Archive for the ‘Matthew Bellisario’ Category

Pope Francis – Liberal or not?

December 30, 2014

Matthew Bellisario, editor of the Catholic Champion, was kind enough to bring this clip to my attention, and I’m happy to bring it to the attention of Dave Armstrong and others, who think that Francis is just business as usual for the Roman see:

Christopher Ferrara is a traditionalist Roman Catholic, to be sure, but that’s kind of the point. He says: “Something is seriously wrong with this pontificate. You can’t deny it any longer.” (Christopher Ferrara, 11 minutes in)
“I think we just got stuck with a really, really bad decision in Pope Francis, who again I think has to rank among the very worst popes in the history of the papacy.” (Michael Matt – 24:45 in)
Mr. Matt goes so far as to say that living under Francis is worse than living under Alexander VI and the (other) Borgia popes (around 26 minutes in).


Maximus the Roman Catholic Confessor?

February 8, 2012

My friend James Swan posted a short article describing Maximus the Confessor’s view of Rome’s authority.  Matthew Bellisario at the Catholic Champion has now posted a response.

The material provided by my friend, Mr. Swan, was as follows:

7. They said to him, “And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union.” And he said to them, “Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is.” And they said, “And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?” He replied, “The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached”

Maximus the Confessor, Selected Writings (Paulist Press, 1985), p. 23.

Maximus, according to this material, was posed with the question about what he would do if Rome united with the Constantinople on the question of the two wills of Christ. That is to say, they asked him what he would do if Rome embraced monothelitism.

The first way that they posed the question led him to respond that if the legates of the patriarch (meaning the bishop of Rome) did not have a letter from the partriarch, even if they technically took communion with the bishop of Constantinople (as evidently was expected) that would not prove that the Partriarchite had consented to that monothelitism is either correct or acceptable.

Thus, they modified their question. As modified, Maximus could no longer escape the idea that Rome had embraced monothelitism. His response under that proposed hypothetical scenario was to maintain his current position. Even if Rome accepted monothelitism, he would not.

That position is not, in itself, Sola Scriptura. After all, Maximus does not explicitly state that the reason for his refusal to adopt Rome’s position is because Scripture is a higher authority. One might infer such a position from his reference to Galatians (Galatians 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.).

Whether or not such an inference is correct, Maximus the Confessor is plainly not a Roman Catholic – willing to accept whatever position Rome adopts.

Mr. Bellisario has attempted to provide some counterpoints. He provides three quotations with the citation, “(Saint Maximus the Confessor- The opuscula fragments).” The first quotation is as follows:

All the ends of the inhabited world, and those who anywhere on earth confess the Lord with a pure and orthodox faith, look directly to the most holy Church of the Romans and her confession and faith as to a sun of eternal light, receiving from her the radiant beam of the patristic and holy doctrines, just as the holy six synods, inspired and sacred, purely and with all devotion set them forth, uttering most clearly the symbol of faith. For, from the time of the descent to us of the incarnate Word of God, all the Churches of the Christians everywhere have held and possess this most great Church as the sole base and foundation, since, according to the very promise of the Saviour, it will never be overpowered by the gates of hell, but rather has the keys of the orthodox faith and confession in him, and to those who approach it with reverence it opens the genuine and unique piety, but shuts and stops every heretical mouth that speaks utter wickedness. For that which the creator of everything himself, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, established and built up – together with his disciples and apostles, and the Holy Fathers and teachers and martyrs who came after – have been consecrated by their own works and words, by their sufferings and sweat, by their labours and blood, and finally by their remarkable deaths for the sake of the Catholic and Apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they, through two words, uttered without pain or death – O the long-suffering and forbearance of God! – are eager to dissolve and to set at naught the great, all-illumining and all-praised mystery of the orthodox worship of the Christians.

It appears that this is an alternative translation of the following:

For the very ends of the earth and those in every part of the world who purely and rightly confess the Lord look directly to the most holy church of the Romans and its confession and faith as though it were a sun of unfailing light, expecting from it the illuminating splendor of the fathers and the sacred dogmas, just as the divinely-inspired and sacred six synods have purely and piously decreed, declaring most expressly the symbol of faith. For ever since the incarnate word of God came down to us, all the churches of Christians everywhere have held that greatest Church there to be their sole base and foundation, since on the one hand, it is in no way overcome by the gates of Hades, according to the very promise of the Savior, but holds the keys of the orthodox confession and faith in him and opens the only true and real religion to those who approach with godliness, and on the other hand, it shuts up and locks every heretical mouth that speaks unrighteousness against the Most High. For that which was founded and built by the creator and master of the universe himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his disciples and apostles, and following them the holy fathers and teachers and martyrs consecrated by their own words and deeds, and by their agony and sweat, suffering and bloodshed, and finally by their violent death for the catholic and apostolic Church of us who believe in him, they strive to destroy though two words [uttered] without effort and without death – O the patience and forbearance of God! –and [so seek] to annul the great ever-radiant and ever-lauded mystery of the orthodox worship of Christians.

