Archive for the ‘Irenaeus’ Category

Alleged Early Testimonies to the Immaculate Conception

September 6, 2010

Sometimes Roman Catholics attempt to argue that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was taught in the early church. One of the more radical claims can be found at the “Catholic Basic Training” website (link to example). I’ll go through their list of early fathers:

The Ascension of Isaiah

“[T]he report concerning the child was noised abroad in Bethlehem. Some said, ‘The Virgin Mary has given birth before she was married two months.’ And many said, ‘She has not given birth; the midwife has not gone up to her, and we heard no cries of pain’” (Ascension of Isaiah 11 – 70 AD)

Notice, however,

1) that there is nothing there about Mary having sin either in the text cited, or in the context (which you can find here).

2) Why on earth would those who did not know her call her “Virgin Mary” after she had been married two months?

3) And furthermore, the book purports to be written by the prophet Isaiah, which it is not (even just going by the date given).

4) The extremely early date given above is almost certainly too early (see discussion here, for example).

5) The same chapter, at verse 17 states:

17. And I saw: In Nazareth He sucked the breast as a babe and as is customary in order that He might not be recognized.

which appears to be a denial of the true humanity of Jesus, suggesting that he did not need to be nourished by milk like other human infants.

The Odes of Solomon

“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will . . . ” (Odes of Solomon 19 – 80 AD)

1) Again, nothing about Mary being sinless.

2) It is an open question whether this is Gnostic literature (one can find a copy in the “Gnostic Library“). The Gnostic text, Pistis Sophia, does quote from the text.

3) In the immediate context one finds the following, which should be enough to show that this particular ode is not properly a Christian document:

Ode 19

  1. A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord’s kindness.
  2. The Son is the cup, and the Father is He who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is She who milked Him;
  3. Because His breasts were full, and it was undesirable that His milk should be ineffectually released.
  4. The Holy Spirit opened Her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
  5. Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand.
  6. The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth.
  7. So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.
  8. And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
  9. And she did not require a midwife, because He caused her to give life.
  10. She brought forth like a strong man with desire, and she bore according to the manifestation, and she acquired according to the Great Power.
  11. And she loved with redemption, and guarded with kindness, and declared with grandeur.

4) Like the previous document, the document falsely claims to be written by someone (in this case Solomon) who did not write it.

Justin Martyr

“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 – 155 AD)

1) Again, there is nothing here that says Mary was sinless.

2) Indeed, rather than ascribing to Mary innocence, Justin ascribes to her faith.

3) And if someone will try to make something of the parallel between Eve and Mary there, why not make mention of the parallel between Eve and Christ (and Adam and Mary) found here: “But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind,–namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin’s womb, and be a child,–this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam’s ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God.” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 84)


“Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (Against Heresies 3:22:24 – 189 AD)

“The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” (Against Heresies 5:19:1 – 189 AD)

Again, however, there is no mention of Mary being sinless.


“And again, lest I depart from my argumentation on the name of Adam: Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle [Paul], if as man he was not of that earthly origin? But even reason defends this conclusion, that God recovered his image and likeness by a procedure similar to that in which he had been robbed of it by the devil. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 – 210 AD)

But when directly addressing the topic of who is sinless, Tertullian is quite clear:

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): Thus some men are very bad, and some very good; but yet the souls of all form but one genus: even in the worst there is something good, and in the best there is something bad. For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. ANF: Vol. III, A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 41.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): The Lord knew Himself to be the only guiltless One [Sciebat Dominus se solum sine delicto esse. De Oratione, Caput VII, PL 1:1162], and so He teaches that we beg “to have our debts remitted us.” A petition for pardon is a full confession; because he who begs for pardon fully admits his guilt. ANF: Vol. III, On Prayer, Chapter 7.


“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: ‘Be it done according to your will’” (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2–17 – 300 AD)

1) Obviously, this is another pseudonymous work.

2) Like the others, it says nothing about Mary being sinless.

Ephraim the Syrian

“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?” (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 – 361 AD)

This seems to come the closest of anything that has been produced. It does not address the matter of whether Mary was immaculately conceived, though. Likewise, you will have trouble if you try to get someone to provide you with a translation of the rest of this hymn, so that you can see the context (here’s the Latin translation – the Syriac can be found in the back of that same book). In any event, this poetical piece would seem to be the earliest reference that can be mustered in favor of the dogma, although it is not explicitly stating that Mary was conceived free from original sin.

Ambrose of Milan

“Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to” (The Virgins 2:2:6 – 377 AD)

“The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater [to teach by example] than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy?” (The Virgins 2:2:7 – 377 AD)

“Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin” (Commentary on Psalm 118:22–30 – 387 AD)

Grace makes all believers from every stain of sin. Yet, as we have shown elsewhere (see the link below), Ambrose acknowledged that Christ alone was absolutely free from sin.


“Our Lord . . . was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both” (Christian Combat 22:24 – 396 AD)

“That one woman is both mother and virgin, not in spirit only but even in body. In spirit she is mother, not of our head, who is our Savior himself—of whom all, even she herself, are rightly called children of the bridegroom—but plainly she is the mother of us who are his members, because by love she has cooperated so that the faithful, who are the members of that head, might be born in the Church. In body, indeed, she is the Mother of that very head” (Holy Virginity 6:6 – 401 AD)

“Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (Nature and Grace 36:42 – 415 AD)

I’ve discussed Augustine already, earlier today (see this link).



Holy Scripture – The Foundation of the Church – A Response to Stellman

May 2, 2010

Jason J. Stellman wrote:

I think we need to make a simple distinction between the “Word” and the “Scriptures.” The New Covenant church was founded on the Word (that is, upon Christ and his message as preached by the apostles), but it was not founded upon “the Scriptures,” for the obvious reason that decades elapsed during which the church was growing, and no NT books had even been written, let alone collected and recognized as canonical.

So whatever our doctrine of ecclesiastical authority, it needs to do justice to the fact that the church existsed (not before the Word, but) before the Scriptures.


I answer:

a) Most of the Scriptures predate the New Testament church, and those Scriptures speak of Christ.

b) The Church is, of course, founded specifically on Christ, and on the revelation of Him. The primary source of that revelation is the Old Testament Scriptures, but the New Testament Scriptures are also a critical part of the revelation, providing additional light that helps to explain the Old Testament.

c) The Scriptures were completed in the first century, and the Church was nurtured on them from the time of their writing onward.

d) Further to (c), the New Testament Scriptures were recognized as such during the lifetime of the apostles (See Peter’s description of Paul’s letters as Scriptures, as well as Paul’s reference to Luke’s gospel).

e) Further to (a)-(d) the Old Testament Scriptures were used authoritatively by Christ himself and the apostles as well. The one “council” that we see relied for its judgment on comparing their experiences to the authoritative Old Testament Scriptures.

f) Further to (e), the Bereans were specifically commended for carefully scrutinizing the Old Testament Scriptures to determine whether Paul the Apostle’s gospel was true.

g) We also see from the earliest extant post-apostolic writings that the churches had and read both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

h) The Scriptures were given for the purpose of the edification and instructions of the church.

From the above, which cannot be reasonably denied, it is proper and right to say that the true Church of Christ is founded on the Scriptures, and therefore the authority of the Scriptures cannot depend on the Church.

Certainly, beyond any doubt, the authority of the bulk of the Scriptures, specifically the Old Testament Scriptures, cannot come from the Church.

As a final support for the fact that the authority of the New Testament Scriptures does not come from the church, we see that Scripture itself explains to us that the Bible is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), God-breathed. The Scriptures are not ecclesiopneustos (church-breathed). They come not from the authority of the church, but from God’s authority.

Indeed, the same is true of Paul’s own ministry. Paul was not an apostle of the church, but of Christ. He did not derive his authority from the twelve, but directly from God. Paul’s discussion at the beginning of Galatians is especially clear about this. When he wrote Scriptures, he did not write from their authority, or from his own authority, but according to the authority of the Holy Spirit who inspired him.

The Scriptures were written for the church, not by the church. Their authority is greater than the church, because they are θεόπνευστος (theopneustos). There is no greater authority that we have. Paul himself explained that if the apostles themselves or an angel from heaven were to preach another gospel, we should not accept that (Galatians 1:8).

