Archive for the ‘Jerome’ Category

Twenty-Four Elders – Twenty-Four Books

January 23, 2013

People sometimes see what they want in allegory. If a modern Protestant sees the number 66 in an allegory, he naturally thinks of the 66 books of the Bible.  If the chapter divisions in Isaiah were original, we would be tempted to place significance on that point.  If a modern Protestant sees 27 or 39 he might (less obviously) see the number of books in the New and Old Testaments respectively.

The book of Revelation has a reference to “twenty-four elders” as well as “four beasts” or “four living creatures.” A very ancient tradition (dating back at least to Irenaeus) links those four beasts to the four gospels. What is interesting to discover is that there is a very old Western tradition associating the twenty-four elders with the twenty-four books of the Old Testament.

Why 24 instead of 39? There were different ways of numbering the books then. For example, the 12 minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) were counted as a single book.  See some more discussion by Jerome, below.

The earliest Greek commentators on Revelation that I found did not make any mention of this twenty-four elder to twenty-four Old Testament books correspondence, possibly because in the East, the way of counting the Old Testament books was twenty-two, not twenty-four (due to making a couple less combinations).

The earliest Latin commentators, however, provide the correspondence.

Victorinus of Petovium (died c. A.D. 303):

The four animals are the four Gospels. “The first,” he says, “was similar to a lion, the second similar to a calf, the third similar to a man and the fourth similar to an eagle in flight. And they had six wings all around and eyes within and without, and they did not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.'” And there were twenty-four elders who had twenty-four tribunals. These are the books of the prophets and of the law, which give the testimonies of the judgment. However, these twenty-four fathers are also the twelve apostles and the twelve patriarchs.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 4 at section 4, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 7)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: The four living creatures are the four Gospels. “The first living creature was like to a lion, and the second was like to a calf, and the third had a face like to a man, and the fourth was like to a flying eagle; and they had six wings, and round about and within they were full of eyes; and they had no rest, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord Omnipotent. And the four and twenty elders, falling down before the throne, adored God.” The four and twenty elders are the twenty-four books of the prophets and of the law, which give testimonies of the judgment. Moreover, also, they are the twenty-four fathers—twelve apostles and twelve patriarchs.”)

The wings [the six wings each of the four beasts] are the testimonies of the Old Testament, that is, of the twenty-four books, the same number as the elders on the tribunals. For just as an animal cannot fly unless it has wings, neither can the preaching of the New Testament acquire faith unless its testimony is seen to correspond to those foretold in the Old Testament, through which it rises from the earth and flies.

The books of the Old Testament that are received are those twenty-four that we find in the epitomes of Theodore. However, as we have said, the twenty-four elders are the patriarchs and apostles who will judge the people.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 4 at section 5, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 8)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: “Six wings.” These are the testimonies of the books of the Old Testament. Thus, twenty and four make as many as there are elders sitting upon the thrones. But as an animal cannot fly unless it have wings, so, too, the announcement of the New Testament gains no faith unless it have the fore-announced testimonies of the Old Testament, by which it is lifted from the earth, and flies.

And the books of the Old Testament that are received are twenty-four, which you will find in the epitomes of Theodore. But, moreover (as we have said), four and twenty elders, patriarchs and apostles, are to judge His people.)

“The twenty-four elders and the four animals had harps and bowls and were singing a new song.” The preaching of the Old Testament joined with the New reveals the Christian people singing a new song, that is, the proclaiming of their public confession.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 5 at section 3, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 10)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: “Twenty-four elders and four living creatures, having harps and phials, and singing a new song.”] The proclamation of the Old Testament associated with the New, points out the Christian people singing a new song, that is, bearing their confession publicly.)

Apringius of Beja (6th Century):

He says that he had seen this Lamb in the midst of the throne, that is, in power and in divine majesty. “And among the four living creatures.” This is because he is known in the fourfold order of the Gospels. “And among the elders.” By this he indicates the chorus of the law and the prophets, or of the apostles.

(Apringus of Beja, Explanation of the Revelation at Revelation 5:6, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 44)

Caesarius of Arles (c. A.D. 470 – 542):

“Each of the living creatures had six wings all around.” In the living creatures we recognize also the twenty-four elders, for the total of six wings on each of the four creatures is twenty-four wings. Moreover, he say the living creatures around the throne, where he said that he had seen the elders. But how can a creature with six wings be similar to an eagle that has two wings, unless the four creatures, who have twenty-four wings and in whom we recognize the twenty-four elders, are one creature, that is, the church, which is like an eagle? We may also interpret the six wings to be the testimonies of the Old Testament. For just as a creature cannot fly unless it has wings, so also the preaching of the New Testament cannot produce faith unless it has the prophetic witness of the Old Testament by which it rises from the earth and flies.

