Archive for the ‘Formal Sufficiency’ Category

An Aside to the Formal Sufficiency Series – Partim-Partim Sufficiency?

October 30, 2010

Pastor King brought to my attention the writings of my favorite Reformed theologian, the real Francis Turretin, on the topic of formal sufficiency. Well, the topic that comes the closest to that particular issue, since – of course – Turretin does not use the phrase “formal sufficiency.”

Turretin poses the sixteenth question of the second topic this way:

Do the Scriptures so perfectly contain all things necessary to salvation that there is no need of unwritten (agraphois) traditions after it? We affirm against the papists.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), II.xvi, p. 134.

This section of Turretin deals with what he calls the “perfection” of Scripture, which is closely tied to the issue perspicuity. He addresses perspicuity in the seventeenth question, thus:

Are the Scriptures so perspicuous in things necessary to salvation that they can be understood by believers without the external help of oral (agraphou) tradition or ecclesiastical authority? We affirm against the papists.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), II.xvii, p. 134.

Notice the careful wording of both questions. Turretin is not saying that there is no place for other aids. For example, in the 6th point under the 17th question, Turretin states:

The question does not concern the perspicuity which does not exclude the means necessary for interpretation (i.e., the internal light of the Spirit, attention of mind, the voice and ministry of the church, sermons and commentaries, prayer and watchfulness). For we hold these means not only to be useful, but also necessary ordinarily. We only wish to proscribe the darkness which would prevent the people from reading the Scriptures as hurtful and perilous and compel them to have recourse to tradition when they might rest in the Scriptures alone.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), II.xvii.vi, p. 144.

In the course of his discussion, however, Turretin pointed out some Roman counter-positions:

In order to clear themselves of the charge of attributing insufficiency to the Scriptures in this way, some of them distinguish between explicit and an implicit sufficiency (as Stapleton and Serarius) or mediate and an immediate (as Perronius). And they confess that the Scripture is not indeed sufficient immediately and explicitly, but yet it can be called so mediately and implicitly because it refers to the church and to tradition what is not contained in itself.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), II.xvi.xi, p. 136.

In my view (though I do not claim to speak for Pastor King here), Turretin is here dealing with a kind of partim-partim sufficiency view. In other words, at least some of the Roman opponents of Turretin were saying that Scripture’s sufficiency came through pointing readers to the church and tradition. That particular sense of sufficiency isn’t quite the same as Yves Congar’s material sufficiency, but it’s also certainly not the Reformed view.

Turretin provided an excellent response to this partim-partim sufficiency view:

A false distinction is made by Perronius between mediate and immediate sufficiency, so that the Scriptures may be called sufficient not in the second but in the first sense because they refer us to the church to supply their defects. This would imply a true insufficiency in the Scriptures, for by appealing to the church as having that sufficiency, it would declare its own insufficiency. (2) Then the law might be called perfect for salvation because it refers us to Christ in whom is salvation. (3) The Scriptures do not refer us to the church that she may propose new doctrines, but explain and apply the truths already contained in them. Nor ought the reply to be made here that we hold mediate sufficiency when we maintain that the Scriptures (if not expressly, at least by consequence) contain all things necessary to salvation. When the Scriptures teach anything by consequence, they do not refer us to another for instruction, but give forth from themselves what was virtually latent. Nor can the simile adduced by Perronius of credential letters (literarum credentiae, which are called sufficient although they do not contain all the instructions given to the ambassador) apply here. The Scriptures are not only a credential letter, but also the edict of a king, containing so fully all the things to be believed and done that nothing can be added.

The perfection of Scripture asserted by us does not exclude either the ecclesiastical ministry (established by God for the setting forth and application of the word) or the internal power of the Holy Spirit necessary for conversion. It only excludes the necessity of another rule for external direction added to the Scriptures to make them perfect. A rule is not therefore imperfect because it requires the hand of the architect for its application.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), II.xvi.xxvii-xxviii, pp. 140-141.

Rome has not definitely answered the martial sufficiency vs. the partim-partim view, although seemingly virtually all the Tridentine fathers held to a partim-partim view and virtually all modern Roman apologists hold to a material sufficiency view.

– TurretinFan

Formal Sufficiency of Scripture: The Testimony of Scripture (Guest Series)

October 29, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

In the introduction (link), we began with some of the testimony of Scripture regarding its own sufficiency. In this section, although our Roman challenger has not requested it, we will discuss what the Bible has to say about its own sufficiency. Formal sufficiency, as understood by the Reformed churches and set forth in the introduction, is an attribute of Holy Scripture that it predicates of itself:

Deuteronomy 30:11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.

2 Corinthians 1:13 For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;

God’s word is written for the investigation of all:

John 5:39 (NKJV) “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

God’s inscripturated word is written for the explicit purpose of communicating faith, endurance, hope, consolation, teaching, and to keep us from deception, and that we may persevere…

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.

Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

1 John 2:26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.

1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

And we are encouraged to pray to God to lead us to the truth and light:

Psalm 25:5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Psalm 43:3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.

That light is God’s word:

Psalm 19:8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.

Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:

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 1:19-21
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: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

And the Spirit illuminates us not only by shining the light of His Word on us, but also by opening our eyes to see it:

Psalm 119:18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

Ephesians 1:15-18
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints …

Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Isaiah 42:7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

Psalm 146:8 The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:

Isaiah 29:18 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.