To divide the Word from the Scriptures, as Stellman is doing, is dangerous ground (although it is one of the approaches that the Romanists use). Surely the Word of God came to prophets in the apostolic age, even as the Scriptures were continuing to be given. Nevertheless, that Word upon which the church was founded is the inscripturated Word. The inscripturated word has, since the time of Moses, always had the priority over alleged prophets:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

We see the difference between the time period of the apostles and the time period succeeding the apostles in Hebrews 1-2:

Hebrews 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; …

Hebrews 2:1-4
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Notice that the author of Hebrews treats the period of confirmation of the revelation as a time that has past (was confirmed – aorist tense). This makes sense if, as many suppose, Hebrews is one of the last books of Scripture. It particularly makes sense in view of the prophesied completion of prophecy when the revelation was complete:

1 Corinthains 13:8-10
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

So, there is little doubt that the prophecies, and tongues, and knowledge that failed upon the completion of Scripture were not formally the same as Scripture. Nevertheless, the Word of God is preserved. It is what was completed, ending the need for prophecy. And it has been preserved for us by the mechanism of Scripture.

Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

Isaiah 40:6-8
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

1 Peter 1:24-25 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

This is not a new idea from the 21st Century, but something that Irenaeus recognized in the 2nd century:

1. We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

2. These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 1

Notice that Irenaeus plainly teaches us that it is the Holy Scriptures that are the ground and pillar of our faith (“the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”). That’s because for Irenaeus there is a merger, not a division, between the Word and the Scriptures. I hope this post will encourage Stellman to do the same.

– TurretinFan

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]

The Acorn Falls Far from the Tree – A Response to Dave Armstrong

January 18, 2010

Jason Engwer is a blogger at the Reformed blog Triablogue. Mr. Engwer had posted (in 2008) some discussion related to the rule(s) of faith in the Early Church Fathers and Rome’s claims for the church and the papacy (link to article). Dave Armstrong is a layman in the Roman Catholic church, but has recently been promoted by Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid. Dave has posted a lengthy response to Mr. Engwer in four parts (first, second, third, fourth, with more apparently to come). While I was preparing this response, Jason Engwer already provided two responses (first and second). Other brethren have already responded to Dave’s post as well, such as Steve Hays (first and second). I should clarify that I am mostly responding to what Dave is saying, rather than trying to defend Mr. Engwer. Mr. Engwer is more than capable of defending himself.

1. Lack of Resemblance and Low Expectations

The weakness of Dave’s case can be seen from the very law bar that he sets for himself in terms of confirming the hypothesis of development of doctrine with respect to the church/papacy as a rule of faith. Parroting the usual developmental party line, Dave describes the similarity between the views of the early church and the view of contemporary Rome as: “just as an oak tree has little outward resemblance to an acorn, even though it is organically derived from it.” Notice what a low bar that is: there can be almost no resemblance (“outward” is simply redundant) between the views of the early church and the view of Rome.

Notice the implicit concession: the early church looked (doctrinally as well as liturgically and ecclesiastically) nothing like modern Roman Catholicism. This concession is really necessary, because even if previous generations believed that the distinctive doctrines of Roman Catholicism had been taught since the days of the apostles, no one who studies history can take that sort of claim seriously.

Naturally, there is some attempt at damage control from Dave’s side. Dave insists, for example, “We wouldn’t expect to find such a detailed understanding early on” and refers to what is found in history as being “exactly what Cardinal Newman would predict in a theologian of the second century.” Notice that the lack of resemblance leads to low expectations, and then it is alleged that the finding of a church that lacks resemblance to Rome is confirmation of the expectations! Dave’s characterization of the matter is sophistical. Newman’s hypothesis is the product and result of his study of history. It’s not as though Newman generated his hypothesis from somewhere else (such as Scripture) and then found historical confirmation of it. Instead, Newman’s hypothesis is a last-ditch attempt to explain away the many theological differences between the Rome of his day and the early church.

Indeed, Newman ends up making the same implicit concession when responding to his critics as follows: “They seem to me to expect from History more than History can furnish.” (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Newman even concedes:

No Catholic doctrine could be fully proved (or, for that matter, disproved) by historical evidence — ‘in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.’ Indeed, anyone ‘who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic’.

– Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

History is truly unable to furnish proof of the Roman position, but the best explanation is that Rome teaches different doctrines than the early church did, because Rome has strayed from the apostolic faith.

2. Fatherless Assumptions

Dave treats “development,” for the most part, as though it could simply be taken for granted. That is to say, as though he could simply assume that it is legitimate to appeal to “development” as a solution for the problem of lack of resemblance between the early church and modern Rome. We are not given a reason to accept this assumption, nor are we are told who came up with this idea.

In the fourth part, Dave finally provides an appeal to Vincent of Lerins as allegedly supporting the idea of development. However, when one reads what Lerins has to say, we find that he describes the kind of development he is talking about as a development of expression, not progressive revelation of additional doctrines, as will be discussed below.

I found Dave’s appeal to Vincent of Lerins to be rather amusing. Dave has been fond of mocking me for using a pseudonym, but Vincent of Lerins wrote his Commonitory under the pseudonym “Peregrinus.” Likewise, Dave ties Augustine and Vincent together (“Philip Schaff also understood that both St. Augustine and St. Vincent espoused an explicit notion of doctrinal development”) but as the editor’s introduction to the Commonitory in Schaff’s collection indicates:

Vincentius has been charged with Semipelagianism. Whether he actually held the doctrine which was afterwards called by that name is not clear. Certainly the express enunciation of it is nowhere to be found in the Commonitory. But it is extremely probable that at least his sympathies were with those who held it. For not only does he omit the name of St. Augustine, who was especially obnoxious to them, when making honorable mention at any time of the champions of the faith, but he denounces his doctrine, though under a misrepresentation of it, as one of the forms of that novel error which he reprobates.


Indeed, there are remarks in the Commonitory that seem to be directly aimed at trying to argue that is ok to reconsider Augustine’s teachings:

It behoves us, then, to give heed to these instances from Church History, so many and so great, and others of the same description, and to understand distinctly, in accordance with the rule laid down in Deuteronomy, that if at any time a Doctor in the Church have erred from the faith, Divine Providence permits it in order to make trial of us, whether or not we love God with all our heart and with all our mind.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 19 (Section 47)

But what about Vincent’s view of development? Vincent suggests that advancement is possible, while denying that change is possible. Vincent writes:

But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 54)

Dave notes some similarities between Vincent’s view of advancement and his own view of development, but fails to address the crucial differences. For Vincent, the doctrine must always be the same doctrine in the same sens and in the same meaning: the progress must be real progress not alteration. It cannot be a transformation of one thing into something else.

Vincent continues:

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant’s limbs are small, a young man’s large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if there be any to which maturer age has given birth these were already present in embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress, this the established and most beautiful order of growth, that mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or at any rate, if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would become either a wreck or a monster, or, at the least, would be impaired and enfeebled.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 55)

Notice that the point is that the parts are all framed beforehand and nothing new is added. In fact, for Vincent, if new things are added the body of doctrine becomes monstrous or at least crippled. This important principle becomes even more apparent when Vincent continues:

In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 56)

Again, we see that for Vincent the progress never permits change or variation in the limits of the believed doctrine. Contrary to the acorn/tree analogy in which there is no resemblance between the original state and the later state, the analogy for Vincent is of a child growing into a man, where all the parts remain the same throughout the development (as we saw above: “Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children …”).

Thus, after some examples, Vincent comes to the role of the Church of Christ. Read carefully what Vincent alleges regarding the Church:

But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, does not appropriate what is another’s, but while dealing faithfully and judiciously with ancient doctrine, keeps this one object carefully in view,—if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined, to keep and guard it. Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practised negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of heretics, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils,—this, and nothing else,—she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those of olden times only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 23 (Section 59)

Notice that Vincent notes that the Church is a guardian. She “never adds” according to Vincent. In fact, Vincent claims that all that the Church does by Councils (“this, and nothing else”)is to hand down what she previously received, summarizing much material in few words and designating an old article of the faith by a new name. Nothing else than that, is Vincent’s assessment of the Church’s guardian role. There is no definition of new articles of faith. There is no development in the sense of change for Vincent – though there is tremendous change in the case of an acorn.

In short, Dave’s appeal to Vincent (the apparently semi-pelagian opponent of Augustine) falls short of establishing that Dave idea of development is itself an ancient view. As a result, we’re still left wondering who the father of Dave’s hypothesis is. Is it Newman in the 19th century? If so, why should anyone accept it? Dave hasn’t given reasons for us to accept it.

3. History and Scripture vs. Romanism

The difference between Dave and Vincent becomes even more apparent when Vincent asks and answer a question on the issue of novelty in the church:

But some one will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics

The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—“That the Lord your God may try you;” he says.

– Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, Chapter 10 (Sections 27-28)

Notice that the reason, which Vincent has argued from appeal to Scripture, is not just perspicuous (according to Vincent) but “clearer than day.” That reason is to permit testing of the individual person. That individual person is not only permitted to exercise private judgment with respect to the orthodoxy of the particular teachings of doctors of the church, but even commanded to do so. Vincent views his readers as fully competent to make that evaluation from an examination of history and Scripture. What about Dave?

At a few points, Dave seems to act as though his readers are competent judges of history and Scripture. At one point in response to a “how can we know” question, Dave states: “Well, by looking at the history! Its not rocket science. But there is also the biblical evidence … .”

Dave, however, quotes with approval from Newman who indicates that “private judgment” is “unlawful in interpreting Scripture against the voice of authority,” and similarly cannot be “lawful in the interpretation of history” against authority. In other words, you can examine history and Scripture so long as you don’t conclude from history or Scripture that the Roman Catholic church is wrong about anything.

This phenomenon is not new.

When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.

It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2

The same basic thing is happening here. At first there is an appeal to Scripture, but when we show that the Scriptures don’t support their contention they turn to history/tradition. Then, when we show that their contentions are not supported by tradition/history, they object that they are wiser than those men (like Vincent of Lerins) that we quote, at least in that they have (by appeal to their contemporary magisterium) discovered the unadulterated truth. So we can see that they follow neither Scripture nor history/tradition.

As Newman puts it, “in all cases there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church.” (Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk) Margin indeed! The whole matter turns on whether one exercises faith in the word of the modern Roman church. If so, then one will necessarily not hear the arguments to contrary.

4. Evasions and Sophistry in Defense of Rome

The positional weakness of Rome can lead to various evasions and sophistry in her defense. We sadly see these crop up time and time again in Dave’s series. Here are a few examples.

a) Argument from Inapplicable Reasons

Mr. Engwer had pointed out that some of the early church fathers suggest that a particular church, such as Rome, or the churches in general are reliable. However, they did not just say that the church or churches were reliable, but also stated why the churches are reliable. Mr. Engwer observed that when the factual basis for this reliability changes, there is no basis for continuing to judge the church or churches as reliable. Look at Mr. Engwer’s comment and Dave’s response:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Irenaeus does refer to the current reliability of the apostolic churches. But he gives reasons for their reliability that could change with the passing of time.
[Dave replied:] Passing down an unbroken tradition or set of truths does not change over time. It either has happened and can be verified or it hasn’t.

Notice that Dave does not address the issue that Mr. Engwer posed. He simply insists that things don’t change. In other words, while he does not explicitly say so, Dave is forced to take the position that it doesn’t matter why Irenaeus thought that the apostolic churches were reliable, simply that he thought they were reliable. But ignoring why Irenaeus thought what he thought amounts (in this discussion) to make pretextual use of Irenaeus. To phrase it in Vincentian terms, Dave’s position is an alteration of Irenaeus’ position, not an advancement of Irenaeus’ position.

[UPDATE] A friend pointed out that I would be remiss to mention here Newman’s own thoughts on the Vincentian canon that Dave has attempted to rely upon:

It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.

– John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., LTD., 1927), p. 27.

b) Argument from Comparison to “Protestantism”

When Mr. Engwer points out that even until Augustine’s time there are positions among the church fathers that are not consistent with the position of the modern Roman Catholic church. As we’ll see, Dave’s response is to say that Augustine was somehow closer to the Roman Catholic position than to the “Protestant” position. However, that’s really irrelevant to the discussion unless Jason Engwer is attempting to adopt Dave’s premise of “development” and claim that “Protestantism” is the authentic development rather than the Roman Catholic position. But Mr. Engwer does not appear to be making such an argument. Accordingly, Dave’s attempted recusal is hollow. It misses the point that Mr. Engwer has raised:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]Even long after the time of Irenaeus, we find sources like Augustine making comments about church authority that are inconsistent with a Catholic or Orthodox view (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2-4).
[Dave responded:]To the contrary, On Baptism, 2:2-4 contradicts Protestant notions more than it does the Catholic rule of faith.

(Dave makes a similar claim in another place: “There were differences, of course, but the fathers were far closer overall to the Catholic position than anything resembling a Protestant one.” and in further place: “It’s quite amusing for a Protestant to even quibble about real or alleged differences in the early Church on ecclesiology, when one looks at what Protestantism did to [the] same …”)

Even if Dave’s claim were true about it contradicting “Protestant notions” more than it contradicts the Roman Catholic rule, that wouldn’t change the fact that it makes statements that are inconsistent with the Roman Catholic position.

c) Ignoring the Historical Aspect of Sola Scriptura

Mr. Engwer points out (in a comment with which I might disagree, but I digress) that if he were in the position of a very early church father, such as Papias, he would not hold to sola Scriptura. Dave ignores the historically conditioned aspect of sola Scriptura (namely the fact that sola Scriptura is a claim that the only infallible rule of faith we have right now is the Scriptures) and goes on to mockingly misrepresent Mr. Engwer:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I’ve said before that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura. But we aren’t in his position. We’re in a much different position. If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.

[Dave responded:] … So now he “gets” it. Assuming that sola Scriptura was “widely or universally rejected early on” (as in fact it was), it doesn’t matter, you see, because (hallelujah!) it can be “appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought? The rule of faith is as variable as the weather and President Obama’s latest opinion on war policy.

But Dave is missing the point. It matters what the fathers thought and why they thought what they thought. Those who are present when the prophetic gift of the Lord comes can hear and follow the teachings of the prophet. Under such circumstances sola Scriptura as such is not applicable – because at that time the Word of the Lord is not speaking only through Scripture but also through the prophet. But when the prophet dies or the gift ceases, the Scriptures are again the only voice of God (although those who were living when the prophet is around may still bring to mind the Word given to him). Thus, we may divide history into five epochs:

i) Pre-Scripture

God spoke directly with Adam, with Noah, with Job, and with the Patriarchs until the time of Moses.

ii) Scripture

From the time of Moses until the last word of Scripture was penned, God spoke through Scripture and also often directly to and through living prophets, although there were apparently times that the prophetic gift was suspended in Israel.

iii) Immediately Post-Scripture

For some time after the Scripture was complete there was at least a memory among some of the believers regarding what the living prophets of their day had spoken to them.

iv) The Present Era

The present era began as the prophetic gift ceased and those who had heard the prophets died. Scripture remained, and remained as the only Word of God that was available in a reliable form.

v) The Ages to Come

Whatever one thinks of eschatology, Christ will return and we will be with Him. At that time, of course, we will not rely only on Scripture but on any further revelation that Christ gives.

The idea of Sola Scriptura as such is an idea that is relevant only to the present era. It is a factual statement that Scripture is all we have by way of an infallible rule of faith. Dave’s response suggesting relativism misses the essence of what Sola Scriptura is, and demonstrates that either Dave is unwilling or unable to address Mr. Engwer’s position for what it is.

d) Ignoring the Dispute over Ecumenical Councils

In another case, Mr. Engwer pointed out that the idea of infallible ecumenical councils may sound nice in theory, but there is dispute over what councils and what parts of which councils are infallible. Dave, apparently oblivious to these issues, blows off Mr. Engwer with mockery:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:] The ecumenical councils are the most popularly accepted examples of an exercise of alleged church infallibility. Yet, there have been many disagreements, and continue to be many, regarding which councils are ecumenical and which portions of the ecumenical councils are to be accepted.
[Dave responded:] Like what? Again, we have mere vague statements. Does anyone think this sort of method of “amateur apologist sez whatever slogan comes into his head and expects it to be accepted as Gospel Truth” is impressive?

The “vague statements” that are made are mostly vague to those unfamiliar with the issues. Engwer is referring, for instance, to the position of Quinisext Council and perhaps as well to portions of the decrees of Council of Constance, as well as generally to whether things like the reasoning applied by the Council of Florence needs to be given dogmatic weight. There are lots of these issues, which is why Mr. Engwer is able to point at them generally, and hope that folks who are at least moderately familiar with the issues (apparently unlike Dave) will be able to get it.

e) Pretending that we Think the Fathers were Protestants

One of Dave’s more base tactics is to suggest that we claim that the church fathers were “Protestants.” We don’t, and Mr. Engwer certainly doesn’t in anything of what he’s written that I’ve seen. But Dave repeatedly makes statements such as: “the ostensible Protestant project to co-opt the Church fathers and make them out to be Protestant” or “The way Jason presents the situation, it sounds as if it is almost an even battle between the proto-Protestant fathers and the Catholic ones, with the latter hopelessly divided amongst themselves.” However, Dave ought to know better. We are quite willing to let the fathers be the fathers without trying to make them in our own image.

