Archive for the ‘Gregory the Great’ Category

Were the Deuterocanonical Universally Accepted?

March 9, 2011

Some Roman apologists like to try to claim that Rome’s canon of Scripture is very ancient and well-settled. They are mistaken. Here’s one example

Now the story had a dramatic change, as the Pope stepped in to settle the matter. In concurrence with the opinion of St. Augustine, and being prompted by the Holy Spirit, Pope St. Damasus I, at the Council of Rome in 382, issued a decree appropriately called, “The Decree of Damasus”, in which he listed the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments. He then asked St. Jerome to use this canon and to write a new Bible translation which included an Old Testament of 46 books, which were all in the Septuagint, and a New Testament of 27 books.


This kind of idea is exploded by the facts of history. I was discussing these facts of history with a Roman advocate (not sure if he would consider himself an apologist) over at the GreenBaggins blog. Since I took the time to provide some detailed answers to his comments, I thought it might be good to post them in sections here. To provide some context, I think it is important to provide some quotations that had been brought up in the original post and in the comment box.

First, a piece of the original post:

Gregory the Great [in] his commentary on Job, Book 19, chapter 34, … says that it is not irregular to quote for the church’s edification the books of the Apocrypha, as long as it is understood that they are not canonical. He then immediately retells the story from 1 Macc. 6:42-47 … . Gregory’s exact words are these: “De qua re non inordinate agimus, si ex libris, licet non canonicis, tamen ad aedificationem ecclesiae editis, testimonium proferamus” (emphasis added). The translation already linked renders it: “With reference to which particular we are not acting irregularly, if from the books, though not Canonical, yet brought out for the edifying of the Church, we bring forward testimony.” What immediately follows is from [First] Maccabees.

Next, here are two other patristic quotations that were provided to confirm, among other things, that Gregory the Great was not alone in his view of the non-canonical status of First Maccabees.

Amphilochius of Iconium (373-394 A.D.) on the OT Canon: Besides this, it is most important that you know this also: not everything is to be considered certain which offers itself as venerable Scripture. For there are those written by false men—as is sometimes done. As regards books, there are several which are intermediate and near to the doctrine of truth, so to speak but there are others, however, which are spurious and extremely dangerous, like false seals and spurious coins, which do indeed have the inscription of the king, but which are counterfeit, and made out of base material. On account of this, then, I shall enumerate for you the individual books inspired by the Holy Spirit, and in order that you may know the thing clearly, I will begin with the books of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch contains Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, which is the middle book, after that Numbers and finally Deuteronomy. To these add Joshua and Judges; after these Ruth and the four books of Kings, Paralipomenon equal to one book; following these first and second Esdras. Next I will recall to you five books: the book of Job, crowned by the struggles of various calamities; also the book of Psalms, the musical remedy of the soul; the three books of the Wisdom of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the Canticle of Canticles. I add to these the twelve prophets, first Hosea, then Amos, and after that Michah, Joel, Abdiah, and Jonah, the type of the three days of the Passion, after these Nahum, Habacuc, then the ninth Sophonias, Haggai and Zachariah and the angel with two names, Malachi. After these, know the other prophets thus far to be four: the great and undaunted Isaiah, Jeremiah, inclined to mercy, and the mystic Ezechiel, and Daniel, most wise in the happenings of the Last Things, and some add Esther to these. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, University of Notre Dame in William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. 2 (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), p. 353.

Greek text: Πλὴν ἀλλʼ ἐκεῖνο προμαθεῖν μάλιστά σοι Προσῆκον· οὐχ ἅπασα βίβλος ἀσφαλὴς ἡ σεμνὸν ὄνομα τῆς γραφῆς κεκτημένη. εἰσὶν γάρ, εἰσὶν ἔσθʼ ὅτε ψευδώνυμοι βίβλοι· τινὲς μὲν ἔμμεσοι καὶ γείτονες, ὡς ἄν τις εἴποι, τῶν ἀληθείας λόγων. αἱ δ’ αὖ νόθοι τε καὶ λίαν ἐπισφαλεῖς ὥσπερ παράσημα καὶ νόθα νομίσματα, ἃ βασιλέως μὲν τὴν ἐπιγραφὴν ἔχει, κίβδηλα δ’ ἐστί, ταῖς ὕλαις δολούμενα. Τούτων χάριν σοι τῶν θεοπνεύστων ἐρῶ βίβλων ἑκάστην· ὡς δ’ ἂν εὐκρινῶς μάθῃς, Τὰς τῆς Παλαιᾶς πρῶτα διαθήκης ἐρῶ. Ἡ Πεντάτευχος τὴν Κτίσιν, εἶτʼ Ἔξοδον, Λευιτικὸν δὲ τὴν μέσην βίβλον ἔχει, μεθʼ ἣν Ἀριθμούς, εἶτα Δευτερονόμιον. Τούτοις Ἰησοῦν προστίθει καὶ τοὺς Κριτάς, Ἔπειτα τὴν Ῥοὺθ βασιλειῶν τε τέσσαρας βίβλους, παραλειπομένων δέ γε ξυνωρίδα. Ἔσδρας ἐπ’ αὐταῖς πρῶτος, εἶθ’ ὁ δεύτερος. ἑξῆς στιχηρὰς πέντε σοι βίβλους ἐρῶ· στεφθέντος ἄθλοις ποικίλων παθῶν Ἰὼβ ψαλμῶν τε βίβλον, ἐμμελὲς ψυχῶν ἄκος, τρεῖς δ’ αὖ Σολομῶντος τοῦ σοφοῦ, παροιμίας, ἐκκλησιαστὴν ᾆσμά τε τῶν ᾀσμάτων. ταύταις προφήτας προστίθει τοὺς δώδεκα, Ὠσηὲ πρῶτον, εἶτʼ Ἀμὼς τὸν δεύτερον, Μιχαίαν, Ἰωήλ, Ἀβδίαν καὶ τὸν τύπον Ἰωνᾶν αὐτοῦ τοῦ τριημέρου πάθους, Ναοὺμ μετʼ αὐτούς, Ἀββακούμ, εἶτʼ εἴνατον Σοφονίαν, Ἀγγαῖόν τε καὶ Ζαχαρίαν διώνυμόν τε ἄγγελον Μαλαχίαν. Μεθʼ οὓς προφήτας μάνθανε τοὺς τέσσαρας, παρρησιαστὴν τὸν μέγαν Ἠσαίαν Ἱερεμίαν τε συμπαθῆ, καὶ μυστικὸν Ἰεζεκιήλ, ἔσχατον δὲ Δανιήλ, τὸν αὐτὸν ἔργοις καὶ λόγοις σοφώτατον. τούτοις προσεγκρίνουσι τὴν Ἐσθήρ τινες. Iambi ad Seleucum, PG 37:1594-1595. (This is found among the corpus of Gregory of Nazianzus in Migne).

And the second is like it:

Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389) on the OT Canon: Let not your mind be deceived about extraneous books (for many false ascriptions are making the rounds), but you should hold to this legitimate number from me, dear reader. Receive the number and names of the holy books. First the twelve historical books in order: first is Genesis, then Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the testament of the law repeated again; Joshua, Judges and Ruth the Moabitess follow these; after this the famous deeds of Kings holds the ninth and tenth place; the Chronicles comes in the eleventh place, and Ezra is last. There are also five poetic books, first of which is Job, the one next to it is King David’s, and three of Solomon, namely Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and his Song. After these come five books of the holy prophets, of which twelve are contained in one volume: Hosea, Amos, and Micah the third, then Joel, next Jonah, Obadiah, Nahum also, Habakkuk also, and Zephaniah, Haggai, next Zechariah, Malachai, these are in the first book; the second contains Isaiah. After these is Jeremiah, called from his mother’s womb, then Ezekiel, strength of the Lord, and Daniel last. These twenty-two books of the Old Testament are counted according to the twenty-two letters of the Jews. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward, Associate Library Director, Archbishop Vehr Tehological Library in William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. 2 (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), pp. 351-352. Cf. also William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 42.

Greek text: Ὄφρα δὲ μὴ ξείνῃσι νόον κλέπτοιο βίβλοισι, (Πολλαὶ γὰρ τελέθουσι παρέγγραπτοι κακότητες), Δέχνυσο τοῦτον ἐμεῖο τὸν ἔγκριτον, ὦ φίλʼ, ἀριθμόν. Ἱστορικαὶ μὲν ἔασι βίβλοι δυοκαίδεκα πᾶσαι Τῆς ἀρχαιοτέρης Ἑβραϊκῆς σοφίης. 473 Πρωτίστη, Γένεσις, εἶτʼ Ἔξοδος, Λευιτικόν τε. Ἔπειτʼ Ἀριθμοί. Εἶτα Δεύτερος Νόμος. Ἔπειτʼ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ Κριταί. Ῥοὺθ ὀγδόη. Ἡ δ’ ἐνάτη δεκάτη τε βίβλοι, Πράξεις βασιλήων, Καὶ Παραλειπόμεναι. Ἔσχατον Ἔσδραν ἔχεις. Αἱ δὲ στιχηραὶ πέντε, ὧν πρῶτός γ’ Ἰώβ· Ἔπειτα Δαυΐδ· εἶτα τρεῖς Σολομωντίαι· Ἐκκλησιαστὴς, Ἄσμα καὶ Παροιμίαι. Καὶ πένθ’ ὁμοίως Πνεύματος προφητικοῦ. Μίαν μέν εἰσιν ἐς γραφὴν οἱ δώδεκα· Ὠσηὲ κ’ Ἀμὼς, καὶ Μιχαίας ὁ τρίτος· Ἔπειτʼ Ἰωὴλ, εἶτʼ Ἰωνᾶς, Ἀβδίας, Ναούμ τε, Ἀββακούμ τε, καὶ Σοφονίας, Ἀγγαῖος, εἶτα Ζαχαρίας, Μαλαχίας. Μία μὲν οἵδε. Δευτέρα δ’ Ἡσαΐας. Ἔπειθʼ ὁ κληθεὶς Ἱερεμίας ἐκ βρέφους. Εἶτʼ Ἰεζεκιὴλ, καὶ Δανιήλου χάρις. Ἀρχαίας μὲν ἔθηκα δύω καὶ εἴκοσι βίβλους, Τοῖς τῶν Ἑβραίων γράμμασιν ἀντιθέτους. Carmina dogmatica, Liber I, Section I, Carmen XII, PG 37:471-474.

The quotations above demonstrate that Maccabees not only wasn’t accepted universally before Hippo and Damasus, but it wasn’t accepted by Gregory the Great after that.

Perhaps Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604) was simply forgetful of this two hundred year old tradition of accepting the book as canonical. So, as a mere private theologian, he made a mistake. Never mind that he is one of the few bishops of Rome that is considered a church father.

He was probably also just amnesic when he denied, in effect, the later novelty of the immaculate conception, as documented here (link), but I digress.

Responding to me and the opening post, the Roman advocate (using the nick “dgor”) wrote: “However, after careful scrutiny of your arguments and quotes, something highly important jumped out at me: Most protestants use the word ‘Apocrypha’ with a capital A.”

Yes, that’s correct.

“This is deceiving because in all of your quotes of the early church fathers, when they are speaking of apocrypha, they mean it with a lowercase a.”

Some of the fathers simply say that the book is not canonical. We use the label “apocrypha” for non-canonical books, and “Apocrypha” usually for the group of books that Rome calls “deuterocanonical.”

“To elaborate, the connotation that Apocrypha carries today is the books in the Catholic bible that are not in the Protestant bible. Namely:Tobit Judith Wisdom Ecclesiasticus Baruch First and Second Maccabees and Additions to Esther and Daniel.”

Yes. Also, some additional books are also frequently included in the apocrypha, such as Psalm 151, 3rd and 4th Maccabees, and what are called “3rd and 4th Esdras” in the Latin tradition or Esdras A and G in the Greek tradition (1st and 2nd Esdras in the KJV).

“However, when early church fathers speak of apocrypha, they are not referring to these books as apocrypha, since these books were already accepted at Hippo.”

The first part of your sentence may be correct, in that we shouldn’t automatically assume that “apocrypha” refers to the Apocrypha, since it sometimes refers to the New Testament apocrypha, such as the Gnostic gospels. The latter part about Hippo is nearly completely irrelevant outside of North Africa from the 5th century to the 6th century, and is certainly totally irrelevant before the 5th century (since Hippo didn’t meet until about the turn of the 5th century).

Moreover, as noted above, Gregory the Great obviously rejected Maccabees after Hippo, so despite some people later adopting the canon of Hippo, it is clear that it was not universally accepted.

“Instead they refer to the word apocrypha in its original Greek meaning of hidden or esoteric. There are a great many books that fall into this ‘esoteric,’ denotative, ‘lowercase a’ category which claim to contain hidden knowledge for man’s salvation (Gospel of Thomas, Nicodemus, 1,2 Esdras…)”

a) In general, right – see above.

b) Actually Hippo accepted Esdras A and B (1st, 2nd and 3rd Esdras according to the Latin enumeration). We (Reformed) accept Esdras B (1st and 2nd Esdras) and reject Esdras A (3rd Esdras) as Old Testament apocrypha, although we can see evidence that the North Africans (particularly Augustine) accepted it.

c) What the KJV labels 1 & 2 Esdras would not typically be what the ECFs had in mind regarding the term “apocrypha” (the few who used that term), and – as noted above – it appears that Hippo accepted as “2nd Esdras” what the KJV calls “1 Esdras” and what came to be known in the Latin Bible as 3rd Esdras.

“These clearly contradict other biblical teaching and were thus rejected from being called inspired at Hippo.”

There are a lot of reasons that the apocrypha were rejected, not simply contradiction. But there were reasons. Hippo didn’t just write down some oral tradition that Paul had given the Thessalonians.

“These are the books that the early fathers are referring to when they speak of apocrypha, because they use the word apocrypha in its denotative sense.”

Yes, they may typically refer to the New Testament apocrypha (if I recall correctly, it’s not like there is an abundance of usages of that term). I haven’t done a statistical study to confirm this, but it sounds about right as far as typical usage goes. The typical usage would decide the denotative sense, not vice versa.

“It is a little word trick that you use when you say that the fathers reject the capital A Apocrypha, because they accepted the capital A apocrypha at Hippo.”

a) That seems like a false accusation (like your initial claim that “This is deceiving”). We haven’t quoted a father saying “apocrypha” and told you it means “Apocrypha.” The opening post used the term “Apocrypha,” but not as part of a quotation from Gregory the Great.

b) You put far too much weight on Hippo, as though it were a universal council. It was not. It was a regional council.

c) They only accepted part of the “Apocrypha” at Hippo. They didn’t accept 3rd and 4th Maccabbees, for example.

“Since these were in the canon already, it is obvious that they would not be referring to these books as apocryphal and stating that they had no place in the canon.”

I’ve mostly addressed this above. Some of the fathers I’ve quoted to you came before Hippo. None of the one’s I’ve quoted to you use the word “apocrypha,” and Gregory clearly rejects Hippo’s judgment (whether or not he even had heard of it), although he comes after Hippo.

“In short, what the early church fathers called apocrypha and what you call Apocrypha are two completely different things.”

Which is irrelevant to the point we’re making, as noted above.

“Whereas the early fathers overwhelmingly accepted Tobit Judith Wisdom Ecclesiasticus Baruch First and Second Maccabees and Additions to Esther and Daniel, and did not and would NOT have classified them as apocryphal, you have named all the books that you reject Apocrypha and have managed to call two completely separate concepts by the same name and assign new and unintended meaning to church father writing.”

a) Again, this is a false accusation. Look above. Did we quote any father using the word “apocrypha” and then told you it means “Apocrypha”? No.

b) We have given you concrete examples of fathers who did not view those other books as canonical. You can make statistical claims, but you and I both know you don’t have any polls of 4th century fathers to determine what they accepted and did not accept.

I could add to the list above another father who recognizes that the canon of the Old Testament was 22 Hebrew books (one for each letter of the alphabet):

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

Athanasius (293-373), 39th Festal Letter (dated to A.D. 367)

You’ll notice that while Athanasius accepts apocryphal additions to Jeremiah (aka “Baruch” and “the epistle”), he rejects the apocryphal books of Judith, Tobit, and Maccabees. Perhaps you don’t think it’s enough for him to simply leave them out. Well, later on in the same letter, you’ll find this:

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


Now notice that this is the first time I’ve quoted a father using the term “apocrypha,” and here he is using that book for other books that Judith and Tobit. Moreover, notice that he has erroneously left out Esther from the Hebrew canon, and placed it among the non-inspired works.

Nevertheless, despite using the word “apocrypha” in a way that is just as you said, Athanasius still manages to reject the books of the Apocrypha (although presumably not the additions to the canonical books).

“They would have rejected the gospel of Thomas and Esras 1,2 (books such as these were what were called apocrypha); most certainly not Maccabees or Baruch.”

Baruch was viewed as a part of Jeremiah. We have evidence of the rejection of Maccabees by a number of prominent fathers already, including Athanasius (before Hippo) and Gregory the Great (after Hippo). The comment about “Esras 1,2” seems to be confused, but that’s already been addressed above.

(to be continued in part 2)



Formal Sufficiency of Scripture: Fifth Century Fathers (Guest Series) (Bonus: Two Early Roman Bishops)

December 18, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

This series first defined the nature of formal sufficiency (i.e. the Reformed view) in an introduction section (link) and then demonstrated Scripture’s own testimony to its sufficiency (link). Although that discussion was enough, we have continued by showing that there is evidence (sometimes more clear, sometimes less clear) of the Reformed view throughout the writings of the fathers, starting from the earliest Christian writers (link), and then continuing with the fathers of the 3rd century (link) and fourth century (link). This section will be the final section on the fathers views, although of course our forerunners in the faith did not stop speaking of the sufficiency of Scripture in the fifth century.

