Archive for the ‘David King’ Category

The Jews Knew the Old Testament Canon – Guest Post by David King

June 8, 2010

(the following is a guest post by my friend, David King)

One frequent myth often propounded by those who prefer a 4th century Greek canon of the Old Testament (OT) to the Hebrew canon of the OT is the idea that the first century Jews did not know the canon of OT Scripture. The Scriptures abundantly discredit this myth.

Our Lord’s own words (Matt. 21:42; 22:29; 26:54; Mk. 12:10, 24; 14:49; Lk. 4:21; Jn. 5:39; 7:38; 10:35; 13:18; 17:12; ), as well as those of his apostles (Matt. 26:56; Mk. 15:28; Lk. 24:27, 32, 45; Jn 2:22; 7:42; 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 8:32, 35; 17:2, 11; 18:24, 28; Rom. 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-4 Gal. 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim. 4:18; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Jam. 2:8, 23; 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:6; 2 Pet. 1:20; 3:16), presuppose a recognized OT canon in their day.

Moreover, the Apostle Paul informs us implicitly that the canon of the OT was bequeathed to the NT Church from the OT Church (Rom. 3:2). Many of the early church fathers themselves affirm this to be the case. In other words, if an epistemological crisis concerning an OT canon existed in the time of Christ and His apostles, not only do their own words reveal nothing of it, but the same actually presuppose its identity.

To the contrary, would not such a claim of epistemic uncertainty strip the Jewish people of all responsibility whom our Lord engaged with His indictments of their faithlessness in the face of the testimony of Holy Scripture otherwise (Jn 5:39, Matt. 12:3ff; 19:4; 22:31; Mk. 12:26)? Do not his words presuppose their culpability for not knowing the Scriptures (Matt. 22:29)?

In short, even the apostolic church itself was never without a functioning canon (e.g., Acts 17:2, 11; 18:24, 28; 24:14). Thus, the OT canon of Holy Scripture was commonly recognized in their day, without the aid of any authoritative, conciliar declaration. When then should we entertain the alleged need for such in our day, when already in the time of the apostles themselves the NT canon was being recognized (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18 and 2 Pet. 3:16) apart from the same? How does the alleged apologetic against this revealed state of affairs avoid the charge of what amounts to a self-serving agenda of special pleading?

Again, what is being called into question is not simply the sufficiency of Scripture, but the sufficiency of God Himself to reveal and make Himself known in Holy Scripture.

It seems rather difficult to avoid the conclusion posited by Warfield:

The early churches, in short, received, as we receive, into their New Testament all the books historically evinced to them as given by the apostles to the churches as their code of law; and we must not mistake the historical evidences of the slow circulation and authentication of these books over the widely-extended church, for evidence of slowness of “canonization” of books by the authority or the taste of the church itself.

B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, reprinted 1970), p. 416.

Ratzinger, Material Sufficiency? (by David King)

June 2, 2010

(The following is a guest post by my friend, Pastor David King)

Cardinal, now Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, while commenting on the documents of Vatican II (article nine of Dei verbum), stated that “no one is seriously able to maintain that there is a proof in Scripture for every catholic doctrine.” See Joseph Ratzinger’s “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), Vol. 3, p. 195.

When I quoted this some time ago (here), Mr. Waltz commented: “As for David’s isolated quote, he [Ratzinger] was dealing with interpretation (formal sufficiency) and not simply material sufficiency. David King clearly misspoke; but you know, everyone makes mistakes, and the bulk of his work/s should be judged on their OVERALL merit and content.” (link – that page seems to have been removed – here’s a cached page containing the quotation)

What I suspected then, concerning Ratzinger’s inconsistency on the question of material sufficiency, is now cleared up (I think) in the work, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, God’s Word, Scripture—Tradition—Office, Peter Hünermann and Thomas Söding, eds., Henry Taylor, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005). Some of this material has been reworked from an earlier publication, namely, Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger, Revelation and Tradition (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966).

Now, to be sure, I have always thought that our Roman disputants are themselves inconsistent on their affirmation of the material sufficiency of Scripture. But I think this later work by the man who is now Pope makes it clear that he does not affirm material sufficiency in any positive sense, and I did not (as Mr. Waltz charged) misspeak on this issue. I would encourage any Roman disputants to remain calm, at least until they’ve read the extended quote below.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:

Geiselmann starts from a new interpretation of the Council of Trent’s decrees about the nature of tradition. Trent had established that the truth of the gospel was contained in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus. That was (and is to this day) interpreted as meaning that Scripture does not contain the whole veritas evangelii [truth of the gospel] and that no sola scriptura principle is therefore possible, since part of the truth of revelation reaches us only through tradition. Geiselmann took up the point, already made by others, that the first draft of the text provided the formulation that truth is contained “partim in libris scriptis partim in sine scripto traditionibus”. Here, then, the doctrine of a division of truth into two sources (Scripture and tradition) was clearly articulated. The Council renounced the use of partim—partim, however, and contented itself with the simple conjunction et. Geiselman concludes from this that they had turned away from the idea of a division of truth into two separate sources, or had at least not explicitly defined it. And he further concludes that consequently even a Catholic theologian can argue the material sufficiency of Scripture and can also, as a Catholic, hold the opinion that Holy Scripture transmits a material sola scriptura thoroughly acceptable even for a Catholic—indeed, he believes he can show that this has much the stronger tradition in its favor and that the Council of Trent, likewise, intended to point us in this direction.