In fact, in other places Dave seems to recognize this, since he quotes with approval from some guy named Nick who accuses Mr. Engwer of “using the typical Protestant stealth tactics,” in which “he can call them “Christian” on one hand while affirming they weren’t promoting a true Gospel on the other … .” Actually, we note that it is actually Roman Catholics these days who have become fond of referring to heretics as “Christians.” I can’t speak for Mr. Engwer, but most of the Reformed authors I’ve read regard at least most of the church fathers as Christians rather than as heretics: as those who did believe the true gospel, even if they (like us) made some mistakes.

f) Ignoring the distinction between Infallibility and Inerrancy

It’s unclear if Dave really thinks there is no important difference between inerrancy and infallibility, but he devotes a long section that appears to attempt to obfuscate the difference between the two. He even states:

Is there really all that much of a difference, and does it have any significant effect on this discussion? No. There certainly is not much difference in English.

Without the ability to distinguish between the two (even in English) Dave is unable to handle Engwer’s arguments that explain (perhaps in terms too complex for Dave) that something can be without error without being without the ability to err. The distinction is, of course, highly significant. The fact that a church hasn’t erred (yet) is quite a different claim from saying that a church is constitutionally unable to err. Yet Dave (for whatever reason) glosses over the distinction, rendering his response worse than useless.

g) Frequent Substitution of ad hominem for argumentation

Of course, there are bound to be things critical of one’s opponent in one’s writings. I’ve been critical of Dave above, but Dave employs ad hominem as a substitute for argumentation on various points. One example is this:

[Mr. Engwer wrote:]I see no reason to assume that the views of somebody like Irenaeus were equivalent to those of Catholics or Orthodox,
[Dave responded:]I know; this is the problem. Tunnel vision and historical revisionism have this blunting effect after so many years of doing that. By this I mean “equivalent” in terms of being consistent with Catholicism in kernel form, and inconsistent with Protestantism. It’s not equivalent in terms of his views being as fully developed as they were later on. But that is our view, so it is no problem for us.

Notice that the entire substance of Dave’s response is to simply claim that Irenaeus is “consistent with Catholicism in kernel form” and that he accompanies this bald assertion with allegations that Jason doesn’t see the consistency because of years of tunnel vision and historical revisionism! Dave also brings in the irrelevant claim that Irenaeus is “inconsistent with Protestantism,” which is one of the tactics we’ve already discussed above.

h) Outright Laziness

Dave complains at the outset that Mr. Engwer makes “general statements of a sweeping negative nature” but when Dave comes to very specific claims, Dave doesn’t bother to examine them carefully. For example, Mr. Engwer points to an article on Papias from Richard Bauckham, but Dave states: “I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is.”

i) Double Standards

At one point, Dave accuses Mr. Engwer of misrepresenting Athanasius’ position. Dave states:

To the extent that Athanasius supposedly believed in sola Scriptura, just like Protestants do (or closer to them than to Catholics), I myself believe it in exactly the same way. In fact, I got so sick and tired of Protestants playing this game with fathers (even in direct opposition to the consensus of their own historians), that I proved that I believe it too (!): with many “prooftexts” from my own words through the years.

The problem is that Dave didn’t take the next step (which gets us back to item (h) above) and demonstrate from Athanasius and from his own words that he does not believe in sola Scriptura. If he did so, he would see what sort of evidence he could find of his own rejection of that idea, whereas there is nothing remotely close to that kind of evidence with respect to Athanasius. The reason is that Athanasius hasn’t been misrepresented.

5. The Myth of Sola Scriptura as an Heretical Distinctive (Alternative Title: Augustine Was Quite Happy to Agree with the Arians Regarding Sola Scriptura)

Although Dave refuses to acknowledge the fact (established by many Reformed authors) that many of the church fathers held to Scripture as their only infallible rule of faith, Dave is quick to allege that the “heretics” accepted Sola Scriptura. As we’ve noted above, regarding Irenaeus, the early heretics with whom he dealt said that Scripture was not enough, that tradition was not enough, and that consequently one needed knowledge one could only get from them (quite parallel, in may respects, to the practical application of the “three-legged stool” that Rome uses).

Dave claims, however:

That was Arius’ method, because it was precisely the heretics who adopted sola Scriptura. Arius agreed with the Protestant rule of faith, and he did so for the same exact reason: if one can’t trace his beliefs back through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession and tradition (Arius, being a denier of the Trinity clearly couldn’t dop [sic] that), then one must become a-historical and pretend to arrive at one’s heresies by Scripture Alone.

What is interesting here, however, is that Dave’s argument has proved too much. If the Arians really employed sola Scriptura and if sola Scriptura is an invalid rule of faith during our era, then we ought to see the fathers who opposed the Arians pointing out the error of the Arians with respect to their rule of faith. But we do not.

Of course, part of the reason is that the Arians did have apostolic succession in the sense that they were lawfully ordained priests and bishops. Arius himself had been ordained as a priest by an orthodox bishop in Alexandria – so if Arius lacked apostolic succession in that sense, then so did the whole Alexandrian church, including Athanasius, a successor (several ecclesiastical generations after) of the bishop that ordained Arius. So, if simply having a chain of ordination ensured orthodoxy, the Arians would have been orthodox. No one of that era appears to have been so foolish.

In point of fact, we don’t see anyone contesting the fact that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith. In fact, we see Augustine saying:

I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witness for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason.

– See WSA, Answer to Maximinus, Part I, Vol. 18, ed. John Rotelle, O.S.A., trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J. (New York: New City Press, 1995), p. 282.

6. Conclusion

Much more could be said, though perhaps the quotation from Augustine immediately above says all that needs to be said in terms of whether Dave has correctly imagined the early church. As noted above, I don’t mean to speak for either Engwer or Hays or anyone else who may have provided a response to Dave. I hope that the above response may, however, assist the reader who wishes to see some of the holes in Dave’s arguments and flaws in the position that Dave feels compelled to try to defend.

– TurretinFan

Pastor David King Responds to Taylor Marshall

January 9, 2010

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

Jesuits and Roman Unity

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

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

Clement of Rome and Early Christian Views of Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Clement 59)

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

Latin text:

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

Latin text:

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

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

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


Mr. Marshall continues:

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

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

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

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

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

Victor I

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

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

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

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.9-10.

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

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

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 1)

January 4, 2010
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 1 – Meaning of “Scripture Interprets Scripture”)

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 145:13:

The Lord is faithful in all his words, and holy in all his deeds. We might well have believed him if he had chosen only to speak to us, but he wanted us to have his scriptures to hold onto; it is like promising something to a friend and saying to him, “Don’t rely on word of mouth; I’ll put it in writing for you.” It was necessary for God’s written guarantee to endure as each generation comes and goes, as the centuries roll by and mortals give way to their successors. God’s own handwriting would be there for all the passers-by to read, so that they would keep the way of his promise.

– Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Exposition of Psalm 144.17 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), pp. 393-394.

In responding to a recent article (link to article) by Bryan Cross, I had pointed out that his claim that the ultimate holder of interpretive authority is the individual in sola scriptura is wrong because Scripture is its own interpreter. Scripture is the ultimate interpretive authority of itself. Of course, the individual is the final one in the communication link and must interpret what Scripture says, but the same is true for everyone’s rule of faith: the Roman Catholic must interpret what the Magisterium says.

The first relevant part of Bryan’s response was to suggest that Scripture is insufficient to interpret Scripture. Bryan stated:

In addition, since Scripture needs to be interpreted (otherwise you would never say “Scripture interprets Scripture[“]), then the Scripture that interprets Scripture needs to be interpreted.

(parenthetical in original, bracketed addition mine)

What Bryan is doing here is (1) inserting his own presupposition that Scripture needs to be “interpreted” and (2) equivocating over the term “Scripture.” Neither of Bryan’s actions are helpful.

When we say that “Scripture interprets Scripture” we are not making a categorical statement that each part of Scripture requires some further interpretation. Some parts of Scripture are written in a plain matter that does not require further interpretation (Job 33:3 My words shall be of the uprightness of my heart: and my lips shall utter knowledge clearly. John 16:29 His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. 2 Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:). Some parts of Scripture, however, are less clearly expressed (2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.). Those less clear parts are interpreted by the more clear parts (John 16:25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. 2 Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.). As well, it is only reasonable that the obscure should be interpreted by the clear rather than conversely.

This is not only the teaching of Scripture, but of the fathers as well.

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

And, indeed, (since some passages are more obscure than others), it cannot but be right — as we have shown above — that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by such as are clear and plain; else there is fear that, in the conflict of certainties and uncertainties, of explicitness and obscurity, faith may be shattered, truth endangered, and the Divine Being Himself be branded as inconstant.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 21.