As hinted at in those last few verses, this inward illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary, because men have become blind:

2 Corinthians 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

Romans 11:7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded

John 12:40 He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

From these passages, we can see that the purpose of Scripture is that it be read and understood, and we can see that although a full and saving understanding of Scriptures may elude fallen men who wander about in blindness, with the Spirit’s healing of that blindness, the light of Scripture can illuminate men, making wise unto salvation even those who are intellectually unsophisticated. We also see that men are exhorted and encouraged to resort to the Scriptures to judge teachers.

(to be continued)

Formal Sufficiency of Scripture: Introduction (Guest Series)

October 28, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

The Scriptures are the Word of God. Their purpose, among other things, is to bring people who read them to a saving knowledge of God – to bring them to faith in God and repentance from sin.

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.

They accomplish this purpose, as it is written:

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Scripture, the fathers, and the Reformers all agree that the Scriptures are able to thoroughly furnish the man of God:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Indeed, the Scriptures themselves illuminate the reader:

Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

And the Scriptures are capable of educating even those who lack mental sophistication:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

This sufficiency of Scripture is hard to deny. Nevertheless, those who follow Rome sometimes try to affirm what they term “material sufficiency,” while denying what they call “formal sufficiency.”

These terms, as such, are not terms that are especially ancient. For example, one does not find a theologian like Thornwell, Dabney, or even Hodge talking about the “formal sufficiency of Scripture.” That’s just not the way they expressed themselves.

Whether the exact expression “formal sufficiency” is an invention of Roman theologians is hard to say for sure. Nevertheless, one influential theologian that brought in the term to distinguish the Roman position from the reformed position was the Roman cardinal Yves Congar.

Congar explained what he meant this way:

Personally, I find no difficulty, and not a little joy, in discovering there the positive affirmation that Scripture contains, at least in the form of suggestion or principle, the entire treasury of truths which it is necessary to believe in order to be saved (provided there is an adequate presentation of the Gospel message).

To say that, in the sense in which the Fathers and the medieval theologians held it, does not in any way amount to a profession of the principle of Scriptura sola demanded by the Reformers. They were reacting against a sovereignty of the Church’s power, more precisely of the papal power, over the word of God contained in Scripture, a sovereignty which they considered exorbitant, as indeed it would have been if in fact it had corresponded to the image they had formulated of it. It was with the intention of restoring the sovereignty of God alone that they presented that of Scripture as exclusive. In order to do this effectively, they affirmed the sufficiency of this Scripture, not uniquely in a material sense, that is to say as the object quod creditur, but in a formal sense, that is to say as the means whereby we know, the constitutive light by which we understand, the principle of the rule of faith, in short, using scholastic terminology, as the object quo. Not only was the whole of faith contained in Scripture, but the Christian, benefiting from the interior witness of the Holy Spirit, could find it there.

Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), pp. 116-117.(bold emphasis added).

In another place Congar provides a similar definition:

The doctrine that has just been presented is that of all the Fathers of the Catholic tradition, as much in the East as the West. It denied in the Protestant theory of the sufficiency of Scripture, expounded systematically in the Protestant Orthodoxy of the beginning of the seventeenth century. According to this theory, Scripture possesses by itself and in itself, that is, without needing the addition of any other principle, the qualities of a real sacrament of salvation, or rather of saving faith. It possesses authority, making it recognized and developing it unaided; it possesses efficacy, being the principle—and for some the sole—means of Grace; it contains all that is necessary for the Christian; it is clear, explaining itself without help and needing nothing besides itself to make known God’s thoughts.

Yves Congar, The Meaning of Tradition (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1964), pp. 87-88. (bold emphasis added)

While we may disagree with Congar’s view of the fathers, and while we may feel that some further distinctions and explanations are necessary to help explain the difference between the Reformed and Roman positions, Congar’s position provides a helpful illustration of the contemporary Roman position – and its view of the Reformed position.

Yves Congar was a cardinal, but Sean Patrick is a layman of the same church. Sean recently challenged Pastor King to discuss the fathers and sola scriptura, particularly the issue of whether any church fathers held to the formal sufficiency of Scripture.

Sean worded his challenge this way:

Not one father taught the formal sufficiency of scripture. Full stop. If you disagree here is your chance. Tell me which fathers taught the formal sufficiency of scripture. … By the way, can you name one church history scholar . . . who conclude[s] that any father taught that scripture was formally sufficient?

(source)

Subsequently, while waiting for this challenge to be met, Sean posted a blog article of his own. In his blog article, Sean wrote:

… for scripture to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all that is needed for salvation, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it (e.g. the church is not needed to interpret scripture.)

(source)

You may notice that in the comments above, we had observed that Cardinal Congar’s view might need a little refinement – Sean’s needs a lot of careful qualification. It’s not so much that he’s headed in the completely wrong direction, but his statement “the church is not needed to interpret scripture” is sufficiently vague that it can be easily misunderstood.

There is always a concern in this sort of challenge that the Roman advocate will define the meaning of material and formal sufficiency from his own perspective, and in doing so will essentially be asking us to advocate something we don’t actually advocate. Now, to be sure, scholars can and do often differ, but the challenge is simply to name one father and one church history scholar. Nevertheless, he may move the target of “one” by either dismissing all of the ensuing witnesses, and/or insisting on more (i.e., others) in addition to these which we shall list.

In the same comment box with the challenge Sean also provided his definition:

Formal Sufficiency and Material Sufficiency:

For Scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain or imply all that is needed for salvation. For it to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all of this data, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it.

