Archive for the ‘Athanasius’ Category

Responding to Patrick Madrid’s Claims about Athanasius and Sola Scriptura

January 11, 2017

Patrick Madrid in “Envoy for Christ” accuses us of selective patristic quotation. He writes:

Sometimes Protestant apologists try to bolster their case for sola Scriptura by using highly selective quotes from Church Fathers such as Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, and Basil Caesarea. … These quotes, isolated from the rest of what the Father in question wrote about church authority, Tradition and Scripture, can give the appearance that these Fathers were hard-core Evangelicals who promoted an unvarnished sola Scriptura principle that would have done John Calvin proud.

John Calvin would likely retort that Madrid is reversing the order – Calvin inherited his view of sola Scriptura in large part from his extensive study of patristics. It’s certainly true that the “Church Fathers” were not Presbyterians or Reformed Baptists, but they did treat Scripture as being the only infallible writing they had. The accusations of isolation and selection are misleading at best. If one reads the works of Athanasius, one finds an almost constant appeal to the authority of Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. It’s easy to allege that something has been misleadingly taken out of context, and it is quite another thing to provide the context that clarifies the meaning of the quotation.

Madrid argues:

Athanasius’s writings show no signs of sola Scriptura, but rather of his staunchly orthodox Catholicism. Athanasius, for example, wrote:

The confession arrived at Nicaea was, we say more, sufficient and enough by itself for the subversion of all irreligious heresy and for the security and furtherance of the doctrine of the Church. [Ad Afros, 1.]

And:

[T]he very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning was preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers. On this the Church was founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian. [Ad Serapion, 1:28]

These are his two go-to quotations from Athanasius, but neither of these statements involves any rejection of sola Scriptura. The first statement, for example, does not say that it is because of the authority of Nicaea that the confession is sufficient. Nor does the second statement refer to some extra-scriptural tradition. On the contrary, it refers explicitly to Matthew 28:19. Look at the complete statement in its context:

28. But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. There is, then, a Triad, holy and complete, confessed to be God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, having nothing foreign or external mixed with it, not composed of one that creates and one that is originated, but all creative; and it is consistent and in nature indivisible, and its activity is one. The Father does all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit. Thus the unity of the holy Triad is preserved. Thus one God is preached in the Church, ‘who is over all,and through all, and in all‘ — ‘over all‘, as Father, as beginning, as fountain; ‘through all‘, through the Word; ‘in all‘, in the Holy Spirit. It is a Triad not only in name and form of speech, but in truth and actuality. For as the Father is he that is, so also his Word is one that is and God over all. And the Holy Spirit is not without actual existence, but exists and has true being. Less than these (Persons) the Catholic Church does not hold, lest she sink to the level of the modern Jews, imitators of Caiaphas, and to the level of Sabellius. Nor does she add to them by speculation, lest she be carried into the polytheism of the heathen. And that they may know this to be the faith of the Church, let them learn how the Lord, when sending forth the Apostles, ordered them to lay this foundation for the Church, saying: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.‘ The Apostles went, and thus they taught; and this is the preaching that extends to the whole Church which is under heaven.

The final line of the section clarifies and explains the first line of the section, quoted by Madrid. Thus, it turns out that Madrid has misled his readers by quoting Athanasius out of context, as though Athanasius were referring to something other than Scripture.

The letters of Athanasius to Serapion were translated a bit later than some of his more famous works. The editor of the translation, however, points out that there weren’t any contemporary critics of authenticity of these letters, and that Erasmus is the most notable person to reject letter 1 (the one that Madrid directed us to). The editor provides this interesting observation (p. 14 – bold emphasis mine):

That the style of these letters is heavier and less attractive than that of Athanasius’s best works will readily be admitted. But it must be remembered that it was written under very difficult circumstances, and that the writer himself regards it as needing correction and polish. Parts of it are little more than a series of Scriptural quotations. As Montfaucon says, to complain of a stiff and heavy style in the handling of such material, ‘idipsum sit quod nodum in scirpo quaerere‘. If further proof is needed, the reader is referred to the notes, which illustrate at many points the close connexion in thought and language between these letters and the other works of Athanasius.

Apart from isolated references in later works, we cannot be certain that Athanasius ever wrote anything further on the doctrine of the Spirit. Few genuine works survive from the last decade of his ministry. Had we, for instance, his correspondence with Basil, the story might be different. As it is, two works which Montfaucon thinks genuine and dates after 362 fall to be considered. The de Incarnatione et contra Arianos deals with the Godhead of the Spirit, 9-10 and 13-19; and the de Trinitate et Spiritu Sancto, which survives only in Latin, is chiefly a series of proof texts in support of that doctrine. The two works are closely connected; without being a transcript, one of them is clearly dependent upon the other.

Notice that this is a comment from someone intimately familiar with the works, not someone considering an isolated quote own its own.

As to the letter Ad Afros, keep in mind that this was a group letter by ninety Egyptian and Liberian bishops (including Athanasius) to the other bishops of Africa. The quotation may sound strongly worded in favor of Nicaea, but consider the opening line of the letter:

The letters are sufficient which were written by our beloved fellow-minister Damasus, bishop of the Great Rome, and the large number of bishops who assembled along with him; and equally so are those of the other synods which were held, both in Gaul and in Italy, concerning the sound Faith which Christ gave us, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers, who met at Nicæa from all this world of ours, have handed down.

Notice the parity with which the African bishops treat the various councils, including those presided over by Damasus. So, it is definitely true that we should be careful about jumping to conclusions just because the group of bishops uses the word “sufficient.”

The group of bishops, in Ad Afros, advanced the argument of the council of Nicaea against the council of Ariminum. However, to prove that Nicaea is superior to Ariminum, the group of bishops argue that the Nicene foruma is in accordance with Scripture (section 4) of the letter. Moreover, the bishops defend the term “co-essential” as expressing the sense of Scripture, even though it is not the express term used in Scripture.

Although the letter does appeal to the allegedly ecumenical nature of the council as a persuasive reason for adopting its position, nowhere in the letter does the group of bishops say or suggest that the council’s decision has equal authority in itself with Scripture, simply by virtue of being ecumenical. Furthermore, the letter expressly states, section 5, that the council fathers “wished to set down in writing the acknowledged language of Scripture” and that the only reason they used a word not from Scripture was that the Arian party kept twisting the meaning of those phrases. Thus, section 6 explains: “And lastly they wrote more plainly, and concisely, that the Son was coessential with the Father; for all the above passages signify this.” In other words, the Nicene fathers weren’t passing on unwritten tradition or defining dogma by their authority, but simply expressing the teachings of Scripture.

(Letter Ad Afros) (Letters to Serapion)

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Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: "On the Incarnation of the Word"

October 19, 2016

The sequel to “Contra Gentes,” Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation of the Word” picks up where the prior work left off (link to detailed discussion of Sola Scriptura in Contra Gentes). He already has proven the divinity of the Word, but now he’s going to discuss how the Word became flesh. There are 57 sections to this work.

By the second section (link), Athanasius is already quoting Scripture. He continues doing the same in third section (link) where he also quotes from the Shepherd of Hermas (as “the most edifying book of the Shepherd”). He likewise continues to quote from scripture in the next two sections (4th5th) including a quote from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom in each section.

Athanasius continues his argument and explanation, relying on Biblical principles and doctrines, while not necessarily always quoting from Scripture.

In some places, Athanasius places particular emphasis on quoting Scripture, such as when proving his point from Scripture in section 10 (link). For example, he states: “And of this one may be assured at the hands of the Saviour’s own inspired writers, if one happen upon their writings … .”

In section 12 (link), Athanasius explains the purpose of Scripture:

But since men’s carelessness, by little and little, descends to lower things, God made provision, once more, even for this weakness of theirs, by sending a law, and prophets, men such as they knew, so that even if they were not ready to look up to heaven and know their Creator, they might have their instruction from those near at hand … For neither was the law for the Jews alone, nor were the Prophets sent for them only, but, though sent to the Jews and persecuted by the Jews, they were for all the world a holy school of the knowledge of God and the conduct of the soul.

In section 13 (link) Athanasius makes a telling comparison to human kings:

5. Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught.

His point, of course, is that Christ’s coming is that last resort.

Athanasius does not necessarily always cite or quote from Scripture, though he does occasionally do so at length (for example, at section 18). Moreover, while Athanasius frequently appeals to what is “fitting” to persuade his reader, when it comes to actually proving the point, he goes to Scripture. For example, the following is from section 33 (link):

For Jews in their incredulity may be refuted from the Scriptures, which even themselves read; for this text and that, and, in a word, the whole inspired Scripture, cries aloud concerning these things, as even its express words abundantly shew. For prophets proclaimed beforehand concerning the wonder of the Virgin and the birth from her, saying: “Lo, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us.” [Isaiah 7:14 – also quoted in Matthew 1:23]
But Moses, the truly great, and whom they believe to speak truth, with reference to the Saviour’s becoming man, having estimated what was said as important, and assured of its truth, set it down in these words: “There shall rise a star out of Jacob, and a man out of Israel, and he shall break in pieces the captains of Moab.” [Numbers 24:17] And again: “How lovely are thy habitations O Jacob, thy tabernacles O Israel, as shadowing gardens, and as parks by the rivers, and as tabernacles which the Lord hath fixed, as cedars by the waters. A man shall come forth out of his seed, and shall be Lord over many peoples.” [LXX Numbers 24:5-7] And again, Esaias: “Before the Child know how to call father or mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria before the king of Assyria.” [Isaiah 8:4]
That a man, then, shall appear is foretold in those words. But that He that is to come is Lord of all, they predict once more as follows: “Behold the Lord sitteth upon a light cloud, and shall come into Egypt, and the graven images of Egypt shall be shaken.” [Isaiah 19:1] For from thence also it is that the Father calls Him back, saying: “I called My Son out of Egypt.” [Hosea 11:1]

Notice that for Athanasius these doctrines are expressly and clearly taught in Scripture: “even its express words abundantly shew.”

