reproaches him, saying, Unless you see signs and wonders, i.e., miracles, which sometimes are signs insofar as they bear witness to divine truth. Or wonders (prodigia), either because they indicate with utmost certitude, so that a prodigy is taken to be a “portent” or some “sure indication”; or because they portend something in the future, as if something were called a wonder as if showing at a great distance some future effect.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 7 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 685

The following is the classic passage where Thomas explicitly affirms that only the canonical scriptures are the rule of faith. This is the one that Webster had referenced.

Now John states that his Gospel is true, and he speaks in the person of the entire Church which received it: “My mouth will utter truth” (Prv 8:7). We should note that although many have written about Catholic truth, there is a difference among them: those who wrote the canonical scriptures, such as the evangelists and apostles and the like, so constantly and firmly affirm this truth that it cannot be doubted. Thus John says, we know that his testimony is true: “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9). The reason for this is that only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith. The others have set forth this truth but in such a way that they do not want to be believed except in those things in which they say what is true.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 21, at John 21:24, Section 2656

The efficacy (and consequently sufficiency) of Scripture is again affirmed by Thomas in the following quotation:

Now he mentions the benefits given by this gospel. It is useful for producing faith: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Indeed, all Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, are for this purpose: “The beginning of the book writes about me” [Ps 40:7]; “Search the scriptures … it is they that bear witness to me” (5:39). Another benefit of his gospel is that it also produces the fruit of life, and that believing you may have life: the life of righteousness, which is given by faith ‑ “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4) ‑ and in the future, the life of vision, which is given by glory. This life is in his name, the name of Christ: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 20, at John 20:26-31, Section 2568

You will recall that I mentioned earlier that treating the Scriptures as “the door” and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura. Here he expands on and reiterates the same point, emphasizing Scripture’s unique (behind Christ himself) role as door.

1366 According to Chrysostom, Christ calls Sacred Scripture the door, according to “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word” (Col 4:3). Sacred Scripture is called a door, as Chrysostofm says, first of all, because through it we have access to the knowledge of God: “which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom 1:2). Secondly, for just as the door guards the sheep, so Sacred Scripture preserves the life of the faithful: “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life” (5:39). Thirdly, because the door keeps the wolf from entering; so Sacred Scripture keeps heretics from harming the faithful: “Every scripture inspired by God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction” (2 Tim 3:16). So, the one who does not enter by the door is the one who does not enter by Sacred Scripture to teach the people. Our Lord says of such: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt 15:9); “You have made void the word of God” (Matt 15:6). This, then, is the mark of the thief: he does not enter by the door, but in some other way. [1]

He adds that the thief climbs, and this is appropriate to this parable because thieves climb the walls, instead of entering by the door, and drop into the sheepfold. It also corresponds to the truth, because the reason why some teach what conflicts with Sacred Scripture is due to pride: “If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing” (1 Tim 6:3). Referring to this he says that such a person climbs, that is, through pride. The one who climbs in by another way, that man is a thief, because he snatches what is not his, and a robber, because he kills what he snatches: “If thieves came to you, if plunderers by night – how you have been destroyed” (Obad v 5).

According to this explanation, the relation with what preceded is made in this way: Since our Lord had said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt,” the Jews might have answered: “We do not believe you, but this is not due to our blindness. It is because of your own error that we have turned away from you.” And so our Lord rejects this, and wishes to show that he is not in error because he enters by the door, by Sacred Scripture, that is, he teaches what is contained in Sacred Scripture.

1367 Against this interpretation is the fact that when our Lord explains this further on, he says, I am the door. So it seems that we should understand the door to be Christ. In answer to this, Chrysostom says that in this parable our Lord refers to himself both as the door and the shepherd; but this is from different points of view, because a door and a shepherd are different.[2] Now aside from Christ nothing is more fittingly called a door than Sacred Scripture, for the reasons given above. Therefore, Sacred Scripture is fittingly called a door.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 1 on John 10, at John 10:1-5, Sections 1366-67

Contrary to Bellisario’s position, the opening chapter to Book 4 of Contra Gentiles makes clear that Scriptures (and not natural reason) are the source for all the points to be raised against the unbelievers in that book. While perhaps Aquinas elsewhere advocated something inconsistent with this approach, we would respectfully suggest that any idea that he thought that a doctrine could be proved without Scripture should itself be established from some clear statement by Aquinas in that regard, in view of his clear statements here.