(Opuscula 11, translation from The body in St. Maximus the Confessor: holy flesh, wholly deified by Adam G. Cooper, pp. 181-82)

The authenticity of this text is disputed (Cooper, p. 181) a fact that Mr. Bellisario fails to mention to the reader (presumably because he doesn’t know). Moreover, what does the passage say that Bellisario can affirm? It says some nice things about Rome and the six synods – but wait. It refers to “six synods.” People assume the means the first five major councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451), plus the 649 synod of the Lateran. But Bellisario would not consider that last one to be an ecumenical council (nor did it have the characteristics of such a council). And if it refers to the ecumenical council that addressed the monothelitism controversy, then it definitely isn’t from Maximus – he didn’t live to see that synod.

Moreover, nothing in the passage about indicates that Rome is characteristically unable ever to fall into error for a time. It does seem to suggest a thought that Rome will not be “overcome by the gates of Hades” (a misuse of that passage), but would it be “overcome” if for a time it fell into error?

But as Cooper suggests (p. 187), whether or not the passage is authentic we should consider Maximus’ mature ecclesiology, as seen in the Disputatio Bizyae discussing with Theodosius:

What kind of believer accepts a dispensation silencing the very words which God of all ordained to be spoken by the apostles and prophets and teachers? Let us investigate, reverend master, what kind of evil this summary blindly arrives at. For if ‘God appointed in the Church first apostles, then prophets, and third teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:28) ‘for the perfecting of the saints’ (Eph. 4:12), having said in the Gospel to the apostles and through them to those after them, ‘What I say to you, I say to all’ (Mark 13:38), and again, ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who rejects you rejects me’ (Luke 10:16), it is clearly manifest that whoever does not receive the apostles and prophets and teachers, but rejects their words, rejects Christ himself.

Let us also investigate the other passage. God chose to raise up apostles and prophets and teachers for the perfecting of the saints. But in order to oppose godly religion the devil chose to raise up false apostles and false prophets and false teachers, so that the old law was opposed, as was also the evangelical law. And as far as I understand it the false apostles and false prophets and false teachers are the heretics alone, whose words and train of thought are distorted. Consequently, just as the one who receives the true apostles and prophets and teachers receives God, likewise the one who receives false apostles and false prophets and false teachers receives the devil. So the one who throws out the saints along with the cursed and impure heretics — mark my word! — manifestly condemns God along with the devil.

If, in that case, in racking our brains to come up with new words in our own times we find those words to have descended to this extreme evil, watch out lest we — whilst alleging and proclaiming ‘peace’– be found to be struck ill with apostasy which the divine Apostle said beforehand would accompany the coming of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

I have spoken this to you, my lords, without holding back…. With these things inscribed in the tablet of my heart, are you telling me to enter into fellowship with a church in which these [other] things are proclaimed, and to have communion with those who actually expel God and, I imagine, the devil with God? May God — who for my sake was made like me — sin excepted — never let this happen to me!

Notice how in this passage he makes individual conscience effectively supreme even over the apparent “apostles, prophets, and teachers” of his day – even to the point of hinting that he may be faced with the great apostasy.

The next quotation Bellisario provided was this:

“I don’t have a teaching of my own, but the common one of the Catholic Church. I mean that I haven’t initiated any expression at all that could be called my own teaching.”

Before we continue, it’s worth pointing out that it appears that Bellisario may have gleaned this and the previous quotation from Andrew Louth’s article on Maximus’s ecclesiology (which can be found here). In that article, it is cited as “Relatio,” and is a portion of the transcript of his trial.

The point that Maximus is making here, though, is simply that he has not expounded a novel doctrine. He believes that he is just teaching what the church has universally held. His reference here to “the catholic church” is not a reference to the Roman Catholic church but to the universal church.

Likewise, Bellisario’s third quotation (also found in this article) is as follows:

“No, he (The emperor is not a priest) isn’t, because he neither stands beside the altar, and after the consecration of the bread elevates it with the words. Holy things for the holy, nor does he baptize, nor perform the rite of anointing, nor does he ordain and make bishops and presbyters and deacons; nor does he anoint churches, nor does he bear the symbols of the priesthood, the omophorion and the Gospel book, [as he bears the symbols] of imperial office, the crown and the purple.”