The next section (section 34) continues in the same vein:

Nor is even His death passed over in silence: on the contrary, it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly. For to the end that none should err for want of instruction in the actual events, they feared not to mention even the cause of His death,—that He suffers it not for His own sake, but for the immortality and salvation of all, and the counsels of the Jews against Him and the indignities offered Him at their hands.
They say then: “A man in stripes, and knowing how to bear weakness, for his face is turned away: he was dishonoured and held in no account. He beareth our sins, and is in pain on our account; and we reckoned him to be in labour, and in stripes, and in ill-usage; but he was wounded for our sins, and made weak for our wickedness. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed.” [Isaiah 53:3-5 – there seem to be some slight variants from both the Masoretic and LXX texts here] O marvel at the loving-kindness of the Word, that for our sakes He is dishonoured, that we may be brought to honour. “For all we,” it says, “like sheep were gone astray; man had erred in his way; and the Lord delivered him for our sins; and he openeth not his mouth, because he hath been evilly entreated. As a sheep was he brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth: in his abasement his judgment was taken away.” [Isaiah 53:6-8]
Then lest any should from His suffering conceive Him to be a common man, Holy Writ anticipates the surmises of man, and declares the power (which worked) for Him, and the difference of His nature compared with ourselves, saying: “But who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. From the wickedness of the people was he brought to death. And I will give the wicked instead of his burial, and the rich instead of his death; for he did no wickedness, neither was guile found in his mouth. And the Lord will cleanse him from his stripes.” [Isaiah 53:8-10 – the text here seems close to the LXX]

Once again note that for Athanasius “it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly ….”

The following section (section 35) continues with more Scriptural proof:

But, perhaps, having heard the prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness.
For first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says: “Ye shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe.” [Deuteronomy 28:66]
And next, the prophets after him witness of this, saying: “But I as an innocent lamb brought to be slain, knew it not; they counselled an evil counsel against me, saying, Hither and let us cast a tree upon his bread, and efface him from the land of the living.” [Jeremiah 11:19 – slightly different from both the LXX and Masoretic texts here]
And again: “They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” [Psalm 22:16-18]
Now a death raised aloft and that takes place on a tree, could be none other than the Cross: and again, in no other death are the hands and feet pierced, save on the Cross only.
But since by the sojourn of the Saviour among men all nations also on every side began to know God; they did not leave this point, either, without a reference: but mention is made of this matter as well in the Holy Scriptures. For “there shall be,” he saith, “the root of Jesse, and he that riseth to rule the nations, on him shall the nations hope.” [Isaiah 11:10] This then is a little in proof of what has happened.
But all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews. For which of the righteous men and holy prophets, and patriarchs, recorded in the divine Scriptures, ever had his corporal birth of a virgin only? Or what woman has sufficed without man for the conception of human kind? Was not Abel born of Adam, Enoch of Jared, Noe of Lamech, and Abraham of Tharra, Isaac of Abraham, Jacob of Isaac? Was not Judas born of Jacob, and Moses and Aaron of Ameram? Was not Samuel born of Elkana, was not David of Jesse, was not Solomon of David, was not Ezechias of Achaz, was not Josias of Amos, was not Esaias of Amos, was not Jeremy of Chelchias, was not Ezechiel of Buzi? Had not each a father as author of his existence? Who then is he that is born of a virgin only? For the prophet made exceeding much of this sign.
Or whose birth did a star in the skies forerun, to announce to the world him that was born? For when Moses was born, he was hid by his parents: David was not heard of, even by those of his neighbourhood, inasmuch as even the great Samuel knew him not, but asked, had Jesse yet another son? Abraham again became known to his neighbours as a great man only subsequently to his birth. But of Christ’s birth the witness was not man, but a star in that heaven whence He was descending.

Once again, note the affirmation that Scripture clearly teaches these important central truths:

  • “it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness”
  • “This then is a little in proof of what has happened”
  • “all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews”

One of the most powerful indirect confirmations of the Sola Scriptura approach of Athanasius comes in section 37 (link), where Athanasius argues in this way: “Who then is he of whom the Divine Scriptures say this? Or who is so great that even the prophets predict of him such great things? None else, now, is found in the Scriptures but the common Saviour of all, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Similarly, in section 38 (link) “Since then nothing is said in the Scriptures, it is evident that these things had never taken place before.” Notice that Athanasius has a presupposition that the answer to the question is to be found in Scripture and if Scripture is silent, it didn’t happen. If Athanasius thought that Scripture were an incomplete record, this would not work – for simply exhausting Scripture would not be enough.

Similarly, in a number of sections Athanasius appeals to Scripture as proof:

  • “For if they do not think these proofs sufficient, let them be persuaded at any rate by other reasons, drawn from the oracles they themselves possess.” (Section 38)
  • “Or if not even this is sufficient for them, let them at least be silenced by another proof, seeing how clear its demonstrative force is. For the Scripture says …” (Section 38)
  • “But perhaps, being unable, even they, to fight continually against plain facts, they will, without denying what is written, maintain that they are looking for these things, and that the Word of God is not yet come. For this it is on which they are for ever harping, not blushing to brazen it out in the face of plain facts.” (Section 39)
  • “… then it must be plain, even to those who are exceedingly obstinate, that the Christ is come, and that He has illumined absolutely all with His light, and given them the true and divine teaching concerning His Father. So one can fairly refute the Jews by these and by other arguments from the Divine Scriptures.” (section 40)

My non-cessationist friends will be wise to note Athanasius’ confirmation of the cessation of prophecy: “To make prophecy, and king, and vision to cease? This too has already come to pass.” (section 40)

In arguing against the Greeks, Athanasius uses an excellent argument that demonstrates his view of Scripture (section 47 and section 50):

But as to Gentile wisdom, and the sounding pretensions of the philosophers, I think none can need our argument, since the wonder is before the eyes of all, that while the wise among the Greeks had written so much, and were unable to persuade even a few from their own neighbourhood, concerning immortality and a virtuous life, Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.

But the Word of God, most strange fact, teaching in meaner language, has cast into the shade the choice sophists; and while He has, by drawing all to Himself, brought their schools to nought, He has filled His own churches; and the marvellous thing is, that by going down as man to death, He has brought to nought the sounding utterances of the wise concerning idols.

Interestingly, this is the first time churches are mentioned – but they are not mentioned as an authority, but rather as an evidence (section 24 included a brief mention of “those who would divide the Church”).

As he wraps up his book (section 56), Athanasius makes sure to point his reader back to Scripture:

Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing to usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God.

Notice how Athanasius views Scripture as being an even better teacher than he is, and that simply by “genuinely applying your mind” you can learn the truths “more completely and clearly” with “the exact detail.” He gives the reason why: namely that they were “spoken and written by God.”

The most tradition-friendly line of the book then follows: “But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn.” But note that Athanasius does not hint or suggest that there is an epistemological need for these teachers. While Athanasius does use their martyrdom as a testimony to the truth of their position, to some extent, he never quotes from any of them throughout the work: only quoting from the Scripture or deuterocanonical works, such as Wisdom or the Shepherd.

In the final section (section 57), Athanasius continues his promotion of searching the Scriptures:

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God.

So, Athanasius’ exhortation is not to accept the authority of those intermediate teachers, but rather to imitate their example of a godly life. Thus, even in pointing to those who went before us, Athanasius’ point is that “For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints.” His point is not that we need additional instructors alongside Scripture, but that we need to remove sin from our life in order to understand Scripture correctly.

-TurretinFan

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: Contra Gentes

October 18, 2016

Athanasius’ first major work “Contra Gentes” begins with the line: “The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ.” (source) Notice how Athanasius describes the truth of the Christian religion as being self-evident and explicitly not “in need of human teachers.”

Athanasius immediately continues: “Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well.” The divine oracles he refers to here are Scripture. Athanasius states that these things can be found out from Scripture, but that Macarius would like to hear it from others as well.

Athanasius then explicitly states:

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

Here Athanasius explicitly acknowledges the sufficiency of Scripture. He also confesses the usefulness of human teachers, and he himself is one such teacher, doing what our “blessed teachers” before him did: not infallibly defining the Scriptures, but simply explaining them.

After the introduction (section 1), Athanasius begins (section 2) with a discussion of Creation and general theology. He makes explicit reference to “Holy Scriptures,” and there are lots of doctrines obviously derived from Scripture taught in the section. He even quotes from Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the next section (section 3), Athanasius speaks of the fall. He again clearly derives his teaching from Scripture and makes his reliance on Scripture explicit: “… according to what the holy Scriptures tell us ….”

In the following section (section 4), Athansius speaks of the effects of the fall, particularly on the mind. He again derives his teaching from Scripture. Speaking to the intended purpose of the things man has, Athanasius describes “ears to listen to the divine oracles and the laws of God …” (“divine oracles” and “laws” are synonyms for Scripture). Athanasius quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”

In the next section (section 5), Athanasius speaks of the effects of the fall in terms of sins that flow from it. He once again derives his teaching from Scripture, with fairly obvious reliance on Romans 3:15 (“Their feet are swift to shed blood”), Proverbs 1:16 (“For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.”), or Isaiah 59:7 (“Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.”). Athanasius quotes from Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of Christ Jesus.”

