Archive for the ‘Hilary of Poitiers’ Category

Carl Beckwith on Sola Scriptura and the Arian Controversy

September 16, 2011

Carl Beckwith in Hilary of Poitiers on the Trinity: From De Fide to De Trinitate (New York and Oxford, 2009) provides a number of interesting comments in relation to Hilary of Poiters and the Scripture, particular in the context of the Arian controversy. One of the first passages of this book that caught my eye is the following:

The Homoian appeal to scripture alone in these debates should not be misconstrued as resembling the same appeal made by the Reformers. For example, Martin Luther expresses the need for extra-biblical words or phrases in such disputes as the Trinitarian debates. Note Luther’s appeal to Hilary’s understanding of scripture. He writes: ‘It is certainly true that one should teach nothing outside of Scripture pertaining to divine matters, as St. Hilary writes in On the Trinity, Book I, which means only that one should teach nothing that is at variance with Scripture. But that one should not use more or other words than those contained in Scripture—this cannot be adhered to, especially in a controversy and when heretics want to falsify things with trickery and distort the words of Scripture.’ See ‘On the Councils and the Church’, Luther’s Works, general editors Helmut Lehmann and Jaroslav Pelikan (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1957– ), 41: 83

(p. 66, fn 41.)
In the passage above, we see an interesting point.  Both the Homoians (the folks that Mr. Waltz would prefer I didn’t call “Arians”) and the Niceans agreed that Scripture alone is the rule of faith.  If we take Beckwith’s comment at face value, the difference between the two is that the Homoians practiced (or claimed that they practiced) a rigid rule by which there was no need for extra-biblical words.  The Niceans (like Hilary), however, saw value in the use of extra-biblical terms.

Moreover, as Beckwith explains, what Hilary saw as the problem was that the words of Scripture were being interpreted arbitrarily.

Before commenting on the analogy, Hilary predictably begins with a number of comments on the limitation of human speech. Although we should by ‘faith alone’ (sola fide) adore the Father, venerate the Son, and abound in the Holy Spirit, conflict and dispute over the Trinity has forced Hilary to address a subject that cannot be described by human words.[FN12 De Trinitate, II.2.3–9.] Although human speech is limited in what it is able to communicate about an infinite God, the distortion of the scriptural witness to the Triune God and the consequent threat to the faithful force Hilary to enter the discussion. He writes: ‘Many have appeared who received the simplicity of the heavenly words in an arbitrary manner and not according to the certain meaning of truth itself, interpreting them in a sense which the force of the words did not demand.’[FN13 Ibid. II.3.1–4: ‘Extiterunt enim plures, qui caelestium verborum simplicitatem pro voluntatis suae sensu, non pro veritatis ipsius absolutione susciperent, aliter interpraetantes quam dictorum virtus postularet.’ On Hilary’s use of simplicity, see SC 443, p. 278, n. 2.] Hilary repeatedly charges his opponents with interpreting the words of scripture in an arbitrary manner because they ignore the unity of God’s revelation, the progressive disclosure of Christ’s person and work, and the context of the heavenly words. He continues: ‘Heresy comes not from scripture, but from the understanding of it; the fault is in the mind [of the interpreter], not in the word.’[FN14 De Trinitate, II.3.4–5: ‘De intellegentia enim heresies, non de scribtura est; et sensus, non sermo fit crimen.’] At this point, he makes reference to Basil’s analogy.

He asks:

Is it possible to falsify the truth? When the name Father is heard, is not the nature of the Son contained in the name? Will he not be the Holy Spirit who has been so designated? For, there cannot but be in the Father what a Father is, nor can the Son be wanting in what a Son is, nor can there not be in the Holy Spirit what is received. Iniquitous men confuse and complicate everything and in their distorted minds even seek to effect a change in the nature so that they deprive the Father of what the Father is and take away from the Son what the Son is. They despoil him, however, since according to them he is not a Son by nature. He does not possess the nature if the one born and the begetter do not have the same properties in themselves. He is not a Son whose being (substantia) is different from and unlike (dissimilis) that of the Father. In fact, how will he be a Father if he does not recognize in the Son the substance and nature (substantiae adque naturae) that belong to him? [FN15 Ibid. II.3.5–19.]

(pp. 101-02)

Hilary explains that the way to avoid this hermeneutic of capriciousness is to attempt to understand the Bible according to the author’s original intent.  Look for the reason the words were spoken or written and you will discover the meaning of the words more easily.

The heretics, however, are not really concerned with this question. As Hilary observes, they undermine the co-equality of the Spirit with the Father and the Son by focusing on the questions quid sit and qualis sit.[FN73 De Trinitate, II.29.23–4.] Hilary charges his opponents with obscuring the true nature of the Spirit by not properly distinguishing between God qua Spirit (John 4: 24) and God the Holy Spirit. Hilary proceeds, then, with a discussion of how we properly read and interpret scripture. He writes: ‘There is a cause for every statement being made as it is [in scripture] and the meaning of what is said will be understood from the purpose for which the words were spoken, lest because of the response given by the Lord, God is spirit, the name Holy Spirit, his use and gift be denied.’[FN74 Ibid. II.31.3–4: ‘Omne enim dictum ut dicatur ex causa est, et dicti ratio ex sensu erit intellegenda dicendi: ne quia responsum a Domino est: Spiritus Deus est, idcirco cum sancti Spiritus nomine et usus negetur et donum.’] Hilary has already given similar advice at the beginning of Book Two. His opponents deliberately neglect the circumstances of particular verses in scripture and offer interpretations which the force of the words does not warrant.[FN75 Cf. ibid. II.3.1–4.] They distort the meaning of passages because they separate the circumstances that occasion Christ’s words from the words themselves. The faithful interpreter, however, will make the words dependent on their circumstances.[FN76 Cf. ibid. I.18.14–16 and I.30.4–5.]

Hilary’s opponents fail to answer properly the questions quid sit and qualis sit about the Holy Spirit, because they refuse to approach scripture free from their preconceived ideas about God. Hilary’s concern for how to read scripture properly reinforces his statements from the preface to Book Two: ‘heresy comes not from scripture, but from the understanding of it; the fault is in the mind [of the interpreter], not in the [divine] word.’[FN77 Ibid. [i.e. De Trinitate] II.3.4–5: ‘De intellegentia enim heresies, non de scribtura est; et sensus, non sermo fit crimen.’] His opponents take the Lord’s comment, God is Spirit, out of context in order to deny the name Holy Spirit and, as a result, his use and gifts. Since the Holy Spirit has been promised to us that we may know the things that have been given us by God (1 Cor. 2: 12), the denial of the Spirit is the denial of the light of knowledge. If the soul does not breathe in the gift of the Spirit through faith, it will, explains Hilary, ‘have the natural faculty to perceive God, but it will not have the light of knowledge’.[FN78 Ibid. II.35.11–13.]

Hilary ends by insisting that this gift, the Holy Spirit, is everywhere and available to all who are willing to receive it. When we approach scripture free from preconceived ideas, and when we allow faith to guide us in our search for understanding the mystery of God, we demonstrate our willingness to receive the gift of the Spirit. This gift not only brings the light of knowledge, but it brings us ‘the assurance of our future hope’.[FN79 Ibid. II.35.18–19: ‘hoc [munus] . . . futurae spei pignus est . . .’] Hilary ends Book Two, and his discussion of St Matthew’s baptismal formula, by emphasizing the certainty and comfort the soul receives when it confesses the catholic and apostolic faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(pp. 124-25)
Notice how, in the passage above, Hilary (like us) affirms the perspicuity of Scripture whilst blaming the errors of heretics not on the Scriptures but on the heretics.  They neglect the “circumstances” of the text, that is to say – they don’t consider the context.  In short, their problem is that they are not letting the text be its own interpreter.

For whatever reason, Hilary chose to write what purports to be an autobiographical narrative describing his intellectual journey to the Christian faith. According to this autobiography, Hilary’s soul, troubled with thoughts of death, began to search for answers about God and his involvement with creation. He turned first to popular philosophy, and discovered numerous opinions that he thought contradicted one another. Frustrated with these diverse and uncertain teachings, Hilary turned to scripture and discovered, as he puts it, ‘God’s testimony about himself’. He learned who God is and the salvation won by Jesus Christ, who, according to scripture, is both human and divine. Amidst the comfort and certainty of the saving promises of the Gospel, Hilary next encountered people professing an adherence to scripture but denying the divinity of Christ and consequently, in Hilary’s estimation, his saving work. These people rejected the very teaching that calmed Hilary’s anxious soul, yet claimed to accept scripture, the very source of Hilary’s assurance. He ends his narration with a pro-Nicene statement on the Trinity, which, he tells the reader, he has learned from his own private reading of scripture.

(p. 152)

Notice how Beckwith reports that Hilary is claiming to have arrived at the Nicene view not by simply bowing down to the Nicene fathers, but rather through a journey through Scriptures.  He is providing a sola scriptura defense of Nicaea.

It should be noted that Beckwith quotes (with disagreement) from E.W. Watson:

Scholars addressing the historical reliability of the narration fall into three groups. The first group takes a traditional approach that follows the Church Fathers and uncritically accepts the narration as it reads: an account of Hilary’s journey to the faith.1 For example, E.W. Watson writes: ‘It was, then, as a man of mature age, of literary skill and philosophical training, that Hilary approached Christianity. He had been drawn towards the Faith by desire for a truth which he had not found in philosophy; and his conviction that this truth was Christianity was established by independent study of scripture, not by intercourse with Christian teachers; so much we may safely conclude from the early pages of the De Trinitate.’2 The problem with Watson’s straightforward reading of Hilary’s narration …

1 Jerome and Augustine both think Hilary converted to Christianity because of the narration in Book One. See Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam prophetam, XVII. 60 (PL 24: 594–5), and Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, II.61. On the other hand, Hilary’s biographer, Venantius Fortunatus, flatly states that Hilary was Christian from infancy: Venantius Fortunatus, Vita S. Hilarii I.3 (PL 9: 187A). For a discussion of these sources, see E. Boularand, ‘La Conversion de saint Hilaire de Poitiers’, Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique, 62 (1961), 82–6, 95–104.
2 Watson, ‘Introduction Chapter 1, The Life and Writings of St. Hilary of Poitiers’, NPNF, 2nd ser., IX, p. v.

(p. 153)

While we may disagree with E. W. Watson taking Hilary at face value, Watson is correct about what Hilary is conveying to the reader.  In other words, Hilary is portraying his journey in a way that is almost solo scriptura.  That is to say, almost as though it were just Hilary and his Bible without the aid of Christian teachers.

Beckwith provides an excellent analysis of Hilary’s view about the relationship between Scripture, philosophy, and certainty.