(Relatio 4, as cited in the article)

This has nothing really to do with Mr. Swan’s thesis. It’s not clear why Bellisario thinks it’s important to this topic (he makes a comment in his post that seems to try to tie this quotation to a point of contrast between Luther’s liturgy and Maximus’ liturgy – something rather tangential at best). Louth thought it was important because the relationship of Emperor to church was one that was going to be significant in coming centuries.

Shortly after presenting that quotation, the article from which Bellisario appears to have been drawing goes on to point out that in fact Rome did succumb to imperial pressures:

A precious document for Maximos’ doctrine of the Church is the last writing we have from his hand, a short letter written on 19 April 658 to Anastasios, his disciple and spiritual child of by then forty years’ standing, who was exiled apart from his master. (18) By then, Maximos and his few followers were on their own, Rome – in the person of Pope Vitalian – having succumbed to imperial pressure and entered into communion with the other patriarchal sees. In reply to the question – or taunt – ‘What Church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? See, all of them are united, together with the provinces subject to them’. Maximos says he had replied, ‘The God of all pronounced that the Catholic Church was the correct and saving confession of the faith in him when he called Peter blessed because of the terms in which he had made proper confession of him’. The Petrine foundation of the Church is Peter’s faith, which even his successor can abandon, as Maximos had just learnt.

(18) The letter can be found in Allen-Neil, pp. 120-3

(Louth, p. 118)

What an interesting omission from Bellisaro! You see, the hypothetical posed to Maximus turned out not to be a hypothetical. Vitalian did cave to imperial pressure, and this was communicated to Maximus. His response, in his final letter, Maximus recognized that it is the confession of faith that defines the church, not the church that defines the confession of faith. And with that, Maximus cannot be said to be Roman Catholic, no matter how high an esteem he had for Rome at certain times (especially right after the synod of the Lateran of 649, when Rome had repudiated monothelitism).

I’m sure more could be said, but we’ll leave it at that. Swan’s thesis has been adequately demonstrated, and Bellisario’s seemingly plagiarized material has been replaced into its proper context and given proper attribution.


P.S. In the comment box at Mr. Swan’s blog, I provided a short walk-through of the original quotation, which it may be useful to include here:

Walk through the quotation.

1) “And what will you do if the Romans unite with the Byzantines? For behold, yesterday there came legates of Rome and tomorrow on Sunday they will take communion with the patriarch; it will become evident to all that it was you who turned the Romans away. Doubtless with you removed, there will then be an easy union.”

They pose this as an argument that it is going to be just Maximus against all the major churches.

2) “Those who are coming cannot in any way prejudice the see of Rome, even if they should take communion because they have not brought a letter to the patriarch. And I am not at all convinced that the Romans will unite with them unless they confess that our Lord and God by nature both wills and works our salvation according to each of the natures from which he is, in which he is, as well as which he is.”

But, you see, Maximus is too clever. He points out that the mere communion of the legates is not enough to show that the Roman church is in agreement with Constantinople, because they don’t bear a letter to that effect addressed to the patriarch.

3) “And if the Romans should come to terms with them at this time, what will you do?”

They set this aside, and ask what if the church of Rome does join with the other churches?

4) “The Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle, condemns even angels who sanction anything against what has been preached”

Maximus refuses to assent, even under that circumstance.

Fear God, not Calvin and Luther!

May 10, 2011

Mr. Matthew Bellisario has posted a short blog item titled: “Luther, Calvin, Hitler, Stalin and Mao.” He selects as his text Matthew 10:28 which states:

Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Mr. Bellisario has overlooked the fact that there is a shift from plural to singular. The command to “fear him” is a reference to fearing God. It is God who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Thus, when faced with persecution, we ought not to fear our persecutors, but rather we ought to fear God.

Perhaps Mr. Bellisario should read Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea, where he would find the following attributed to Chrysostom (I haven’t confirmed that it is authentic, but let it suffice for Mr. Bellisario that his hero Thomas Aquinas approved of it): “Observe how He sets them above all others, encouraging them to set at nought cares, reproaches, perils, yea even the most terrible of all things, death itself, in comparison of the fear of God.”

– TurretinFan

Bellisario Swings and Misses

September 24, 2010

Matthew Bellisario has a new post up (link to post). It purports to respond to an earlier post I provided (link to my post).

The title of the post is “Another “Expert” on Catholicism Misrepresents Church Teaching.” The person he’s referring to as “Expert” is me. I’m flattered! No, I jest. I’m not really flattered, because those little quotation marks are being used by Bellisario to indicate sarcasm.