It is easy to understand how such a thesis could count on widespread agreement in view of the quite new opportunities for contact between Catholic and Evangelical Christians that it seemed to open up. [Here Ratzinger offers a footnote concerning how he and H. Fries, in another work, gave a survey of everyone who agreed in principle with Geiselmann] I hold it to be quite indisputable that it does indeed represent appreciable progress in objective terms. Nonetheless, as soon as one analyzes it somewhat more closely with respect to both its historical and its factual basis, a whole series of questionable points emerge that make it impossible to stop at that. In the second section, we will attempt a few remarks on the historical side of the problem; meanwhile, we turn directly to the problems of the subject itself, and any investigation of this will probably first of all produce the question: What does “the sufficiency of Scripture” actually mean? Even Geiselmann, as a Catholic theologian, cannot get beyond having to hold fast to Catholic dogmas, and none of them can be obtained by means of sola scriptura—not the early Christian dogmas of the former quinquesaecularis consensus, and still less the new ones of 1854 and 1950. What kind of meaning does talk about “the sufficiency of Scripture” still have, then? Does it not threaten to become a dangerous self-deception, with which we deceive ourselves, first of all, and then others (or perhaps do not in fact deceive them!)? In order to go on maintaining that Scripture contains all revealed truth, on one hand, and, on the other, to maintain that the 1950 dogma [which I pressed on Mr. Waltz repeatedly] is a revealed truth, we would have at least to take refuge in a notion of “sufficiency” so broadly conceived that the word “sufficiency” would lose any serious meaning.

This, however, opens up the second and really decisive question: In concerning ourselves with the idea of the “sufficiency” of Scripture, have we grasped the real problem involved in the concept of tradition at all, or are we lingering over a relatively superficial symptom of an issue that in itself lies much deeper? The introductory reflections from which we started should have made it clear that the answer to this question must clearly be Yes. The question of the sufficiency of Scripture is only a secondary problem within the framework of the far more fundamental decision that we glimpsed a little while ago in the concepts of abusus and auctoritas, and that thus concerns the relationship between the authority of the Church and the authority of Holy Scripture; everything else depends on how we understand that.

To make further progress, it will therefore be necessary to deepen our approach, not being preoccupied with such superficial implications as the sufficiency or insufficiency of Scripture, but presenting as a whole the overall problem of the mode of presence of the revealed word among the faithful. Then we can see that we have to reach beyond the positive sources of Scripture and tradition, to their inner source: the revelation, the living word of God, from which Scripture and tradition both spring and without which neither can be grasped in the importance they have for faith. The question of “Scripture and tradition” remains insoluble so long as it is not expanded to a question of “revelation and tradition” and thereby inserted into the larger context in which it belongs. In what follows, therefore, I should like to unfold the concept of tradition in a positive sense, on the basis of its inner impulse, in thesis form, without going into the details of possible arguments. I do this in the hope that some part of an answer to the Reformers’ question may be found in it and that the whole may thus prove to be a part of a conversation, the necessity of which is being recognized with increasing clarity on both sides.

See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, God’s Word, Scripture—Tradition—Office, Peter Hünermann and Thomas Söding, eds., Henry Taylor, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), pp. 48-51.

As he indicated, Ratzinger proceeds to offer another “thesis” than that of Geiselmann and others. Two things are clear, he does not affirm the material sufficiency of Scripture in any positive sense; and if his language is to be understood at all, he thinks that such a formulation misses the bigger point of what he calls “revelation and tradition.”

Joseph Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI) and David T. King

March 4, 2010

I’m not sure Pastor King will be entirely pleased by comparison, but it is interesting to note that Joseph Ratzinger has confirmed something that Pastor King has been saying for a long time.

Ratzinger writes:

We are fairly certain today that, while the Fathers were not Roman Catholic as the thirteenth or nineteenth century would have understood the term, they were, nonetheless, “Catholic”, and their Catholicism extended to the very canon of the New Testament itself.

– Benedict XVI (then Joseph Ratzinger), Principles of Catholic theology: building stones for a fundamental theology (2:1:D), p. 141 (English edition, 1987 – Originally published in German in 1982)(see more context here)

Pastor King has said:

We, as Protestants, are very content to let the ECFs be what they were. But it is the Roman apologist who, on the contrary, must read back into the ECFs the notions of modern day Rome and papal primacy that were never recognized by the eastern church. Again, for all this insistence on the ECFs being “catholic” I am in great agreement!


What is also interesting is that Ratzinger’s comment stands opposed to lay Roman apologists who claim things like “The Church Fathers Were Catholic” (meaning, of course, “Roman Catholic”) (Dave Armstrong, who has a book by that title, comes to mind, though he is not alone in making this sort of ignorant assertion).

Ratzinger goes on, of course, to insist that “only one side can consider them its own Fathers” but the admission that Ratzinger has made exposes one of the central weaknesses to much of the patristically-directed Roman apologetic effort in the English-speaking world today. We can agree with Ratzinger that the Fathers were “catholic” as that term is properly understood, and we can also agree with him that they would not be considered “Roman Catholic” by modern (or even medieval) standards. We too willingly acknowledge that the Fathers were not distinctly “Protestant” – they were who they were, often differing in significant ways from one another. As Pastor King explained it, we “are very content to let the [early church fathers] be what they were.”

These facts ought, however, to point us to the need for an even earlier source of authority – the written Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. By such an established authority we can evaluate the claims of apostolicity of the various competing claimants to the catholic and apostolic faith.

– TurretinFan

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

The Recent Squirm of Mr. Marshall (by Pastor King)

February 4, 2010

(Post by Pastor David T. King)

Mr. Marshall’s having suddenly “bumped into a zinger” from the language of Augustine in De doctrina Christiana (Book I, 39, 34) indicates to us his own unfamiliarity with this ancient African theologian, especially in terms of the development of Augustine’s mature convictions regarding the necessity of Holy Scripture. A. D. R. Polman, who has written at length on Augustine’s view of Scripture, and how it developed, commented…

St. Augustine has discussed the necessity of Scripture on many occasions, and his discussions are an excellent illustration of what we have called his first and second stages. In the first stage he held that Scripture is needed constantly by the uneducated masses, but temporarily by the spiritual elite. In the second stage, however, he emphasized the need for Scripture of all believers on their pilgrimage. God’s Word has become a kind of bond with God, in which He has deliberately set down His promises to all generations, so that all mortals can read them and keep them (See Enarr. In Ps. 144, 17). This necessity is, however, restricted to mortal life. In the new heaven and on the new earth, God’s people will no longer need any writings, for here faith will have become the direct contemplation of the Divine Countenance. [FN1]

The passage from Augustine referenced by Polman is as follows…

Augustine (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. [FN2]