Now please tell me which fathers taught that scripture was formally sufficient.

(source)

Of course, we do not let others decide for us what we mean when we affirm that Holy Scripture is formally sufficient. It is important to understand what the Reformed mean and thus believe with respect to the formal sufficiency of Holy Scripture. We define formal sufficiency in the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

(From Chapter 1 of the WCF)

Thus, we differ from Sean’s assertion regarding the meaning of formal sufficiency, because he fails to include in his definition the necessity of the work of the Spirit of God, apart from which no man is ever converted to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is presupposed by all members of the early church *who* affirm the principle of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture with respect to those things necessary for the salvation of men. We should note, however, that Congar – at least sometimes – is more careful.

The formal sufficiency of Holy Scripture, as set forth by the Westminster Confession (although the Westminster confession does not use the expression “formal sufficiency”), defines it in the context of the need for “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God,” that “all things necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word,” that “a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them, and that “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself. The 17th century Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin, explains further how the concept of formal sufficiency (the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity) is to be understood…

Francis Turretin (1623-87):

As to the state of the question, observe: (1) The question does not concern the perspicuity or the obscurity of the subject or of persons. For we do not deny that the Scriptures are obscure to unbelievers and the unrenewed, to whom Paul says his gospel is hid (2 Cor. 4:3). Also we hold that the Spirit of illumination is necessary to make them intelligible to believers. Rather the question concerns the obscurity or perspicuity of the object or of the Scriptures (i.e., whether they are so obscure that the believer cannot apprehend them for salvation without the authority and judgment of the church—which we deny).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 2.XVII.ii, p. 143.

Francis Turretin (1623-87):

The question is not whether things essential to salvation are everywhere in the Scriptures perspicuously revealed. We acknowledge that there are some things hard to be understood (δυσνόητα) and intended by God to exercise our attention and mental powers. The question is whether things essential to salvation are anywhere revealed, at least so that the believer can by close meditation ascertain their truth (because nothing can be drawn out of the more obscure passages which may not be found elsewhere in the plainest terms).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 2.XVII.v, p. 144.

Francis Turretin (1623-87):

The question does not concern the perspicuity which does not exclude the means necessary for interpretation (i.e., the internal light of the Spirit, attention of mind, the voice and ministry of the church, sermons and commentaries, prayer and watchfulness). For we hold these means not only to be useful, but also necessary ordinarily. We only wish to proscribe the darkness which would prevent the people from reading the Scriptures as hurtful and perilous and compel them to have recourse to tradition when they might rest in the Scriptures alone.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 2.XVII.vi, p. 144.

Francis Turretin (1623-87):

The question then comes to this—whether the Scriptures are so plain in things essential to salvation (not as to the things delivered, but as to the mode of delivery; not as to the subject, but the object) that without the external aid of tradition or the infallible judgment of the church, they may be read and understood profitably by believers. The papists deny this; we affirm it.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Vol. 1 (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 2.XVII.vii, p. 144.

Bauckham offers the following summary.

Richard Bauckham:

The notion of the formal sufficiency of Scripture does not, of course, mean that Scripture requires no interpretation at all—a notion which anti-Protestant writers have frequently and easily refuted, thus missing the real point—but that it requires no normative interpretation. Protestant interpretation of Scripture employed all the ordinary means of interpreting a text, especially the tools which humanist scholarship had developed for interpreting ancient texts, and respected the views of theologians and exegetes of the past as useful, but not normative, guides to understanding Scripture. The real difference between the classic Protestant and the classic Roman Catholic views lies in the Protestant rejection of the view that tradition, expressed in the teaching of the magisterium, possesses a binding authority against which there can be no appeal to Scripture. Behind this difference lies, on the one hand, the Reformation’s originating experience of a rediscovery of the Gospel in Scripture apart from and in contradiction to the teaching of the contemporary church, and, on the other hand, the Roman Catholic trust in God’s promise to maintain his church in the truth.

See Richard Bauckham’s chapter, “Tradition In Relation To Scripture and Reason,” in Benjamin Drewery and Richard J. Bauckham, eds., Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, A Study in the Criteria of Christian Doctrine, Essays in Honour of Richard P. C. Hanson (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), p. 123.

Or as Bavinck has expressed it…

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921):

The doctrine of the perspicuity of Holy Scripture has frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented, both by Protestants and Catholics. It does not mean that the matters and subjects with which Scripture deals are not mysteries that far exceed the reach of the human intellect. Nor does it assert that Scripture is clear in all its parts, so that no scientific exegesis is needed, or that, also in its doctrine of salvation, Scripture is plain and clear to every person without distinction. It means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation. While that reader may not understand the “how” (πῶς) of it, the “that” (ὅτι) is clear.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, Prolegomena (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 477.

We may also add that the Westminster Confession of Faith is not the only Reformed confession to make this kind of claim. The Belgic Confession states:

Article 5: The Authority of Scripture

We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.

And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them– not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.

For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.

Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says– ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.

Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.

For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.

Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, “Test the spirits to see if they are of God,” and also, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house.”

Article 30: The Government of the Church

We believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up the council of the church.

By this means true religion is preserved; true doctrine is able to take its course; and evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check, so that also the poor and all the afflicted may be helped and comforted according to their need.

By this means everything will be done well and in good order in the church, when such persons are elected who are faithful and are chosen according to the rule that Paul gave to Timothy.