But sarcasm is just the opening. The first sentence claims I’m someone “often misrepresents Catholic teaching” (no evidence provided). The second sentence calls my post my “latest rant.”

You might think he’d met his quota of negative assertions with those two sentences and the title, but you’d be wrong. He’s just getting started. In the third sentence, Bellisario says both that my argument “is based on pure fallacy” and then questions whether you can call my article an argument.

That third sentence is a set-up for the fourth sentence where Bellisario states: “Lets [sic] take a quick look at how this pretended “Reformer” misrepresents the Catholic Church here regarding infallibility.” This sentence combines the sarcasm quotation marks, with the negative adjective “pretended,” and a further negative assertion that I misrepresent “the Catholic Church” – a three-for-one special!

That concludes his opening paragraph. One might expect that he’s about to unleash some demonstration of how I misrepresent his church.

But his very next sentence acknowledges that I quoted two documents from Cardinal Ratzinger from when he was prefect of the CDF and that I characterized the situation as “pretty clear.” Bellisario’s next sentence, remarkably, agrees that it is pretty clear!

Bellisario writes:

Yes its [sic] pretty clear, and dissent has no bearing on whether it is infallible or not. In fact, the reason why they were restating the Ordinary infallible teaching is because idiots in the Church were not following it.

At least it is nice to know that Bellisario’s negative words are not reserved for us pretended reformers! And nothing that Bellisario has said here actually disagrees with what I wrote – in fact the one place it interacts, it explicitly agrees with me!

Bellisario then provides another block quote from and responds:

The document itself does not have to be “infallible” since the Church has long taught the doctrine as being infallible. In order for a doctrine to be considered infallible it does not have to be proclaimed formally by the Pope in any one given document. So a Catholic who understands how the Church defines doctrine does not care if the document itself is infallible, it merely becomes part of the same Ordinary and Universal Magisterial teaching that has always taught it as being infallible.

And, of course, nothing of what Bellisario has said disagrees with what I wrote. In theory, as Bellisario has said, something can be “considered infallible,” even though no pope or council has defined it as dogma.

But, of course, the only way that these allegedly infallible teachings are known are through fallible means. In other words, someone could try to do personal research to see whether this teaching is really something that has been promulgated by the universal and ordinary magisterium, or one could rely on the CDF, but both of those techniques are fallible. One relies on private judgment, and one relies on a fallible authority. One could even rely on one’s own interpretation of Scripture to conclude that male-only ordination is an infallible teaching. But one could be wrong. Neither one’s private judgment nor the CDF has the charism of infallibility in Romanism.

Bellisario then provides another block quotation from me and comments:

No it is not even possible that a future Pope [sic] could change the doctrine, and only someone like Turretin Fan with limited knowledge about the Catholic Church would ever make such a statement like this. It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible doctrines of the Church. It is not like Protestantism where teachings on contraception can change virtually overnight. The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand. There have always been dissenters in the Church despite the fact that the doctrine they oppose has been defined infallibly. We see this fact clearly with the heretical theologians who call themselves Catholic, who still do not accept the infallible teaching on Transubstantiation. No one cares, and it has no bearing on the infallibility of the teaching.

Finally, Bellisario says he disagrees with something! But note how he goes about it. First, he states the fact that he thinks he disagrees. Then, he makes a negative comment about me. Neither of these sentences is actually an argument, so we’ll pass over them.

Getting to his argument, Bellisario alleges: “It is impossible for a Pope [sic] to come along and change Ordinary Infallible [sic] doctrines of the Church.” But here we see the problem – the reason why Bellisario has disagreed: he has not understood what I wrote! I didn’t say that it is possible for a pope to come along and change an infallible doctrine. I said it is possible that the pope could come along and define a doctrine that is contrary to what the CDF has claimed is an infallible doctrine. After all, the CDF is fallible. Consequently, the fact that the CDF claims that something is an infallible doctrine doesn’t make it an infallible doctrine, just like Bellisario asserting that something is infallible doctrine doesn’t make it so.

Bellisario’s next sentence is an irrelevant aside on his disturbingly favorite topic of contraception. I’ll leave it aside in the interest of time.

Bellisario’s next assertion is that “The fact that there are dissidents in the Church who are active despite the Church’s infallible teaching, again has no bearing on the argument at hand.” Part of the problem, as noted above, is that Bellisario hasn’t grasped the argument at hand. Another part of the problem is that “dissidents” are the way that something avoids being universal.

Let’s try to help out Bellisario with an example. If we look at the Western church from Augustine to Aquinas, excluding the heretics, one will find that almost everyone acknowledged the universality of original sin, with Christ being the one exception because of his virginal conception. Yet, nevertheless, at some point folks (you could refer to them as “dissidents” or simply as “a vocal minority” if you like) began to allege that Mary was an additional exception.