Other Romanists have likewise sought to exploit this passage from Augustine for apologetic “zingers,” such as G. Van Noort in his Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 115. While ignoring a plethora of passages from many ECFs, who emphasized repeatedly the need for Christians to read Holy Scripture (minimizing, for example, this emphasis found in Chrysostom), Van Noort “cherry-picked” the same passage from Augustine (which Mr. Marshall himself has “bumped into” in recent days) and attempted to represent Augustine’s view in a manner as to suggest that this ancient witness agrees with the modern day Romanist’s emphasis against the necessity of reading Holy Scripture. Roman Catholic Theologians such as Van Noort held Bible Societies in contempt, noting that, historically speaking, this has been the standard posture of the Roman Catholic Church: “It is hardly necessary to point out that Protestant Bible Societies have been condemned over and over again by the [Roman] Church in no uncertain terms.” [FN3] Examples can be found in the encyclicals of various popes, who refer to the translation and publishing work of Bible Societies (Whose efforts it has been to disseminate the Scriptures in the vernacular of the people) as “a pernicious plan,” “wickedness,” and thus “condemned.” [FN4] Having reflected on the history of the Roman Church’s interaction with the Latin Vulgate, the late patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan noted,

That twentieth-century affirmation of the prime authority of “the original texts of the sacred books” by Pope Pius XII [Divino afflante Spiritu] and then by the Second Vatican Council [Dei Verbum 6.22] may be seen as an ultimate vindication, more than four centuries later, of the sacred philology of the Renaissance and the Reformation. For although the humanists did urge that the corruptions of the Vulgate text, which had occurred through its transmission from one medieval copyist to another, made the production of a critical edition of the Latin text mandatory, their chief criticism was directed against the inadequacies, indeed the inaccuracies, of the Vulgate as such, which no collation of Latin manuscripts, however thorough, could be expected to set straight. [FN5]

But if this isolated reference of Augustine proves anything, as suggested by Van Noort (and now in recent days by Mr. Marshall), it proves too much. For if this indeed reflects the mature thought of Augustine, namely that these three virtues are all one needs, it would likewise, strictly speaking, effectively rule out the necessity of ‘unwritten traditions,’ any creed but ‘faith, hope, and love’ (which themselves have been normed by none other than Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. 13:13), as well as the Roman magisterium and the pope himself. Indeed, these three virtues would suffice for people out in the desert to the exclusion of the Church, her ministry of the sacraments, and the King of the Church himself, the Lord Jesus Christ! Augustine never intended his words to be construed with such a meaning, and especially with respect to his mature view of Holy Scripture. Thus the meaning which Mr. Marshall suggests to have gleaned from Augustine can by the same logic be pressed into service to misrepresent him in other ways, as demonstrated above. So, we cannot help but wonder if this consideration likewise registers “a zinger that [causes] even his own [Romanist] soul to squirm.”

FN1 A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God according to St. Augustine (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), p. 74.

FN2 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, Exposition of Psalm 144.17 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), pp. 393-394.

FN3 G. Van Noort, S.T.D., Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 119. See also Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed., trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 25-26, which indicates that Bible Societies were still under official Catholic proscription as late as 1977.

FN4 See the following papal encyclicals: Pius VII’s epistle Magno et acerbo, Leo XII’s Ubi primum, and Gregory XVI’s Inter praecipuas in Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, pp. 398-401, 409-410. Interestingly enough, Leo II repeats the prohibition of Trent against the distribution of Bibles in the common vernacular of the people in his encyclical Ubi primum. In his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism (p. 45), Keating is very misleading with respect to history when he suggests that “The Church had no complaint about mere translations of the Bible . . .” Certainly the Council of Trent was of another mind, as was Pius VII.

FN5 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Reformation of the Bible/The Bible of the Reformation, p. 15. The pertinent section in Dei Verbum 6.22 reads: “But since the Word of God must be readily available at all times, the Church, with motherly concern, sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. If it should happen that, when the opportunity presents itself and the authorities of the Church agree, these translations are made in a joint effort with the separated brethren, they may be used by all Christians.” See Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar And Post Conciliar Documents (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Vol. 1, p. 763.

As noted above, this post is by Pastor David T. King. This is part one of a two-part series in response to Mr. Marshall. The other part (by TurretinFan) will be posted, Lord Willing, tomorrow.

Pastor King Responds to Taylor Marshall Again

January 11, 2010

Pastor David King had previously posted a response to Taylor Marshall (link to response). The response covered a variety of issues, including centrally the papacy. Taylor Marshall has set forth his counter-arguments here (link to Taylor Marshall’s response).

The following is Pastor David King’s reply.

There is further proof that militates against the claims of Taylor Marshall regarding the clergy of the Roman church, of which Clement was a member. Here is the evidence of: (1) the work of Peter Lampe and (2) the witness of a member of the Roman church around the mid-second century, whom the early church document designates as Hermas.

Peter Lampe:

It was useful to assign to someone in Rome the work connected with eternal communication. Hermas knows such a person by the name of Clement. In The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3, Hermas prepares two copies of his small book and sends (πέμπω, within the city) one of them to Clement, who forwards it “to the cities outside, for he is entrusted with that task” (πέμψει Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται).

It is important to note that Hermas’s “minister of external affairs” is not a monarchical bishop. In the second next sentence, Hermas describes how he circulates his little book within the city. He makes it known “to this city together with the presbyters who preside over the church” (εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας). A plurality of presbyters leads Roman Christianity. This Christianity, conscious of spiritual fellowship with the city, is summed up under the concept “ecclesia,” but that changes nothing in regard to the plurality of those presiding over it. In Vis. 3.9.7, Hermas also calls them προηγούμενοι or πρωτοκαθεδρίται.

See Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) p. 398.

In their introduction, the editor (or editors) of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, state with respect to The Shepherd of Hermas that

when read on its own terms, it stands as an important witness to the state of Christianity in Rome in the mid-second century. Expressing a Jewish-Christian theological perspective by means of imagery, analogies, and parallels drawn from Roman society and culture, the Shepherd reflects the efforts of its author(s) to deal with questions and issues—for example, postbaptismal sin and repentance, and the behavior of the rich and their relationship to the poor within the church—of great significance and concern to him and that part of the Christian community in Rome to which he belonged.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, eds. And trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd Edition, The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3 (Grand Rapids: Babke Book House, 1992), p. 329.