We will start this section in Greece on the island of Salamis, with Epiphanius.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

For God is come, and the divine Scriptures explain all things to us clearly; for there is nothing in them difficult or obscure.

Greek text: Ὁ θεὸς γὰρ ἦλθε, καὶ εἰς πάντα ἡμῖν σαφηνίζουσιν αἱ θεῖαι γραφαί. οὐδὲν γὰρ ἐν αὐταῖς ἐστὶ σκολιὸν ἢ στραγγαλιῶδες.

Ancoratus, §41, PG 43:89; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 253.

We might even say that Epiphanius is overselling things here, but if we limit what he says to the most important things – the things necessary for salvation – we can agree with what he is saying.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

And lest it be thought that [there is] some error in the Gospels—for the mystery is awesome and beyond human telling, and only to the Holy Spirit’s children is the statement of it plain and clear.
Greek text: Καὶ ἵνα μή τις νομίσῃ ὅτι πλάνη τις ἐστὶν ἐν τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις• ἔκπληκτον γὰρ τὸ μυστήριον καὶ ἡ διήγησις ὑπὲρ ἄνθρωπον• μόνοις δὲ τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματός ἐστι πᾶσα λεία τε καὶ πεφωτισμένη.

Adversus Haereses, Liber II, Tom. I, LI, §11, PG 41:908B; Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 51. Against the sect which does not accept the Gospel according to John, and his Revelation, 11,2 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 36.

This statement is similar to his previous statement, but it recognizes the role of the Holy Spirit in making the sense of the gospels plain and clear.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

And thus it is fully demonstrated that there is no obscurity or contradiction in the holy Gospels or between the evangelists, but that everything is plain. Greek text: Ὥστε ἐξ ἅπαντος (or ἐξάπαντος) δείκνυσθαι ὅτι οὐδεμία σκολιότης οὐδ’ ἐναντιότης ἐν τοῖς ἁγίοις εὐαγγελίοις οὐδὲ παρὰ τοῖς εὐαγγελισταῖς εὑρίσκεται, ἀλλὰ πάντα σαφῆ.

Adversus Haereses, Liber II, Tom. I, LI, §15, PG 41:917D; Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 51. Against the sect which does not accept the Gospel according to John, and his Revelation, 15,14 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 41.

This comment from Epiphanius seems to combine the first two. There are no contradictions – instead the gospels are plain.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

Everything in the sacred scripture is clear, to those who will approach God’s word with pious reason, and not harbor the devil’s work within them and turn their steps to the pits of death—as this unfortunate man and his converts have attacked the truth more vigorously than any who have become blasphemers of God and his faith before them.

Greek text: Πάντα γὰρ σαφῆ ἐν τῇ θείᾳ γραφῇ τοῖς βουλομένοις εὐσεβεῖ λογισμῷ προσέρχεσθαι τῷ θείῳ λόγῳ καὶ μὴ διαβολικὴν ἐνέργειαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἐγκισσήσαντας ἑαυτοὺς καταστρέφειν εἰς τὰ βάραθρα τοῦ θανάτου, ὡς οὗτος ὁ ἐλεεινὸς καὶ οἱ αὐτῷ πεισθέντες ἄνθρωποι κατὰ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐστρατεύσαντο ὑπὲρ πάντας τοὺς πρὸ αὐτῶν γεγονότας βλασφήμους εἰς θεὸν καὶ τὴν αὐτοῦ πίστιν.

Adversus Haereses, Liber III, Tom. I, LXXVI, §7, PG 42:528C; Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 76. Against Anomoeans, 7,7 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 504.

The preceding quotation emphasizes the source of confusion about Scripture: human error and a corrupt heart. It is not that the Scriptures are not clear, but that people do not wish to understand them.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

And everything in the sacred scripture and the holy faith is crystal clear to us, and nothing is tortuous, contradictory or knotty.

Greek text: Καὶ πάντα ἡμῖν φωτεινὰ τὰ τῆς θείας Γραφῆς καὶ τὰ τῆς ἁγίας πίστεως, καὶ οὐδὲν σκολιὸν ἢ ἐναντίον ἢ στραγγαλιῶδες.

Adversus Haereses, Liber III, Tom. I, LXXVI, §45, PG 42:612-613; Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) Section VI, 76. Against Anomoeans – 45,7 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), p. 552.

From Salamis in Greece, we can head East to Constantinople, where we find one of the most esteemed ancient preachers affirming the same thing Epiphanius has just told us about, but with even greater eloquence.

John Chrysostom tells us that had God not exercised “great considerateness” in giving us the Scripture and the direction it offers in interpreting itself, we would not be able to grasp what it says.

Chrysostom (349-407):

What is the meaning of that verse, “On the seventh day he rested from all the works he had done”? Notice how Sacred Scripture narrates everything in human fashion even out of considerateness to us. I mean, it would not have been possible for us in any other way to understand anything of what was said had not such considerateness been thought fitting.

FC, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, Homily 10.16 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 138.

This concept of accommodating human weakness is a concept that shows the formal sufficiency of Scripture, since it shows that Scripture is in the form necessary for us to understand what Scripture is saying.

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

Notice that in the preceding quotation Chrysostom is affirming not only Scripture condescension to us, but also the fact that Scripture is its own interpreter. It’s both barrels of the formal sufficiency shotgun.

Chrysostom (349-407):

See the extent of the considerateness Sacred Scripture employs here too, describing everything in a human manner: it is not that there are sluice gates in heaven, but rather that it describes everything in terms customary with us, as if to say that the Lord simply gave a direction and immediately the waters obeyed their Creator’s command, fell out of the heavens on all sides and inundated the whole world.

FC, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, Homily 25.10 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), pp. 131-132.

This is similar to the previous examples, in that Chrysostom is pointing out that the language of Scripture is adapted to people, so that they may readily understand it.

Chrysostom (349-407):

See the marvellous considerateness of the expressions of Sacred Scripture: “God went up away from him.” It says, not for us to think that divinity is limited by place, but for us to learn from this as well his ineffable love, in that the grace of the Spirit recounts everything in this manner, by showing considerateness for our human limitations. You see, the notion of going up and going down is not appropriate to God, but, since it is a particular mark of his ineffable love to apply the concreteness of such words for the sake of our instruction, accordingly Scripture employs human expressions for the reason that in no other fashion could human hearing accommodate itself to the sublimity of the message had it spoken to us in a manner befitting the Lord’s dignity.

FC, Vol. 87, Homilies on Genesis 46-67, Homily 60.6 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), p. 179.

This preceding quotation is much like the others, and consequently just serves to show that Chrysostom made a theme of the matter.

Chrysostom made repeated use of the word precision (akribeia, ἀκρίβεια) in connection with Holy Scripture. One of Chrysostom’s favorite phrases was “the precision of Sacred Scripture.” For Chrysostom, precision is a distinctive feature of the biblical text. See, for example, FC, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, 18.3, 9, 20; 20.5; 21.8, 11; 22.5, 6; 23.4, 8; 24.5; 25.10, 20; 26.15; 27.16, 17, 23; 29.22; 30.4; 31.18; 33.4; 35.4, 8, 9; 36.12; 38.6; 39.11; 43.3 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), in which we find this phrase or its equivalent some 28 times: pp. 4, 9, 15, 38, 56, 59, 71, 90, 93, 107, 131, 139, 155, 173, 174, 179, 213, 222, 249, 278, 306, 309, 310, 334, 359, 381-382, 437; See also Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, Homily 7.9-10, 13.5, 13, 15.11 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), pp. 96, 171, 175, 200; FC, Vol. 87, Homilies on Genesis 46-67, Homilies 49.3, 55..5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), pp. 43, 109; and Robert Charles Hill, St. John Chrysostom Commentary on the Psalms (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), Vol. 1, pp. 80, 132, 158, 282, 304-305, 343, e.g., “See the wisdom of the inspired author, who speaks of everything with precision,” and “Note the inspired author’s precision.” In short, this principle of ἀκρίβεια is a feature of Holy Scripture to which Chrysostom repeatedly alludes and uses throughout his writings to describe the sacred text.

Chrysostom (349-407):

You see, despite the use of such precision by Sacred Scripture, some people have not questioned the glib words of arrogant commentators and farfetched philosophy, even to the extent of denying Holy Writ and saying the garden was not on earth, giving contrary views on many other passages, taking a direction opposed to a literal understanding of the text, and thinking that what is said on the question of things on earth has to do with things in heaven. And, if blessed Moses had not used such simplicity of expression and considerateness, the Holy Spirit directing his tongue, where would we not have come to grief? Sacred Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn’t let the listener go astray. On the other hand, since the majority of listeners apply their ears to the narrative, not for the sake of gaining some profit but for enjoyment, they are at pains to take note of things able to bring enjoyment rather than those that bring profit. So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture.

Greek text: Εἰ γὰρ καὶ τοσαύτῇ χρσαμένης ἀκριβείᾳ τῆς θείας Γραφῆς, οὐ παρῃτήσαντό τινες τῶν ἐπὶ εὐγλωττίᾳ μεγαλοφρονούντων, καὶ τῇ σοφίᾳ τῇ ἔξωθεν, ἀπεναντίας τοῖς γεγραμμένοις φθέγγεσθαι, καὶ εἰπεῖν, μὴ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἶναι τὸν παράδεισον, καὶ πολλὰ ἕτερα τῶν εἰρημένων παρεγγυῶντες, μὴ ὡς γέγραπται φρονεῖν, ἀλλʼ ἀπεναντίας ἔρχεσθαι, καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἰρημένα περὶ τῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς νομίζειν εἰρῆσθαι• εἰ μὴ τῇ ταπεινότητι τούτων τῶν λόγων, καὶ τῇ συγκαταβάσει ὁ μακάριος Μωϋσῆς ἐχρήσατο, τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος τὴν γλῶτταν αὐτοῦ κινοῦντος, ποῦ οὐκ ἂν ἐξεκυλίσθησαν, καίτοι γε τῆς ἁγίας Γραφῆς, ἐπειδὰν βούληταί τι τοιοῦτον ἡμᾶς διδάσκειν, ἑαυτὴν ἑρμηνευούσης, καὶ οὐκ ἀφιείσης πλανᾶσθαι τὸν ἀκροατήν; Ἀλλʼ ἐπειδὴ οἱ πολλοὶ οὐ διὰ τὸ καρπώσασθαί τι κέρδος ἐκ τῶν θείων Γραφῶν, ἀλλὰ τέρψεως ἕνεκεν τὰς ἀκοὰς ὑπέχουσι τοῖς τὰ παριστάμενα λέγοισι• διὰ τοῦτο οὐ τοῖς ὠφελοῦσιν, ἀλλὰ τοῖς τέρπειν μᾶλλον δυναμένοις προσέχειν σπουδάζουσι. Διὸ παρακαλῶ, πᾶσι τοῖς τοιούτοις τὰς ἀκοὰς ἀποτειχίσαντες, τῷ κανόνι τῆς ἁγίας Γραφῆς κατακολουθήσωμεν.

Homiliae in Genesim, Caput II, Homilia XIII, §3, PG 53:108; FC, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, Homily 13.13 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175.

The quotation above combines all the preceding themes. It mentions the precision of Scripture, it talks about its accommodation to the reader, it talks about its self-interpretative character, and it treats Scripture as teacher.

Chrysostom (349-407):

Consider, I ask you, dearly beloved, the precision of Sacred Scripture in narrating everything clearly to us, instructing us in the customs of the ancients and the extent of the ardor that marked their hospitality.

FC, Vol. 87, Homilies on Genesis 46-67, Homily 55.5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), p. 109.

The preceding quotation combines precision, clarity, and the magisterial aspect of Scripture.

Moreover, Chrysostom encourages us not to wait for others to teach us, and that no man teaches us as they do.

Chrysostom (349-407):

Tarry not, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind.

This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them.

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

There could hardly be a stronger affirmation of both the necessity and magisterial power of Scriptures in a single quotation.

Chrysostom also tells us that the necessary things in Scripture are all plain:

Chrysostom (349-407):

Tell me then, I beseech you, if now, when we are all present some one entered, having a golden girdle, and drawing himself up, and with an air of consequence said that he was sent by the king that is on the earth, and that he brought letters to the whole city concerning matters of importance; would you not then be all turned towards him? Would you not, without any command from a deacon, observe a profound silence? Truly I think so. For I have often heard letters from kings read here. Then if any one comes from a king, you all attend; and does a Prophet come from God, and speak from heaven, and no one attend? Or do you not believe that these things are messages from God? These are letters sent from God; therefore let us enter with becoming reverence into the Churches, and let us hearken with fear to the things here said.

What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain (πάντα σαφῆ καὶ εὐθέα τὰ παρὰ ταῖς θείαις Γραφαῖς, πάντα τὰ ἀναγκαῖα δῆλα[PG 62:485]). But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things. For tell me, with what pomp of words did Paul speak? and yet he converted the world. Or with what the unlettered Peter? But I know not, you say, the things that are contained in the Scriptures. Why? For are they spoken in Hebrew? Are they in Latin, or in foreign tongues? Are they not in Greek? But they are expressed obscurely, you say: What is it that is obscure? Tell me. Are there not histories? For (of course) you know the plain parts, in that you enquire about the obscure. There are numberless histories in the Scriptures. Tell me one of these. But you cannot. These things are an excuse, and mere words. Every day, you say, one hears the same things. Tell me, then, do you not hear the same things in the theaters? Do you not see the same things in the race-course? Are not all things the same? Is it not always the same sun that rises? Is it not the same food that we use? I should like to ask you, since you say that you every day hear the same things; tell me, from what Prophet was the passage that was read? from what Apostle, or what Epistle? But you cannot tell me—you seem to hear strange things. When therefore you wish to be slothful, you say that they are the same things. But when you are questioned, you are in the case of one who never heard them. If they are the same, you ought to know them. But you are ignorant of them.

NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, Homily III, Comments on 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 10.

Notice that in the preceding quotation, Chrysostom says that the necessary things in Scripture are all plain. This is essentially word for word the position that we take. Notice as well that Chrysostom specifically addresses the issue of the need for a preacher. It’s not an absolute, but a relative, necessity. It is necessary because the people are lazy, not because the Scriptures are not clear.

Moreover, Chrysostom tells us that the Evangelist John, in his gospel, taught doctrines that are clear and which “have been unfolded to all men throughout the world.”

Chrysostom (349-407):

For this reason too, he did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness, as they did who threw obscurity of speech, like a kind of veil, around the mischiefs laid up within. But this man’s doctrines are clearer than the sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded to all men throughout the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones; neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers; but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words were true and profitable to all that should hearken to them. And all time after him is his witness; since he has drawn to him all the world, and has freed our life when we have listened to these words from all monstrous display of wisdom; wherefore we who hear them would prefer rather to give up our lives, than the doctrines by him delivered to.

NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John, Homily 2.5.

Notice the comparison of the teachings of Scripture to light, as we previously discussed. The Scriptures are, indeed, an illumination to us.

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

Notice how Chrysostom affirms that the poor can, simply by diligently reading the Scriptures, come to a complete understanding of the Scriptures. This shows that the Scriptures are formally sufficient. If they were not, no amount of reading would lead one to a full knowledge of them.

In regard to the following discourse of Chrysostom, our theological opponents have claimed that Chrysostom spoke of the “material,” not the “formal” sufficiency of Holy Scripture. We contend that this is an expression that cannot be maintained in the face of the explicit language of Chrysostom, particularly since Chrysostom’s view of formal sufficiency is so clear in the preceding quotations.

Chrysostom (349-407):

2. Many other such things there are that beset our soul; and we have need of the divine remedies that we may heal wounds inflicted, and ward off those which, though not inflicted, would else be received in time to come—thus quenching afar off the darts of Satan, and shielding ourselves by the constant reading of the Divine Scriptures. It is not possible—I say, it is not possible, for any one to be secure without constant supplies of this spiritual instruction (translator’s note, “Or without constantly making use of spiritual reading”). Indeed, we may congratulate ourselves (i.e. one ought to be content), if, constantly using this remedy, we ever are able to attain salvation. But when, though each day receiving wounds, we make use of no remedies, what hope can there be of salvation?