Next (section 6), Athanasius makes reference to various erroneous views. He again relies on Scripture both to form his doctrinal correctives, but also to describe those in error (For example, he alludes to 1 Timothy 1:19). He is explicit in relying on Scripture to refute the errors: “But these men one can easily refute, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the human understanding itself ….” He then quotes from the gospels, quoting Jesus, quoting the Old Testament (bracketed references are my insertion): “To begin with, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in His own gospels confirming the words of Moses: “The Lord God is one; [Mark 12:29 / Deuteronomy 6:4]” and “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth [Matthew 11:25 / Luke 10:11 / Deuteronomy 10:14 / Genesis 24:3 / Exodus 31:17].”

Athanasius continues (section 7) by refuting a dualist notion that there is a good god and an evil god. Here we finally have a reference to the church, but it is simply “the truth of the Church’s theology must be manifest ….” Athanasius continues to argue from reason and Scripture. For example, referring to Scripture in yet another way, and quoting it, Athanasius writes: “as the Spirit says somewhere in writing, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” [Ecclesiastes 7:29]”

The next section (section 8) has Athanasius explaining how the error of the use of representational images in worship arose. In this discussion he has clear dependence on Romans 1:20-24. Moreover, he explicitly quotes from Scripture: ” But to this the divine Scripture testifies when it says, “When the wicked cometh unto the depth of evils, he despiseth.” [Proverbs (LXX) 18:3]” (You may recall we saw this same Scripture quoted in the Deposition of Arius)

After this (section 9) Athanasius deals with the descent into various things that are not divine as though they were deity, including creatures, non-existent things, passions, and parts. Here, Athanasius explicitly quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom of Solomon as though it were Scripture, “According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[Wisdom 14:12]” (Cf. Athanasius’ explicit identification of Wisdom of Solomon as non-canonical in his 39th festal letter, although as that was written later than this, it may reflect a change of views on his part)

The next section (section 10) gets more specific in calling out specific deities that are simply dead humans, both male and female (Athanasius is especially down on the idea of worshiping women: “For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honour due to God … “). While Scripture is not specifically mentioned, the dependence on Wisdom 14 seems pretty apparent.

The following section (section 11) provides a rebuttal. Athanasius again quotes Wisdom of Solomon 14, calling it “Scripture”, this time quoting it at length:

But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life. For neither were they from the beginning, neither shall they be for ever. For the vainglory of men they entered into the world, and therefore shall they come shortly to an end. For a father afflicted with untimely mourning when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices. Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law. And graven images were worshipped by the commands of kings. Whom men could not honour in presence because they dwelt afar off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from afar, and made an express image of the king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent as if he were present. Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition: for he, peradventure, willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion: and so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honoured as a man: and this was an occasion to deceive the world, for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name.” [Wisdom 14:12-21]

Next (section 12) Athanasius demonstrates both the frailty and the immorality of the deities, building on comments from previous sections.

Athanasius then (section 13) turns to the folly of idolatry. While he does not explicitly refer to Scripture, his argument closely follows that of Isaiah 44, for example Isiah 44:15-17 describing a person who cuts up wood, uses some for burning and the other for making a god.

His next section (section 14) is especially rich in Scripture. He begins:

But better testimony about all this is furnished by Holy Scripture, which tells us beforehand when it says, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. Eyes have they and will not see; a mouth have they and will not speak; ears have they and will not hear; noses have they and will not smell; hands have they and will not handle; feet have they and will not walk; they will not speak through their throat. Like unto them be they that make them.” [Psalm 115:4-8]

He then continues:

Nor have they escaped prophetic censure; for there also is their refutation, where the Spirit says, “they shall be ashamed that have formed a god, and carved all of them that which is vain: and all by whom they were made are dried up: and let the deaf ones among men all assemble and stand up together, and let them be confounded and put to shame together; for the carpenter sharpened iron, and worked it with an adze, and fashioned it with an auger, and set it up with the arm of his strength: and he shall hunger and be faint, and drink no water. For the carpenter chose out wood, and set it by a rule, and fashioned it with glue, and made it as the form of a man and as the beauty of man, and set it up in his house, wood which he had cut from the grove and which the Lord planted, and the rain gave it growth that it might be for men to burn, and that he might take thereof and warm himself, and kindle, and bake bread upon it, but the residue they made into gods, and worshipped them, the half whereof they had burned in the fire. And upon the half thereof he roasted flesh and ate and was filled, and was warmed and said: ‘It is pleasant to me, because I am warmed and have seen the fire.’ But the residue thereof he worshipped, saying, ‘Deliver me for thou art my god.’ They knew not nor understood, because their eyes were dimmed that they could not see, nor perceive with their heart; nor did he consider in his heart nor know in his understanding that he had burned half thereof in the fire, and baked bread upon the coals thereof, and roasted flesh and eaten it, and made the residue thereof an abomination, and they worship it. Know that their heart is dust and they are deceived, and none can deliver his soul. Behold and will ye not say, ‘There is a lie in my right hand?’” [Isaiah 44:9-20]

He wraps this up with conclusions including “How then can they fail to be judged godless by all, who even by the divine Scripture are accused of impiety?”

The next section (section 15) criticizes idols as being obviously inanimate objects. While he doesn’t explicitly quote Scripture here, his argument is reminiscent of Psalm 115:7 “They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.”

We could summarize the following section (section 16) as “inconsistency is the sign of a failed mythology” (to riff off Dr. White’s famous maxim). Athanasius points out that the poets’ description of the gods is inconsistent and consequently untrustworthy.

Athanasius then argues (section 17) that the poetic deification of these gods was designed to offset their human failings, as opposed to inventing the failings to bring the gods down. He suggests that this was arranged by God, because they were misappropriating “what Scripture calls the incommunicable name and honour of God” (apparently referring again to Wisdom 14).

Athanasius next (section 18) disputes the assertion that the gods invented the arts. On the contrary, Athanasius cleverly points out that in fact the artists who made the images invented the gods.

In the following section (section 19), Athanasius points out the inconsistencies of the use of images to represent God. He quotes from Romans 1:21-26:

For there are with them images of beasts and creeping things and birds, as the interpreter of the divine and true religion says, “They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things, wherefore God gave them up unto vile passions.”

As an aside, I do find it interesting that Athanasius records the pagans using the same arguments as later idolatrous Christians would use:

While those who profess to give still deeper and more philosophical reasons than these say, that the reason of idols being prepared and fashioned is for the invocation and manifestation of divine angels and powers, that appearing by these means they may teach men concerning the knowledge of God; and that they serve as letters for men, by referring to which they may learn to apprehend God, from the manifestation of the divine angels effected by their means.

Next (section 20), Athanasius argues that images are not good teachers about God, because they are dead – mere dead reflections of living creatures and consequently less than them. Moreover, even if the images are beautiful, that beauty comes from living artists, not from the object of art.

The following section (section 21), contains a very similar argument dealing with the use of the images in connection with praying to (i.e. invoking) the diety represented, whether via angels or not. Once again, Athanasius finds this absurd.

Next (section 22), Athanasius argues that images are an inadequate representation of God both because they do not correspond to the form of God and because they are corruptible.

Then (section 23) Athanasius argues that the diversity of opinions amongst the pagans regarding gods is further evidence of the weakness of their view. What is considered deity by one group is food or an abomination by other groups, for example. Athanasius wraps up this discussion with what appears to be riff on (or paraphrase of) Romans 1:21-26, which had quoted a few sections earlier.

Athanasius next (section 24) once again points out that each group destroys the gods of the other group, either by sacrifice or eating. Picking on the Egyptians (fitting for his location), Athanasius points out that the water of the Nile is used to wash off dirt and is disposed of carelessly.

Next (section 25) Athanasius turns to the folly and abomination of human sacrifice. Athanasius points out the absurdity of offering equal to equal or arguably offering the higher to the lower, since a living human is sacrificed to a dead idol. He notes that this problem was not unique to one group of pagans, but widely problematic.

Athanasius then turns (section 26) to the sexual immorality that came from the worship of the gods. He quotes from Romans 1:26-27:

But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ: “For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness.”

Next (section 27), Athanasius addresses the arguments of those who claim to worship the universe or parts of it, rather than animals. Athanasius claims that this position is rebutted by the testimony of the universe to her creator. Athanasius quotes Psalm 19:1:

as the divine law also says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.”

Athanasius then (section 28) argues against the idea that the universe as a whole is God. This cannot be, because the universe is made up of parts.

In the final section of part 1 (section 29), Athanasius summarizes much of the preceding discussion by pointing out, in essence, that the whole system of paganism is inconsistent and unreliable. The forces of nature are opposed to one another, none of them being all powerful. He indicates that in the next part he will discuss the “Leader and Artificer of the Universe, the Word of the Father.”

Part II

The first section of part 2 (section 30), Athanasius argues that everyone can perceive God, because man has a rational soul. In support of his argument, Athanasius quotes from both the Old and New Testaments:

in the first instance, as Moses also taught, when he said: “The word” of faith “is within thy heart.” [Deuteronomy 30:14] Which very thing the Saviour declared and confirmed, when He said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21]

The next section (section 31) contains Athanasius’ argument that man has a rational soul. He focuses on the fact that senses alone are not enough to make decisions not to grasp a sword blade or drink poison, and similarly more than senses are need to appreciate music.