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

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

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

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

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.

– Basil of Caesarea, Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Question CCLXVII, PG 31:1264.

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

Hold fast to the open texts and accept them wholeheartedly, and you will deserve to have the obscure ones unfolded to you. How can you penetrate obscure passages if you shrug aside the plain ones?

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 2, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 46.35 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1990), p. 286.

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.

– Basil of Caesarea, FC, Vol. 9, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, Concerning Baptism, Book II, Q&R 4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), p. 399.

Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200):

For by the fact that they thus endeavour to explain ambiguous passages of Scripture (ambiguous, however, not as if referring to another god, but as regards the dispensations of [the true] God), they have constructed another god, weaving, as I said before, ropes of sand, and affixing a more important to a less important question. For no question can be solved by means of another which itself awaits solution; nor, in the opinion of those possessed of sense, can an ambiguity be explained by means of another ambiguity, or enigmas by means of another greater enigma, but things of such character receive their solution from those which are manifest, and consistent and clear.

– Irenaeus, ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:10:1.

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

Well, if it occurs occasionally in certain portions of it, you will say, then why not in that phrase, where the resurrection might be spiritually understood? There are several reasons why not. First, what must be the meaning of so many important passages of Holy Scripture, which so obviously attest the resurrection of the body, as to admit not even the appearance of a figurative signification? And, indeed, (since some passages are more obscure than others), it cannot but be right — as we have shown above — that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by such as are clear and plain; else there is fear that, in the conflict of certainties and uncertainties, of explicitness and obscurity, faith may be shattered, truth endangered, and the Divine Being Himself be branded as inconstant. Then arises the improbability that the very mystery on which our trust wholly rests, on which also our instruction entirely depends, should have the appearance of being ambiguously announced and obscurely propounded, inasmuch as the hope of the resurrection, unless it be clearly set forth on the sides both of punishment and reward, would fail to persuade any to embrace a religion like ours, exposed as it is to public detestation and the imputation of hostility to others. There is no certain work where the remuneration is uncertain. There is no real apprehension when the peril is only doubtful. But both the recompense of reward, and the danger of losing it, depend on the issues of the resurrection. Now, if even those purposes of God against cities, and nations, and kings, which are merely temporal, local, and personal in their character, have been proclaimed so clearly in prophecy, how is it to be supposed that those dispensations of His which are eternal, and of universal concern to the human race, should be void of all real light in themselves? The grander they are, the clearer should be their announcement, in order that their superior greatness might be believed. And I apprehend that God cannot possibly have ascribed to Him either envy, or guile, or inconsistency, or artifice, by help of which evil qualities it is that all schemes of unusual grandeur are litigiously promulgated.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 21.

Thus, for example, a passage must be read in context:

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430): Commenting on Matt. 23:2-3:

When bad members of the clergy hear this that is said against them in this text, they try to twist the meaning. Yes, I’ve actually heard some of them trying to twist the meaning of this judgment. If they were allowed to, wouldn’t they simply delete it from the gospel? But because they can’t delete it, they look for ways of twisting its meaning. But the grace and mercy of the Lord is at hand, and he doesn’t let them do so, because he has hedged all his judgments round with his truth, and balanced them. Thus no matter who tries to cut something out or to tamper with it by reading or interpreting it wrongly, the person of sound and solid sense should join to scripture what has been cut out of scripture, and read what goes before or comes after, and they will find the true meaning which the others tried to explain away wrongly.

– Augustine, John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 4, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermons, Sermon 137.7 (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1992), p. 376. (Note the emphasis on context, and that one needs no infallible interpreter [“they will find the true meaning”] to understand the text correctly).

Similarly the Scripture as a whole interprets individual passages.

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

Scripture interpreted by the whole, Chapter XX.—The Scriptures Relied on by Praxeas to Support His Heresy But Few. They are Mentioned by Tertullian. They would have the entire revelation of both Testaments yield to these three passages, whereas the only proper course is to understand the few statements in the light of the many. But in their contention they only act on the principle of all heretics. For, inasmuch as only a few testimonies are to be found (making for them) in the general mass, they pertinaciously set off the few against the many, and assume the later against the earlier. The rule, however, which has been from the beginning established for every case, gives its prescription against the later assumptions, as indeed it also does against the fewer.

– Tertullian, ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapter 20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 9.—How We Should Proceed in Studying Scripture.
14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.

[Alternative translation]

What those who fear God and have a docile piety are looking for in all these books is the will of God. The first step in this laborious search, as I have said, is to know these books, and even if not yet so as to understand them, all the same by reading them to commit them to memory, or at least not to be totally unfamiliar with them. Next, those things that are put clearly in them, whether precepts about how to live or rules about what to believe, are to be studied with the utmost care and diligence; the greater your intellectual capacity, the more of these you will find. The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope, charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.
Only then, however, after acquiring some familiarity with the actual style of the divine scriptures, should one proceed to try to open and unravel their obscurities, in such a way that instances from the plainer passages are used to cast light on the more obscure utterances, and the testimony of some undoubted judgments is used to remove uncertainties from those that are more doubtful. In this matter what is of the greatest value is a good memory; if this is wanting, these instructions cannot be of any great assistance.

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 9. & (respectively) John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Chapter 9, §14 (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 135.

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

Now, although I may not be able myself to refute the arguments of these men, I yet see how necessary it is to adhere closely to the clearest statements of the Scriptures, in order that the obscure passages may be explained by help of these, or, if the mind be as yet unequal to either perceiving them when explained, or investigating them whilst abstruse, let them be believed without misgiving. But what can be plainer than the many weighty testimonies of the divine declarations, which afford to us the dearest proof possible that without union with Christ there is no man who can attain to eternal life and salvation; and that no man can unjustly be damned,—that is, separated from that life and salvation,—by the judgment of God?

– Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. V, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book III, Chapter 7.

In particular, the less clear allegorical sections are interpreted by the more clear literal sections:

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

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

– Augustine, Letter 93, Chapter 8, Section 24

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 in 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.

We have multiplied many similar statements here in case Bryan Cross does not understand that what we are proposing by “Scripture interprets Scriptures” is just what the Christians of previous generations believed and taught. In the next section will proceed through his argumentation.

[to be continued in Part 2]

– TurretinFan

Some Early Christian Writings on Justification

December 5, 2009

Clement of Rome on Justification:

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.

– Clement of Rome, (his, not Paul’s) 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 32

Ignatius on Justification:

But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.

– Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapter VIII (Short Version)

To such persons I say that my archives are Jesus Christ, to disobey whom is manifest destruction. My authentic archives are His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which bears on these things, by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.

– Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapter VIII (Long Version)

Mathetes on Justification:

But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

– Mathetes, Letter to Diognetus, Chapter 9

Justin Martyr on Justification:

For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham. For when Abraham himself was in uncircumcision, he was justified and blessed by reason of the faith which he reposed in God, as the Scripture tells. Moreover, the Scriptures and the facts themselves compel us to admit that He received circumcision for a sign, and not for righteousness.

– Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 23

Irenaeus on Justification:

And again, confirming his former words, he says, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith are the children of Abraham. But the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, declared to Abraham beforehand, That in thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham.”47304730 Gal. iii. 6, etc. Thus, then, they who are of faith shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, and these are the children of Abraham. Now God made promise of the earth to Abraham and his seed; yet neither Abraham nor his seed, that is, those who are justified by faith, do now receive any 562 inheritance in it; but they shall receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful; and on this account He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 32, Section 2

For the Lord is the good man of the house, who rules the entire house of His Father; and who delivers a law suited both for slaves and those who are as yet undisciplined; and gives fitting precepts to those that are free, and have been justified by faith, as well as throws His own inheritance open to those that are sons.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 9, Section 1

And that man was not justified by these things, but that they were given as a sign to the people, this fact shows,— that Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, “believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.” Then, again, Lot, without circumcision, was brought out from Sodom, receiving salvation from God. So also did Noah, pleasing God, although he was uncircumcised, receive the dimensions [of the ark], of the world of the second race [of men]. Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. Moreover, all the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham, and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of the things above mentioned, and without the law of Moses. As also Moses himself says to the people in Deuteronomy: “The Lord thy God formed a covenant in Horeb. The Lord formed not this covenant with your fathers, but for you.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 16, Section 2

The Lord, therefore, was not unknown to Abraham, whose day he desired to see; nor, again, was the Lord’s Father, for he had learned from the Word of the Lord, and believed Him; wherefore it was accounted to him by the Lord for righteousness. For faith towards God justifies a man; and therefore he said, “I will stretch forth my hand to the most high God, who made the heaven and the earth.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 5, Section 5

For “all men come short of the glory of God,”41834183 Rom. iii. 23. [Another testimony to the mercy of God in the judgment of the unevangelized. There must have been some reason for the secrecy with which “that presbyter’s” name is guarded. Irenæus may have scrupled to draw the wrath of the Gnostics upon any name but his own.] and are not justified of themselves, but by the advent of the Lord,—they who earnestly direct their eyes towards His light.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 27, Section 2

And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man [Editor’s footnote: That is, as Harvey observes, the natural man, as described in Rom. ii. 27.] is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. “For,” He remarks, “it has been said to them of old time, Do not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That every one who hath looked upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 13, Section 1


Irenaeus on Eisegesis

November 13, 2009

Eisegesis is not something that Roman Catholicism invented. It has been around almost since the beginning, having been practiced by the Valentinians:

Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; [FN: Literally, “reading from things unwritten.”] and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavour to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skilful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skilful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavour, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 8, Section 1

An Eastern Orthodox reader of this blog, Lucian, ironically pointed this quotation out to me (link) while omitting the first two sentences, especially that troubling comment “They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures ….”

