Archive for the ‘Basil of Caesarea’ Category

Justification by Faith Alone – An Affirmative Rebuttal

July 17, 2011

I am still waiting to conduct my debate on Justification by Faith alone. I appreciate the comments left on my proposed Affirmative Constructive, but I thought I would share an Affirmative Rebuttal as well. The constructive sets forth the truth of Sola Fide from Scripture. The rebuttal addresses the historical question: if this is true, why didn’t anyone realize it before?

The answer is that while the Reformers may have better systematized, organized, and rendered consistent the doctrines known under the umbrella of “sola fide,” or justification by faith alone, they were not in uncharted territory.

That is not to say that the church fathers were consistent or that they all taught the same thing. Nevertheless, the idea of justification by faith alone certainly wasn’t new to the Reformers.

Chrysostom (349-407): Attend to this, ye who come to baptism at the close of life, for we indeed pray that after baptism ye may have also this deportment, but thou art seeking and doing thy utmost to depart without it. For, what though thou be justified: yet is it of faith only. But we pray that thou shouldest have as well the confidence that cometh of good works. NPNF1: Vol. XIII, On the Second Epistle of St. Paul The Apostle to the Corinthians, Homily 2, §8.

What is interesting about the above is that Chrysostom is denying the necessity of baptism for justification. He’s saying that good works provide confidence but that nevertheless one can be justified by faith alone.

Chrysostom (349-407): That those who were enemies, and sinners, neither justified by the law, nor by works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. Upon this head accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his Epistle to the Romans, and here again at length. “This is a faithful saying,” he says, “and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” As the Jews were chiefly attracted by this, he persuades them not to give heed to the law, since they could not attain salvation by it without faith. Against this he contends; for it seemed to them incredible, that a man who had mis-spent all his former life in vain and wicked actions, should afterwards be saved by his faith alone. On this account he says, “It is a saying to be believed.” But some not only disbelieved but even objected, as the Greeks do now. “Let us then do evil, that good may come.” This was the consequence they drew in derision of our faith, from his words, “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on First Timothy, Homily 4, 1 Timothy 1:15, 16.

One reason to include the quotation above is the fact that it refers to salvation by faith alone, and this is explicitly contrasted with good works.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) on Matthew 9: “This was forgiven by Christ through faith, because the Law could not yield, for faith alone justifies.”

Latin text: Et remissum est ab eo, quod lex laxare non poterat; fides enim sola justificat. Sancti Hilarii In Evangelium Matthaei Commentarius, Caput VIII, §6, PL 9:961.

The above is pretty self explanatory.

Basil of Caesarea (329-379): [As the Apostle says,] Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, [I say that] Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, [and] redemption, that, as it is written, “he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” [For] this is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been, δεδικαιωμένον, perfect passive participle, accusative, masculine of δικαιόω) justified solely by faith in Christ. See Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, p. 505. (bracketed words added to Chemnitz’ translation)

Greek text: Λέγει δὲ ὁ Ἀπόστολος• Ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν Κυρίῳ καυχάσθω, λέγω ὅτι Χριστὸς ἡμῖν ἐγενήθη σοφία ἀπὸ Θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις• ἵνα καθὼς γέγραπται, Ὁ καυχώμενος ἐν Κυρίῳ καυχάσθω. Αὕτη γὰρ δὴ ἡ τελεία καὶ ὁλόκληρος καύχησις ἐν Θεῳ, ὅτε μήτε ἐπὶ δικαιοσύνῃ τις ἐπαίρεται τῇ ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ´ ἔγνω μὲν ἐνδεῆ ὄντα ἑαυτὸν δικαιοσύνης ἀληθοῦς, πίστει δὲ μόνῃ τῇ εἰς Χριστὸν δεδικαιωμένον. Homilia XX, Homilia De Humilitate, §3, PG 31:529. In context, Basil appealed to the example of the Apostle Paul as a regenerate man.

Like the examples from Chrysostom above, this quotation both speaks of justification solely by faith and contrasts that with works.

Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3: God justifies by faith alone.

Latin text: Deus ex sola fide justificat: In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X, v. 3, PL 30:692D.

The above speaks for itself, but note that the exact phrase “sola fide” is found.

Jerome (347-420): He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever. Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 61.

Latin text: Qui enim tota mente in Christo confidit, etiamsi, ut homo lapsus, mortuus fuerit in peccato, fide sua vivit in perpetuum. Epistola CXIX, Ad Minervium et Alexandrum Monachos, §7, PL 22:973.

The above is an example of Jerome contrasting justification by faith with works.

Pseudo-Oecumenius (Late 7th or Early 8th Century), commenting on James 2:23: Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until it was as numerous as the stars. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 33. See PG 119:481.

Notice how here Pseudo-Oecumenius addresses Abraham’s justification. He affirms that Abraham is justified by faith alone, but then explains that the works provide him with approval because of their connection to his faith.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:6, ‘righteousness apart from works’: Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 113.

Latin Text: Hoc ipsum munit exemplo prophetae. Beatitudinem hominis, cui Deus accepto fert justitiam sine operibus. Beatos dicit de quibus hoc sanxit Deus, ut sine labore et aliqua observatione, sola fide justificentur apud Deum. In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:83.

Here Ambrosiaster explicitly denies justification by works, even while explicitly affirming justification by faith alone.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:24: They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 101.

Latin Text: Justificati gratis per gratiam ipsius. Justificati sunt gratis, quia nihil operantes, neque vicem reddentes, sola fide justificati sunt dono Dei. In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:79.

This is similar to the previous one.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:27: Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 103.

Latin Text: Ubi est ergo gloriatio tua? Exclusa est. Per quam legem? factorum? Non, sed per legem fidei. Reddita ratione, ad eos loquitur, qui agunt sub lege, quod sine causa glorientur, blandientes sibi de lege, et propter quod genus sint Abrahae, videntes non justificari hominem apud Deum, nisi per fidem. In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:80.

Again, Ambrosiaster is affirming justification by faith alone. Here, he’s providing the angle that there is no alternative way of being justified. It’s not like some people are justified by faith, and others are justified by works.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:5: How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 112.

Latin Text: Hoc dicit, quia sine operibus legis credenti impio, id est gentili, in Christum, reputatur fides ejus ad justitiam, sicut et Abrahae. Quomodo ergo Judaei per opera legis justificari se putant justificatione Abrahae; cum videant Abraham non per opera legis, sed sola fide justificatum? Non ergo opus est lex, quando impius per solam fidem justificatur apud Deum. In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:82-83.

I realize that some of Rome’s apologists will try to wriggle out of the quotation above by emphasizing the distinction between the works of the Mosaic law and works in general. Nevertheless, Ambrosiaster makes it clear that faith alone justifies.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 2:12: For if the law is given not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, whoever does not sin is a friend of the law. For him faith alone is the way by which he is made perfect. For others mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God, so that they may be righteous on both counts. For the one righteousness is temporal; the other is eternal. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 65.

Latin Text: Si enim justo non est lex posita, sed injustis; qui non peccat, amicus legis est. Huic sola fides deest, per quam fiat perfectus quia nihil illi proderit apud Deum abstinere a contrariis, nisi fidem in Deum acceperit, ut sit justus per utraque; quia illa temporis justitia est, haec aeternitatis. In Epistolam Ad Romanos, PL 17:67.

The above closes out the attempted room of those who treat “the law” as simply a reference to the Mosaic law. Notice how Ambrosiaster connects the law and “avoidance of evil,” which is a general description of works.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), wrote while commenting upon 1 Cor. 1:4b: God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 6.

Latin Text: Datam dicit gratiam a Deo in Christo Jesu, quae gratia sic data est in Christo Jesu; quia hoc constitutum est a Deo, ut qui credit in Christum, salvus sit sine opere: sola fide gratis accipit remissionem peccatorum. In Epistolam B. Pauli Ad Corinthios Primam, PL 17:185.

The above quotation puts a final nail in the coffin for any attempted Romanist wriggling, in that here Ambrosiaster makes it explicit that a person can be saved without works.

Chrysostom (349-407): God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent. Homily on Ephesians 4.2.9. Mark J. Edwards, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 134. See also John Chrysostom. F. Field, ed. Interpretatio omnium Epistolarum Paulinarum per Homilias Facta (Oxford J. H. Parker, 1845-1862), 2:160.

Here Chrysostom explains that faith justifies and faith produces works, but still insists that works do not justify us.

Chrysostom (349-407): For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light. NPNF1: Vol. XI, Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily 8, Rom. 4:1, 2.

This is a powerful statement for justification by faith alone. Chrysostom is arguing that even for those with works in addition to faith, those works do not justify them.

Clement of Rome: Whosoever will candidly consider each particular, will recognize the greatness of the gifts which were given by him. For from him have sprung the priests and all the Levites who minister at the altar of God. From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.” All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. ANF: Vol. I, The Apostolic Fathers, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 32.

The above conclusion provides a final testimony for sola fide. Yes, he does not use the term “faith alone,” but he specifically rules out works.