At this point in the narrative Hilary’s troubled soul encounters scripture, and begins to find an answer to its questions. Hilary reads, ‘I am that I am’ (Exod. 3: 14), and discovers God testifying about his most characteristic property, his being (esse). What reason rightly suspected, scripture made certain and expressed, continues Hilary, ‘in language best adapted to human understanding, an incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature’.[FN20 [De Trinitate] I.5.7–9.] Indeed, it was worthy of God to reveal his existence, ‘as the testimony (ad protestationem) [FN21 Hilary always uses protestatio in reference to the testimony given in scripture. It is either the testimony given by God about himself (I.5, I.18), by Jesus (I.27, I.31, IX.58, IX.66, IX.67, X.49), by Wisdom (XII.35), or by the Apostle (XI.45). Only once does Hilary use protestatio in reference to our testimony. But even here he is talking about our confession of faith which is derived from scripture (X.70). Since it is God’s testimony or the Holy Spirit’s testimony through the Apostle, it brings assurance and certainty. Philosophy never achieves this kind of certainty, no matter how correct it might be in its assertions.] of his everlasting eternity’. [FN22 De Trinitate, I.5.15–16. In his Commentary on Matthew, Hilary uses aeternitas to designate the ‘community of substance’ shared by the Father and Son. See In Matt., 5.15, 16.4–5, 23.5 and esp. 31.2–3. Cf. CaP B II.10 (CSEL 65: 151–2). On this point, see Smulders, La Doctrine trinitaire, 75.] When the soul is guided by natural reason, it fails to achieve the certainty brought about by God’s own testimony. Reason finds nothing to confirm its ideas, guide its thoughts, or limit its speculations. However, when the troubled soul encounters scripture, it encounters God’s testimony about himself, and in that testimony finds certainty.

A third point established by Hilary in the opening of his narrative is that certainty is found only in scripture. That is to say, certainty is found not within the individual (natural reason) but beyond the individual (God or scripture).

(pp. 160-61)

The key point to take away from the passage above is that the certain comes from Scripture.  For our friends at the Roman blog “Called to Communion,” Scripture is not sufficient to provide certainty.  Indeed, the folks there have even alleged that – in essence – Nicaea rendered things heretical that Scripture could not or that Scripture alone was not sufficient to address the Arian heresy.

Rather than allowing God to descend to them, and ascending to an infinite knowledge of God with their boundless faith, they ‘confined infinite things within the boundary of their own understanding and made themselves judges of religion’. [FN37 De Trinitate, I.15.3–6.] These people sought to be masters of religion, while the work of religion, explains Hilary, is a work of obedience (opus oboedientiae): faithful obedience to what God has revealed about himself. By seeking knowledge of God from themselves rather than from God, Hilary charges his opponents with making their own natural reason, instead of scripture—God’s own testimony about himself—the ultimate standard of judgement on theological matters.

(p. 166)

Notice that this is something of an identical problem that is presented by our friends of the Roman communion in their role as skeptic (a role they don in order to attempt to persuade us of our need for Rome).  In their role as skeptic they attempt to make natural reason the ultimate standard of judgment on theological matters.  Once you are a member of their communion, of course, that will no longer be your standard, but for purposes of alleging the insufficiency of Scripture, they must adopt the position of those who Hilary bravely fought.

At this point in the treatise Hilary is not interested in refuting the claims of his opponents, only in exposing their faulty approach to the evangelical faith. According to Hilary, they correctly look to scripture for answers, but are misled because they do not depend on faith in their reading of scripture. Instead of being obedient to God’s word, they make God’s word obedient to their natural reason: rending it from its context, pitting one revelation against another, and allowing their limited human reason to guide their interpretation and to form the acceptable content of their faith. The correct interpreter, continues Hilary, will make use of the ‘regenerate intellect’, and ‘not measure God’s nature by the laws of his own nature but judge God’s assertions by the magnificence of God’s testimony about himself’.[FN40 [De Trinitate] I.18.14–16.]

(p. 167)

How many times have we seen happen just what Hilary describes above!  When we point out Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone in Romans and Galatians, replete with context, instead of a contextually driven analysis, we are simply provided with a comment from James ripped out of its context!  There is an attempt to pit James against Paul. 

Hilary continues by describing the best method for approaching scripture:[FN42 Hilary’s method, briefly stated here, is frequently cited and used by the Reformers. See e.g. Martin Luther’s comments in Luther’s Works, general editors Helmut Lehmann and Jaroslav Pelikan (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House), 1: 263, 32: 194, 33: 205, 41: 53, quoting De Trinitate I.18 directly at 31: 276 and offering an interpretation of it at 41: 83–4; Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.4, 1.11.1, 1.13.21. Martin Chemnitz also made explicit use of Hilary’s comments on scripture in his treatise De Coena Domini. See Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Supper, trans. J. A. O. Preus (St Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1979), 31–3, et passim.] ‘For he is the best reader who allows the words to reveal their own meaning rather than imposing one on them, who takes meaning from the text rather than bringing meaning to it, and who does not force a semblance of meaning on the words that he had determined to be right before reading them.’[FN43 De Trinitate, I.18.14–16: ‘Dei naturam non naturae suae legibus metiatur, sed divinas professiones secundum magnificentiam divinae de se protestationis expendat. Optimus enim lector est, qui dictorum intellegentiam expectet ex dictis potius quam inponat et rettulerit magis quam adtulerit, neque cogat id videri dictis contineri quod ante lectionem praesumpserit intellegendum.’ Cf. In Matt., 7.8: we must not accommodate the scriptures to our thoughts but our thoughts to scripture.]

(p. 168)

It’s hard to present the principle of “Scripture is its own interpreter” more clearly than Hilary has done in the passage above.  Beckwith is exactly correct in saying that this is the approach that the Reformers used. It’s the same approach that we, the spiritual heirs of Hilary and the Reformation, use today.

Once a person acknowledges that he is an imperfect and finite creature seeking to understand a perfect and infinite creator, he needs to know where to find authoritative knowledge about God and his mysteries. The person will ask, explains Hilary: ‘From what books shall I take words to explain such difficult mysteries?’[FN3 De Trinitate, II.12.5–6.] The answer is, scripture. From the very beginning of the treatise, Hilary informs the reader that he will have recourse only to God’s words when discussing God. He writes: ‘Since our treatise will be about the things of God, let us leave to God knowledge of himself and let us in pious reverence obey his words.’ Indeed, argues Hilary, God is ‘a fitting witness to himself who is only known through himself’.[FN4 Ibid. I.18.21–3. Cf. II.6–7, III.9, IV.1, IV.14, V.20, VIII.43, IX.40, IX.69.]

(p. 188)

Notice how Beckwith correctly arrives at “only to God’s words” from the whole body of Hilary’s writings.  Even if Hilary does not use the exact expression “sola scriptura,” it is plain enough that Hilary is using that principle.

Hilary will maintain throughout De Trinitate that our thoughts about God must be governed only by scripture. At the same time, Hilary is aware that this is insufficient to overthrow the assertions of his opponents. They, too, appeal to scripture and use God’s testimony about himself. Indeed, Hilary repeatedly acknowledges their reliance on scripture and laments their ‘deception’, as he calls it, of promoting anti-Nicene theological positions under the guise of scripture alone.[FN6 Cf. Ibid. IV.7–9; IV.11; V.1.23 ff.] Although both parties appeal to scripture, the difference rests, argues Hilary, with how scripture is approached and the normative role assigned to scripture in forming the content of a person’s confession about the mystery of God.

(p. 189)

Notice what Hilary doesn’t do.  Hilary doesn’t say, “one has to read Scripture the same way the Nicene fathers did.”  Hilary instead says that the problem of the heretics is that they don’t let Scripture decide its own meaning.  They are right to appeal to the authority of Scripture, they have just misused Scripture.

The first point to be noted when it comes to the language of scripture, insists Hilary, is that God speaks to us, not to himself, and therefore his speaking is done with words most fitting to our finite and created nature. Hilary writes, ‘we must first of all know that God has not spoken to himself [in scripture] but to us and has adapted the language of his declaration to our understanding such that the weakness of our nature is able to grasp his meaning’.[FN9 De Trinitate, VIII.43.1–4. Cf. Tract. in Ps., 126.6 (CSEL 22: 617): ‘Sermo enim divinus secundum intellegentiae nostrae consuetudinem naturamque se temperat communibus rerum vocabulis ad significationem doctrinae suae et institutionis aptatis. Nobis enim, non sibi loquitur, atque ideo nostris utitur in loquendo.’ This last sentence summarizes Hilary’s understanding of the language of scripture well: ‘he [God] speaks to us, not to himself, and therefore makes use of our language in speaking.’] God’s revelation is for us and is meant to be understood by us. Hilary’s comment echoes the very beginning of his treatise. God gives testimony about himself, he explained, ‘in language best adapted to human understanding’.[FN10 De Trinitate, I.5.7–9. Cf. VIII.16; XII.9; Tract. in Ps., 126.6.] Since the purpose of God’s testimony is to disclose who he is and what he has done, he necessarily accommodates his revelation to the words most easily grasped by us. Hilary writes: ‘The Lord expressed the evangelical faith in words as simple as possible, and adapted his language to our understanding to the extent that the weakness of our nature could grasp them; nevertheless, he did not say anything that was unworthy of the majesty of his nature.’[FN11 De Trinitate, IX.40.14–18. See also VI.16.20–6.] Since scripture discloses who God is in words best adapted to our limited understanding, if we fail to grasp God’s word the fault ‘lies with our faith’, not scripture.[FN12 Ibid. VII.38.]

(pp. 190-91)

Hilary’s argument above is key.  Scripture is perspicuous on the essential doctrines of the faith, because the purpose of Scripture is soteriological.  Scripture is designed by God to be read and understood – heard and obeyed – proclaimed and believed.  With this teleology, of course Scripture is written well for that purpose.  It is not written to be a gem of the most magnificent complexity and intricate grammatical craftsmanship.  Instead, it is a communication piece.  Thus, it is written in a manner that is accommodated to the reader.

Hilary’s emphasis on the unity of scripture allows him to negotiate any argument that is grounded in isolated verses of scripture and not in scripture as a whole or unit. When individual texts are used to overthrow the larger narrative or sense of scripture, Hilary argues that the Spirit is undermined by breaking the word of God and by pitting one verse against another.[FN20 Cf., [De Trinitate] V.23, VII.24, and XII.3.3–6.