Therefore you will write two little books, and you will send one to Clement and one to Grapte. Then Clement will send it to the cities abroad, because that is his job. But Grapte will instruct the widows and orphans. But you yourself will read it to this city, along with the elders (i.e., presbyters, πρεσβυτέρων) who preside over the church.

See J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, eds. And trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd Edition, The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3 (Grand Rapids: Babke Book House, 1992), pp. 345-347.

Greek text:

Γράψεις οὖν δύο βιβλαρίδια καὶ πέμψεις ἓν Κλήμεντι καὶ ἓν Γραπτῇ. πέμψει οὖν Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται. Γραπτὴ δὲ νουθετήσει τὰς χήρας καὶ τοὺς ὀρφανούς. σὺ δὲ ἀναγνώσῃ εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας.

Sancti Hermae Pastor, Liber I, Visio II, Caput IV, §3, PG 2:900.

Mr. Marshall’s contention for the term “high priest” being a synonymous designation for a monarchical bishop over the Roman Church in the time of Clement is asserted over and against the repeated reference, throughout this epistle, to the plurality of presbyters/bishops who together ruled over this congregation. And if the later witness of Hermas (in the mid-second century) tells us anything, it tells us in explicit terms that the Roman church was governed by the elders/presbyters (πρεσβυτέρων) whom he said “preside over the church.” Given his assertion that “Presbyterian polity is unbiblical,” he would have to confess that the Roman church, as Hermas described it, was “unbiblical.”

Pastor David King Responds to Taylor Marshall

January 9, 2010

The following is a response from David King to Taylor Marshall’s comments on the earlier Erasmus thread (link to Mr. Marshall’s comments). I’ve made only minor edits to what Pastor King and Mr. Marshall wrote. I’ve also added some editorial footnotes both to Mr. Marshall’s comments and to Pastor King’s comments.

Jesuits and Roman Unity

Mr. Marshall wrote: Mr. King, Contemporary Jesuits tend to be the most subversive religious order within the Catholic Church – known from their dissent. Many are rather “Protestant” [FN1] – so don’t take this random Jesuit quote as indicative of Catholic tradition.

David King Responds: Then I guess that the Roman magisterium doesn’t really live up to all you folks make it out to be. Where is the ecclesiastical discipline for these, the “most subversive religious order” within the Roman communion? The fact that Schatz’s observation of early church history disagrees with yours doesn’t make him wrong. As a Jesuit he does hold orders in your communion, while you hold no official position among the clergy. What makes your censure of Mr. Schatz any more than that of a private judgment? It is interesting how members of the Roman communion cry out against the exercise of all private judgment if they think a Protestant has engaged in such, while they reserve it for themselves against their own clergy.

Clement of Rome and Early Christian Views of Rome

Mr. Marshall wrote: Then you provide a quote reads: “If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no.” (Schatz quote)
This can’t be right. Let’s look at what actually Christians from this period said and wrote about the Church of Rome.

Pope [FN2] Clement of Rome (ca. 89-96) wrote: “The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth … But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.” Clement of Rome 1,59:1

David King Responds: Yes, let’s do look at it, in context. In the first place, this is a rather anachronistic designation which you have assigned to Clement. There is absolutely no historical evidence to support your designation of him as “pope.” This tradition is without support because the office of the monarchical bishop, as it later came to exist, is no where present in Rome at this time. Leadership in Rome as this time had, according to 1 Clement 44:1-6 had been entrusted not to one, but a plurality of bishops, also known as presbyters. The very assertion of this claim that Clement was a “pope” is clearly based upon nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of Romanists.[FN3] This letter was composed by the Church of God at Rome to correct the behavior of the Corinthians, the majority of whom were responsible for removing their ecclesiastical leaders for no just cause.

This piecemeal quotation you’ve put together, which connects the beginning of the letter to the 59th chapter of this epistle is clearly not the result of your own study, but something you’ve lifted from a Roman apologetic web site. This is a prime example of the kind of misrepresentation of which you’ve accused me. The Church at Rome is simply pointing out to the Corinthians that they have trampled on the rights of their duly appointed elders. This is far from claiming some papal or Roman primacy over the Church at Corinth, whose members were in rebellion, not against Rome, but their own clergy.

As I indicated, you have cherry-picked this piece-meal quote which can be found in this form at a number of Roman apologetic web sites. The presupposition behind this proffered piece-meal citation is ludicrous, and fraught with anachronistic wishful thinking. In Chapter 57, 1 Clement instructs the Corinthians to “submit to [their] presbyters and accept discipline leading to repentance.” The admonition of 1 Clement refers this letter as “our advice [notice the plurality] and you will have nothing to regret.” (1 Clement 58)

This letter is giving biblical instruction to the congregants at Corinth to correct them. You haven’t demonstrated to me that you are even familiar with the intent of the letter. Clement appears to be acting as the secretary of the presbyters at Rome in the sending of this pastoral letter. This is nothing here that offers any proof for a papal or Roman primacy of jurisdiction. They urge the Corinthians saying:

But if certain people should disobey what has been said by him [i.e., Jesus Christ, whose commands they have been citing to the Corinthians] through us [notice again the plurality, not papacy], let them understand that they will, entangle themselves in no small sin and danger. We, however, will be innocent of this sin, and will ask, with earnest prayer and supplication, that the Creator of the universe may keep intact the specified number of his elect throughout the whole world, through his beloved servant Jesus Christ, through whom he called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to the knowledge of the glory of his name.

(1 Clement 59)

The misrepresentation here belongs to you, Mr. Marshall. You would be well served to invest some time in meaningful research, instead of offering some piecemeal quotation like this one from some Roman web site, or Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma.

We learn from the early church father Jerome who confesses the obvious from Scripture in his commentary on Titus, that in the beginning the churches were governed by a common council of presbyters, and that bishops were appointed to be above presbyters by custom rather than divine appointment!