“And they never rest.” The living creatures are the church that never rests but praises God without ceasing. We may also interpret the twenty-four elders to be either the books of the Old Testament or the patriarchs and the apostles.

(Caesarius of Arles, Exposition of the Apocalypse, Homily 3, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 70)

Bede the Venerable (c. A.D. 673 – 735):

And each of them had six wings. The wings lift the church into the heights by the perfection of their doctrine. The number six is said to be perfect, because it is the first number to be completed by the sum of its parts. For the number one is one-sixth of six; the number two is one-third of six; and the number three is one-half of six,; and together they make six. There is another interpretation. The six wings of the four living creatures make twenty-four wings, the same number as there are books in the Old Testament, by which the authority of the Evangelists is supported and the truth of the Evangelists is verified.

(Bede the Venerable, Exposition of the Apocalypse, at Revelation 4:8, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 126)(there is, I believe, a new translation of this work forthcoming)

Primasius (died. c. 560):

In one way, fore and aft, because the Church everywhere bearing fruit is broadened; it walks in the light of the face of God, and, his face revealed, gazes on the glory of God. In another way, fore and aft, he implies that the six-fold wings, which number twenty-four, are the books of the Old Testament, which we take up on canonical authority of the same number, just as there are twenty-four elders sitting above the thrones.

(Primasius, Commentary on the Apocalypse of John, Book I, Chapter IV. Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame)

Ambrose Autpert (c. A.D. 730 – 784):

The Church can be signified in the twenty-four elders under a different interpretation on account of the perfection of six which is completed in the four books of the holy Gospel. For the number six is held as perfect, for this reason that in six days God is thought to have completed all his works and in the sixth age of the world it is told that he reformed man. And so since the Church fulfills the works of the Fathers of the Old and New Testaments completed in the six ages of the world, just as in six days, and the four books of the holy Gospel, it is all correctly described in twenty-four elders. For four times six makes twenty-four. Or certainly, since it uses twenty-four books of the older Testament which it accepts with canonical authority in which it also recognizes that the New Testament was revealed, the Church is therefore figured in twenty-four elders. For this reason, the preaching of the New Testament is fruitful since strengthened from the Old, just as the Church takes the number from these same [books], by which it is perfected in sanctity.

(Ambrose Autpert, Expositionis in Apocalypsin, Libri III (4, 4). Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

This Western patristic view continued in the West throughout the middle ages:

Haymo of Halberstadt (died c. 853):

The same Church could also, according to another interpretation, be figured in the twenty-four elders. For this number is composed of the number six and the number four, because four sixes make twenty-four. The number six refers to works, because Almighty God completed His work in six days, and on the sixth day, at the sixth hour, redeemed man. The number four, however, refers to the four books of the Gospels. Because, however, the Holy Church, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, recalls and venerates the works of God, and preserves the books of the Holy Gospels, it [i.e. the Church] is also rightly understood in the twenty-four elders, or certainly according to the twenty-four books of the Old Testament, which are used according to canonical authority, in which the New Testament, and those things that are brought to fulfillment in it are acknowledged to be foretold. Whence also the Evangelist says of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ: this was done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which says, ‘And he was classed among the wicked…’

And each of the four animals had six wings. The wings of the animals signify the two Testaments, by which the Church is carried up to the Heavens. However, while there are two Testaments, the spiritual wings of the same Church, on account of this twin testament, which is found in the twelve tribes of Israel, or in the twelve apostles, these wings are multiplied, two by twelve, and they give twenty-four wings. For two twelves are twenty-four. In another way, the number twelve consists of the parts of the number seven, that is, of the number three and the number four. We can say either four threes or three fours make twelve, which is a sacred number, the number of the twelve Apostles. In the number three, faith in the Holy Trinity is understood, and in the number four, the four parts of the world. Twelve is thus multiplied by two, and we get twenty-four. The number of the elect is expressed in terms of this number, by whose preaching the faith of the Holy Trinity is spread to the four corners of the world, and the whole world is raised to Heaven. We can also understand these wings in another way. The natural law is understood in the first wing, the Law of Moses in the second wing, in the third the prophets, in the fourth the Gospels, in the fifth the Epistles of the Apostles, in the sixth Canonical authority, or the doctrine of Catholic men such as Jerome, Augustine and other holy Fathers.

(Haymo of Halberstadt, Exposition of the Apocalypse of S. John, Book 7, Book I, Chapter IV. PL 117:1007, 1010. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, University of Notre Dame).