– TurretinFan


Steve Ray’s Response to Michael Welton Critiqued

April 22, 2011

Steve Ray has posted a response to comments made by Michael Welton in Popes and Patriarchs. There is a lot of filler in the response, but Mr. Ray aims to address essentially two issues (1) Basil’s words of dismissal of Rome and (2) Basil’s failure to appeal to the Bishop of Rome as a supreme authority.

As to the first issue, Basil himself wrote:

I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and “especially unto them who are of the household of faith;” [Galatians 6:10] and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or to forget the Church which is under him, or to treat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints.

Steve Ray cuts the mention of Rome out of the quotation, beginning at “And, although it is a grand testimony …” but I have provided it to you, since it is significant to the question.

Steve Ray’s response is that Basil’s words must be understood as hyperbole. “Why? Because if Basil here denounces Rome, he denounces God as well.” (p. 6) Of course, Mr. Ray’s argument is empty: Romanism (the view that denouncing Rome is denouncing God) is not Basil’s worldview. Steve Ray says we have to view Basil’s words as hyperbole because if we don’t they conflict with Romanism. The “begging the question” fallacy is aptly illustrated by his remarks.

Steve Ray goes on to complain that Basil could have been even more explicit in his denial of Rome’s authority (“He could have easily said, ‘I reject Rome’s presumed authority which they have unlawfully arrogated to themselves.'” pp. 6-7). But Mr. Ray’s example mistakenly assumes that in Basil’s day Rome claimed universal authority.

In any event, “I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very much elated at receiving a letter from men,” is clear enough of a testimony that Basil doesn’t view the letter from Rome as having supreme authority. Basil makes a direct appeal to a higher authority by stating, “Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of the faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints,” in which he seemingly alludes to Galatians 1:8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” One is left in full agreement that while conceivably Basil could have used even stronger language than he did, the language he used is plenty strong.

It should be noted that this is not the only place where Basil criticizes the West. Basil wrote:

I am moved to say, as Diomede said,

“Would God, Atrides, thy request were yet to undertake;

…he’s proud enough.”

[Homer, Iliad ix.]

Really lofty souls, when they are courted, get haughtier than ever. If the Lord be propitious to us, what other thing do we need? If the anger of the Lord lasts on, what help can come to us from the frown of the West? Men who do not know the truth, and do not wish to learn it, but are prejudiced by false suspicions, are doing now as they did in the case of Marcellus, when they quarrelled with men who told them the truth, and by their own action strengthened the cause of heresy.

Basil of Caesarea, Letter 239 (to Eusebius of Samosata), Section 2

On the second point, the question of whether Basil never appealed to the bishop of Rome as the supreme authority, Steve Ray attempts to answer the question by quoting from Basil’s Letter 70.

Mr. Ray writes:

Also, in Letter 70 Basil addresses Pope Damasus as “right honorable father” and admits that “nearly all the East . . . is being agitated” and concedes that the pope’s authority is “the only possible solution to our difficulties.”

Remarkably, Letter 70 is without address, although it is widely believed to have been written to Damasus of Rome, the addressee is identified only by various affectionate names such as: “right honourable father” and “your mercifulness.”

Moreover, it should be noted that Basil uses this affectionate term for Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in his letter 66 to Athanasius (the exact same Greek term: “τιμιώτατε Πάτερ”) and similarly refers to Athanasius this way in letter 90 (“ὁ τιμιώτατος ἡμῶν πατὴρ”). I say this not to argue that Athanasius is the addressee, but simply to point out that at least equal dignity is given to Athanasius: this is not a proto-papalist speaking, but simply a bishop speaking to another esteemed bishop. It should be noted that Basil mentions that the addressee is in the same see as Dionysus, and while there were notable Dionysuses (Dionysi?) of both Alexandria and Rome, a references to “the East” (defined in the text as “Illyricum to Egypt”) seems to weigh in favor of Rome as opposed to Alexandria.

But lets move along from the affectionate title to the actual request. His actual request to his addressee is this:

I have been constrained to beseech you by letter to be moved to help us, and to send some of those, who are like minded with us, either to conciliate the dissentient and bring back the Churches of God into friendly union, or at all events to make you see more plainly who are responsible for the unsettled state in which we are, that it may be obvious to you for the future with whom it befits you to be in communion.

There is not here any request for exercise of authority and power. Instead, the request is for aid and encouragement:

We are lamenting no mere overthrow of earthly buildings, but the capture of Churches; what we see before us is no mere bodily slavery, but a carrying away of souls into captivity, perpetrated day by day by the champions of heresy. Should you not, even now, be moved to succour us, ere long all will have fallen under the dominion of the heresy, and you will find none left to whom you may hold out your hand.

Without further commentary, I think it is worth pointing out the use here by Basil of “churches” (plural) as distinct from buildings. Basil may view communion as universal, but his ecclesiology is one in which there are many churches.


Veneration of Images Debate with William Albrecht

December 3, 2010

On December 2, 2010, William Albrecht and I debated the topic: “Is the Veneration of Images Sinful?” I took the affirmative position and Mr. Albrecht took the negative position. Below I’ve provided the Youtube version and mp3 of the debate, as well as some very important notes.

(link to mp3 for the debate)

I relied heavily on the Old Testament prohibitions on the veneration of images, as well as on the New Testament confirmation of the Old Testament moral law. One of Albrecht’s main attempts to distinguish his practice from idolatry was his claim: “Ancient Christianity knew how to differentiate between idolatry and true religious veneration.”

But when challenged to produce such evidence, there was no evidence of any of the church fathers actually talking about religious veneration of images. Instead, they simply made the distinction between having images and venerating them.

Moreover, Mr. Albrecht was able to document some instances of ancient churches having images, and of people worshiping nearby images (Albrecht characterized it as people having no problem “worshiping with images around them”), but never any instances of ancient Christians actually venerating the images. The same was brought up with respect to the Jews. Some allegedly permitted the carving of a stone column, as long there was no worship of them – so again, no Jewish permission to venerate images.

There was one exception – one patristic quotation on which Mr. Albrecht tried to support his claim that the early church venerated icons, specifically there was a quotation allegedly taken from a letter of Basil the Great.

He mentioned it and relied on it (beginning at around 3:30 of part 6 below), but when asked to identify it, he seemed to have trouble giving me any kind of helpful citation.

The most popular edition of the fathers, the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers has the letter in the second series, volume 8 (NPNF2, Volume 8) at page 316. The page presents the full text of the letter (Letter 360 – the title given is “Of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the invocation of Saints, and their Images.”)

The editors, at that same page, provide a note about this letter:

This letter is almost undoubtedly spurious, but it has a certain interest, from the fact of its having been quoted at the so-called 7th Council (2d of Nicæa) in 787. Maran (Vit. Bas. xxxix.) is of opinion that it is proved by internal evidence to be the work of some Greek writer at the time of the Iconoclastic controversy. The vocabulary and style are unlike that of Basil.

The editors go on to provide several examples:

  • at “I adore and worship one God, the Three,” the editor comments “Neuter sc. πρόσωπα, not ὑποστάσεις, as we should expect in Basil.”
  • at “I confess to the œconomy of the Son in the flesh,” the editor comments “ἔνσαρκον οἰκονομίαν, an expression I do not recall in Basil’s genuine writings.”
  • at “was Mother of God,” the editor comments “Θεοτόκον, the watchword of the Nestorian controversy, which was after Basil’s time.”

And the letter is only a paragraph or two long, so it’s not as though these indicia are spread out over a large amount of writing.

Elsewhere in the volume there are similar comments about this letter:

Even Letter CCCLX., which bears obvious marks of spuriousness, and of proceeding from a later age …

NPNF2, Vol. 8 St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, p.lxxiii

N.B. The letters numbered CCXII.-CCCLXVI. are included by the Ben. Ed. In a “Classis Tertia,” having no note of time. Some are doubtful, and some plainly spurious. Of these I include such as seem most important.

NPNF2, Vol. 8 St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, p. 316

The letter can also be found in other patristic series. The Fathers of the Church series, in the introduction to volume 1 of Basil’s letters, explains the situation:

The chronology of the letters and their order and arrangement into three classes according to the Benedictine editors have been retained. In the arrangement the first class includes all the letters adjudged by them to have been written before St. Basil’s episcopate, in the years from 357 until 370, Letters numbered 1 to 46; the second, those written during his episcopate, from 370 until 378, Letters 47 to 291; and the third, letters of uncertain date, doubtful letters, and those clearly spurious, numbered Letters 292 to 365. Three more, Letter 366, included by Mai and also by Migne in their editions, and Letters 367 and 368, lately discovered by Mercati, have been added in the translation.

Another edition of Basil’s letters provides this note:

This letter is clearly spurious. It has been attributed to the Greek Iconoclasts. The vocabulary, particularly that employed in the Trinitarian controversy, and the style are not Basil’s. Furthermore, it is missing in all the MSS. of St. Basil’s letters.