After that (section 32), Athanasius argues against those who deny reason. He argues that the only way to explain the turning away of the senses from doing that which they are designed to do, such as turning away from seeing, etc. is reason governing the body. Athanasius also argues that sense experience leads away from eternality and immortality, but argues that our conception of those things demonstrates that there must be the presence of something immortal to produce a concept of immortality since our bodies could not have spontaneously come up with such a thing. Similarly, the existence of moral restraints are not explained by natural forces, but instead by a rational soul.

In the following section (section 33), Athanasius makes a reference to church teaching, but it is merely: “But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know ….” He then argues for this position, however, by reasoning from the difference between body and the soul (“But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul.”), namely that the body has mortal objects and the soul has immortal objects. He does not appeal to any allegedly authoritative church tradition or church council.

Athansius then (section 34) concludes by going back to his Romans 1 themes and pointing out that men who deny they have a soul become like irrational animals, and that those who admit they have a soul are self-contradictory in worshiping a soul-less deity. In support of his position, Athanasius appeals to Scripture:

For the soul is made after the image and likeness of God, as divine Scripture also shews, when it says in the person of God: “Let us make man after our Image and likeness.” [Genesis 1:26]

Part III

Part 3 begins (section 35) with an argument by Athanasius that the invisible God can be seen through his visible works. In support of this argument, he appeals directly to the authority of Scripture:

And I say this not on my own authority, but on the strength of what I learned from men who have spoken of God, among them Paul, who thus writes to the Romans: “for the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made;” [Romans 1:20] while to the Lycaonians he speaks out and says: “We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, to turn from these vain things unto a Living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is, Who in the generations gone by suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.” [Acts 14:15-17]

Then (section 36) Athanasius produces a number of examples from nature that he believes demonstrate that nature has a creator who makes everything work together.

In the following section (section 37) Athanasius amplifies this argument by noting that the dualities of nature can only be explained by an overruling power holding them such that it’s not (for example) all hot or all cold, all light or all darkness. None of these dualities has won out, because they serve a higher purpose.

Then (section 38) Athanasius argues that the harmony of nature implies rule, and that this can only be rule by one.

Similarly, in the following section (section 39), Athanasius argues that multiple gods creating the universe would imply weakness and/or would result in disharmony.

Then (section 40), Athanasius answers the question: “Who is the one God who created the universe?” He asserts that it is God the Word. While he does not directly quote from the Scripture, numerous bits are clearly derived from the Scripture, such as the following:

  • “Father of Christ” (Cf. Romans 15:6)
  • “by His own Wisdom and His own Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ,” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Timothy 1:1)
  • “Word which is God” (Cf. John 1:1)
  • “He being the Power of God and Wisdom of God ” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24)
  • “has suspended the earth, and made it fast, though resting upon nothing” (cf. Job 26:7)
  • “the sea is kept within bounds,” (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 104:9)

Next, (section 41), Athanasius again discusses the Word. His discussion is rich with Biblical terminology, and he even concludes the section with an explicit quotation of Scripture:

For it partakes of the Word Who derives true existence from the Father, and is helped by Him so as to exist, lest that should come to it which would have come but for the maintenance of it by the Word,—namely, dissolution,—“for He is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all Creation, for through Him and in Him all things consist, things visible and things invisible, and He is the Head of the Church,” [Colossians 1:15-18] as the ministers of truth teach in their holy writings.

Then (section 42) Athanasius describes what the Word does. Once again, he closely follows Biblical teaching and even directly quotes from John’s gospel:

And, not to spend time in the enumeration of particulars, where the truth is obvious, there is nothing that is and takes place but has been made and stands by Him and through Him, as also the Divine says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” [John 1:1]

In the next section (section 43), Athanasius likens the universe to a choir, the human body with its senses, and a city, with the Word analogously being the conductor, the soul, and the king.

After that (section 44), Athanasius expands on his point about the Word being the ordering principle. Athanasius quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom:

But Himself being over all, both Governor and King and organising power, He does all for the glory and knowledge of His own Father, so that almost by the very works that He brings to pass He teaches us and says, “By the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen.” [Wisdom 13:5]

Then (section 45) Athansius argues that just as the Universe shows us the Word, the Word shows us the Father. He quotes copiously from Scripture:

And this one may see from our own experience; for if when a word proceeds from men we infer that the mind is its source, and, by thinking about the word, see with our reason the mind which it reveals, by far greater evidence and incomparably more, seeing the power of the Word, we receive a knowledge also of His good Father, as the Saviour Himself says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” [John 14:9] But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority, so that we in our turn write boldly to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say. 3. For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved. From the first then the divine Word firmly taught the Jewish people about the abolition of idols when it said: “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath.” [Exodus 20:4 / Deuteronomy 5:8] But the cause of their abolition another writer declares, saying: “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands: a mouth have they and will not speak, eyes have they and will not see, ears have they and will not hear, noses have they and will not smell, hands have they and will not handle, feet have they and will not walk.” [Psalm 135:15-17 / Psalm 115:4-7] Nor has it passed over in silence the doctrine of creation; but, knowing well its beauty, lest any attending solely to this beauty should worship things as if they were gods, instead of God’s works, it teaches men firmly beforehand when it says: “And do not when thou lookest up with thine eyes and seest the sun and moon and all the host of heaven, go astray and worship them, which the Lord thy God hath given to all nations under heaven.” [Deuteronomy 4:19] But He gave them, not to be their gods, but that by their agency the Gentiles should know, as we have said, God the Maker of them all. 4. For the people of the Jews of old had abundant teaching, in that they had the knowledge of God not only from the works of Creation, but also from the divine Scriptures. And in general to draw men away from the error and irrational imagination of idols, He saith: “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.” [Exodus 20:3 / Deuteronomy 5:7] Not as if there were other gods does He forbid them to have them, but lest any, turning from the true God, should begin to make himself gods of what were not, such as those who in the poets and writers are called gods, though they are none. And the language itself shews that they are no Gods, when it says, “Thou shalt have none other gods,” which refers only to the future. But what is referred to the future does not exist at the time of speaking.

Notice in this section not only the fact that Athansius so abundantly relies on Scripture, but that he says “inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority” (than nature and reason) and “an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved.”

The next section (section 46) continues Athanasius’ demonstration from Scripture (here, I quote the entire section, because it is so rich with Scripture quotations):

Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” [Deuteronomy 6:4] and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” [Deuteronomy 6:5 / Mark 12:30 / Luke 10:27] and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” [Deuteronomy 10:20 / cf. Matthew 4:10 / Luke 4:8] 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” [Psalm 119:90-91 / LXX Psalm 118:90-91] And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” [Psalm 147:7-8] 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.” [Psalm 33:6] For He tells us that all things were made in Him and through Him. 4. Wherefore He also persuades us and says, “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created;” [LXX Psalm 148:5] as the illustrious Moses also at the beginning of his account of Creation confirms what we say by his narrative, saying: and God said, “let us make man in our image and after our likeness:” [Genesis 1:26] for also when He was carrying out the creation of the heaven and earth and all things, the Father said to Him, “Let the heaven be made,” and “let the waters be gathered together and let the dry land appear,” and “let the earth bring forth herb” and “every green thing:” [Genesis 1] so that one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures. 5. For one might ask them to whom was God speaking, to use the imperative mood? If He were commanding and addressing the things He was creating, the utterance would be redundant, for they were not yet in being, but were about to be made; but no one speaks to what does not exist, nor addresses to what is not yet made a command to be made. For if God were giving a command to the things that were to be, He must have said, “Be made, heaven, and be made, earth, and come forth, green herb, and be created, O man.” But in fact He did not do so; but He gives the command thus: “Let us make man,” and “let the green herb come forth.” By which God is proved to be speaking about them to some one at hand: it follows then that some one was with Him to Whom He spoke when He made all things. 6. Who then could it be, save His Word? For to whom could God be said to speak, except His Word? Or who was with Him when He made all created Existence, except His Wisdom, which says: “When He was making the heaven and the earth I was present with Him?” [Proverbs 8:27 – “and earth” may be a variant] But in the mention of heaven and earth, all created things in heaven and earth are included as well. 7. But being present with Him as His Wisdom and His Word, looking at the Father He fashioned the Universe, and organised it and gave it order; and, as He is the power of the Father, He gave all things strength to be, as the Saviour says: “What things soever I see the Father doing, I also do in like manner.” [John 5:19] And His holy disciples teach that all things were made “through Him and unto Him;” [Romans 11:36] 8. and, being the good Offspring of Him that is good, and true Son, He is the Father’s Power and Wisdom and Word, not being so by participation, nor as if these qualifies were imparted to Him from without, as they are to those who partake of Him and are made wise by Him, and receive power and reason in Him; but He is the very Wisdom, very Word, and very own Power of the Father, very Light, very Truth, very Righteousness, very Virtue, and in truth His express Image, and Brightness, and Resemblance. And to sum all up, He is the wholly perfect Fruit of the Father, and is alone the Son, and unchanging Image of the Father.

Notice that Athanasius believes that the divinity of the Word as distinct from the Father is already sufficiently clear from the Old Testament: “one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures.”

Finally (section 47), Athanasius concludes the work. He continues to quote from Scripture:

But in and through Him He reveals Himself also, as the Saviour says: “I in the Father and the Father in Me:” [John 14:10] so that it follows that the Word is in Him that begat Him, and that He that is begotten lives eternally with the Father. But this being so, and nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and all that in them is being dependent on Him, yet men in their folly have set aside the knowledge and service of Him, and honoured things that are not instead of things that are: and instead of the real and true God deified things that were not, “serving the creature rather than the Creator,” [Romans 1:25] thus involving themselves in foolishness and impiety.