Rupert, Abbot of Deutz (c. 1075–1129):

Around the throne are twenty-four thrones and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders dressed in robes with golden crowns on their heads. Just as on the seat the kingdom of God, so on these seats we understand the judicial power of the saints, about which is has been written, the saints will judge the nations. But why are the elders sitting on the seats shown to be twenty-four in number? On this matter the explanations of the Fathers diverge. For some (of whom St. Jerome is one and the most notable) wish the elders displayed throughout here to be understood as the twenty-four books of the old law. Some others understand in these same elders the Church born through the twin testaments of the patriarchs and the apostles, or certainly those who brought about the work’s perfection, which is commended to six-fold number, by clear preaching of the Gospel. For four times six makes twenty-four. But we judging neither interpretation to be useless, nevertheless dare to bring forth something certain from the majesty of the scriptures.

(Commentary of Rupert, Abbot of Deutz, On the Apocalypse of John, Book III, Chapter IV. Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

Peter Cellensis (c. 1115-1183):

And so, concerning the field of the belly of Jesus, in which all storehouses of wisdom and knowledge have been hidden, just as from a mound of wheat surrounded by lilies, twenty-four loaves (according to the number of twenty-four elders standing in the sight of the Lamb) in order to curb all hunger, cleanse all disease, and remove all weakness, with however much care I have been able to gather in this little book by breaking asunder the battle lines of overflowing cares. For this number both of the sons of Jacob and of the apostles of Christ signifies twice the number twelve. And so under this number are contained the books of the Old Testament. And so the complete instruction of souls is offered from this number of books and no less full refreshment is taken from this number of loaves. And so running from the east and west and north and south to the sign of Abraham that they not fail on the way, they refresh themselves from the loaves of the compassion of the Lord and they show the perpetual refreshment to their flaws.

(Peter Cellensis, De Panibus. Cap 2, PL 202:935-936).

Peter Blensensis (c. 1130 – 1203):

The Old Testament is so called because with the coming of the New, it ceased, which the Apostle also recalls, saying, ‘Certain things passed away, and behold! All things were made new.’ So the New Testament was so named because it makes new. For those who made this statement were none other than men called out of the Old [dispensation] by grace, and belonging now to the New Testament, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Hebrews accept the Old Testament as authorized by God in twenty-two books, according to the number of their letters, dividing them into three orders, that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Holy Writings…Five and eight added to nine make twenty-two, as is understood from the above. Some also add Ruth and Cinoth, which is called in Latin the Lamentations of Jeremiah, to the Hagiographies. These make twenty-four volumes of the Old Testament, just like the twenty-four elders who sit before the Face of God. The fourth [order?] is of those books accepted by us in the order of the Old Testament which are not in the Canon of the Hebrews. The first of them is the Book of Wisdom, the second Ecclesiasticus, the third Tobias, the fourth Judith, the fifth and sixth the Books of the Maccabees. The Church of Christ proclaims these and honors them as divine books, even though the Jews separate them as Apocrypha…The Book of Wisdom is found nowhere among the Hebrews, as a result of which it is far more redolent of Greek style than of Hebrew eloquence. The Jews affirm this to be Babylonian. Therefore they call it Wisdom, for in it the coming of Christ, who is the Wisdom of the Father, and His Passion, is evidently expressed. Now the Book of Ecclesiasticus was definitely composed by Jesus, son of Sirach and grandson of the great priest (high priest) Jesu, which Zacharias also mentions. This book is mainly known among the Latins by this title on account of its similarity to the sayings of Solomon. Indeed the statement of Ecclesiasticus is to be studied with great care, for it deals with the discipline of the whole Church and of religious discourse. This book is found among the Hebrews, but as Apocrypha. Judith, however, Tobias and the books of the Maccabees which were written by their author are the least established. They take their names from those whose deeds they describe…These are the writers of the holy books, who speaking by the Holy Spirit, have written in collaboration with him the rule to be believed and the precepts to be lived by for our erudition. Beyond these, other books are called Apocrypha, for ‘apocrypha’ are sayings, that is, secret sayings, which are doubtful. For the origin of them is hidden, nor does it appear to the Fathers, from whom the authority of the truth of Scriptures comes down to us in most clear and certain succession. Although some truth is found in these apocrypha, a great deal is false, nothing in them has canonical authority, and they are rightly judged by the wise not to be among those things to be believed, for a great deal is put out by heretics in the name of the Prophets, and more recently is the name of the Apostles. All that is called apocrypha has been removed following the diligent examination of canonical authority.