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 11

November 7, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Irenaeus. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

Continuing on through this mess is now proving to be a boring task as we can see that the quotes he uses are taken out of their proper context. What I find to be amusing is that Turretin uses a quote that defeats his own argument. I don’t have to say much here, I will just quote exactly what he wrote and see if the text he quotes supports his argument, or defeats it. Does Turretin think that no one will read the text he quoted? Does he expect us to all ignore the parts where Irenaeus is clearly telling us that it is Scripture and Tradition that he appeals to? Does TF know that Irenaeus is referring to the gnostic heresy which proposed that there was a secret oral tradition which interpreted them with this esoteric philosophical understanding?

In fact Irenaeus tells us that there is an authentic Tradition and not a gnostic or secret one known only to this sect. In fact he tells us that the Gnostics are not going by apostolic Tradition, but one of their own making which denied Scripture as being a part of. It is this esoteric knowledge which Irenaeus rebels against. Also once again I point out that there was no New Testament at the time as a canon. The Scriptures Irenaeus is referring to here is most probable the Old Testament to which the gnostics were famous for butchering with their supposed esoteric knowledge which they presumed surpassed that of the Old Testament Scriptures. Let the text speak for itself.

TF writes,
But what about those folks who claim that Scripture is ambiguous and cannot be understood without tradition? We give them the following answer from tradition:

When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world” [1 Cor. ii. 6]. And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself.

2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.

3. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it.

I answer:

Unfortunately, Mr. Bellisario does not understand that the quotation defeats his position, not mine. We appeal to tradition just as Irenaeus did. We don’t do it because tradition is a separate source of infallible authority, but because folks like the Gnostics and Roman Catholics think that it is. We show that they hold neither to Scripture nor Tradition, preferring their own inventions to both.

Mr. Bellisario would like to read into Irenaeus a modern Roman Catholic view of tradition, but Irenaeus himself doesn’t say what Rome says. Irenaeus does not claim that tradition is necessary in order to understand Scripture: he ascribes that error to the Gnostics. Irenaeus acknowledges (as we do) the reality of tradition, but does not make it infallible, as Mr. Bellisario would wish.

But what further answer is needed when Mr. Bellisario does not even present arguments as to this particular quotation? Hopefully the above explanation will suffice to show that the quotation demonstrates that Irenaeus did just what we do: show that the enemies of Scripture claim to adhere to tradition, but in fact hold to neither Scripture nor tradition.


Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario – Part 4

October 31, 2009

I’m responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario’s response to my quotation from Irenaeus. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:

Then Turretin Fan turns to butcher the words of Saint Irenaeus. One has to wonder when this guy will stop. So he writes,

We have many arguments at our disposal, we might, as Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 – 200) did and take the position that the perspicuity of Scripture is self-evident, hidden only from the blind:

Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 27, Section 2

Many arguments at his disposal? Many weak arguments. What does this prove? We all have to ask ourselves who the blind one is? The one who reads the Scriptures from within the Church or outside of it. Also once again Saint Irenaeus lived in the middle of the second century, which did not possess a universal New Testament text. So it is obvious that this Saint was not referring to the method of Scripture Alone as Turretin Fan understands it to be. It is impossible. Most likely the Saint was referring to the Gospels and the Old Testament, making light of the parables of Jesus, which are only revealed to those whom Christ had removed the blinders from so they could understand them. If anything this defeats Turretin Fan’s own argument. One has to wonder if Turretin Fan has really read this Father at any length because the Saint tells us how we are to understand the Scriptures in the very same letter just a couple of books later. He tells us that they must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops, which Turretin rejects. Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part. A flimsy flam for sure. Lets read it shall we?

“True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor curtailment [in the truth which she believes]; and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and ‘above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts of God.” — Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Bk. 4, Chap. 33)

(He had placed bold on his quotation of Irenaeus, I’ve removed that bold.) I answer:

1) There is a fair amount of chaff in this particular segment of Mr. Bellisario’s response. I’ll just identify the comments that add nothing to his discussion, and address them as a group:

a) Then Turretin Fan turns to butcher the words of Saint Irenaeus.
b) One has to wonder when this guy will stop.
c) Many arguments at his disposal? Many weak arguments. What does this prove?
d) A flimsy flam for sure.

I think it should be apparent that these arguments require no substantive response since they make no merit-based claim. Thankfully, Mr. Bellisario does make a few arguments that go beyond simple rhetoric.

2) “We all have to ask ourselves who the blind one is? The one who reads the Scriptures from within the Church or outside of it.”

It may simply be that this is another one of Bellisario’s colorful rhetorical flourishes. I’m trying to give Mr. Bellisario the benefit of the doubt here, though. Who is the blind one according to Irenaeus? It is the person who refuses to believe the clear, unambiguous, and harmonious teachings of the “entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels.” Nothing about refusing to interpret them within “the Church” or outside of it. “The Church” doesn’t even into the point that Irenaeus is making. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Irenaeus’ point is that those writings (“the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels”) speak “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously” and that you don’t need special qualifications (“by all”) for this purpose. Irenaeus explains away the objection of those who misinterpret by blaming those people: not the Scriptures.

3) “Also once again Saint Irenaeus lived in the middle of the second century, which did not possess a universal New Testament text.”

Actually, Irenaeus is thought to have died at the beginning of the third century (about A.D. 202). I’ve addressed the referenced (“once again”) mistaken concept regarding the canon in the first instance in which Mr. Bellisario raised it. His objection here has a slightly different twist, though. Rather than just claim that Irenaeus didn’t know what the canon was, he claims that Irenaeus did not possess a “universal New Testament text.”

a) This is a strange objection. So what if he did not have a complete copy of the New Testament? Irenaeus explicitly states that the gospels speak “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously” regarding at least certain important things. Unless Mr. Bellisario is sticking with his straw man that our position is that everything in Scripture has to be perspicuous, it is odd for Mr. Bellisario to complain that Irenaeus had an incomplete New Testament.

b) It should be fairly apparent that Mr. Bellisario is just speculating regarding what Irenaeus did or didn’t have. All the books of the Bible had already been written over a generation before Irenaeus was born. Furthermore, Irenaeus specifically wrote against Marcion, explaining that the number of Gospels was exactly four:

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11, Section 8

Of course, just because Irenaeus somehow knew the number of gospels over a hundred years before Athanasius or the councils of Hippo and Carthage and a thousand years before Trent may not seem like proof enough that one doesn’t need an authoritative ecumenical council in order to identify the Scriptures.

c) I don’t (right now, at any rate) have time or interest in tracking down precisely which Scriptures were quoted by which of the apostolic fathers. Suffice that in the Schaff patrology, first volume of the Ante-Niceaen fathers (ANF1), the Scripture index contains quotations from all of the books of the Bible except:


(and for those interested, Schaff also lists quotations from Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Baruch, Susanna, and Sirach)

Based on this Scripture index, all of the New Testament books are quoted from (or alluded to) by the combination of the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeaus (Irenaeus being chronologically last) (link to index). So, one wonders what makes Bellisario think that Irenaeus didn’t have the whole New Testament? He doesn’t tell us why he thinks that. (Addendum, Schaff includes an Irenaeus-specific index. In that one, there is a quotation, reference or allusion by Irenaeus to all the books of the New Testament except Philemon and 3 John, and to the Old Testament books except those identified above, and further 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Zephaniah, and Haggai.)