And the manner of proceeding in such matters the words set down do teach us. For, since we have hardly heard the truth of this kind in sacred Scripture as a little drop descending upon us, and since one cannot in the state of this life behold the thunder of the greatness, this will be the method to follow: What has been passed on to us in the words of sacred Scripture may be taken as principles, so to say; thus, the things in those writings passed on to us in a hidden fashion we may endeavor to grasp mentally in some way or other, defending them from the attacks of the infidels. Nonetheless, that no presumption of knowing perfectly may be present, points of this kind must be proved from sacred Scripture, but not from natural reason. For all that, one must show that such things are not opposed to natural reason, in order to defend them from infidel attack. This was also the method fixed upon in the beginning of this work.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 10

The next statement from Thomas is relatively less Reformed. You wouldn’t expect, for example, to hear R. C. Sproul write it. Nevertheless, notice that the area where Thomas allows for extra-scriptural rules are under two conditions: (1) that it not violate Scripture, and (2) that it is a custom – i.e. a way acting or behaving – not a doctrine.

Then when he says, If anyone, he silences the impudent hearers, saying: If anyone is disposed to be contentious and not acquiesce in the above reason but would attack the truth with confident clamoring, which pertains to contentiousness, as Ambrose says, contrary to Jb (6:29): “Respond, I pray, without contentiousness”; (Pr 20:3): “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife.” Let this suffice, then, to silence them that we Jews believing in Christ do not have such a practice, namely, of women praying with their heads uncovering, nor do the churches of God dispersed among the Gentiles. Hence if there were no reason, this alone should suffice, that no one should act against the common custom of the Church: “He makes those of one outlook to dwell in their house” (Ps 68:7). Hence Augustine says: “In all cases in which Sacred Scripture has defined nothing definite, the customs of the people of God and the edicts of superiors must be regarded as the law.”

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:8-16, Section 620

The same kind of attitude is being expressed in this similar passage of Thomas’ works. Here Thomas is mentioning that there are details – matters of order – that are not necessarily expressed in Scripture. However, notice that Aquinas does not suggest that we should base our doctrines on these customs or matters of order.

Then a promise is made when he says: About other things, namely, which are not so perilous, when I come home very soon, I will give directions, namely, how to conserve them. From this it is clear that the Church has many things arranged by the Apostle that are not contained in Sacred Scripture: “The cities will be inhabited,” i.e., the churches will be set in order “by the sense of prudent men,” namely, of the apostles (Sir 10:3).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 7 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, Section 708

The following passage provides a powerful testimony to the perspicuity of Scripture. Thomas explicitly affirms that there are some easy things for beginners, in addition to the more meaty portions of the Sacred Scriptures.

Then (v. 12b) he describes their situation with a simile. Therefore, it should be noted that sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ (Sir. 15:3) and in (24:29): ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul. For the other sciences only enlighten the soul, but this one enlightens: ‘The commandment of the Lord is lightsome, enlightening the eyes’ (Ps. 18:9) and nourishes and strengthens the soul. But in bodily food there is a difference: for children make use of one food and the perfect of another. For children use milk as being thinner and more connatural and easily digestible; but adults use more solid food. So in Sacred Scripture, those who are beginners should listen to easy things, which are like milk; but the learned should hear more difficult things. Therefore, he says, you need milk, namely, as children: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grown unto salvation’ (1 Pt. 2:2); ‘I give you milk to drink, not meat’ (1 Cor. 3:2). And this is what follows, and not solid food, i.e., lofty doctrine, which is concerned with the mysteries and secrets of God, which strengthen and confirm.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews, Lecture 2 on Chapter 5, at Hebrews 5:8-14, Section 267

Notice that the source of wisdom according to Thomas is Christ and specifically the word of Christ, Scripture. This again goes to the issue of sufficiency. It also supports the idea of Sola Scriptura indirectly. Consider whether you can find anywhere in all of Thomas’ writings him discussing the extra-scriptural teachings of the church or oral traditions as the source of wisdom. If you could, that would mean that we might have to reevaluate whether Thomas was being inconsistent or simply speaking hyperbolically here.

