Archive for the ‘Clement of Alexandria’ Category

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

November 11, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

After explaining the nature of formal sufficiency (i.e. the Reformed view) in an introduction section (link), we explored Scripture’s own testimony to its sufficiency (link). Although we could have stopped there, we have begun to explore the patristic testimony to the matter, beginning with the earliest Christian writers (link to discussion), and now continuing with the fathers of the 3rd century – some of whom were born in the 2nd century.

The writings of the 3rd century are in may respects better preserved than the writings of the preceding centuries. Consequently, we have a larger pool from which to draw. This larger pool also necessarily means that we have more specific discussions on more areas of theology, including discussion of Scripture. The following are some examples of what one finds in the third century.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

It is now time, as we have dispatched in order the other points, to go to the prophetic Scriptures; for the oracles present us with the appliances necessary for the attainment of piety, and so establish the truth. The divine Scriptures and institutions of wisdom form the short road to salvation. Devoid of embellishment, of outward beauty of diction, of wordiness and seductiveness, they raise up humanity strangled by wickedness, teaching men to despise the casualties of life; and with one and the same voice remedying many evils, they at once dissuade us from pernicious deceit, and clearly exhort us to the attainment of the salvation set before us.

ANF: Vol. II, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 8.

Clement is here affirming not only that Scripture has the content necessary, but also the form necessary, to bring believers to a saving knowledge of the truth.

We see something similar in the next quotation.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But godliness, that makes man as far as can be like God, designates God as our suitable teacher, who alone can worthily assimilate man to God. This teaching the apostle knows as truly divine. “Thou, O Timothy,” he says, “from a child hast known the holy letters, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls “inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work.” No one will be so impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints, as he is by the words of the Lord Himself, the lover of man. For this, and nothing but this, is His only work — the salvation of man. Therefore He Himself, urging them on to salvation, cries, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Those men that draw near through fear, He converts. Thus also the apostle of the Lord, beseeching the Macedonians, becomes the interpreter of the divine voice, when he says, “The Lord is at hand; take care that ye be not apprehended empty.” But are ye so devoid of fear, or rather of faith, as not to believe the Lord Himself, or Paul, who in Christ’s stead thus entreats: “Taste and see that Christ is God?” Faith will lead you in; experience will teach you; Scripture will train you, for it says, “Come hither, O children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” Then, as to those who already believe, it briefly adds, “What man is he that desireth life, that loveth to see good days?” It is we, we shall say — we who are the devotees of good, we who eagerly desire good things. Hear, then, ye who are far off, hear ye who are near: the word has not been hidden from any; light is common, it shines “on all men.”

ANF: Vol. II, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 9.

Observe that Clement ascribes a magisterial function to the Scriptures themselves. Who will train you? Scriptures will. And, of course, Clement appeals to the same Scripture we do to glean the same doctrine we glean.

Clement provides a slightly different twist on the same theme in the next quotation.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

And now we must look also at this, that if ever those who know not how to do well, live well; for they have lighted on well-doing. Some, too, have aimed well at the word of truth through understanding. “But Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith.” It is therefore of no advantage to them after the end of life, even if they do good works now, if they have not faith. Wherefore also the Scriptures were translated into the language of the Greeks, in order that they might never be able to allege the excuse of ignorance, inasmuch as they are able to hear also what we have in our hands, if they only wish. One speaks in one way of the truth, in another way the truth interprets itself. The guessing at truth is one thing, and truth itself is another. Resemblance is one thing, the thing itself is another. And the one results from learning and practice, the other from power and faith. For the teaching of piety is a gift, but faith is grace. “For by doing the will of God we know the will of God.” “Open, then,” says the Scripture, “the gates of righteousness; and I will enter in, and confess to the LORD.”

ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 7.—The Eclectic Philosophy Paves the Way for Divine Virtue.

Notice how Clement affirms that the Greeks cannot allege ignorance. This implies that the truth is discernible from the Scriptures themselves, and “the truth interprets itself” confirms that this is Clement’s meaning.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But if from any creature they received in any way whatever the seeds of the Truth, they did not nourish them; but committing them to a barren and rainless soil, they choked them with weeds, as the Pharisees revolted from the Law, by introducing human teachings, — the cause of these being not the Teacher, but those who choose to disobey. But those of them who believed the Lord’s advent and the plain teaching of the Scriptures, attain to the knowledge of the law; as also those addicted to philosophy, by the teaching of the Lord, are introduced into the knowledge of the true philosophy: “For the oracles of the Lord are pure oracles, melted in the fire, tried in the earth, purified seven times.” Just as silver often purified, so is the just man brought to the test, becoming the Lord’s coin and receiving the royal image.

ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter 7.

I haven’t placed anything in bold in the quotation above, because I’d have to put almost everything in bold. Notice how Scripture is treated as being the seeds of the Truth, the Law (the books of Moses) is referred to as a Teacher, believers are those who “believed in the Lord’s advent and the plain teaching of the Scriptures” and these attain to knowledge of the law.

Clement also puts the idea of formal sufficiency another way:

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

Therefore, in the divine education, it is necessary that duties be imposed upon us, as things commanded by God and provided for our salvation. But, since of things that are necessary, some are for this life alone, while others cause the soul to aspire after a good life in the next world, it is but right that some obligations be imposed merely for living, and others for living well. Whatever is imposed for material life is binding upon the multitude, but what is adapted to living well, that is, the things by which eternal life is gained, should be able to be gathered from the Scriptures by those who read them, gathered at least in their general outline.