Do you not notice that workmen in brass, or goldsmiths, or silversmiths, or those who engage in any art whatsoever, preserve carefully all the instruments of their art; and if hunger come, or poverty afflict them, they prefer to endure anything rather than sell for their maintenance any of the tools which they use. It is frequently the case that many thus choose rather to borrow money to maintain their house and family, than part with the least of the instruments of their art. This they do for the best reasons; for they know that when those are sold, all their skill is rendered of no avail, and the entire groundwork of their gain is gone. If those are left, they may be able, by persevering in the exercise of their skill, in time to pay off their debts; but if they, in the meantime, allow the tools to go to others, there is, for the future, no means by which they can contrive any alleviation of their poverty and hunger. We also ought to judge in the same way. As the instruments of their art are the hammer and anvil and pincers, so the instruments of our work are the apostolic and prophetic books, and all the inspired and profitable Scriptures. And as they, by their instruments, shape all the articles they take in hand, so also do we, by our instruments, arm our mind, and strengthen it when relaxed, and renew it when out of condition. Again, artists display their skill in beautiful forms, being unable to change the material of their productions, or to transmute silver into gold, but only to make their figures symmetrical. But it is not so with thee, for thou hast a power beyond theirs—receiving a vessel of wood, thou canst make it gold. And to this St. Paul testifies, speaking thus: “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and earth. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work,” (2 Tim. ii. 20, 21). Let us then not neglect the possession of the sacred books. For gold, whenever it becomes abundant, causes trouble to its possessors; but these books, when carefully preserved, afford great benefit to those who possess them. As also where royal arms are stored, though no one should use them, they afford great security to those who dwell there; since neither thieves nor burglars, nor any other evil-doers, dare attack that place. In the same way, where the inspired books are, from thence all satanical influence is banished, and the great consolation of right principles comes to those who live there; yea, even the very sight of these books by itself makes us slower to commit iniquity. Even if we attempt any forbidden thing, and make ourselves unclean, when we return home and see these books, our conscience accuses us more keenly, and we become less likely to fall again into the same sins. Again, if we have been stedfast in our integrity, we gain more benefit, (if we are acquainted with the word;) for as soon as one comes to the gospel, he by a mere look both rectifies his understanding and ceases from all worldly cares. And if careful reading also follows, the soul, as if initiated in sacred mysteries, is thus purified and made better, while holding converse with God through the Scriptures.

But what,” say they, “if we do not understand the things we read?” Even if you do not understand the contents, your sanctification in a high degree results from it. However, it is impossible that all these things should alike be misunderstood; for it was for this reason that the grace of the Holy Spirit ordained that tax-gatherers, and fishermen, and tent-makers, and shepherds, and goatherds, and uninstructed and illiterate men, should compose these books, that no untaught man should be able to make this pretext; in order that the things delivered should be easily comprehended by all—in order that the handicraftsman, the domestic, the widow, yea, the most unlearned of all men, should profit and be benefited by the reading. For it is not for vain-glory, as men of the world, but for the salvation of the hearers, that they composed these writings, who, from the beginning, were endued with the gift of the Holy Ghost.

3. For those without—philosophers, rhetoricians, and annalists, not striving for the common good, but having in view their own renown—if they said anything useful, even this they involved in their usual obscurity, as in a cloud. But the apostles and prophets always did the very opposite; they, as the common instructors of the world, made all that they delivered plain to all men, in order that every one, even unaided, might be able to learn by the mere reading. Thus also the prophet spake before, when he said, “All shall be taught of God,” (Isa. liv.13). “And they shall no more say, every one to his neighbor, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest,” (Jer. xxxi. 34). St. Paul also says, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the mystery of God,” ( 1 Cor. ii. 1). And again, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. ii. 4). And again, “We speak wisdom,” it is said, “but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world that come to nought,” (1 Cor. ii. 6). For to whom is not the gospel plain? Who is it that hears, “Blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart,” and such things as these, and needs a teacher in order to understand any of the things spoken?
But (it is asked) are the parts containing the signs and wonders and histories also clear and plain to every one? This is a pretence, and an excuse, and a mere cloak of idleness. You do not understand the contents of the book? But how can you ever understand, while you are not even willing to look carefully? Take the book in your hand. Read the whole history; and, retaining in your mind the easy parts, peruse frequently the doubtful and obscure parts; and if you are unable, by frequent reading, to understand what is said, go to some one wiser; betake yourself to a teacher; confer with him about the things said. Show great eagerness to learn; then, when God sees that you are using such diligence, He will not disregard your perseverance and carefulness; but if no human being can teach you that which you seek to know, He himself will reveal the whole.

Remember the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Being a man of a barbarous nation, occupied with numerous cares, and surrounded on all sides by manifold business, he was unable to understand that which he read. Still, however, as he was seated in the chariot, he was reading. If he showed such diligence on a journey, think how diligent he must have been at home; if while on the road he did not let an opportunity pass without reading, much more must this have been the case when seated in his house; if when he did not fully understand the things he read, he did not cease from reading, much more would he not cease when able to understand. To show that he did not understand the things which he read, hear that which Philip said to him: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts viii. 30). Hearing this question he did not show provocation or shame: but confessed his ignorance, and said: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (ver. 31). Since therefore, while he had no man to guide him, he was thus reading; for this reason he quickly received an instructor. God knew his willingness, He acknowledged his zeal, and forthwith sent him a teacher.

But, you say, Philip is not present with us now. Still, the Spirit that moved Philip is present with us. Let us not, beloved, neglect our salvation! “All these things are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come,” (1 Cor. x. 11). The reading of the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin; ignorance of the Scriptures is a great precipice and a deep gulf; to know nothing of the Scriptures, is a great betrayal of our salvation. This ignorance is the cause of heresies; this it is that leads to dissolute living; this it is that makes all things confused. It is impossible—I say, it is impossible, that any one should remain unbenefited who engages in persevering and intelligent reading. For see how much one parable has profited us! how much spiritual good it has done to us! For many I know have departed, bearing away abiding profit from the hearing; and if there be some who have not reaped so much benefit, still for that day on which they heard these things, they were rendered in every way better. And it is not a small thing to spend one day in sorrow on account of sin, and in consideration of the higher wisdom, and in affording the soul a little breathing time from worldly cares. If we can effect this at each assembly without intermission, the continued hearing would work for us a great and lasting benefit.

F. Allen, trans., Four Discourses of Chrysostom, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, 3rd Sermon, §2-3 (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1869), pp. 62-68. See Concionis VII, de Lazaro 3.2-3 PG 48:993-996 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1857-87). Cf. PG 62:485.

It’s really hard to imagine a more Reformed-sounding discussion of the sufficiency of Scripture than the one provided above from Chrysostom. Even when he makes a comparison to goldsmiths, he does not refer to Scriptures as the gold to be worked over by external tools, but instead as the tools themselves! They are the tools of learning, the keys of knowledge by which the kingdom of heaven is opened unto men. They are what was given to the apostles and prophets to be passed on to us.

Chrysostom (349-407):

Having acquitted himself of all this, the good man “departed from Shekim,” the text says, and made haste towards Baithel. Now, observe once again, I ask you, God’s care for him and the way Scripture teaches us everything clearly.

FC, Vol. 87, Homilies on Genesis 46-67, Homily 59.18 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), p. 175.

No additional comment is needed about the preceding quotation. But consider in the following, the magisterial metaphor that Chrysostom employs.

Chrysostom informs us that the Scriptures, as it were, took him by the hand and led him to Christ.

Chrysostom (349-407):

Finally, if the ceremonies of the Jews move you to admiration, what do you have in common with us? If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, ours are lies. But if ours are true, as they are true, theirs are filled with deceit. I am not speaking of the Scriptures. Heaven forbid! It was the Scriptures which took me by the hand and led me to Christ.

FC, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 1.6.5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 23-24.

Is not that role of evangelizing the role of the teacher? If so, how can anyone deny that Chrysostom is affirming the material sufficiency of Scripture with respect to those things necessary for salvation.

Chrysostom (349-407):

Great is the profit of the divine Scriptures, and all-sufficient is the aid which comes from them. And Paul declared this when he said, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written aforetime for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4, and 1 Corinthians 10:11) For the divine oracles are a treasury of all manner of medicines, so that whether it be needful to quench pride, to lull desire to sleep, to tread under foot the love of money, to despise pain, to inspire confidence, to gain patience, from them one may find abundant resource. For what man of those who struggle with long poverty or who are nailed to a grievous disease, will not, when he reads the passage before us, receive much comfort?

NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. John, Homily 37.1.

Notice how the passage above specifically uses the term “sufficiency,” and then compares the Scriptures not to ingredients to be turned into medicines, but as a “treasure of all manner of medicines,” and then (lest someone insist that a pharmacist is needed) he explains that this medicine is delivered by a man reading the Scriptures. Could this metaphor be made any stronger? It is hard to imagine how!

Chrysostom (349-407):

Hence, I beseech you, let us practice the reading of the holy Scriptures with great zeal. This, after all, is the way to fortify our knowledge, too, if we are assiduous in applying ourselves to their contents. I mean, it is not possible for the person who is in touch with the divine message in a spirit of zeal and fervent desire ever to suffer neglect; rather, even should a human teacher not come our way, the Lord himself would come from on high to enlighten our minds, shed light on our thinking, bring to our attention what had slipped our notice, and act as our instructor in what we have no knowledge of—provided we are prepared to contribute what lies in our power. Scripture says, remember, “Do not call anyone on earth your teacher.” When therefore we take an inspired book in our hands, let us concentrate, collect our thoughts and dispel every worldly thought, and let us in this manner do our reading with great devotion, with great attention so that we may be able to be led by the Holy Spirit towards the understanding of the writings and may gain great benefit from them.

Διʼ ὃ, παρακαλῶ, μετὰ πολλῆς σπουδῆς τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τῶν θείων Γραφῶν ποιώμεθα. Οὕτω γὰρ καὶ τῆς γνώσεως ἐπιτευξόμεθα, εἰ συνεχῶς ἐπίωμεν τὰ ἐγκείμενα. Οὐδὲ γάρ ἐστι τὸν μετὰ σπουδῆς καὶ πολλοῦ πόθου τοῖς θείοις ἐντυγχάνοντα λόγοις περιοφθῆναί ποτε· ἀλλὰ κἂν ἄνθρωπος ἡμῖν μὴ γένηται διδάσκαλος, αὐτὸς ὁ Δεσπότης ἄνωθεν ἐμβατεύων ταῖς καρδίαις ταῖς ἡμετέραις φωτίζει τὴν διάνοιαν, καταυγάζει τὸν λογισμὸν, ἐκκαλύπτει τὰ λανθάνοντα, διδάσκαλος ἡμῖν γίνεται τῶν ἀγνοουμένων· μόνον ἐὰν ἡμεῖς τὰ παρʼ ἑαυτῶν εἰσφέρειν βουλώμεθα. «Μὴ καλέσητε γὰρ, φησὶ, διδάσκαλον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς». Ἐπειδὰν οὖν λάβωμεν μετὰ χεῖρας βιβλίον πνευματικὸν, συντείναντες τὸν λογισμὸν, καὶ πᾶσαν βιωτικὴ, ἔννοιαν ἀπωσάμενοι, οὕτω τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν ποιώμεθα μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς εὐλαβείας, μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς προσοχῆς, ἵνα δυνηθῶμεν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ὁδηγηθῆναι ἐπὶ τὴν κατανόησιν τῶν γεγραμμένων, καὶ πολλὴν ἐκεῖθεν τὴν ὠφέλειαν καρπώσασθαι.

In Genesin, Homilia XXXV, §1, PG 53:321-322; translation in FC, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, Homily 35.2 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), pp. 304-305.

In the quotation above, Chrysostom comes so close to “just me and my Bible” that he might even scare a Reformed reader! Yet Chrysostom does, with the Reformed, acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit in the individual’s reading of the Holy Scriptures.

More examples could be cited from Chrysostom, but we have already provided so many examples, that we should move on to another father. Thus, we move geographically south from where Chrysostom served in the northern portion of the middle east, to Palestine. But theologically, we’re moving west to Rome, where Jerome was educated, and with which he continued to identify, even despite his move.

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

The preceding quotation is an example of Jerome affirming that the form of Scripture is such that it accommodates the reader.

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

This is not an explicit statement that Scripture interprets Scripture, but it surely implies that Jerome believed that. Jerome is basically saying that there may be some apparent difficulty with the text, but the solution is a more careful study of the Scripture, particularly of harmonization of Scripture with Scripture.

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

Now, in the preceding quotation, we have explicit what was implied in the previous quotation. Jerome believes that Scripture is Scripture’s interpreter. That’s one of the key features of a view of formal sufficiency of Scriptures.

Notice in the quote below how Jerome describes the nature of how our Lord has spoken in Holy Scripture so that “all may know,” something we’ve already seen in many of the prior fathers. This quote, to be sure, speaks of both the formal and material sufficiency of Holy Scripture. He distinguishes those present in the church from the evangelists and apostles, He says, “Note ‘who have been’ and not ‘who are.’ That is to make sure that, with the exception of the apostles, whatever else is said afterwards should be removed and not, later on, hold the force of authority.”

Jerome (347-420):

‘In his record of the peoples the Lord shall tell’: in the sacred writings, in His Scripture that is read to all peoples in order that all may know. Thus the apostles have written; thus the Lord Himself has spoken, not merely for a few, but that all might know and understand. Plato wrote books, but he did not write for all people but only for a few, for there are not many more than two or three men who know him. But the princes of the Church and the princes of Christ did not write only for the few, but for everyone without exception. ‘And princes’: the apostles and evangelists. ‘Of those who have been born in her.’ Note ‘who have been’ and not ‘who are.’ That is to make sure that, with the exception of the apostles, whatever else is said afterwards should be removed and not, later on, hold the force of authority. No matter how holy anyone may be after the time of the apostles, no matter how eloquent, he does not have authority, for ‘in his record of the peoples and princes the Lord shall tell of those who have been born in her.’

FC, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 18 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), pp. 142-143.

The preceding quotation is particularly interesting because of the comment about authority. Jerome is placing the authority of the Scriptures above the authority of every post-apostolic human being. That group naturally includes the bishop of Rome, whom Jerome held in high regard.

Notice another translation of the same passage below:

Jerome (347-420):

‘The Lord shall tell in the writings of peoples and of the princes, of them that have been in her.’ (verse 6) He did not say those who are in her, but those who have been in her. ‘The Lord shall tell;’ and how shall he tell? Not in word, but in writing. In whose writing? That of the peoples? That of the peoples is not sufficient. But he also says in that of the princes; and of what princes? They who *are* in her? he did not say this, but who *have been* in her. See, therefore, how full the Holy Scriptures are of sacraments (sacramentis, symbols). We read of the Apostle Paul, we read of Peter, and we read of him [Paul] saying, ‘Do you seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me?’ (2 Cor. 13:3) And what Paul speaks, Christ speaks; for ‘He who receiveth you receiveth me.’ (Matt. 10:40) Therefore our Lord and Savior telleth us, and speaketh in the writings of His princes. The Lord will tell in the writings of the peoples, in the Holy Writings. Which writing is read by all the people, that is, that all may understand. He saith what this is. As the apostles have written so also the Lord Himself; that is, He hath spoken by His evangelists, and that not a few, but that all may understand. Plato wrote writings, but he wrote not for the peoples, but for the few. For scarcely three men understand him. These indeed, that is, the princes of the Church and princes of Christ, have not written for a few, but for the whole people. And of the princes, that is, of the apostles, and evangelists of those who have been in her. See ye what he says. Who have been, not who are; that, the apostles excepted, whatever else is said afterwards is cut off, hath no authority afterwards. Although, therefore, anyone after the apostles, although he may be eloquent, he hath no authority, because ‘The Lord shall tell in the writing of peoples, and of these princes that have been in her.’

Dominus narrabit in scriptura populorum, et principum horum qui fuerunt in ea. Non dixit, qui sunt in ea, sed qui fuerunt in ea. Dominus narrabit: et quo modo narrabit? Non verbo, sed scriptura. In cujus scriptura? In populorum. Non sufficit in populorum, sed etiam principum dicit. Et quorum principum? Qui sunt in ea. Non dixit hoc, sed qui fuerunt in ea. Videte ergo quomodo Scriptura sancta sacramentis plena est. Legimus apostolum Paulum: legimus Petrum, et legimus illum dicentem: An experimentum ejus quaeritis, qui in me loquitur Christus? Et quod Paulus loquitur, loquitur Christus. Qui enim vos recipit, me recipit. Dominus ergo noster atque Salvator, narrat nobis et loquitur, in scripturis principum suorum. Dominus narrabit in Scripturis populorum: in Scripturis sanctis. Quae Scriptura populis omnibus legitur, hoc est, ut omnes intelligant. Quod dicit, hoc est: Sicut scripserunt apostoli, sic et ipse Dominus, hoc est, per Evangelia sua locutus est, non ut pauci intelligerent, sed ut omnes. Plato scripsit in scriptura, sed non scripsit populis, sed paucis. Vix enim intelligunt tres homines. Isti vero, hoc est, principes Ecclesiae et principes Christi, non scripserunt paucis, sed universo populo. Et principum, hoc est, apostolorum, et evangelistarum, horum qui fuerunt in ea. Videte quid dicat: Qui fuerunt, non qui sunt: ut, exceptis apostolis, quodcumque aliud postea dicetur, abscindatur, non habeat postea auctoritatem. Quamvis ergo sanctus sit aliquis post apostolos: quamvis disertus sit, non habet auctoritatem. Quoniam Dominus narrat in scriptura populorum, et principum horum qui fuerunt in ea.

Breviarium in Psalmos, Psalmus LXXXVI, PL 26:1083-1084; see John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), pp.481-482.

Since the preceding quotation is already discussed above, let us continue on to the next quotation.

Jerome (347-420):

What is the function of commentators? They expound the statements of someone else; they express in simple language views that have been expressed in an obscure manner; they quote the opinions of many individuals and they say: ‘Some interpret this passage in this sense, others, in another sense’; they attempt to support their own understanding and interpretation with these testimonies in this fashion, so that the prudent reader, after reading the different interpretations and studying which of these many views are to be accepted and which rejected, will judge for himself which is the more correct; and, like the expert banker, will reject the falsely minted coin.

FC, Vol. 53, St. Jerome – Dogmatic and Polemical Works, The Apology Against the Books of Rufinus, Book I, §16 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1965), p. 79.