(Tractatus Quales sunt. De Divisone Et Scriptoribus Sacrorum Librorum. PL 207:1051B-1056. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

Glossa Ordinaria published 1498:

There are, then, twenty-two canonical books of the old testament, corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as Eusebius reports, in book six of Ecclesiastical History, that Origen writes on the first Psalm; and Jerome says the same thing more fully and distinctly in his Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings: All the books are divided into three parts by the Jews: into the law, which contains the five books of Moses; into the eight prophets; and into the nine hagiographa. This will be more clearly seen shortly. Some, however, separate the book of Ruth from the book of Judges, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah from Jeremiah, and count them among the hagiographa in order to make twenty-four books, corresponding to the twenty-four elders whom the Apocalypse presents as adoring the lamb. These are the books that are in the canon, as blessed Jerome writes at greater length in the Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings.
In the first place are the five books of Moses, which are called the law, first of which is Genesis, second Exodus, third Leviticus, fourth Numbers, fifth Deuteronomy. Secondly follow the eight prophetic books, first of which is Joshua, second the book of Judges together with Ruth, third Samuel, i.e. first and second Kings, fourth Malachim, i.e. third and fourth Kings, fifth Isaiah, sixth Jeremiah with Lamentations, seventh Ezekiel, eighth the book of twelve prophets, first of which is Hosea, second Joel, third Amos, fourth Obadiah, fifth Jonah, sixth Micah, seventh Nahum, eighth Habakkuk, ninth Zephaniah, tenth Haggai, eleventh Zechariah, twelfth Malachi. Thirdly follow the nine hagiographa, first of which is Job, second Psalms, third Solomon’s Proverbs, fourth his Ecclesiastes, fifth his Song of Songs, sixth Daniel, seventh Paralipomenon, which is one book, not two, among the Jews, eighth Ezra with Nehemiah (for it is all one book), ninth Esther. And whatever is outside of these (I speak of the Old Testament), as Jerome says, should be placed in the apocrypha. 

(Biblia cum glosa ordinaria et expositione Lyre litterali et morali. Basel: Petri & Froben, 1498. British Museum IB.37895, vol. 1. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward. See also Walafrid Strabo, Glossa ordinaria, De Canonicis et Non Canonicis Libris. PL 113:19-24).

William Webster also identified Richard of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, and Alphonsi Tostati, who identified the number of books of the Old Testament as twenty-four, apparently apart from a discussion of Revelation.

But of course, the key witness in the Western tradition is the great patristic advocate for excluding the apocrypha, Jerome (c. 347 – 420):

The first of these books is called Bresith, to which we give the name Genesis. The second, Elle Smoth, which bears the name Exodus; the third, Vaiecra, that is Leviticus; the fourth, Vaiedabber, which we call Numbers; the fifth, Elle Addabarim, which is entitled Deuteronomy. These are the five books of Moses, which they properly call Thorath, that is law.
The second class is composed of the Prophets, and they begin with Jesus the son of Nave, who among them is called Joshua the son of Nun. Next in the series is Spohtim,that is the book of Judges; and in the same book they include Ruth, because the events narrated occurred in the days of the Judges. Then comes Samuel, which we call First and Second Kings. The fourth is Malachim, that is, Kings, which is contained in the third and fourth volumes of Kings. And it is far better to say Malachim, that is Kings, than Malachoth, that is Kingdoms. For the author does not describe the Kingdoms of many nations, but that of one people, the people of Israel, which is comprised in the twelve tribes. The fifth is Isaiah, the sixth Jeremiah, the seventh Ezekiel, the eighth is the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called among the Jews Thare Asra.
To the third class belong the Hariographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dabre Aiamim, that is, Words of Days, which we may more expressively call a chronicle of the whole of the sacred history, the book that amongst us is called First and Second Chronicles; the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Esther.
And so there are also twenty-two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty-four book of the old law. And these the Apocalypse of John represents by the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb, and with downcast looks offer their crowns, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice crying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, and art, and art to come.
This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a ‘helmeted’ introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so, I beseech you, my reader, not to think that my labors are in any sense intended to disparage the old translators. For the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can; some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and purple and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goats hair. 

(NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, The Books of Samuel and Kings, pp. 489-490).

(see also this summary of the work of William Webster regarding the canon)

How comprehensive is the survey above?   Francis X. Gumerlock has identified 21 patristic era (i.e. 2nd to 8th centuries) commentaries on Revelation. We have cited seven of the authors of the list namely Victorinus (3rd), Jerome (4th), Caesarius (8th), Primasius (9th), Apringius (10th), Bede (17th), and Ambrose Autpert (18th).

Additionally, we have reviewed the commentaries of Andrew of Caesarea and Oecumenius, whose commentaries does not make the association between the twenty-four elders and the twenty-four books (possibly because of the twenty-two book tradition).

Thus, within the 21 extant commentaries we have found seven that favor the 24 elders representing the Old Testament, and two that do not make any mention of this view.

If Hippolytus’ works originally had any interpretation of the significance of the twenty-four elders, it seems that they have been lost. The single mention he makes in his commentary on Daniel is too vague to say that he’s making any numerical association. Moreover the fragments of his commentary in Andrew of Caesarea do not pertain to this particular section of the text.

The main work attributed to Origen is not his, but a compilation of the works of other (later) authors. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming publication and translation of this work by Dr. Panayiotis Tzamalikos, who is the premiere authority on these scholia, which have sometimes been mistakenly attributed to Origen.