FC, Vol. 23, Clement of Alexandria: Christ the Educator, Chapter 13, §103 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 91.

This is not a surprising doctrine, of course. It is just what the Scriptures themselves teach, but the point that we can gain a knowledge of those things necessary for eternal life from reading the Scriptures is plainly Clement’s teaching.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But if philosophy contributes remotely to the discovery of truth, by reaching, by diverse essays, after the knowledge which touches close on the truth, the knowledge possessed by us, it aids him who aims at grasping it, in accordance with the Word, to apprehend knowledge. But the Hellenic truth is distinct from that held by us (although it has got the same name), both in respect of extent of knowledge, certainly of demonstration, divine power, and the like. For we are taught of God, being instructed in the truly “sacred letters” by the Son of God.

Εἰ δὲ καὶ πόῤῥωθεν συλλαμβάνεται φιλοσοφία πρὸς τὴν ἀληθείας εὕρεσιν, κατὰ διαφόρους ἐπιβολὰς διατείνουσα ἐπὶ τὴν προσεχῶς ἁπτομένην τῆς ἀληθείας τῆς καθʼ ἡμᾶς εἴδησιν, ἀλλὰ συλλαμβάνεταί γε τῷ λογικῶς ἐπιχειρεῖν ἐσπουδακότι ἀνθάπτεσθαι γνώσεως. χωρίζεται δὲ ἡ Ἑλληνικὴ ἀλήθεια τῆς καθ’ ἡμᾶς, εἰ καὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ μετείληφεν ὀνόματος, καὶ μεγέθει γνώσεως καὶ ἀποδείξει κυριωτέρᾳ καὶ θείᾳ δυνάμει καὶ τοῖς ὁμοίοις· θεοδίδακτοι γὰρ ἡμεῖς, ἱερὰ ὄντως γράμματα παρὰ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ παιδευόμενοι·

Stromatum, Liber Primus, Caput 20, PG 8:816; translation in ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 20.

Notice that Clement is here affirming that God himself teaches us, and this is described as being instruction in the “sacred letters.”

Turning from Clement in Alexandria, we can travel west across Africa to Tertullian, who is often called the “Father of Latin Christianity.” The earliest major father who wrote in Latin, Tertullian had significant influence in the West, even though he eventually fell into Montanism.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):

But what hinders them from readily perceiving this community of the Father’s titles in the Son, is the statement of Scripture, whenever it determines God to be but One; as if the selfsame Scripture had not also set forth Two both as God and Lord, as we have shown above. Their argument is: Since we find Two and One, therefore Both are One and the Same, both Father and Son. Now the Scripture is not in danger of requiring the aid of any one’s argument, lest it should seem to be self-contradictory. It has a method of its own, both when it sets forth one only God, and also when it shows that there are Two, Father and Son; and is consistent with itself [i.e. sufficient itself, suficit sibi, PL 2:177]. It is clear that the Son is mentioned by it. For, without any detriment to the Son, it is quite possible for it to have rightly determined that God is only One, to whom the Son belongs; since He who has a Son ceases not on that account to exist, — Himself being One only, that is, on His own account, whenever He is named without the Son.

ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapter 18.

Notice Tertullian’s confidence in the Scriptures. Although he obviously is explaining the Scriptures, he is bold to state that the Scriptures are sufficient to themselves – they don’t require someone’s supporting argument.

As excellent as those comments are, Tertullian’s next comments are even more appropriate in dealing with modern Rome.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):

He, therefore, will not be a Christian who shall deny this doctrine which is confessed by Christians; denying it, moreover, on grounds which are adopted by a man who is not a Christian. Take away, indeed, from the heretics the wisdom which they share with the heathen, and let them support their inquiries from the Scriptures alone: they will then be unable to keep their ground. For that which commends men’s common sense is its very simplicity, and its participation in the same feelings, and its community of opinions; and it is deemed to be all the more trustworthy, inasmuch as its definitive statements are naked and open, and known to all. Divine reason, on the contrary, lies in the very pith and marrow of things, not on the surface, and very often is at variance with appearances.

ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 3.

Notice that Tertullian seems to suggest “scriptures alone” as the solution to heresies. His comment about taking away the wisdom they share with the heathen reminds me of the issue of transubstantiation – a dogma that is only possible by importing Aristotelean categories into the text of Scripture, but I digress.

Heading back to Alexandria, we encounter a man 35 years younger than Clement and 20 years younger than Tertullian, but teaching the same doctrines. Again, we note that not everything that Origen taught was good. His hermeneutic of metaphor and his apparent universalism are not to be followed (and we might add some other things as well). Nevertheless, Origen was perhaps as influential in the East as Tertullian was the in West. Much of his vast body of work has been lost, but an enormous amount still remains.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

Celsus next proceeds to say, that the system of doctrine, viz., Judaism, upon which Christianity depends, was barbarous in its origin. And with an appearance of fairness, he does not reproach Christianity because of its origin among barbarians, but gives the latter credit for their ability in discovering (such) doctrines. To this, however, he adds the statement, that the Greeks are more skillful than any others in judging, establishing, and reducing to practice the discoveries of barbarous nations. Now this is our answer to his allegations, and our defense of the truths contained in Christianity, that if any one were to come from the study of Grecian opinions and usages to the Gospel, he would not only decide that its doctrines were true, but would by practice establish their truth, and supply whatever seemed wanting, from a Grecian point of view, to their demonstration, and thus confirm the truth of Christianity. We have to say, moreover, that the Gospel has a demonstration of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics. And this diviner method is called by the apostle the “manifestation of the Spirit and of power”of “the Spirit,” on account of the prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and of “power,” because of the signs and wonders which we must believe to have been performed, both on many other grounds, and on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel.