Jerome (347-420):

A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop, and before dissensions were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and it was said among the peoples, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas,’ Churches were governed by a common council of presbyters; afterwards, when everyone thought that those whom he had baptised were his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed over the rest, and to whom all care of the Church should belong, that the seeds of schisms might be plucked up. Whosoever thinks that there is no proof from Scripture, but that this is my opinion, that a presbyter and bishop are the same, and that one is a title of age, the other of office, let him read the words of the apostle to the Philippians, saying, ‘Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.’

Latin text:

Idem est ergo presbyter qui et episcopus, et antequam diaboli instinctu, studia in religione fierent, et diceretur in populis: Ego sum Pauli, ego Apollo, ego autem Cephae, communi presbyterorum consilio, Ecclesiae gubernabantur. Postquam vero unusquisque eos quos baptizaverat suos putabat esse, non Christi, in toto orbe decretum est, ut unus de presbyteris electus superponeretur caeteris, ad quem omnis Ecclesiae cura pertineret, et schismatum semina tollerentur. Putet aliquis non Scripturarum, sed nostram esse sententiam, episcopum et presbyterum unum esse, et aliud aetatis, aliud esse nomen officii: relegat Apostoli ad Philippenses verba dicentis: Paulus et Timothaeus servi Jesu Christi, omnibus sanctis in Christo Jesu, qui sunt Philippis, cum episcopis et diaconis, gratia vobis et pax, et reliqua.

Citation: Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:562-563. English translation from John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.

Jerome (347-420):

Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person. Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained.

Latin text:

Haec propterea, ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos: paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem sollicitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex Ecclesiae consuetudine ei qui sibi praepositus fuerit, esse subjectos: ita episcopi noverint se magis consuetudine, quam dispositionis Dominicae veritate, presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere Ecclesiam regere, imitantes Moysen, qui cum haberet in potestate solum praeesse populo Israel, septuaginta elegit, cum quibus populum judicaret. Videamus igitur qualis presbyter, sive episcopus ordinandus sit.

Citation: Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563. Translation from John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.

Thus, this whole business of the Roman primacy and/or the papacy is something unknown to Holy Scripture, but has been obtruded upon the Church of Jesus Christ by the communion of Rome.


Mr. Marshall continues:

Irenaeus (ca 180) also wrote: “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church (i.e. the Church of Rome), on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:3:2

David King Responds: How are we to understand the words of Irenaeus here? I’m content to defer to the explanation offered by J. N. D. Kelly. He states, while commenting on this passage from Irenaeus that

This interpretation [i.e., the one implied by Mr. Marshall], or some variant of it, has been accepted by many, but it is awkward to refer in qua to hanc … ecclesiam, and anachronistic to attribute such thinking to Irenaeus. Hence it seems more plausible to take in qua with omnem … ecclesiam, and to understand Irenaeus as suggesting that the Roman church supplies an ideal illustration because, ‘in view of its preeminent authority’ based on its foundation by both Peter and Paul, its antiquity and so on, every church—or perhaps the whole church—in which the apostolic tradition has been preserved must as a matter of course agree with it. There is therefore no allusion to the later Petrine claims of the Roman see.

See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, 1960), p. 193.

But, even if we did permit the meaning you suggest implicitly, Irenaeus does not speak for the church universal with respect to the primacy of Rome or its pope. And to be sure, the eastern churches never recognized, let alone acknowledged, Roman and/or papal primacy.

Victor I

Mr. Marshall insists: Also, Pope Victor 1 (pope from AD 189–199) presumed to excommunicate all the churches of Asia Minor and most people of that day (including those in Asia Minor) were worried about it. This confirms that most Christians did believe that the bishop of Rome DID in fact have such juridical power.

David King Responds: Confirms it? It’s very difficult to believe that you would actually offer Pope Victor 1, the bishop of Rome, and this particular instance, as representative of the views of the church universal at this time. First of all, the vaunted prejudice of any bishop of Rome ought not to be accepted as an example for proof of the contemporary belief of the universal church. The fact that he decided to jump into a dogfight with the Christians of Asia Minor over the date of Easter proves nothing. And yes, the fact that he presumed to tell the churches in Asia Minor what to do didn’t mean squat to them. In fact, their refusal to acquiesce to his pompous demands is proof in the pudding that they didn’t recognize any such notion of Roman primacy. Eusebius informs us that

Victor, who presided over the church at Rome [notice the church at Rome, not the world], immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.9-10.

You mean to tell me that Victor’s attempt to censure all of Christendom in Asia Minor under the threat of excommunication, when all of them opposed his jurisdiction, that this proves that the universal church of that day understood and embraced Roman and/or papal primacy? Please tell me that you’re really joking here, and that you really aren’t serious? Even Irenaeus, whom you referenced above, was busy in this particular controversy exhorting Victor to make peace with the churches of Asia Minor. Eusebius informs us that

Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom … .

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.11.

If Irenaeus really supported the Roman bishop’s juridical primacy and authority over the universal church, then pray tell me why he was instructing Victor to back off! The whole notion that Victor’s attempt to pontificate to the churches of Asia Minor proves papal primacy, is about the most ludicrous example one could possibly imagine, and which blows up in one’s face historically.

Mr. Marshall wrote: All written sources indicate that the Church of Rome was held as first and supreme.

David King Responds: No, not all. There’s a book in the Bible which we Protestants know as the Acts of the Apostles, and it informs us that the first church in which all the apostles gathered was in Jerusalem, that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Act 11:26), and that this church, under the leadership of James, the Apostles, and Presbyters, were the first to send out “decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). Now, I understand that you dear Romanists don’t sweat that Bible stuff, but we Protestants do. :)

[FN1] One is reminded of the recent accusations against Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S. (link).

[FN2] Mr. Marshall designates him as “pope,” although this is incorrect, as Pastor King notes later in the post.

[FN3] As Pastor King has explained elsewhere (link) his use of the term Romanist is not intended to be derogatory, but merely descriptive – although we are aware that some Roman Catholics object to this designation.