165. – Next (v. 16), he urges them to acquire wisdom, first, he teaches them about the source of wisdom, and secondly its usefulness.

166. – In order to have true wisdom, one must inquire into its source, and so Paul says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. “The source of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven” (Sir 1:5). Therefore you should draw wisdom from the word of Christ: “That will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6); “He was made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30). But some people do not have the Word, and so they do not have wisdom. He says that this wisdom should dwell in us: “Bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 3:3). For some, a little of Christ’s word is enough, but the Apostle wants them to have much more; thus he says, let the word of God dwell in you richly: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything” (2 Cor 9:8); “Search for it as for hidden treasures” (Prov 2:4). He adds, in all wisdom, that is, you should want to know everything that pertains to the wisdom of Christ: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); “The heart of a fool is like a broken jar; it will hold no wisdom” (Sir 21:17) [Vulgate].

167. – This wisdom is useful in three ways: for instruction, for devotion, and for direction.

168. – It instructs us in two ways: first, to know what is true; and so Paul says, as you teach. He is saying, in effect: this wisdom dwells in you so richly that it can teach you all things: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Secondly, this wisdom instructs us to know what is good, and so Paul says, and admonish one another, that is, encourage yourselves to do good things: “To arouse you by way of reminder” (2 Pet 1:1).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Colossians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 3, at Colossians 3:12-17, Sections 165-68

I selected the following passage of one of many passages where Thomas affirms the perspicuity of certain texts of Scripture. I picked this one because it is on a subject that I think many folks today wouldn’t regard as especially clear, and further because it seems to have relation to the Thomist/Molinist debate. Finally, I picked it because it is an example of Thomas rejecting what may perhaps be the majority patristic view on the topic – while Thomas only mentions Origen by name he references “some people” which sounds suspiciously as though it might refer to many people euphemistically.

[1] Some people, as a matter of fact, not understanding how God could cause a movement of the will in us without prejudice to freedom of will, have tried to explain these texts in a wrong way. That is, they would say that God causes willing and accomplishing within us in the sense that He causes in us the power of willing, but not in such a way that He makes us will this or that. Thus does Origen, in his Principles, explain free choice, defending it against the texts above.

[2] So, it seems that there developed from this view the opinion of certain people who said that providence does not apply to things subject to free choice, that is, to acts of choice, but, instead, that providence is applied to external events. For he who chooses to attain or accomplish something, such as to make a building or to become rich, is not always able to reach this end; thus, the results of our actions are not subject to free choice, but are controlled by providence.

[3] To these people, of course, opposition is offered quite plainly by the texts from Sacred Scripture. For it is stated in Isaiah (26:2): “O Lord, Thou hast wrought all our works in us.” So, we receive not only the power of willing from God, but also the operation.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Part 2, Chapter 89, Sections 1-3

This passage provides a reasonably good statement of both the formal sufficiency and perspicuity (the doctrine that the things necessary for salvation are clearly stated in Scripture) of Scripture:

To restore man, who had been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness. No one can say that he is unable to grasp the teaching of heavenly wisdom; what the Word taught at great length, although clearly, throughout the various volumes of Sacred Scripture for those who have leisure to study, He has reduced to brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life. Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth, so that the human mind may not be confused by divers errors; in making for the right goal, so that man may not fall away from true happiness by pursuing wrong ends; and in carrying out the law of justice, so that he may not besmirch himself with a multitude of vices.

Knowledge of the truth necessary for man’s salvation is comprised within a few brief articles of faith. The Apostle says in Romans 9:2 8: “A short word shall the Lord make upon the earth”; and later he adds: “This is the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 15:8). In a short prayer Christ clearly marked out man’s right course; and in teaching us to say this prayer, He showed us the goal of our striving and our hope. In a single precept of charity He summed up that human justice which consists in observing the law: “Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:15). Hence the Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, taught that the whole perfection of this present life consists in faith, hope, and charity, as in certain brief headings outlining our salvation: “Now there remain faith, hope, and charity.” These are the three virtues, as St. Augustine says, by which God is worshiped [De doctrina christiana, 1, 35]

– Thomas Aquinas, Theological Compendium, Chapter 1 (appears to be repeated verbatim as the first chapter of both part 1 and part 2)

This passage is more tangential to our discussion. It highlights one of the reasons that the medieval period was as dark as it was: the priests who were conducting their liturgies in Latin didn’t even know how to speak it. Thomas rightly chides them for this, and insists that a knowledge of Scriptures is essential for a preacher. The implication is that Thomas would have disagreed with those modern Roman Catholics who try to argue that Christianity is not a religion of the book.