He concludes with an exhortation to worship the Word or face peril on judgment day.

You will notice that although there were a couple of mentions of the church, there was no appeal to the authority of the church nor any appeal to the authority of church tradition apart from Scripture. Instead, the only appeal to authority was to the authority of Scripture, a source of authority that to Athanasius was so clear in its teaching of the deity of Christ even in the Old Testament that the Jews are to be faulted for inattentively reading the Old Testament Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

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

October 7, 2016

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

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

First, section 1:

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

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

Turning to section 2:

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

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

Turning to section 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning to section 4:

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

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

Turning to section 5:

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

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

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

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

Lastly, turning to section 6:

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

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

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

-TurretinFan

Did Athanasius Say Tradition Plus Scripture?

March 20, 2014

One oft-quoted passage of Athanaisus comes from his second festal letter:

Festal Letter 2, section 6:
For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep’s clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning—the devil,—who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, ‘If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’

Usually the way this is cited is to quote merely the following portion: “But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.”  It is stated or implied by the people providing this quotation that when Athanasius says “opinions as the saints have handed down” he means “oral tradition” or something of that kind.  That’s not correct.

Instead, the “opinions” Athanasius has in mind is simply the Scriptures themselves taken in their correct meaning.  Likewise the “them” that the heretics receive as “traditions of men” are the Scriptures, not oral traditions.

Athanasius is saying that the heretics do not know the Scriptures nor the power of the Scriptures.  Therefore, instead of following the text and meaning of the Scriptures they prefer to follow the traditions of men.

This can be seen from an examination of the context preceding as well as the context following.  In the context preceding:

Festal Letter 2, section 5:
Oh! my brethren, how shall we admire the loving-kindness of the Saviour? With what power, and with what a trumpet should a man cry out, exalting these His benefits! That not only should we bear His image, but should receive from Him an example and pattern of heavenly conversation; that as He hath begun, we should go on, that suffering, we should not threaten, being reviled, we should not revile again, but should bless them that curse, and in everything commit ourselves to God who judgeth righteously. For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, ‘I praise you that in everything ye are mindful of me.’ Afterwards, because there were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them, as the followers of Hymenæus and Alexander, and before them the Sadducees, who as he said, ‘having made shipwreck of faith,’ scoffed at the mystery of the resurrection, he immediately proceeded to say, ‘And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’ That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered.

Notice that “the teacher delivered” refers to Paul as “the teacher.”  It is what Paul handed down, namely the Scriptures, that Athanasius has in mind.  The heretics are those who “were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them.”  In other words, they did not consider the words as they were written, but as they wished they were written.  To put it in modern terms, they eisegeted rather than exegeting.

Again, in the context following:

Festal Letter 2, section 7:
For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, ‘Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed.’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is ‘the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation;’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.

Notice that Athanasius here clarifies what opinions of the saints he has in mind – the testimony found in Scripture, such as Luke’s Gospel.

Notice as well that Athanasius says “to them only” it is necessary to give heed.  Notice as well that he clarifies “these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word”.  And Athanasius has hit the nail on the head.  The purpose of Luke’s gospel was to memorialize the preceding oral tradition and to provide certainty to the readers.

In short, Athanasius was affirming that Scripture is not merely a human tradition, but rather the testimony of eye-witnesses and has apostolic authority, having been handed down from “the teacher.”

– TurretinFan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lactantius (260-330):

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

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

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

Lactantius (260-330):

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

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

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

Regarding Constantine (325, Nicea):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Life of Anthony, §16.

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

Athanasius (297-373):

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

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

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

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

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

Athanasius (297-373):

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

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

This is quote similar to the immediately previous quotation.

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

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basil of Caesarea (329-379):

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

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

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

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

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384):

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

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

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

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

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

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

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

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

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

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

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

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

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

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

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

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

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

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

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

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

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

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

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

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

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

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

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

(to be continued)

Michuta Contra Athanasius

June 12, 2010

Athanasius’ canon of Scripture, presented in his 39th Festal letter is famous. It’s not nearly as famous as his “Athanasius Contra Mundum” rejection of the Arian heresy, but it is probably the second most famous aspect of Athanasius’ life today (his excellent letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms was famous in ancient times and perhaps we can revitalize interest in that excellent work as well).

The most famous aspect of Athanasius’ canon of Scripture is the fact that his list of New Testament books is the earliest list that we have that is exactly right without expressing doubt about any of the canonical books. Another famous aspect of Athanasius’ canon of Scripture, however, was his attempt to follow the 22-book Hebrew canon. In doing so, he gets it mostly right, despite the fact that he omits Esther and counts Ruth separately from Judges. In particular, Athanasius explicitly rejected many of the so-called deuterocanonical books.

But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

Greek: Ἀλλ’ ἕνεκά γε πλείονος ἀκριβείας προστίθημι καὶ τοῦτο γράφων ἀναγκαίως, ὡς ὅτι ἔστι καὶ ἕτερα βιβλία τούτων ἔξωθεν, οὐ κανονιζόμενα μέν, τετυπωμένα δὲ παρὰ τῶν πατέρων ἀναγινώσκεσθαι τοῖς ἄρτι προσερχομένοις καὶ βουλομένοις κατηχεῖσθαι τὸν τῆς εὐσεβείας λόγον· Σοφία Σολομῶντος καὶ Σοφία Σιρὰχ καὶ Ἑσθὴρ καὶ Ἰουδὶθ καὶ Τωβίας καὶ Διδαχὴ καλουμένη τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ ὁ Ποιμήν. Καὶ ὅμως, ἀγαπητοί, κἀκείνων κανονιζομένων, καὶ τούτων ἀναγινωσκομένων, οὐδαμοῦ τῶν ἀποκρύφων μνήμη, ἀλλὰ αἱρετικῶν ἐστιν ἐπίνοια, γραφόντων μὲν ὅτε θέλουσιν αὐτά, χαριζομένων δὲ καὶ προστιθέντων αὐτοῖς χρόνους, ἵνα ὡς παλαιὰ προφέροντες, πρόφασιν ἔχωσιν ἀπατᾶν ἐκ τούτου τοὺς ἀκεραίους.

– Athanasius, Festal Letter 39, Section 7.

As James Swan has noted, however, Roman Catholic Bibles are Bigger than Athanasius’ Bible. They include “The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit,” which Athanasius indicated that he did not accept as part of the canon of inspired Scripture.

Roman Catholic lay author Gary Michuta provides numerous alleged examples from Athanasius, where Athanasius is allegedly quoting the apocrypha as scripture. One in particular is of interest:

Athanasius calls the Book of Judith Scripture. (FN: See Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 2.35, [L. Deus autem non ut homo est, quemadmodum testatur Scriptura], quoting Jdt 13:15. See Breen, Introduction, 374.)

– Gary Michuta Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, p. 122.

A careful investigation of this claim requires us to take a look at Judith 13:15. My friend James Swan found the following:

  • Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition: “And all ran to meet her from the least to the greatest: for they now had no hopes that she would come.”
  • Vulgate: “et concurrerunt ad eam omnes a minimo usque ad maximum quoniam speraverunt eam iam non esse venturam.”
  • KJV: “So she took the head out of the bag, and shewed it, and said unto them, behold the head of Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of Assur, and behold the canopy, wherein he did lie in his drunkenness; and the Lord hath smitten him by the hand of a woman.”

There’s nothing close to these in Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 2.35 (see page 367). This may seem somewhat puzzling. The puzzle begins to be resolved when one examines the secondary source on which Michuta was relying (amusingly, Michuta’s ccArmstrong in tertiary-sourcing the subject avoids this particular problem when he relies on Michuta, because he cuts off Michuta’s footnote).

Michuta’s reference to “Breen” is apparently a reference to A.E. Breen, A General and Critical Introduction to the Holy Scripture, [Rochester, New York: John P. Smith Printing House, 1897]

The puzzle increases, because there’s nothing about Judith or Athanasius on page 374 of this book. A little further searching leads to some mention that appears relevant. On page 155, Breen does present a list of similarities from Athansius citing the Apocrypha:

Judith XIII.15
“…non enim quasi homo, sic Deus comminabitur, neque sicut filius hominis ad iracundiam inflammabitur.”

Idem contra Arianos, Orat. II.35
” ‘Deus autem non ut homo est, quemadmodum testatur Scriptura.’ “

(also mentioned at p. 160)

Breen is quoting the following from Athanasius:

But God is not as man, as Scripture has said; but is existing and is ever; therefore also His Word is existing* and is everlastingly with the Father, as radiance of light And man’s word is composed of syllables, and neither lives nor operates anything, but is only significant of the speaker’s intention, and does but go forth and go by, no more to appear, since it was not at all before it was spoken;

Breen makes the following comment:

To judge rightly St. Athanasius’ attitude towards Holy Scripture, we must recall what has been said respecting Meliton. We must readily admit that in these ages a distinction was made between the two classes of books, but it did not deny divine inspiration to the deuterocanonical works. A greater dignity was given by some Fathers to the books that had come down to the Church from the Jews; but these same Fathers testify to the veneration in which the deuterocanonical works were held by the Church, and to the part they played in the life of the faithful. It must also be borne in mind that Athanasius flourished in Alexandria the fertile source of Apocrypha, and in his zeal to repel the inventions of heretics he was most conservative in treating the Canon. His location of Esther among the deuterocanonical books is unique, and was probably caused by the sanguinary character of the book, which also led some Jews to doubt of its divine inspiration.