4) “So it is obvious that this Saint was not referring to the method of Scripture Alone as Turretin Fan understands it to be. It is impossible.”

Mr. Bellisario has again forgotten that the issue was and is the perspicuity of Scripture not the whole “method of Scripture Alone” (as he puts it). But Mr. Bellisario is wrong. One can practice Sola Scriptura even if one has (as Mr. Bellisario seems to think of Irenaeus) a wrong understanding of what books are the true Scriptures. After all, the issue of the identification of Scripture is a separate and preliminary issue: Sola Scriptura assumes that something has been identified as the Scriptura.

5) “Most likely the Saint was referring to the Gospels and the Old Testament, making light of the parables of Jesus, which are only revealed to those whom Christ had removed the blinders from so they could understand them.”

a) I do like the fact that Mr. Bellisario seems to recognize the Scriptural truth that the blinders that men have must be removed by Christ if those men are to see. He’s quite right in that regard. The problem is that, at least here, Irenaeus is not expressing that thought. Instead, Irenaeus is focusing on the human element: the sense of many Scriptures is plain to all, except those who blind themselves.

b) There’s no good reason to suppose that Irenaeus meant only the gospels and the Old Testament. In the very preceding chapter, Irenaeus had used as his theme a quotation from 1 Corinthians, writing:

It is therefore better and more profitable to belong to the simple and unlettered class, and by means of love to attain to nearness to God, than, by imagining ourselves learned and skillful, to be found [among those who are] blasphemous against their own God, inasmuch as they conjure up another God as the Father. And for this reason Paul exclaimed, “Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth:” [1 Cor. viii. 1.] not that he meant to inveigh against a true knowledge of God, for in that case he would have accused himself; but, because he knew that some, puffed up by the pretense of knowledge, fall away from the love of God, and imagine that they themselves are perfect, for this reason that they set forth an imperfect Creator, with the view of putting an end to the pride which they feel on account of knowledge of this kind, he says, “Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 26, Section 1

So there’s no good reason to think that Irenaeus meant only the gospels and the Old Testament, though certainly Irenaeus did place a stress on the gospels in this particular chapter.

c) “making light of the parables of Jesus”

In English, “making light of” is an expression that means “trivializing.” I don’t think that Mr. Bellisario intended to employ that expression (though I durst not assume anything). Instead, I think he means “shining light on.”

If so, then Bellisario is partly right. The basic point of Chapter 27 of Book 2 of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is that the proper way of understanding parables and other obscure parts of the Bible (after all, not every passage of Scripture is equally clear) is by turning to the more clear parts of Scripture.

This is, after all, the usual way we understand writings. We interpret the more clear by the less clear. In fact, I’m doing this same thing when I interpret Bellisario’s expression “making light of” as “shining light on.” It’s unlikely, in context, that Bellisario is trying to say that Irenaeus is trivializing parables, so from the more clear context of Bellisario we understand the less clear expression that Bellisario used. Scripture, in that regard, is like most other writings: we under the obscure parts from the clear parts.

That’s not what the heretics did. They argued that the right way to understand Scripture was found in oral tradition. In the very sentence after the one I included in the post to which Bellisario is responding, Irenaeus explains:

For that there is nothing whatever openly, expressly, and without controversy said in any part of Scripture respecting the Father conceived of by those who hold a contrary opinion, they themselves testify, when they maintain that the Saviour privately taught these same things not to all, but to certain only of His disciples who could comprehend them, and who understood what was intended by Him through means of arguments, enigmas, and parables.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 27, Section 2

Irenaeus then goes on, in the next section to compare his position of interpreting Scripture with Scripture building one’s house on a rock and their position of interpreting Scripture according to alleged oral tradition as being building one’s house on shifting sand:

But since parables admit of many interpretations, what lover of truth will not acknowledge, that for them to assert God is to be searched out from these, while they desert what is certain, indubitable, and true, is the part of men who eagerly throw themselves into danger, and act as if destitute of reason? And is not such a course of conduct not to build one’s house upon a rock [Matt. vii. 25.] which is firm, strong, and placed in an open position, but upon the shifting sand? Hence the overthrow of such a building is a matter of ease.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 27, Section 3

6) “If anything this defeats Turretin Fan’s own argument.”

Apparently, Mr. Bellisario means that his speculation (at least partly incorrect) regarding what Irenaeus was trying to say “defeats [my] argument.” As noted above, however, a correct and contextual understanding of Irenaeus only reinforces my argument. This all is explained above.

7) “One has to wonder if Turretin Fan has really read this Father at any length because the Saint tells us how we are to understand the Scriptures in the very same letter just a couple of books later.”

I would be the first to admit that the early church fathers were sometimes inconsistent. That said, even while it is possible that Irenaeus goes on to contradict something he says here, the more reasonable explanation (when someone looks for a comment from Irenaeus that is not only not in the same section or chapter but not even in the same or an adjacent book) is that Mr. Bellisario is simply attempting to divert attention from what Irenaeus is saying in the passage I quoted. For example, Mr. Bellisario does not claim “Irenaeus contradicted himself,” or “Irenaeus later corrected his mistake.” Instead, we have more of a request that we look over in another direction (accompanied by some sort of personal dart thrown at me). Perhaps as to familiarity with this father it is sufficient to point out that for Mr. Bellisario to say that Against Heresies is a “letter” is simply to misrepresent the nature of the substantial, five volume treatise.

8) “He tells us that they must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops, which Turretin rejects. Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part. A flimsy flam for sure. Lets read it shall we?”

a) “which Turretin rejects”

There is a lot of juice packed into those three words. What does Bellisario aim to say? There are several options thanks to his ambiguity.

First, he could be saying that I reject his position regarding what Irenaeus teaches. If so, we’ll address that below when we get to the quotation itself and compare it to his claim.

Second, he could be saying that I reject the position he ascribes to Irenaeus. If so, he’s right. I don’t agree that the Scriptures must be understood in the way Mr. Bellisario has asserted. What’s interesting is that Mr. Bellisario cannot show such a requirement from Scripture. As we will see below, he cannot substantiate such a requirement from the earliest tradition of the Church or the first generations of those who succeeded the apostles.

Third, he could be saying that I reject the idea of there being traditions of the Church or successors of the apostles. Here he’d be a little confused. Where I disagree is that the human traditions of the Church have equal authority to Scripture, or that the successors of the apostles have equal authority to the apostles. Of course, it is an historical fact that the apostles were succeeded by elders and that those elders were followed by other elders, etc., down to the present day. There is a chain of ordinations. There is also “church tradition” that exists in various forms. Neither this chain of ordinations nor any “church tradition” apart from Scripture has any comparable authority to Scripture.

Fourth, Mr. Bellisario could be saying that I reject his church. If so, he’s quite right. But at the same time, he’d be wrong in assuming that Irenaeus was a part of his church. Such an anachronism ought to be its own rebuttal.

b) “Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part.”

Again, the quotation Mr. Bellisario is about to provide is not a “part” of the quotation provided above. It’s in the same work, but it is not in the same book, chapter, or section. It’s not even in an adjacent book.

Note as well how only a second ago, Mr. Bellisario was claiming that I must not have read much of Irenaeus. Now he is suggesting that I read it and forgot it. This sort of inconsistent rhetoric is self-defeating.

c) “A flimsy flam for sure.”

Again with this “flam” usage. See the first post in this series regarding that odd usage issue.

d) “[Irenaeus] tells us that [the Scriptures] must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops”

The only support for this claim is Mr. Bellisario’s quotation of a few paragraphs from Irenaeus. Let’s carefully consider what Irenaeus is saying and see whether it says that the Scripture must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops.

The first thing to do is to present the text as it appears in Schaff’s patrology, as it appears that Mr. Bellisario’s quotation is an edited version of that appearing in Ante-Nicaean Fathers, Volume 1 (Bellisario doesn’t specifically identify his source). The unedited quotation is as follows (omitting only the footnotes):

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 8 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition)

Looking at the quotation, the first and most indisputable fact is that the comment “[the Scriptures] must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops” is not a quotation from Irenaeus. I don’t think that even Mr. Bellisario would try to claim that Irenaeus uses those words.

The second fact is that Irenaeus does use the words “the successions of the bishops” (notice that pluralization) and does say “they have handed down” which is the verbal form of “tradition” (“tradition” as a verb means “to hand down”). The term “Scriptures” is also mentioned in the text. So, Mr. Bellisario’s characterization has at least some connection to the text.

That is about the limit of the connection that Mr. Bellisario’s characterization has with the text. The text doesn’t suggest that the successions of bishops are a necessary context in order to understand Scriptures, nor that a distinct body of tradition is required for us to understand what Scriptures teach.