When theological argument focuses on particular verses or passages, the best interpreter, argues Hilary, must consider the larger scriptural context. By discerning the reason or motive (causa) of the verse, a proper understanding of its meaning (ratio) will follow.[FN21 Ibid. II.31.3–4.] It is this attention to context that, Hilary argues, his opponents neglect. From his perspective, they arbitrarily accept various words of scripture but neglect the circumstances of those words. They take words spoken in one context and for one purpose, and arrange them so as to understand them in a different context for a different purpose.[FN22 Hilary’s criticism here is reminiscent of Irenaeus, who complained that the Gnostics ‘contradict the order and the continuity of the scriptures, and, as best they can, dissolve the members of the truth. They transfer and transform, making one thing out of another and thus lead many astray by the badly constructed phantom that they make out of the Lord’s words they adjust’ (Against Heresies, I.8.1). Irenaeus proceeds with the well-known description of the disfigured mosaic of a king. The good image of the king is rearranged by heretics into that of a dog or fox and used to deceive simple believers. Hilary’s point throughout this section and his earlier discussion of his opponents’ show of piety is very similar to the concern expressed here by Irenaeus. See Irenaeus of Lyons, trans. Robert Grant (London: Routledge, 1997), 65–6.] For example, they deny the equality of the Father and Son by citing ‘The Father is greater than I’ (John 14: 28) whenever confronted with such verses as ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10: 30) or ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14: 10). Therefore, conclude Hilary’s opponents, when Christ is called God, the name is only a title, not a true description of his nature. When scriptural verses are used in this way by his opponents, they fail, argues Hilary, to grasp their meaning because they do not ‘discern the circumstances of time, or apprehend the mysteries of the Gospel, or understand the force of the words’.[FN23 De Trinitate, IX.2.28–30.] They pass over the reasons that prompted these verses by neglecting the words that either precede or follow, and in the end undermine the unity of scripture and its progressive disclosure of God’s saving work.

(pp. 192-93)

Of course, the principles of Irenaeus and Hilary above are fully correct.  One of the problem of heretics is a fondness for taking Scripture out of context and rearranging it.  Irenaeus mosaic illustration is gripping – one can take a mosaic of a king and rearrange it into a fox – and the heretics attempt to do the same with Scripture.  The only proper way to understand the verses of Scripture is in their context – in their original relationship to one another.

There’s a lot more to Beckwith’s book than the points I’ve raised above.  These were, however, points that particularly piqued my interest, and answered some of the frequent objections we hear from Rome’s advocates.  While Cardinal Newman may have claimed that to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant, depth in history continues to confirm that history is no friend of Rome.  Was Hilary a “Protestant”?  Of course not.  Nevertheless, an adherence to fundamental aspects of sola scriptura can be seen in his writings, as has been demonstrated above.

– TurretinFan

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Justification by Faith Alone – An Affirmative Rebuttal

July 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The above is pretty self explanatory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is similar to the previous one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

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

November 20, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

We began by explaining the nature of formal sufficiency (i.e. the Reformed view) in an introduction section (link). After that we explored Scripture’s own testimony to its sufficiency (link). We could rightly have stopped the series there, but instead we continued by exploring some of the patristic testimony on the subject, starting with the earliest Christian writers (link), and then continuing with the fathers of the 3rd century (link).

The fourth century ushers in a period during which Christianity did not experience persecution on a large scale. Consequently, there are more and better preserved writings from this period than from some of the previous periods.

Using the century boundaries as the dividing line as to which fathers to include may seem a little arbitrary. For example, Epiphanias of Salamis and Chrysostom both died in the first decade of the 5th century, having lived most of their lives in the 4th century. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to select only those fathers who died or flourished (in the case of fathers whose date of death is not known) in the fourth century.

We begin our exploration of the fourth century with a theologian born in the 3rd century in Africa, but who later became an adviser to the Roman emperor.

Lactantius (260-330):

For this is especially the cause why, with the wise and the learned, and the princes of this world, the sacred Scriptures are without credit, because the prophets spoke in common and simple language, as though they spoke to the people. And therefore they are despised by those who are willing to hear or read nothing except that which is polished and eloquent; nor is anything able to remain fixed in their minds, except that which charms their ears by a more soothing sound. But those things which appear humble are considered anile, foolish, and common. So entirely do they regard nothing as true, except that which is pleasant to the ear; nothing as credible, except that which can excite pleasure: no one estimates a subject by its truth, but by its embellishment. Therefore they do not believe the sacred writings, because they are without any pretense; but they do not even believe those who explain them, because they also are either altogether ignorant, or at any rate possessed of little learning.

ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book V, Chapter I.

There are two things to particularly note in Lactantius’ comments above. The first is that the Scriptures are generally written in simple language. The second is that they are believed and explained by those who are either uneducated or have little education.

Lactantius (260-330):

For all those things which are unconnected with words, that is, pleasant sounds of the air and of strings, may be easily disregarded, because they do not adhere to its, and cannot be written. But a well-composed poem, and a speech beguiling with its sweetness, captivate the minds of men, and impel them in what direction they please. Hence, when learned men have applied themselves to the religion of God, unless they have been instructed by some skillful teacher, they do not believe. For, being accustomed to sweet and polished speeches or poems, they despise the simple and common language of the sacred writings as mean. For they seek that which may soothe the senses. But whatever is O pleasant to the ear effects persuasion, and while it delights fixes itself deeply within the breast. Is God, therefore, the contriver both of the mind, and of the voice, and of the tongue, unable to speak eloquently? Yea, rather, with the greatest foresight, He wished those things which are divine to be without adornment, that all might understand the things which He Himself spoke to all.

ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book VI Of true Worship, Chapter 21 Of the Pleasures of the Ears, And of Sacred Literature.

The quotation above builds upon the previous one. It reemphasizes that Scripture is written simply, and it explains the reason, which is that it will be understood by all.

Regarding Constantine (325, Nicea):

The excellent emperor next exhorted the Bishops to unanimity and concord; he recalled to their remembrance the cruelty of the late tyrants, and reminded them of the honourable peace which God had, in his reign and by his means, accorded them. He pointed out how dreadful it was, aye, very dreadful, that at the very time when their enemies were destroyed, and when no one dared to oppose them, they should fall upon one another, and make their amused adversaries laugh, especially as they were debating about holy things, concerning which they had the written teaching of the Holy Spirit. “For the gospels” (continued he), “the apostolical writings, and the oracles of the ancient prophets, clearly teach us what we ought to believe concerning the divine nature. Let, then, all contentious disputation be discarded; and let us seek in the divinely-inspired word the solution of the questions at issue.” These and similar exhortations he, like an affectionate son, addressed to the bishops as to fathers, labouring to bring about their unanimity in the apostolical doctrines.

According to Theodoret, cf. NPNF2: Vol. III, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 6.

Note that Constantine is not just saying that the Scriptures are clear, but that they clearly teach even on the challenging issues of the Arian controversy. Furthermore, they are the ones from whom the solution of the question will come, the one source he identifies.

We should not be too surprised that Alexander of Alexandria shares similar ideas, since he was one of the bishops at Nicaea.

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328), the spiritual mentor of Athanasius, testified of the Arian heretics in a letter to Alexander of Constantinople:

They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures.

Alternative translation:
The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame . . .

Greek: Οὐ κατήδεσεν αὐτοὺς ἡ τῶν ἀρχαίων Γραφῶν φιλόθεος σαφήνεια . . .

Theodoreti Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber I, Caput III, PG 82:904; translation in NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret’s Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 3; alternative translation in ANF: Vol. VI, Epistle to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, §10. The mistranslation of these words in J. Berington and J. Kirk, The Faith of Catholics, with preface, corrections, and additions by Rt. Rev. Monsignor Capel, Vol. 1, Third Enlarged Edition (Ratison: Fr. Pustet & Co., 1909), p. 45, represent a distorted view of what Alexander of Alexandria said, “Neither the explanation, well-pleasing unto God, of the ancient Scripture has shamed them.”

The quotation above is fairly self-explanatory. It is simply confirming that Alexander thought that the Arians were not simply interpreting Scripture differently, but rather that they were opposing the clear teachings of Scripture.

Anthony (c. 251–356) (recounted by Athanasius):

One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: ‘The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Life of Anthony, §16.

Anthony’s comments are a fairly concise statement of formal sufficiency. Unsurprisingly, Athanasius’ own views are similar.

Athanasius (297-373):

The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ.

Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well.

For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Against the Heathen, Part I, §1-3.

Again, we see explicit affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture. Athanasius even says what some of our Roman opponents beg us to find in the fathers, namely that human teachers are not necessary. And, of course, such sentiments about Scripture’s formal sufficiency are not a unique occurrence it Athanasius.

Athanasius (297-373):

But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority [than the light of nature in the form of the testimony of the stars themselves], so that we in our turn write boldy to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say.

For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved.

NPNF2: Vol. IV, Against the Heathen, Part III, §45, points 2-3.

Notice that again Athanasius is affirming the plainness of Scripture, and the ability of the reader to be taught from them.

From Alexandria, we make a dramatic move westward to France and hear the testimony of the somewhat younger Hilary of Poitiers.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

If any man propose to express what is known in other words than those supplied by God, he must inevitably either display his own ignorance, or else leave his readers’ minds in utter perplexity.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book 7, §38.

The above quotation is a pretty strong way of stating that Scripture is plainly written and easy to understand.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

I do not know the word ὁμοιούσιον, or understand it, unless it confesses a similarity of essence. I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ὁμοιούσιον by ὁμοούσιον. That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ὁμοούσιον and ὁμοιούσιον. Our desire is sacred. Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicaea our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ὁμοούσιον with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Councils or the Faith of the Easterns, §91.

According to his own testimony, Hilary learned the doctrine that the Son shares the same substance with the Father from Holy Scripture before he had ever heard that it was taught by the Council of Nicaea.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Now we ought to recognize first of all that God has spoken not for Himself but for us, and that He has so far tempered the language of His utterance as to enable the weakness of our nature to grasp and understand it.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VIII, §43.

The above quotation is another fairly straightforward statement of formal sufficiency in the sense that the wording of the Scriptures is specifically designed to permit us to understand it. This is, you may note, very similar to the explanation we gave in the first two posts of the series.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

The Lord enunciated the faith of the Gospel in the simplest words that could be found, and fitted His discourses to our understanding, so far as the weakness of our nature allowed Him, without saying anything unworthy of the majesty of His own nature.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §40.

I feel like I’m piling on with that last quotation, because it says nearly the same thing as the previous one.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) commenting on John 10:30:

But this passage concerning the unity, of which we are speaking, does not allow us to look for the meaning outside the plain sound of the words. If Father and Son are one, in the sense that They are one in will, and if separable natures cannot be one in will, because their diversity of kind and nature must draw them into diversities of will and judgment, how call They be one in will, not being one in knowledge? There can be no unity of will between ignorance and knowledge. Omniscience and nescience are opposites, and opposites cannot be of the same will.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §70.