What is particularly interesting about Jerome’s comment is his support here of private judgment. The individual can read many commentators, but at the end of the day he must decide which to accept.

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

The “cataracts” there are waterfalls, not vision problems. Jerome is affirming both the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture and the principle that the more clear New Testament makes plain the more obscure Old Testament passages.

Jerome (347-420):

Here we are taught, that the lay-people ought to have the word of God, not only sufficiently, but also with abundance, and to teach and counsel others.

Hic ostenditur verbum Christi non sufficienter, sed abundanter etiam laicos habere debere: et docere se invicem, vel monere.

In Epistolam Ad Colossenses, Caput III, PL30:859; translation in John Jewel, Works, The Second Portion, the Reply to Harding’s Answer (Cambridge: The Parker Society, 1848), p. 685..

The magisterium of the laity, and the necessity that they have the Word of God (by which Jerome means the Scriptures) is something that is the natural consequence of Jerome’s view of formal sufficiency.

From Jerome’s Palestinian lodgings we may journey back to the West to Augustine, a North African bishop who needs no introduction.

Augustine (354-430):

I begin, therefore, by requesting you to lay aside the opinion which you have too easily formed concerning me, and dismiss those sentiments, though they are gratifying evidences of your goodwill, and believe my testimony rather than any other’s regarding myself, if you reciprocate my affection. For such is the depth of the Christian Scriptures, that even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from early boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would be still daily making progress in discovering their treasures; not that there is so great difficulty in coming through them to know the things necessary to salvation, but when any one has accepted these truths with the faith that is indispensable as the foundation of a life of piety and uprightness, so many things which are veiled under manifold shadows of mystery remain to be inquired into by those who are advancing in the study, and so great is the depth of wisdom not only in the words in which these have been expressed, but also in the things themselves, that the experience of the oldest, the ablest, and the most zealous students of Scripture illustrates what Scripture itself has said: “When a man hath done, then he beginneth.”

NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustine, Letter 137, Chapter 1, §3.

What is interesting about the preceding quotation is that even in the midst of talking about plumbing the depths of Scripture, Augustine makes clear that the necessary doctrines are not the difficult ones.

Augustine (354-430):

Consider, moreover, the style in which Sacred Scripture is composed,—how accessible it is to all men, though its deeper mysteries are penetrable to very few. The plain truths which it contains it declares in the artless language of familiar friendship to the hearts both of the unlearned and of the learned; but even the truths which it veils in symbols it does not set forth in stiff and stately sentences, which a mind somewhat sluggish and uneducated might shrink from approaching, as a poor man shrinks from the presence of the rich; but, by the condescension of its style, it invites all not only to be fed with the truth which is plain, but also to be exercised by the truth which is concealed, having both in its simple and in its obscure portions the same truth. Lest what is easily understood should beget satiety in the reader, the same truth being in another place more obscurely expressed becomes again desired, and, being desired, is somehow invested with a new attractiveness, and thus is received with pleasure into the heart. By these means wayward minds are corrected, weak minds are nourished, and strong minds are filled with pleasure, in such a way as is profitable to all. This doctrine has no enemy but the man who, being in error, is ignorant of its incomparable usefulness, or, being spiritually diseased, is averse to its healing power.

NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustine, Letter 137, Chapter 5, §18. See also FC, Vol. 20, Saint Augustine Letters, 137. Addressed to Volusian (412 AD) (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), p. 34.

Notice that Augustine points out that the important parts are clear, but that there are some less clear portions that may serve as exercise, so that we may avoid spiritual flabbiness.

Augustine (354-430):

For if we were not encouraged by Him, and invited to understand Him; if He abandoned us as contemptible, since we were not able to partake His divinity if He did not partake our mortality and come to us to speak His gospel to us; if He had not willed to partake with us what in us is abject and most small, — then we might think that He who took on Himself our smallness, had not been willing to bestow on us His own greatness. This I have said lest any should blame us as over-bold in handling these matters, or despair of himself that he should be able to understand, by God’s gift, what the Son of God has deigned to speak to him. Therefore what He has deigned to speak to us, we ought to believe that He meant us to understand. But if we do not understand He, being asked, gives understanding, who gave His Word unasked.

NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate XXII, §1.

The above insight is similar to one of the points we made in introducing the topic. The point of Scripture is to communicate, therefore God has taken care that the form of Scripture will be such as can be understood.

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

What is especially important about the preceding is that Augustine is recognizing the role of the Spirit inwardly. Some of our opponents seem to want to mock the idea that are taught by God inwardly, but that is precisely Augustine’s argument. It is because of an absence of this inward teaching that even the plain Scriptures can be insufficient to persuade someone of the truth.

Augustine (354-430):

For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book.

Alternative translation:
The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope, charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.

NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 9; alternative translation in John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., WSA, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Chapter 9, §14 (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 135.

Scripture is the rule of faith and life, and these rules are set forth plainly. Like the quotation from Chrysostom above, it is hard to see how Augustine could express himself in a more Reformed way.

Augustine (354-430):

And while every man may find there all that he has learnt of useful elsewhere, he will find there in much greater abundance things that are to be found nowhere else, but can be learnt only in the wonderful sublimity and wonderful simplicity of the Scriptures.

NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 42.

Notice that Augustine not only makes Scripture a sole source for certain things, he praises both the sublimity, and more importantly (for our purposes) the simplicity of Scripture. The “sole source” aspect may relate to the material sufficiency of Scripture, but simplicity relates to its formal sufficiency.

Augustine (354-430):

Nor is that any reason why they should be crowed over by that holy and perfect man Antony, the Egyptian monk, who is said to have known the divine Scriptures by heart simply through hearing them, though he himself didn’t know how to read, and to have understood their meaning through intelligent reflection on them; or for that matter by that barbarian slave, a Christian, about whom we have recently been informed by the most serious and trustworthy men.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Prologue 4 (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 102.

The preceding quotation illustrates the fact that even an illiterate person can “read” the Scriptures (by hearing them) and understand their meaning.

Augustine (354-430):

As I said a little ago, when these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error.

NPNF1: Vol. IV, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XI, §2.

The point of providing the quotation above is simply to illustrate one place where Augustine took the position that the Scriptures are clear.

Augustine (354-430):

No Gentile, therefore, it he were not perverse and obstinate, would despise these books merely because be is not subject to the law of the Hebrews, to whom the books belong; but would think highly of the books, no matter whose they were, on finding in them prophecies of such ancient date, and of what he sees now taking place. Instead of despising Christ Jesus because He is foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, he would conclude that one thought worthy of being the subject of prophetic description, whoever the writers might be, for so many ages before His coming into the world, — sometimes in plain announcements, sometimes in figure by symbolic actions and utterances, — must claim to be regarded with profound admiration and reverence, and to be followed with implicit reliance. Thus the facts of Christian history would prove the truth of the prophecy, and the prophecy would prove the claims of Christ. Call this fancy, if it is not actually the case that men all over the world have been led, and are now led, to believe in Christ by reading these books.

NPNF1: Vol. IV, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XVI, §20.

Although there is a reference in the paragraph above to “plain announcements,” it seems that the most interesting aspect of the paragraph is really Augustine’s point that people are led to Christ through reading the books. That implies that the books themselves are formally sufficient to lead a person to Christ. It’s not an explicit way of making the claim for formal sufficiency, but it is a very strong implicit way.

Augustine (354-430):

All things that are read from the Holy Scriptures in order to our instruction and salvation, it behooves us to hear with earnest heed. Yet most of all must those things be commended to our memory, which are of most force against heretics; whose insidious designs cease not to circumvent all that are weaker and more negligent. Remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both died for us, and rose again; died, to wit, for our offenses, rose again for our justification. Even as ye have just heard concerning the two disciples whom He met with in the way, how “their eyes were holden that they should not know Him:” and He found them despairing of the redemption that was in Christ, and deeming that now He had suffered and was dead as a man, not accounting that as Son of God He ever liveth; and deeming too that He was so dead in the flesh as not to come to life again, but just as one of the prophets: as those of you who were attentive have just now heard their own words. Then “He opened to them the Scriptures, beginning at Moses,” and going through all the prophets, showing them that all He had suffered had been foretold, lest they should be more staggered if the Lord should rise again, and the more fail to believe Him, if these things had not been told before concerning Him. For the firmness of faith is in this, that all things which came to pass in Christ were foretold. The disciples, then, knew Him not, save “in the breaking of bread.” And truly he that eateth and drinketh not judgment to himself in the breaking of bread cloth know Christ. Afterward also those eleven “thought they saw a spirit.” He gave Himself to be handled by them, who also gave Himself to be crucified; to be crucified by enemies, to be handled by friends: yet the Physician of all, both of the ungodliness of those, and of the unbelief of these. For ye heard when the Acts of the Apostles were read, how many thousands of Christ’s slayers believed. If those believed afterwards who had killed, should not those believe who for a little while doubted? And yet even in regard of them, (a thing which ye ought especially to observe, and to commit to your memory, because that which shall make us strong against insidious errors, God has been pleased to put in the Scriptures, against which no man dares to speak, who in any sort wishes to seem a Christian), when He had given Himself to be handled by them, that did not suffice Him, but He would also confirm by means of the Scriptures the heart of them that believe: for He looked forward to us who should be afterwards; seeing that in Him we have nothing that we can handle, but have that which we may read. For if those believed only because they held and handled, what shall we do? Now, Christ is ascended into heaven; He is not to come save at the end, to judge the quick and the dead. Whereby shall we believe, but by that whereby it was His will that even those who handled Him should be confirmed? For He opened to them the Scriptures and showed them that it behooved Christ to suffer, and that all things should be fulfilled which were written of Him in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. He embraced in His discourse the whole ancient text of the Scriptures. All that there is of those former Scriptures tells of Christ; but only if it find ears. He also “opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.” Whence we also must pray for this, that He would open our understanding.

NPNF1: Vol. VII, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Homily 2, 1 John 2:12-17, §1.

What is particularly interesting about the preceding paragraph is that Jesus is described as coming to us in the writings of Scripture, as opposed to being handled. This not only has a bearing on Augustine’s view of the Eucharist, but more especially on the fact that the purpose of Scripture is to provide Jesus to us. That logically leads one to formal sufficiency, even though it may not express it itself.

Augustine (354-430) commenting on v. 4 of Psalm 8:

Out of the mouths of infants and suckling children you have perfected praise, in the sense that those who want to gain knowledge of your magnificence should begin from belief in the scriptures. Your magnificence is raised above the scriptures because it surpasses and stretches beyond the proclamations of all words and tongues. Therefore God has brought the scriptures right down within the range of infants and nurslings, as it is sung in another psalm: He bowed the heavens and came down (Ps 17:10 (18:9)). This he did on account of his enemies who, being enemies of the cross of Christ through their pride and talkativeness, cannot be of any use to infants and nurslings, even when they say some things that are true. This is how the enemy-cum-defender is toppled. Whether it is wisdom of the very name of Christ which he gives the impression of upholding, nonetheless it is from the step of this very faith that he mounts his attack on that truth which he is so ready to promise. It is crystal-clear that he does not have the truth, for by attacking its first step, which is faith, he proves he has not the faintest idea how to climb up to itBy this means, therefore, that rash and blind person who promises truth but who is also its enemy-cum-defender is toppled. This happens when the heavens are seen as the works of God’s fingers, that is, when the scriptures, brought right down to the slowness of babies’ comprehension, are understood. They raise these infants up to the very things of which they tell with such conviction; but the infants are now well nurtured and strengthened to scale the heights and understand things eternal, through the humility of faith rooted in a history which has been worked out within time. Those heavens, that is, those books, are indeed the works of God’s fingers, for it was by the operation of the Holy Spirit in the saints that they were written. Those who sought their own glory rather than the salvation of humankind spoke without the Holy Spirit, in whom are the depths of the mercy of God.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 15, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 1-32, Psalm 8.8 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2000), p. 133.

Can one say that the form of the Scriptures is more sufficient in a stronger way than saying that the simplest members of society can understand them? If so, then there may be a stronger way to express formal sufficiency than the preceding quotation.

Augustine (354-430):

When the apostle said, Do you not know that your body is the temple in your midst of the Holy Spirit whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a great price, he immediately goes on to say, Glorify God, then, in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20). There he showed with utter clarity that the Holy Spirit is God and that he should be glorified in our body as if in his temple. The apostle Peter said to Ananias, Have you dared to lie to the Holy Spirit? And to show that the Holy Spirit is God, he said, You have not lied to men, but to God (Acts 5:3-4).

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Arianism and Other Heresies, Answer to Maximinus the Arian, Book II:XXI.1, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1995), p. 304.

Of course, the above instance is just one instance where Augustine ascribes clarity to Scripture, even on points that were debated (some people tried to deny that the Holy Spirit is God, for example). Nevertheless, many other instances coudl be provided.

Augustine (354-430):

The Lord refers to these in a parable, though his meaning is perfectly clear, when he says, (Then Augustine quotes Mt 21:33-43 & Ps 118:22-23 and asks) What could be plainer, clearer, more evident than this?

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Arianism and Other Heresies, Answer to an Enemy of the Law and the Prophets, Book II.16, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1995), p. 421.

The above is just a couple more examples of Augustine commenting on the clarity of Scripture in specific examples.

Augustine (354-430):

You exaggerate “how difficult the knowledge of the sacred scriptures is,” claiming that “it is suited for only the learned few, . . .”

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians, II, Answer to Julian, Book V:2, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 432.

The line above is interesting because it illustrates the attitude of the heretic toward Scripture, compared with the attitude of Augustine (note his comment about infants above).

Augustine (354-430):

But where the matter is obvious, we ought not to add our interpretation to the meaning of the divine Scripture, for this is not done out of human ignorance, but out of perverse pride.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians, II, Answer to Julian, Book V:7, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 436.

The above combines the two themes (1) of examples of “obvious” or clear teachings in Scripture and (2) of opposing those who err by trying to make something obvious into something oblivious.

Augustine (354-430):

This, after all, is the reason why a young man corrects his way of life: because he meditates upon the words of God as he ought to meditate upon them, observes them because he meditates upon them, and lives correctly because he observes them. This, then, is the reason for correcting his way of life: because he observes the words of God.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians, II, Answer to Julian, Book VI:76, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 528. This statement by Augustine is meaningless if it does not presuppose the general perspicuity of Holy Scripture.

The above paragraph highlights Augustine’s view that Scriptures are themselves our rule of life. This is, of course, similar to the Reformed view we highlighted at the beginning of this discussion. Then Augustine explains that the way in which this rule is applied to life is through meditation, which shows that Augustine views the Scriptures as formally sufficient.

Augustine (354-430):

Our volumes are put up for sale in public; the light never needs to blush. Let them buy them, read them, believe them; or else buy them, read them, make fun of them. Those Scriptures know how to hold people guilty who read them and don’t believe.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Newly Discovered Sermons, Part 3, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermon 198.20 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1997), pp. 195-196.

This is not expressly a statement of formal sufficiency, but it is a powerful way of saying that the Scriptures are stand-alone documents. They themselves hold their mockers/disbelievers guilty.

Augustine to Julian:

You in fact try to obscure the lights of the holy scriptures which shine with certain truth by the complexity of your evil arguments. After all, what is clearer than what I just said: Human beings have become like vanity; their days pass like a shadow (Ps 144:4)? That surely would not have happened, if they had remained in the likeness of God in which they were created. What is clearer than the statement: As in Adam all die, so too in Christ all will be brought to life (1 Cor 15:22)? What is clearer than the words: Who, after all, is clean from filth? Not even an infant whose life has lasted a single day on earth (Jb 14:4-5 LXX)? And there are many other passages which you try to wrap in darkness and twist to your perverse meaning by your empty chatter.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:5, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 58.

Augustine is using the same “light” metaphor that we have already identified many times to say that the Scriptures are clear and readily understandable. Furthermore, Augustine is accusing Julian of trying to make the Scriptures unclear by clouding them. The Scriptures themselves, without anyone’s interferences, are clear beams of light to Augustine. That’s the perfect metaphor of the formal sufficiency of Scripture – a metaphor Scripture itself employs (as we already observed above).


They turn obscure ideas into their teaching; you try to obscure clear ones with your teaching. What, after all, is clearer than the statement of the apostle that sin entered this world through one man, and through sin death, and in that way it was passed on to all human beings?

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:25, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 66.

These are the same thoughts as before. Scripture is clear, but heretics try to make it obscure.

Augustine (354-430):

Why are you trying to wrap yourself in your obscure statements in opposition to the clear statements of the apostle? In speaking of God, he says, He rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13), and you say that he said this, but excluded the little ones.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:64, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 90.

This is the same theme as the previous quotation.

Augustine (354-430):

On this account he cries out, Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24). And you close your eyes to the perfectly clear truth and you explain his groan, not as it is evident to all, but as it pleases you, when you say that Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:24) means: “Who will set me free from the guilt of my own sins which I committed?” He said, I do the evil that I do not will (Rom 7:19), and you say: “the sins which I committed.”

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:65, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 95.

The above are some more examples of the same general principle of Scripture being clear, but heretics trying to ignore that plain truth.

Augustine (354-430):

The person who reads some writing out loud to other listeners obviously knows what he is pronouncing, while the one who teaches people in literacy classes does this so that they too may know how to read. Each of them, all the same, is handing on what he has received. In the same sort of way those too who explain to an audience what they understand in the scriptures are, as it were, performing the office of reader and pronouncing letters they know, while those who lay down rules about how they are to be understood are like the person who teaches literacy, who gives out the rules, that is, on how to read. So just as the person who knows how to read does not require another reader, when he gets hold of a volume, to tell him what is written in it, in the same way, those who have grasped the rules we are endeavoring to pass on will retain a knowledge of these rules, like letters, when they come across anything obscure in the holy books, and will not require another person who understands to uncover for them what is shrouded in obscurity. Instead, by following up certain clues, they will be able themselves to get the hidden meaning of a passage without any error—or at the very least to avoid falling into any absurdly wrongheaded opinion.