Perhaps the great theologian John Owen sums it up well:

Protestants suppose the Scripture to be given forth by God, to be unto the church a perfect rule of that faith and obedience, which he requires at the hands of the sons of men. They suppose that it is such a revelation of his mind or will, as is intelligible unto all them that are concerned to know it, if they use the means by him appointed to come unto a right understanding of it. They suppose that what is not taught therein, or not taught so clearly, as that men who humbly and heartily seek unto him, may know his mind therein, as to what he requireth of them, cannot possibly be the necessary and indispensable duty of any one to perform. They suppose that it is the duty of every man to search the Scriptures with all diligence, by the help and assistance of the means that God hath appointed in his church, to come to the knowledge of his mind and will in all things concerning their faith and obedience, and firmly to believe and adhere unto what they find revealed by him. And they moreover suppose that those who deny any of these suppositions, are therein, and so far as they do so, injurious to the grace, wisdom, love, and care of God towards his church, to the honour and perfection of the Scripture, the comfort and establishment of the souls of men, leaving them no assured principles to build their faith and salvation upon.

Now from these suppositions, I hope you see that it will unavoidably follow, that the Scripture is able every way to effect that, which you deny unto it a sufficiency for. For where, I pray you, lies its defect? I am afraid, from the next part of your question, ‘Has it ever done it?’ that you run upon a great mistake. The defect that follows the failings and miscarriages of men, you would have imputed unto the want of sufficiency in the Scripture. But we cannot allow you herein.

The Scripture in its place, and in that kind of cause which it is, is as sufficient to settle men, all men, in the truth, as the sun is to give light to all men to see by: but the sun that giveth light doth not give eyes also. The Scripture doth its work, as a moral rule, which men are not necessitated or compelled to attend unto or follow. And if through their neglect of it, or not attendance unto it, or disability to discern the mind and will of God in it, whether proceeding from their natural impotency and blindness in their lapsed condition, or some evil habit of mind contracted by their giving admission unto corrupt prejudices and traditional principles, the work be not effected; this is no impeachment of the Scripture’s sufficiency, but a manifestation of their weakness and folly.

Besides, all that unity in faith that hath been at any time, or is in the world, according to the mind of God, every decision that hath been made at any time of any difference in or about religion in a right way and order, hath been by the Scripture, which God hath sanctified unto those ends and purposes. And it is impossible that the miscarriages or defects of men can reflect the least blame upon it, or make it esteemed insufficient for the end now inquired after. The pursuit then of your inquiry which now you insist upon, is in part vain, in part already answered.

In vain it is that you inquire ‘whether the written word can settle any man in a way that neither himself, nor present adherents, nor future generations shall question:’ for our inquiry is not after what may be, or what shall be, but what ought to be. It is able to settle a man in a way, that none ought to question unto the world’s end: so it settled the first Christians. But to secure is that none shall ever question the way whereinto it leads us; that it is not designed for, nor is it either needful or possible that it should be so: the oral preaching of the Son of God, and of his apostles, did not so secure them whom they taught.

The way that they professed, was everywhere questioned, contradicted, spoken against, and many, after the profession of it, again renounced it: and I wonder what feat you have to settle any one in a way that shall never be questioned. The authority of your pope and church will not do it: themselves are things as highly questioned and disputed about, as any thing that was ever named with reference unto religion.

If you shall say, But yet they ought not to be so questioned, and it is the fault of men that they are so: you may well spare me the labour of answering your question, seeing you have done it yourself.

And whereas you add, ‘or with as much probability dissent from it either totally or in part, as himself first set it,’ when the very preceding words do not speak of a man’s own setting, but of the Scriptures settling, the man only embracing that what settleth and determineth. It is answered already; that what is so settled by the Scripture, and received as settled, cannot justly be questioned by any.

And you insinuate a most irrational supposition, on which your assertion is built, namely, that error may have as much probability as truth. For I suppose you will grant, that what is settled by the Scripture is true, and therefore that which dissents from it must needs be an error; which, that it may be as probable indeed as truth (for we speak not of appearances, which have all their strength from our weaknesses), is a new notion, which may well be added to “your many other of the like rarity and evidence.

But, why is not the Scripture able to settle men in unquestionable truth? When the people of old doubted about the ways of God wherein they ought to walk, himself sends them to the law and to the testimony for their instruction and settlement; Isa. viii. 20. And we think the council of him, who cannot deceive nor be deceived, is to be hearkened unto, as well as his command to be obeyed. Our Saviour assures us, that if men will not hear Moses and the prophets, and take direction from them for those ways wherein they may please God, they will not do whatsoever they pretend from any other means, which rather approve of; Lukexvi. 29.31.

Yea, and when the great fundamental of Christian religion, concerning the person of the Messiah, was in question, he sends men for their settlement unto the Scriptures; John v. 39. And we suppose that that which is sufficient to settle us in the foundation, is so, to confirm us also in the whole superstructure. Especially considering that it is able ‘ to make the man of God perfect, and to be thoroughly furnished unto all good works ;’ 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17.

What more is required unto the settlement of any one in religion we know not; nor what can rationally stand in competition with the Scripture to this purpose; seeing that is expressly commended unto us for it by the Holy Ghost, other ways are built on the conjectures of men. Yea, the assurance which we may have hereby is preferred by Peter, before that which any may have by an immediate voice from heaven; 2 Pet. i. 19.