The thrust of the section is the identification of “true knowledge.” In order to appreciate what “true knowledge” meant to Irenaeus, one needs context that Mr. Bellisario omitted. The immediately preceding section sets the stage for the discussion:

He [the spiritual man] shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church; but he himself shall be judged by no one. For to him all things are consistent: he has a full faith in one God Almighty, of whom are all things; and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things, and in the dispensations connected with Him, by means of which the Son of God became man; and a firm belief in the Spirit of God, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which He dwells with every generation of men, according to the will of the Father.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 7

That provides the reference to “knowledge of the truth” that serves as the antecedent basis for the reference to “true knowledge” in the beginning of section 8. The expression about judging all things but being judged of no man is taken directly from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 2:15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

Furthermore, the discussion of the Father and the Son that make up the core beliefs of this spiritual man who judges those beyond the pale of truth (i.e. outside the Church) are taken from another verse of the same book:

1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

And, in the same context of discussing that the spiritual man judges all things, yet is judged of no man, 1 Corinthians 2 acknowledges that it is the Spirit that furnishes us with a knowledge of truth:

1 Corinthians 2:10-13
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

You can see as well in this passage the basic principle that Irenaeus is making regarding the Spirit revealing the Father and the Son. We also see that Irenaeus ascribes a subordinate role to the Spirit much like that of the Son that we see in John’s Gospel:

John 4:34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.

John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

John 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

After pointing out that it is the Spirit that provides us with knowledge of the truth, we encounter what has been designated as section 8. The section is divisible into two parts in the English translation:

“True knowledge is”

Part 1: “[that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and”

What is Irenaeus affirming about the true knowledge here? One alternative is that (as with the dubious quotation from Cyril that we discussed previously) Irenaeus is indicating a correlation between the Church and orthodoxy. It could also be aspirational: that is to say, it could state what ought to be, as opposed to what actually is. The translators of this section noted (in a footnote that Mr. Bellisario did not provide, perhaps because he used the NewAdvent source):

The following section is an important one, but very difficult to translate with undoubted accuracy. The editors differ considerably both as to the construction and the interpretation. We have done our best to represent the meaning in English, but may not have been altogether successful.

Thus, let’s reserve some judgment regarding what the possible sense of this part of the discussion is, until we have seen the other half.

Before we get to the second half, though, there are a couple of interesting points to note. First, the “true knowledge” here is most plainly the “doctrine of the apostles.” Thus, this is not a situation in which we are dealing with new doctrines defined by a living magisterium.

A similar concept seems to be conveyed by “ancient constitutions.” These are not something new, recent, or organic. These are something ancient.

There is something that is not just ancient: “the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place.” The concept “distinctive manifestation” is a bit obscure – but it is clear that there is a reference of the successions of the bishops by which they handed down “the Church which exists in every place.” It’s interesting to note, in passing, that it is not one succession, but a plurality of successions.

The distinctive manifestation becomes a bit more clear when we see the two aspects:

1) “being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and”

2) “neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]”

Notice that, as to the second part, this is a fixed quantum of truths. As to the first part, the system is very complete and there is no forgery of Scripture. The sentence structure seems to suggest that the “forging of Scriptures” would be the way in which there would be addition, and a lack of “guarding and preserving” is what would lead to a curtailment. In short, it looks as though what is being guarded are the canonical Scriptures.

This is confirmed when we turn to the second half of the discussion of what true knowledge is:

Part 2: “[it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].”

Notice that it consists in reading the Scriptures without falsification. The fact that this second part is joined to the first with an “and” can have two possibilities: it can be an additional aspect of the knowledge or it can be a restatement of the knowledge from a different perspective.

Notice as well that it consists in exposition in harmony with the Scriptures. This is essentially the reverse of what Mr. Bellisario had indicated in that this true knowledge is something that is to be read in harmony with the Scriptures, not vice versa. Thus, even assuming that the “true knowledge” were extra-Scriptural tradition (something Mr. Bellisario seems to have assumed rather than demonstrated) the relation to Scripture would be the inverse of what Mr. Bellisario had described.

The statement continues: “both without danger and without blasphemy.” This would seem to describe the result of reading in harmony with the Scriptures, although the relation of this phrase the sentence is not particularly clear.

The final comment of the passage really shows the main point of the sentence: it has all been building up to this: Love. Irenaeus says: “and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].” This kind of comment tends to undermine the idea that Irenaeus is saying that (as Bellisario claims) “the Scripture must be understood in harmony with the Church’s Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops.”

In fact, that love was the focal point we can see from the section that follows:

Wherefore the Church does in every place, because of that love which she cherishes towards God, send forward, throughout all time, a multitude of martyrs to the Father; while all others [FN: i.e., the heretics.] not only have nothing of this kind to point to among themselves, but even maintain that such witness-bearing is not at all necessary, for that their system of doctrines is the true witness [for Christ], with the exception, perhaps, that one or two among them, during the whole time which has elapsed since the Lord appeared on earth, have occasionally, along with our martyrs, borne the reproach of the name (as if he too [the heretic] had obtained mercy), and have been led forth with them [to death], being, as it were, a sort of retinue granted unto them. For the Church alone sustains with purity the reproach of those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, and endure all sorts of punishments, and are put to death because of the love which they bear to God, and their confession of His Son; often weakened indeed, yet immediately increasing her members, and becoming whole again, after the same manner as her type, [Comp. above, xxxi. 2.] Lot’s wife, who became a pillar of salt. Thus, too, [she passes through an experience] similar to that of the ancient prophets, as the Lord declares, “For so persecuted they the prophets who were before you;” [Matt. v. 12.] inasmuch as she does indeed, in a new fashion, suffer persecution from those who do not receive the word of God, while the self-same spirit rests upon her [Comp. 1 Pet. iv. 14.] [as upon these ancient prophets].

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 9 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition, some as footnotes in Schaff)

This section casts a lot of light on the previous section. We see that Irenaeus is comparing churches with the churches of the heretics. When we shine that light back on the previous section, we get the following result:

“True knowledge is [that which consists in]” => What our church teaches, as opposed to what the heretics teach.

“the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world,” => We teach the same thing that was taught by the apostles, but the heretics have departed from the apostles

“and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us,” => our church didn’t come from nowhere, like the heretics, it is the result of the apostles evangelizing and appointing elders, and those elders evangelizing and appointing other elders, and so forth down to the present time, we (Irenaeus included) being the latest generation of this process

“being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine,” => The “true knowledge” of our church is guarded and preserved by a complete system of doctrine, doctrines that do not require forged Scriptures, whereas the heretics have incomplete systems of doctrines and rely on apocryphal scriptures

“and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes];” => We are not adding or removing truths like the heretics are

“and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification,” => We read Scriptures exegetically, not eisegetically, like the heretics

“and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy;” => We avoid danger and blasphemy by comparing Scripture with Scripture

“and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]” => We have a true love for God, whereas the heretics do not (that love being shown in martyrdom)

In short, not to impose too systematic a structure on Irenaeus, we could say that “true knowledge” is:
1) Ecclesiastically, to be connected to the apostles by being under those who were under those who were under those who were under the apostles;
2) Doctrinally, to derive one’s teachings from the Scriptures by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not fabricating either Scripture itself or the sense thererof; and
3) Practically, to love God, even to be willing to die for his Name.

While (1) may seem to favor supposedly “ancient” churches like Rome, that’s a rather different issue from the issue we are discussing. In point of fact, on doctrine (item 2), we find Irenaeus pointing us to Scripture, suggesting that our doctrines must harmonize with Scripture, not the other way ’round.

We find further confirmation of this reading of section 8 not only from section 9 but also from looking back to section 7. I’ve already discussed the second half of section 7, but let’s look now at the first half:

He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it,—men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. [Matt. xxiii. 24.] For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism.

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 33, Section 7 (all brackets in Schaff’s edition, some as footnotes in Schaff)

Notice how well that fits with the explanation just given. The schismatic is one who breaks with the church over some improper reason (something trifling or arbitrary). Doing so shows a lack of love for God: while they act as though they are straining out some gnat of error, they swallow a camel (an enormous error). The only possible justification for schism is reformation, but such men as this are dividing over minor or arbitrary things, such any reformation that they theoretically could produce could not justify their actions.

As for the remaining part of section 7, as we saw above, it speaks of the Scriptural faith of the spiritual man and the fact that all things are consistent to him. Thus, we see the same three points in section 7 phrased one way, and section 8 phrased another way. However, no matter how we look at it, even the light most favorable to Rome, it doesn’t say what Mr. Bellisario contends.


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