His omission of Maccabees seems to be an oversight since he adverts to their history in his writings. We do not seek to establish that the status of the two classes of books was the same with Athanasius; but we judge it evident from his writings that he venerated these same books as divine, although not equal in extrinsic authority to the books officially handed down from the Jews. The testimony of Athanasius that the Fathers of the Church had decreed that these books should be read in the Church manifests clearly the Church’s attitude towards these books; and the following passages, taken from the writings of Athanasius, show how deeply he also had drunk from these founts.

There are several layers of issues and problems that unravel this puzzle.

Typo in the Reference

It looks like the reference (XIII:15) is a typo.

Judith VIII:15 is

  • Vulgate: “non enim quasi homo Deus sic comminabitur neque sicut filius hominis ad iracundiam inflammabitur”
  • Douay-Rheims Bible translates this as: “For God will not threaten like man, nor be inflamed to anger like the son of man.” (which appears to be an accurate translation of the Latin)
  • Corresponding King James version (via the original Greek) has: “Do not bind the counsels of the Lord our God: for God is not as man, that he may be threatened; neither is he as the son of man, that he should be wavering.” (Judith 8:16, in the KJV)
  • Greek: ὑμεῖς δὲ μὴ ἐνεχυράζετε τὰς βουλὰς κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν, ὅτι οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς ἀπειληθῆναι οὐδ᾿ ὡς υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου διαιτηθῆναι. (Judith 8:16, in the LXX)

Ambiguous Reference
The second layer of problems for Michuta and Breen is an ambiguous reference. The second quotation he provided (for comparison in Athanasius’ works) is from Athanasius’ Four Orations against the Arians, Discourse 2, Section 35. Here is the relevant English translation in its immediate context:

Now man, begotten in time, in time also himself begets the child; and whereas from nothing he came to be, therefore his word also is over and continues not. But God is not as man, as Scripture has said; but is existing and is ever; therefore also His Word is existing and is everlastingly with the Father, as radiance of light.

Greek:

ὁ δὲ θεὸς οὐχ ὡς ἄνθροπός ἐστι, τοῦτο γὰρ εἶπεν ἡ γραφή [fn1], ἀλλ’ ὤν ἐστι καὶ ἀεί ἐστι [fn2] (Greek: http://books.google.com/books?id=1GFKVqzjTzAC&pg=PA358&lpg=PA358 )

Fn1: Judith 8:16 [15 Vulgate] Fn2: Exodus 3:14

Perhaps you notice the issue: immediately following “as Scripture has said” there is a Scripture text from Exodus 3:14.

Proto-Canonical Alternative

Furthermore, even assuming the ambiguous reference is to the phrase preceding “as Scripture has said,” the “οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς” is the LXX for Numbers 23:19, and Judith 8:16 has exactly the same “οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπος ὁ θεὸς,” at least according to my LXX (I’m not aware of any reason to think that Athanasius’ LXX differed on this point). Thus, especially in view of Athanasius’ explicit rejection of Judith as being part of the inspired Word of God, it seems unreasonable to conclude that this reference in Athanasius is a statement that Judith is canonical Scripture.

Conclusion

What is amusing about this from my standpoint is that Michuta is obviously relying solely on his secondary source, Breen. Furthermore, Breen has overlooked (for whatever reason) the apparently equally good canonical reference to Numbers 23:19, possibly based on familiarity only with the Latin translation, or other secondary reference (such as the source I’ve linked above, which provides only the apocryphal reference).

– TurretinFan

Athanasius to Marcellinus: How Sufficient are the Psalms?

March 16, 2010

Athanasius wrote a letter to Marcellinus regarding the Psalms (full text). Athanasius wouldn’t have fit into post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism very well for a lot of reasons, but one reason is his comment in this letter: “the knowledge of God is not with [the heathen and the heretics] at all, but only in the Church.” Vatican II stated: “In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” (Lumen Gentium, 2:16).

Bigger than that, however, the letter is a testimony to Athanasius’ very non-Romanist views of Scripture. It’s also a testimony to the same views of Athanasius’ friend whom Athanasius relies on extensively throughout the letter so that is sometimes hard to say which part is originally Athanasius and which part is originally the work of his elderly friend.

Private Possession of Copies of Scripture

It’s interesting to note that Athanasius points out that the old man who told about the Psalms did so while holding in his hands his own copy:

I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke.

There is a popular myth spread by Rome’s apologists today that folks of ancient times were too poor to have their own copies of Scripture and too illiterate to read it, even if they could own a copy. These sorts of comments from the ancients help us to see that the picture of ancient literacy and possession of Scripture was not quite as bleak as Rome’s apologists like to suggest.

Scriptures Open to Individual Study

Athanasius’ substantive comment begins:

Son, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction [2 Timothy 3:16], as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure.

Before we even get to the substance we can note how Athanasius (adopting his old friend’s words – his old friend calls him “son”) understands 2 Timothy 3:16 to be referring not only to the Old Testament Scriptures but also to the New Testament Scriptures. This isn’t a surprising interpretation, but it is an interpretation that contradicts the erroneous position taken by many contemporary Roman Catholics who try to say that Paul was referring only to the Old Testament Scriptures.

The substance here is that the Scriptures, but especially the book of Psalms, yields a treasure those who really study it. After a brief passage on the canon of Scripture (which we discuss below under the issue of the canon), Athanasius explains:

Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some those of all the rest.

Athanasius comes back to this garden theme toward the end of the letter as well, when Athanasius writes:

So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need.

Notice how individual this metaphor is. Each individual person can go into the garden and get from it whatever help he thinks he needs.

It gets yet more individual after the discussion of how Scripture interprets Scripture, which we discuss below. The more individual part is that the Psalms describe you, the reader:

And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.

Notice how he says not simply that the Psalter is like a picture, but almost as though it is a mirror: it is a picture of you the reader. In it, you the reader learn about yourself.

The idea is not simply that the church can extract good medicine from this garden for you, or interpret the picture for you. Instead, Athanasius and the old man insist that the individual can pick out his own cure from this medicine chest:

Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

After some commentary on the sufficiency of the Psalms (which we discuss below), Athanasius and the old man re-emphasize the individual’s ability to learn from the Psalms to his own advantage:

In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Thus, there is a theme that the individual needs to read and apply the words of the Psalms to his life.

There is also a theme presented in the letter that the Psalter is something that the individual is supposed to make his own:

And herein is yet another strange thing about the Psalms. In the other books of Scripture we read or hear the words of holy men as belonging only to those who spoke them, not at all as though they were our own; and in the same way the doings there narrated are to us material for wonder and examples to be followed, but not in any sense things we have done ourselves. With this book, however, though one does read the prophecies about the Saviour in that way, with reverence and with awe, in the case of all the other Psalms it is as though it were one’s own words that one read; and anyone who hears them is moved at heart, as though they voiced for him his deepest thoughts.

It’s interesting to note in this selection that it is not simply that the reader can start to internalize and take personally the Psalms, but that this is (according to Athanasius and the old man) an intended purpose of the Psalm – one of the reasons for which it is written.

After some brief Scriptural demonstration, Athanasius continues to emphasize how the Psalms are intended to be read, understood, and taken personally by the individual reader:

For he who reads those books is clearly reading not his own words but those of holy men and other people about whom they write; but the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, and each one sings the Psalms as though they had been written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up. Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self. Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself.

I’m not sure one could express a more individual understanding of the text than that. Yet Athanasius follows this passage with another of the same kind. In this instance he finally uses the mirror metaphor:

It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction. Sometimes it is repentance that is generated in this way, as by the conscience-stirring words of Psalm 51; another time, hearing how God helps those who hope and trust in Him, the listener too rejoices and begins to render thanks, as though that gracious help already were his own. Psalm 3, to take another instance, a man will sing, bearing his own afflictions in his mind; Psalms 11 and 12 he will use as the expression of his own faith and prayer; and singing the 54th, the 56th, the 57th, and the 142nd, it is not as though someone else were being persecuted but out of his own experience that he renders praise to God. And every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way: just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.

The use of the mirror metaphor is a great way to show that the individual is to look to the Scripture, since a mirror is the sort of thing that is distinctively individual – one doesn’t ask his friend to look in the mirror for him – the mirror is specifically a tool for self-help.

After a very detailed explanation of how the Psalms can be applied to various occasions, Athanasius notes:

Such, then, is the character of the Book of Psalms, and such the uses to which it may be put, some of its number serving for the correction of individual souls, and many of them, as I said just now, foretelling the coming in human form of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Notice that in the quotation above, the individual is made explicit.

We see this same theme of individual benefit in Athanasius’ argument as to why the Psalms must be sung:

But we must not omit to explain the reason why words of this kind should be not merely said, but rendered with melody and song; for there are actually some simple folk among us who, though they believe the words to be inspired, yet think the reason for singing them is just to make them more pleasing to the ear! This is by no means so; Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate, and it is rather for the soul’s own profit that the Psalms are sung.

Furthermore, Athanasius insists that one cannot sing the Psalms simply to amuse oneself but specifically to learn from them:

Well, then, they who do not read the Scriptures in this way, that is to say, who do not chant the divine Songs intelligently but simply please themselves, most surely are to blame, for praise is not befitting in a sinner’s mouth. [Sirach 15:9] But those who do sing as I have indicated, so that the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit, they sing with the tongue and with the understanding also, and greatly benefit not themselves alone but also those who want to listen to them.