Basil: Letters, Volume IV, Letters 249-368. Address to Young Men on Greek Literature. (Loeb Classical Library No. 270), p.329 (Roy J. Deferrari and M. R. P. McGuire, translators)

It’s the problem one runs into when one researches from unreliable secondary sources (such as this one). The second source puts it this way:

St. Basil the Great died 24 years earlier than Epiphanius, in 379. Schaff cites this Father:

“….I receive also the holy apostles and prophets and martyrs. Their likenesses I revere and kiss with homage, for they are handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but on the contrary painted in all our churches.” (Basil, Epist 205, Comp his Oratio in Barlaam, Opp 1, 515 cited in Schaff, ibid, page 567; and similar expressions in Gregory Naz, Orat 19).

Albrecht also alleged (see part 10 of the debate, around 6 minutes into that part) that Gregory of Nyssa quoted from this, or said something similar to this. The reason is (we presume) reliance on a secondary source like the one above (coupled with a conflation between Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa), because there is nothing like that in either Gregory’s authentic writings (that I could find). You’ll notice that Albrecht mentions an “Oration Barlaam” which is what the secondary source says should be compared to the actual work.

What made matters much worse, in my opinion, was that around 8 minutes into my second cross-examination of Mr. Albrecht (part 10 below), he indicated that no one had contested the validity of this work, he claimed it was cited by Schaff (which it was, the tertiary source I quoted from above is quoting from the secondary source of Schaff), Bickham (his source regarding Dura Europos), and “numerous Protestant authors,” and he continued by stating: “I didn’t find one – one author – contesting its validity – so I imagine its valid.”

And then in his conclusion (part 11 below), Albrecht made the Basil quotation his leading argument – presumably because during the cross-examination period, Mr. Albrecht had acknowledged that he was not aware of any other patristic writings speaking about the veneration of images. He alleged that my opposition to the quotation was because it was so damaging to my position. And then after some other discussion he came back to it again and claimed that it had to be “pushed aside” because of its weight.

But it arguably got still worse, because Albrecht – in his conclusion – went on to complain about the authenticity of certain canons of the Council of Elvira (which I did not bring up) and of other allegedly spurious patristic writings (which I did not bring up), even while admitting that I did not bring them up. It would seem appropriate that perhaps Mr. Albrecht should check the authenticity of his own patristic works before questioning the authenticity of those that support but weren’t even cited by other side.

Finally, Albrecht brought Basil back up again in his concluding remarks.

Albrecht also made an allegation about the Vienna Genesis manuscript, which is a very luxurious high-end manuscript copy of Genesis. He claimed it was dated from the 300’s by “Hans” and that Metzger puts it in the “400’s” (in his first cross-examination of me) fourth century, but Metzger puts it in the fifth or sixth centuries (see here) and Hans Gerstinger had dated it to the late fifth or early sixth century as well (see discussion here) but subsequent evidence suggested to him that it could be dated no earlier than the sixth century (as reported here). He’s the only “Hans” that Metzger references (see the page linked above) – though “Hans” is a very common name, and so it possible that there is some guy named “Hans” out there who dates it earlier.

I don’t believe that Mr. Albrecht was intentionally relying on wrong dates and pseudographic evidence, but without such evidence, there is really no ancient support for the distinction he is trying to make. There is no evidence that he provided for the fathers of the first five centuries venerating images. He tried to paint Calvin as ignorant of early church history for suggesting such a thing, but with all due respect I think that while some additional archaeology has come to light, John Calvin was more familiar with the authentic writings of the fathers than Mr. Albrecht is (although Calvin also was fallible and capable of making mistakes – and we have even more manuscripts now than Calvin did).

Parts of the Debate

  1. Affirmative Constructive Part 1 (TurretinFan)
  2. Affirmative Constructive Part 2 (TurretinFan)
  3. Negative Constructive Part 1 (Albrecht)
  4. Negative Constructive Part 2 (Albrecht)
  5. First Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative – Part 1 (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)
  6. First Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative – Part 2 (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)
  7. First Affirmative Cross Examination of Affirmative – Part 1 (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)
  8. First Affirmative Cross Examination of Affirmative – Part 2 (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)
  9. Second Negative Cross-Examination of Affirmative (Albrecht cross-examining TurretinFan)
  10. Second Affirmative Cross-Examination of Negative (TurretinFan cross-examining Albrecht)
  11. Negative Conclusion (Albrecht)
  12. Affirmative Conclusion (TurretinFan)


Mr. Albrecht has provided a comment by email, which I reproduce below:

” I want to thank Turretinfan for the notes he has sent me and I have surely looked deeper into this subejct. Whereas I am unwilling to grant that the quotation on Basil is definitively spurious, I am willing to say that we can dismiss it wholly if need be. I believe that through a thorough examination of Basil’s works(that are not contested) we can clearly see he believed in proper religious honor being passed on to the person whose image is being venerated. I also want to apologize for not being more careful in regards to my comments on the Vienna Genesis. It would seem that in my constant fumbling of notes, I should have been clear that the Vienna Genesis is dated to the 400s and it is the COTTON Genesis dated to the 300s. The names are quite similar and it’s quite easy to confuse the two! I hope this helps clear up certain things and I wish everyone that reads this blog a HAPPY HOLIDAY season!”

I reply:

1) I don’t know why one wouldn’t grant what scholarship universally affirms.

2) The issue about the honor given to an image reaching the prototype is the way that John of Damascus quoted Basil (and Aquinas interestingly quotes not Basil himself but John of Damascus quoting Basil). But what John of Damascus does is to rip Basil out of context. In context, Basil is speaking about veneration of the Son (Christ) who is the image of the Father being veneration passed on to the Father (view the original quotation from Basil in context here and also see here for a similar discussion).

3) As discussed in the post, the best date for the Vienna Genesis is the 6th century, i.e. the 500’s – although it may possibly date to the late 400’s according to some scholars.

4) The Cotton Genesis is also 5th or 6th century according to Metzger (see this link to Metzger’s Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: an introduction to Greek palaeography, p. 45). Metzger even states that the Vienna Genesis is slightly later in date than the Cotton Genesis, which reaffirms the 6th century date I identified above.

5) You’ll also notice on that same page of Metzger that Metzger confirms that the earliest New Testament Manuscript with minatures date from the 6th century. This confirms the point I made during the debate that the illumination of manuscripts became progressively more elaborate into the later periods of church history. It also tends to undermine Mr. Albrecht’s seeming attempts to make this practice of adorning Biblical manuscripts a more ancient or perhaps apostolic tradition.

– 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

Two Eastern Fathers Whose Views Conflict with Purgatory

July 2, 2010

Here are some quotations from some of the “Eastern Fathers,” namely Basil of Caesarea (A.D. 329-379) and John Chrysostom (A.D. 349-407).

In this first quotation, notice what Chrysostom is saying about where sin can be remedied, in terms of this life or the next:

So there is no righteous person who does not have sin, and there is no sinner who does not have goodness. But since there is a recompense for each, see what happens. The sinner receives as his due the fair recompense for his good deeds, if he has even a small evil deed; and the righteous person receives his due the fair judgment for his sin, if he has done even a small evil deed. So what happens, and what does God do? He has set a boundary for the sin between the present life and the age to come. If a person is righteous, but has performed some mean action, and is ill in this life and is handed over to punishment, do not be disturbed, but consider with yourself, and say that this righteous man has done some small evil deed at some time, and is receiving his due here, in order that he may not be punished hereafter. So if someone is righteous and suffers some misfortune, he receives his due here for this purpose, in order that he may put away his sin here and depart clean to the other world. If someone is a sinner, laden with wickedness, ill with innumerable incurable evils, rapacious, avaricious, he enjoys prosperity here for this purpose, in order that he may not seek a reward hereafter.


Οὐκ ἔστιν οὖν τις δίκαιος, ὃς οὐκ ἔχει ἁμαρτίαν· καὶ οὐκ ἔστι τις ἁμαρτωλὸς ὃς οὐκ ἔχει ἀγαθόν· ἀλλʼ ἐπειδὴ ἑκάστων ἐστὶν ἀντίδοσις, βλέπε τί γίνεται· Ὁ ἁμαρτωλὸς ἀπολαμβάνει τῶν ἀγαθῶν αὐτοῦ ἰσόῤῥοπον τὴν ἀντίδοσιν, ἐάν τι ἔχῃ κἂν μικρὸν ἀγαθόν· καὶ ὁ δίκαιος ἀπολαμβάνει τῆς ἁμαρτίας αὐτοῦ τὴν ἰσόῤῥοπον κρίσιν, κἂν μικρόν τι ποιήσῃ κακόν. Τί οὖν γίνεται, 48.1043 καὶ τί ποιεῖ ὁ Θεός; Ἀφώρισε νόσον τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ, τὸν παρόντα βίον καὶ τὸν μέλλοντα αἰῶνα. Ἐὰν οὖν ᾖ τις δίκαιος, καὶ ἐργάσηταί τι φαῦλον, καὶ νοσήσῃ ὧδε, καὶ τιμωρίᾳ παραδοθῇ, μὴ θορυβηθῇς, ἀλλʼ ἐννόησον πρὸς ἑαυτὸν, καὶ εἰπὲ, ὅτι οὗτος ὁ δίκαιος πώποτε μικρόν τι κακὸν ἐποίησε, καὶ ἀπολαμβάνει ὧδε, ἵνα μὴ ἐκεῖ κολασθῇ. Πάλιν, ἐὰν ἴδῃς ἁμαρτωλὸν ἁρπάζοντα, πλεονεκτοῦντα, μυρία ποιοῦντα κακὰ, κἂν εὐθυνῇ, ἐννόησον ὅτι ἐποίησέ ποτε ἀγαθόν τι, καὶ ἀπολαμβάνει ὧδε τὰ ἀγαθὰ, ἵνα μὴ ἐκεῖ ἀπαιτήσῃ τὸν μισθόν.