Didymus the Blind’s commentary is in fragments, and should be included with the Scholia mentioned above.  Dr. Tzamalikos has kindly informed me that the Scholia do not directly analyze the question of who the twenty-four elders are, but that contextually they seem to be “the saints” in general in Scholion 29.  I look forward to the publication of this work (the oldest commentary on Revelation) hopefully in April of this year (2013).

The only fragments of Tyconius I found translated are in the Revelation volume of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture collection, at pages 60, 66, and 136. In each of the fragments, he refers the 24 elders as corresponding to the whole church. The fragments are taken from Primasius, however, whose view we have discussed above. Moreover the second fragment appears to connect the twenty-four wings with the twenty-four elders and also with Scripture. Some of the difficulties in identifying Tyconius in Primasius are hinted at in the discussion of recovering Tyconius at page xxx of that same volume.

I have not checked Cassiodorus PL 70:1405-1418, which is basically a brief abstract. Cassiodorus’ use of the passage in the psalms (at psalms 24 and 117) does not make any mention of twenty-four books.

I have not checked Pseudo-Jerome, Pseudo-Isidore, and the other unknown patristic era authors that .Gumerlock identified.  I suspect that when review of the extant commentaries are complete, we will find that the Western authors for the most part favor the teachings of Victorinus and Jerome in making the association, whereas the Eastern authors will have no such tradition, particularly since the number of books in the Eastern canon was twenty-two.  Jerome provides a bridge between the two sides, in that he recognizes and approves of both ways of counting and reconciles them, as noted above.

As a final note, there are a number of additional commentaries on Revelation from the medieval period.  Joachim of Fiore, for example, produced a significant and controversial Exposition of the Apocalypse, which I briefly skimmed without finding any discussion of a relationship between the twenty-four elders and the twenty-four books.


P.S. A few more notes:

1. Obviously, this is one of many strands of Western tradition that Trent broke in treating the Apocrypha as Deuterocanonical.  I’m not aware of any evidence that Trent considered this issue or addressed it.  Certainly, Trent’s canons and decrees do not explain the appropriate interpretation of the twenty-four elders.

2. I’m not adopting this western tradition regarding the twenty-four elders.  While it is an interesting view, and one of several meanings assigned to the text in the West, I doubt that the 24-book enumeration goes all the way back to the 1st century (the 22-book enumeration does, as evidenced by Josephus).  Therefore, I doubt that the 24-book association was one that was originally intended.

3. Nevertheless, if one trusts in the reliability of tradition when it comes to interpretation of Scripture, one cannot really accept Trent.  Or, alternatively, if one can cast off a venerable and widespread Western tradition dating to the 3rd century simply because Trent says something that conflicts with it (without any explanation or discussion of the matter), what’s the point of calling tradition an authority?

4. Furthermore, compare this tradition in terms of weight and popularity with the novel interpretations of the woman of Revelation 11 as some kind of evidence for a bodily assumption.  This tradition is widespread and nearly universal amongst early Western commentators on Revelation, whereas the interpretation of the woman of Revelation 11 as evidence of a bodily assumption is something Mr. Albrecht couldn’t identify even one instance of in the history of the church up to the Reformation.

Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 4a

September 24, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the first part of a fourth in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

4. Let us take the points one by one, and follow the tracks of this impiety that we may show that he has contradicted himself. He admits that she was betrothed, and in the next breath will have her to be a man’s wife whom he has admitted to be his betrothed. Again, he calls her wife, and then says the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And, for fear we might not think that enough, “the word used,” he says, “is betrothed and not intrusted, that is to say, not yet a wife, not yet united by the bond of wedlock.”

We should definitely seek to avoid self-contradiction.  But is this a self-contradiction?  Why else is a woman betrothed except in order to become a wife?  Moreover, Joseph was minded to put her away, which is what one does with an unfaithful wife, but was encouraged to “take” her by the angel of the Lord,

Jerome seems to be attempting to score some kind of rhetorical points here, but it isn’t working.  Helvidius’ and our position is pretty straightforward and non-contradictory.  Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was – at that time and in that culture – the first stage of the marriage, but it was prior to cohabitation.  Nevertheless, as set forth in the previous sections, the legal status of a betrothed woman was like that of a married woman, in that any fornication would be adultery.  Thus, Mary is sometimes called Joseph’s wife even though they had not yet come together.  It may be imprecise, but it is not really self-contradictory.

Jerome doesn’t attempt to revitalize the “intrusted” alternatively, seemingly granting that Helvidius is right.  Mary was betrothed (not intrusted) to Joseph.  She was to be his wife.

– TurretinFan

Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 3

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the third in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

3. His first statement was: “Matthew says, [Matthew 1:18-20] Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately. But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” “Notice,” he says, “that the word used is betrothed, not intrusted as you say, and of course the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And the Evangelist would not have said before they came together if they were not to come together, for no one would use the phrase before he dined of a man who was not going to dine. Then, again, the angel calls her wife and speaks of her as united to Joseph.” We are next invited to listen to the declaration of Scripture: [Matthew 1:24-25] “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth her son.” 