The necessity for priests devoted to the ministry of preaching is, furthermore, shown by the great ignorance prevailing in some places amongst many of the clergy, some of whom know not even how to speak in Latin. It is rare to find any who are conversant with the Scriptures. Yet a knowledge of the holy writings is essential to those who would preach the word of God. Hence if preaching be entrusted solely to parish priests, the faithful will be greatly the losers.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

One of the few places in Aquinas’ writings where he explores the boundaries between papal power and Scriptures is the following. In this passage, we see that the one thing higher than papal power for Aquinas is the power and authority of the Scriptures.

In answer to the second objection, the Pope, as we have already shown, does not, by giving to religious the privilege of preaching or hearing confessions, act contrary to St. Paul’s admonition; for these religious do not preach to another man’s people. It is not true to say that the Pope cannot alter any Apostolic decree; for the penalties pronounced against bigamy and against fornication among the clergy, are, by authority of the Holy See, sometimes in abeyance. The power of the Pope is limited only in so far that he cannot alter the canonical scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets, which are fundamental to the faith of the Church.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

This is similar to the passage above about the necessity of Scriptures for preachers. I’ve included it because it makes explicit the primacy of Scripture (“above all things”).

From all that has been said, we see then that it is advisable for religious [i.e. those in religious orders], and especially for preachers, to be learned, and that above all things they ought to have a good knowledge of Holy Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 3, Chapter 4

A rare instance of where Thomas interacts with the decrees of Nicaea is the following. In the following, we see that Thomas explicitly denies that the council of Nicaea had higher authority than the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, Thomas appears to assert only that Nicaea was right – a position similar to those of most Reformed folks.

Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old Testament, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews.

– Thomas Aquinas, Against the Errors of the Greeks, Part 1, Chapter 32

UPDATE: Here’s an alternative translation, which appears to be more faithful to the original Latin (thanks to Pastor David King for this update):

Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274: Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old and New Testaments, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews. See the full translation of Aquinas’ Contra Errores Graecorum, provided by James Likoudis in his Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism (New Rochelle, NY: Catholics United for the Faith, 1992), Part 1, Chapter 32, p. 154

This concludes our somewhat extended examination of Thomas’ own comments on Scripture – its exclusive and primary place, its sufficiency, and its perspicuity. We can conclude from this at least that Thomas held to some form or kind of Sola Scriptura (broadly defined), even if it did not reach in him the purity it reached in other great thinkers, such as Calvin – and even if it did not reach the full extent of the definitions we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith or the like. As we noted above, he held a place for traditional customs that is probably a large place than Reformed believers would accept, and his view of the pope’s role in the church is not one that any Reformed believer would accept.

Bellisario concludes his comment with the following jewel: “Webster is a buffoon. Nothing to be scared of.”

That is more of the argument-by-adjective style we’ve noticed above. However, as we’ve seen from the discussion above, there is an abundance of evidence that supports what Webster said about Thomas Aquinas, even beyond the bare fact of the precise quotation that Webster’s comment is based on. It appears that Webster’s comments are consistent with the overall trajectory of Aquinas’ thought on Scripture.

One word of caution. Aquinas was not a fully Reformed believer. Not every point of his doctrine or ecclesiology lines up with Reformed theology. In fact, on many points that are not trivial his views are closer to those of modern-day Roman Catholics. One of the reasons, as William Webster has pointed out, is that Thomas Aquinas mistakenly relied on forged patristic writings (link to discussion). Incidentally, given his somewhat uncritical acceptance of forged documents, one ought to take his patristic quotations above with a grain of salt, and check them to verify their authenticity before citing the father that is allegedly being quoted. I have not checked all of Aquinas’ sources above, and consequently have simply cited them as Thomas – not as the father himself.