And is it not an unreasonable thing, now for you to come and tell us, that the Scripture is not sufficient to give us an unquestionable settlement in religion? Whether it be meet to ‘hearken unto God or men,’ judge you.

For our parts, we seek not for the foundation of our settlement, in long uncertain discourses, dubious conclusions and inferences, fallible conjectures, sophistical reasonings, such as you would call us unto; but in the express direction and command of God. Him we can follow, and trust unto, without the least fear of miscarriage. Whither you would lead us we know not, and are not willing to make desperate experiments in things of so high concernment.

John Owen, Works, Volume 18, A Vindication of the Animadversions on Fiat Lux, Chapter VI

(to be continued)

Note: David King is the prime mover and shaker on this series, but I (TurretinFan) have done a significant amount of editing. So, please blame me for any errors that have crept in, while giving credit to Pastor King for the hard work that went into it.

List of Things Necessary to Salvation

May 24, 2010

One objection that is occasionally addressed to the Reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, and also sometimes to the doctrine of the sufficiency, formal and material, of Scripture, is a request that we provide an exhaustive list of the doctrines that are necessary to salvation.

After all, we claim that all the things that are necessary to be known for salvation are clearly taught in Scripture. Some folks think this is an incredible claim unless we can provide a list of the necessary things. There are several rebuttals to this objection.

1) No one thinks the list itself is necessary to salvation

In other words, while one may need to know the essential doctrines, there is no requirement that one be able to distinguish the essential doctrines from the unessential doctrines. So, even if the Bible does somehow tell us which doctrines are essential, that list is not something that falls within the realm of the doctrine of perspicuity. Furthermore, if we reach the conclusion that the Scriptures do not provide such a list, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture would simply confirm that such a list is not necessary to the rule of faith.

2) We derive the doctrine of perspicuity from Scripture deductively

In other words, we reason from the fact that the Scriptures are able to make the simple wise and specifically in order to make a person wise unto salvation, that they consequently teach with sufficient clarity all that must be known for salvation.

3) An analogy to Medicine

The field of medicine provides an analogy. Suppose you have a drug that you realize cures some particular ailment, such as malaria. There is no reason you need to know which ingredients in the medicine cure you, you just need to eat the medicine. By analogy, you do not need to know which doctrines of Scripture are essential. You just need to believe what the Scripture teaches. If you do so, that should lead you to repent of your sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

Conclusion

Christians are required to believe all of the Bible. The canonical Scriptures are our rule of faith, and only the canonical Scriptures are our rule of faith. Adherence to the rule of faith is not the way that people are saved, but it is a Christian duty. It is through believing the gospel that the Bible proclaims that sinners are justified. Our inability to identify those points that are essential should simply prod us to study Scripture more intensively and seek by prayer and study to understand it more fully.

– TurretinFan

Thomas Aquinas, William Webster, and Scripture against Bellisario

April 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second one is longer, but it simply indicates:

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

(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another passage of Thomas on the sufficiency of Scripture:

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

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 22

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

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

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

– Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms

Again, more on the sufficiency of Scriptures:

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

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

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

Sufficiency again:

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

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

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

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

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

Notice here the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

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

Athanasius against Scripture’s Formal Sufficiency?

February 18, 2010

Sean Patrick of the Roman Catholic Called to Communion blog recently alleged that the following quotation from Athanasius demonstrates that Athanasius did not hold to the formal sufficiency of Scripture (I provide Sean’s words as well with his quotation embedded):

I invite you to read this letter as a good example in context. Note how he treats the judgement of the Catholic Church and tradition handed down concerning scriptural faith.

For what is so manifestly shown to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful. It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this.

(source of SP’s statement)

Athanasius’ statement that “we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this” doesn’t explicitly rely on Scripture, which is doubtless why it is being cited.

Standing alone, however, they don’t directly contradict the idea that Scripture is formally sufficient. Instead, this kind of comment says that it is enough that the church as a whole doesn’t teach this and that there is no historical precedent for the teaching.

One might argue that by “the teaching of the Catholic Church” Athanasius is referring to Nicaea. After all, the letter begins, immediately after the greeting sentence:

I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 1 (source)

In fact, that sentence in isolation also looks nothing like a view of formal sufficiency of Scripture (although it doesn’t actually interact with the view of formal sufficiency).

Likewise, a couple of sentences in the conclusion don’t explicitly mention Scripture:

But thanks to the Lord, much as we were grieved at reading your memoranda, we were equally glad at their conclusion. For they departed with concord, and peacefully agreed in the confession of the pious and orthodox faith.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 12 (source)

However, when we begin to examine Athanasius’ comments in context, a different picture emerges. Here’s the entire Section 3 from which the initial comment was drawn:

Such were the contents of the memoranda; diverse statements, but one in their sense and in their meaning; tending to impiety. It was for these things that men who make their boast in the confession of the fathers drawn up at Nicæa were disputing and quarrelling with one another. But I marvel that your piety suffered it, and that you did not stop those who said such things, and propound to them the right faith, so that upon hearing it they might hold their peace, or if they opposed it might be counted as heretics. For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching. For this reason, as I said above, I have caused what they say to be baldly inserted in my letter, so that one who merely hears may perceive the shame and impiety therein contained. And although it would be right to denounce and expose in full the folly of those who have had such ideas, yet it would be a good thing to close my letter here and write no more. For what is so manifestly shewn to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful. It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things [Rom. i. 30.]’ make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 3 (source)

Notice that Athanasius says: “For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching.” That Apostolic teaching, of course, is Scripture. For Athanasius, it is adherence to the Apostolic teaching that is the guiding principle.