– John Chrysostom, De Lazaro Concio VΙ, §9, PG 48:1042-1043; Catharine P. Roth, trans., St. John Chrysostom On Wealth and Poverty, 6th Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, §3 (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 123.

Notice what Chrysostom is saying: there is no punishment for the sin of the righteous in the hereafter. That’s a view that is inconsistent with the Roman Catholic fiction of Purgatory. The reason, of course, for this inconsistency is that Chrysostom did not believe in Purgatory – he had never even heard of it.

On a slightly different note, consider what Basil says in the following quotation:

I find, then, when I take up the divine Scriptures, in the Old and New Testaments, that disobedience towards God is plainly judged to lie not in the multitude of sins nor their magnitude, but in the mere transgression of any one command, and that there is a common judgment of God against all disobedience.


Εὑρίσκω τοίνυν, ἀναλαβὼν τὰς θείας Γραφὰς, ἐν τῇ Παλαιᾷ καὶ Καινῇ Διαθήκῃ, οὔτε ἐν τῷ πλήθει τῶν ἁμαρτανομένων, οὔτε ἐν τῷ μεγέθει τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων, ἐν μόνῃ δὲ τῇ παραβάσει οὑτι νοσοῦν προστάγματος, σαφῶς κρινομένην τὴν πρὸς Θεὸν ἀπείθειαν, καὶ κοινὸν κατὰ πάσης παρακοῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸ κρῖμα·

– Basil of Caesarea, De Judicio Dei, §4, PG 31:653; tr. W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K.,1925), p. 81.

Notice that in this quotation Basil insists that there is a common judgment for sin. Basil does not here distinguish between “mortal” sins and “venial” sins, which receive different punishments. This view is inconsistent with notion that Purgatory is a place or state for the expiation of “venial” sins in the afterlife.

The same unity-of-punishment-for-all-sins theme can be seen from a slightly different angle in the following quotation, noting especially the last sentence:

However, if I would narrate all that I find in the Old and New Testament, time would soon fail me as I expounded it. But when I come to the actual words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel, the utterance of Him Who is about to judge the living and dead, which have more weight with the faithful than all other narratives and arguments, I see in them the great necessity, if I may say so, of obeying God in all things, and again, in the case of each commandment, absolutely no pardon left to those who do not repent of their disobedience, since one can hardly venture a different opinion, or even let it enter the mind, in the face of such open, clear, and unqualified declarations. “For heaven” He says “and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” There is no difference made in this passage, no discrimination, no reservation whatever made. He says not “these words” or “those” but “My words.” For it is written: “The Lord is faithful in all his words”—whether forbidding anything, or commanding, or promising, or threatening, whether He refers to the doing of what is forbidden, or to the leaving undone what is commanded. For that leaving of good works undone is punished equally with perpetrating evil works, is shown and proved sufficiently to any soul not afflicted with complete unbelief by the aforesaid judgment in the case of Peter.


Ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ἐὰν θέλω καταλέγειν, ὅσα εὑρίσκω ἔκ τε Παλαιᾶς καὶ Καινῆς Διαθήκης, ἐπιλείψει με τάχα διηγούμενον ὁ χρόνος. Ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἐπʼ αὐτὰς ὅταν ἔλθω τὰς τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῷ Εὐαγγελίῳ φωνὰς, αὐτοῦ τοῦ μέλλοντος κρίνειν ζῶντας καὶ νεκροὺς τὰ ῥήματα, ἃ πάσης μὲν ἱστορίας, πάσης δὲ ἄλλης ἀποδείξεως παρὰ τοῖς πιστοῖς ἀξιοπιστότερα, πολλὴν μὲν ἐν αὐτοῖς καταμανθάνω τῆς ἐν πᾶσι πρὸς Θεὸν εὐπειθείας, ἵνα οὕτως εἴπω, ἀνάγκην· οὐδεμίαν δὲ ὅλως, ἐπ’ οὐδενὶ προστάγματι, καταλειπομένην τοῖς μὴ μετανοοῦσι τῆς ἀπειθείας συγγνώμην, εἰ μή τι ἕτερόν ἐστι τολμῆσαι, καὶ μέχρις ἐννοίας λαβεῖν, πρὸς οὕτω γυμνὰς, σαφεῖς τε καὶ ἀπολύτους ἀποφάσεις· Ὁ οὐρανὸς γὰρ, φησὶ, καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται, οἱ δὲ λόγοι μου οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσιν. Οὐκ ἔστιν ἐνταῦθα διαφορὰ, οὐκ ἔστι διαίρεσις, οὐδὲν οὐδαμοῦ ὅλως ὑπολέλειπται. Οὐκ εἶπεν· Οὗτοι ἢ ἐκεῖνοι, ἀλλʼ, Οἱ λόγοι μου, πάντες ὁμοῦ δηλονότι, οὐ μὴ παρέλθωσι. Γέγραπται γάρ· Πιστὸς Κύριος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ· εἴτε ἀπαγορεύων ὁτιοῦν, εἴτε προστάσσων, εἴτε ἐπαγγελλόμενος, εἴτε ἀπειλῶν, καὶ εἴτε ἐπὶ τῇ πράξει τῶν ἀπηγορευμένων, εἴτε ἐπὶ τῇ ἐλλείψει τῶν ἐπιτεταγμένων. Ὅτι γὰρ ἐπίσης τῇ ἐνεργείᾳ τῶν κακῶν καὶ ἡ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔργων ἔλλειψις ἐκδικεῖται, ἤρκει μὲν καὶ πρὸς ἀπόδειξιν καὶ πληροφορίαν τῇ γε μὴ παντελῆ ἀπιστίαν νοσούσῃ ψυχῇ τὸ προειρημένον ἐπὶ τῷ Πέτρῳ κρῖμα·

– Basil of Caesarea, De Judicio Dei, §8, PG 31:672-673; tr. W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K.,1925), pp. 87-88.

Basil, however, does not limit himself to explaining that there is not a difference between sins of commission and sins of omission. He goes on to explain that there are not “great” and “little” sins with respect to punishment, though there may be with respect to mastery:

How are we to deal with those who avoid greater sins but commit small sins regarding them as venial (μικρὰ, small, little) sins?

First of all we must know that in the New Testament it is impossible to observe this distinction. For one sentence is passed against all sins, that of the Lord Who said: “Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin.” And again: “The word that I spake, the same shall judge him at the last day.” Then there is the sentence of John who cried: “He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God will abide on him.” Disobedience receives this threat not because it is worse than other sins but because it is refusing to hear. Generally speaking, however, if we are allowed to speak of a little and a great sin, it can be proved unanswerably that for each man that sin is great which has the mastery of him and that is little of which he is the master, just as among athletes he who conquers is the stronger and he who is beaten is the weaker whoever he be. We must then in the case of everyone who sins, whatever his sin be, observe the precept of the Lord Who said: “If thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the Church. And if he refuse to hear the Church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” And in all these matters let the apostle’s saying be kept: “Why did ye not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you?” For long-suffering and mercy should be joined with severity.