Finally, Jerome is getting around to an actual argument, and kudos to Jerome, he is presenting his opponent’s position first.  Specifically, what Jerome has done here is to present what Helvidius argued, apparently as a quotation from or at least a paraphrase or summary of Helvidius.  Considering that Jerome had accused Helvidius of being loquacious, one suspects that this may be a summary of Helvidius’ argument, rather than the entirety of it.

Helvidius argued from Matthew 1 that the word used is “betrothed” not merely “entrusted” and the reason for the betrothal was ultimately marriage.  Helvidius further argued that Matthew wouldn’t have written “before they came together” unless they were going to come together.  Likewise, the angel calls Mary Joseph’s wife and speaks of her as being united to Joseph, according to Helvidius.  Finally, there seems to be implied that “knew her not till …” implies that Joseph eventually knew Mary.

All of these seem to be sound arguments.  To them, we may add the argument we mentioned in the previous section, namely that Joseph was minded to put away Mary, not to seek out her seducer or to return her to her father or elsewhere.  Putting away implies divorce, which implies a marriage (of which betrothal is a first step), not merely an entrustment.


Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 2

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the second in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

2. I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of the Blessed Mary. I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born. We have no desire to career over the fields of eloquence, we do not resort to the snares of the logicians or the thickets of Aristotle. We shall adduce the actual words of Scripture. Let him be refuted by the same proofs which he employed against us, so that he may see that it was possible for him to read what is written, and yet to be unable to discern the established conclusion of a sound faith.

While we agree with Jerome that the standard should be the actual words of Scripture and not attempts at Aristotelean philosophy, we have to note that Jerome is still not actually setting forth a valid argument for his position.

Notice that Jerome seems to think that “sexual intercourse” is something bad.  Thus, he describes suggestions to the contrary of his position as “suspicion of sexual intercourse” like one might speak of “suspicion of fornication” or the like.

Here is an opportunity, however, to help define the difference between us.  We agree that Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, and that until Jesus was born she remained a virgin.  This is important, not because virginity itself is somehow sacred, but because it was necessary that it be clear that Jesus was the Son of God.

Upon Jesus’ birth, the need for Mary to remain a virgin ceased.

Likewise, Mary was already betrothed when she was found with child.  She was Joseph’s bride-to-be, though they had not yet come together.  Under the Jewish regime, it would have been adultery for her to have been sexually joined to anyone but Joseph (“If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 22:23-24), and when Joseph discovered her pregnancy, he was planning to divorce her (“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” Matthew 1:19).

That stood in contrast to the situation of a virgin that was not betrothed (Exodus 22:16  And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.). In that situation, neither death nor merciful divorce (as Joseph thought he would do) was appropriate.  Instead, in that case, the seduced girl would (with her father’s permission) become the spouse of the seducer.

Joseph was not minded to track down her seducer and make him marry Mary, he was minded to “put away” (i.e. divorce) Mary.  This demonstrates that Mary was to be Joseph’s wife.

Moreover, when Joseph considered this option of putting away Mary, God intervened. 

Matthew 1:20  But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Look at that! God specifically tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary unto him.  In context, that means Joseph is not to be afraid to take Mary to be his wife, which will involve the very thing that so troubled our ancient brother Jerome.  After all, that’s what distinguishes husband and wife from merely “betrothed” and is what is involved in “taking” her (compare “And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.” Deuteronomy 20:7).

In fact, it is such an integral part of taking her, that the Scriptures make sure to explain an exception:

Matthew 1:24-25 
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Notice that Joseph took Mary to be his wife, but did not know her until Jesus was born.  The implication, of course, is that this exceptional case ended with the identified terminus, namely Jesus’ birth.


Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 1

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the first in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.


1. I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating. There was the further consideration that a turbulent fellow, the only individual in the world who thinks himself both priest and layman, one who, as has been said, thinks that eloquence consists in loquacity and considers speaking ill of anyone to be the witness of a good conscience, would begin to blaspheme worse than ever if opportunity of discussion were afforded him. He would stand as it were on a pedestal, and would publish his views far and wide. There was reason also to fear that when truth failed him he would assail his opponents with the weapon of abuse. But all these motives for silence, though just, have more justly ceased to influence me, because of the scandal caused to the brethren who were disgusted at his ravings. The axe of the Gospel must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree, and both it and its fruitless foliage cast into the fire, so that Helvidius who has never learnt to speak, may at length learn to hold his tongue.