The passage above may seem to be a relatively obscure reference to formal sufficiency, but it shows one way in which such a view plays out in Hilary’s hermeneutic.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Human judgment must not pass its sentence upon God. Our nature is not such that it can lift itself by its own forces to the contemplation of heavenly things. We must learn from God what we are to think of God; we have no source of knowledge but Himself. . . . Of all this he could have known nothing except through God Himself. And we, in like manner, must confine ourselves, in whatever we say of God, to the terms in which He has spoken to our understanding concerning Himself.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book V, §21.

One interesting aspect about this is not so much the aspect of perspicuity in itself, but the fact that Hilary views God’s description of himself as enough. Someone might try to argue that this is really more related to material sufficiency, but by saying “to the terms in which He has spoken,” it appears that Hilary means to suggest not only the material but also the form.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

In our reply we have followed Him to the moment of His glorious death, and taking one by one the statements of their unhallowed doctrine, we have refuted them from the teaching of the Gospels and the Apostle. But even after His glorious resurrection there are certain things which they have made bold to construe as proofs of the weakness of a lower nature, and to these we must now reply. Let us adopt once more our usual method of drawing out from the words themselves their true signification, that so we may discover the truth precisely where they think to overthrow it. For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book XI, §7.

Notice how the hermeneutic of letting the text speak for itself is here explained in terms of the plainness of the text. Scripture interprets Scripture is one of the hermeneutical outworkings of a belief in formal sufficiency.

You might think that was enough from Hilary, and perhaps it is, but he says the same thing in other ways too.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

The Lord has not left in doubt or obscurity the teaching conveyed in this great mystery; He has not abandoned us to lose our way in dim uncertainty. Listen to Him as He reveals the full knowledge of this faith to His Apostles; — I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but through Me. If ye know Me, ye know My Father also; and from henceforth ye shall know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and ye have not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father also. How sayest thou, Shew us the Father? Dost thou not believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth His works. Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; or else believe for the very works’ sake.

He Who is the Way leads us not into by-paths or trackless wastes: He Who is the Truth mocks us not with lies; He Who is the Life betrays us not into delusions which are death. He Himself has chosen these winning names to indicate the methods which He has appointed for our salvation. As the Way, He will guide us to the Truth; the Truth will establish us in the Life. And therefore it is all-important for us to know what is the mysterious mode, which He reveals, of attaining this life.

No man cometh to the Father but through Me. The way to the Father is through the Son. And now we must enquire whether this is to be by a course of obedience to His teaching, or by faith in His Godhead. For it is conceivable that our way to the Father may be through adherence to the Son’s teaching, rather than through believing that the Godhead of the Father dwells in the Son. And therefore let us, in the next place, seek out the true meaning of the instruction given us here. For it is not by cleaving to a preconceived opinion, but by studying the force of the words, that we shall enter into possession of this faith.

NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §33.

Notice how clearly Hilary states the matter, as making it perfectly apparent that he views the recorded teachings of Jesus as sufficient.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

Salvation is far from the wicked, because they have not sought the statutes of God; since for no other purpose were they consigned to writing, than that they should come within the knowledge and conceptions of all without exception.

Latin:
Ob id enim longe a peccatoribus salus est, quia non exquisierunt justificationes Dei: cum non utique ob aliud consignatae litteris maneant, quam ut ad universorum scientiam notionemque defluerent.

Psalmi CXVIII, Littera XX, 5, PL 9:633; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 246.

We Calvinists may be hesitant to speak in such unqualified terms (since Arminians will think we mean all individuals without exception rather than all classes without exception). Nevertheless, Hilary’s point is really an unmistakable affirmation of formal sufficiency.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

But the word of God [and in the context he speaks explicitly of Scripture] has consulted the benefit of all who shall ever live, being itself the best adapted to promote the instruction of all without exception.

Latin text:
Sed universis qui in vitam venirent Dei sermo consuluit, universae aetati ipse aptissimus ad profectum.

Psalmi CXVIII, Quindecim Graduum., Gradus 15, PL 9:643; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 246.

This is quote similar to the immediately previous quotation.

From France, we can jump back east to Caesarea and hear from the only slightly younger Basil the Great.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379):

What seems to be said in an ambiguous and veiled way in certain passages of inspired Scripture is made plain by the obvious meaning of other passages.

Alternative translation:
Whatsoever seems to be spoken ambiguously or obscurely in some places of holy Scripture, is cleared up by what is plain and evident in other places.

Greek:
Τὰ ἀμφίβολα καὶ ἐπικεκαλυμμένως εἰρῆσθαι δοκοῦντα ἔν τισι τόποις τῆς θεοπνεύστου Γραφῆς ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις ὁμολογουμέων σαφηνίζεται.

In Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Responsio CCLXVII, PG 31:1264; translation in W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K., 1925), The Shorter Rules, Answer #267 (CCLXVII), p. 329; alternative translation in William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (Cambridge: University Press, reprinted 1849), p. 491.

The quotation above comes at the issue of the formal sufficiency of Scripture from a little different angle from some of the statements we’ve seen before. Basil here addresses the imagined problem that there are some parts of Scripture that are hard to understand. It is true that there are some difficult parts of Scripture, to be sure, but this is not a problem because there are also clear parts of Scripture, and the clear parts explain the more difficult or obscure parts.

Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379)(To a widow):

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right.

Greek:
Ἔχουσα δὲ τὴν ἐκ τῶν θείων Γραφῶν παράκλησιν, οὔτε ἡμῶν οὔτε ἄλλου τινὸς δεηθήσῃ πρὸς τὸ τὰ δέοντα συνορᾷν, αὐτάρκη τὴν ἐκ τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἔχουσα συμβουλίαν καὶ ὁδηγίαν πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.

Epistola CCLXXXIII, PG 32:1020; translation in NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Letters, Letter 283.

Again, a very clear statement of the formal sufficiency of Scripture. This statement also provides a negative aspect – the widow does not need any additional teachers besides the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. This sort of comment should satisfy our Roman disputants, though perhaps they will be dissatisfied because Basil said “nor that of anybody else,” instead of saying “nor that of the pope.” But, of course, Basil was not familiar with the modern papacy and its claims of infallibility, so he could hardly be expected to specifically disclaim such a view.

Basil of Caesarea (329-379):

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition. Greek:
Πᾶσα Γραφὰ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος, διὰ τοῦτο συγγραφεῖσα παρὰ τοῦ Πνεύματος, ἵνʼ, ὡσπερ ἐν κοινῷ τῶν ψυχῶν ἰατρείῳ, πάντες ἄνθρωποι τὸ ἴαμα τοῦ οἰκείου πάθους ἕκαστος ἐκλεγώμεθα.

Homilia in Psalmum I, §1, PG 29:209; translation in FC, Vol. 46, Saint Basil: Exegetical Homilies, Homily 10 on Psalm 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1963), p. 151.

I’m sure that there are folks today who would have a heart attack at the idea of a self-service pharmacy, but Basil views Scripture as such a thing – a place where a person in need can find what he needs. It’s not just a high view of Scripture, it’s a formally sufficient view of Scripture.

From Caesarea, we turn … who knows where! We’re not quite sure where Ambrosiaster lived or who he was. He’s sometimes treated as a church father, and his writings were – for a long time – confused with those of his contemporary, Ambrose. Perhaps he was even from the same part of the world – certainly we think he was from the West, and his surviving works are known in Latin.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384):

The fact is that Scripture speaks in our own manner so that we may understand.

Latin:
Sed Scriptura more nostro loquitur, ut intelligere possumus.

In Epistolam Beati Pauli Galatas, v. 4:7, PL 17:360; translation in Mark J. Edwards, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VIII: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 57.

The quotation is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a simple statement of the fact that the Scriptures are written so as to be understandable to the reader.

From Ambrosiaster, it only makes sense to turn directly to Ambrose, one of the youngest of the 4th century fathers, living mostly in the second half of the century.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Trust to no one, to guide you, but where the light of that lamp [i.e. Scripture] goes before. For where you think it shines, there is a whirlpool; it seems to shine, but it defiles; and where you think it is firm or dry, there it is slippery. And, moreover, if you have a lamp, the way is long. Therefore let faith be the guide of your journey; let the divine Scripture be your path. Excellent is the guidance of the heavenly word. From this lamp light your lamp; that the eye of your mind, which is the lamp of your body, may give light.

Latin:
nulli credas tuum, nisi praeeunte lucernae istius luce, processum. Nam ubi putas quod luceat, gurges est; videtur lucere sed polluit; et ubi putas solidum esse vel siccum, ibi lubricum est. Sed et si lucerna tibi, iter longius sit. Sit ergo fides tibi itineris tui praevia, sit tibi iter Scriptura divina. Bonus est coelestis ductus eloquii. Ex hac lucerna accende et tu lucernam; ut luceat interior oculus tuus, qui lucerna est tui corporis.

In Psalmum David CXVIII, Expositio, Sermo 14, §11, PL 15:1394; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 148.

Ambrose, in the quotation above, is simply reaffirming the points that we had previously raised about the fact the Scripture illuminate our way. The Scriptures illuminating our way implies not only that they have the right material, but also the right form, to enlighten us.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

In most places Paul so explains his meaning by his own words, that he who discourses on them can find nothing to add of his own; and if he wishes to say anything, must rather perform the office of a grammarian than a discourser.

Latin:
In plerisque ita se ipse suis exponat sermonibus, ut is qui tractat, nihil inveniat quod adjiciat suum; ac si velit aliquid dicere, grammatici magis quam disputatoris fungatur munere.

Epistola XXXVII.1, PL 16:1084; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 262, Chemnitz, Vol. 1, p. 167, and Whitaker, pp. 398, 492, who all render plerisque as “most.” Cf. also The Letters of S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, trans. H. Walford (Oxford: James Parker and Co., and Rivingtons, 1881), Letter 37, §1, pp. 46-47. The translation found in FC, Vol. 26, Saint Ambrose: Letters 54. Ambrose to Simplicianus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 286, has mistranslated this word plerisque to read “in some instances” rather than the correct translation of “most places.”

This is another example of Scripture interpreting Scripture. It is also particularly interesting, because Ambrose is addressing the Pauline corpus – that portion of the the Bible that does include some things that are hard to understand. Nevertheless, there is no need (in Ambrose’s view) for external interpretative authority – the interpretation is to be derived from Paul’s own writings.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Divine Scripture confers salvation on us and is fragrant with the perfume of life, so that he who reads may acquire sweetness and not rush into danger to his own destruction.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Hexameron, Book 1, 2nd Homily, Chap. 8.30 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 34.

Notice, that Congar ascribes this view of Holy Scripture to Protestant orthodoxy. See the first post of this series, quoted from Yves Congar, The Meaning of Tradition (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1964), pp. 87-88. But, whether or not Congar is correct, the expressions “he who reads” and “Scripture confers salvation” is pretty strong language for the formal sufficiency position.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

I wished that they be arrayed in the unadorned words of Scripture in order that they may gleam in their own light and that in due order they may speak out plainly for themselves. The sun and the moon need no interpreter. The brilliance of their light is all-sufficient a light that fills the entire world. Faith serves as an illumination for the inspired Word. It is, if I may say so, an intestate witness having no need of another’s testimony, yet it dazzles the eyes of all mankind.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Cain and Abel, Book 1, Chap. 6.22 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 380.