Notice as well that Athanasius doesn’t view the error of the heretics as being at all reasonable. He thinks that the bare repetition of their argument is enough to show its impiety, “For what is so manifestly shewn to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful.” That middle expression, “it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further,” is then explained by the comment about the teaching not being one of the Catholic Church or the fathers. It is also a reiteration of his prior comment, in Section 2, “I write this after reading the memoranda submitted by your piety, which I could wish had not been written at all, so that not even any record of these things should go down to posterity. For who ever yet heard the like? Who ever taught or learned it?”

However, notice that the way in which these men are to be put to shame and converted from their evil way is not a simple appeal to Nicaea (after all, these men “make their boast in the confession of the fathers drawn up at Nicæa”) nor to the fathers (from what fathers does Athanasius quote?) but from Scripture: “But lest the ‘inventors of evil things [Rom. i. 30.]’ make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices.”

The same contextual issues arise with respect to the introductory section of Athanasius’ letter. Looking at the context, indeed the next sentence, we see a somewhat different sentiment:

I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 1 (source)

Notice that Athanasius is quick to point out the rule that guided the fathers at Nicaea, namely the Scriptures. While there is some mention in the text of holding to the faith of the Nicene fathers, the bulk of the letter is exegetical – relying on and explaining the matter from Scripture.

So we should not be surprised at the conclusion mentioned above considered in its context:

This proves that while to all the others the Word came, in order that they might prophesy, from Mary the Word Himself took flesh, and proceeded forth as man; being by nature and essence the Word of God, but after the flesh man of the seed of David, and made of the flesh of Mary, as Paul said [Cf. Rom. i. 3; Gal. iv. 4.]. Him the Father pointed out both in Jordan and on the Mount, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased [Matt. iii. 17, and xvii. 5.].’ Him the Arians denied, but we recognizing worship, not dividing the Son and the Word, but knowing that the Son is the Word Himself, by Whom all things are made, and by Whom we were redeemed. And for this reason we wonder how any contention at all has arisen among you about things so clear. But thanks to the Lord, much as we were grieved at reading your memoranda, we were equally glad at their conclusion. For they departed with concord, and peacefully agreed in the confession of the pious and orthodox faith. This fact has induced me, after much previous consideration, to write these few words; for I am anxious lest by my silence this matter should cause pain rather than joy to those whose concord occasions joy to ourselves. I therefore ask your piety in the first place, and secondly those who hear, to take my letter in good part, and if anything is lacking in it in respect of piety, to set that right, and inform me. But if it is written, as from one unpractised in speech, below the subject and imperfectly, let all allow for my feebleness in speaking.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 12 (source)

Notice that Athanasius writes: “And for this reason we wonder how any contention at all has arisen among you about things so clear.” These are not vague obscure things, but clear things. And the thing from which this is clear can be seen from the proof that Athanasius had provided in, for example, Section 5 of his letter:

. But this is not so, far be the thought. For he ‘takes hold of the seed of Abraham [Heb. ii. 16.],’ as the apostle said; whence it behoved Him to be made like His brethren in all things, and to take a Body like us. This is why Mary is truly presupposed, in order that He may take it from her, and offer it for us as His own. And this Isaiah pointed to in his prophecy, in the words: ‘Behold the Virgin [Isa. vii. 14.],’ while Gabriel is sent to her—not simply to a virgin, but ‘to a virgin betrothed to a man [Luke i. 27.],’ in order that by means of the betrothed man he might shew that Mary was really a human being. And for this reason Scripture also mentions her bringing forth, and tells of her wrapping Him in swaddling clothes; and therefore, too, the paps which He sucked were called blessed [Ib. xi. 27.]. And He was offered as a sacrifice, in that He Who was born had opened the womb [Ib. ii. 23.]. Now all these things are proofs that the Virgin brought forth. And Gabriel preached the Gospel to her without uncertainty, saying not merely ‘what is born in thee,’ lest the body should be thought to be extraneously induced upon her, but ‘of thee,’ that what was born might be believed to be naturally from her, inasmuch as Nature clearly shews that it is impossible for a virgin to produce milk unless she has brought forth, and impossible for a body to be nourished with milk and wrapped in swaddling clothes unless it has previously been naturally brought forth. This is the meaning of His being circumcised on the eighth day: of Symeon taking Him in his arms, of His becoming a young child, and growing when He was twelve years old, and of His coming to His thirtieth year. For it was not, as some suppose, the very Essence of the Word that was changed, and was circumcised, because it is incapable of alteration or change. For the Saviour Himself says, ‘Behold, behold, it is I, and I change not [Mal. iii. 6.],’ while Paul writes: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever [Heb. xiii. 8.].’ But in the Body which was circumcised, and carried, and ate and drank, and was weary, and was nailed on the tree and suffered, there was the impassible and incorporeal Word of God. This Body it was that was laid in a grave, when the Word had left it, yet was not parted from it, to preach, as Peter says, also to the spirits in prison [1 Pet. iii. 19.].

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 5 (source)

Notice how Athanasius explains it as being that “Nature clearly shews that it is impossible for a virgin to produce milk unless she has brought forth, and impossible for a body to be nourished with milk and wrapped in swaddling clothes unless it has previously been naturally brought forth.” It’s not a matter of obscurity or ambiguity or one man’s opinion over another. It is clear and plain to Athanasius.