The above abundant evidence of Thomas Aquinas’ very high and exclusive view of Scripture, embodying some form of Sola Scriptura, should not be confused for a statement that Aquinas would have agreed with every last word of an extended Reformed treatise on the subject. It ought to go without saying that Aquinas was a fallible man, and we ought to recognize his fallibility. He may well also have been an inconsistent man. We see inconsistency all around us today, and even though Thomas Aquinas’ study was extensive, he is not immune from being inconsistent.

– TurretinFan

P.S. I anticipate but hope against the following non-rebuttals: (1) the same accusation already made against Webster vainly brought against me, namely that the above compilation represents ignorance or unfamiliarity with the Thomistic corpus; (2) that the quotations above are “cut-and-paste” (obviously, one cuts and pastes quotations – otherwise one is paraphrasing, not quoting — the above represents more than a simple cut-and-paste on several levels); (3) that “Catholics accept what Aquinas said but that doesn’t equate to Sola Scriptura” (Aquinas is not being consistent with the modern Roman Catholic view. Furthermore, the seeming bulk of Aquinas’ writings indicate his view that Scripture’s authority is even higher than the highest church authority. While Aquinas may additionally have believed that the ecumenical councils necessarily did not err, Aquinas seems not to have given them the same authority as Scripture – the one possible straw upon which an opposite conclusion might be built is addressed above.)

Rule of Faith and Life

March 10, 2010

A reader (who I’m not naming to protect the reader’s privacy) wrote the following comment, to which I will respond, line-by-line:

“Turretinfan, you have espoused the view that for an act to be considered immoral, we must find the condemnation of such an act in Scripture.”

This seems like an accurate description of my position, although (as discussed below) certain implications you have drawn from this are not correct.

“Scripture is not only your rule of faith regarding theological positions, but moral ones as well.”

The moral law is one important branch of theology. We say that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are our supreme (and the only infallible) rule of faith and life. We see this same sentiment in the fathers as well, especially those who preceded the scholastics.

Scripture itself teaches this:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

Deuteronomy 5:33 Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.

Proverbs 4:4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.

Proverbs 2:20 That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.

Psalm 143:8 Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.

The Westminster Confession puts it this way:

Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testament, which are these: [list of 66 book canon is presented, but I have omitted it] All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.

– Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section 2

Augustine similarly speaks of the rule of life (vitae regulam).

Augustine (writing in A.D. 387):

The man, then, who is temperate in such mortal and transient things has his rule of life confirmed by both Testaments, that he should love none of these things, nor think them desirable for their own sakes, but should use them as far as is required for the purposes andduties of life, with the moderation of an employer instead of the ardor of a lover.

Latin text:

Habet igitur vir temperans in huiuscemodi rebus mortalibus et fluentibus vitae regulam utroque Testamento firmatam, ut eorum nihil diligat, nihil per se appetendum putet, sed ad vitae huius atque officiorum necessitatem quantum sat est usurpet utentis modestia, non amantis affectu.

Citation: Augustine, On the Morals of the Church and the Morals of the Manichaeans, Two Books, Book 1 (On the morals of the Church), Chapter 21 (Section 39)

Augustine (writing in A.D. 387):

What of justice that pertains to God? As the Lord says, “You cannot serve two masters,” [Matthew 6:24] and the apostle denounces those who serve the creature rather than the Creator, [Romans 1:25] was it not said before in the Old Testament, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve?” [Deuteronomy 6:13] I need say no more on this, for these books are full of such passages. The lover, then, whom we are describing, will get from justice this rule of life, that he must with perfect readiness serve the God whom he loves, the highest good, the highest wisdom, the highest peace; and as regards all other things, must either rule them as subject to himself, or treat them with a view to their subjection. This rule of life, is, as we have shown,confirmed by the authority of both Testaments.