This is not something that “change[d] virtually overnight.” It is something that was very gradual. It took a long time from when Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Sienna were having conflicting alleged private revelations to when Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

It happens in Romanism – sometimes what was the viewpoint of a tiny minority becomes an allegedly infallible dogma later. That’s why appeals to the “ordinary and universal magisterium” are illusory.

Bellisario provides a counter-example regarding theologians who deny transubstantiation. Suffice to say that this counter-example doesn’t undermine what I’ve said. The dogma of Transubstantiation was defined at Trent. It’s not something that’s defined by the “ordinary and universal magisterium.” So, even if Bellisario’s characterization of the situation with them is accurate, it’s not particularly relevant.

To put it another way: Bellisario has no consistent way to distinguish between a true dissident and a minority voice prior to an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium.

Bellisario concludes his post with the same kind of non-argumentation that characterized his opening:

Ordinarily I would not waste my time with such things, but pointing out this post gives us an example of how little the opposition truly understands about Catholicism. Let the buyer beware before they believe anything they read on Turretin Fan’s website that pertains to Catholicism.

After seeing how Bellisario failed to rebut or refute anything that was said, spending his time arguing against a position not expressed in my article, perhaps a different moral emerges: understand what the critic of your church is saying, before you accuse the critic of not understanding your church’s teaching, particularly when the critic quotes at length from your church’s official documents.

Or you can just slap a lot of negative assertions together and call it a response!


Magisterium of One: The Latest Alternative to Imprimatur from the "Catholic Champion" Site

April 14, 2010

Matthew Bellisario, the magisterium of one, has a new prohibited authors index of “modernists” and “new theologians” that he would avoid (link). Let’s peruse his list …

1) Karl Rahner

  • co-authored with Joseph Ratzinger, received Imprimatur, Revelation and tradition

2) Henri de Lubac

  • De la connaissance de Dieu (published with Imprimatur)
  • Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: You know and love France… what connects you most particularly to this country? Which are the French authors, secular or Christian, which have made the greatest impression on you or have left you with the most moving memories of France?

    Benedict XVI: I would not dare to say that I know France well. I know it a little, but I love France, the great French culture, especially of course the great cathedrals and also the great French art… the great theology that begins with St Irenaeus of Lyons through until the 13th century, and I have studied the 13th century University of Paris: St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas. This theology was crucial for the development of theology in the West…. And naturally the theology of the century of the Second Vatican Council. I had the great honour and joy of being a friend of Fr de Lubac, one of the most important figures of the past century, but I also had a good working relationship with Fr Congar, Jean Daniélou and others. I had very good personal relationships with Etienne Gilson and Henri-Irénée Maroux.

3) Hans Urs von Balthasar

  • co-authored a book with Ratzinger in 1971: Two Say Why: Why I am Still a Christian
  • At Balthasar’s funeral, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said, speaking of Balthasar’s work in general, “What the pope intended to express by this mark of distinction [elevation to the Cardinalate], and of honor, remains valid, no longer only private individuals but the Church itself, in its official responsibility, tells us that he is right in what he teaches of the faith.”

…) Yves Congar (See the item for de Lubac above)

…) Raymond Brown

  • Ratzinger stated he ‘would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown’ (Origins, February 11, 1988, p. 595).

We could go on. I stopped at Balthasar and added Congar simply because I had already addressed him, after a little reflection I tacked on Raymond Brown as well. There are a few names that probably should be on the list, such as Hans Kung, who was one of Ratzinger’s classmates but who has restrictions on how he teaches (the nuances of this are important but not for this article).

Frankly the idea of Bellisario serving as self-appointed helmsman of orthodoxy is humorous in itself, but it is especially humorous when his magisterium of one condemns as theologians to be avoided those who are respected by his own pope. Yes, I’m aware that Bellisario couches his criticism with some caveats. Nevertheless, there’s already a system in place for Roman Catholics to judge whether a book contains errors with respect to matters of faith and morals: the imprimatur/nihil obstat system.

– TurretinFan

P.S. However, should you be wishing to debate Mr. Bellisario on anything related to Roman Catholicism, you can be sure that going to the sources he’s identified in his list will earn you his excoriations (as it recently earned me when I dared to provide a quotation from James Carroll, who – thanks to Bellisario – has managed to make a list that also includes Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Raymond Brown.)