Notice the very strong wording of formal sufficiency in the quotation above. The Scriptures themselves speak plainly – they are comparable to the sun for light and have no need of another’s testimony. It seems that Ambrose is trying to outdo Hilary in terms of stating formal sufficiency in such a way as it will be hard for someone to deny that he is teaching it.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Frequent reading of the Scriptures, therefore, strengthens the mind and ripens it by the warmth of spiritual grace. In this way our powers of reasoning are strengthened and the influence of our irrational passions brought to naught.

FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Cain and Abel, Book 2, Chap. 6.19 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1961), p. 421.

We end our discussion of the fourth-century fathers on this slight softer note, but one that shows the functional outworking of a view of formal sufficiency. If we believe in formal sufficiency, we will be encouraged to read the Scriptures often, and we will likewise encourage others to do the same. One can contrast that with the Reformation-era attitude of the Roman church.

(to be continued)

Did Augustine Teach the Sinlessness of Mary?

September 6, 2010

I recently received an email from someone who was trying to argue that Augustine “clearly” taught that Mary was immaculate conceived. The person writing to me provided the following quotation (emphasis is his):

Now with the exception of the holy Virgin Mary in regard to whom, out of respect for the Lord, I do not propose to have a single question raised on the subject of sin — after all, how do we know what greater degree of grace for a complete victory over sin was conferred on her who merited to conceive and bring forth Him who all admit was without sin — to repeat then: with the exception of this Virgin, if we could bring together into one place all those holy men and women, while they lived here, and ask them whether they were without sin, what are we to suppose that they would have replied?” (On Nature and Grace, or De natura et gratia, Migne PL 44:267)

To which I reply:

a) In this quotation, Augustine is refusing (at the time) to address the question of whether Mary had sin. He does not assert that she was sinless.

b) Augustine is saying that there is one (Jesus Christ) who certainly had no sin.

c) Augustine is addressing the issue of actual sin, not original sin.

Moreover, just a short time before writing “On Nature and Grace,” Augustine wrote “On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins,” in which he spoke more clearly:

Augustine (354-430):

This being the case, ever since the time when by one man sin thus entered into this world and death by sin, and so it passed through to all men, up to the end of this carnal generation and perishing world, the children of which beget and are begotten, there never has existed, nor ever will exist, a human being of whom, placed in this life of ours, it could be said that he had no sin at all, with the exception of the one Mediator, who reconciles us to our Maker through the forgiveness of sins.

NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 47.

And again…

Augustine (354-430):

Let us hold fast, then, the confession of this faith, without filtering or failure. One alone is there who was born without sin, in the likeness of sinful flesh, who lived without sin amid the sins of others, and who died without sin on account of our sins. “Let us turn neither to the right hand nor to the left.” For to turn to the right hand is to deceive oneself, by saying that we are without sin; and to turn to the left is to surrender oneself to one’s sins with a sort of impunity, in I know not how perverse and depraved a recklessness. “God indeed knoweth the ways on the right hand,” even He who alone is without sin, and is able to blot out our sins; “but the ways on the left hand are perverse,” in friendship with sins.

NPNF1: Vol. V, On Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II, Chapter 57 [XXXV].

Likewise, at the very end of his life, in his “Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian,” Augustine wrote something similar:

Augustine (354-430 AD): See, here is Ambrose; see what he says about what you are attacking. He says, “He could not alone be righteous, since the whole human race went astray, if it were not that, because he was born of a virgin, he was not held by the law of the guilty race.” Listen further; listen and stop the impudent tongue of your effrontery by shedding tears: “For intercourse with a man did not open the gates of the Virgin’s womb; rather, the Holy Spirit poured spotless seed into that inviolable womb. For among those born of a woman the holy Lord Jesus was absolutely the only one who did not experience the contagion of earthly corruption because of the new manner of his immaculate birth; rather, he shrugged it off by his celestial majesty.” John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91.

And if you will not accord weight to the testimony of an unfinished work, consider what Augustine wrote in his letters.

First, his letter to Jerome that was the same year as his publication of “On Nature and Grace“:

Augustine (354-430):

Therefore it is true that in the sight of God “shall no man living be justified,” and yet that “the just shall live by his faith.” On the one hand, “the saints are clothed with righteousness,” one more, another less; on the other hand, no one lives here wholly without sin—one sins more, another less, and the best is the man who sins least.

NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustin, Letter 167 – To Jerome, Chapter 3, §13.

Second, his letter to Optatus about two years later:

Augustine (354-430):

For, if no soul is propagated from another, while all souls are enclosed in flesh descended from sinful flesh, how much less credible is it that His soul could have come by propagation from a sinful woman, whereas his flesh came from a virgin and was not conceived in lust, that He might be ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh,’ not in sinful flesh!

See FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 190, to Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 287.

And then again to Optatus five years after writing “On Nature and Grace“:

Augustine (354-430):

In the advice and admonition he gives that I rather apply my effort to stamping out this deadly heresy from the Churches, he refers to that same Pelagian heresy which I urge you, my brother, with all my strength, to avoid with the utmost care, whenever you either think or argue about the origin of souls, so that the belief may not steal upon you that any soul at all, save that of the unique Mediator, was free from inheritance of Adam, that original sin under which we are bound when we are begotten but from which we are freed by our second birth.

FC, Vol. 30, Saint Augustine Letters 165-203, Letter 202A, To Optatus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 420.

And while my correspondent simply asserts that Augustine did not come up with the content quoted in “On Nature and Grace,” we can prove that Augustine — in holding to the universality of original sin to those born from sexual intercourse — was following his teacher 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.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): No Conception is without iniquity, since there are no parents who have not fallen. (Nec conceptus iniquitatis exsors est, quoniam et parentes non carent lapsu. ) Prophetae David ad Theodosium Augustum, Caput XI, PL 14:873; for translation, see I. D. E. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, 1996), p. 258.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

So, then, no one is without sin except God alone, for no one is without sin except God. Also, no one forgives sins except God alone, for it is also written: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And one cannot be the Creator of all except he be not a creature, and he who is not a creature is without doubt God; for it is written: “They worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, Who is God blessed for ever.” God also does not worship, but is worshipped, for it is written: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve.”

NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §133.

Ambrose (c. 339-97):

Let us therefore consider whether the Holy Spirit have any of these marks which may bear witness to His Godhead. And first let us treat of the point that none is without sin except God alone, and demand that they prove that the Holy Spirit has sin.

NPNF2: Vol. X, On the Holy Spirit, Book III, Chapter 18, §134.

And we don’t have to speculate whether Augustine was consciously agreeing with Ambrose:

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Hilary says that all flesh comes from sin apart from the flesh of the one who came without sin in the likeness of sinful flesh. He says that the one who cried out, I was conceived in iniquities (Ps 51:7), “was born from a sinful origin and under the law of sin. Saint Ambrose says that “the little ones who have been baptized are changed from their wickedness back to the original state of their nature.” He says that “by reason of his immaculate birth the Holy Lord Jesus alone of those born of a woman experienced no infection from earthly corruption.” He says that we all die in Adam, because through one man sin entered the world (Rom 5:12) and his sin is the death of all. He says that in his wound “the whole human race would have died, if that Samaritan had not come down and healed his grave wounds.” He says that Adam existed and all existed in him, that Adam perished and all perished in him. He says that we are stained with infection before we were born and that a human being is not conceived free of iniquity, because, as he says, we are “conceived in the sin of our parents and we are born in their transgressions. Birth itself has its own infections, and nature itself does not have only one infection.” He says that the devil is a money lender to whom sinful Eve “put the whole human race in debt with succeeding generations subject to usury.” He says that Eve was deceived by the devil “in order to trip up her husband and place their descendants in debt.” He says that Adam was so wounded by the bite of the serpent “that we all limp because of that wound.” He says that through the union of the bodies of the man and the woman no one is immune from transgression, but that “the one who is immune from transgression,” that is, Christ the Lord, “is also immune from that manner of conception.”

See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book I:7, 32, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), pp. 290-291.

Augustine (354-430 AD):

Say to this man [i.e., Ambrose], if you dare, that he makes the devil the creator of human beings who are born from the union of both sexes. He, after all, exempted Christ alone from the bonds of the guilty race, because he was born of a virgin. All the others coming after Adam are born under the debt of sin, the sin which the devil, of course, planted in them. Refute this man for condemning marriage, for he says that only the son of the virgin was born without sin. Charge this man with denying the attainment of virtue, since he says that vices are implanted in the human race at the very beginning of conception.

See John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Answer to Julian, Book II:2, 4, Part 1, Vol. 24, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1998), p. 306.

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, Augustin’s Anti-Pelagian Works, The Grace of Christ And on Original Sin, Book II On Original Sin, Chapter 47. This same citation of Ambrose is likewise found in John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to the Pelagians III, Unfinished Work in Answer to Julian, Book I:66, Part 1, Vol. 25, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 91; and again later in the same work, 4:121, p. 485; as well as in His Answer to Julian, as set forth above.

– TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 7)

February 15, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 7)

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

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430): Bad people commingle with good people not only in the world but even within the Church: even here the wicked are mixed up with the good. You know this, you have plenty of experience of it, and if you are good yourselves you will be all the more keenly aware of it, for when the shoots had grown up and come into ear, then the tares became apparent (Mt 13:26). The bad people within the Church are obvious only to one who is good. But you know that they are mingled with the rest, always and everywhere, and scripture testifies that they will not be sorted out until the end. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 20, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Psalm 128.8 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), p. 122.

I’ll give the very last words to Augustine:

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 6)

February 8, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 6)

2 Peter 1:19-20

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

Bryan also fails to recognize the perspicuity of Scripture:

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

In our reply we have followed Him to the moment of His glorious death, and taking one by one the statements of their unhallowed doctrine, we have refuted them from the teaching of the Gospels and the Apostle. But even after His glorious resurrection there are certain things which they have made bold to construe as proofs of the weakness of a lower nature, and to these we must now reply. Let us adopt once more our usual method of drawing out from the words themselves their true signification, that so we may discover the truth precisely where they think to overthrow it. For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book XI, §7.