Is Sola Scriptura a Protestant Concoction?

January 6, 2010

Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s lecture by the above title is now available thanks to the transcription by Pastor David King and the editing of James Anderson (link). Thanks to for bringing this to my attention.

Only Infallible Authority We Have – Not Only Authority

December 8, 2009

David at Pious Fabrications, an Eastern Orthodox blog, has assigned himself an interesting project. He’s going to, well, in his words: “What I’m going to try to do here is to actually look at that individual [church father], their life and writings as a whole, and really, finally answer the question: did he believe in the authority of Scripture alone?” (link to source)

I think it’s important to clarify to David that the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura is not the view that the Scriptures are the only authority, but rather that they are the only infallible authority that we have. That’s an important distinction, because we assign real (albeit subordinate) authority to the elders in the church, as well as persuasive authority to the teachings and explanations of our fellow believers.

I realize that David may sincerely believe that “Protestants” simply “proof-text” from the fathers (he writes: “What I’m going to attempt not to do is just do the inverse of what Protestants do; I’m not going to simply proof-text and quote mine for sentences which support Tradition, although we will look at those in the process.”), but actually the folks he highlights (James White and William Webster) are quite willing to let the fathers be the fathers. If the fathers hold to sola scriptura, great! If not, that’s fine too. We believe that men are fallible, and we recognize that even godly men make mistakes. So we don’t feel compelled to find fathers who are copies of ourselves.

I look forward to David’s exploration of the fathers, but if David has read Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of the Faith, by David King and William Webster, he knows he has a long row to hoe.


Pastor King Responds to Bryan Cross’ Misuse of Jerome

November 16, 2009

The following guest post from Pastor David King, is in response to Bryan Cross’ remarks (#166) on the blog entry, “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

Cross’ misuse of Jerome…

“Jerome in Context: A Case Study Surrounding Epistle 15 with respect to the Roman Claims about interpretive authority”

It is an unending object of amazement to behold what is at best, ignorance, if not the worst, arrogance, of the misuse that the Early Church Fathers receive in the hands of Roman apologists. Our Roman opponents are accustomed to shout “out of context” immediately at the faintest citation of any patristic witness whose words appear to be at odds with the modern day views of the Roman communion, whether they have actually investigated the context of any such citation or not. One would verily be led to believe by such statements that such members of the Roman communion possess the attribute of omniscience when it comes to the context of every quote that stands in contrast to their present day claims. Time and time again patristic citations are met with counter citations, as Cross’ example demonstrates, which amount to an overt double-standard on the part of Roman apologists. I, for one, am willing to grant, in this case, the benefit of the doubt as to motives, and simply underscore the reality that this example serves to prove, as a case in point, the common ignorance that prevails among Roman controversialists in their enthusiasm to offer anything that even has, as it were, the appearance of providing a few stitches as an attempt to cover the birthday suit of the emperor. There is, then, this tendency to read back into the statements of the Early Church Fathers (ECFs) a certain meaning that one wants to see, regardless of whether that perceived meaning can stand the test of historical examination and scrutiny. This is a specific example of reading back into Jerome a modern day view of the papacy which was unknown to him. It will be helpful to consider something of the background of this letter, as well as some of the things which Jerome addresses in it.

First of all, this letter was written roughly in the winter of 376 or 377 A.D. from the desert area of Chalcis ad Belum “on the confines between northern Syria and the region west of the Euphrates.”[FN1] If we are to accept the usual date offered for his birth (347 A.D.), he couldn’t have been more than 29 or 30 years of age. However, Kelly argues strongly in favor of the date Prosper suggests as 331 A.D.,[FN2] which, if accepted, would place his age at this time around 45 or 46 years of age. He had probably been baptized sometime prior to the year 366 before Damasus became the bishop of Rome, or else as Kelly argues “it is inconceivable that he should not have mentioned the fact when he proudly reminded the pope that he had been baptized in Rome” because it was the bishop who normally administered baptism.[FN3] Thus, writing from a foreign location to the church of his present communion, it is only natural that Jerome should seek the counsel of his pastor concerning the three factions of Christians in the city of Antioch. The fact that he proudly employs the flowery language of consulting “the chair of Peter…the successor of the fisherman” is perfectly understandable because it is the church of his present communion and from which he received “the garb of Christ,” which as Kelly notes might possibly be a reference to the “white garment” with which the new newly baptized are clothed following the sacrament.[FN4] Rather than appealing to some notion of universal jurisdiction, Jerome is simply seeking the counsel of his home communion and the advice of his pastor whom he knows and trusts. Taken at its worst, we would have to conclude that Jerome’s expressions are far from that of a catholic spirit, for he excludes from his fellowship (at this time) all three of the rival bishops of Antioch, when he declares “I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist,” having declared Rome to be “the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten.”[FN5] Such a spirit is decisively sectarian and uncatholic, especially in the light of the fact that Meletius whom he brushed off in his rejection as one of “those Arians”[FN6] who was advocating the ‘three hypostases’ doctrine in an attempt to explain the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity. It was none other than Meletius who only some five or six years later was elected to preside over the Council of Constantinople, and who stood decisively opposed to the Arian heresy. Kelly states of Jerome that;

It was sheer prejudice, or deliberate perversity, to dismiss the adherents of the ‘three hypostases’ doctrine as Arians. They were just as much opposed to Arianism, with its subordination of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Son and its denial of divinity to both, as he was.[FN7]

At any rate, Damasus failed to respond to this letter (Letter 15) of Jerome, which in turn precipitated a second letter (Letter 16) to Damasus, which as far as we know suffered the same fate of no response.[FN8] Suffice it to say, because of the prestige which the Church of Rome enjoyed in many locations in both the west and the east, Jerome was appealing to his home pastor for counsel and advice, with these many expressions of pride for the communion of his baptism.