Thomas Aquinas, William Webster, and Scripture against Bellisario

April 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second one is longer, but it simply indicates:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another passage of Thomas on the sufficiency of Scripture:

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

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 22

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

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

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

– Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms

Again, more on the sufficiency of Scriptures:

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

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

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

Sufficiency again:

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

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

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

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

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

Notice here the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– TurretinFan

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

Bellisario vs. Strawman – A Response of Sorts to Bellisario

April 8, 2010

Over at his blog, the Catholic Champion, Matthew Bellisario has decided to characterize his latest assault on a straw man as a response to one of my recent posts (link to Bellisario)(link to my recent post).

Bellisario’s headline reads: “Vatican II and the Papacy- No Redefinition.” Well, no kidding. Formally speaking, Vatican II didn’t define anything much less re-define anything.

As then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the Bishops of Chile, 1988.

So, when Bellisario begins his post, “There are some who think that the Second Vatican Council sought to take away the role and authority of the pope,” we can only wonder what Bellisario was thinking. The central thrust of his post is not against what I wrote, but rather against what he apparently wishes I had written.

The use of the straw man fallacy, however, is not enough for Bellisario. Bellisario insists on using the ad hominem fallacy as well. He attacks James Carroll for being an “ex-priest.” What irony in this attack! While Bellisario means to play this up as somehow an attack on Carroll’s character (he tries to compare him to Luther saying: “Martin Luther, who also left the priesthood to engage in unsavory affairs”), Bellisario actually undermines his own credibility. After all, James Carroll attended St. Paul’s College, where he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees. He served as a columnist for several years at the National Catholic Reporter and received an award for “Best Columnist” by the Catholic Press Association. Bellisario’s credentials can’t compare to this. If Bellisario wishes to take the discussion ad hominem (to the man), then Bellisario will lose.

Bellisario continues his fallacious attacks with this gem:

It is not surprising to see that Turretin Fan is just as ignorant of the Vatican II documents as Carroll is. I find it amusing how Turretin Fan uses the term ultramontanism to note the last two papacies. I have to wonder if he even knows what the term really means.

Bellisario’s lies here are amusing in view of his previous ad hominem. Carroll was ordained as a priest in 1969, shortly after the close of the Vatican II council. So, naturally, he’s not “ignorant” of the Vatican II documents any more than I am. And, of course, a simple search of my blog demonstrates that I’ve repeatedly discussed a variety of the documents of Vatican II. Also amusing is the fact that my post provided explanation about the meaning of “ultramontanism,” which should help to demonstrate to folks that I was familiar with the term’s meaning.

Bellisario amusingly continues thus:

We have only to look at the document of Lumen Gentium to see that this supposed lessening of the papacy never happened, and none of the Vatican Documents ever proposed such thing.

Rather than then turning to Lumen Gentium itself, though, Bellisario turns to an note added to it by (shocking surprise ahead) a pope, affirming (get ready to be really shocked) a high view of the papacy. The reason for the note is to counterbalance the text of Lumen Gentium, the text that supports Carroll’s point that Bellisario wishes weren’t true.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider this comment on the note by Christopher A. Ferrara (let’s see if Bellisario calls him a liberal dissenter):

The most famous example is Pope Paul’s intervention forcing the Council to include the Nota Praevia to Lumen Gentium, which corrects [Lumen Gentium]’s erroneous suggestion that when the Pope exercised his supreme authority he does so only as head of the apostolic college, wherein the supreme authority resides. Paul was alerted to this problem by a group of conservative Council Fathers, who finally persuaded him of LG’s destructive potential: “Pope Paul, realizing finally that he had been deceived, broke down and wept.” Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, p. 232.”

(Ferrara et al., The Great Façade, p. 88 n.114)

Of course, Bellisario does not interact with Carroll’s presentation itself. Carroll wrote:

Surprisingly, no one saw this distortion more clearly than a pope — John XXIII, who called, yes, a council to correct it. His Vatican II (1962-65) aimed to restore the “collegiality’’ of bishops (the pope only as “first among equals’’); to reinvigorate local expressions of belief (hence worship in the vernacular); and to retrieve the “priesthood of all believers’’ as a check on clericalism. Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger.

This claim relates to what Carroll believes was an attempted emphasis of restoring balance and removing distortion. The lessening of the papacy, as I had put it, had to do primarily with a matter of balance and emphasis. The goal was not to eliminate the papacy or to re-defined dogma, though apparently the article itself or my blog post about it provided the starting material for Bellisario’s fertile imagination.

Bellisario’s boorish post continues:

I find it quite amusing that a Protestant E-Apologist like Turretin Fan wants to be known for citing the most liberal dissenting historians and theologians to substantiate his attacks on the Catholic Church.