Notice as well that after more Scriptural exegesis in sections 6-7, Athanasius provides the following comments in section 8:

These things being thus demonstrated, it is superfluous to touch upon the other points, or to enter upon any discussion relating to them, since the body in which the Word was is not coessential with the Godhead, but was truly born of Mary, while the Word Himself was not changed into bones and flesh, but came in the flesh. For what John said, ‘The Word was made flesh [Joh. i. 14.],’ has this meaning, as we may see by a similar passage; for it is written in Paul: ‘Christ has become a curse for us [Gal. iii. 13.].’ And just as He has not Himself become a curse, but is said to have done so because He took upon Him the curse on our behalf, so also He has become flesh not by being changed into flesh, but because He assumed on our behalf living flesh, and has become Man. For to say ‘the Word became flesh,’ is equivalent to saying ‘the Word has become man;’ according to what is said in Joel: ‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh [Joel ii. 28.];’ for the promise did not extend to the irrational animals, but is for men, on whose account the Lord is become Man. As then this is the sense of the above text, they all will reasonably condemn themselves who have thought that the flesh derived from Mary existed before her, and that the Word, prior to her, had a human soul, and existed in it always even before His coming. And they too will cease who have said that the Flesh was not accessible to death, but belonged to the immortal Nature. For if it did not die, how could Paul deliver to the Corinthians ‘that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures [1 Cor. xv. 3.],’ or how did He rise at all if He did not also die? Again, they will blush deeply who have even entertained the possibility of a Tetrad instead of a Triad resulting, if it were said that the Body was derived from Mary. For if (they argue) we say the Body is of one Essence with the Word, the Triad remains a Triad; for then the Word imports no foreign element into it; but if we admit that the Body derived from Mary is human, it follows, since the Body is foreign in Essence, and the Word is in it, that the addition of the Body causes a Tetrad instead of a Triad.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 8 (source)

Of note, as a first point, is the fact that Athanasius begins the section by again repeating that even all this additional evidence he is giving is not necessary. Nevertheless, he’s providing it.

Also, of significance, notice that Athanasius teaches us (by example) to use Scripture to interpret Scripture when he states: “For what John said, ‘The Word was made flesh [Joh. i. 14.],’ has this meaning, as we may see by a similar passage;” which shows us that Athanasius agreed with us that Scripture is to be Scripture’s interpreter. (He does this again almost immediately: “For to say ‘the Word became flesh,’ is equivalent to saying ‘the Word has become man;’ according to what is said in Joel: ‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh [Joel ii. 28.];’”)

Notice as well that Athanasius thinks that the sense of Scripture is so clear that the heretics will themselves see their error and condemn themselves. For he writes: “As then this is the sense of the above text, they all will reasonably condemn themselves who have thought that the flesh derived from Mary existed before her, and that the Word, prior to her, had a human soul, and existed in it always even before His coming.”

In section 9, Athanasius provides an interesting comment. He writes:

And how do these remain Christians who imagine another God in addition to the true one? For, once again, in their other fallacy one can see how great is their folly. For if they think because it is contained and stated in the Scriptures, that the Body of the Saviour is human and derived from Mary, that a Tetrad is substituted for a Triad, as though the Body created an addition, they go very far wrong, so much so as to make the creature equal to the Creator, and suppose that the Godhead can receive an addition.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 9 (source)

Notice that Athanasius assumes that these putative Christians will derive their understanding from Scripture. Accordingly, he takes care to state their their understanding is wrong (as well as, at some length, to explain why it is wrong).

Athanasius’ argument reaches something of a pinnacle when, in section 10, he provides a very plain Scriptural demonstration that he thinks they must acquiesce to:

For this reason they also will henceforth keep silence, who once said that He who proceeded from Mary is not very Christ, or Lord, or God. For if He were not God in the Body, how came He, upon proceeding from Mary, straightway to be called ‘Emmanuel, which is being interpreted God with us [Matt. i. 23.]?’ Why again, if the Word was not in the flesh, did Paul write to the Romans ‘of whom is Christ after the flesh, Who is above all God blessed for ever. Amen [Rom. ix. 5.]?’ Let them therefore confess, even they who previously denied that the Crucified was God, that they have erred; for the divine Scriptures bid them, and especially Thomas, who, after seeing upon Him the print of the nails, cried out ‘My Lord and my God [John xx. 28.]!’ For the Son, being God, and Lord of glory [1 Cor. ii. 8.], was in the Body which was ingloriously nailed and dishonoured; but the Body, while it suffered, being pierced on the tree, and water and blood flowed from its side, yet because it was a temple of the Word was filled full of the Godhead. For this reason it was that the sun, seeing its creator suffering in His outraged body, withdrew its rays and darkened the earth. But the body itself being of mortal nature, beyond its own nature rose again by reason of the Word which was in it; and it has ceased from natural corruption, and, having put on the Word which is above man, has become incorruptible.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 10 (source)

It’s particularly remarkable to see how Athanasius portrays Scripture as commanding them to believe (“for the divine Scriptures bid them”). Athanasius recognizes that the Scriptures can bid one to believe – they have authority – and they are the indisputable rule of faith. Athanasius indicates that the Christians will silence their own error once they see what Scripture so plainly teaches.