See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part I, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Prologue §9 (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 104.

Notice that someone might say that this implies that Scriptures are not able to be understood on their own. What Augustine is actually saying, though, is that once one understands the rules for interpretation, he does not need a teacher to arrive at a sufficient understanding.

From Augustine, we may stay in the West, moving into Europe to one of the opponents of Augustinianism, the arguably semi-Pelagian John Cassian.

John Cassian (360-430s?):

Serenus: “The authority of Holy Scripture has said some things so lucidly and clearly for our instruction, even to those of limited intelligence, that not only are they not veiled in the obscurity of a hidden meaning but they do not even need to be explained, and they offer intelligibility and meaning at first glance.”

ACW, Vol. 57, Boniface Ramsey, O.P., trans., John Cassian: The Conferences, Eighth Conference, Chapter 3.1 (New York: Newman Press, 1997), p. 292.

Obviously, this is Cassian quoting Serenus (an abbot whom Cassian greatly admired), rather than Cassian speaking himself. Nevertheless, the quotation shows a very similar attitude to Scripture to the attitude we’ve seen above. Some things in Scripture are said so clearly that no explanation is necessary – even for people of limited intelligence.

John Cassian (360-430s?):

This man therefore, when some of the brethren were wondering at the splendid light of his knowledge and were asking of him some meanings of Scripture, said that a monk who wanted to acquire a knowledge of the Scriptures ought not to spend his labor on the works of commentators, but rather to keep all the efforts of his mind and intentions of his heart set on purifying himself from carnal vices: for when these are driven out, at once the eyes of the heart, as if the veil of the passions were removed, will begin as it were naturally to gaze on the mysteries of Scripture: since they were not declared to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit in order that they should remain unknown and obscure; but they are rendered obscure by our fault, as the veil of our sins covers the eyes of the heart, and when these are restored to their natural state of health, the mere reading of Holy Scripture is by itself amply sufficient for beholding the true knowledge, nor do they need the aid of commentators, just as these eyes of flesh need no man’s teaching how to see, provided that they are free from dimness or the darkness of blindness. For this reason there have arisen so great differences and mistakes among commentators because most of them, paying no sort of attention towards purifying the mind, rush into the work of interpreting the Scriptures, and in proportion to the density or impurity of their heart form opinions that are at variance with and contrary to each other’s and to the faith, and so are unable to take in the light of truth.

Hic ergo quibusdam fratribus admirantibus tam praeclarum scientiae ejus lumen, et ab eodem quosdam Scripturarum sensus inquirentibus, ait: Monachum ad Scripturarum notitiam pertingere cupientem, nequaquam debere labores suos erga commentatorum libros impendere, sed potius omnem mentis industriam et intentionem cordis erga emundationem vitiorum carnalium detinere. Quibus expulsis confestim cordis oculi, sublato velamine passionum, sacramenta Scripturarum velut naturaliter incipient contemplari. Siquidem nobis non ut essent incognita vel obscura, sancti Spiritus gratia promulgata sunt: sed nostro vitio velamine peccatorum cordis oculos obnubente redduntur obscura, quibus rursum naturali redditis sanitati, ipsa Scripturarum sanctarum lectio ad contemplationem verae scientiae abunde etiam sola sufficiat, nec eos commentatorum institutionibus indigere: sicut oculi isti carnales ad videndum nullius egent doctrina, si modo fuerint a suffusione, vel caligine caecitatis immunes. Ideo namque et tanta varietas erroresque inter tractatores ipsos exorti sunt, quod plerique minime erga purgationem mentis adhibita diligentia prosilientes ad interpretandum eas, pro pinguedine vel immunditia cordis sui diversa atque contraria vel fidei, vel sibimet sentientes, veritatis lumen comprehendere nequiverunt.

De Coenobiorum Institutis Libri Duodecim, Liber Quintus, Caput XXXIV, PL 49:250-254; translation in NPNF2: Vol. XI, Institutes of The Coenobia, 5:34.

Notice that the identified obstacle for understanding Scripture is in the reader, not in the Scripture. Moreover, it is not in the nature of the person as a reader, but in the nature of the person as to sin. The person who does not love righteousness sets obstacles for himself, but the person who does not do so sees the meaning of Scripture clearly, even without the aid of commentators.

John Cassian

And indeed we will prove this not only by discussion and argument, but by the voice of Divinity Itself: for nothing testifies of God better than things divine. And because nothing knows itself better than the very glory of God, we believe nothing on the subject of God with greater right than those writings in which God Himself is His own witness.

NPNF2: Vol. 11, On the Incarnation of Christ Against Nestorius, Book 7, Chapter 17.

The preceding quotation may seem to mostly reflect the supremacy of Scripture, but if you consider it closely, you will observe that Cassian is arguing the very voice of Divinity itself is going to prove his case. That means that the form, as well as the matter, is sufficient for his purposes.

We’ll now jump back to the east, this time to a man who could be considered one of the desert fathers of Egypt. The jump is not as dramatic as one might think, since John Cassian is known for having brought attention to a number of the desert fathers.

Isidore of Pelusium (fl. 412 – d. 435), note σαφηνείᾳ τοσαύτῃ (so great perspicuity):

If God had had respect only to his own dignity, and not the profit of the reader, he would have used heavenly and divine words and examples. But since he was legislating for men that are weak and in need of human words (for thus they were able easily to understand things above them), he expressed his divine doctrines in common words, to the intent that even a woman and a child, and the most ignorant of all men, might obtain some profit even from the very hearing. For, the word having a consideration for the salvation of the multitude, and even rustics, is expressed with so much clearness through the philanthropy of the legislator, as to deprive no one of the benefit proportioned to his powers; nor hath it neglected the wiser of mankind; for in this so great clearness, such unutterable words dwell like treasures, that even the wisest and most learned of men are lost in the profundity of the thoughts, and often confess themselves overcome by the incomprehensibility of the wisdom.

Εἰ γὰρ πρὸς τὴν αὐτοῦ ἀξίαν μόνον προσέσχεν ὁ Θεὸς, καὶ μὴ πρὸς τὴν ὠφέλειαν τῶν ἐντευξομένων, οὐρανίοις ἂν καὶ θείοις λόγοις τε καὶ παραδείγμασιν ἐχρήσατο. Ἀλλʼ ἐπειδὴ ἀνθρώποις ἐνομοθέτε: ἀσθενέσι τυγχάνουσι, καὶ ἀνθρωπίνων δεομένοις λόγων (οὕτω γὰρ ῥᾳδίως τὰ ὑπὲρ αὐτοὺς νοῆσαι ἠδύναντο), ἰδιωτικαῖς λέξεσιν ἐκέρασε τὰ θεῖα μαθήματα, ἵνα καὶ γυνὴ καὶ παῖς καὶ ἁπάντων ἀνθρώπων ἀμαθέστατος κερδάνῃ τι καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς τῆς ἀκροάσεως. Τῆς γὰρ τῶν πολλῶν καὶ ἀγελαιοτέρων φροντίσας σωτηρίας ὁ λόγος, σαφηνείᾳ τοσαύτῃ διὰ φιλανθρωπίαν τοῦ νομοθέτου κραθεὶς, οὐδένα τῆς κατὰ δύναμιν ὠφελείας ἀποστερεῖ. Οὔτε δὲ τῶν σοφωτέρων ἠμέλησεν. Ἐν τοσαύτῃ γὰρ σαφηνείᾳ οὕτως ἀπόῤῥητοι λόγοι καθάπερ θησαυροί τινες ἐνοικοῦσιν, ὡς καὶ τοὺς σοφωτάτους καὶ ἐλλογιμωτάτους τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ βάθος τῶν νοημάτων ἰλιγγιᾷν, καὶ παραχωρεῖν πολλάκις τῷ ἀκαταλήπτῳ τῆς σοφίας.

Epistolarium, Liber II, Epistola 5, PG 78:461-464; for translation, see William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 284.

Isiodore’s comment illustrates that the form of Scripture is one that provides clear instruction. It’s a very similar comment to the comments we ourselves make, and to those comments already identified in the preceding fathers.

Isidore of Pelusium (fl. 412 – d. 435):

If the truth be joined to eloquent language, it is able to profit the educated, but to all others it will be of no use or advantage. Wherefore the Scripture hath declared the truth in simple language, that both the unlearned and the wise, and even children and women, might learn it. For by this the wise are in no respect injured; but by the other [i.e. Scripture being indited in superior language] the greater part of the world would have been injured; and if it behoved it to consider the few, it more especially behoved it to consider the many; and since it has considered all, it is clearly shown to be divine and heavenly.

Εἰ δʼ ἡ ἀλήθεια τῇ καλλιεπείᾳ συναφθείη, δύναται μὲν τοὺς πεπαδευμένους ὠφελῆσαι, τοῖς δʼ καὶ ἄλλοις ἅπασιν ἄχρηστος ἔσται καὶ ἀνωφελής. Διʼ ὅ καὶ ἡ Γραφὴ τὴν ἀλήθειαν πεζῷ λόγῳ ἡρμήνευσεν, ἵνα καὶ ἰδιῶται, καὶ σοφοὶ, καὶ παῖδες, καὶ γυναῖκες μάθοιεν. Ἐκ μὲν γὰρ τούτου οἱ οὐδὲν παραβλάπτονται• ἐκ δʼ ἐκείνου τὸ πλέον τῆς οἰκουμένης μέρος παρεβλάβη. Ἄν τινων οὖν ἐχρῆν φροντίσαι, μάλιστι μὲν τῶν πλειόνων. Ἐπειδὰν δὲ καὶ πάντων ἐφρόντισε, δείκνυται λαμπρῶς θεία οὖσα καὶ οὐράνιος.

Epistolarium, Liber IV, Epistola 67, PG 78:1125; for translation, see William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 284.

This is a very similar comment to the preceding comment. Scripture is so easy that not only uneducated men could learn from it, but even women and children can learn from it.

Isidore of Pelusium (fl. 412 – d. 435):

If all things were plain, where should we make use of our understanding, there not being any investigation to make? But if all things were obscure, thus also we should fall, there being no discovery of the truth. But now, through those parts that are plain, those that are obscure are in a manner understood.

Greek text: Εἰ μὲν γὰρ πάντα ἦν δῆλα, ποῦ τῇ συνέσει ἐχρησάμεθα, μὴ οὔσης ζητήσεως; Εἰ δὲ πάντα ἄδηλα, καὶ οὕτως ἀναπεπτώκειμεν ἂν, μὴ οὔσης εὑρέσεως. Νῦν δὲ διὰ τῶν δῆλων, καὶ τὰ ἄδηλα τρόπον τινὰ καταλαμβάνεται.

Epistolarium, Liber IV, Epistola 82, PG 78:1144-1145; for translation, see William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 285.

This is similar to the comment from Augustine we saw earlier about the difficult part serving as a sort of exercise. It also shows the key principle that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that the less clear parts are interpreted by the more clear parts.

Isidore of Pelusium (fl. 412 – d. 435):

The sacred and heavenly oracles, since they were spoken and written for the benefit of all mankind, were expressed in plain language. . . . All those who are engaged in husbandry, and the arts, and other occupations of life, derive profit from its clearness; learning both what is proper and what is just and what is useful in a moment of time.

Greek text: οἱ δὲ ἱεροὶ καὶ οὐράνιοι χρησμοὶ, ἐπειδὴ πρὸς ὠφέλειαν πάσης τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος ἐῤῥέθησαν καὶ ἐγράφησαν, τῇ σαφηνείᾳ ἐκράθησαν….πάντες δʼ οἱ γεωργίαις καὶ τέχναις καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις ἀσχολίαις τοῦ βίου σχολάζοντες, ὠφελοῦνται ἐκ τῆς σαφηνείας• καὶ τὸ πρέπον, καὶ τὸ δίκαιον, καὶ τὸ συμφέρον ἐν ἀκαριαίᾳ καιροῦ ῥοπῇ μανθάνοντες.

Epistolarium, Liber IV, Epistola 91, PG 78:1152; for translation, see William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 285.

This is similar to the preceding quotations. The Scriptures are written in plain language, so that even farmers can understand them – not just educated city-folk.

Speaking of city-folk, we now move from the rural deserts of Egypt to the urban center of Alexandria in Egypt.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch, 412-444):

Such subtle and out-of-the-way problems do not require a doctrinal decision so much as a questioning and speculative investigation accompanied by a refusal to let the mind fall into improper views to be carried away from reasonableness. For it is written ‘seeking do thou seek and dwell with me.’ How can one clearly explain what holy writ has not stated clearly? For example it is written in the book of Genesis that in the beginning God made heaven and earth. Holy writ declared that he has made it and we accept this truth in faith. But meddlesome inquiry into the means, origin or method whereby heaven, earth and the rest of creation were brought into being has its harmful side, for there is no need to involve the mind in profundities. What divine Scripture does not state very clearly must remain unknown and be passed over in silence.

Lionel R. Wickham, trans., Cyril of Alexandria: Select Letters, Doctrinal Questions and Answers #2 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 187-189.

What’s very interesting about the preceding quotation is that Cyril is arguing not just for the material sufficiency of Scripture for theological knowledge, but also on a limitation on theological knowledge framed by the form of Scripture. Specifically, those things that Scripture says obscurely (not “very clearly”) would remain unknown and must be passed over in silence.

That sounds like an even stronger formulation of formal sufficiency than we would be willing to adopt, since we do not require silence when Scripture speaks less clearly. But perhaps we will see that Cyril himself moderates this view to come closer to the Reformed view in his other comments.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444), Commenting on 1 Cor. 1:21:

By the foolishness of preaching he means the plainness of the phraseology of the inspired Scripture. Therefore, leaving off toiling in vain and reaping no fruit, and enduring to spend your labors upon things that are unprofitable, hear me rather, and eat that which is good namely, through the Evangelical proclamations, in which, saith he, your soul would abundantly delight, and be nourished. There is the true knowledge of God as he is, and instruction as to all virtue and propriety of conduct, becoming saints; and wisdom, such as with wonderful exactness rightly discerns everything that ought to be done, and perfectly fits the mind for activity in good works.

Μωρίαν δὲ τοῦ κηρύγματος τὴν κοινότητα τῆς λέξεως τῆς ἐνούσης τῇ θεοπνεύτῳ Γραφῇ, φησίν. Ἀφέντες οὖν τὸ εἰκῆ πονεῖν, καὶ ἀκαρπίαν συλλέγειν, καὶ δαπανᾷν ἀνέχεσθαι πόνους ἐπʼ ἀνωφελέσι πράγμασι, μᾶλλον ἀκούσατέ μου, καὶ φάγεσθε ἀγαθὰ τὰ διὰ τῶν εὐαγγελικῶν δηλονότι, οἷς δὴ καὶ περιττῶς, φησὶν, ἐντρυφήσειεν ἡ ψυχὴ ἡμῶν. Ἐκεῖ γνῶσις ἀληθὴς τοῦ κατὰ φύσιν Θεοῦ, καὶ ἀρετῆς ἁπάσης καὶ ἀγιοπρεποῦς εὐκοσμίας μάθημα καὶ σύνεσις, θαυμαστῶς ἕκαστα τῶν πρακτέων ὀρθῶς διακρίνοντα, καὶ τεχνίτην εἰς ἀγαθουργίαν ἀποτελοῦσα τὸν νοῦν•

Commentarium in Isaiam prophetam, Liber V, Tomus II, PG 70:1221; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 181-182.

The preceding quotation highlights the fact that Scripture speaks plainly, and that in those plain teachings we find the rule of faith and life. While Cyril does not use the precise words we use, it is hard to suggest that here is saying anything different from what we say, even if we might not find these doctrines in the particular verse he has identified.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444):

Therefore the inspired Scripture is abundantly sufficient, even so that those who have been nourished by it ought to come forth wise and very prudent, and possessed of an understanding abundantly instructed in all things. …What that is profitable to us is not spoken by it? For, first, (what is also more excellent than all other things,) any one may see in it the glorious doctrine of the true knowledge of God. …Moreover, in addition to this, it teaches us how to order aright our life and conversation, and by its divine and sacred laws directs us in the way of righteousness, and makes the path of all equity clear to us.

Ἀπόχρη μὲν οὖν ἡ θεόπνευστος Γραφὴ καὶ πρός γε τὸ δεῖν ἀποφάναι σοφοὺς καὶ δοκιμωτάτους, καὶ διαρκεστάτην ἔχοντας σύνεσιν τοὺς ἐντεθραμμέους αὐτῇ• …Τί γὰρ τῶν ὀνησιφόρων οὐκ εἴρηται παρʼ αὐτῆς; πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ὅ καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων ἐστὶ τιμαλφέστερον, κατίδοι τις ἐν αὐτῇ τοὺς τῆς ἀληθοῦς θεοπτίας ἐναστράπτοντας λόγους. …Εἶτα πρὸς τούτοις καὶ τοὺς τῆς εὐζωΐας ἡμῖν εἰσηγῆται τρόπους, νόμοις δὲ θείοις καὶ ἱεροῖς ἀπευθύνει πρὸς δικαιοσύνην, καὶ μὴν καὶ ἁπάσης ἡμῖν ἐπιεικείας ἐναργῆ καθίστησι τρίβον.