I didn’t endorse everything that Carroll said, and whether or not Carroll is a liberal dissenter (I’ll let him answer that charge himself) does not affect the truth of his claims. I’ve cited to a range of writers both Roman Catholic and not, ranging from William Whitaker to Joseph Ratzinger, as can be quickly established by perusing my blog. Bellisario seems eager to dismiss, but he can’t seem to find a way to pull off a counter-argument that’s logical and supported by evidence.

Notice how he continues:

I guess it is easy to see why Turretin Fan always gets his facts wrong concerning Catholicism. When you choose to keep company with dissenters, then you will have a dissenters disposition. When you are used to having heroes like Martin Luther, who also left the priesthood to engage in unsavory affairs, then it is no surprise that he looks for similar company like ex-priests today who constantly attack the Catholic Church like James Carroll.

Could there be a comment more full of obvious rhetorical garbage and ad hominem than that? Rather than point out any specific error, Bellisario attempts to refer to some established pattern of error. The problem, of course, is that Bellisario hasn’t established such a pattern – and even if he did, he still ought to try to show that a particular statement itself is in error, rather than relying such an alleged pattern.

Ah well, the discerning reader can judge for themselves.


>Addendum to "Oral Word of God?"

March 27, 2010

>In the meanwhile of my drafting the previous response to Bellisario, Messrs. Swan and Hays have already forced Bellisario to admit that there is no new revelation. Accordingly, he has attempted to rely on a yet more flimsy branch. That flimsy branch is essentially that there are oral teachings of Jesus that were not placed into Scripture but were otherwise handed down to us via the Apostles.

This is, effectively, Bellisario’s last gasp in the discussion, since he cannot demonstrate the apostolicity (let alone the divine origin) of any doctrine not found in Scripture. He has no good reason for thinking that there are any such doctrines, has no positive argument to offer in defense of oral traditions, so he’s left with arguments like, “Where does Jesus say that now all of His Word would be in written form only?”

– TurretinFan

>Oral Word of God? Response to Bellisario

March 27, 2010

>Matthew Bellisario (Roman Catholic) has been trying to argue with my friend Steve Hays (Reformed) over in the comment box of Beggars All Reformation (link to comment box).

Bellisario’s argument, which seems to be a common “street” argument these days, boils down to this:

1) The Word of God was proclaimed orally at some past point;

2) You can’t prove from Scripture that this has stopped;

3) Therefore, it continues,

with at least the implied addendum:

4) And it consists of the “Sacred Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church.

From a logical standpoint, this argument is bankrupt. Even if the first three points were fine, the fourth point would not follow. That is to say, even if the first two points proved that God’s Word continues to be proclaimed orally, it does not therefore follow that the way in which that happens is via the “Sacred Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church. If the Roman Catholic wants to assert that the “Sacred Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church is the continuing oral proclamation of the Word of God, the onus is on him to establish that. But Roman Catholic apologists can’t establish that. That’s why some of them feel compelled this kind of logically invalid argument.

To make matters worse, the first three points are not fine. One cannot establish that something continues from the absence of proof that it ceased. Instead, if one wants to insist that the oral proclamation of the Word of God continues, one has to demonstrate that. But Roman Catholic apologists can’t demonstrate that. That’s why some of them feel compelled this kind of logically invalid argument.

But that’s not the only problem. The statement that God’s Word was proclaimed orally is itself ambiguous and potentially equivocal. For example, whenever a Reformed minister preaches from the pulpit he is (or ought to be) proclaiming the Word of God orally. That aspect of the oral proclamation of the Word of God obviously does continue, as it should.

But there is another sense in which the Word of God was proclaimed orally. The Word of God was given to prophets. The proclaimed God’s word orally.

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

Notice how those who received the Word of God to proclaim it in a prophetic way were given the witness of God, “both with signs and wonders, and with [a variety of] miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.” This is the consistent Biblical pattern. Moses provides the first example:

Exodus 4:1-9

And Moses answered and said, “But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, ‘The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.'”
And the LORD said unto him, “What is that in thine hand?”
And he said, “A rod.”
And he said, “Cast it on the ground.”
And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.
And the LORD said unto Moses, “Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail,” and he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: “that they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.” And the LORD said furthermore unto him, “Put now thine hand into thy bosom.”
And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow.
And he said, “Put thine hand into thy bosom again.”
And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.
“And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.”

Thus, like Moses, the apostles performed a variety of miracles that testified to the fact that they were prophets of God:

Paul raised the dead (Acts 20:9-12) and was not harmed by the bite a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3-6). Likewise Peter raised the dead (Acts 9:36-43) and his shadow cured the sick (Acts 5:15).