ΕΡΩΤΗΣΙΣ Σ Γʹ. Πῶς δεῖ προσφέρεσθαι τοῖς τὰ μείζονα τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων παραιτουμένοις, τὰ δὲ μικρὰ ἀδιαφόρῶς ποιοῦσιν;

ΑΠΟΚΡΙΣΙΣ. Πρῶτον μὲν εἰδέναι χρὴ, ὅτι ἐν τῇ Καινῇ Διαθήκῃ ταύτην τὴν διαφορὰν οὐκ ἔστι μαθεῖν. Μία γὰρ ἀπόφασις κατὰ πάντων ἁμαρτημάτων κεῖται, τοῦ Κυρίου εἰπόντος, ὅτι Ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν δοῦλός ἐστι τῆς ἁμαρτίας· καὶ πάλιν, ὅτι Ὁ λόγος ὃν ἐλάλησα, ἐκεῖνος κρινεῖ αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ· καὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου βοῶντος· Ὁ ἀπειθῶν τῷ Υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται τὴν ζωὴν, ἀλλʼ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ μενεῖ ἐπ’ αὐτόν· τῆς ἀπειθείας οὐκ ἐν τῇ διαφορᾷ τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων, ἀλλ’ ἐν τῇ παρακοῇ τὴν ἀπειλὴν ἐχούσης. Ὅλως δὲ, εἰ ἐπιτρε πόμεθα λέγειν μικρὸν καὶ μέγα ἁμάρτημα, ἀναντίῤῥητον ἔδει τὴν ἀπόδειξιν ἑκάστῳ μέγα εἶναι τὸ ἑκά στου κρατοῦν, καὶ μικρὸν τοῦτο, οὗ ἕκαστος κρατεῖ· ὥσπερ ἐπὶ τῶν ἀθλητῶν ὁ μὲν νικήσας ἐστὶν ἰσχυρότερος, ὁ δὲ ἡττηθεὶς ἀσθενέστερος τοῦ ἐπι κρατεστέρου, ὅστις ἂν ᾖ. Δεῖ οὖν ἐπὶ παντὸς ἁμαρτάνοντος οἱονδήποτε ἁμάρτημα φυλάσσειν τὸ κρῖμα τοῦ Κυρίου εἰπόντος, ὅτι Ἂν ἁμάρτῃ εἰς σὲ ὁ ἀδελφός σου, ὕπαγε, ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν με ταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου. Ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ, ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου· ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀκούσῃ, παράλαβε μετὰ σεαυτοῦ ἔτι ἕνα ἢ δύο, ἵνα ἐπὶ στόματος δύο μαρτύρων ἢ τριῶν σταθῇ πᾶν ῥῆμα. Ἐὰν δὲ παρακούσῃ αὐτῶν, εἰπὲ τῇ Ἐκκλησίᾳ· ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας παρακούσῃ, ἔστω σοι ὥσπερ ὁ ἐθνικὸς καὶ ὁ τελώνης. Φυλασσέσθω δὲ ἐπὶ πᾶσι τοῖς τοιούτοις τὸ ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἀποστόλου εἰρημένον· Διὰ τί οὐ μᾶλλον ἐπενθή σατε, ἵνα ἐξαρθῇ ἐκ μέσου ὑμῶν ὁ τὸ ἔργον τοῦτο ποιήσας; Χρὴ γὰρ τὴν μακροθυμίαν καὶ τὴν εὐ σπλαγχνίαν ἐπιφέρεσθαι τῇ ἀποτομία.

– Basil of Caesarea, In Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Interrogatio CCXCIII, PG 31:1288-1289; tr. 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, Question & Answer #293 (CCXCIII), pp. 342-343.

We may also note that Basil has the same theme of distinguishing between this life and the next as Chrysostom does. For example, in the following quotation we see him drawing the important distinction:

I beseech you, therefore, through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins, let us apply ourselves to care for our souls. Let us lament the vanity of our past life. Let us strive for such things as will be for the glory of God, and of His Christ, and of the adorable and Holy Spirit. Let us not remain in this slothful ease, always losing through our slothfulness the present opportunity, and putting off to the morrow or distant future the beginning of our works, lest, being found unprovided with good works by Him Who demands our souls, we be cast forth from the joy of the bridechamber, shedding vain and useless tears, and lamenting our ill-spent life, at a time when repentance can no longer avail. “Now is the acceptable time,” says the apostle, “now is the day of salvation.” This is the age of repentance, that of reward: this of labour, that of recompense: this of patience, that of comfort.


Παρα καλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρ τιῶν ἡμῶν, ἁψώμεθά ποτε τῆς φροντίδος τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν· λυπηθῶμεν ἐπὶ τῇ ματαιώσει τοῦ προλαβόντος βίου· ἀγωνισώμεθα ὑπὲρ τῶν μελλόν των εἰς δόξαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ, καὶ τοῦ προσκυνητοῦ καὶ ἁγίου Πνεύματος. Μὴ τῇ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ καὶ τῇ ἐκλύσει ταύτῃ ἐναπομείνωμεν, καὶ τὸ μὲν παρὸν ἀεὶ διὰ ῥᾳθυμίας προϊέμενοι, πρὸς δὲ τὸ αὔριον καὶ τὸ ἐφεξῆς τὴν ἀρχὴν τῶν ἔρ γων ὑπερτιθέμενοι, εἶτα καταληφθέντες ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀπαιτοῦντος τὰς ψυχὰς ἡμῶν, ἀπαρασκεύαστοι τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔργων, τῆς μὲν χαρᾶς τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἀποβληθῶμεν, ἀργὰ δὲ καὶ ἀνόνητα μετακλαίω μεν, τὸν κακῶς παρεθέντα τοῦ βίου χρόνον ὀδυρό μενοι τότε, ὅτε πλέον οὐδὲν ἐξέσται τοῖς μεταμελο μένοις. Νῦν καιρὸς εὐπρόσδεκτος, φησὶν ὁ Ἀπό στολος, νῦν ἡμέρα σωτηρίας. Οὗτος ὁ αἰὼν τῆς μετανοίας, ἐκεῖνος τῆς ἀνταποδόσεως· οὗτος τῆς ὑπομονῆς, ἐκεῖνος τῆς παρακλήσεως.

First Alternate Translation of the last line:

This present life is a state of penitence, the next of retribution; here we must labor, there we receive our wages; this is a life of patience, that of consolation.

Second Alternate Translation of the last line:

This present world is the time of repentance, the other of retribution; this of working, that of rewarding; this of patient suffering, that of receiving comfort.

– Basil of Caesarea, Regulæ Fusius Tractatæ, Proœmium, PG 31:889, 892; main tr. W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K., 1925), Preface to the Longer Rules, p. 145; first alternate tr. William John Hall, The Doctrine of Purgatory and the Practice of Praying for the Dead (London: Henry Wix, 1843), preface to the Longer Rules, p. 125; second alternate tr. James Ussher, An Answer to a Challenge Made by a Jesuit (Cambridge: J. & J. J. Deighton, 1835), preface to the Longer Rules, p. 32.

Finally, we see the same distinction between the now and hereafter made in yet another place in Basil’s works:

Everlasting rest is apportioned to those who strive lawfully in this life; not given in payment as for a debt of works, but awarded by the grace of a bountiful God to them that trust in Him.


Πρόκειται γὰρ ἀνάπαυσις αἰωνία τοῖς νομίμως τὸν ἐνταῦθα διαθλήσασι βίον οὐ κατὰ ὀφείλημα τῶν ἔργων ἀποδεδομένη, ἀλλὰ κατὰ χάριν τοῦ μεγαλοδώρου Θεοῦ τοῖς εἰς αὐτὸν ἠλπικόσι παρεχομένη.

Alternative Translation:

For, eternal rest lies before those who have struggled through the present life observant of the laws, a rest not given in payment for a debt owed for their works, but provided as a grace of the munificent God for those who have hoped in Him.

– Basil of Caesarea, Homilia In Psalmum CXIV, §5, PG 29:492; main tr. Charles Hastings Collette, Dr. Wiseman’s Popish Literary Blunders Exposed (London: Paternoster-Row, 1860), p. 234; alternative tr. FC, Vol. 46, Exegetic Homilies, Homily 22 on Psalm 114, §5 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1963) p. 357.

This is a follow-on to my previous post regarding Chrysostom alone (link to post). Like the previous post, this one was made with the assistance of Pastor David King.


Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 7)

February 15, 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 7)

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

You could find many passages of this sort in the writings of the evangelists and the Apostle. Now, then, if a command be given and the manner of carrying it out is not added, let us obey the Lord, who says: ‘Search the Scriptures.’ Let us follow the example of the Apostles who questioned the Lord Himself as to the interpretation of His words, and learn the true and salutary course from His words in another place.

Greek text:

Καὶ πολλὰ τοιαῦτα εὕροις ἂν παρά τε τοῖς εὐαγγελισταῖς καὶ τῷ ἀποστόλῳ. Ἐὰν δὲ ἡ μὲν ἐντολὴ δοθῆ, πῶς δὲ γένηται, μὴ ἐπενεχθῆ, ἀνασχώμεθα τοῦ Κυρίου λέγοντος· Ἐρευνᾶτε τὰς Γραφὰς, καὶ μιμησώμεθα τοὺς ἀποστόλους αὐτὸν τὸν Κύριον ἐπερωτήσαντας τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τῶν παρʼ αὐτοῦ εἰρημένων, καὶ τῶν παρʼ αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν ἐν ἑτέρῳ τόπῳ εἰρημένων μανθάνωμεν τὸ ἀληθὲς καὶ σωτήριον·

Citation: De Baptismo, Liber II, §3, PG 31:1589; translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, Ascetical Works, On Baptism, Book 2, §3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), p. 399.