One has to smile a little.  Here’s Jerome eagerly whipping up emotions against Helvidius as being someone who “considers speaking ill of anyone to be the witness of a good conscience” and “when truth failed him he would assail his opponents with the weapon of abuse.”  Yet obviously Jerome is intending to speak ill of Helvidius, and is assailing his opponent verbally, rather than beginning with arguments founded in truth.

We certainly agree with Jerome that the Gospel (i.e. the Scriptures) ought to be brought to bear on the matter, and that we ought not to count mere loquacity as eloquence.  On the other hand, we will need to examine the arguments before we decide whether it is Jerome’s arguments or those of Helvidius that ought properly to be described as ravings (if any!).

– TurretinFan

Justification by Faith Alone – An Affirmative Rebuttal

July 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The above is pretty self explanatory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is similar to the previous one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on the Book of Genesis

February 15, 2011

There is a translation of Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis done by C.T.R. Hayward and published by Clarendon Press at Oxford. The text of the “Questions” is not very long, and probably not valuable on the whole to most readers. There are not a lot of profound exegetical thoughts, for example. On the other hand, it is useful to show the state of the Hebrew and Septuagint texts in Jerome’s day. Thus, from a textual critical standpoint, it is a very interesting and potentially useful work.

I’ve gleaned a few quotations that I found to be of interest as I was going through the work. They all relate to the Scriptures.

1) Preface, pp. 28-29:

For just as we ourselves are lowly and poor little ones, and neither have riches, nor are worthy to receive them when they are presented; so they also should recognize that they cannot put knowledge of the Scriptures (that is, the riches of Christ) on par with the riches of the world.

2) Preface, p. 30:

This one thing I say: that I would wish, along with hatred of his name, also to have knowledge of the Scriptures, and to value as a trifle the images and shadows of ghosts, whose nature is said to be to terrify little children and to chatter in dark corners.

3) At Genesis 16:17, p. 50

There is a difference of opinion why was called Isaac, but only one etymology of the name; for Isaac means ‘laughter’. Some people say that because Saraa had laughed, he was therefore called ‘laughter’; but this is incorrect. Others, however, say that it was because Abraham laughed; and this is what we approve. For it was in consequence of Abraham’s laughter that his son was called Isaac; only then do we read that Saraa also laughed. But it should be known that four persons in the Old Testament were called by their names without any concealment before they were born: Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon, and Josias. Read the Scriptures.

4) At Genesis 32:8-9, pp. 70-71

Now in the Book of Names, the statement which explains Israel as meaning ‘a man seeing God’ or ‘a mind seeing God’, a cliché of almost everybody’s speech, seems to me to explain the word not so much accurately as in a manner that is forced. For Israel in this verse is written in these letters, iod, sin, res, aleph, lamed, which means ‘prince of God’, or, ‘directed one of God’, that is, euthutatos theou. But ‘a man seeing God’ is written with these letters: ‘man’ is written with three letters aleph, iod, sin (so that it is pronounced is), and ‘seeing’ with three, res, aleph, he, and is pronounced raa. Then el is written with two letters, aleph and lamed, and means ‘God’ or ‘strong one’. So although those men are of powerful influence and eloquence, and the shadow of those who have understood Israel as ‘man or mind seeing God’ weighs down upon us, we are led rather by the authority of Scripture and of the angel or God who called him Israel, than by the authority of any secular eloquence.

– TurretinFan

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

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

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

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

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

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

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

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

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

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

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

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

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

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

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

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

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

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

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

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

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

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

Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403):

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

Chrysostom (349-407):

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

Notice another translation of the same passage below:

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

Jerome (347-420):

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

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

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine to Julian:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

This is the same theme as the previous quotation.

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

Augustine (354-430):

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

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

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

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

John Cassian (360-430s?):

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

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

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

John Cassian (360-430s?):

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

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

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

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

John Cassian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch, 412-444):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444):

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

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

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

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

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch 412-444):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

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

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

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

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

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

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

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

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

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

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

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

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

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

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

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

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466):

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

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

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

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

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

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

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

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

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

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

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

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

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvian the Presbyter (5th century):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo I (400- 401):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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]

Necessity of Scripture Reading – Whitaker and the Fathers

January 18, 2010

William Whitaker:

Nay, the fathers also confess, that a knowledge of, and acquaintance with, the scriptures is necessary for all Christians. Jerome in his commentary upon the Colossians, iii. 16, says: ” Hence we see that the laity ought to have not only a sufficient, but an abundant knowledge of the scriptures, and also to instruct each other [FN2].” Chrysostom, in his ninth homily upon the Colossians, writing upon the same passage, remarks that the apostle requires the people to know the word of God, not simply, but in great abundance, οὐχ απλῶς, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς περιουσίας; and adds: “Attend, all ye that are secular (κοσμικοὶ), and have wives and families depending upon you, how he (the apostle) specially commands you to read the scripture; and not merely to read it in a perfunctory manner, but with great diligence,” ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς σπουδῆς. Chrysostom observes in that same place, that the apostle does not say, let the word of God be in you; but, let it dwell in you; and that, πλουσίως, richly [FN3].