Latin text:

Quid de iustitia quae ad Deum pertinet? Nonne cum et Dominus dicat: Non potestis duobus dominis servire [Matthew 6:24], et Apostolus redarguat eos qui creaturae potius quam Creatori [Romans 1:25] serviunt, in Veteri Testamento prius dictum est: Dominum Deum tuum adorabis, et illi soli servies [Deuteronomy 6:13]? Sed quid opus est hinc plura dicere, cum sententiis talibus ibi plena sint omnia? Hanc ergo iustitia vitae regulam dabit huic amatori de quo sermo est, ut Deo quem diligit, id est summo bono, summae sapientiae, summae paci libentissime serviat ceteraque omnia partim subiecta sibi regat, partim subicienda praesumat. Quae norma vivendi, ut docuimus, utriusque Testamenti auctoritate roboratur.

Citation: Augustine, On the Morals of the Church and the Morals of the Manichaeans, Two Books, Book 1 (On the morals of the Church), Chapter 24 (Section 44)

Augustine (writing in A.D. 387):

This discipline, then, which is the medicine of the mind, as far as we can gather from the sacred Scriptures, includes two things, restraint and instruction. Restraint implies fear, and instruction love, in the person benefited by the discipline; for in the giver of the benefit there is the love without the fear. In both of these God Himself, by whose goodness and mercy it is that we are anything, has given us in the two Testaments a rule of discipline. For though both are found in both Testaments, still fear is prominent in the Old, and love in the New; which the apostle calls bondage in the one, and liberty in the other. Of the marvellous order and divine harmony of these Testaments it would take long to speak, and many pious and learned men have discoursed on it. The theme demands many books to set it forth and explain it as far as is possible for man. He, then, who loves his neighbor endeavors all he can to procure his safety in body and in soul, making the health of the mind the standard in his treatment of the body. And as regards the mind, his endeavors are in this order, that he should first fear and then love God. This is true excellence of conduct, and thus the knowledge of the truth is acquired which we are ever in the pursuit of.

Latin text:

Haec tamen disciplina de qua nunc agimus, quae animi medicina est, quantum Scripturis ipsis divinis colligi licet, in duo distribuitur, coercitionem et instructionem. Coercitio timore, instructio vero amore perficitur eius dico cui per disciplinam subvenitur, nam qui subvenit, nihil horum duorum habet nisi amare. In his duobus Deus ipse cuius bonitate atque clementia fit omnino ut aliquid simus duobus Testamentis, Veteri et Novo, disciplinae nobis regulam dedit. Quamquam enim utrumque in utroque sit, praevalet tamen in Veteri timor, amor in Novo; quae ibi servitus hic libertas ab Apostolis praedicatur. De quorum Testamentorum admirabili quodam ordine divinoque concentu longissimum est dicere et multi religiosi doctique dixerunt. Multos libros res ista flagitat, ut pro merito, quantum ab homine potest, explicari et praedicari queat. Qui ergo diligit proximum, agit quantum potest ut salvus corpore salvusque animo sit, sed cura corporis ad sanitatem animi referenda est. Agit ergo his gradibus, quod ad animum pertinet, ut primo timeat deinde diligat Deum. Hi mores sunt optimi, per quos nobis etiam ipsa provenit, ad quam omni studio rapimur, agnitio veritatis.

Citation: Augustine, On the Morals of the Church and the Morals of the Manichaeans, Two Books, Book 1 (On the morals of the Church), Chapter 28 (Section 56)

Augustine (writing in A.D. 387):

But why say more on this? For who but sees that men who dare to speak thus against the Christian Scriptures, though they may not be what they are suspected of being, are at least no Christians? For to Christians this rule of life is given, that we should love the Lord Our God with all the heart, with all the soul, and with all the mind, and our neighbor as ourselves; for on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Latin text:

Sed quid hinc plura? Quis enim non videat eos qui contra Scripturas christianas haec audent dicere, ut illud non sint quod homines suspicantur, certe tamen non esse christianos? Nam christianis haec data est forma vivendi, ut diligamus Dominum Deum nostrum ex toto corde, ex tota anima, ex tota mente 91, deinde proximum nostrum tamquam nosmetipsos 92. In his enim duobus praeceptis tota lex pendet, et omnes prophetae 93.

Citation: Augustine, On the Morals of the Church and the Morals of the Manichaeans, Two Books, Book 1 (On the morals of the Church), Chapter 30 (Section 62)

“Therefore, the God given faculty of rational thought which separates man from beast cannot in any way condemn an act as immoral unless it has scriptural warrant to do so.”