To provide a conclusion, I’d like quote my friend, Pastor David King, who put it this way:

The Romanist would clearly ascribe to human potency a power of which he presupposes God in Holy Scripture to be bereft. He would feign involve God’s words in hopeless confusion, while he would have us believe that the human element of “interpretive self-clarification” has an “unlimited intrinsic potency” to ensure us that this crisis of “the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end.” It is in the language of Lactantius the preference “to give credence to human rather than to divine things.” (The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter 1). This kind of skepticism regarding God’s word was something that was rejected time and time again by the members of the ancient church. They did embrace what we know today as the principle of formal sufficiency, viz., that God Himself is capable of making Himself known through His own word. And when they did encounter difficulty in understanding Holy Scripture, they invoked the spiritual discipline of prayer such as we find exemplified in Tertullian, “Interpret in person Thine own Scriptures” (On the Veiling of Virgins, Chapter 3). Unlike Augustine, Romanists refuse to acknowledge that “there is a distinct boundary line separating all productions [even that of human speech] subsequent to apostolic times” and that there are “such cases” where “a man is at liberty to withhold his belief [eg. Papal infallibility, Marian dogmas], unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of the canonical books either puts an end to that authority altogether, or involves it in hopeless confusion.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XI, §5). The alleged hermeneutical spiral, if left to the guidance of human fallibility, spells the end contemptuously for the recognition of the wholesome authority of Holy Scripture by shifting one’s confidence from the word of God to human fallibility. The ECFs would never have owned such blasphemous reasoning. The problem is not that of an endless “hermeneutical spiral,” but “dissensions concerning the faith” are the result of what Hilary of Poitiers described as “a distorted mind, which twists the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture” (On the Trinity, Book VII, §4). Moreover, Augustine informs us that the problem is not that of an hermeneutical spiral, but rather the reason wherefore men have so far gone astray, or that many — alas! — should follow diverse ways of belief concerning the Son of God, the marvel seems to be, not at all that human knowledge has been baffled in dealing with superhuman things, but that it has not submitted to the authority of the Scriptures” (Of the Christian Faith, Book IV, Chapter 1, §1). The solution for those who err, he tells us, is to be found in the spiritual discipline of prayer, “that God would open their understanding, and that they might comprehend the Scriptures” rather than forming their own “notion of His Church from the vanity of human falsehood, instead of learning what it is on the authority of the sacred books” (A Treatise concerning the Correction of the Donatists, Chapter 1, §2). The early church fathers emphasized time and time again that “the Lord stoops to the level even of our feeble understanding; to satisfy the doubts of unbelieving minds He works a miracle of His invisible power” that “lies beyond the region of human explanation” (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book III, §20).

Moreover, according to the ECFs, there is no “hermeneutical spiral” dilemma with respect to those things that are necessary. Chrysostom informed the congregation of his day that “all things are clear and open that are in the divine Scripture; the necessary things are all plain (Homilies on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, Homily III, Comments on 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 10, πάντα σαφῆ καὶ εὐθέα τὰ παρὰ ταῖς θείαις Γραφαῖς, πάντα τὰ ἀναγκαῖα δῆλα. In epistulam ii ad Thessalonicenses, Homilia ΙΙΙ, §4, PG 62:485). Augustine likewise testified that “the fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals” (De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Chapter 9, §14).

In short, the claim for the interpretive authority of the Roman magisterium is, in reality, a case of special pleading for the claims that are peculiar to its own communion. Moreover, there is no such human hermeneutical authority which can effectively end controversy this side of eternity. The unbelieving Jews of our Lord’s day rejected His infallible interpretation of the law to prove His deity. Their response is described in their attempt to stone him. But regardless of their unbelieving response, the Scripture cannot be broken. Thus the end of controversy, indeed the end of “the hermeneutical spiral,” is not the litmus test for the propriety of authoritative appeal. The fact that Romanists refuse to rest in the adjudicating authority of Scripture, because dissensions exist, forms no valid objection to our appellation to the voice of heaven, for no authority (however clear or definitive) could accomplish that. Only the Judge of the last day has the power to silence every dissident, and this the Lord will do when he returns and “divides his sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:32). Till that day, the wheat will always be mingled with the tares (Matt 13:24-30), and the Lord will sort them out with infallible judgment. Holy Scripture, church history, and human nature all teach us that there is no truth, no matter how clearly it is set forth and expounded with authority from heaven, but that impenitent, rebel sinners will reject and suppress it in unrighteousness, as Scripture itself testifies (Rom 1:18-32).

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430): Bad people commingle with good people not only in the world but even within the Church: even here the wicked are mixed up with the good. You know this, you have plenty of experience of it, and if you are good yourselves you will be all the more keenly aware of it, for when the shoots had grown up and come into ear, then the tares became apparent (Mt 13:26). The bad people within the Church are obvious only to one who is good. But you know that they are mingled with the rest, always and everywhere, and scripture testifies that they will not be sorted out until the end. 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 128.8 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), p. 122.

I’ll give the very last words to Augustine:

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

To be sure, if the truth is revealed so clearly that it cannot come into doubt, it ought to be preferred to all the things by which I am held in the Catholic Church. But if it is only promised and not revealed, no one will move me from that faith which binds my mind to the Christian religion by such great bonds.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, The Manichean Debate, Part 1, Vol. 19, trans. Boniface Ramsey, Answer to the Letter of Mani Known as The Foundation, 4,5 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2006), p. 236.

– TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 5)

February 1, 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 5)

Continuing to analyze the problem with Bryan’s argument, we might characterize the problem as Bryan wanting to get a level of knowledge that goes beyond the divinely set limits – have knowledge of things about which Scripture is silent. Scripture explains: Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Judges 13:18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret? Daniel 12:4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. Revelation 10:4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

The fathers also understood this.

Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150 – 215):

Who can read the Phaedo, and think of Plato and Socrates, without hope that the mystery of redemption applies to them in some effectual way, under St. Paul’s maxims (Romans 2:26)? It would torture me in reading such sayings as are quoted here, were I not able reverently to indulge such hope, and then to desist from speculation. Cannot we be silent where Scripture is silent, and leave all to Him who loved the Gentiles, and died for them on the cross?

– Clement of Alexandria, ANF: Vol. II, Book IV, Elucidations.

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

I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Those who have written about the nature of the universe have discussed at length the shape of the earth. If it be spherical or cylindrical, if it resemble a disc and is equally rounded in all parts, or if it has the form of a winnowing basket and is hollow in the middle; all these conjectures have been suggested by cosmographers, each one upsetting that of his predecessor. It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us. Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls? It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written.

– Basil of Caesarea, NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Hexaemeron, Homily 9, The Creation of Terrestrial Animals, §1.

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

Such is their error, such their pestilent teaching; to support it they borrow the words of Scripture, perverting its meaning and using the ignorance of men as their opportunity of gaining credence for their lies. Yet it is certainly by these same words of God that we must come to understand the things of God. For human feebleness cannot by any strength of its own attain to the knowledge of heavenly things; the faculties which deal with bodily matters can form no notion of the unseen world. Neither our created bodily substance, nor the reason given by God for the purposes of ordinary life, is capable of ascertaining and pronouncing upon the nature and work of God. Our wits cannot rise to the level of heavenly knowledge, our powers of perception lack the strength to apprehend that limitless might. We must believe God’s word concerning Himself, and humbly accept such insight as He vouchsafes to give. We must make our choice between rejecting His witness, as the heathen do, or else believing in Him as He is, and this in the only possible way, by thinking of Him in the aspect in which He presents Himself to us. Therefore let private judgment cease; let human reason refrain from passing barriers divinely set. In this spirit we eschew all blasphemous and reckless assertion concerning God, and cleave to the very letter of revelation. Each point in our enquiry shall be considered in the light of His instruction, Who is our theme; there shall be no stringing together of isolated phrases whose context is suppressed, to trick and misinform the unpracticed listener. The meaning of words shall be ascertained by considering the circumstances under which they were spoken words must be explained by circumstances not circumstances forced into conformity will words. We, at any rate, will treat our subject completely; we will state both the circumstances under which words were spoken, and the true purport of the words. Each point shall be considered in orderly sequence.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IV, §14.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):

Eran.—In these points you seem to say sooth, but after its assumption into heaven I do not think that you will deny that it was changed into the nature of Godhead.
Orth.—I would not so say persuaded only by human arguments, for I am not so rash as to say anything concerning which divine Scripture is silent.

– Theodoret, NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret, Dialogue II.—The Unconfounded. Orthodoxos and Eranistes.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):

I do not say these things definitively. For I consider it presumptuous to speak definitively of things concerning which the divine Scripture does not speak distinctly. But I have said what I conceived was suitable to the views of piety.

[alternative translation of the above]

Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought.

Greek text:

Ἐγὼ δὲ ταῦτα οὐκ ἀποφαινόμενος λέγω· τολμηρὸν γὰρ ἀποφαντικῶς οἶμαι λέγειν, περὶ ὧν ἡ θεία διαῤῥήδην οὐ λέγει γραφή· ἀλλʼ ὅπερ τοῖς εὐσεβέσι λογισμοῖς ἁρμόττειν ὑπέλαβον, εἴρηκα.