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

The Lord has not left in doubt or obscurity the teaching conveyed in this great mystery; He has not abandoned us to lose our way in dim uncertainty. Listen to Him as He reveals the full knowledge of this faith to His Apostles; — I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but through Me. If ye know Me, ye know My Father also; and from henceforth ye shall know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and ye have not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father also. How sayest thou, Shew us the Father? Dost thou not believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth His works. Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; or else believe for the very works’ sake. He Who is the Way leads us not into by-paths or trackless wastes: He Who is the Truth mocks us not with lies; He Who is the Life betrays us not into delusions which are death. He Himself has chosen these winning names to indicate the methods which He has appointed for our salvation. As the Way, He will guide us to the Truth; the Truth will establish us in the Life. And therefore it is all-important for us to know what is the mysterious mode, which He reveals, of attaining this life. No man cometh to the Father but through Me. The way to the Father is through the Son. And now we must enquire whether this is to be by a course of obedience to His teaching, or by faith in His Godhead. For it is conceivable that our way to the Father may be through adherence to the Son’s teaching, rather than through believing that the Godhead of the Father dwells in the Son. And therefore let us, in the next place, seek out the true meaning of the instruction given us here. For it is not by cleaving to a preconceived opinion, but by studying the force of the words, that we shall enter into possession of this faith.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §33.

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

Now we ought to recognize first of all that God has spoken not for Himself but for us, and that He has so far tempered the language of His utterance as to enable the weakness of our nature to grasp and understand it.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VIII, §43.

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

The Lord enunciated the faith of the Gospel in the simplest words that could be found, and fitted His discourses to our understanding, so far as the weakness of our nature allowed Him, without saying anything unworthy of the majesty of His own nature.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §40.

Hilary of Poitiers (about A.D. 315-67) commenting on John 10:30:

But this passage concerning the unity, of which we are speaking, does not allow us to look for the meaning outside the plain sound of the words. If Father and Son are one, in the sense that They are one in will, and if separable natures cannot be one in will, because their diversity of kind and nature must draw them into diversities of will and judgment, how call They be one in will. not being one in knowledge? There can be no unity of will between ignorance and knowledge. Omniscience and nescience are opposites, and opposites cannot be of the same will.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §70.

The perspicuity of Scripture, however, does not mean that everything in Scripture is clear. The necessary things for salvation are clear in Scripture, but there is much additional in Scripture for which our attention and study is both necessary and commended.

Paschasius of Dumium (6th century A.D.):

Some brothers went to Abbot Antony and asked to hear from him words by which they might be saved. He said to them: “You have heard the Scriptures, and you know what is sufficient to you from Christ.”

– Paschasius of Dumium, FC, Vol. 62, Paschasius of Dumium, Questions and Answers of the Greek Fathers, Chapter 6, §2 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1969), p. 127.

Augustine (about A.D. 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.”

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

Augustine (about A.D. 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.

– Augustine, 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.

Bryan also forgets that the words of our Lord are able to speak for themselves, without needing external support:

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

In our reply we have followed Him to the moment of His glorious death, and taking one by one the statements of their unhallowed doctrine, we have refuted them from the teaching of the Gospels and the Apostle. But even after His glorious resurrection there are certain things which they have made bold to construe as proofs of the weakness of a lower nature, and to these we must now reply. Let us adopt once more our usual method of drawing out from the words themselves their true signification, that so we may discover the truth precisely where they think to overthrow it. For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book XI, §7.

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

Verse 11. “For we which live are also delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in us in our mortal flesh.” For every where when he has said any thing obscure, he interprets himself again. So he has done here also, giving a clear interpretation of this which I have cited. ‘For therefore, “we are delivered,”’ he says, ‘in other words, we bear about His dying that the power of His life may be made manifest, who permitteth not mortal flesh, though undergoing so great sufferings, to be overcome by the snowstorm of these calamities.’ And it may be taken too in another way. How? As he says in another place, “If we die with him, we shall also live with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:11.) ‘For as we endure His dying now, and choose whilst living to die for His sake: so also will he choose, when we are dead, to beget us then unto life. For if we from life come into death, He also will from death lead us by the hand into life.’

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XII, Homilies on Second Corinthians, Homily 9.

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

In most places Paul so explains his meaning by his own words, that he who discourses on them can find nothing to add of his own; and if he wishes to say anything, must rather perform the office of a grammarian than a discourser.

Latin text:

In plerisque ita se ipse suis exponat sermonibus, ut is qui tractat, nihil inveniat quod adjiciat suum; ac si velit aliquid dicere, grammatici magis quam disputatoris fungatur munere.

Citation: Ambrose, Epistola XXXVII.1, PL 16:1084; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 262; see also Chemnitz, Vol. 1, p. 167, and Whitaker, pp. 398, 492, who all render plerisque as “most.” The translation found in FC, Vol. 26, Saint Ambrose: Letters 54. Ambrose to Simplicianus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 286, has mistranslated this word plerisque to read “in some instances” rather than the correct translation of “most places.”

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

Eran. — We have gone through many and sound arguments, but I was anxious to know the force of the Gospel saying.
Orth. — You stand in need of no interpretation from without. The evangelist himself interprets himself. For after saying “the Word was made flesh,” he goes on “and dwelt among us.” That is to say by dwelling in us, and using the flesh taken from us as a kind of temple, He is said to have been made flesh, and, teaching that He remained unchanged, the evangelist adds “and we beheld His glory — the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” For though clad with flesh He exhibited His Father’s nobility, shot forth the beams of the Godhead, and emitted the radiance of the power of the Lord, revealing by His works of wonder His hidden nature. A similar illustration is afforded by the words of the divine apostle to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death even the death of the cross.”

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret, Dialogue I.—The Immutable.Orthodoxos and Eranistes.

Indeed, the words of Scripture are best suited to explain Scripture:

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

The worldly man cannot receive the faith of the Apostle, nor can any language but that of the Apostle explain his meaning. God raised Christ from the dead; Christ in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. But He quickened us also together with Him, forgiving us our sins, blotting out the bond of the law of sin, which through the ordinances made aforetime was against us, taking it out of the way, and fixing it to His cross, stripping Himself of His flesh by the law of death, holding up the powers to shew, and triumphing over them in Himself.

– Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §10.

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

Mark how he disapproves of questioning. For where faith exists, there is no need of question. Where there is no room for curiosity, questions are superfluous. Questioning is the subversion of faith. For he that seeks has not yet found. He who questions cannot believe. Therefore it is his advice that we should not be occupied with questions, since if we question, it is not faith; for faith sets reasoning at rest. But why then does Christ say, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. vii. 7); and, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life”? (John v. 39.) The seeking there is meant of prayer and vehement desire, and He bids “search the Scriptures,” not to introduce the labors of questioning, but to end them, that we may ascertain and settle their true meaning, not that we may be ever questioning, but that we may have done with it.

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, Homily 1.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 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. . . . So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture.

– Chrysostom, FC, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, 13.13 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175.

The Scripture even explains the allegorical parts of Scripture:

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

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

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

Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407): Commenting on Isaiah 8:6-7:

Do you see how flawlessly the passage shines before us? For Scripture everywhere gives the interpretation of its metaphors, just as it has done here. Having spoken of a river, it did not stick to the metaphor, but told us what it means by river: “The king of Assyria, and all his glory.”

– Chrysostom, Duane A. Garrett, An Analysis of the Hermeneutics of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Isaiah 1-8 with an English Translation, Isaiah Chapter 8 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 161.

And the obscure portions have a reason in themselves, not to hide an important doctrine, but to stimulate our spiritual appetite, increase our humility, or give us spiritual exercise and excitement.

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

Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere.

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 6, §8.

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

Here by that rule I would wish to take “the sons of men” of those that from old men have been regenerated by faith. For these, by certain obscure passages of Scripture, as it were the closed eyes of God, are exercised that they may seek: and again, by certain clear passages, as it were the open eyes of God, are enlightened that they may rejoice. And this frequent closing and opening in the holy Books are as it were the eyelids of God; which question, that is, which try the “sons of men;” who are neither wearied with the obscurity of the matter, but exercised; nor puffed up by knowledge, but confirmed.

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. VIII, St. Augustin on the Psalms, Psalm 11, §8.

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

The depths of meaning in the word of God are there to excite our eagerness to study, not to prevent us from understanding. If everything was locked up in riddles, there would be no clue to the opening up of obscure passages.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 5, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 156.1 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1992), p. 96.

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

Our thoughts, my dearest brothers and sisters, in reflecting on and discussing the holy scriptures must be guided by the indisputable authority of the same scriptures, so that we may deal faithfully both with what is said clearly for the purpose of giving us spiritual nourishment, and what is said obscurely in order to give us spiritual exercise. Who, after all, would dare to expound the divine mysteries otherwise than has been practiced and prescribed by the mind and mouth of an apostle?

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 10, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 363.1 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1995), p. 270. (414 AD.).

Thus, Scripture can teach us all that is worth knowing.

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

Love to read the sacred Letters, and you will not find many things to ask of me. By reading and meditating, if you pray wholeheartedly to God, the Giver of all good things, you will learn all that is worth knowing, or at least you will learn more under His inspiration than through the instruction of any man.

– Augustine, FC, Vol. 20, Saint Augustine Letters, 140. Addressed to Honoratus (412 AD), Chapter 37 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), pp. 135-136. Honoratus was a catechumen.

And thoroughly equip us:

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

When the Gospel was read, we heard that word which is at the same time both terrible and desirable, the sentence of our Lord which is equally dreadful and desirable. It is terrible because of what He says: ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire’; it is desirable because of the words: ‘Come, blessed, receive the kingdom.’ . . . For if a man carefully heeds this lesson, even if he cannot read the rest of the Scriptures, this lesson alone can suffice for him to perform every good act and to avoid all evil.

– Caesarius of Arles, FC, Vol. 47, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons 187-238, Sermon 158.1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1963), p. 359.

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-97):

Frequent reading of the Scriptures, therefore, strengthens the mind and ripens it by the warmth of spiritual grace. In this way our powers of reasoning are strengthened and the influence of our irrational passions brought to naught.

– Ambrose, FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: Cain and Abel, Book 2, chapter 6, §20 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961), p. 421.

[cont’d in Section 7]

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 5)

February 1, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 5)

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

The fathers also understood this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

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

Greek Text:

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

It is pointless and foolish to inquire into unspoken secrets.

Greek text:

Περιττὸν καὶ ἀνόητον τὸ τὰ σεσιγημένα ζητεῖν.

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

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

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[cont’d in section 6]

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 4)

January 25, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 4)

Caesarius of Arles (about A.D. 470-543) commenting on Rev. 22:10:

Just as the divine Scriptures are sealed for those who are proud and who love the world more than God, so are they opened for those who are humble and who fear God.

– Caesarius of Arles as found in William C. Weinrich, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XII, Revelation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), p. 398. Cf. Commentary on the Apocalypse 22.10, Homily 19 (repeated twice in the homily).