Then Athanasius continues with the repetition of the garden metaphor (already discussed above) and he accompanies that with a summary of the preceding admonition that the Psalms have whatever we need for any occasion:

So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

The final words of the letter re-emphasize that the investigation of Scripture is properly and fruitfully an individual task:

And so you too, Marcellinus, pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-bearing saints who spoke them at the first.

We should also agree with Athanasius that of course the Spirit’s guidance is not an optional component, as much as we have not specified that guidance above.

Scripture Interprets Scripture

One interesting point that Athanasius (and the old man) makes is that the Psalter is almost a stand-alone Bible. However, Athanasius is quick to point out that the Psalter must be interpreted harmoniously with the rest of Scripture because they have a common author, namely the Holy Spirit:

My old friend made rather a point of this, that the things we find in the Psalms about the Saviour are stated in the other books of Scripture too; he stressed the fact that one interpretation is common to them all, and that they have but one voice in the Holy Spirit.

The single voice is the explanation, of course, for the single common interpretation. After some Scriptural proof, the old man (and Athanasius with him) concludes:

You see, then, that the grace of the one Spirit is common to every writer and all the books of Scripture, and differs in its expression only as need requires and the Spirit wills.

This provides a slightly different twist on the comments above, in that it indicates that one may simply find the same thing expressed in different terms in the different books.

Sufficiency of Scripture

One of the points that the old man and Athanasius make is that the Psalter provides the final component and makes the rest of Scripture sufficient to the man of God:

Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. Again, Saint Paul says, Tribulation worketh endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed [Rom 5:3, 5]; but it is in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, In everything give thanks. [1 Thess 5:18] The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution;[2 Tim 3:12] and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it. We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may meetly be confessed.

In other words, the entire Bible tells us how to live, but the Psalter shows us more clearly the way to fulfill the commands found throughout Scripture. The conclusion sentence talks explicitly about the ability of the Psalter to be sufficient, namely to meet the reader’s needs:

In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Another place where Athanasius makes the sufficiency point is in this comment:

For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man.

It’s hard to be more sufficient than “nothing further can be found” – he might as well have said, “this is as good as it can possibly get.”

As strong as that statement of sufficiency is, the sufficiency of Scripture gets even more underscored by Athanasius’ insistence on the unadorned Psalms:

There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]

The ideas that their words are “better than ever ours can be” is a great way of showing that the Scriptures themselves, standing alone, are sufficient.

Finally, Athanasius gets explicit – even using the word “sufficient”:

For God commanded Moses to write the great song [Deut 31:19] and to teach the people, and him whom He had appointed leader He bade also to write Deuteronomy, to have it ever in his hand and to meditate unceasingly upon its words [Deut 17:18-19]; because these are sufficient in themselves both to call men’s minds to virtue and to bring help to any who ponder them sincerely.

Notice that it doesn’t just say “sufficient” leaving open the option of sufficient materially but not formally, but it even goes so far as to remove an doubt by saying “sufficient in themselves.”

The parting words of the letter confirm the same thing:

And so you too, Marcellinus, pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-bearing saints who spoke them at the first.

Notice how positive Athanasius is: he says not simply that Marcellinus “may” be able to grasp the meaning, nor does Athanasius qualify the quest by whether Marcellinus adheres to the unanimous consent of the fathers or the guidance of an infallible magisterium. Instead, Athanasius insists that if Marcellinus has the Spirit he will, by intelligent study, grasp the meaning of each of the Psalms.

Scripture as a Teacher

Athanasius, as noted above, refers to the Scriptures as a teacher:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life.

Athanasius even goes further and compares Scriptures a teacher to mere human teachers:

Never will such a man be shaken from the truth, but those who try to trick and lead him into error he will refute; and it is no human teacher who promises us this, but the Divine Scripture itself.

Thus, for Athanasius, the Scriptures themselves are a teacher and the best possible teacher.

Scripture as the Rule of Faith and Life

Athanasius is very plain about this aspect of Scripture:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life.

Notice how he treats the Psalter as almost filling in what would be a gap in the rest of Scripture. With the Psalms, the Scripture is a thorough and sufficient teacher of virtue and true faith.

Christ Himself is in Scripture

Sometimes Rome’s apologists like to use the metaphor that the Church is Christ’s body to emphasize the Church’s authority. Athanasius makes an even stronger claim about Scripture:

On the other hand, daemons fear the words of holy men and cannot bear them; for the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture and Him they cannot bear, as they showed when they cried out to Christ, I pray you, torment me not before the time.

Notice that Athanasius claims that “the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture,” which is as strong a claim as one can make about them.

Canon of the Old Testament

The old man’s canon of the Old Testament only ends up referring to the canonical works:

Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressors, and for the Gentiles also have a special word.

Furthermore, the old man ends up excluding the Apocrypha (deutero-canonical books) fairly plainly by (after discussing only the canonical works) stating:

You see, then, that all the subjects mentioned in the historical books are mentioned also in one Psalm or another; but when we come to the matters of which the Prophets speak we find that these occur in almost all.

Of course, the canon of the Old Testament is not the main point of the letter, and consequently there is no explicit discussion of the topic.

Unsurprisingly, one apocryphal part of one book is mentioned: “as when Daniel relates the story of Susanna …” and the Septuagint (or similar related Greek translation) title of the Psalms are referenced “if you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th … .” There’s also an allusion to Sirach 15:9 (“Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner, for it was not sent him of the Lord.”) as noted above.

Penal Substitution

It is interesting to note that the old man (Athanasius adopting his words) explains that the atonement, and particularly penal substitution, is set forth in the Psalms:

For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17] So in Psalm 138 we say, The Lord will make requital for me; and in the 72nd the Spirit says, He shall save the children of the poor and bring the slanderer low, for from the hand of the mighty He has set the poor man free, the needy man whom there was none to help.

It’s interesting that he even brings Isaiah into the discussion. I’ve left the editorial bracketed citation to Matthew 8:17.

That’s not the only place that Athanasius mentions this theme – he repeats it slightly later on:

This is the further kindness of the Savior that, having become man for our sake, He not only offered His own body to death on our behalf, that He might redeem all from death, but also, desiring to display to us His own heavenly and perfect way of living, He expressed this in His very self. It was as knowing how easily the devil might deceive us, that He gave us, for our peace of mind, the pledge of His own victory that He had won on our behalf. But He did not stop there: He went still further, and His own self performed the things He had enjoined on us. Every man therefore may both hear Him speaking and at the same time see in His behavior the pattern for his own, even as He himself has bidden, saying, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart. [Mt 11:29] Nowhere is more perfect teaching of virtue to be found than in the Lord’s own life. Forbearance, love of men, goodness, courage, mercy, righteousness, all are found in Him; and in the same way no virtue will be lacking to him who fully contemplates this human life of Christ. It was as knowing this that Saint Paul said, Be ye imitators of me, even as I myself am of Christ. [1 Cor 11:1] The Greek legislators had indeed a great command of language; but the Lord, the true Lord of all, Who cares for all His works, did not only lay down precepts but also gave Himself as model of how they should be carried out, for all who would to know and imitate. And therefore, before He came among us, He sketched the likeness of this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as He revealed Himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own.

Notice how Athanasius indicates that Christ both serves as penal substitute (“He … offered His own body to death on our behalf”) but also as example of the godly life.

Conclusion

This letter of Athanasius has value for a variety of reasons. For example, included in the letter are some very detailed and at-length suggestions for times and occasions upon which to sing the various psalms. This is of great practical value to those planning worship, either their own worship or corporate worship.

Athanasius’ letter also has value for providing insight into many aspects of Athanasius’ view of Scripture:

  • the practice of private possession of Scriptures,
  • individual study of the Scripture and the fruitfulness of such study,
  • the self-interpretation of Scripture,
  • the sufficiency of Scripture,
  • the magisterial role of Scripture,
  • Scripture as the rule of faith and life,
  • Christ himself being “in” Scripture, and
  • the canon of the Old Testament.

Athanasius’ letter even provides some insight into Athanasius’ view of the atonement. The discussion on the atonement even provides some discussion related to the doctrine of penal substitution.

In all, the letter is a very rich work. I hope that the reader of this article will not content himself with my report above, but will follow the link I have provided and see for himself not only that I have reported Athanasius accurately, but that I have not provided the full treasure that this letter offers.

– TurretinFan

Athanasian Denial of Scripture’s Formal Sufficiency?

February 15, 2010

Sean Patrick of the Called to Communion blog has been providing some responses in the comment box in an earlier post (SP was primarily using the nick “Blogahon”).

SP has suggested that the following quotation from Athanasius negates the idea that Athanasius held to the formal sufficiency of Scripture. SP provides the quotation in this form:

‘For, what our fathers have delivered, this is trully doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers…Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of truth agree together, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously’
– De Decretis 4

This seems to be a hasty edit of the version found at EWTN’s website:

‘For, what OUR FATHERS have delivered, THIS IS TRULY DOCTRINE; and this is truly the TOKEN of doctors, to CONFESS THE SAME THING with each other, and to vary NEITHER from themselves nor from their FATHERS…Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the SAME doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable HERALDS of TRUTH AGREE TOGETHER, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously’
De Decretis 4

Both of these quotations have essentially the same content, and it is not as though SP has gone back to the source material to check what the context was and what has been omitted by the elipses. The entire section states:

Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, Eusebius and his fellows did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gain-sayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice their souls’ liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons as masters of their heresy, who are, as James [James i. 8.] has said, double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the Shepherd has said, is “the child of the devil [Hermas, Mand. ix.]” and the note of hucksters rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, and do not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously.

– Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Athanasius’ point here is actually that the heretics or those from whom the heretics were taught had previously affirmed Nicaea and were now (in essence) backing out of it. Thus, using Jacobian terminology he calls them “double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming.”

Athanasius also alludes to “the Shepherd” (though we learn from his 39th festal letter that he did not regard that writing as Scripture) to characterize such vacillating men as children of the devil.

It is the vacillation, not opposition to the council itself, that Athanasius regards as the great crime. And we also note that the comment about living in different times, yet all preaching the Word harmoniously is explained not as a reference to Nicaea, but instead to the prophets (and others who spoke directly) of Scripture:

And thus what Moses taught, that Abraham observed; and what Abraham observed, that Noah and Enoch acknowledged, discriminating pure from impure, and becoming acceptable to God. For Abel too in this way witnessed, knowing what he had learned from Adam, who himself had learned from that Lord, who said, when He came at the end of the ages for the abolishment of sin, “I give no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning [1 John ii. 7.].” Wherefore also the blessed Apostle Paul, who had learned it from Him, when describing ecclesiastical functions, forbade that deacons, not to say bishops, should be double-tongued [1 Tim. iii. 8.]; and in his rebuke of the Galatians, he made a broad declaration, “If anyone preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema, as I have said, so say I again. If even we, or an Angel from heaven should preach unto you any other Gospel than that ye have received, let him be anathema [Gal. i. 8, 9.].” Since then the Apostle thus speaks, let these men either anathematise Eusebius and his fellows, at least as changing round and professing what is contrary to their subscriptions; or, if they acknowledge that their subscriptions were good, let them not utter complaints against so great a Council. But if they do neither the one nor the other, they are themselves too plainly the sport of every wind and surge, and are influenced by opinions, not their own, but of others, and being such, are as little worthy of deference now as before, in what they allege. Rather let them cease to carp at what they understand not; lest so be that not knowing to discriminate, they simply call evil good and good evil, and think that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Doubtless, they desire that doctrines which have been judged wrong and have been reprobated should gain the ascendancy, and they make violent efforts to prejudice what was rightly defined. Nor should there be any reason on our part for any further explanation, or answer to their excuses, neither on theirs for further resistance, but for an acquiescence in what the leaders of their heresy subscribed; for though the subsequent change of Eusebius and his fellows was suspicious and immoral, their subscription, when they had the opportunity of at least some little defence of themselves, is a certain proof of the irreligion of their doctrine. For they would not have subscribed previously had they not condemned the heresy, nor would they have condemned it, had they not been encompassed with difficulty and shame; so that to change back again is a proof of their contentious zeal for irreligion. These men also ought therefore, as I have said, to keep quiet; but since from an extraordinary want of modesty, they hope perhaps to be able to advocate this diabolical irreligion better than the others, therefore, though in my former letter written to thee, I have already argued at length against them, notwithstanding, come let us now also examine them, in each of their separate statements, as their predecessors; for now not less than then their heresy shall be shewn to have no soundness in it, but to be from evil spirits.

– Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Notice that Athanasius makes it abundantly clear that what he is criticizing is the switching back and forth. The gospel doesn’t change and hasn’t changed from the beginning. Athanasius is emphatic about that. The great crime, then, is not opposition to an ecumenical council per se but vacillation regarding the gospel.

– TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 4)

January 25, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 4)

Caesarius of Arles (about A.D. 470-543) commenting on Rev. 22:10:

Just as the divine Scriptures are sealed for those who are proud and who love the world more than God, so are they opened for those who are humble and who fear God.

– Caesarius of Arles as found in William C. Weinrich, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XII, Revelation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p. 398. Cf. Commentary on the Apocalypse 22.10, Homily 19 (repeated twice in the homily).

The fundamental problems with Bryan’s analysis seem to be his failure to recognize the divine nature and purpose of Scripture. The purpose of Scripture is to put in writing those things that God wants us to know.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 110:

God established an era of promises and another era for the fulfillment of his promises. The time for promises was the age of the prophets down to that of John the Baptist. From his day, and thenceforth until the end, is the era of fulfillment. God is faithful and has put himself in our debt not because we have given him anything but because he has promised us so much. Yet even promising was not enough for him. He wanted to be bound in writing as well, so he gave us a signed copy of his promises, as it were, so that once he had begun to fulfill them we could study the scriptures and learn the sequence of their realization.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 19, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 99-120, Exposition 23 of Psalm 109.1 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2003), p. 261.

Hilary of Poitiers (about A.D. 315-67):

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

Latin text:

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

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

Athanasius (about A.D. 297-373):

Since, therefore, such an attempt is futile madness, nay, more than madness!, let no one ask such questions any more, or else let him learn only that which is in the Scriptures. For the illustrations they contain which bear upon this subject are sufficient and suitable.

– Athanasius, C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 1.19 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 108.

Thus, Scripture is written with the purpose that we understand and benefit.

Ambrosiaster (flourished about A.D. 366-384):

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

Latin text:

Sed Scriptura more nostro loquitur, ut intelligere possumus.

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

Jerome (about A.D. 347-420):

Scripture speaks in terms of our human frailty that we may the more easily understand.

– Jerome, FC, Vol. 57, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 2, Homily 65 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1966), p. 57.

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

Anyhow, in case by wanting to make a display of these people’s stupidity we, too, find ourselves induced to utter unseemly remarks, let’s have done with their folly and turn aside from such idiocy; let us follow the direction of Sacred Scripture in the interpretation it gives of itself, provided we don’t get completely absorbed with the concreteness of the words, but realize that our limitations are the reason for the concreteness of the language. Human senses, you see, would never be able to grasp what is said if they had not the benefit of such great considerateness.

– Chrysostom, FC, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, Homily 13.8 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 172.

Thus, Scripture can be compared to a pharmacy, and lack of knowledge of Scripture can be viewed as a general source of all evil.

Basil of Caesarea (about A.D. 329-379):

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition.

– Basil of Caesarea, FC, Vol. 46, Saint Basil: Exegetical Homilies, Homily 10 on Psalm 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1963), p. 151.

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

Tarry not, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind.
This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them.

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, Homily 9.

Or even the “perfume of life”:

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-97):

Divine Scripture confers salvation on us and is fragrant with the perfume of life, so that he who reads may acquire sweetness and not rush into danger to his own destruction. Read with simplicity, man; I would not encourage you, a misdirected interpreter, to dig up meanings for yourself. The language is simple: ‘God created heaven and earth.’ He created what was not, not what was. And the earth was invisible, because water flowed over it and covered it. Darkness was diffused over it, because there was not yet the light of day, or the rays of the sun which can reveal even what lies hid beneath the waters.

– Ambrose, FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: The Six Days of Creation, Book 1, the second homily, §30 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961), p. 34.

Part of the problem is that Bryan presents his case as though he were unsatisfied with the Scriptures as they were given. It is as though the thinks that Scripture could have been expressed better than it was.

Augustine (354-430) commenting on v. 6 of Psalm 147:

The psalm indicates to you what you must do if you have difficulty in understanding, for it goes on to say, The Lord welcomes the meek. Suppose you do not understand some passage, or understand only a little of it, or at any rate cannot master it: hold God’s scripture in honor, respect God’s word even when it is not clear to you, maintain a reverent attitude while you wait for understanding to come. Do not be over-bold and find fault with the obscurity of scripture or even allege that it is self-contradictory. There is no contradiction here. Some obscurity there may be, not in order that insight may be denied you, but so that your mind may be stretched until you can receive it. When some text seems dark to you, be sure that the physician has made it so; he is inviting you to knock. He wanted it to puzzle you so that you may be put through your paces as you keep on knocking; he wants it to be so, that he may open to you when you knock. As you persevere in knocking you will be stretched; as you are stretched, your capacity will be enlarged; as your capacity grows, you will receive what comes to you as gift. Do not be angry, then, when you find the door closed. Be gentle, be meek. Do not lash out against the obscure passage, saying, “That thought would have been better expressed if it had been put like this….” When will you ever be qualified to say it, or even judge how it ought to be said? It has been said in the right way. The patient has no business to alter his treatment; the doctor knows when to modify it. Trust him who is working on your cure.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 20, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Psalm 146.12 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), p. 431.

Or that the Scriptures should answer questions that they do not.

Athanasius (about A.D. 297-373):

These things are sufficient to refute your foolish speech. Mock no more at the Godhead. For it is the part of those who mock to ask the questions which are not written and to say, So the Spirit is a son and the Father a grandfather?

– Athanasius, C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 4.7 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 188.

Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200):

(Scripture to be interpreted by Scripture) If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things. If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world? ”we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions [in reply to it]; so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things.

– Irenaeus, ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:28:3 (note that the heading “Scripture to be Interpreted by Scripture” is, as far as I know, added by the editor)(Unlike Roman Catholic apologists, such as Bryan, Irenaeus tells us that God, not the Church, gave us the Scriptures, and that if a matter concerning God is not revealed in Scripture, it is because it is beyond the scope of extant revelation.)

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-97):

But subjects which are alien to our purpose and to divine testimony should be left to those ‘who are outside.’ We should adhere closely to the doctrine laid down by the celestial Scriptures.

– Ambrose, FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: The Six Days of Creation, Book 2, the third homily, chapter 2, §7 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961), p. 51.

[to be cont’d in Section 5]


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