This does not follow. One’s innate knowledge of God’s law may lead one to condemn certain things as immoral without being taught from Scripture. However, of course, all those who understand original sin must also see the danger of treating one’s conscience as though it were infallible. One conscience is, therefore, a bound on what one is permitted to do, but it does not serve as a rule by which we are to condemn others. To condemn others, we need a higher authority than our own conscience.

“Is this your position?”

Not quite. See the distinctions above.

“Why is homosexuality immoral?”

Why it is wrong may be different from how we know it is wrong. It is wrong because it contrary to the moral law of God. Whether God’s nature necessitated that or whether it was a voluntary law is an interesting question that’s not really germane to our discussion.

We know it is wrong both from Scripture and (for many of us) from conscience.

“Is it simply because the Bible condemns it as such?”

See above. We know it is wrong from the Bible. The reason that it is wrong is the moral law, which is revealed to us clearly through the Bible and less clearly through the light of nature.

“If the Bible were silent on the issue of homosexuality, would it have been moral to engage in it?”

It wasn’t moral prior to Scripture being written. Scripture reveals God’s law to us – it is not itself the basis of morality. Rather Scripture is the revelation of God’s law. The Bible would have been silent on the issue of homosexuality, if it were a matter of indifference. It speaks against the sin because one of the purposes of Scripture is to show us the way we ought to live.

“Why has God condemned homosexuality; is this something that He has communicated to us?”

We might argue over whether God has communicated the reason for his condemnation clearly. It should be apparent that God created Eve (not Steve) for Adam. Consequently, we might reasonably infer that one reason for the prohibition on homosexuality is is contrariety to the Creation ordinance of marriage. This looks like a voluntary law (as opposed to a natural law), but again whether it is or not is not really germane to this discussion.

“What are the inherent principles involved?”

I don’t know what this comment refers to.

“My position is that the natural law is the rational agent’s participation in the eternal law.”

It looks like the commenter’s position is borrowed from Aquinas: “It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.” (Summa Theologica, 1st part of the 2nd part, Question 91, Article 2)(link)

I do not know whether the commenter would also agree with Aquinas:

Article 6. Whether the law of nature can be abolished from the heart of man?

I answer that, As stated above (4,5), there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above (Question 77, Article 2). But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Romans 1), were not esteemed sinful.

– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1st part of the 2nd part, Question 94, Article 6 (link)

Such an admission tends to undermine the use of “natural law” standing alone as a rule for others, even if it is an individual’s participation in the eternal law (whatever that is supposed to mean). The light of nature leaves the individual without excuse, but it can be obliterated (variously) as to many details, and consequently is not an infallible authority from which to build a system of morality by which we condemn others.

“Please explain your position.”

Hopefully the explanation above suffices.

– TurretinFan

Necessity of Scripture Reading – Whitaker and the Fathers

January 18, 2010

William Whitaker:

Nay, the fathers also confess, that a knowledge of, and acquaintance with, the scriptures is necessary for all Christians. Jerome in his commentary upon the Colossians, iii. 16, says: ” Hence we see that the laity ought to have not only a sufficient, but an abundant knowledge of the scriptures, and also to instruct each other [FN2].” Chrysostom, in his ninth homily upon the Colossians, writing upon the same passage, remarks that the apostle requires the people to know the word of God, not simply, but in great abundance, οὐχ απλῶς, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς περιουσίας; and adds: “Attend, all ye that are secular (κοσμικοὶ), and have wives and families depending upon you, how he (the apostle) specially commands you to read the scripture; and not merely to read it in a perfunctory manner, but with great diligence,” ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς σπουδῆς. Chrysostom observes in that same place, that the apostle does not say, let the word of God be in you; but, let it dwell in you; and that, πλουσίως, richly [FN3].

OEcumenius too observes upon the same passage, that the doctrine of Christ should dwell in us ὐν πολλῆ δαψιλεία, most abundantly. Now, how are we to obtain so full a knowledge of it as this implies? OEcumenius informs us by subjoining, διὰ τῆς τῶν γραφῶν ἐρεύνης, by searching the scriptures. So Thomas Aquinas in his third lecture upon this chapter: “Some,” says he, ” are satisfied with a very small portion of the word of God; but the apostle desires we should have much of it [FN1].”