Citation: Quaestiones in Genesim, Interrogatio IV, PG 80:84; translation from William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. III, p. 191; alternate translation from Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, IV (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 19.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):

It does not become us to search after those things which are passed over in silence; but it behoves us to love those things which are written.

[alternative translation of the above]

We should not pry into secrets but be grateful for what is written.

Greek Text:

Οὐ δεῖ ζητεῖν τὰ σεσιγημένα· στέργειν δὲ προσήκει τὰ γεγραμμένα.

Citation: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Genesim, Interrogatio XLV, PG 80:145.; translated by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, pp. 191-192; alternative translation by Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, Interrogatio XLV (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 95.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):

It is superfluous and unprofitable to inquire after those things which are passed over in silence.

[alternative translation of the above]

It is pointless and foolish to inquire into unspoken secrets.

Greek text:

Περιττὸν καὶ ἀνόητον τὸ τὰ σεσιγημένα ζητεῖν.

Citation: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Exodum, Interrogatio XXVI, PG 80:256; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 192; alternative translation by Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Exodus, XXVI (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 271.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch from about A.D. 412-444):

That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it, and reckon it among verities?

Greek text:

Ὃ γὰρ οὐκ εἴρηκεν ἡ θεία Γραφὴ, τίνα δὴ τρόπον παραδεξόμεθα, καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀληθῶς ἔχουσι καταλογιούμεθα;

Citation: Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyrorum In Genesim, Liber II, PG 69:53; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 181.

Prosper of Aquitaine (died about A.D. 463) writing around A.D. 450:

Who will tell the reasons and motives of these differences within one and the same grace when Sacred Scripture is silent about them?

– Prosper of Aquitaine, ACW, Vol. 14, P. De Letter, S.J., PH.D., S.T.D., trans., St. Prosper of Aquitaine: The Call of All Nations, Book 2, Chapter 9 (New York: Newman Press, 1952), p. 103.

Caesarius of Arles (about A.D. 470-543):

Sacred Scripture speaks about the godhead and divinity of the Holy Spirit, but does not say whether He should be called begotten or unbegotten. See what confusion a lack of faith creates. You do not want to know what God did not want to be unknown, and you want to know what He did not decree should be asked. . . .
You ask whether He [i.e. the Holy Spirit] was begotten or not. Sacred Scripture has said nothing about this, and it is wrong to violate the divine silence. Since God did not think that this should be indicated in His writings, He did not want you to question or to know through idle curiosity.

– Caesarius of Arles, FC, Vol. 66, Sermons 187-238, Sermon 213.1-2 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1973), pp. 106, 107.

Gregory of Nyssa (about A.D. 335-395):

Since, my friend, you ask me a question in your letter, I think that it is incumbent upon me to answer you in their proper order upon all the points connected with it. It is, then, my opinion that it is a good thing for those who have dedicated themselves once for all to the higher life to fix their attention continually upon the utterances in the Gospel, and, just as those who correct their work in any given material by a rule, and by means of the straightness of that rule bring the crookedness which their hands detect to straightness, so it is right that we should apply to these questions a strict and flawless measure as it were, — I mean, of course, the Gospel rule of life, — and in accordance with that, direct ourselves in the sight of God. Now there are some amongst those who have entered upon the monastic and hermit life, who have made it a part of their devotion to behold those spots at Jerusalem where the memorials of our Lord’s life in the flesh are on view; it would be well, then, to look to this Rule, and if the finger of its precepts points to the observance of such things, to perform the work, as the actual injunction of our Lord; but if they lie quite outside the commandment of the Master, I do not see what there is to command any one who has become a law of duty to himself to be zealous in performing any of them.

– Gregory of Nyssa, NPNF2: Vol. V, On Ascetic and Moral Treatises, On Pilgrimages.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

Well, then, let us grant that it is so, that many can now bear those things when the Holy Spirit has been sent, which could not then, prior to His coming, be born by the disciples: do we on that account know what it is that He would not say, as we should know it were we reading or hearing it as uttered by Himself? For it is one thing to know whether we or you could bear it; but quite another to know what it is, whether able to be born or not. But when He Himself was silent about such things, which of us could say, It is this or that? Or if he venture to say it, how will he prove it? For who could manifest such vanity or recklessness as when saying what he pleased to whom he pleased, even though true, to affirm without any divine authority that it was the very thing which the Lord on that occasion refused to utter? Which of us could do such a thing without incurring the severest charge of rashness, — a thing which gets no countenance from prophetic or apostolic authority? For surely if we had read any such thing in the books confirmed by canonical authority, which were written after our Lord’s ascension, it would not have been enough to have read such a statement, had we not also read in the same place that this was actually one of those things which the Lord was then unwilling to tell His disciples, because they were unable to bear them. As if, for example, I were to say that the words which we read at the opening of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God:” and those which follow, because they were written afterwards, and yet without any mention of their being uttered by the Lord Jesus when He was here in the flesh, but were written by one of His apostles, to whom they were revealed by His Spirit, were some of those which the Lord would not then utter, because the disciples were unable to bear them; who would listen to me in making so rash a statement? But if in the same passage where we read the one we were also to read the other, who would not give due credence to such an apostle?
3. But it seems to me also very absurd to say that the disciples could not then have born what we find recorded, about things invisible and of profoundest import, in the apostolic epistles, which were written in after days, and of which there is no mention that the Lord uttered them when His visible presence was with them. For why could they not bear then what is now read in their books, land born by every one, even though not understood? Some things there are, indeed, in the Holy Scriptures which unbelieving men both have no understanding of when they read or hear them, and cannot bear when they are read or heard: as the pagans, that the world was made by Him who was crucified; as the Jews, that He could be the Son of God, who broke up their mode of observing the Sabbath; as the Sabellians, that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit are a Trinity; as the Arians, that the Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son; as the Photinians, that Christ is not only man like ourselves, but God also, equal to God the Father; as the Manicheans, that Christ Jesus, by whom we must be saved, condescended to be born in the flesh and of the flesh of man: and all others of divers perverse sects, who can by no means bear whatever is found in the Holy Scriptures and in the Catholic faith that stands out in opposition to their errors, just as we cannot bear their sacrilegious vaporings and mendacious insanities. For what else is it not to be able to bear, but not to retain in our minds with calmness and composure? But what of all that has been written since our Lord’s ascension with canonical truth and authority, is it not read and heard with equanimity by every believer, and catechumen also, before in his baptism he receive the Holy Spirit, even although it is not yet understood as it ought to be?

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 96, John 16:12, 13.

[cont’d in section 6]

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]

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 1)

January 4, 2010
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 1 – Meaning of “Scripture Interprets Scripture”)

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 145:13:

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

– Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Exposition of Psalm 144.17 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), pp. 393-394.

In responding to a recent article (link to article) by Bryan Cross, I had pointed out that his claim that the ultimate holder of interpretive authority is the individual in sola scriptura is wrong because Scripture is its own interpreter. Scripture is the ultimate interpretive authority of itself. Of course, the individual is the final one in the communication link and must interpret what Scripture says, but the same is true for everyone’s rule of faith: the Roman Catholic must interpret what the Magisterium says.

The first relevant part of Bryan’s response was to suggest that Scripture is insufficient to interpret Scripture. Bryan stated:

In addition, since Scripture needs to be interpreted (otherwise you would never say “Scripture interprets Scripture[“]), then the Scripture that interprets Scripture needs to be interpreted.

(parenthetical in original, bracketed addition mine)

What Bryan is doing here is (1) inserting his own presupposition that Scripture needs to be “interpreted” and (2) equivocating over the term “Scripture.” Neither of Bryan’s actions are helpful.

When we say that “Scripture interprets Scripture” we are not making a categorical statement that each part of Scripture requires some further interpretation. Some parts of Scripture are written in a plain matter that does not require further interpretation (Job 33:3 My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart: and my lips shall utter knowledge clearly. John 16:29 His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. 2 Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:). Some parts of Scripture, however, are less clearly expressed (2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.). Those less clear parts are interpreted by the more clear parts (John 16:25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. 2 Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.). As well, it is only reasonable that the obscure should be interpreted by the clear rather than conversely.

This is not only the teaching of Scripture, but of the fathers as well.

Tertullian (about A.D. 160-220):

And, indeed, (since some passages are more obscure than others), it cannot but be right — as we have shown above — that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by such as are clear and plain; else there is fear that, in the conflict of certainties and uncertainties, of explicitness and obscurity, faith may be shattered, truth endangered, and the Divine Being Himself be branded as inconstant.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 21.

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

Some may say: ‘You are forcing the Scripture, that is not what it means.’ Let Holy Writ be its own interpreter . . .

– Jerome, FC, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 6 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), p. 45.

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

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.

– Basil of Caesarea, Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Question CCLXVII, PG 31:1264.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

Hold fast to the open texts and accept them wholeheartedly, and you will deserve to have the obscure ones unfolded to you. How can you penetrate obscure passages if you shrug aside the plain ones?