OEcumenius too observes upon the same passage, that the doctrine of Christ should dwell in us ὐν πολλῆ δαψιλεία, most abundantly. Now, how are we to obtain so full a knowledge of it as this implies? OEcumenius informs us by subjoining, διὰ τῆς τῶν γραφῶν ἐρεύνης, by searching the scriptures. So Thomas Aquinas in his third lecture upon this chapter: “Some,” says he, ” are satisfied with a very small portion of the word of God; but the apostle desires we should have much of it [FN1].”

[FN2 Hinc perspicimus non tantum sufficienter, sed etiam abundantur debere lacios scripturarum cognitionem habere, et se invicem docere.—T. xi. 1029. But this Commentary is not Jerome’s.]

[FN3 T. xi. p. 391.]

[FN1 Quibusdam sufficit modicum quid de verbo Dei: sed apostolus vult quod habeamus multum, p. 164. 2. T. xvi. Opp. Venet. 1593.]

– William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Second Question, Chapter 15 (pp. 239-40 in the Parker 1849 edition)

William Whitaker provides this brief reference to the teachings of fathers after his main argument. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that he was trying to argue for the necessity of reading Scripture simply because he thought the church fathers taught it.

As to the necessity of Scripture (not simply of reading it, but of Scripture in general) recall that Whitaker carefully qualified the kind of necessity involved:

Our opponent disputes thus: Scripture is not absolutely necessary; therefore it is not necessary at all. But here lies the Jesuit’s error: for it is not every necessity that is absolute; some is only Hypothetical. God could teach us without the holy scriptures, and lead us to eternal life; but he chose to propound his teaching to us in the scriptures. This, therefore, being supposed, it is necessary that we learn and derive the will and doctrine of God from the scriptures. Thus, not even food is simply necessary, because God could easily nourish us without food; but only hypothetically. God indeed formerly shewed himself familiarly to our fathers, and, in a manner, conversed constantly with some distinguished men, to whom he immediately disclosed his will; and then I confess that the scriptures were not necessary: but afterwards he changed this method of teaching his church, and chose that his will should be committed to writing; and then scripture began to be necessary.

– William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Sixth Question, Chapter 7 (p. 517 in the Parker 1849 edition)

We see similar sentiments from Caesarius of Arles:

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

Similarly, one who refuses to read the sacred writings which have been transmitted from the eternal country should fear that he perhaps will not receive eternal rewards and even not escape endless punishment. So dangerous is it not to read the divine precepts that the Prophet mournfully exclaims: ‘Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge.’ ‘If anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored.’ Doubtless, if a man fails to seek God in this world through the sacred lessons, God will refuse to recognize him in eternal bliss. . . . A man should first be willing to listen to God, if he wants to be heard by Him. Indeed, with what boldness does he want God to hear him when he despises God so much that he refuses to read His precepts?

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 7.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), pp. 47-48.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them.

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.1 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 49.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

Therefore consider at once, brethren, and carefully notice that the man who frequently reads or listens to sacred Scripture speaks with God. See, then, whether the Devil can overtake him when he perceives him in constant conversation with God. However, if a man neglects to do this, with what boldness or with what feelings does he believe God will grant him an eternal reward, when he refuses to speak with Him in this world through the divine text?

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 52.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):

For this reason I beseech you with fatherly solicitude, equally admonishing and exhorting you, as was already said, to endeavor continually to read the sacred lessons yourselves or willingly to listen to others read them. By thus always thinking over in the treasury of your heart what is just and holy, you may prepare for your souls an eternal spiritual food that will bring you endless bliss.

Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 54.

And from Chrysostom.

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

Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this, “Honor thy father and thy mother”; so that this makes for thee. Never say, this is the business of monks. Am I making a monk of him? No. There is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source; but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are super added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them, slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death; as, for example, Achilles, when he relents, when he dies for his concubine, when another gets drunk, and many other things of the sort. He requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to “bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”? And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient, and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle’s admonition. “Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. Alas, that so constantly as I repeat this, I am looked upon as trifling! Still, I shall not cease to do my duty.

– Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Homily 21.

Notice that here even young children are being commended to the reading of Scripture. Jerome also similarly exhorts a woman, Demetrias, to make reading the Scripture her first priority.

Jerome (about A.D. 347–420):

In what remains of my letter I shall direct all my words to Demetrias herself, whose holiness ennobles her as much as her rank, and of whom it may be said that the higher she climbs the more terrible will be her fall. For the rest, this one thing, child of God, I lay on thee; yea before all, and urge it many times: love to occupy your mind with the reading of scripture.

– Jerome, Letter 130 (to Demetrias), Section 7

– TurretinFan

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