ANF: Vol. IV, Origen against Celsus, Book I, Chapter II.

Notice how Origen is quite bold to proclaim the power of the Scriptures not only to establish their own truth, but also to produce saving faith in anyone who reads them. That’s one way of expressing the formal sufficiency of Scripture, as we’ve already explained it.

That is, of course, not the only time Origen makes this kind of claim for Scripture. Here’s another example.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

The more one reads the Scriptures daily and the greater one’s understanding is, the more renewed always and every day. I doubt whether a mind which is lazy toward the holy Scriptures and the exercise of spiritual knowledge can be renewed at all.

Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 308.

The point here is slightly tangential at first glance. But consider the point that what Origen is saying is that reading the Scriptures is the way to better understand the Scriptures.

That’s why we also find Origen saying this:

Origen (c. 185-c. 254), commenting on Romans 9:20:

If we want to know something of the secret and hidden things of God and if we are not people of lusts and contentions, then let us inquire faithfully and humbly into the judgments of God which are contained more secretly in holy Scripture. For even the Lord said: Search the Scriptures, knowing that these things are applicable not to those who are busy with other matters and only hear or read the Bible from time to time, but to those who with a pure and simple heart endeavor to open up the holy Scriptures by their labor and constant attention. I know well enough that I am not one of them! But anyone who is, let him seek and he will find.

Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 259-260.

It’s hard to imagine the Bible being more formally sufficient than that. Origen is quite explicit that anyone who is willing to give constant attention to the Scriptures can seek and find the truth in them.

We might add, at this point, that Origen also viewed the authority of Scripture as sufficient to refute heretics.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

And now, what we have drawn from the authority of Scripture ought to be sufficient to refute the arguments of the heretics.

ANF: Vol. IV, Origen De Principiis, Book II, Chapter 5, §3.

It might not appear that this is directly related to the sufficiency of Scripture, but consider that if Scripture cannot be properly understood without tradition and the magisterium, any argument that is only based on the authority of Scripture would inherently be insufficient. Thus, by affirming the sufficiency of the authority of Scripture, Origen is affirming the formal sufficiency of Scripture.

Heading north from Egypt, we can turn to Firmilian, who naturally teaches the same doctrine on this point.

Firmilian, Bishop of Caesaria (c. 200-268):

But to what they allege and say on behalf of the heretics, that the apostle said, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached,” it is idle for us to reply; when it is manifest that the apostle, in his epistle wherein he said this, made mention neither of heretics nor of baptism of heretics, but spoke of brethren only, whether as perfidiously speaking in agreement with himself, or as persevering in sincere faith; nor is it needful to discuss this in a long argument, but it is sufficient to read the epistle itself, and to gather from the apostle himself what the apostle said.

ANF: Vol. V, The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 74 – To Cyprian, Against the Letter of Stephan 254 A.D., §20.

Obviously, the scope of Firmilian’s comment is related to a specific doctrinal issue, but it is evidence of his overall hermeneutic, in which it is not necessary to supplement the authority of Scripture with additional sources of authority – nor is it necessary to do more than read Scripture to determine the meaning of Scripture.

The following quotations are the two prefaces to Cyprian’s treatise XII, the first from Book I, the second from Book III. The remainder of the three book treatise is essentially just verbatim quotations from Scripture (excluding the chapter headings).

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

Cyprian to his son Quirinus, greeting. It was necessary, my beloved son, that I should obey your spiritual desire, which asked with most urgent petition for those divine teachings wherewith the Lord has condescended to teach and instruct us by the Holy Scriptures, that, being led away from the darkness of error, and enlightened by His pure and shining light, we may keep the way of life through the saving sacraments. And indeed, as you have asked, so has this discourse been arranged by me; and this treatise has been ordered in an abridged compendium, so that I should not scatter what was written in too diffuse an abundance, but, as far as my poor memory suggested, might collect all that was necessary in selected and connected heads, under which I may seem, not so much to have treated the subject, as to have afforded material for others to treat it. Moreover, to readers also, brevity of the same kind is of very great advantage, in that a treatise of too great length dissipates the understanding and perception of the reader, while a tenacious memory keeps that which is read in a more exact compendium. But I have comprised in my undertaking two books of equally moderate length: one wherein I have endeavoured to show that the Jews, according to what had before been foretold, had departed from God, and had lost God’s favour, which had been given them in past time, and had been promised them for the future; while the Christians had succeeded to their place, deserving well of the Lord by faith, and coming out of all nations and from the whole world. The second book likewise contains the sacrament of Christ, that He has come who was announced according to the Scriptures, and has done and perfected all those things whereby He was foretold as being able to be perceived and known. And these things may be of advantage to you meanwhile, as you read, for forming the first lineaments of your faith. More strength will be given you, and the intelligence of the heart will be effected more and more, as you examine more fully the Scriptures, old and new, and read through the complete volumes of the spiritual books. For now we have filled a small measure from the divine fountains, which in the meantime we would send to you. You will be able to drink more plentifully, and to be more abundantly satisfied, if you also will approach to drink together with us at the same springs of the divine fullness. I bid you, beloved son, always heartily farewell.

– Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise XII, Book 1, Preface, ANF5

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

Cyprian to his son Quirinus, greeting. Of your faith and devotion which you manifest to the Lord God, beloved son, you asked me to gather out for your instruction from the Holy Scriptures some heads bearing upon the religious teaching of our school; seeking for a succinct course of sacred reading, so that your mind, surrendered to God, might not be wearied with long or numerous volumes of books, but, instructed with a summary of heavenly precepts, might have a wholesome and large compendium for nourishing its memory. And because I owe you a plentiful and loving obedience, I have done what you wished. I have laboured for once, that you might not always labour. Therefore, as much as my small ability could embrace, I have collected certain precepts of the Lord, and divine teachings, which may be easy and useful to the readers, in that a few things digested into a short space are both quickly read through, and are frequently repeated. I bid you, beloved son, ever heartily farewell.

Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise XII, Book 3, Preface, ANF5

Notice the way that Cyprian views these Scriptures as sufficient in themselves to provide instruction, once they have been brought to the reader’s attention. He provides a compendium, yes, but he’s providing a list of verses – not a commentary on the verses.

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

These things were before declared to us, and predicted. But we, forgetful of the law and obedience required of us, have so acted by our sins, that while we despise the Lord’s commandments, we have come by severer remedies to the correction of our sin and probation of our faith. Nor indeed have we at last been converted to the fear of the Lord, so as to undergo patiently and courageously this our correction and divine proof. Immediately at the first words of the threatening foe, the greatest number of the brethren betrayed their faith, and were cast down, not by the onset of persecution, but cast themselves down by voluntary lapse. What unheard-of thing, I beg of you, what new thing had happened, that, as if on the occurrence of things unknown and unexpected, the obligation to Christ should be dissolved with headlong rashness? Have not prophets aforetime, and subsequently apostles, told of these things? Have not they, full of the Holy Spirit, predicted the afflictions of the righteous, and always the injuries of the heathens? Does not the sacred Scripture, which ever arms our faith and strengthens with a voice from heaven the servants of God, say, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve? ” [Deuteronomy 6:13] Does it not again show the anger of the divine indignation, and warn of the fear of punishment beforehand, when it says, “They worshipped them whom their fingers have made; and the mean man bows down, and the great man humbles himself, and I will forgive them not? ” [Isaiah 2:8-9] And again, God speaks, and says, “He that sacrifices unto any gods, save unto the Lord only, shall be destroyed.” [Exodus 22:20] In the Gospel also subsequently, the Lord, who instructs by His words and fulfils by His deeds, teaching what should be done, and doing whatever He had taught, did He not before admonish us of whatever is now done and shall be done? Did He not before ordain both for those who deny Him eternal punishments, and for those that confess Him saving rewards?

– Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 3, Section 7

I know that some of the Roman communion will be tempted to say that Cyprian’s words above simply reflect a high view of Scripture. They do reflect a high view of Scripture, of course, but they actually go so far as to describe the Scripture as teaching and to attribute to Scripture the very actions of arming our faith and strengthening it with a voice from heaven. I’m not sure it would be possible to have a higher view of Scripture than that.

From Carthage we can journey north to Rome, and slightly back in time. Hippolytus was born approximately in the middle between Tertullian and Origen, but obviously has a significant overlap with each, in terms of his lifespan.

Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236):

In this way, then, they choose to set forth these things, and they make use only of one class of passages; just in the same one-sided manner that Theodotus employed when he sought to prove that Christ was a mere man. But neither has the one party nor the other understood the matter rightly, as the Scriptures themselves confute their senselessness, and attest the truth. See, brethren, what a rash and audacious dogma they have introduced, when they say without shame, the Father is Himself Christ, Himself the Son, Himself was born, Himself suffered, Himself raised Himself. But it is not so. The Scriptures speak what is right; but Noetus is of a different mind from them. Yet, though Noetus does not understand the truth, the Scriptures are not at once to be repudiated. For who will not say that there is one God? Yet he will not on that account deny the economy (i.e., the number and disposition of persons in the Trinity). The proper way, therefore, to deal with the question is first of all to refute the interpretation put upon these passages by these men, and then to explain their real meaning. For it is right, in the first place, to expound the truth that the Father is one God, “of whom is every family,” “by whom are all things, of whom are all things, and we in Him.” Let us, as I said, see how he is confuted, and then let us set forth the truth. Now he quotes the words, “Egypt has laboured, and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans,” and so forth on to the words, “For Thou art the God of Israel, the Saviour.” And these words he cites without understanding what precedes them. For whenever they wish to attempt anything underhand, they mutilate the Scriptures. But let him quote the passage as a whole, and he will discover the reason kept in view in writing it.

ANF: Vol. V, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, §§3-4.

Notice, in the quotation above, that Hippolytus not only ascribes to the Scriptures themselves the power to confute heresy, but also explains that when one simply reads the passage of Scripture as a whole, the meaning becomes clear. Of course, he’s only applying this principle to this specific passage, but there is not something special about this passage or about the way he is writing that make us think that this is an isolated case.

Indeed, later in the same treatise, we find the following:

(c. 170-c. 236):

There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.

ANF: Vol. V, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, §9

Someone may wish to claim that the sola Scriptura reference at the beginning of the preceding quotation is just referring to material sufficiency. But it is not simply saying that Scriptures have everything we need to know – it is saying it is the one source. There are not, for Hippolytus, two sources (Scripture and Tradition) or three sources (Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium). And while someone might say that he is simply saying that there is a single source, but he’s not denying the need to have that single source opened by a non-source Magisterium, his comments about learning from none but Scripture, and especially his final comment about learning in the way in which God teaches them by the Scriptures should seal the matter.