The fundamental problems with Bryan’s analysis seem to be his failure to recognize the divine nature and purpose of Scripture. The purpose of Scripture is to put in writing those things that God wants us to know.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 110:

God established an era of promises and another era for the fulfillment of his promises. The time for promises was the age of the prophets down to that of John the Baptist. From his day, and thenceforth until the end, is the era of fulfillment. God is faithful and has put himself in our debt not because we have given him anything but because he has promised us so much. Yet even promising was not enough for him. He wanted to be bound in writing as well, so he gave us a signed copy of his promises, as it were, so that once he had begun to fulfill them we could study the scriptures and learn the sequence of their realization.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 19, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 99-120, Exposition 23 of Psalm 109.1 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2003), p. 261.

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

Salvation is far from the wicked, because they have not sought the statutes of God; since for no other purpose were they consigned to writing, than that they should come within the knowledge and conceptions of all without exception.

Latin text:

Ob id enim longe a peccatoribus salus est, quia non exquisierunt justificationes Dei: cum non utique ob aliud consignatae litteris maneant, quam ut ad universorum scientiam notionemque defluerent.

Citation: Hilary of Poitiers, Psalmi CXVIII, Littera XX, 5, PL 9:633; translation in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 246.

Athanasius (about A.D. 297-373):

Since, therefore, such an attempt is futile madness, nay, more than madness!, let no one ask such questions any more, or else let him learn only that which is in the Scriptures. For the illustrations they contain which bear upon this subject are sufficient and suitable.

– Athanasius, C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 1.19 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 108.

Thus, Scripture is written with the purpose that we understand and benefit.

Ambrosiaster (flourished about A.D. 366-384):

The fact is that Scripture speaks in our own manner so that we may understand.

Latin text:

Sed Scriptura more nostro loquitur, ut intelligere possumus.

Citation: Ambrosiaster, In Epistolam Beati Pauli Galatas, v. 4:7, PL 17:360; translation in Mark J. Edwards, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VIII: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 57.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, Scripture can be compared to a pharmacy, and lack of knowledge of Scripture can be viewed as a general source of all evil.

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

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition.

– Basil of Caesarea, FC, Vol. 46, Saint Basil: Exegetical Homilies, Homily 10 on Psalm 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1963), p. 151.

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

Tarry not, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind.
This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them.

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

Or even the “perfume of life”:

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-97):

Divine Scripture confers salvation on us and is fragrant with the perfume of life, so that he who reads may acquire sweetness and not rush into danger to his own destruction. Read with simplicity, man; I would not encourage you, a misdirected interpreter, to dig up meanings for yourself. The language is simple: ‘God created heaven and earth.’ He created what was not, not what was. And the earth was invisible, because water flowed over it and covered it. Darkness was diffused over it, because there was not yet the light of day, or the rays of the sun which can reveal even what lies hid beneath the waters.

– Ambrose, FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: The Six Days of Creation, Book 1, the second homily, §30 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961), p. 34.

Part of the problem is that Bryan presents his case as though he were unsatisfied with the Scriptures as they were given. It is as though the thinks that Scripture could have been expressed better than it was.

Augustine (354-430) commenting on v. 6 of Psalm 147:

The psalm indicates to you what you must do if you have difficulty in understanding, for it goes on to say, The Lord welcomes the meek. Suppose you do not understand some passage, or understand only a little of it, or at any rate cannot master it: hold God’s scripture in honor, respect God’s word even when it is not clear to you, maintain a reverent attitude while you wait for understanding to come. Do not be over-bold and find fault with the obscurity of scripture or even allege that it is self-contradictory. There is no contradiction here. Some obscurity there may be, not in order that insight may be denied you, but so that your mind may be stretched until you can receive it. When some text seems dark to you, be sure that the physician has made it so; he is inviting you to knock. He wanted it to puzzle you so that you may be put through your paces as you keep on knocking; he wants it to be so, that he may open to you when you knock. As you persevere in knocking you will be stretched; as you are stretched, your capacity will be enlarged; as your capacity grows, you will receive what comes to you as gift. Do not be angry, then, when you find the door closed. Be gentle, be meek. Do not lash out against the obscure passage, saying, “That thought would have been better expressed if it had been put like this….” When will you ever be qualified to say it, or even judge how it ought to be said? It has been said in the right way. The patient has no business to alter his treatment; the doctor knows when to modify it. Trust him who is working on your cure.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 20, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Psalm 146.12 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), p. 431.

Or that the Scriptures should answer questions that they do not.

Athanasius (about A.D. 297-373):

These things are sufficient to refute your foolish speech. Mock no more at the Godhead. For it is the part of those who mock to ask the questions which are not written and to say, So the Spirit is a son and the Father a grandfather?

– Athanasius, C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion 4.7 (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), p. 188.

Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200):

(Scripture to be interpreted by Scripture) If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things. If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world? ”we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions [in reply to it]; so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things.

– Irenaeus, ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:28:3 (note that the heading “Scripture to be Interpreted by Scripture” is, as far as I know, added by the editor)(Unlike Roman Catholic apologists, such as Bryan, Irenaeus tells us that God, not the Church, gave us the Scriptures, and that if a matter concerning God is not revealed in Scripture, it is because it is beyond the scope of extant revelation.)

Ambrose (about A.D. 339-97):

But subjects which are alien to our purpose and to divine testimony should be left to those ‘who are outside.’ We should adhere closely to the doctrine laid down by the celestial Scriptures.

– Ambrose, FC, Vol. 42, Saint Ambrose: The Six Days of Creation, Book 2, the third homily, chapter 2, §7 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1961), p. 51.

[to be cont’d in Section 5]

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 3)

January 17, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 3)

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

The divine scriptures, which have lifted us up from their earthly and human meaning to one that is divine and heavenly, have stooped down to a language that is current even among the most unlearned.

– Augustine, John Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Responses to Miscellaneous Questions, Miscellany of Eighty-Three Questions, LII, Part I, Vol. 12, trans. Boniface Ramsey, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008), p. 65.

This statement from Augustine speaks to the fact that the Scriptures are expressed, in many places, in language that is simple and easy to understand. Similarly, Augustine goes on to explain that the clear parts of Scripture are given to help us understand the less clear parts, though he does not mean to suggest that the less clear parts could not be understood by a careful and devout reader.

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

For in certain places in the scriptures a clearer explanation is given of something that a careful and devout reader might understand as well in other places where it is less clear. For our God has, by the Holy Spirit, set up the divine books for the salvation of souls in such a way that he wishes not only to nourish us with what is obvious but also to exercise us with what is obscure.

– Augustine, John Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Responses to Miscellaneous Questions, Miscellany of Eighty-Three Questions, LIII.2, Part I, Vol. 12, trans. Boniface Ramsey, S.J. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2008), p. 68.

These descriptions of the Scripture well summarize much of the preceding discussion. Let’s continue, however, with Bryan’s argument. After asserting that the need for something to tell us what is clear in Scripture, Bryan suggests we might respond “Scripture,” which he claims then would simply regress the question to the previous point – how do we properly interpret the Scriptures that tell us which ones are clear, so that we can interpret the others and so on. He then asserts:

If there were something in Scripture itself that prevented the regress, then all truth-loving and adequately intelligent persons who come to Scripture would all arrive at all the same conclusions regarding its interpretation. But obviously they do not.

This statement amounts to an interesting ad hominem. Apparently if something did stop the regress would be that “all truth-loving and adequately intelligent persons who come to [X] would all arrive at all the same conclusions regarding its interpretation,” but there are internal disagreements within Roman Catholicism over various teachings of the Magisterium. So, Bryan is left in one of three positions: he can accuse at least half of those who disagree as not being truth-loving or not being adequately intelligent (the ad hominem approach); he can maintain his claim about regress and agreement and claim that the RC position also doesn’t avoid the regress; or he can acknowledge what we already know, namely that the test of universal agreement is a bogus test.

Part of the problem with Bryan’s criticism (one he may be trying to avoid by adding “truthloving”) is that there are a variety of reasons for people disagreeing about Scripture, sometimes the reason being the person himself.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

And it is obvious that these dissensions concerning the faith result from a distorted mind, which twists the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture.

– Hilary of Poiters, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §4.

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

If any man propose to express what is known in other words than those supplied by God [namely the Scriptures], he must inevitably either display his own ignorance, or else leave his readers’ minds in utter perplexity.

– Hilary of Poiters, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book VII, §38.

Bryan’s next comment is similar:

Hence, Scripture does not provide its own self-evident hermeneutical foundation that by necessary inferences closes off all false interpretive alternatives, leaving only the one correct interpretation of Scripture.

This claim is in many ways similar to Bryan’s previous claim. It’s additionally notable that there doesn’t have to be only one correct interpretation of Scripture. Both Reformed and Roman Catholic theology recognizes that there can be both literal and spiritual senses to the same passage. Additionally, God is able to use (and sometimes does use) word plays such as double entendres, in which two senses are simultaneously intended.

Aquinas (about A.D. 1225–1274):

The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

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

Nevertheless, let’s continue with Bryan’s argument:

So, without such a hermeneutical foundation, the position (that Scripture alone has interpretive authority) is left with the regress problem. There are only two ways to avoid this regress. Either deny that Scripture needs to be interpreted, and thus abandon the claim that Scripture interprets Scripture, or locate a regress-stopping point in human persons holding interpretive authority.

The first portion of this argument has been addressed above. The second part of this argument is to suggest that the supposed regression problem can be avoided if the interpreter is not Scripture but instead “human persons.” It should be immediately obvious that none of the arguments against Scripture being its own interpreter above were actually in any way unique to Scripture. In other words, we could swap in “Magisterium” for Scripture in Bryan’s critique and if it stands against Scripture it also stands against the Magisterium.

Bryan seems to anticipate this objection, as he continues the argument thus:

Denying that Scripture needs to be interpreted at all, is sufficiently naive and self-evidently false so as to be self-refuting. What about the human alternative? You might think that if human beings have interpretive authority that would not avoid the regress problem. But it does. That’s because there is a relevant ontological difference between a person and a book.

We’re about to let Bryan attempt to demonstrate his supposedly relevant ontological difference between a person and a book. However, before we do, we should address his initial point about Scripture not needing interpretation. As noted above, there is an important difference between saying that some obscure parts of Scripture need interpretation and saying that the clear parts require interpretation. Bryan’s comments ignore this difference which results in the various absurdities already set forth above.

At this point Bryan quoted himself from his article:

The problem with this dilemma is that it ignores the qualitative ontological distinction between persons and books, and so it falsely assumes that if a book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to function as an ecclesial authority, so must a living person.

There is a subtle shift taking place here. Instead of arguing that the book needs an authoritative interpreter in order to act as an authority, there is a change from “authority” to “ecclesial authority.” The change appears to be an attempt to avoid the original contention, namely that the Scriptures can be our final authority in matters of faith and morals.