Popes like Benedict XVI cannot raise the dead, their shadows cure no one, and if they get bitten by a poisonous snake, they will die. They do not possess the witness of God testifying to any prophetic gift. The same has been true of the popes that preceded them.

So, this alternative sense of the “Oral Word” is also not something possessed by the Roman Pontiff, whether or not anyone else possesses it.

But there is one further weakness to Mr. Bellisario’s argument (and before he complains that the exact form of the argument is not his, I simply point out that the reader can peruse the comment box linked above to see whether or not the paraphrase of his argument is accurate). The further weakness is that Scripture itself testifies in at least three ways to the end of this extraordinary Oral Word.

1) Use of a Past Tense in Hebrews 2

In the passage from Hebrews 2, which we saw above, the author expresses the confirmation of the witnesses in the past tense (in English it past, in Greek it is aorist tense: “ἐβεβαιώθη” – confirmed). The author of Hebrews speaks of that discussion as though it were essentially a thing of the past, suggesting that the extraordinary gifts were already passing away at the time the book of Hebrews was written, during the lifetime of some of the apostles.

Notice that I say, “suggesting,” not “proving.”

2) Lack of Iterative Succession of the Gifts

Philip the Evangelist was able to perform miracles in view of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, as we will see in the following passage, he was unable to transfer that gift.

Acts 8:5-17

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

As we see from the preceding passage, the gift of being able to lay hands on the people and have them perform miracles was something the apostles could do but that Philip could not. Thus, we can see that these extraordinary testifying gifts were passed directly from the apostles, but not iteratively by those who had received the gifts from the apostles.

Now that the apostles are all dead, and all those people whom the apostles laid hands on are dead, there are no more of these testifying gifts. While the passage doesn’t explicitly say this will happen, we may reasonably deduce it from the passage in view of the universal mortality of man.

3) Prophecy of the Cessation of the Gifts

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

This, of course, is the answer the question that Bellisario asks when he states, “Where did Jesus tell you that the New Testament replaced, and did away with His Oral Word?” That which is in part, the extraordinary gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge have been done away. The Bible is now complete.

The usual response from those of the Roman persuasion is that the Bible is not explicitly mentioned in the context of this prophecy. Instead, if the Bible is to be understood as the completion, it is merely implied. Nevertheless, even though it is only implied, it is implied by such expressions in the context as Paul’s expression: “Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” (1 Corinthians 14:6)

Notice that the context of this prophesying and “knowledge” is revelation and doctrine. We are informed explicitly in 2 Timothy 3:16 that Scripture has as one of its purposes the revelation of doctrine (see also Proverbs 4:2). So, we may rightly conclude that God’s revelation of himself in Scripture is the completion of the revelation of doctrine that God promised, and that this explains the cessation of extraordinary gifts that we now see and that Paul had prophesied.

Of course, what makes Bellisario’s point especially absurd is that his own church acknowledges that public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. (see, for example, CCC 66)

In short, Bellisario’s informal argument is logically fallacious, it employs equivocation, and its premises are flawed. While Bellisario points to the fact that the Apostles preached the Word of God orally, he fails to see how little this proves. We readily grant that they did. Yet that does not suggest that the extraordinary gifts of prophecy granted to the Apostles and those upon whom they laid hands continued beyond the deaths of the Apostles. Moreover, it certainly doesn’t support the “Sacred Tradition” of the Roman Catholic church as being “Oral Word of God.” Support for such a position would require something more than alleged Biblical silence.

– TurretinFan

Romanism and Mormonism Common Ground?

February 25, 2010

According to Francis (Cardinal) George (president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of Chicago): “Our churches have different histories and systems of belief and practice, although we acknowledge a common reference point in the person and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (source – Emphasis added)

Layman Romanist Matthew Bellisario disagrees with “His Eminence” and states:

The only thing we have in common is using the name, Jesus Christ. … I don’t know what in the world the dear Cardinal was thinking when he said this. … What is more ridiculous is that a Cardinal would think that all of this is a common point of reference of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


I think Cardinal George has the better argument from Vatican II (after all, if Muslims worship the “same God” while explicitly denying the Trinity, how can Mormons really be left out of the big tent?). However, ignoring Vatican II, Bellisario has the better argument from reason. After all, it is (to use his word) “ridiculous” to suppose that the there is common ground with Mormons in the person of Christ, given that Mormons allege that Jesus was a created being. And while Mormon soteriology is closer to Roman soteriology than it is to Reformed soteriology, Mormons deny (among many other significant differences) that is “absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” and consequently it appears that the Mormon gospel is different from the Roman gospel (which are both different from the gospel that Paul preached).

– TurretinFan

Thanks to Dr. James White for bringing the main article to my attention.

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