Finally, we can turn back east to Archelaus from Caschar in Mesopotamia.

Archelaus (circa 277):

But now, what it is necessary for me to say on the subject of the inner and the outer man, may be expressed in the words of the Saviour to those who swallow a camel, and wear the outward garb of the hypocrite, begirt with blandishments and flatteries. It is to them that Jesus addresses Himself when He says: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of uncleanness. Or know you not, that He that made that which is without, made that which is within also? ” Now why did He speak of the cup and of the platter? Was He who uttered these words a glassworker, or a potter who made vessels of clay? Did He not speak most manifestly of the body and the soul? For the Pharisees truly looked to the “tithing of anise and cummin, and left undone the weightier matters of the law; ” and while devoting great care to the things which were external, they overlooked those which bore upon the salvation of the soul. For they also had respect to “greetings in the market-place,” and “to the uppermost seats at feasts:” and to them the Lord Jesus, knowing their perdition, made this declaration, that they attended to those things only which were without, and despised as strange things those which were within, and understood not that He who made the body made also the soul. And who is so unimpressible and stolid in intellect, as not to see that those sayings of our Lord may suffice him for all cases? Moreover, it is in perfect harmony with these sayings that Paul speaks, when he interprets to the following intent certain things written in the law: “You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the grain. Does God take care for oxen? Or says He it altogether for our sakes? ” But why should we waste further time upon this subject?

ANF: Vol. VI, The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes, §21.

Archelaus does go on to add some additional thoughts, but notice that he does speak as though he believes that the plain reading of Scripture, in harmony with itself, is sufficient. Thus, this final quotation (for this segment) is really more of an illustration of someone using the Scriptures as though they are formally sufficient, rather than an explicit teaching that they are formally sufficient.

(to be continued)


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 2)

January 10, 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 2)

The fact that obscure Scriptures are obscure and “need” (in some sense) clarification does not imply that the clear Scriptures are in similar need. After all, there are plenty of clear Scriptures.

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

Let us examine the Scriptures, and in them we will be able to understand this more clearly.

FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 38.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 191.

Bryan’s attempt to create a sort of recursive problem of Scripture being needed to interpret each new Scripture that is brought to bear on the subject is neither representative of reality nor representative of the position to which he’s allegedly responding.

However, let us continue with his argument as much as possible. Bryan continues:

Who holds interpretive authority in the determination of Scripture’s interpretation of Scripture? Someone must determine which verses are clearer than others, and which verses serve as the touchstone by which to interpret the others.


The idea that someone has to authoritatively say which parts of Scripture are clear seems rather absurd. Does someone have to authoritatively tell Bryan when it is sunny outside? Does he first go and check the weather report to see whether the meteorologists have declared the visibility today to be good? Perhaps he simply thinks it is a clear and sunny day, but there is actually a fog of darkness over the land? This sort of notion is farcical – it is absurd to suggest that Bryan would need such a thing. Scripture’s light is fairly comparable to that of the sun or of a bright lamp (Psalm 119:105 NUN. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. 2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:).

This is only reasonable, because the purpose of Scripture is so that we may believe what is written (John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.).

And again, we find that the fathers agree with us.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407), Commenting on v. 16 of Psalm 45:

Then, by way of describing their power and force and their glory, he says, You will appoint them rulers over all the earth. Surely this does not require interpretation? I for one think it does not, as the sun does not, either, being brillant; yet his words are even clearer.

– Chrysostom, Robert Charles Hill, trans., St John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, Psalm 45 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 283.

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

Therefore, amid the shadows of this life in which ‘we are absent from the Lord’ as long as ‘we walk by faith and not by sight,’ the Christian soul should consider itself desolate, and should not cease from praying and from attending with the eye of faith to the word of the divine and sacred Scriptures: ‘as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts.’

– Augustine, FC, Vol. 18, Saint Augustine Letters 83-130, Letter 130, To Proba (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), pp. 379-380.

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

Come, now, tell me how that passage (in the Epistle) to the Thessalonians — which, because of its clearness, I should suppose to have been written with a sunbeam — is understood by our heretics, who shun the light of Scripture: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” And as if this were not plain enough, it goes on to say: “And may your whole body, and soul, and spirit be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord.” Here you have the entire substance of man destined to salvation, and that at no other time than at the coming of the Lord, which is the key of the resurrection.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 47.

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

We have seen that the only-begotten Word who is equal to his begetter is called the light and that a human being illumined by the Word can also be called a light, or a lamp, as was the case with John and the apostles. We have seen too that none of these humans is the Word and that the Word by whom they were illumined is not a lamp. Well then, what is the word of which the psalm speaks, a word that can also be called a lamp? That is what the psalm says, Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light for my paths. We must surely understand it to be the word that came to the prophets and was preached by the apostles. It is not the Word who is Christ, but Christ’s word, concerning which scripture says, Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). The apostle Peter also compares the prophetic word to a lamp: We have the trusty message of the prophets to rely on, and you will do well to attend to it, for it is like a lamp burning in a dark place (2 Pt 1:19). Unquestionably, then, the word which the psalm means when it says, You word is a lamp for my feet, and a light for my paths, is the word contained in all the holy scriptures.

– 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 118.1 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2003), p. 451.