[FN2 Hinc perspicimus non tantum sufficienter, sed etiam abundantur debere lacios scripturarum cognitionem habere, et se invicem docere.—T. xi. 1029. But this Commentary is not Jerome’s.]

[FN3 T. xi. p. 391.]

[FN1 Quibusdam sufficit modicum quid de verbo Dei: sed apostolus vult quod habeamus multum, p. 164. 2. T. xvi. Opp. Venet. 1593.]

– William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Second Question, Chapter 15 (pp. 239-40 in the Parker 1849 edition)

William Whitaker provides this brief reference to the teachings of fathers after his main argument. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that he was trying to argue for the necessity of reading Scripture simply because he thought the church fathers taught it.

As to the necessity of Scripture (not simply of reading it, but of Scripture in general) recall that Whitaker carefully qualified the kind of necessity involved:

Our opponent disputes thus: Scripture is not absolutely necessary; therefore it is not necessary at all. But here lies the Jesuit’s error: for it is not every necessity that is absolute; some is only Hypothetical. God could teach us without the holy scriptures, and lead us to eternal life; but he chose to propound his teaching to us in the scriptures. This, therefore, being supposed, it is necessary that we learn and derive the will and doctrine of God from the scriptures. Thus, not even food is simply necessary, because God could easily nourish us without food; but only hypothetically. God indeed formerly shewed himself familiarly to our fathers, and, in a manner, conversed constantly with some distinguished men, to whom he immediately disclosed his will; and then I confess that the scriptures were not necessary: but afterwards he changed this method of teaching his church, and chose that his will should be committed to writing; and then scripture began to be necessary.

– William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Sixth Question, Chapter 7 (p. 517 in the Parker 1849 edition)

We see similar sentiments from Caesarius of Arles:

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

Similarly, one who refuses to read the sacred writings which have been transmitted from the eternal country should fear that he perhaps will not receive eternal rewards and even not escape endless punishment. So dangerous is it not to read the divine precepts that the Prophet mournfully exclaims: ‘Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge.’ ‘If anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored.’ Doubtless, if a man fails to seek God in this world through the sacred lessons, God will refuse to recognize him in eternal bliss. . . . A man should first be willing to listen to God, if he wants to be heard by Him. Indeed, with what boldness does he want God to hear him when he despises God so much that he refuses to read His precepts?

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 7.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), pp. 47-48.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them.

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.1 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 49.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

Therefore consider at once, brethren, and carefully notice that the man who frequently reads or listens to sacred Scripture speaks with God. See, then, whether the Devil can overtake him when he perceives him in constant conversation with God. However, if a man neglects to do this, with what boldness or with what feelings does he believe God will grant him an eternal reward, when he refuses to speak with Him in this world through the divine text?

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 52.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

For this reason I beseech you with fatherly solicitude, equally admonishing and exhorting you, as was already said, to endeavor continually to read the sacred lessons yourselves or willingly to listen to others read them. By thus always thinking over in the treasury of your heart what is just and holy, you may prepare for your souls an eternal spiritual food that will bring you endless bliss.

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 54.

And from Chrysostom.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407):

Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this, “Honor thy father and thy mother”; so that this makes for thee. Never say, this is the business of monks. Am I making a monk of him? No. There is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source; but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are super added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them, slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death; as, for example, Achilles, when he relents, when he dies for his concubine, when another gets drunk, and many other things of the sort. He requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to “bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”? And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient, and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle’s admonition. “Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. Alas, that so constantly as I repeat this, I am looked upon as trifling! Still, I shall not cease to do my duty.

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Homily 21.

Notice that here even young children are being commended to the reading of Scripture. Jerome also similarly exhorts a woman, Demetrias, to make reading the Scripture her first priority.

Jerome (about A.D. 347–420):

In what remains of my letter I shall direct all my words to Demetrias herself, whose holiness ennobles her as much as her rank, and of whom it may be said that the higher she climbs the more terrible will be her fall. For the rest, this one thing, child of God, I lay on thee; yea before all, and urge it many times: love to occupy your mind with the reading of scripture.

– Jerome, Letter 130 (to Demetrias), Section 7

– TurretinFan

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