Contra Julianum, Liber VII, PG 76:852-853; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, pp. 282-283.

Here Cyril even uses the very word “sufficient,” and says that the Scriptures are “abundantly sufficient.” And when he explains what he means, we see that he means that anyone can gain a knowledge of God from them, and that the path of righteousness is set forth clearly in them.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444):

But some one will say, that the divine scripture hath a style and diction common to all, vulgar and trite; whereas the things of the Greeks are expressed elegantly, and abound in grace and eloquence. We say, therefore, that the prophetical and Mosaic books are expressed in the Hebrew language; and, in order that they might be known to all, small and great, are usefully committed to a familiar diction, so as to transcend no man’s capacity.

Ἀλλʼ, ἴσως ἐρεῖ τις, ἡ μὲν θεία Γραφὴ κοινήν τε καὶ ἀγελαίαν, καὶ ἅπασι κατημαξευμένην ἔχει τὴν λέξιν• εὐστομεῖ δὲ τὰ Ἑλλήνων, καὶ καταπλουτεῖ τὸ ἐπίχαρι, καὶ πρός γε τούτῳ τὸ εὐεπές. Φαμὲν οὖν, ὅτι γλώττη μὲν Ἑβραίων ἐλαλήθη τὰ προφητῶν, καὶ αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ Μωσέως, ἵνα καὶ ὑπάρχῃ γνώριμα μικροῖς καὶ μεγάλοις, μετεποιήθη χρησίμως εἰς τὸ τῆς γλώττης εὐτριβὲς καὶ δυσέφικτον ἐχούσης παντελῶς οὐδές.

Contra Julianum, Liber VII, PG 76:853; for translation, see William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (Cambridge: University Press, reprinted 1849), p. 399.

What’s interesting is that Cyril is responding to a complaint by his opponents that the Bible is written in a very simple, uncomplicated way. Whereas, in contrast, the Greek intellectuals wrote in a very complicated hard-to-understand way. Cyril’s response was not to argue that the Scriptures are written in a very complex way, but to point out the purpose of Scripture, namely that the Scripture was intended to be read and understood by all. This is speaking to the form of the Scriptures. In this case, it appears that Cyril is specifically referring to the form one or more of the Greek translations of the Old Testament, but you will see that Cyril’s comments are not elsewhere limited to those portions.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444) commenting on Isaiah 24:15-16:

From wings taken in this sense, he says, we heard of marvels – performed through Christ, that is; having been given spiritual guidance from the writings of the holy apostles and evangelists, and becoming acquainted with the divine signs worked by the Savior, we have an unwavering faith in them, trust, constancy, belief and excellent hope of the devout.

Robert Charles Hill (translator), Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Volume 2 (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008) pp. 115-16.

In the preceding quotation Cyril ascribes the spiritual guidance to the writings of the New Testament.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444) commenting on Isaiah 26::

By night my spirit watches for you, O God, because your commandments are light on the earth (v. 9). By night he refers to the time before the incarnation of the Lord, by watching the inspired foreknowledge, and by true light the Gospel of Christ, the sun of justice, which the earth everywhere is bidden learn. The learning is not from nature, in fact, like gazing or walking, but from zeal and attentiveness; the one who does not learn is removed from the living, and will not see the glory of Christ. Those who say, We hoped in your name and in your memory, in which our soul longs, necessarily make this offering as well; by admitting the divine light into their mind, dismissing the darkness of the former deceit, and seeing the gloom of sin dissipated, they offer songs of thanksgiving, as though saying that dawn is breaking upon them, and a daystar is now rising in their hearts, as Scripture says. To such people the divinely-inspired Paul also writes in these words, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light”; and elsewhere as well, “We are all children of the light and children of the day, not of the night and of darkness”; the mind of believers is enlightened by the Gospel oracles. Consequently, the divinely-inspired David also says as if to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Your Law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.” In other words, the Law given through the all-wise Moses was, as it were, obscured by the gloom, so to say, and shadows — of the text, that is; but by the Gospel preaching the beauty of the reality is rendered bare and resplendent, and cheers the mind with the understanding of pious people like the infusion of a light.

Robert Charles Hill (translator), Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Volume 2 (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008) pp. 135-36.

What’s interesting about the preceding quotation is the fact that Cyril is turning to the same texts we do to make the same point. He is referring to the Scriptures as light, and he is showing that the more clear illuminates the less clear, even specifically referring to the role of the New Testament in making the Old Testament more clear where it was formerly more obscure.

More examples could be provided from Cyril’s voluminous writings, but it is time to head north to Cyrrhus, in Syria.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

The divine Scripture is accustomed to accommodate its lessons to those who are to be instructed; and to the perfect, to offer that which is perfect; and to the ignorant, elementary points and things suited to their ability.

Alternative translation:
Holy Scripture normally adapts the contents to the learners: to those who are mature proposing mature teachings, but to the immature the elements, in keeping with their capacity.

Μετρεῖν εἴωθε τοῖς παιδευομένοις ἡ θεία γραφὴ μαθήματα, καὶ τοῖς μὲν τελείοις προσφέρειν τὰ τέλεια, τοῖς ἀτελέσι δὲ τὰ στοιχειώδη, καὶ τῇ σφῶν δυνάμει συμβαίνοντα.

Quæstiones in Genesim, Interrogatio I, PG 80:77; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 285; alternative translation in Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, Question 1 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 7.

The preceding quotation is very similar to the ones we have already seen. Theodoret is saying that Scripture accomodates the reader.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

These simpletons fail to understand that the Lord God, when speaking to humans through humans adjusts his language to the limitations of the listeners.

Καὶ οὐ συνεῖδον οἱ ἄγαν ἠλίθιοι, ὡς ἀνθρώποις διʼ ἀνθρώπων διαλεγόμενος ὁ Δεσπότης Θεός, τῇ τῶν ἀκουόντων ἀσθενείᾳ τοὺς λόγους μετρεῖ.

Quæstiones in Genesim, Interrogatio XX, PG 80:104C; Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, Question 20 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 51.

This is the same thought as the previous one, although here Theodoret is speaking in stronger terms.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

The divine Scripture accommodates its language to men; and orders its words so that they may be able to understand.

Alternative translation:
Holy Scripture speaks in a manner suited to human beings and frames its expressions so we may receive them.

Προσφόρως τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἡ θεία γραφὴ διαλέγεται, καὶ ὡς ἀκούειν δύνανται μετασχηματίζει τοὺς λόγους·

Quæstiones in Genesim, Interrogatio LII, PG 80:156; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 285; alternative translation in Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, Question 52 (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 111.

And again, Theodoret is saying much the same thing we showed him saying in the previous two quotations.

Theodoret speaks ill of those who charge Scripture with being shrouded in obscurity, which demonstrates how he would have regarded the modern day contentions of those who advocate for Rome’s position that denies Scripture’s sufficiency. Notice what he says in preface to his commentary on the Prophecy of Ezekiel:

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

Some people who have fallen foul of this complaint have endeavored to level charges at the divine Scripture, and especially the inspired oracles, of being shrouded in obscurity. To such people the divine-inspired Paul would retort, “Now, even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, but to the mature it is wisdom we are speaking.” In keeping with this, too, is what is said by our Lord and savior to the holy apostles, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, whereas to those others it is not given;” and to explain the reason he immediately adds, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not understand” — that is, they willingly bring upon themselves the cloud of ignorance: if they turn to the Lord, as the apostle says, the veil will be lifted. Divine realities, therefore, are not obscure to everyone, only to those who are voluntarily blind; they ought to take note and realize that nothing worthwhile is readily accessible to human beings.

Ταύτῃ περιπεσόντες τῇ νόσῳ τινὲς τῆς θείας Γραφῆς κατ ηγορεῖν ἐπεχείρησαν, διαφερόντως δὲ τῶν προφητι κῶν θεσπισμάτων, ὡς ἀσαφείᾳ κεκαλυμμένων. Πρὸς οὓς ἂν εἰκότως ὁ θεσπέσιος εἴποι Παῦλος· «Εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστι κεκαλυμμένον τὸ Εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶ κεκαλυμμμένον· σοφίαν γὰρ λαλοῦ μεν ἐν τοῖς τελείοις.» Συμφωνεῖ δὲ τούτοις καὶ τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Δεσπότου καὶ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν πρὸς τοὺς ἁγίους ἀποστόλους εἰρημένα· «Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυ στήρια τῆς βασιλείας, ἐκείνοις δὲ οὐ δέδοται·» καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν διδάσκων εὐθὺς ἐπάγει, ὅτι «Βλέποντες οὐ βλέπουσι, καὶ ἀκούοντες οὐ συνιοῦσιν.» Αὐτοὶ γὰρ, φησὶν, ἑκόντες ἐπισπῶνται τῆς ἀγνοίας τὸ νέφος· ἐὰν γὰρ ἐπιστρέψωσι πρὸς Κύριον, ᾗ φησιν ὁ θεῖος Ἀπόστολος, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα. Οὐ τοίνυν πᾶσίν ἐστιν ἀσαφῆ τὰ θεῖα, ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἐθελουσίως τυφλώττουσιν· οὓς ἐχρῆν σκοπῆσαι, καὶ συνιδεῖν, ὅτι τῶν τιμίων οὐδὲν πρόχειρον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις.

In Ezechielem – Præfatio, PG 81:808-809; Robert Charles Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentaries on the Prophets, Vol. Two, Commentary on the Prophet Ezekiel (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), preface, pp. 27-28.

Theodoret’s response to those who claim that Scriptures are obscure is the same as we have seen in many of the preceding fathers. He blames the obscurity on the sinfulness of men, and asserts that the Scriptures themselves are clear.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

Let no one, therefore, especially devotees of the true religion, adopt such a presumptuous attitude to the divine Spirit as to accuse his words of obscurity. Instead, in their longing to understand the sacred words, let them cry aloud with the divinely-inspired David, “Unveil my eyes, and I shall grasp the marvels of your law:” having promised the knowledge as a benefit, he will definitely grant the request. In fact, in our case, too, let us offer this request to the Lord, who according to the divine David gives wisdom to the blind, and according to blessed Isaiah to those in gloom and darkness, and let us venture upon a commentary on the divinely-inspired Ezekiel, attempt to plumb the depths of the prophecy as far as is possible for us, and make available to all religious people the value drawn from it.

Μηδεὶς τοίνυν, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν τῆς εὐσεβείας τρο φίμων, κατὰ τοῦ θείου Πνεύματος θρασυνέσθω, τοῖς τούτου λόγοις ἀσάφειαν ἐπιμεμφόμενος· ἀλλὰ νοῆσαι τοὺς ἱεροὺς ἐφιέμενος λόγους μετὰ τοῦ θεσπεσίου βοάτω Δαβίδ· «Ἀποκάλυψον τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς μου, καὶ κατανοήσω τὰ θαυμάσια ἐκ τοῦ νόμου σου.» Τεύξεται γὰρ πάντως τῆς αἰτήσεως, ἐπʼ ὠφελείᾳ τὴν γνῶσιν ἐπαγγείλας. Ταύτην γὰρ καὶ ἡμεῖς τὴν ἱκετείαν τῷ Δεσπότῃ προσφέροντες, ὃς σοφίζει τοὺς τυφλοὺς, κατὰ τὸν θεῖον Δαβὶδ, καὶ τοὺς ἐν σκότει καὶ τῇ ὁμίχλῃ, κατὰ τὸν μακάριον Ἡσαΐαν, τῆς τοῦ θεσπεσίου Ἐζεκιὴλ κατατολμήσωμεν ἑρμηνείας, καὶ τῆς προφητείας τὸ βάθος, ὡς ἡμῖν ἐφικτὸν, ἐρευνῆ σαι πειρασώμεθα, καὶ κοινὸν ἅπασι προθῆναι τοῖς εὐσεβέσι τὸ ἐντεῦθεν συναγόμενον κέρδος.

In Ezechielem – Præfatio, PG 81:809, 812; Robert Charles Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentaries on the Prophets, Vol. Two, Commentary on the Prophet Ezekiel (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), preface, p. 29.

This is a similar thought to the preceding one. Here, however, Theodoret adds the additional point that the one who lifts the blindness is the Holy Spirit. Thus, we should pray to Him for wisdom, as we read.

We now jump back to the West, this time to France to hear from a presbyter of the church in Marseilles.

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

In a word, holy deeds would be done by Christians if Christ has taught holy things. He who is worshiped can be judged by His worshippers. For how is a teacher good whose pupils we see are so evil? From this viewpoint, they are Christians; they listen to Him, they read Him. It is easy for all to understand the teaching of Christ.

FC, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Governance of God, Book 4, §17 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 120-121.

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

“God therefore repented,” says the Holy Scripture, “that he had made man on the earth”; this does not indicate that God is subject to repentance or any other emotion, but rather that the divine word, to further our understanding of the true meaning of the Scriptures, speaks to us in terms of human feeling and shows the force of God’s anger under the name of repentance; moreover, the divine wrath is the punishment of the sinner.

Eva M. Sanford, translator, Salvian: On the Government of God, Book I, Chapter 7 (Columbia University Press, 1930) p. 53.

This statement above is a specific example of the principle of divine accommodation in Scripture that has been attested by many fathers above.

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

It is well: the foundations have been laid for a work undertaken from pious motives and from love of a sacred duty; they have not been laid in marshy ground or built of perishable stone, but are strengthened by the sacred treasures used in their building and by the skill of their divine architect. These foundations, as God himself says in his Gospel, cannot be shaken by raging winds, undermined by river floods, or washed away by the rains. Since the divine writings in some fashion lent their aid to the erection of this structure, and the Holy Scriptures performed the joiner’s task, the work itself must, through the help of the Lord Jesus Christ, be as strong as its makers. So this edifice receives its character from its parent stock and cannot be shaken while the builders remain sound.

As no one can tear down the walls of earthly houses without tearing apart their stones and mortar, so none can destroy this structure of ours unless he first destroys the materials of which it is composed. Since these certainly can in no way be weakened, we may safely assume the permanence of a building whose strength is insured by immortal aid.

The question is raised why, if everything in this world is controlled by the care and governance and judgment of God, the condition of the barbarians is so much better than ours, why among us the fortune of good men is harder than that of the wicked. Why should upright men fall ill and reprobates recover? Why does the whole world fall prey to powers for the most part unjust? Perhaps a rational and fairly consistent answer would be: “I do not know.” For I do not know the secrets of God. The oracle of his heavenly word is sufficient proof for me in this case. God says, as I have already proved in my earlier books, that all things are subject to his oversight, his rule and his judgment. If you wish to know what doctrines you must accept, you have the sacred writings: the perfect course is to hold fast what you have read in them.

Moreover, I would not have you ask me to account for God’s actions in the cases of which I speak. I am a man; I do not understand the secrets of God, I do not dare search them out, I am afraid to pry into them, for to seek to know more than is permitted is in itself a kind of rash sacrilege. God says that he moves and ordains all things: let that suffice. Do you ask me why one man is greater and another less, one wretched and another happy, one strong and another weak? Why indeed God does such things. I do not know, but the proof that he is the source of all actions should convince you fully. As God is greater than the sum total of human reason, our knowledge that everything is done by him ought to have more weight with us than reason alone. You do not need, therefore, to hear any new argument on this point; let God’s authority be set over against all reason from any source whatever.

We are not at liberty to say that of the actions of the divine will one is just and another unjust, because whatever you see is done by God, whatever you are sure is done by him, you must confess is more than just. So much can be said of God’s government and justice without further discussion and without uncertainty. I need not prove by arguments what is proved by his very words. When we read that God says he constantly sees all the earth, we have proof that he sees it, since he says so. When we read that he rules all creation, we have proof that he rules it, because he so affirms. When we read that he orders all things by his immediate judgment, his judgment is clearly proved by his own testimony. All other statements, made in human terms, need proofs and witnesses, whereas God’s speech is its own witness, since the words of perfect truth must be perfect testimony to the truth. Yet since our God willed that we should through the Sacred Scriptures know certain things, as if from the archives of his spirit and mind —-since the pronouncements of the Holy Scriptures are themselves in a way the mind of God —- I shall not conceal anything that God has wished his people to know and preach.

Alternative partial translation:
I shall not be silent on whatever God willed to be known and preached by His followers, since our God wished us to know certain things through the Scriptures, which are, as it were, from the recesses of His mind and spirit because, in a way, the very words of Holy Scripture are the mind of God.

Latin (for partial translation):
Sed tamen cum per Scripturas sacras scire nos quasi de arcano animi ac mentis suae quaedam voluerit Deus noster, quia ipsum quodammodo Scripturae sacrae oraculum Dei mens est; quidquid vel agnosci per suos vel praedicari Deus voluit, non tacebo.

Sancti Salviani Massiliensis Presbyteri De Gubernatione Dei, Liber Tertius, §1, PL 53:57B; translation in Eva M. Sanford, translator, Salvian: On the Government of God, Book III, Chapter 1 (Columbia University Press, 1930) pp. 77-79; alternative partial translation in FC, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Governance of God, Book 3.1 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), p. 69.

In the preceding comments, Salvian speaks to the sufficiency of Scripture. His initial comments might sound like a mere assertion of the material sufficiency of Scripture, but the later comments make it clear that he believes that the form of Scripture is also sufficient, since the Scriptures speak clearly on these matters.