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-397):

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.

– Ambrose, William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 148.

The understanding both of the Reformed position and the early Christians was that common sense and the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit suffices to tell us, in many cases, when Scripture is speaking clearly about something. That does not mean that we are guaranteed always to get it right, or that we will sometimes think something clear is obscure or vice versa.

Justin Martyr (wrote after 151):

Then I continued, “I purpose to quote to you Scriptures, not that I am anxious to make merely an artful display of words; for I possess no such faculty, but God’s grace alone has been granted to me to the understanding of His Scriptures, of which grace I exhort all to become partakers freely and bounteously, in order that they may not, through want of it, incur condemnation in the judgment which God the Maker of all things shall hold through my Lord Jesus Christ.”

– Justin Martyr, ANF: Vol. I, Dialogue of Justin, Chapter LVIII.

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

And like reason in the soul, which is at one time the thought in the heart, and at another speech uttered by the tongue, so is the Holy Spirit, as when He “bears witness with our spirit,” [Romans 8:16] and when He “cries in our hearts, Abba, Father,” [Galatians 6:4] or when He speaks on our behalf, as it is said, “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of our Father which speaks in you.” [Matthew 10:20]

– Basil of Caesarea, Of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 26, Section 61

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

Besides, even if any should be so poor, it is in their power, by means of the continual reading of the holy Scriptures which takes place here, to be ignorant of nothing contained in them.

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John, Homily 11.1.

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

The learned teaching of our Lord strikes the Pharisees dumb with amazement, and they are filled with astonishment to find that Peter and John know the Law although they have not learned letters. For to these the Holy Ghost immediately suggested what comes to others by daily study and meditation; and, as it is written, [1 Thessalonians 4:9] they were “taught of God.”

– Jerome, Letter 53, Section 3

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

For it is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught of God.” Why have I said this, O Jews? The Father has not taught you; how can you know me? For all the men of that kingdom shall be taught of God, not learn from men. And though they do learn from men, yet what they understand is given them within, flashes within, is revealed within.

– Augustine, Tractate 26 on John (John 6:41-59), Section 7

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

Next, he suggests also the manner of the prayer. And what is this? “That He would open the ears of their hearts;” for they are as yet shut and stopped up. “Ears,” he says, not these which be outward, but those of the understanding, “so as to hear ‘the things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man.'” [1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 54:4] For they have not heard the untold mysteries; but they stand somewhere at a distance and far off from them; and even if they should hear, they know not what is said; for those [mysteries] need much understanding, not hearing only: and the inward ears as yet they have not: wherefore also he next invokes for them a Prophet’s gift, for the Prophet spoke on this wise; “God gives me the tongue of instruction, that I should know how to speak a word in season; for He opened my mouth; He gave to me betimes in the morning; He granted me a hearing ear.” [Isaiah 1:4. Septuagint] For as the Prophets heard otherwise than the many, so also do the faithful than the Catechumens. Hereby the Catechumen also is taught not to learn to hear these things of men, (for He says, Call no man master upon the earth), but from above, from heaven, “For they shall be all taught of God.” [Isaiah 54:13] Wherefore he says, “And instil into them the word of truth,” so that it may be inwardly learned ; for as yet they know not the word of truth as they ought to know. “That He would sow His fear in them.” But this is not enough; for “some fell by the wayside, and some upon the rock.” But we ask not thus; but as on rich soil the plough opens the furrows, so we pray it may be here also, that having the fallow ground of their minds tilled deep, they may receive what is dropped upon them and accurately retain everything they have heard. Whence also he adds, “And confirm His faith in their minds;” that is, that it may not lie on the surface, but strike its root deep downwards. “That He would unveil to them the Gospel of Righteousness.” He shows that the veil is two-fold, partly that the eyes of their understanding were shut, partly that the Gospel was hidden from them. Whence he said a little above, “that He would open the ears of their hearts,” and here, “that he would unveil unto them the Gospel of Righteousness;” that is, both that He would render them wise and apt for receiving seed, and that He would teach them and drop the seed into them; for though they should be apt, yet if God reveal not, this profits nothing; and if God should unveil but they receive not, there results like unprofitableness. Therefore we ask for both: that He would both open their hearts and unveil the Gospel. For neither if kingly ornaments lie underneath a veil, will it profit at all that the eyes be looking; nor yet that they be laid bare, if the eyes be not waking. But both will be granted, if first they themselves desire it. But what then is “the Gospel of Righteousness?” That which makes righteous. By these words he leads them to the desire of Baptism, showing that the Gospel is for the working not only of the remission of sins, but also of righteousness.

– Chrysostom, Homily 2 on 2 Corinthians, at 2 Corinthians 1:10-11, Section 7.

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

But that is the only authentic truth, unassailable, in which we are instructed by the Son of God. In the same way we say, that the drachma being one and the same, when given to the shipmaster, is called the fare; to the tax-gatherer, tax; to the landlord, rent; to the teacher, fees; to the seller, an earnest. And each, whether it be virtue or truth, called by the same name, is the cause of its own peculiar effect alone; and from the blending of them arises a happy life. For we are not made happy by names alone, when we say that a good life is happiness, and that the man who is adorned in his soul with virtue is happy. But if philosophy contributes remotely to the discovery of truth, by reaching, by diverse essays, after the knowledge which touches close on the truth, the knowledge possessed by us, it aids him who aims at grasping it, in accordance with the Word, to apprehend knowledge. But the Hellenic truth is distinct from that held by us (although it has got the same name), both in respect of extent of knowledge, certainly of demonstration, divine power, and the like. For we are taught of God, being instructed in the truly “sacred letters” by the Son of God.