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 2, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 46.35 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1990), p. 286.

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

You could find many passages of this sort in the writings of the evangelists and the Apostle. Now, then, if a command be given and the manner of carrying it out is not added, let us obey the Lord who says: ‘Search the Scriptures.’ Let us follow the example of the Apostles who questioned the Lord Himself as to the interpretation of His words, and learn the true and salutary course from His words in another place.

– Basil of Caesarea, FC, Vol. 9, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, Concerning Baptism, Book II, Q&R 4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), p. 399.

Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200):

For by the fact that they thus endeavour to explain ambiguous passages of Scripture (ambiguous, however, not as if referring to another god, but as regards the dispensations of [the true] God), they have constructed another god, weaving, as I said before, ropes of sand, and affixing a more important to a less important question. For no question can be solved by means of another which itself awaits solution; nor, in the opinion of those possessed of sense, can an ambiguity be explained by means of another ambiguity, or enigmas by means of another greater enigma, but things of such character receive their solution from those which are manifest, and consistent and clear.

– Irenaeus, ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:10:1.

Tertullian (about A.D. 160-220):

Well, if it occurs occasionally in certain portions of it, you will say, then why not in that phrase, where the resurrection might be spiritually understood? There are several reasons why not. First, what must be the meaning of so many important passages of Holy Scripture, which so obviously attest the resurrection of the body, as to admit not even the appearance of a figurative signification? And, indeed, (since some passages are more obscure than others), it cannot but be right — as we have shown above — that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by such as are clear and plain; else there is fear that, in the conflict of certainties and uncertainties, of explicitness and obscurity, faith may be shattered, truth endangered, and the Divine Being Himself be branded as inconstant. Then arises the improbability that the very mystery on which our trust wholly rests, on which also our instruction entirely depends, should have the appearance of being ambiguously announced and obscurely propounded, inasmuch as the hope of the resurrection, unless it be clearly set forth on the sides both of punishment and reward, would fail to persuade any to embrace a religion like ours, exposed as it is to public detestation and the imputation of hostility to others. There is no certain work where the remuneration is uncertain. There is no real apprehension when the peril is only doubtful. But both the recompense of reward, and the danger of losing it, depend on the issues of the resurrection. Now, if even those purposes of God against cities, and nations, and kings, which are merely temporal, local, and personal in their character, have been proclaimed so clearly in prophecy, how is it to be supposed that those dispensations of His which are eternal, and of universal concern to the human race, should be void of all real light in themselves? The grander they are, the clearer should be their announcement, in order that their superior greatness might be believed. And I apprehend that God cannot possibly have ascribed to Him either envy, or guile, or inconsistency, or artifice, by help of which evil qualities it is that all schemes of unusual grandeur are litigiously promulgated.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 21.

Thus, for example, a passage must be read in context:

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430): Commenting on Matt. 23:2-3:

When bad members of the clergy hear this that is said against them in this text, they try to twist the meaning. Yes, I’ve actually heard some of them trying to twist the meaning of this judgment. If they were allowed to, wouldn’t they simply delete it from the gospel? But because they can’t delete it, they look for ways of twisting its meaning. But the grace and mercy of the Lord is at hand, and he doesn’t let them do so, because he has hedged all his judgments round with his truth, and balanced them. Thus no matter who tries to cut something out or to tamper with it by reading or interpreting it wrongly, the person of sound and solid sense should join to scripture what has been cut out of scripture, and read what goes before or comes after, and they will find the true meaning which the others tried to explain away wrongly.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 4, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 137.7 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1992), p. 376. (Note the emphasis on context, and that one needs no infallible interpreter [“they will find the true meaning”] to understand the text correctly).

Similarly the Scripture as a whole interprets individual passages.

Tertullian (about A.D. 160-220):

Scripture interpreted by the whole, Chapter XX.—The Scriptures Relied on by Praxeas to Support His Heresy But Few. They are Mentioned by Tertullian. They would have the entire revelation of both Testaments yield to these three passages, whereas the only proper course is to understand the few statements in the light of the many. But in their contention they only act on the principle of all heretics. For, inasmuch as only a few testimonies are to be found (making for them) in the general mass, they pertinaciously set off the few against the many, and assume the later against the earlier. The rule, however, which has been from the beginning established for every case, gives its prescription against the later assumptions, as indeed it also does against the fewer.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapter 20.

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

A: This passage to the ignorant, and to those who are unaccustomed to meditate on Holy Scripture, and who neither know nor use it, does appear at first sight to favor your opinion. But when you look into it, the difficulty soon disappears. And when you compare passages of Scripture with others, that the Holy Spirit may not seem to contradict Himself with changing place and time, according to what is written, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy water spouts,” the truth will show itself, that is, that Christ did give a possible command when He said: “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and yet that the Apostles were not perfect.

– Jerome, NPNF2: Vol. VI, St. Jerome Against the Pelagians, Book I, §14.

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

. . . let us call upon the Lord, probe the depths of His sacred writings, and be guided in our interpretation by other testimonies from Holy Writ. Whatever we cannot fathom in the deep recesses of the Old Testament, we shall penetrate and explain from the depth of the New Testament in the roar of God’s cataracts—His prophets and apostles.

– Jerome, FC, Vol. 57, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 2, Homily 92 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1966), p. 246.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

Chapter 9.—How We Should Proceed in Studying Scripture.
14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.

[Alternative translation]

What those who fear God and have a docile piety are looking for in all these books is the will of God. The first step in this laborious search, as I have said, is to know these books, and even if not yet so as to understand them, all the same by reading them to commit them to memory, or at least not to be totally unfamiliar with them. Next, those things that are put clearly in them, whether precepts about how to live or rules about what to believe, are to be studied with the utmost care and diligence; the greater your intellectual capacity, the more of these you will find. The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope, charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.
Only then, however, after acquiring some familiarity with the actual style of the divine scriptures, should one proceed to try to open and unravel their obscurities, in such a way that instances from the plainer passages are used to cast light on the more obscure utterances, and the testimony of some undoubted judgments is used to remove uncertainties from those that are more doubtful. In this matter what is of the greatest value is a good memory; if this is wanting, these instructions cannot be of any great assistance.

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 9. & (respectively) John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Chapter 9, §14 (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 135.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

Now, although I may not be able myself to refute the arguments of these men, I yet see how necessary it is to adhere closely to the clearest statements of the Scriptures, in order that the obscure passages may be explained by help of these, or, if the mind be as yet unequal to either perceiving them when explained, or investigating them whilst abstruse, let them be believed without misgiving. But what can be plainer than the many weighty testimonies of the divine declarations, which afford to us the dearest proof possible that without union with Christ there is no man who can attain to eternal life and salvation; and that no man can unjustly be damned,—that is, separated from that life and salvation,—by the judgment of God?

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. V, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book III, Chapter 7.

In particular, the less clear allegorical sections are interpreted by the more clear literal sections:

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):

For what else is it than superlative impudence for one to interpret in his own favour any allegorical statements, unless he has also plain testimonies, by the light of which the obscure meaning of the former may be made manifest.

– Augustine, Letter 93, Chapter 8, Section 24

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

There is something else we can learn here. What sort of thing is it? It is when it is necessary to allegorize Scripture. We ourselves are not the lords over the rules of interpretation, but must pursue Scripture’s understanding of itself, and in that way make use of the allegorical method. What I mean is this. The Scripture has just now spoken of a vineyard, wall, and wine-vat. The reader is not permitted to become lord of the passage and apply the words to whatever events or people he chooses. The Scripture interprets itself with the words, “And the house of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth.” To give another example, Ezekiel describes a large, great-winged eagle which enters Lebanon and takes off the top of a cedar. The interpretation of the allegory does not lie in the whim of the readers, but Ezekiel himself speaks, and tells first what the eagle is and then what the cedar is. To take another example from Isaiah himself, when he raises a mighty river against Judah, he does not leave it to the imagination of the reader to apply it to whatever person he chooses, but he names the king whom he has referred to as a river. This is everywhere a rule in Scripture: when it wants to allegorize, it tells the interpretation of the allegory, so that the passage will not be interpreted superficially or be met by the undisciplined desire of those who enjoy allegorization to wander about and be carried in every direction. Why are you surprised that the prophets should observe this rule? Even the author of Proverbs does this. For he said, “Let your loving doe and graceful filly accompany you, and let your spring of water be for you alone.” Then he interprets these terms to refer to one’s free and lawful wife; he rejects the grasp of the prostitute and other woman.

– Chrysostom in Duane A. Garrett, An Analysis of the Hermeneutics of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Isaiah 1-8 with an English Translation, Isaiah Chapter 5 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 110-111.

We have multiplied many similar statements here in case Bryan Cross does not understand that what we are proposing by “Scripture interprets Scriptures” is just what the Christians of previous generations believed and taught. In the next section will proceed through his argumentation.

[to be continued in Part 2]

– TurretinFan

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