In the broader ecclesiastical picture, though unbeknown to Jerome at the writing of Letters 15 and 16, Paulinus was the only one which Rome acknowledged as the true bishop of Antioch. Strangely enough, it was Meletius’ claim to the chair of Antioch that was supported by the greatest majority of the eastern church. It was he who enjoyed the support of the great Cappadocian Father, Basil of Caesarea, and it was at Meletius’ hand that John Chrysostom received his baptism and his ordination to the diaconate. And it was at the hand of Flavian (the successor of Meletius) that John Chrysostom received ordination to the priesthood.

Letter 15
To Pope Damasus

This letter, written in 376 or 377 A.D., illustrates Jerome’s attitude towards the see of Rome at this time held by Damasus, afterwards his warm friend and admirer. Referring to Rome as the scene of his own baptism and as a church where the true faith has remained unimpaired , and laying down the strict doctrine of salvation only within the pale of the church , Jerome asks “the successor of the fisherman” two questions, viz.: who is the true bishop of the three claimants of the see of Antioch, and which is the correct terminology, to speak of three “hypostases” in the Godhead, or of one? On the latter question he expresses fully his own opinion.

1. Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, “woven from the top throughout,” since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover “the sealed fountain” and “the garden inclosed,” I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for “the pearl of great price.” “Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold; but here the seed corn is choked in the furrows and nothing grows but darnel or oats. In the West the Sun of righteousness is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven, has once more set his throne above the stars. “Ye are the light of the world,” “ye are the salt of the earth,” ye are “vessels of gold and of silver.” Here are vessels of wood or of earth, which wait for the rod of iron, and eternal fire.

2. Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.

3. Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses, are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases. And this, too, after the definition of Nicaea and the decree of Alexandria, in which the West has joined. Where, I should like to know, are the apostles of these doctrines? Where is their Paul, their new doctor of the Gentiles? I ask them what three hypostases are supposed to mean. They reply three persons subsisting. I rejoin that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning, they demand the term. Surely some secret venom lurks in the words. “If any man refuse,” I cry, “to acknowledge three hypostases in the sense of three things hypostatized, that is three persons subsisting, let him be anathema.” Yet, because I do not learn their words, I am counted a heretic. “But, if any one, understanding by hypostasis essence, deny that in the three persons there is one hypostasis, he has no part in Christ.” Because this is my confession I, like you, am branded with the stigma of Sabellianism.

4. If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all. In the whole range of secular learning hypostasis never means anything but essence. And can any one, I ask, be so profane as to speak of three essences or substances in the Godhead? There is one nature of God and one only; and this, and this alone, truly is. For absolute being is derived from no other source but is all its own. All things besides, that is all things created, although they appear to be, are not. For there was a time when they were not, and that which once was not may again cease to be. God alone who is eternal, that is to say, who has no beginning, really deserves to be called an essence. Therefore also He says to Moses from the bush, “I am that I am,” and Moses says of Him, “I am hath sent me.” As the angels, the sky, the earth, the seas, all existed at the time, it must have been as the absolute being that God claimed for himself that name of essence, which apparently was common to all. But because His nature alone is perfect, and because in the three persons there subsists but one Godhead, which truly is and is one nature; whosoever in the name of religion declares that there are in the Godhead three elements, three hypostases, that is, or essences, is striving really to predicate three natures of God. And if this is true, why are we severed by walls from Arius, when in dishonesty we are one with him? Let Ursicinus be made the colleague of your blessedness; let Auxentius be associated with Ambrose. But may the faith of Rome never come to such a pass! May the devout hearts of your people never be infected with such unholy doctrines! Let us be satisfied to speak of one substance and of three subsisting persons — perfect, equal, coeternal. Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three. It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. Or, if you think it right that I should speak of three hypostases, explaining what I mean by them, I am ready to submit. But, believe me, there is poison hidden under their honey; the angel of Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light. They give a plausible explanation of the term hypostasis; yet when I profess to hold it in the same sense they count me a heretic. Why are they so tenacious of a word? Why do they shelter themselves under ambiguous language? If their belief corresponds to their explanation of it, I do not condemn them for keeping it. On the other hand, if my belief corresponds to their expressed opinions, they should allow me to set forth their meaning in my own words.

5. I implore your blessedness, therefore, by the crucified Savior of the world, and by the consubstantial trinity, to authorize me by letter either to use or to refuse this formula of three hypostases. And test the obscurity of my present abode may baffle the bearers of your letter, I pray you to address it to Evagrius, the presbyter, with whom you are well acquainted. I beg you also to signify with whom I am to communicate at Antioch. Not, I hope, with the Campenses; for they — with their allies the heretics of Tarsus — only desire communion with you to preach with greater authority their traditional doctrine of three hypostases.

Letter 16
To Pope Damasus

This letter, written a few months after the preceding, is another appeal to Damasus to solve the writer’s doubts. Jerome once more refers to his baptism at Rome, and declares that his one answer to the factions at Antioch is, “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Written from the desert in the year 377 or 378.

1. By her importunity the widow in the gospel at last gained a hearing, and by the same means one friend induced another to give him bread at midnight, when his door was shut and his servants were in bed. The publican’s prayers overcame God, although God is invincible. Nineveh was saved by its tears from the impending ruin caused by its sin. To what end, you ask, these far-fetched references? To this end, I make answer; that you in your greatness should look upon me in my littleness; that you, the rich shepherd, should not despise me, the ailing sheep. Christ Himself brought the robber from the cross to paradise, and, to show that repentance is never too late, He turned a murderer’s death into a martyrdom. Gladly does Christ embrace the prodigal son when he returns to Him; and, leaving the ninety and nine, the good shepherd carries home on His shoulders the one poor sheep that is left. From a persecutor Paul becomes a preacher. His bodily eyes are blinded to clear the eyes of his soul, and he who once haled Christ’s servants in chains before the council of the Jews, lives afterwards to glory in the bonds of Christ.

2. As I have already written to you, I, who have received Christ’s garb in Rome, am now detained in the waste that borders Syria. No sentence of banishment, however, has been passed upon me; the punishment which I am undergoing is self-inflicted. But, as the heathen poet says:

They change not mind but sky who cross the sea.

The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria, and I will pray for you that you may sit in judgment enthroned with the twelve; that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another, and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. Do not despise a soul for which Christ died.