– Clement of Alexandria, Book I, Chapter 20

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

“And ye have no need that any man teach you, because His unction teacheth you concerning all things.” Then to what purpose is it that “we,” my brethren, teach you? If “His unction teacheth you concerning all things,” it seems we labor without a cause. And what mean we, to cry out as we do? Let us leave you to His unction, and let His unction teach you. But this is putting the question only to myself: I put it also to that same apostle: let him deign to hear a babe that asks of him: to John himself I say, Had those the unction to whom thou wast speaking? Thou hast said, “His unction teacheth you concerning all things.” To what purpose hast thou written an Epistle like this? what teaching didst “thou “give them? what instruction? what edification? See here now, brethren, see a mighty mystery. The sound of our words strikes the ears, the Master is within. Do not suppose that any man learns ought from man. We can admonish by the sound of our voice; if there be not One within that shall teach, vain is the noise we make. Aye, brethren, have yea mind to know it? Have ye not all heard this present discourse? and yet how many will go from this place untaught! I, for my part, have spoken to all; but they to whom that Unction within speaketh not, they whom the Holy Ghost within teacheth not, those go back untaught. The teachings of the master from without are a sort of aids and admonitions. He that teacheth the hearts, hath His chair in heaven. Therefore saith He also Himself in the Gospel: “Call no man your master upon earth; One is your Master, even Christ.” Let Him therefore Himself speak to you within, when not one of mankind is there: for though there be some one at thy side, there is none in thine heart. Yet let there not be none in thine heart: let Christ be in thine heart: let His unction be in the heart, lest it be a heart thirsting in the wilderness, and having no fountains to be watered withal. There is then, I say, a Master within that teacheth: Christ teacheth; His inspiration teacheth. Where His inspiration and His unction is not, in vain do words make a noise from without. So are the words, brethren, which we speak from without, as is the husbandman to the tree: from without he worketh, applieth water and diligence of culture; let him from without apply what he will, does he form the apples? does he clothe the nakedness of the wood with a shady covering of leaves? does he do any thing like this from within? But whose doing is this? Hear the husbandman, the apostle: both see what we are, and hear the Master within: “I have planted, Apollos haft watered; but God gave the increase: neither he that planteth is any thing, neither he that watereth, but He that giveth the increase, even God.” This then we say to you: whether we plant, or whether we water, by speaking we are not any thing; but He that giveth the increase, even God: that is, “His unction which teacheth you concerning all things.”

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. VII, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Homily 3, 1 John 2:18-27, §13.

Bryan’s argument amounts to Pyrrhonism, deep skepticism. Bryan wants to suggest that we need someone to tell us when something is clear. We have enough common sense to realize that we can see when something is clear.

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

Moreover, a man of your talent and learning easily perceives how different from these metaphorical expressions is the statement of the apostle, “When I saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Galatians 2:14 Here there is no obscurity of figurative language; these are literal words of a plain statement.

– Augustine, Letter 180, Section 4

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

This is evidence enough from the prophetic Scriptures. I now appeal to the Gospels. . . . Besides, there is not a parable which you will not find to be either explained by the Lord Himself, as that of the sower, (which He interprets) of the management of the word of God; or else cleared by a preface from the writer of the Gospel, as in the parable of the arrogant judge and the importunate widow, which is expressly applied to earnestness in prayer; or capable of being spontaneously understood, as in the parable of the fig-tree, which was spared a while in hopes of improvement — an emblem of Jewish sterility. Now, if even parables obscure not the light of the gospel, how unlikely it is that plain sentences and declarations, which have an unmistakable meaning, should signify any other thing than their literal sense! But it is by such declarations and sentences that the Lord sets forth either the last judgment, or the kingdom, or the resurrection: “It shall be more tolerable,” He says, “for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.” And “Tell them that the kingdom of God is at hand.” And again, “It shall be recompensed to you at the resurrection of the just.” Now, if the mention of these events (I mean the judgment-day, and the kingdom of God, and the resurrection) has a plain and absolute sense, so that nothing about them can be pressed into an allegory, neither should those statements be forced into parables which describe the arrangement, and the process, and the experience of the kingdom of God, and of the judgment, and of the resurrection.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 33.

[to be cont’d in section 3]

Don’t Be Surprised if You Make Some Mistakes

September 22, 2009

Jerome wrote:

And if the ingenuity of perverse men finds something which they may plausibly censure in the writings even of evangelists and prophets, are you amazed if, in your books, especially in your exposition of passages in Scripture which are exceedingly difficult of interpretation, some things be found which are not perfectly correct?

– Jerome, (to Augustine) Letter 72 in Augustine’s Letters, Chapter 3 (Section 5 in the Latin)

Jerome is being something of a grouchy old man in this letter, but his points are important.

1. Perspicuity is About the Necessary Things

Not every passage of Scripture is equally clear, and we should not be surprised if sometimes our understanding of the relatively difficult parts is sometimes mistaken. The necessary things, however, are clear, as the early church recognized:

What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things.

– Chrysostom, Homily 3 on 2 Thessalonians, at 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10

2. What’s more, each of us has sin.

Jerome’s argument seems to be that wicked men intentionally twist even the simplest Scriptures. Thus, if we have some degree of sin in us, we should not be surprised that we may sometimes err in our interpretation of a difficult passage. Jerome’s comment reminds one immediately reminded of Peter’s warning:

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.