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

You who read these words are perhaps vexed and condemn what you read. I do not shrink from your censure; condemn me if I do not succeed in proving my words; condemn me if I do not show that the Sacred Scriptures also have said what I now claim.

Alternative translation:
Condemn me if I lie. Condemn me if I shall not bring proofs. Condemn me if I shall not demonstrate that the Sacred Scriptures have also said what I have asserted.

Condemna, si mentior; condemna, si non probavero; condemna, si id quod assero, non etiam Scripturas sacras dixisse monstravero.

Sancti Salviani Massiliensis Presbyteri De Gubernatione Dei, Liber Quartus, §13, PL 53:85B; translation in Eva M. Sanford, translator, Salvian: On the Government of God, Book IV, Chapter 13 (Columbia University Press, 1930) p. 121; alternative translation in FC, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Governance of God, Book 4.13 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 113.

The preceding sentences don’t explicitly state the formal sufficiency of Scripture, but they flow from that view. If someone does not believe that the Scriptures are formally sufficient, why would they insist that they serve as the only measure? In other words, why could someone stand condemned simply because he cannot show that Scripture says what he says? The answer is that the Scriptures are for Salvian both materially and formally sufficient.

This brings us to a “bonus” section of the post. First, although he is not among the fathers of the first 5 centuries, we would like to provide this very beautiful comment from Fulgentius, who was born in the 5th century, but died in the 6th.

Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532):

In which commandments, as in most rich viands, the spiritual abundance of heavenly dainties is so exuberant, that there is in the word of God plenty for the perfect to eat, and plenty also for the babe to suck. For there is both the milk of the suckling, whereby the tender infancy of the faithful may be nourished, and the solid food whereby the robust youth of the perfect may gain spiritual increase of holy vigour. There provision is made universally for the salvation of all whom the Lord designs to save. There we hear the precepts which we should perform: there we know the rewards we are to hope for. There is the command which teaches by the letter, and instructs us unto knowledge: there the promise which draws us by grace, and leads us to glory.

In quibus denuo mandatis, tanquam ditissimis ferculis, sic coelestium deliciarum copia spiritalis exuberat, ut in verbo Dei abundet quod perfectus comedat, abundet etiam quod parvulus sugat. Ibi est enim simul et lacteus potus, quo tenera fidelium nutriatur infantia, et solidus cibus, quo robusta perfectorum juventus spiritalia sanctae virtutis accipiat incrementa. Ibi prorsus ad salutem consulitur universis quos Dominus salvare dignatur; ibi est quod omni aetati congruat, ibi quod omni professioni conveniat; ibi audimus praecepta quae faciamus, ibi cognoscimus praemia quae speremus; ibi est jussio quae nos per litteram doceat et instruat ad scientiam; ibi promissio quae per gratiam trahat et perducat ad gloriam.

Sermo Primus, PL 65:721; translation in William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (Cambridge: The University Press, reprinted 1849), p. 400.

Additionally, as promised, we would like to provide the testimony of two early Roman bishops.

Leo I (400- 401):

Not knowing, therefore, what he was bound to think concerning the incarnation of the Word of God, and not wishing to gain the light of knowledge by researches through the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures, he might at least have listened attentively to that general and uniform confession, whereby the whole body of the faithful confess that they believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. By which three statements the devices of almost all heretics are overthrown. For not only is God believed to be both Almighty and the Father, but the Son is shown to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father because He is God from God, Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point of time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence: but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived: in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength, the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain. Doubtless then, He was conceived of the Holy Spirit within the womb of His Virgin Mother, who brought Him forth without the loss of her virginity, even as she conceived Him without its loss.

But if he could not draw a rightful understanding (of the matter) from this pure source of the Christian belief, because he had darkened the brightness of the clear truth by a veil of blindness peculiar to himself, he might have submitted himself to the teaching of the Gospels. And when Matthew speaks of “the Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham Matthew 1:1,” he might have also sought out the instruction afforded by the statements of the Apostles. And reading in the Epistle to the Romans, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the Holy Scripture concerning His son, who was made unto Him of the seed of David after the flesh Romans 1:1-3,” he might have bestowed a loyal carefulness upon the pages of the prophets. And finding the promise of God who says to Abraham, “In your seed shall all nations be blest Genesis 12:3,” to avoid all doubt as to the reference of this seed, he might have followed the Apostle when He says, “To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He says not and to seeds, as if in many, but as it in one, and to your seed which is Christ [Galatians 3:16].” Isaiah’s prophecy also he might have grasped by a closer attention to what he says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is interpreted “God with us. ” And the same prophet’s words he might have read faithfully. “A child is born to us, a Son is given to us, whose power is upon His shoulder, and they shall call His name the Angel of the Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the age to come. ” And then he would not speak so erroneously as to say that the Word became flesh in such a way that Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb, had the form of man, but had not the reality of His mother’s body. Or is it possible that he thought our Lord Jesus Christ was not of our nature for this reason, that the angel, who was sent to the blessed Mary ever Virgin, says, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you: and therefore that Holy Thing also that shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God [Luke 1:35],” on the supposition that as the conception of the Virgin was a Divine act, the flesh of the conceived did not partake of the conceiver’s nature? But that birth so uniquely wondrous and so wondrously unique, is not to be understood in such wise that the properties of His kind were removed through the novelty of His creation. For though the Holy Spirit imparted fertility to the Virgin, yet a real body was received from her body; and, “Wisdom building her a house [Proverbs 9:1],” “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us [John 1:14],” that is, in that flesh which he took from man and which he quickened with the breath of a higher life.

Leo I of Rome (aka Leo the Great), Letter 28 (“The Tome”), Section 1

What’s particularly interesting about Leo’s comment is his layering of Scripture, Creed (taken from Scripture), and Scripture again. Leo is pointing out that the person should have just read the Bible, or listened to the Creed, but simpler even than that, he could just understand the truth from what Leo sees as the extremely clear statements of the Gospels and Apostolic writings.

Gregory the Great, who would have been too late for the fifth century collection, has similar ideas.

Gregory the Great (Gregory I c. 540-603):

For as the word of God, by the mysteries which it contains, exercises the understanding of the wise, so usually by what presents itself on the outside, it nurses the simpleminded. It presenteth in open day that wherewith the little ones may be fed; it keepeth in secret that whereby men of a loftier range may be held in suspense of admiration. It is, as it were, a kind of river, if I may so liken it, which is both shallow and deep, wherein both the Lamb may find a footing, and the elephant float at large.

Morals on the Book of Job by S. Gregory the Great: A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Vol. 1, Parts 1 & 2 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1844), Preface, p. 9.

Notice how Gregory’s comments more or less specifically state the same kind of principle of accommodation that we have seen so many times in the fathers, particularly the fathers of the fifth century.

(to be continued, Lord Willing, with discussion from various scholars)

How Many Popes Does it Take to Deny the Immaculate Conception?

September 3, 2010

During Dr. James White’s debate with Christopher Ferrara on the alleged sinlessness and Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mr. Ferrara questioned the fact that a half dozen popes taught or held a position contrary to the dogma that was later defined as the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Dr. White provided a citation to Schaff, the respected church historian, who identified seven popes, and in turn cited an earlier scholar. Beginning with Schaff, in this post I walk through the evidence.

Schaff on the Immaculate Conception:

The third step, which exempts Mary from original sin as well, is of much later origin. It meets us first as a pious opinion in connection with the festival of the Conception of Mary, which was fixed upon Dec. 8, nine months before the older festival of her birth (celebrated Sept. 8). This festival was introduced by the Canons at Lyons in France, Dec. 8, 1139, and gradually spread into England and other countries. Although it was at first intended to be the festival of the Conception of the immaculate Mary, it concealed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, since every ecclesiastical solemnity acknowledges the sanctity of its object.

For this reason, Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘the honey-flowing doctor’ (doctor mellifluus), and greatest saint of his age, who, by a voice mightier than the Pope’s, roused Europe to the second crusade, opposed the festival as a false honor to the royal Virgin, which she does not need, and as an unauthorized innovation, which was the mother of temerity, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity. [FN228] He urged against it that it was not sanctioned by the Roman Church. He rejected the opinion of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as contrary to tradition and derogatory to the dignity of Christ, the only sinless being, and asked the Canons of Lyons the pertinent question, ‘Whence they discovered such a hidden fact? On the same ground they might appoint festivals for the conception of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of Mary, and so on without end.’ [FN229] It does not diminish, but rather increases (for the Romish stand-point) the weight of his protest, that he was himself an enthusiastic eulogist of Mary, and a believer in her sinless birth. He put her in this respect on a par with Jeremiah and John the Baptist. [FN230]

The same ground was taken substantially by the greatest schoolmen of the Middle Ages till the beginning of the fourteenth century: Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), who closely followed Augustine; [FN231] Peter the Lombard, ‘the Master of Sentences’ (d. 1161); Alexander of Hales, ‘the irrefragable doctor’ (d. 1245); St. Bonaventura, ‘the seraphic doctor’ (d. 1274); Albertus Magnus, ‘the wonderful doctor’ (d. 1280); St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘the angelic doctor’ (d. 1274), and the very champion of orthodoxy, followed by the whole school of Thomists and the order of the Dominicans. St. Thomas taught that Mary was conceived from sinful flesh in the ordinary way, secundum carnis concupiscentiam ex commixtione maris, and was sanctified in the womb after the infusion of the soul (which is called the passive conception); for otherwise she would not have needed the redemption of Christ, and so Christ would not be the Saviour of all men. He distinguishes, however, three grades in the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin: first, the sanctificatio in utero, by which she was freed from the original guilt (culpa originalis); secondly, the sanctificatio in conceptu Domini, when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her, whereby she was totally purged (totaliter mundata) from the fuel or incentive to sin (fomes peccati); and, thirdly, the sanctificatio in morte, by which she was freed from all consequences of sin (liberata ab omni miseria). Of the festival of the Conception, he says that it was not observed, but tolerated by the Church of Rome, and, like the festival of the Assumption, was not to be entirely rejected (non totaliter reprobanda). [FN232] The University of Paris, which during the Middle Ages was regarded as the third power in Europe, gave the weight of its authority for a long time to the doctrine of the Maculate Conception. Even seven Popes are quoted on the same side, and among them three of the greatest, viz., Leo I. (who says that Christ alone was free from original sin, and that Mary obtained her purification through her conception of Christ), Gregory I., and Innocent III. [FN233]

And here are the footnotes:

[FN228] ‘Virgo regia falso non eget honore, veris cumalata honorum titulis. . . . Non est hoc Virginem honorare sed honori detraher. . . . Præsumpta novitas mater temeritatis, soror superstitionis, filia levitatis.’ See his Epistola 174, ad Canonicos Lugdunenses, De conceptione S. Mar. (Op. ed. Migne, I. pp. 332–336). Comp. also Bernard’s Sermo 78 in Cant., Op. Vol. II. pp.1160, 1162.

[FN229] . . . ‘et sic tenderetur in infinitum, et festorum non esset numerus‘ (Ep. 174, p. 334 sq.)

[FN230] ‘Si igitur ante conceptum sui sanctificari minime potuit, quoniam non erat; sed nec in ipso quidem conceptu, propter peccatum quod inerat: restat ut post conceptum in utero jam existens sanctificationem accepisse credatur, quæ excluso peccato sanctam fecerit nativitatem, non tamen et conceptionem‘ (l.c. p. 336).

[FN231] Anselm, who is sometimes wrongly quoted on the other side, says, Cur Deus Homo, ii. 16 (Op. ed. Migne, I. p. 416): ‘Virgo ipsa . . . est in iniquitatibus concepta, et in peccatis concepit eam mater ejus, et cum originali peccato nata est, quoniam et ipsa in Adam peccavit, in quo omnes peccaverunt.‘ To these words of Boso, Anselm replies that ‘Christ, though taken from the sinful mass (de massa peccatrice assumptus), had no sin.’ Then he speaks of Mary twice as being purified from sin (mundata a peccatis) by the future death of Christ (c. 16, 17). His pupil and biographer, Eadmer, in his book De excellent. beatæ Virg. Mariæ, c. 3 (Ans. Op. ed. Migne, II. pp. 560–62), says that the blessed Virgin was freed from all remaining stains of hereditary and actual sin when she consented to the announcement of the mystery of the Incarnation by the angel.’ Quoted also by Perrone, pp. 47–49.

[FN232] Summa Theologiæ, Pt. III. Qu. 27 (De sanctificatione B. Virg.), Art. 1–5; in Libr. I. Sentent. Dist. 44, Qu. 1, Art. 3. Nevertheless, Perrone (pp. 231 sqq.) thinks that St. Bernard and St. Thomas are not in the way of a definition of the new dogma, ‘because they wrote at a time when this view was not yet made quite clear, and because they lacked the principal support, which subsequently came to its aid; hence they must in this case be regarded as private teachers, propounding their own particular opinions, but not as witnesses of the traditional meaning of the Church.’ He then goes on to charge these doctors with comparative ignorance of previous Church history. This may be true, but does not help the matter; since the fuller knowledge of the Fathers in modern times reveals a still wider dissent from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

[FN233] The other Popes, who taught that Mary was conceived in sin, are Gelasius I., Innocent V., John XXII., and Clement VI. (d. 1352). The proof is furnished by the Jansenist Launoy, Prœscriptions, Opera I. pp. 17 sqq., who also shows that the early Franciscans, and even Loyola and the early Jesuits, denied the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Perrone calls him an ‘irreligious innovator’ (p. 34), and an ‘impudent liar’ (p. 161), but does not refute his arguments, and evades the force of his quotations from Leo, Gelasius, and Gregory by the futile remark that they would prove too much, viz., that Mary was even born in sin, and not purified before the Incarnation, which would be impious!

(Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Section 29)

Launoy’s work, cited by Schaff, can be found on-line, but only in Latin (link to first page of relevant section). As you will see, if you go through Launoy, he identifies the following list of popes:

  1. Leo I
  2. Gelasius I
  3. Gregory I
  4. Roman Clergy, during a vacant seat time, after the death of Honorius I (attributed to John IV, though not by Launoy)
  5. Innocent III
  6. Innocent V
  7. John XXII (or Benedict XII)
  8. Clement VI

You’ll notice that my list has eight items, rather than the seven that Dr. White mentioned and Schaff listed. That’s because I’m also including the item that Launoy does not specifically attribute to John IV, as I’ll discuss below. Where I have not explained the citation, it is what Launoy cited, but I have added to what Launoy has cited, and have explained my basis for that.

1. Leo I (aka Leo the Great)

First Sermon on Nativity (Sermon 21), Chapter 1

There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all.

Personally, I think an even more compelling item from this same sermon, same chapter, on the same topic is this:

Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, “no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth.” [Job 14:4-5, Septuagint version] Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered.

Second Sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 22), Chapter 3.

And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception.

Fifth sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 25), Chapter 5.

… when by the condition of birth, there is one cause of perishing for all. And so among the sons of men, the Lord Jesus alone was born innocent, since he alone was conceived without the pollution of carnal concupiscence.

My friend, Pastor King, pointed out that this may well have been drawn from Augustine and Ambrose:

Ambrose (c. 339-97) commenting on Luke 1:35:

For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty.

– Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book II, §56, p. 59. (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, 2.56, PL 15:1572D-1573A.)

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Moreover, when expounding the Gospel according to Luke, he [i.e. Ambrose] says: “It was no cohabitation with a husband which opened the secrets of the Virgin’s womb; rather was it the Holy Ghost which infused immaculate seed into her unviolated womb. For the Lord Jesus alone of those who are born of woman is holy, inasmuch as He experienced not the contact of earthly corruption, by reason of the novelty of His immaculate birth; nay, He repelled it by His heavenly majesty.”

– NPNF1: Vol. V, Augustine’s Anti-Pelagian Works, The Grace of Christ And on Original Sin, Book II On Original Sin, Chapter 47-Sentences from Ambrose in favor of Original Sin.

One of my readers, Fredericka, pointed out an additional reference in Leo’s Sermons:

Third sermon on the Epiphany (Sermon 33), Chapter 1

For as justice was everywhere failing and the whole world was given over to vanity and wickedness, if the Divine Power had not deferred its judgment, the whole of mankind would have received the sentence of damnation. But wrath was changed to forgiveness, and, that the greatness of the Grace to be displayed might be the more conspicuous, it pleased God, to apply the mystery of remission to the abolishing of men’s sins at a time when no one could boast of his own merits.

Jason Engwer, at the Triablogue, pointed out a further example from Leo the Great.

Eighth Sermon on the Nativity (Sermon 28), Chapter 3

And therefore in the general ruin of the entire human race there was but one remedy in the secret of the Divine plan which could succor the fallen, and that was that one of the sons of Adam should be born free and innocent of original transgression, to prevail for the rest both by His example and His merits. Still further, because this was not permitted by natural generation, and because there could be no offspring from our faulty stock without seed, of which the Scripture saith, ‘Who can make a clean thing conceived of an unclean seed? is it not Thou who art alone?’

2. Gelasius I

Launoy cites Gelasius’ fifth letter. I found it elsewhere identified as his seventh letter. Regardless, it is written to the Picenian Bishops. It states:

Accordingly whatever those parents produced of their stock, is indeed the work of God, according to the institution of nature, but not without the contagion of that evil which they derived through their own transgression

Launoy also cites Gelasius “Lib. contra Pelagium,” which I found elsewhere cited as as “dicta adv. Pelag. haeresin.,” which in any event means it is a work against the Pelagians. It states:

It belongs alone to the immaculate Lamb to have no sin at all.