What Roman disputants cannot appreciate about this letter (letter 15) of Jerome is that he writes as a theological novice, as he later describes himself during this period of his life in the prologue of his commentary on Obadiah (PL 25:1098). In Letter 15, as well as Letter 16 (which was his 2nd attempt to get Damasus to respond to him, with Letter 15 having gone unanswered), he makes mention in both letters of the three rival bishops of Antioch, “I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.”

With a true sectarian spirit, Jerome writes off all three of these rival bishops as being of “Antichrist.” Jerome makes the same youthful mistake of judgment that any of us are liable to make. After all, unknown to Jerome at this time, Damasus recognized Paulinus as the true “catholic” bishop of Antioch. And Meletius (and this is where it becomes comical when dealing with misguided Roman apologists) whom Jerome rejects in this letter, and regards as one of “those Arians” because Meletius and others (most notably Basil of Caesarea) were using the language of “three hypostases” (which, by the way, was orthodox language) to describe the relationship of the persons in the Trinity. It is because this language is new to the ears of Jerome, that he dismisses it as “Arian,” all the while informing his pastor Damasus that if he chooses to accept it, so will he! As Kelly points out concerning this language of Jerome, “It was sheer prejudice, or deliberate perversity, to dismiss the adherents of the ‘three hypostases’ doctrine as Arians. They were just as much opposed to Arianism, with its subordination of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to the Son and its denial of divinity to both, as he was.” See J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 54.

But what becomes even more damaging to the Roman paradigm of the alleged papal primacy and “catholic unity” in that day, is that while pope Damasus recognized Paulinus as the true bishop of Antioch, Basil of Caesarea (no small ecclesiastic of the east) and John Chrysostom recognized Meletius as the true bishop of Antioch, from whose hands Chrysostom was baptized and ordained to the diaconate! The third claimant to the throne of Antioch, who is mentioned by Jerome, Vitalis, fell into the error of Apollinarius.

Jerome isn’t appealing to “the teacher of all Christians” who had the ultimate authority to adjudicate between the rival bishops. He was appealing to the pastor of his own communion in the western see where he had been baptized! Moreover, no one in the east had any notion of the papal primacy of jurisdiction. Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, in supporting Meletius as the rightful bishop of Antioch, certainly held no notions of papal primacy, such as Leo XIII’s Satis cognitum (and now Bryan Cross) attempts to read back into this letter of Jerome. After all, according to the standard of Leo XIII’s Satis cognitum, Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom were “outside the edifice,” “separated from the fold,” and “exiled from the kingdom,” for the simple reason that neither of them joined Damasus in recognizing Paulinus as the rightful occupant of the Antiochene see! They “knew nothing (As Edward Denny points out in his helpful work, Papalism, p. 347) of the Papal Monarchy as an integral part of the Divine Constitution of the Church necessary to its very existence.”

This is why I regard “Romanists” by this title. After all, there is no greater “anti-Catholic” spirit than that of a Romanist who maintains that communion with Rome constitutes the necessary requirement to be in the true Church of Jesus Christ. What can be more sectarian (as it was in Basil and Chrysostom’s day) than this kind of party spirit!

We, as Protestants, are very content to let the ECFs be what they were. But it is the Roman apologist who, on the contrary, must read back into the ECFs the notions of modern day Rome and papal primacy that were never recognized by the eastern church. Again, for all this insistence on the ECFs being “catholic” I am in great agreement! But the true “anti-Catholic” title belongs to those who argue for the exclusive claims of Rome.

Bryan Cross’ typical misuse of this letter of Jerome (in the comment section of his blog) is a classic example of why the claims of the Roman communion cannot be taken seriously from an historical perspective, much less a theological one.

So, then, Jerome isn’t even addressing the question of the authoritative interpretation of Scripture, but rather the question of ecclesial alignment. I recommend highly Edward Denny’s treatment of this very instance in his book Papalism, pp. 285ff. [Available at], where he demonstrates very clearly how Leo XIII (and now Bryan Cross) have misused this citation of Jerome as though it supports proof for papal primacy and the interpretive jurisdiction of Rome.


P.S. As to interpretive authority, Jerome’s own writings are full of statements like the following 3 examples…

Jerome (347-420) says toward the end of his commentary on Habbakkuk: And thus have I briefly delivered to you my opinion; but if any one produce that which is more exact and true, take his exposition rather than mine. John Daillé, A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856), p. 229.

Latin text: Haec a me breviter dicta sunt. Si quis autem his sagaciora et veriora repererit, illius magis explanationi praebete consensum. Commentaria in Abacuc, Liber Secundus, PL 25:1332.

Jerome (347-420) says at the close of his commentary on the 2nd chapter of Zephaniah: We have now done our utmost endeavour, in giving an allegorical exposition of the text; but if any other can bring that which is more probable and agreeable to reason than that which we have delivered, let the reader be guided by his authority rather than by ours. John Daillé, A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856), pp. 229-230.

Latin text: Haec diximus, ut potuimus interpretationi allegoricae servientes. Si quis autem magis verisimilia, et habentia rationem quam a nobis sunt disserta repererit, illius magis lector auctoritate ducatur. Commentariorum In Sophoniam Prophetam, PL 25:1372.

Jerome (347-420) says again elsewhere: This we have written according to the utmost of our poor ability, and have given a short sketch of the divers opinions, both of our own men and of the Jews; yet if any man can give me a better and truer account of these things, I shall be very ready to embrace them. John Daillé, A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856), p. 230.

Latin text: Haec ut quivimus, et ut vires ingenioli nostri ferre potuerunt, locuti sumus, et Hebraeorum et nostrorum varias opiniones breviter perstringentes, si quis melius immo verius dixerit, et nos libenter melioribus acquiescimus. Commentariorum In Zachariam Prophetam, PL 25:1446-1447.


1. J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 46.

2. Ibid., pp. 1f., 337-339.

3. Ibid., p. 23.

4. Ibid.

5. Letter 15, §2.

6. Letter 15, §3, and Letter 16, §2, where he wrote “For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: ‘He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.’ Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood.”

7. J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies, p. 54.

8. Ibid.

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