For context, it is necessary to see what dilemma the article is referring to. The dilemma is:

Either the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, or not. If the individual needs the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture, then he will need the guidance of another interpretive authority when interpreting the first interpretive authority. And he will need the guidance of third interpretive authority when interpreting the second interpretive authority. That would lead to an infinite regress. But there cannot be an infinite regress, hence the individual does not need the guidance of an interpretive authority when interpreting Scripture.

As noted above, the alleged escape from this regress is to substitute “a living person” as the second (or third, or whatever) authority. Bryan attempts to explain why this matters, as follows:

A book contains a monologue with respect to the reader. An author can often anticipate the thoughts and questions that might arise in the mind of the reader. But a book cannot hear the reader’s questions here and now, and answer them.

There are two aspects to which may respond here. The first is that a merely human writer can frequently anticipate most of the reader’s possible questions, yet the Scriptures are not the product of mere men. Holy Scripture is inspired by God, and God both can anticipate every possible human question and already knows all the questions that will be asked. Additionally, God can answer (in advance, in the Scriptures themselves) those questions he wishes to answer.

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

In the same way, therefore, the heretic shall not stand in the face of the Catholic, who made no account of his labors, when the laws of the Catholic emperors were put in force; but the Catholic shall stand in the face of the heretic, who made no account of his labors when the madness of the ungodly Circumcelliones was allowed to have its way. For the passage of Scripture decides the question in itself, seeing that it does not say, Then shall men stand, but “Then shall the righteous stand;” and they shall stand “in great boldness” because they stand in the power of a good conscience.

– Augustine, Letter 185, Chapter 8, Section 41

Origen (about A.D. 185–254):

Let us see, then, briefly what holy Scripture has to say regarding good and evil, and what answer we are to return to the questions, “How is it that God created evil?” and, “How is He incapable of persuading and admonishing men?”

– Origen, Contra Celsus, Book IV, Chapter 54

In fact, of course, that’s why scripture is sometimes referred as oracles: Acts 7:38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: Romans 3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. And why Scripture can provide us with answers to those who question us. Psalm 119:42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

The second aspect is that the magisterium of the Roman Catholic church is not a living person to whom one can go and ask questions — at any rate the extraordinary magisterium is not.

The article continued:

A living person, however, can do so. A living person can engage in genuine dialogue with the reader, whereas a book cannot.

The magisterium of the Roman Catholic church does not typically engage in dialogs with the readers of Scripture in its extraordinary function. It may in its ordinary function (i.e. one’s local bishop may sit down with one and talk about Scriptural interpretation), but that ordinary function is not a comparable authority to that of Scripture. Think about it: there have been about 21 allegedly ecumenical councils and (depending who you ask) about half that number of ex cathedra papal definitions.

The article again:

Fr. Kimel talks about that here when he quotes Chesterton as saying that though we can put a living person in the dock, we cannot put a book in the dock.

You can’t cross-examine the council of Nicaea or even the Second Vatican Council. You can’t cross-examine any of the popes who have given ex cathedra definitions. In theory one could put Benedict XVI in the dock, but in practice one cannot. One certainly can’t put the whole “magisterium” in the dock.

And again the article:

In this respect, a person can do what a book cannot; a person can correct global misunderstandings and answer comprehensive interpretive questions.

Did you notice how Bryan added in “global” and “comprehensive”? The reason is the obvious futility of hoping that the Roman magisterium would answer any individual misunderstanding or particular interpretive question. Bryan appears essentially to have conceded this. This problem with Bryan’s article has a feedback effect, however. While a merely human book may not be able to anticipate every single misunderstanding, it can anticipate global misunderstandings and comprehensive interpretive questions. Furthermore, such tasks are even easier for God: the true author of Scripture.

Nevertheless, let us continue reading the article:

A book by its very nature has a limited intrinsic potency for interpretive self-clarification; a person, on the other hand, by his very nature has, in principle, an unlimited intrinsic potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification.

Again, this characterizes the question oddly. The proper question is not whether the book (or person) has limited or unlimited interpretive self-clarification, but simply whether it has sufficient. Furthermore, of course, self-clarification is not possible for the 21 supposedly ecumenical councils, or for any of the popes who issued ex cathedra statements. The only way that further clarification in the Roman system can occur is if there is some new statement by some new generation of the magisterium. The only way in which this is “self-clarification” is when we treat the magisterium anthropomorphically as though it were a person. Still, even when we do so, if every statement that is made must be interpreted, and consequently requires a further statement by the magisterium, the theoretically limitless ability of the magisterium to issue new clarification doesn’t actually stop the regress, it just continues the regress. When we further consider how rarely the extraordinary magisterium acts to define dogma (or to interpret Scripture), the practical reality is that the Roman extraordinary magisterium does not clarify itself on any sort of regular basis that would be helpful to the average person.

Nevertheless, let’s continue with the article:

This unlimited potency with respect to interpretive self-clarification ensures that the hermeneutical spiral may reach its end. A book cannot speak more about itself than it does at the moment at which it is completed. A person, by contrast, remains perpetually capable of clarifying further any of his previous speech-acts.

Most of this has already been addressed above. The person at the present time is never enough, if the concept of infinite regression is workable in the first place (as noted above, it is not). In other words, if there are no statements so clear that they do not require further interpretation, even the magisterium at the present time requires further interpretation – and it always will, even if it is always willing to do so.

That ended Bryan’s quotation from his own article. He then concluded:

If the possession of interpretive authority by persons did not avoid the regress problem, then this problem would continue in heaven, since we would need an interpretive authority to interpret the interpretive authority, etc. etc. But that’s obviously false. So the possession by persons of interpretive authority does avoid the regress problem. In short, some humans having interpretive authority is the only real option.

Bryan’s argument here is flawed. First, infinite regress could be solved another way in heaven: namely by giving the elect an innate knowledge of everything that God wants them to know. Second, infinite regress may simply not be a problem at all. That would explain why it is not going to be a problem in heaven. In short, the fact that this is not going to be a problem in heaven may simply be viewed as evidence that infinite regress is not actually a problem in general – whether for Scripture or for people.

[to be continued in section 4]

The Jews Gave Us the Old Testament

January 14, 2010

Of course, God gave us the Old Testament by inspiration, but the point is that the apostles did not give us the Old Testament. Instead, it was an existing body of literature that was handed on to them. We see this in Scripture.

Romans 3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them [that is, to the Jews] were committed the oracles of God.

And, of course, we also see this reflected in the writings of the church fathers.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 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.

Greek text:

Ὅλως δὲ εἰ θαυμάζεις τὰ ἐκείνων, τίς σοι κοινὸς πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἐστι λόγος; Εἰ γὰρ σεμνὰ καὶ μεγάλα τὰ Ἰουδαίων, ψευδῆ τὰ ἡμέτερα· εἰ δὲ ταῦτα ἀληθῆ, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ ἀληθῆ, ἐκεῖνα ἀπάτης γέμει. Οὐχὶ τὰς Γραφὰς λέγω· μὴ γένοιτο. ἐκεῖναι γάρ με πρὸς τὸν Χριστὸν ἐχειραγώγησαν·

Citation: Chrysotom, Against the Jews (Adversus Judaeos), PG 48:852; translation in FC, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 1.6.5 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 23-24.

Justin Martyr (wrote after A.D. 151):

But if any of those who are wont to be forward in contradiction should say that these books do not belong to us, but to the Jews, and should assert that we in vain profess to have learnt our religion froth them, let him know, as he may from those very things which are written in these books, that not to them, but to us, does the doctrine of them refer. That the books relating to our religion are to this day preserved among the Jews, has been a work of Divine Providence on our behalf; for lest, by producing them out of the Church, we should give occasion to those who wish to slander us to charge us with fraud, we demand that they be produced from the synagogue of the Jews, that from the very books still preserved among them it might clearly and evidently appear, that the laws which were written by holy men for instruction pertain to us.

– Justin Martyr, ANF: Vol. 1, Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks, Chapter 38 – Concluding Appeal.

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

At the beginning, then, God communicates directly with human beings as far as it is possible for human beings to hear. This is the way He came to Adam, this is the way He rebuked Cain, this is the way He was entertained by Abraham. But since our nature took a turn for evil, and separated itself by a lengthy exile, as it were, at long last He sent us letters as though we were absent for a long time and He intended to reestablish the former friendship through an epistle. While it was God who sent the letters, it was Moses who brought them.

– Chrysostom, Robert Charles Hill, trans., St. John Chrysostom, Eight Sermons on the Book of Genesis (Boston: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2004) Sermon 1, p. 26.

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

But the Jews survive still, and for a special purpose: so that they may carry our books, to their own confusion. When we want to prove to the pagans that Christ’s coming was prophesied, we produce these scriptures. But possibly pagans obstinately opposed to the faith might have alleged that we Christians had composed them, fabricating prophecies to buttress the gospel we preach. They might have thought that we were trying to pass off our message by pretending that it had been foreshadowed in prophecy. But we can convince them of their error by pointing out that all those scriptures which long ago spoke of Christ are the property of the Jews. Yes, the Jews recognize these very writings. We take books from our enemies to confute other enemies! In what sort of disgrace do the Jews find themselves? A Jew carries the book which is the foundation of faith for a Christian. Jews act as book-bearers for us, like the slaves who are accustomed to walk behind their masters carrying their books, so that while the slaves sink under the weight, the masters make great strides through reading.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 17, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 51-72, Psalm 56.9 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2001), p. 110.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466) commenting on Ezekiel 37:28:

In fact, through those of the Jews who came to faith the nations also received the light of the knowledge of God: the divine apostles and the first disciples of the apostles were from among the ranks of Jews, and the nations came to faith in the divine message by learning the truths about Christ our savior from the inspired books preserved by Jews. Hence the divine apostle also said that the believers from the nations are grafted into the pious root of the Jews, while the unbelievers from Jews are broken off and separated from this root.

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, 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. 251.

Origen (about A.D. 185–254):

Where you get your “lost and won at play, and thrown out unburied on the streets,” I know not, unless it is from Tobias; and Tobias (as also Judith), we ought to notice, the Jews do not use. They are not even found in the Hebrew Apocrypha, as I learned from the Jews themselves.

– Origen, Letter to Africanus, Section 13

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

The examples I have adduced are indeed by no means doubtful in their signification, because only plain instances ought to be used as examples. There are passages, however, in regard to which it is uncertain in what sense they ought to be taken, as for example, “In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red: it is full of mixture.” Now it is uncertain whether this denotes the wrath of God, but not to the last extremity of punishment, that is, “to the very dregs;” or whether it denotes the grace of the Scriptures passing away from the Jews and coming to the Gentiles, because “He has put down one and set up another,”— certain observances, however, which they understand in a carnal manner, still remaining among the Jews, for “the dregs hereof is not yet wrung out.”

– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book III, Chapter 25, Section 36

-TurretinFan


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