Incidentally, this verse explains the primary reason why we have so many varied interpretations of the Scriptures. Note that Peter does not simply say that the perverse men twist the difficult portions of Paul’s epistles, but “the other scriptures” as well. Yes, there are some difficult things in Paul’s epistles. And we should not be surprised if we sometimes ignorantly err with respect to their interpretation. Nevertheless, we ought to avoid the path of the unlearned and ungodly.

Athanasius provides us with an example of such men twisting the Scriptures:

But since those whose only pleasure is to gainsay what is said aright, or rather what is made by God, pervert even a saying in the Gospels, alleging that ‘not that which goes in defiles a man, but that which goes out [Matthew 15:11],’ we are obliged to make plain this unreasonableness,— for I cannot call it a question— of theirs. For firstly, like unstable persons, they wrest the Scriptures [2 Peter 3:16] to their own ignorance.

– Athanasius, Letter 48

Augustine provides us with another example:

“From Thy Temple in Jerusalem, to Thee kings shall offer presents” (ver. 29). Jerusalem, which is our free mother, [Gal. iv. 26.] because the same also is Thy holy Temple: from that Temple then, “to Thee kings shall offer presents.” Whatever kings be understood, whether kings of the earth, or whether those whom “He that is above the heavens distinguisheth over the dove silvered;” “to Thee kings shall offer presents.” And what presents are so acceptable [Oxf. mss. “more acceptable than.”] as the sacrifices of praise? But there is a noise against this praise, from men bearing the name of Christian, and having diverse opinions. Be there done that which followeth, “Rebuke Thou the beasts of the cane” [Or, “pen” (of cane), calami.] (ver. 30). For both beasts they are, since by not understanding they do hurt: and beasts of the cane they are, since the sense of the Scriptures they wrest according to their own misapprehension. For in the cane the Scriptures are as reasonably perceived, as language in tongue, according to the mode of expression whereby the Hebrew or the Greek or the Latin tongue is spoken of, or the like; that is to say, by the efficient cause the thing which is being effected is implied. Now it is usual in the Latin language for writing to be called style, because with the stilus it is done: so then cane also, because with a cane it is done. The Apostle Peter saith, that “men unlearned and unstable do wrest the Scriptures to their own proper destruction:” [2 Pet. iii. 16.] these are the beasts of the cane, whereof here is said, “Rebuke Thou the beasts of the cane.”

– Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 68 (Latin Psalm 67), at Psalm 68:29 (editor’s footnotes placed in brackets)

Clement of Alexandria too has some examples to provide. He states:

But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin. [A reference to the sickening and profane history of an apocryphal book, hereafter to be noted. But this language is most noteworthy as an absolute refutation of modern Mariolatry.]

Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth. “And she brought forth, and yet brought not forth,” [Tertullian, who treats of the above-mentioned topic, attributes these words to Ezekiel: but they are sought for in vain in Ezekiel, or in any other part of Scripture. [The words are not found in Ezekiel, but such was his understanding of Ezek. xliv. 2.]] says the Scripture; as having conceived of herself, and not from conjunction. Wherefore the Scriptures have conceived to Gnostics; but the heresies, not having learned them, dismissed them as not having conceived.

Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts. [2 Pet. iii. 16.] And the lover of truth, as I think, needs force of soul. For those who make the greatest attempts must fail in things of the highest importance; unless, receiving from the truth itself the rule of the truth, they cleave to the truth. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. [Nothing is Catholic dogma, according to our author, that is not proved by the Scriptures.]

– Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 16 (Editors’ footnotes placed in brackets – note that the “sickening and profane history of an apocryphal book” is a reference to the Protoevangelium of James)

Finally, for I would not wish to burden you with too many examples, we see something similar in Tertullian’s writings. Note well how he recognizes that this twisting of Scripture is not simply an unintended consequence of Scripture but one of the purposes God has for His Holy Word:

These were the ingenious arts of “spiritual wickednesses,” [See Eph. vi. 12, and 1 Cor. xi. 18.] wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have “to wrestle,” as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating [Instruendis.] errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. You see in our own day, composed out of Virgil, [Oehler reads “ex Vergilio,” although the Codex Agobard has “ex Virgilio.”] a story of a wholly different character, the subject-matter being arranged according to the verse, and the verse according to the subject-matter. In short, [Denique. [“Getica lyra.”]] Hosidius Geta has most completely pilfered his tragedy of Medea from Virgil. A near relative of my own, among some leisure productions [Otis.] of his pen, has composed out of the same poet The Table of Cebes. On the same principle, those poetasters are commonly called Homerocentones, “collectors of Homeric odds and ends,” who stitch into one piece, patchwork fashion, works of their own from the lines of Homer, out of many scraps put together from this passage and from that (in miscellaneous confusion). Now, unquestionably, the Divine Scriptures are more fruitful in resources of all kinds for this sort of facility. Nor do I risk contradiction in saying [Nec periclitor dicere. [Truly, a Tertullianic paradox; but compare 2 Pet. iii. 16. N.B. Scripture the test of heresy.]] that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God in such a manner as to furnish materials for heretics, inasmuch as I read that “there must be heresies,” [1 Cor. xi. 19.] which there cannot be without the Scriptures.

– Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 39 (editor’s footnotes placed in brackets)

To God then be the glory, for His Word that accomplishes exactly what He intended (Isaiah 55:11),


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