3. Gregory I

Book of the Morals, an exposition of Job, Book 18, on Job 27 (and quoted by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae, 3rd part, question 34, article 1, reply to objection 3)

For we, though we are made holy, yet are: not born holy, because by the mere constitution of a corruptible nature we are tied and bound, that we should say with the Prophet, Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me. But He only is truly born holy, Who in order that He might get the better of that same constitution of a corruptible nature, was not conceived by the combining of carnal conjunction.

My friend, Pastor David King also noted some additional quotations from Gregory:

Gregory the Great (Gregory I c. 540-603):

Moreover, since no one among men in this world is without sin (and what else is sinning but flying from GOD?), I say confidently that this my daughter also has some sins.

NPNF2: Vol. XII, Selected Epistles, Book VII, Epistle 30.

Gregory the Great (Gregory I c. 540-603):

And what a thing it would be, were we to neglect for the salvation of the soul what we carefully attend to in matters of earthly concern! And so, since, according to the words of the Apostle John, no one is without sin, let us call to mind enticements of thought, incontinence of tongue, deeds of transgression; and let us, while we may, with great knocking, do away with the stains of our iniquities, that our just and loving Redeemer may not execute vengeance according to our deservings, but according to His mercy be bent to pardon.

NPNF2: Vol. XIII, Selected Epistles, Book XII, Epistle 1.

4. Roman Clergy, post Honorius I (John IV before his reign)

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 19:

And in the first place, it is blasphemous folly to say that man is without sin, which none can be, but only the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, Who was conceived and born without sin; for all other men, being born in original sin, are known to bear the mark of Adam’s transgression, even whilst they are without actual sin, according to the saying of the prophet, “For behold, I was conceived in iniquity; and in sin did my mother give birth to me.”

However, this same quotation is, as my friend Pastor King pointed out, elsewhere attributed to John IV, because it was apparently written by him and three other high-ranking clergy while he was Rome’s bishop-elect (see this source).

John IV, Bishop of Rome (d. 642):

And in the first place it is foolish blasphemy to say that man is without sin; which can by no means be, except the one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, Who was conceived and born without sin. For other men born with original sin, even though living without actual sin, are known to bear testimony to the prevarication of Adam; according to the Prophet saying: “For behold in iniquities was I conceived, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5).

Latin text: Et primum quidem blasphemia et stultiloquium est, dicere esse hominem sine peccato, quod omnino non potest, nisi unus mediator Dei et hominum homo Christus Jesus, qui sine peccato est conceptus et partus. Nam caeteri homines cum peccato originali nascentes, testimonium praevaricationis Adae (etiam sine peccato actuali existentes) portare noscuntur, secundum prophetam dicentem: Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum, et in peccatis concepit me mater mea (Psal. L).

John IV, Epistola I, ad Episcopos et Presbyteros Scotiae, PL 80:602B-C; see John Harvey Treat, The Catholic Faith, or Doctrines of the Church of Rome Contrary to Scripture and the Teaching of the Primitive Church (Nashotah, WI: The Bishop Welles Brotherhood, 1888), p. 22.

5. Innocent III

Sermon on the Purification of the Virgin

But forthwith [upon the Angel’s words, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee’] the Holy Ghost came upon her. He had before come into her, when, in her mother’s womb, He cleansed her soul from original sin; but now too He came upon her to cleanse her flesh from the ‘fomes’ of sin, that she might be altogether without spot or wrinkle. That tyrant then of the flesh, the sickness of nature, the ‘fomes’ of sin, as I think, He altogether extinguished, that henceforth any motion from the law of sin should not be able to arise in her members.

(I’ve presented the translation from the linked source, which omits the first phrase that Launoy includes, but includes subsequent phrases that Launoy omits)

Sermon on the Assumption, Sermon 2 (aka Second Discourse on the Assumption)(see the alternate translation here)

Eve was produced without sin, but she brought forth in sin; Mary was produced in sin, but she brought forth without sin.

There’s at least one additional quotation from Innocent III that we can bring to bear on the topic:

On the Feast of John the Baptist, i (Sermon 16 on Feast Days)

Of John the Angel does not speak of the conception but of the birth. But of Jesus he predicts alike the Birth and the Conception. For to Zechariah the father it is predicted, ‘Thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John,’ but to Mary the mother it is predicted, ‘Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bear a Son, and shalt call His Name Jesus.’ For John was conceived in fault, but Christ Alone was conceived without fault. But each was born in grace, and therefore the Nativity of each is celebrated, but the Conception of Christ Alone is celebrated.

6. Innocent V

Commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 3, Question 1, Article 1

The nearer any one approaches to the Holy of Holies, so much the greater degree of sanctification ought he to have, for there is no approach to Him, except through sanctification. But the mother approaches more than all to the Son, Who is the Holy of Holies; therefore she ought to have a greater degree of sanctification after her Son. The degree of sanctification may be understood as fourfold: either that one have sanctity (1) before conception and birth; (2) after conception and birth; (3) in the conception itself and birth; (4) in birth, not in conception. For, ‘in conception and not in birth’ is impossible. The first degree is not possible, both because personal perfection (like knowledge or virtue) is not transfused from the parents; and also because in children the being of grace cannot take place, before the actual being of nature, upon which it is founded. The second degree is common to all, according to the common law of sanctification through sacraments. The third is peculiar to the Holy of Holies, in Whom Alone all sanctification took place at once, conception, sanctification, assumption. There remains then the fourth. But this has four degrees; because the foetus, when conceived in the womb, may be understood to be sanctified either before animation, or in the animation, or soon after the animation, or long after the animation. The first degree is impossible, because according to Dionysius (de div. nom. c. 12) ‘Holiness is cleanness free from all defilement, and perfect and immaculate;’ but the uncleanness of fault is not expelled except through ‘grace making gracious’ [acceptable], as darkness by light, of which grace the reasonable creature only is the subject. The second degree was not suitable to the Virgin, because either she would not have contracted original sin, and so would not have needed the universal sanctification and redemption of Christ, or if she had contracted it, grace and fault could not have been in her at once. The fourth degree also was not suitable to the Virgin, because it did suit John and Jeremiah, and because it did not suit so great holiness that she should have lingered long in sin, as others; but John was sanctified in the sixth month (Luke i.). But the third seems suitable and piously credible, although it be not derived from Scripture, that she should have been sanctified, soon after her animation, either on the very day or hour, although not at the same moment.

(Only the final portion, regarding the suitability of the third condition is provided by Launoy, but I’ve provided some expanded context.)

7. John XXII (or Benedict XII)

Sermon 1 on the Assumption

She (the Virgin) passed, first, from a state of original sin, second, from a state of childhood to maternal honor, third, from misery to glory.

8. Clement VI

Sermon One of the Lord’s Advent (aka “Sigua erunt in sole.”)

But before I divide the theme, it seems that that Conception ought not to be celebrated, first, on the authority of Bernard, who, in his Epistle to the Lyonnese [canons], gravely reprehends them, because they had received the feast and held it solemnly. Because no feast ought to be celebrated, except for reverence of the sanctity of the person as to whom it is celebrated, since such honor is shown to saints on account of the [relation] which they have to God above others; but this is on account of holiness; and not actual sin only, but original sin also [separates] from God. But the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original sin, as many saints seem to say, and may be proved by many grounds. It seems that the Church ought not to hold a festival of her Conception. Here, being unwilling to dispute, I say briefly that one thing is clear, that the Blessed Virgin contracted original sin in the cause. The cause and reason is this, that, as being conceived from the coming together of man and woman, she was conceived through passion, and therefore she had original sin in the cause, which her Son had not, because He was not conceived of seed of man, but through the mystic breathing (Luke i.), ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee.’ And therefore not to have original sin is a singular privilege of Christ Alone. But whether she had ‘in form’ original sin, or was by Divine virtue preserved, there are different opinions among Doctors. But however it was, I say, that if, in form and not in cause only, she had original sin, we may still very reasonably keep festival of her Conception, supposing that, according to all most opposed, it was but a little hour that she was in original sin, because according to all she was sanctified as soon as she could be sanctified.

Launoy only provides the portion beginning with “But whether she had ‘in form’ original sin …,” but I’ve provided the remainder of the context, so that the sense is reinforced. Note that this too is something that was written before his reign. I have not checked in every case above whether the writing was before or after the man became the bishop of Rome.

– TurretinFan

Mary Crowned in Revelation?

August 4, 2009

In a previous point (link), I pointed out the glaring reality of Marian idolatry and the fact that such idolatry was unknown and foreign to Tertullian. I finally have received one of the responses that I expected to receive. This response comes from someone who posted using the name “John”:

Mary is depicted with a crown because scripture does (Rev 12).

I answer:

Revelation 12 is not about Mary, it is about the ancient church. I could quote the standard Reformed expositors on this, but perhaps you’d be more persuaded by the fact that this interpretation is, as far as I have been able to find, the unanimous consent of the fathers. Victorinus of Petau (died about A.D. 303) explained:

“And there was seen a great sign in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried out travailing, and bearing torments that she might bring forth.”] The woman clothed with the sun, and having the moon under her feet, and wearing a crown of twelve stars upon her head, and travailing in her pains, is the ancient Church of fathers, and prophets, and saints, and apostles, which had the groans and torments of its longing until it saw that Christ, the fruit of its people according to the flesh long promised to it, had taken flesh out of the selfsame people. Moreover, being clothed with the sun intimates the hope of resurrection and the glory of the promise. And the moon intimates the fall of the bodies of the saints under the obligation of death, which never can fail. For even as life is diminished, so also it is increased. Nor is the hope of those that sleep extinguished absolutely, as some think, but they have in their darkness a light such as the moon. And the crown of twelve stars signifies the choir of fathers, according to the fleshly birth, of whom Christ was to take flesh.

– Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, at Revelation 12:1-2

Likewise, Hippolytus (about A.D. 170 – 236) concurs:

60. Now, concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary, John also speaks thus: “And I saw a great and wondrous sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man-child, who is to rule all the nations: and the child was caught up unto God and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath the place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And then when the dragon saw it, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast (out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast) out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the saints of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.” [Rev. xii. 1–6, etc.]

61. By the woman then clothed with the sun,” he meant most manifestly the Church, endued with the Father’s word, whose brightness is above the sun. And by the “moon under her feet” he referred to her being adorned, like the moon, with heavenly glory. And the words, “upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” refer to the twelve apostles by whom the Church was founded. And those, “she, being with child, cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered,” mean that the Church will not cease to bear from her heart the Word that is persecuted by the unbelieving in the world. “And she brought forth,” he says, “a man-child, who is to rule all the nations;” by which is meant that the Church, always bringing forth Christ, the perfect man-child of God, who is declared to be God and man, becomes the instructor of all the nations. And the words, “her child was caught up unto God and to His throne,” signify that he who is always born of her is a heavenly king, and not an earthly; even as David also declared of old when he said, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” [Ps. cx. 1.] “And the dragon,” he says, “saw and persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” [Rev. xi. 3.] That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains, possessed of no other defence than the two wings of the great eagle, that is to say, the faith of Jesus Christ, who, in stretching forth His holy hands on the holy tree, unfolded two wings, the right and the left, and called to Him all who believed upon Him, and covered them as a hen her chickens. For by the mouth of Malachi also He speaks thus: “And unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” [Mal. iv. 2.]

– Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, Sections 60-61

Furthermore Methodius of Olympus and Patara (about A.D. 260 – 312), explained:

John, in the course of the Apocalypse, says: [Rev. xii. 1–6.] “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” So far we have given, in brief, the history of the woman and the dragon. But to search out and explain the solution of them is beyond my powers. Nevertheless, let me venture, trusting in Him who commanded to search the Scriptures. [St. John v. 39.] If, then, you agree with this, it will not be difficult to undertake it; for you will quite pardon me, if I am unable sufficiently to explain the exact meaning of the Scripture.
The woman who appeared in heaven clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars, and having the moon for her footstool, and being with child, and travailing in birth, is certainly, according to the accurate interpretation, our mother,[Editor’s note in Schaff’s edition: “i.e., the Church. See p 337, note 4, infra.”] O virgins, being a power by herself distinct from her children; whom the prophets, according to the aspect of their subjects, have called sometimes Jerusalem, sometimes a Bride, sometimes Mount Zion, and sometimes the Temple and Tabernacle of God. For she is the power which is desired to give light in the prophet, the Spirit crying to her: [Isa. lx. 1–4.] “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.” It is the Church whose children shall come to her with all speed after the resurrection, running to her from all quarters. She rejoices receiving the light which never goes down, and clothed with the brightness of the Word as with a robe. For with what other more precious or honourable ornament was it becoming that the queen should be adorned, to be led as a Bride to the Lord, when she had received a garment of light, and therefore was called by the Father? Come, then, let us go forward in our discourse, and look upon this marvelous woman as upon virgins prepared for a marriage, pure and undefiled, perfect and radiating a permanent beauty, wanting nothing of the brightness of light; and instead of a dress, clothed with light itself; and instead of precious stones, her head adorned with shining stars. For instead of the clothing which we have, she had light; and for gold and brilliant stones, she had stars; but stars not such as those which are set in the invisible heaven, but better and more resplendent, so that those may rather be considered as their images and likenesses.
Now the statement that she stands upon the moon, as I consider, denotes the faith of those who are cleansed from corruption in the laver of regeneration, because the light of the moon has more resemblance to tepid water, and all moist substance is dependent upon her. The Church, then, stands upon our faith and adoption, under the figure of the moon, until the fulness of the nations come in, labouring and bringing forth natural men as spiritual men; for which reason too she is a mother. For just as a woman receiving the unformed seed of a man, within a certain time brings forth a perfect man, in the same way, one should say, does the Church conceive those who flee to the Word, and, forming them according to the likeness and form of Christ, after a certain time produce them as citizens of that blessed state. Whence it is necessary that she should stand upon the laver, bringing forth those who are washed in it. And in this way the power which she has in connection with the laver is called the moon, because the regenerate shine being renewed with a new ray, that is, a new light. Whence, also, they are by a descriptive term called newly-enlightened; the moon ever showing forth anew to them the spiritual full moon, namely, the period and the memorial of the passion, until the glory and the perfect light of the great day arise.

– Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Thekla (Discourse 8), Chapters 4-6

Gregory the Great (about A.D. 540 – 604) takes the same position:

For in Holy Scripture when the ‘sun’ is used figuratively, there is designated sometimes the Lord, sometimes persecution, sometimes the display of an open sight of any thing, but sometimes the understanding of the wise. For by the ‘sun’ the Lord is typified, as is said in the Book of Wisdom, that all the ungodly in the day of the last judgment, on knowing their own condemnation, are about to say: “We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun rose not upon us.” [Wis. 5:6] As if they plainly said: The ray of inward light has not shone on us. Whence also John says: “A woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet.” [Rev. 12:1] For by the ‘sun’ is understood the illumination of truth, but by the moon, which wanes and is filled up every month, the changeableness of temporal things. But Holy Church, because she is protected with the splendour of the heavenly light, is clothed, as it were, with the sun; but, because she despises all temporal things, she tramples the moon under her feet.

– Gregory the Great, Morals, Book XXXIV, at Job 41:21

Still further, in his Golden Chain, Aquinas provides the following patristic commentary on the list of the twelve apostles in Matthew 10:1-4, drawing specifically from Rabanus (about A.D. 780 – 856):

Rabanus, and cf. Tertullian, cont. Marc. iv, 13: This number is typified by many things in the Old Testament; by the twelve sons of Jacob, by the twelve princes of the children of Israel, by the twelve running springs in Helim, by the twelve stones in Aaron’s breastplate, by the twelve loaves of the shew-bread, by the twelve spies sent by Moses, by the twelve stones of which the altar was made, by the twelve stones taken out of Jordan, by the twelve oxen which bare the brazen sea. Also in the New Testament, by the twelve stars in the bride’s crown, by the twelve foundations of Jerusalem which John saw, and her twelve gates.

– Rabanus, according to Aqunias, on Matt. 10:1-4

Now, I realize that modern Romanism teaches that the woman is both Mary and the Church (see, for example, sections 103-04 of Evangelium Vitae, pope John Paul II, 1995, although pope Pius X seems to have thought that it referred only or primarily to Mary, see Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, Section 24, 1904 – see also pope Paul VI Signum Magnum, 1967, and Redemptoris Mater, pope John Paul II, 1987, and contrast the tenuous identification with Mary, with the Church being the primary referent in the Haydock’s Bible Commentary, 1859 ed.), but my point is that nowhere do we see the fathers making this identification. In the 19th century we see a tenuous identification being made to Mary, and then in the 20th century we see that tenuous identification becoming the primary identification within the evermore mariolatrous religion of Rome.

The same commenter also added:

And with all due respect to Tertullian’s ignorance of what priests and rulers wore crowns, priests wore a kind of a crown (Exod 39:28), people getting married wore a crown (Is. 61:10), kings of Israel wore crowns (2 Sam 12:30), saints in heaven wear crowns (Rev. 4:4) and so forth.

I answer:

Exodus 39:28 mentions the priests wearing a “mitre of fine linen, and goodly bonnets of fine linen, and linen breeches of fine twined linen,” and provides no reference to a crown. Not everything that covers a man’s head is a crown.

Isaiah 61:10 also does not mention a crown. It states:

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

Yes, the kings of Israel wore crowns, but the King of Spiritual Israel, the fulfilment of national Israel, is Christ.

While the elders had gold crown in Revelation 4:4, they cast those crowns before the throne of the Lord in Revelation 4:10, saying:

Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

So ought the prayer of all Christians to be.

– TurretinFan

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