Section 11, which is about the only section we haven’t discussed, continues the same Scriptural arguments:

But with regard to the imagination of some, who say that the Word came upon one particular man, the Son of Mary, just as it came upon each of the Prophets, it is superfluous to discuss it, since their madness carries its own condemnation manifestly with it. For if He came thus, why was that man born of a virgin, and not like others of a man and woman? For in this way each of the saints also was begotten. Or why, if the Word came thus, is not the death of each one said to have taken place on our behalf, but only this man’s death? Or why, if the Word sojourned among us in the case of each one of the prophets, is it said only in the case of Him born of Mary that He sojourned here ‘once at the consummation of the ages [Heb. ix. 26.]?’

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 11 (source)

Notice how Athanasius refers to the opinion of men who suggest that the Word came to Jesus, rather than Jesus being the Word made flesh as “madness” in view of the plain Scriptural testimony. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that Athanasius viewed only Christ’s death as having taken place on our behalf, and not also the deaths of the martyrs.)

In conclusion, there are indeed passages of Athanasius that don’t expressly rely on Scripture. For example, in section 4:

For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is coessential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 4 (source)

But when we see the fact that the fathers of Nicaea are mentioned only occasionally, while Scripture is mentioned throughout and that even comments like the comment above from section 4 is immediately preceded by the following sentences:

Whence did it occur to you, sirs, to say that the Body is of one Essence with the Godhead of the Word? For it is well to begin at this point, in order that by shewing this opinion to be unsound, all the others too may be proved to be the same. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 4 (source)

In short, for Athanasius it is those divine Scriptures that are the rule of faith, and consequently they are what the fathers at Nicaea followed and taught. As Athanasius put it in section 1, “the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures … .”

-TurretinFan

Athanasian Denial of Scripture’s Formal Sufficiency?

February 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

Sufficient Standard vs. Sufficient Mechanism

January 8, 2010

The Scriptures are a sufficient standard to remove error from the church, but they are not the mechanism by which error is removed from the church. That’s true whether one’s ecclesiology is papal, patriarchal, (some other form of) episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational. I realize that those today with some of those ecclesiologies don’t use the Bible that way, and that is their loss.

The Bible should be the standard of judgment within the church, yet we must distinguish. The Bible is the rule of faith, but it is not the person who applies that standard or rule to the situation. In other words, one of the functions of the church is to serve as a judge of controversies and to apply the teachings of Scripture to the matter at hand. In this way, churches can oppose heresy.

The churches who properly use Scripture do not simply wait for a Bible to zap heretics with lightening bolts, they search the Scriptures to see whether the person is teaching something that is contrary to the Word of God.

This function of Scripture as a sufficient rule of faith is not a new function. It is not something that the Reformers dreamed up. It is not even something that the apostles dreamed up. Even the mighty Ezra was not the originator of this principle of the sufficiency of Scripture as a rule, to which nothing needed to be added.

Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Proverbs 30:5-6
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

God gave the people of Israel Scriptures. He expected them to use those Scriptures as a rule, and he criticized them for adding human traditions to them:

Matthew 15:3-6

But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? … And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Mark 7:8-13

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. … Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

The Sacred Scriptures, even of the Old Testament were, you see, a sufficient standard. That’s why Jesus appealed to them:

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

And why the Bereans were commended for judging Paul’s teaching by them:

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

That’s why when the apostles wanted to decide a matter they turned to them and applied them to the matter at hand:

Act 15:13-20

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Just because God gave the apostles and after them the elders does not mean that there is any guarantee that the churches will always stick to the rule of faith. After all, there were elders in the Old Testament era, and God ordained not only those rulers but Kings, Prophets, and Priests as well.

And yet Israel, the only visible congregation of God fell over and over again. The Scriptures were sufficient, but humans err. There were folks like Naboth who were wrongly condemned by a sinful application of God’s law, and there have been men like Galileo and Hus who were wrongly censured by people who profess to be Christ’s followers.

We are not free from the risk of human tradition in our churches. Paul wrote to warn us of this:

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

And Peter makes the parallel between the Old and New Testaments even more explicit:

2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

So then, let us heed that warning and recognize that the sufficiency of Scripture to decide all matters of faith and morals as the standard of judgment is one thing. The application of that standard to life is another. Humans will err, but God’s word remains powerful and infallible:

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

– TurretinFan

N.B. Many thanks to Steve Hays for drawing the sufficient standard / sufficient mechanism concept to my attention.

Aquinas and the Formal Sufficiency of Scripture

December 25, 2009

I’ve previously noted Aquinas’ apparent [FN1] view of the primacy of Scripture (link) as well as other comments from Aquinas on themes generally related to Sola Scriptura (link). The following quotation, however, comes close to expressing not only the material sufficiency of Scripture, but also the formal sufficiency of Scripture.

Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one — the literal — from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

– Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 1, Article 10

I suspect that Aquinas’ reference is to:

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

– Augustine, Letter 93, Chapter 8, Section 24 (This letter is numbered 48 in some of the older collections, for example, this one)

That’s a slightly less strong wording than Aquinas uses. In any event, there are two interesting things that Aquinas says: (1) it is improper to argue from an alleged spiritual sense, rather than from the literal sense; and (2) everything necessary for salvation cannot only be found in Scripture but it can be found in the relatively clear, literal parts (not simply in the less clear allegorical parts).

-TurretinFan

[FN1] There is reason to think that some of the analysis in the Primacy post may be mistaken. For now, we’ll leave it at simply apparent, until we have more time to review the evidence behind the objections.


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